It’s About Time… Indeed

Legendary trumpet player Al Muirhead is nominated for a Juno.

Al Muirhead: It’s About Time

Yes… that same Al Muirhead who, for over 60 years has played countless studio sessions, appeared on innumerable stages and accompanied award-winners like Ian Tyson, Rosemary Clooney and Diana Krall, has finally stepped into the spotlight and recorded his own album… at age 80.

That album is nominated for the 2016 Jazz Album of the Year Juno Award and the reaction from the community is, “It’s About Time.” Which, ironically, is the title of the release.

Bassist Kodi Hutchinson (Chronograph Records) was the one to persuade Muirhead to do it. So, he called long-time friends and collaborators P. J. Perry and Tommy Banks to join him. MRU drum and jazz clinician Tyler Hornby also appeared on the album.

As for which of the encyclopaedia of jazz standards they know between them they were going to include, “We went into the studio with nothing prepared,” Muirhead starts, “No lead sheets. Nothing. It was right off the top of our heads.”

I just loved the freedom of it all

This organic process is reminiscent of what brought Muirhead to jazz in the first place, “I was playing in the orchestra and military band. Then the music coming out of New York after the war… I just loved the freedom of it all.”

As to how he got into the genre, “I learned by ear,” he confesses. “You heard most of the stuff on the radio and you couldn’t afford the ‘78s of them. So, people would get together at a barn dance and give their own interpretation of them.”

Muirhead, who spends a good deal of time at the MRU Conservatory teaching workshops and clinics to lucky young trumpet players and jazz enthusiasts, thinks that jazz has evolved, and not just always for the better. “Melody seems to be a thing of the past,” he recounts, “what’s important now are the time changes and key changes. It’s an academic pursuit.”

Back in the days when jazz standards were the pop tunes of the broadcast world, “when Louis (Armstrong) was out there – everyone loves Louis – you didn’t have to be a jazz fan to love Louis. That was when everyone listened with their ears, not their eyes.”

This accessibility is something that his debut album brings back, but it’s not intended only to please the public. “Hopefully (on the album) I have the goods, but this is me. Hope you like it. That’s it.”

Al Muirhead: MRU Conservatory Trumpet Clinician

He even writes a couple original tunes on the recording. One in particular is close to his heart as it was penned for and named after his wife of forty-two years “Ida Mae.” This is one of the rare gems that features Al Muirhead’s singing voice. His assessment of his crooning track, “The guys played really well,” and, “The ladies love it.”

His wife ‘Ida Mae’ was excited about embracing the Juno announcement, but for Muirhead, “It took me a while,” he admits graciously. “It’s not something I was working towards. It’s never been my goal.”

But, Juno judges and fans alike are celebrating this nomination by echoing the sentiment of his debut offering, “It’s About Time.”

  • By (Not-yet-Juno-Nominated) JLove

A Bella Future for the Junos


site-header_0“Every Artist starts somewhere,” says Chris Herard. “When you hear them thanking people during the awards ceremony, it’s important to note they all were amateurs and learned their craft somewhere.”

Herard is the Artistic Director of the “Listening to Our City” Youth Showcase & Fundraiser for MusiCounts, a charitable foundation dedicated to keeping music alive in schools across Canada.

Chris Herard leading the band

“It only makes sense to showcase Calgary’s finest young musicians in Calgary’s youngest (and finest) concert hall,” he notes. That’s why the Out Loud 2016 Juno Awards Host Committee are having their youth-focused show at the Bella Concert Hall at Mount Royal University on March 14, 2016 at 7:30pm.

Among the ensembles featured are MRU Conservatory’s own Calgary Boys’ Choir, MRU Academy String Trio and Piano Trio. They will be joined onstage with other Calgary arts groups including the Stampede Showband, the Alberta International Band Festival High School Honour Band and the Jazz YYC Youth Lab Big Band. “It’s an opportunity for students,” Herard notes, “to perform on a world-class stage in celebration of Calgary’s Year of Music.”

When the Junos asked to have a youth-featured program, they chose the right producer. Herard has been an influential musician and music educator in the Calgary Separate School Board (Bishop Carroll High School) and many community arts organizations. As a member of Calgary’s popular comic a cappella ensemble, the Heebee-jeebees, he has the musical showmanship to ensure the event is both musically spectacular and entertaining for all audiences.

