Musically Speaking: Chris Hadfield is the Real McCoy

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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.

Jazz Hands Around the World





On April 30th, 2016, you’ll find Herbie Hancock, Aretha Franklin, Diana Krall and Sting at the White House.  There will also be some jazz music featured in Bologna, Italy in the Jazz 4 Peace Celebration, and in the Quartet Diminished in Concert show at Niavaran Hall in Tehran, Iran.

Jazz music brings together the improvised solo expressions of individual instruments into an artistic whole in a combo.  That’s the message of UNESCO’s International Jazz Day, celebrated this year on April 30, 2016.

“UNESCO (United Nations Educations, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared this day a day that celebrates creativity and diversity of Jazz music,” says in-the-know saxophonist Mark DeJong.

DeJong, who’s the new Artistic Coordinator at MRU Conservatory, has composed a special something to celebrate at the TransAlta Pavilion, “We are celebrating some of our renowned jazz alumni. We’re featuring a great local vocalist by the name of Aimee-Jo Benoit. She has a great following with indie bands like Woodpigeon. Joining her are some former grads of the Jazz Program.”

The program is made up of some jazz standards, “She’s going to dive in to the American Songbook for those ‘tin pan alley’ chestnuts.” DeJong continues, “then some jazz originals and really creative interpretations of some of her favourite Canadian icons like Joni Mitchell and Neil young.” No matter what the source inspiration is, DeJong insists that Benoit promises to, “breathe new life into them.”

He would know first hand.

DeJong is among the esteemed alumni joining Benoit onstage with saxophone in hand. “This is my first presentation as the new Artistic Coordinator at MRU Conservatory.” he says, “One of the things I wanted to do was be involved in the early shows both as a programmer and on the ground on the stage.”

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Tim Tamashiro – host of Tonic on CBC Radio 2

As a unique UNESCO moment, DeJong and the combo are excited to have CBC’s Tim Tamashiro take the stage as guest emcee. “Anyone who’s a jazz fan in Canada knows Tim… not only with his incredible career as a jazz vocalist, but as the host of CBC Radio 2’s Tonic.” The ‘drinky’ jazz crooner will be on hand to spread the harmonious message to the jazz community, “he’s such an energetic and creative personality,” DeJong says, “We’re really delighted that he’s able to join us.”

Benoit, DeJong and Tamashiro are warming their chops for April 30th. To celebrate UNESCO International Jazz Day with the rest of the world, click here, or head to the White House.

  • by JLove

Christmas in Song kicking off the season early!


Mount Royal Conservatory is getting a head start on the festive yuletide season with its Christmas in Song concert Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014.

Now in its 26th year, Christmas in Song has delighted family audiences with a mixture of holiday favourites, classical masterpieces and traditional carols. It’s become a treasured part of the city’s holiday festivities.

Christmas in Song is an excellent showcase featuring the talents of the Calgary Youth Orchestra, and Mount Royal’s family of choirs: Arietta, Arioso, Artio and Kantorei. This year, the Conservatory’s Jazz faculty and students will be adding some seasonal swing.

“For me, the musical highlight of the season is always Christmas in Song — the Conservatory’s wonderful yuletide celebration,” says Mount Royal Conservatory Director Paul Dornian. “It’s always a thrill to see such a large stage filled with Mount Royal choristers and Calgary Youth Orchestra members.”

Performers will be sharing the stage with Calgary’s Heebee-jeebees, the popular a cappella group made up of several Mount Royal choral alumni: Cédric Blary, Chris Herard, Ken Lima-Coelho, and Jonathan Love.

For some of the children in Arietta and Arioso, this is their first performing experience.

The Conservatory is especially pleased to collaborate once again with Glencoe Resources, its long-time partners in Christmas in Song.


Tickets: Adults $30, Students/Seniors $20, Children under 12 $10, family and group discounts available. Call 403.440.7770

Calgary Boys’ Choir sharing stage with Boychoir at CIFF

The Calgary International Film Festival is showing Boychoir, and is inviting the Conservatory's Calgary Boys' Choir to perform. Image: CIFF
The Calgary International Film Festival is showing Boychoir, and is inviting the Conservatory’s Calgary Boys’ Choir to perform. Image: CIFF

The Calgary International Film Festival is adding a real bonus feature: a pop-up performance from the Calgary Boys’ Choir.

Calgary Boys' Choir at Carnaby Street on tour.
Calgary Boys’ Choir at Carnaby Street on tour.

Performing live at the Wednesday, Sept. 24  screening of Boychoir (starring Dustin Hoffman and Kathy Bates) audiences will enjoy a live concert from the Conservatory’s senior Calgary Boys’ Choir at Eau Claire Market and again just before the movie begins.

