Musically Speaking: Chris Hadfield is the Real McCoy
Chris Hadfield is Canada’s most authentic folk singer.
To some, this statement may feel as surprising as Bob Dylan winning a Nobel Prize. But like the latter, none could be more deserving.
In his sold-out performance at the Bella Concert Hall in the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts at Mount Royal University on Saturday night, he featured a lot of adventures and reflections with his adoring audience. But, most surprisingly for some, most reflections were conveyed through music.
Canada’s first space-walker, first astronaut to operate the ‘Canadaarm’ and first commander of the International Space Station is also mankind’s first person to record an album in space (Space Sessions: Songs from a Tin Can).
At the Bella, however, his feet were firmly planted on the ground. His geocentric approach to his storytelling included songs and stories of Canada’s prairie history, the Clifford Sifton’s campaign offering free land to European settlers in the early 1900s and a recent trip to the northernmost arctic tip of our country to explore the landscape, wildlife and effects of global warming. It was as if your favourite university professor pulled out a guitar to accompany his lectures.
In all ways, Chris Hadfield’s voice is absolutely authentic. It may not be the most melodious voice that has graced this concert hall, but it’s undeniably truthful.
The songs, which included a couple choice covers of east-coaster Stan Rogers tunes, were well chosen and very personal. He has a seasoned tone for folk tunes and a steady fingerpicking style that was well rehearsed before going to sleep almost every night on the International Space Station.
The original material offered thoughts on topics lightyears away from each other. From the heartfelt reaction to his pioneering family’s loss of an infant child (his great-uncle) to the joys of weightlessness in space, each experience was both emotional and real.
The notes he hit in his performance equalled those choice moments struck by some of the best folk singers heard in folk clubs or festivals proving that in all things he pursues, Hadfield finds a way to rise to the top.
For the countless who followed his five-month space residency online, there was no surprise that he was comfortable in front of any audience, but what the audience also learned about Hadfield is that he’s a bit of an entertainer. With several tunes penned by he and his brother Dave, he poked fun at our ‘Canadianness’. In particular, the one that brought down the house was his rollicking ‘love song’ about today’s modern man-cave, “Canadian Tire”.
As Canadians, we’re famous worldwide for being able to look at ourselves and laugh. Hadfield has looked at us in a way that few Canadians have, and showed us what he saw. Pioneers, explorers, storytellers are what motivate us.
The second half of the show focused more on his epic space achievements. With slides and stories of his, now legendary, spacewalks, he regaled the crowd with inspiring tales and stellar imagery. This is what his audience was waiting for.
When, like a veteran music act, he ramped up to singing the hit single, there were about fifty musicians that joined him onstage. Mount Royal’s Artio choir and members of the Academy, Conservatory and some professional ensembles including the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra assembled to back him up for tunes like Is Somebody Singing, a co-composition with Hadfield and Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies. When it debuted, Hadfield sang from space while Robertson was simulcast with 70,000 school children across Canada. Though there were fewer participants, the resonance of the song and its meaning were well-represented.
In closing, he played the single. David Bowie’s Space Oddity as recorded and filmed on the International Space Station. At the insistence of his son Evan, he carved out precious time in his scientific work to release a video the day before he flew back to earth. It has been seen by over 33 million people on YouTube.
He commemorated the impact that the imagination the late David Bowie had when writing the song in his late teens, before anyone had been able to live in space, maintaining how moved he was to know that Bowie enjoyed his version. Though, unlike Bowie’s original, thanks to his new interpretation, the astronaut in the story survives.
Releasing his supporting musicians, Hadfield then spoke directly with the audience. With the mantra to change yourself into the person who can accomplish whatever your personal goal is, he truly connected with his onlookers to offer a role model to do just that, in all of the avenues he has traveled. He opened up the floor to a question period which was so expertly handled that if you missed the entire show beforehand and experienced only that, you would have left knowing you got your money’s worth.
His unparalleled resume thus far has boasted titles like fighter pilot, test pilot, engineer, astronaut and commander of the international space station. What those in attendance now realize is that he is also an artist, a poet, a guitarist and among the best folk storytellers on the planet.
He revealed that his dream since he was a child was to walk on the moon. If there’s any way to get there, trust that Colonel Hadfield will find it and when he does, that lunar jam session will be out of this world.
- by JLove
True Patriot Love – Escaping with Chantal Kreviazuk
On the night of the American election, it was nice to celebrate being Canadian. Even before the polls closed, a capacity crowd shared an escapist evening with the healing power of Chantal Kreviazuk’s music.