For many of these young artists, it will be the first time on the Bella stage. For some, it might be the first time on a stage of this magnitude. “We look forward to showcasing this incredible new facility to the nation both at our show and during Juno week.  We are so lucky to have the opportunity to perform in the new Bella.”

Headliner: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald

“We hope our event has the opportunity to shine the spotlight on these phenomenal student musicians, as well as on their teachers and families whom support them.” Herard adds, “We also hope to inspire them towards greatness with our headliner Michael Bernard Fitzgerald.  He is such a wonderful supporter of young people making music, and we have a special finale planned with him that will surely get everyone out of their seats, and be something none of us will soon forget.”

In this year’s Juno nominees, many hail from right here in Calgary which is an inspiring notion for all of these Calgary-based artists performing on March 14th. Will this performance be the beginning of a career that will achieve Juno Award success in the future? Herard is confident, “Without question – we will see future Juno nominees here.”

So, support them now to make sure you are thanked in their Juno victory speech in the future.

For tickets click here.

-by (Juno Award Not-yet-nominated) JLove



Can You Laugh at a Virtuoso?


As a musical enthusiast, I appreciate a virtuostic player. But the concert hall is rarely the place you go for a few laughs. For tickets, go to or call 403-440-7770.

Truthfully, it’s difficult to find a musical virtuoso with a sense of humour let alone comic timing. Those worlds rarely collide.

I do remember the first time I saw the late great Victor Borge lean forward from his piano bench to slap away the unsuspecting soprano soloist’s hand… repeatedly. I laughed every time it happened. Or the time where he played an unrecognizable selection and, while mugging to the audience, adjusted his glasses and turned the music sc
ore right-side up again to reveal it was Rossini’s William Tell Overture.

What made the comedy so great was that when it was time to actually play the piano, he was a master.

Since he died in 2000, there hasn’t been anyone to take up that esteemed mantle… until now. Enter Igudesman & Joo.

Russian violinist Aleksey Igudesman and British-Korean pianist Richard Hyung-ki Joo met while studying at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England when they were 12 years old. 5e83cf5c3fe01659d0c10800b22aa72aLittle did they know at that time that they would be playing the prestigious Carnegie Hall… dressed in wigs while rapping.

When asked why they bring their comic talents to the often stuffy world of classical music, Igudesman says, “the music itself is not stuffy. It’s exciting. It’s fun.”

Their touring production entitled, “And Now Mozart” rarely features the music of the timeless composer. The duo might start with a recognizable sonata, but veer off into a disco or country feel with some upgraded lyrics. But Igudesman thinks Mozart would approve, “Mozart is crazy. Mozart is (was) funny.”

They have graced many great stages worldwide, and have worked with like-minded artists including the Piano Man himself… Billy Joel, who joined them onstage at Carnegie Hall. They’ve played with a range of collaborators, from acclaimed symphonies around the globe, to 80s pop band Tears for Fears.   For them, it’s about two things; music and fun. “We don’t make fun of the music,” Igudesman warns, “we make fun with the music.”102213-ARTS-BIG-Nightmare-Music-Courtesy-of-Todd-Rosenberg-PhotographyChicago-Symphony-Orchestra-1024x682

Like other great comic pairings like Penn and Teller, Laurel & Hardy or (in their first act) Donald Trump & Sarah Palin, they have quite the following. Their YouTube Channel has videos that have received over 40 million views. So, they must be striking a nerve or hitting a funny bone.

Here in Calgary, the Bella Concert Hall has proven its worth as a suitable stage for virtuosos. With talents like Yuja Wang and Yi-Jia Susanne Hou, it’s easy to say that we’ve broken in the acoustics with style. But, how about the audiences? Igudesman & Joo may be the first ticket where the success of the show is truly based on audience reaction… in laughter.

The duo debuts as the Bella at 7:30pm on Sunday, February 28th. For tickets, go to or call 403-440-7770.

Believe me, if Victor Borge was with us, he would be taking his seatbelt out of his piano bench and strapping in for a great night of music…with a lot of laughs.


See their video reel by clicking here.