When you get the chance to see Chantal Kreviazuk, you expect a blend of storytelling, songwriting and most of all, musical excellence. For the sold out audience at the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts’ Bella Concert Hall, that’s exactly what they got… but it wasn’t just Chantal.
Kevin Fox is a talent.
Most of the sold out crowd likely sighed to learn there was an ‘opening act’ before the songstress was to take the stage, but once he put bow to strings on his solo cello, they took it back. His rhythmic looping created a veritable orchestra filling the room with recognizable cover tunes from the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams to Paul Simon’s Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes. An obviously gifted composer who, like Chantal herself, blended his classical training with a contemporary sensibilities. His charismatic ‘aw shucks’ style banter was an endearing note of gratitude to the title act and a love letter home to his wife and two young sons in Ontario, whom the opportunity of ‘the road’ has taken him away from.
His love song, commissioned by his wife of ten years, with its lilting feel of a nautical lullabye, was a highlight of the evening.
From the moment she took the stage, interestingly bagpiped in by MRU President Dr. David Docherty, she commanded the evening. With the warm glow of four light strings spaced across the stage as if waiting to deck the hall for Christmas, Kreviazuk, dressed angelically in white, took her place atop the tree.
Her connection with the audience was comfortable. She wove stories of her family with Our Lady Peace frontman Raine Maida while onscreen, she showed personal photos of their beloved family dog and a humanitarian trip to Peru. Her regaling of rough emotional experiences which music has helped her through and, mostly, self-deprecating humour on the benefits of the touring life as an antidote to parenthood captured the audience. She was a confident storyteller with the life experience to support it.
But when she sings, you can’t help but listen.
The vocal powerhouse shone in the Bella Concert Hall with heart-felt power ballads well into the evening. Playing a majority of new repertoire from her latest release Hard Sail, which perhaps ironically she ‘hard-sold’ in each of her intros, despite not having the new release at the merch table, she mesmerized with a soundscape of eight years worth of life in song.
A Conservatory-trained pianist, she’s a marvel on the Steinway. Her graceful and melodious descants harkening a classical motif were blended seamlessly with the power of a modern ‘three-verse with a bridge’ songwriting formula. It’s no wonder her hooks have been sung and recorded by the likes of Pink, Rhianna and Christina Agulera.
The listening audience (you could hear a pin drop) thoroughly enjoyed the hits…perhaps more than Kreviazuk herself. Where she took the time to set up each of her new compositions, it felt like she was moving through the previously enjoyed repertoire. The majestic power of “Feels Like Home” and “All I Can Do” were comfortable memories, but slightly heavy-handed on both voice and piano. The addition of Fox’s cello and vocals rounded the classics out nicely, often filling in for what might have been lost in the non-studio version.
As she set up her beloved cover “Leaving on a Jet Plane” which launched her to fame when it was prominently featured in 1998’s blockbuster “Armageddon”, she invited an audience member onstage to sit beside her. Her lucky victim, “Jason”, an electrician with a calm demeanour and untrained singing voice, enjoyed the best seat in the house, and was a great sport as Kreviazuk sang her showpiece to and for him.
At the end of the night, it was obvious that Kreviazuk continues to be the real deal. Stripped of studio production, what she was able to accomplish with keys and voice (with supporting cello) was a testament to the creative best of Canadian pop.
But the real star of the evening was the Bella Concert Hall. With such intimacy of space and acoustic prowess, both artists onstage resonated beautifully. In fact, they both proclaimed it. Fox, who’s all-too-short opening half hour was seasoned with genuine wishes to continue playing in the hall all evening, took the liberty of ‘testing’ the hall’s acoustics in his final rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “River”, by pulling away from the microphone and singing upstage towards the lucky audience members in the choir loft, letting the reverberation of the room carry his voice effectively without amplification. It was magical.
Kreviazuk herself noted, especially on the historical American election night, that the fact that we had this exquisite hall made her “proud to be Canadian.”
- by JLove
Another Gold for Canada
At a time when we’re celebrating our country’s athletic achievements on the podium in Rio, there’s some gold medal achievements worthy of celebration here on home turf. Eric Auerbach is the Canadian National Strings Champion.
Auerbach, who is 26 year old violinist, competed in the Calgary Performing Arts Festival at MRU in the spring, then went on to win at the Provincial level in Edmonton and just capped the triple-crown winning at the National level, also in Edmonton, this August.
“I played the Bach Partita no 2 in D minor, and the Sibelius Violin Concerto,” said the MRU Academy student. With a one-hour time limit on his performance, he describes his performace as, “very exhausting, both mentally and physically. My program was timed at a little under an hour, so I couldn’t take many breaks in between movements or pieces.”