Come Blow Your Own Horn: Hornfest 2016

As a French Horn player with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Laurie Matiation knows how to play well with others.

81509_orig“Most are a lone horn players,” she cites, speaking of instrumentalists in student band
programs, “they don’t get a lot of experience in small ensembles.” This is one of the reason that Hornfest began. “Some CPO colleagues tossed around the idea,” she explains, “It’s a way to help the horn players focus on their part and a compliment to the great work being done in schools.”

Hornfest 2016 is happening on March 5th & 6th at MRU. Specialized instructors and clinicians will be working with any student who is passionate about learning how to play the French Horn regardless of expertise. “We’re laid back.” Matiation admits, “We’re not there to judge or be critical.”

Matiation is clearly excited. The energy she brings to her instruction and the passion she has with the music is infectious. She delights in the fact that Hornfest 2016 basically has an in-house arranger in Doug Umana, one of the instructors. “Doug arranged the theme from the movie Rocky,” she gushes. What’s up for this year’s program is anyone’s guess.

The variety in the music played throughout the weekend makes every horn player step up to the plate. From movie music to, “accessible classical music,” Matiation knows that everyone leaves with a deeper appreciation of musical styles and improved horn technique.FRENCH-HORN_2682972k

“At the end,” she reports, “we all have a mass horn choir.” The mini-concert on the Sunday afternoon showcases the music they’ve been rehearsing all weekend, played to a captive audience.

For these often ‘lone’ horn players, it’s an experience. “Some are a little overwhelmed and their jaws drop,” Matiation explains when they first hear the sound, “others get excited.”

For early bird registration, click on before Feb. 8th.


-by JLove (a.k.a. Little Boy Blue)





Welcome Overture

Canada and the nations of the world. A series of images with an Canadian flag


You can listen to Songs for Syria on Friday.

Erin MacLean-Berko is the Program Coordinator for General and Orchestral Programs for the MRU Conservatory and, before taking this position; she was moved by the global refugee crisis.  On a trip to Vienna, “my family and I volunteered at the refugee camps for two months to help people on their journey westward.  So, I saw first-hand the impact this was having.”

Musicians for Refugees YYC is a group of UCalgary music alumni who hopes to make the right kind of impact this Friday.  In a concert at the Rozsa Theatre, they will be joining forces with MRU Conservatory choirs Artio and Cum Vino Cantus to sing a welcome to our hometown’s newest Calgarians.

This particular event is a fundraiser for Syrian Support of Calgary, an organization whose aim is support.  MacLean-Berko notes that with a warehouse of donated goods, the hands-on group members aim, “to catch refugees before they fall into homelessness.”

Joining these groups onstage are the talents of renowned pianist Charles Foreman, the University String Quartet (under the direction of MRU Conservatory’s Edmond Agopian), local super-choirs Spritus and Luminous Voices directed by Tim Shantz, Double Treble, Calgary’s premiere womens’ ensemble and will be hosted by popular comic a cappella group, the Heebee-jeebees.  The variety in programming reflects the diversity being celebrated in the community.

“The mandate behind Musicians for Refugees YYC,” MacLean-Berko explains, “is that we’re musicians. We don’t have a lot of money, but we have talent and time to share. If we can do this, anyone can do it.”

The concert idea was so popular in the music community that MacLean-Berko says, “we had to turn some groups away.” This is moving concert organizers in the direction of planning a follow up for the cause.  “We’re hoping to do a concert series,” MacLean-Berko suggests.  With the outpouring of support already, we know there’s more MRU Conservatory talent waiting in the wings.

Songs for Syria is happening on Friday, January 15th, 2016 at 7:00pm at the Rozsa Centre. For tickets, click here.



I’m With the Band

“We need a lot more live music in this town.” James Desautels declares. So, he has devoted himself to the prospect of training more singer/songwriters here at MRU to fill that void.W16_CONS_Blog_Popular_Music-600x397

As an award-winning violinist, Desautels has jammed with the best. Boasting collaborative events with the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello and Pearl Jam, his versatility rivals his passion. It’s that passion that led him to become MRU Conservatory’s ‘first string’ recruiter for pop music enthusiasts.

“We all like the term popular music because it’s timeless.” Desautels explains. “Something that was a hit in the ‘30s and is still around now is still ‘popular’.” He has high hopes for students in this program, especially the Introduction to Song writing Class. But the question is, how can one teach creativity?

Desautels is a man of answers. “There’s an art and a science of it. It’s an endless search.”   His approach is organic, “We talk structure… roots of theory…then it becomes more of a workshop. Getting up to sing and play. “ He dissolves any potential songwriter’s ego, which has famously broken up countless pop bands, with an in-class group mentality, “I’m encouraging of students giving others feedback.”

An artist tends to be defined by their influences. James notes a few songwriters, “I have crazy-mad respect for people who have dialled it in. Dianne Warren, Max Martin …I love the stuff that Sara Barellis is writing… Burt Bacharach is still killing it. Love that Killers’ song Human. Pretty much anything that Queen has done. “ Even in his list, he oozes musical versatility. But when asked the most important thing he teaches in class, his answer is as complex as it is simple, “To write better songs.”

A relatively new course of study for MRU Conservatory, Desautels’ popular music instruction has been, for lack of a better term… popular. “The intro course is broad, all levels,” he says. “And the artists that took it want to take it again.” Which is, in part, the reason that the Advanced Song Writing course is being offered in the Winter 2016 course calendar along with courses in Music Business, Intro to Song Writing and a brand new course, Popular Music Band.

Who is he expecting to join the band? “I love people who are the double or triple threats. “ he says, “The singer-songwriters they’re already that cause they have their guitar, piano and they’re singing.” But, like most singer-songwriters, he needs to find a way to get a whole band together. “I want to see the pop band take off.” Desautels offers his recruitment pitch, “We need people to sign up.”

Popular music is a departure from the traditional offerings of MRU Conservatory, but it’s attracting the right type of musicians. “A couple (students) are already out there doing’ it. I’ve heard a couple great voices coming out of that class – it’s about getting the writing up to the same level of the singing.“

Fill the live music void in town.  Get a band together and sign up.


-by JLove

A Season for All

SoundsOfTheSeasonAccording to MRU Kantorei’s Artistic Director John Morgan, the sounds you hear in the Sounds of the Season program will be, “magical.”

“You’re going to get traditional, favourite carols and some hidden gems.” He explains. With selections including the University of Calgary’s Kletzmer Band’s arrangement of “Happy Hannukah” back-to-back with Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, it certainly is a holiday show for everyone.

55 members strong, Kantorei is having an inspired season. “We’re tackling some large projects this year,” Morgan states, “We finished Mozart’s Requiem and are doing Vivialdi’s Gloria and the Music of Eric Whitacre in April (9th) in celebration of the choir’s twentieth anniversary.”

In his second year as Artistic Director, he’s proud of the interest the community has to sing together. This diversity in musical taste and backgrounds is finding its way into the repertoire for this holiday show. For example, “Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque is contemporary classical and we’ll be doing (YouTube sensation) Straight-No-Chaser’s version of the 12 Days of Christmas.”

Kantorei will be sharing the bill with their younger counterparts Mount Royal Artio (directed by Jean-Louis Bleau) and the Calgary Youth Orchestra (directed by Edmond Agopian). They’ll also be joined by their guest emcees, Calgary’s comic a cappella favourites, The Heebee-jeebees who can always be counted on to provide a festive comic punch.

For those who haven’t experienced the Bella Concert Hall yet, Morgan says, “It’s one of the best venues I’ve ever performed in.” The magnitude of that comment can’t be overstated when he concludes with, “and I’ve played Carnegie Hall.”

Come see Sounds of the Season at the Bella Concert Hall on Saturday, Dec. 12th at 7pm. Tickets at



Bear in Mind

One of the stars of Winter Fantasia, the first of MRU Conservatory’s two holiday shows, is familiar to many. Straight from the storybooks, it’s that duffle-coat-wearing, marmalade-sandwich-craving bear named Paddington.

unnamed-1Michael Bond’s beloved character will be brought to life by four senior MRU Conservatory Speech Arts and Drama students. The tale of Paddington’s Christmas was adapted for stage by program coordinator Jennifer Orr. “Who doesn’t love Paddington,” she says. “His appeal is his sweetness, curiosity, spirit of adventure…and all the misadventures that spring from those qualities.”