As one of Bill van der Sloot’s string students, Auerback senses some thrilling progress in his playing, “The first time I played the program at the Calgary festival I thought my arms were going to fall off by the time I was done. By the time I reached Nationals, I was able to play the program without getting physically tired, which I am very happy about!”
Not just a solo artist, in the national chamber class, he was joined by Jenny Crane (cello) and Minja Mckenna (viola). Having been on a two-month hiatus before the competition meant that the trio had to make up for lost time. “We were only able to meet a week before Nationals. During that week we met every day, sometimes twice a day, to get our pieces back into shape.”
The hard work paid off as the trio, coached by John Thomson who was in the audience in Edmonton for support, was also awarded with first prize in the chamber music division.
As a gracious victor, Auerbach sites the work of van der Sloot and Thomson, along with previous instructors Ian Swensen and Kevork Mardirossian as the reasons he made the podium, “I would not be where I am without any of these teachers.”
Winning nationals earns the violinist a scholarship which Auerbach plans to use towards his studies. “ I am supporting myself to study here, and the winnings I have received will allow me to continue to do this.”
When asked what the key to his gold-medal success has been, he answers, “I would say having the curiosity to be constantly searching for what you want. I get pretty fascinated and obsessive over the music I am playing, and nurturing this trait lets me take the time and space I need to grow.”
– by JLove
MRU Violinist Wins Grand Prize at Canadian Federation of Music Festivals
Mount Royal Conservatory student Angela Ryu, a violinist in the Academy for Gifted Youth program, recently won the grand prize as well as the first prize for all string instruments at the National Music Festival of the Federation of Canadian Music Festivals. The competition took place from August 13-15 in Edmonton.
Angela is 15 and competed with string players of all ages from across Canada, including university music students.
The competition is the largest grass roots music contest in Canada, with tens of thousands of competitors in every city and town in Canada.
Last year, MRU Conservatory student Isabella Perron won the same prize at only 14 years of age.
“Decades of thoughtful hard work and support have given the community of Calgary an exceptional Conservatory for our gifted young artists,” notes William van der Sloot, Manager of Academy and Choral Programs. “Part of the mission for all of our universities and colleges is to serve our communities. There is no better example of this at MRU than The Conservatory.”
Young violinist to solo at NYC’s Carnegie Hall
An 11-year-old Mount Royal Conservatory violinist is preparing to play solo at Carnegie Hall in New York City this month.
Read story in Metro here.
Young violinist Amilia Hildahl won an honourable mention in this year’s American Protégé International Piano and Strings Competition.
The talent competition sees young musicians ages six to 18 from across North America, Europe, China, Korea, Mongolia, Poland, and Russia vying for top spots.
Amilia is taking to the famed concert hall’s stage May 26.
“It doesn’t feel real when I stop and think about it,” said Amilia, who has been a Conservatory student since she was six years old.
“I really do think I was suprised at the outcome. I didn’t think I didn’t have the potential, but I didn’t think I was there quite yet. But it’s something new and different to try out and it paid off,” she said.
Amilia studies violin under Conservatory faculty member Elisabeth Szojka.
She also plays second violin in the Conservatory’s Junior Orchestra under Benn Neumann.
One of the great advantages of studying at the Conservatory is the extensive array of musical activities that provide a complement to private instruction.
“For our string students, an important adjunct to private lessons is our orchestra program – a series of six string ensembles that progress from a child’s first ensemble experience, culminating in the Calgary Youth Orchestra, a full symphonic orchestra that plays professional repertoire,” says Sheldon Nadler, the Conservatory’s Manager of General and Orchestral Programs.
Amilia’s mother, Violetta, submitted an audition recording of Amilia performing Oskar Rieding’s Concertino in G op. 24, Sonata 4 in D minor variation 1 by Johann Christoph Pepusch and Hornpipe by George Coutts.
“I recorded her playing and thought whatever would happen would happen. I was just looking to see what her potential is,” said Violetta.
“She’s been really happy playing the violin and performing, so we’re just very happy she’d been able to reap the rewards. What she does later is up to her. It’s her choice entirely.”
Music runs in the family for three generations: not only is Amilia’s mother Violetta a piano teacher, but her grandmother Isabella is also a violinist and teacher.
“She’s always been around music,” said Violetta. “We’re very happy she’s been exposed to all this her entire life.”
For Amilia, the experience is worth the hard work and is sure to make a lifelong memory.
“I work hard, that’s typically my goal. I work hard and get something done and get my breaks, do whatever else I need to do,” she said.
“I think the violin will always stay as part of my life regardless if I take it on professionally.”
by Sherri Zickefoose, May 12, 2014