The narrative seems like a perfect fit for a concert featuring the music of MRU Choirs Arietta, Arioso and the Calgary Boys Choir along with the Conservatory Strings performers. “It takes us through pre-Christmas planning at the Brown household. There are a few bumps for Paddington,” she mentions which are fine plot point for some musical accompaniment, but she assures, “Paddington comes out of the celebrations feeling lucky to be a bear.”

All four of the Speech Arts performers are excited to bring this tale to an audience, especially in the new Bella Concert Hall. “They are thrilled at the opportunity to try out the Bella,” Orr explains, and adds that this theatrical component provides some wonderful scope for imagination, “all of them are in high school, so they are loving the chance to step back into a children’s story.”

Undoubtedly, the all-ages audience at the Bella on Dec. 6th will be in full agreement.

Konstantin Shamray is in the Building

FullSizeRender_3The Russian-born pianist arrived from Adelaide, Australia and is, at present, rehearsing onstage at the Bella Concert Hall.

There’s a sense of calm in the hall as Konstantin completes another seemingly impossible glissando while counting the remaining beats in the bar aloud. Echoing his count is Edmond Agopian, the director and conductor of the Calgary Youth Orchestra who will join him onstage for the show on Sunday.

“Would you like to make that an eighth?” Agopian suggests a change to suit his headliner. Shamray dismisses the suggestion demonstrating how he can cover the pickup with a slightly different release. An accommodating artist.FullSizeRender_1

Sharing the stage with the pianist and the orchestra will be MRU’s choral ensembles, Artio, Cum Vino Cantas and Kantorei. Each will offer a different texture to the concert and to the hall.

Through his performance, the Bella sounds fantastic. The acoustic design amplifies his musicianship in both technique and emotion. He seems to be enjoying it.

As in most rehearsal settings, empty theatre seats are the only witnesses to this astounding preview.   When the seats fill up on Sunday, November 22nd the calm of this moment will become infused with the excitement of performance. Only then, at 7:30pm, when the lights go up on this world-class pianist and MRU Conservatory’s orchestra and choirs, will we know for sure what decisions have been made on this stage. But, whether or not they decide to, “make that an eighth,” you can be sure the glissando will remain perfect.

FullSizeRender_2Tickets are still available by clicking here.

Harp Strings Eternal

1617377_10205929173249266_3831900375687360238_oBoth travel and music can bring you to new worlds and open your mind. That’s exactly what has happened to MRU Conservatory Harp instructor Gianetta Baril.

Gianetta has returned from a life-changing trip which took her to many places including Rio and Nepal where she personally donated three harps and taught local children how to play them.

One of the reasons these regions don’t have emerging harpists is that the heavenly instrument costs a princely sum. “A harp is about $3500,” she reveals, “They can buy twenty violins for the cost of one harp.”

When this self-proclaimed ‘Crazy Canadian,’ garnered interest from the locals, she recalled, “You can’t audition per se, you just have to see who’s interested.”

Across the two programs, fourteen students signed up for her tutelage. One boy, a bored violinist, needed a new challenge. At age twelve, his attention was divided between music and beach volleyball. “We wrote a simple harp part for him.” Baril explains, “He got to the end of the first run through of (Breinschmid’s) the Typewriter and the conductor and ensemble gave him such a huge applause.” Catching his reaction, she relayed, “his smile just exploded!”

That has been a common reaction whether playing or listening to the harp. But Baril herself has grown as a result of her travels, “I feel much freer to make music; the freedom to communicate what’s inside. That’s what’s really changed. I think,” she continues, “it was the experience of letting go…. To know that whatever I’m going to be faced with, I can handle that and it’s all going to work out fine.“ She describes being on stage now, “where in the past I might have been maybe inhibited by the fear that I was going to get a pedal wrong… which is pretty dramatic on the harp when that happens, I just don’t worry about that anymore. If it happens,” she concludes, “I’ll just solve the issue.”10360782_10206235269421479_6732763555709696666_n

The concert is called Wayfaring – Gianetta Baril & Friends. It’s at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, a new venue for the Instrumental Society of Calgary, on Sunday, November 22, 2015 at 3:00pm.

Open your mind and expect to experience some other worlds.

To hear Gianetta play, click here.