The added bonus of the live performance is all about bringing extras to the festival audience.

“Watching an incredible film like Boychoir would be a memorable experience on its own, but when it’s paired with the magic of the Calgary Boys’ Choir, performing live, it becomes truly unforgettable,” said Mark Hopkins, CIFF’s experiential programming co-ordinator.

“Involving the Calgary Boys’ Choir was one instance where everything came together wonderfully. With a film called Boychoir, it seemed only natural to get the boys’ choir involved,” he said.

The choir will perform twice before the 6:45 p.m. showing of the film —  first, a pop-up concert in Eau Claire Market, then a brief performance in the theatre before the film starts.

The film will help share what the Conservatory and singers already know: choirs are a rewarding and worthwhile activity for everyone.

“The Calgary Boys’ Choir is excited to be associated with this wonderful new movie about singing boys,” said Calgary Boys’ Choir artistic director Paul Grindlay. “We love to sing and share our music with others, and it’s affirming to see Hollywood choose this story to make a film.”

Boychoir is a story about an orphaned 11-year-old boy sent to the American Boychoir boarding school. Angry and acting out, the boy catches the attention of choirmaster (Dustin Hoffman) who sees the boy’s (Garrett Waering) immense talent and potential and encourages him. The film’s director, Francoise Girard, who also directed The Red Violin, tackles the theme of music as a social force in a new setting.

“Having an amazing actor like Dustin Hoffman involved will undoubtedly enhance the film’s appeal and effect,” said Grindlay. “Of course, I hope that this movie introduces the unique beauty of boys’ voices to many and increases popular awareness and interest in what we do, because we think it’s valuable and important. For those of us involved in choirs and orchestras, music provides the soundtrack to our lives. It’s a rewarding discipline that challenges us constantly, a path we travel with our closest friends which takes us abroad and brings us home again. It is a divine creation which is essentially simple and yet fascinatingly complex. It stirs and inspires, calms and comforts, helps us to define ourselves and allows us to tell our stories.”

Sherri Zickefoose, Sept. 22, 2014

Calgary Boys’ Choir featured in Nuit Blanche Calgary

Berlin-based artist Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay included members of the Calgary Boys' Choir (of which he is a former member) in his Nuit Blanche Calgary sound installation.
Berlin-based artist Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay included members of the Calgary Boys’ Choir (of which he is a former member) in his Nuit Blanche Calgary sound installation.

Members of the Calgary Boys’ Choir are playing a starring role in Nuit Blanche Calgary this Saturday night.

And they have artist Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay to thank for it.

Nemerofsky is a former Calgary Boys’ Choir member (1984-87) and his sound installation, The Lovers, features the recorded voices of three local choir singers.

Nemerofsky says his experience singing with the Calgary Boys Choir stuck with him.

“The choir played a major role in my development as a creative and musical person,” said Nemerofsky.

“My artistic work often involves singing, so when I was invited to produce a new work for Nuit Blanche Calgary I immediately thought about including the Calgary Boys’ Choir in my project.”

Nuit Blanche is the sunset-to-late night contemporary arts festival featuring 10 free performance art events from 7-10 p.m. downtown’s Olympic Plaza and Civic Plaza Parkade Park Saturday, Sept. 20.

Nemerofsky’s The Lovers is a spatialized sound installation broadcast through a series of speakers throughout the park. It involves singers mimicking the sounds of bells, transmitting a message word by word that the audience can slowly decode.

It’s not the first time Nemerofsky has used voices to mimic sounds: he used a Vienna Boys’ Choir singer to stand in for an air raid siren in a past performance here.

Calgary Boys’ Choir director Paul Grindlay says working with Nemerofsky was a great experience.

“Benny had been seeing details about the Calgary Boys’ Choir’s 40th anniversary a couple of seasons ago, and it seems that we were in his mind when he found out about being able to do this project for Nuit Blanche in Calgary,” said Grindlay.

The project provided a unique learning experience for the choristers.

“It was an interesting assignment for the boys,” said Grindlay. “In some ways very simple, yet repetitive and exacting as they had to sing the same syllable many times with the ring and cadence of a bell chime. In a sense they were providing Benny with the audio-building-blocks that he will use to assemble the larger composition. It seems that the drawn out delivery of the text is designed to encourage listeners to slow down, linger and listen, to slip into a different realm of time.”

Sherri Zickefoose, Sept. 25, 2014

Exciting times this fall at Mount Royal Conservatory

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September signals back to school at Mount Royal Conservatory for students, music educators, and new events for concert goers. Our Academy for Gifted Youth is gearing up with fresh faces, auditions are underway for our family of youth and adult choirs, and our ensembles, Calgary Youth Orchestra, early childhood programs and speech arts will soon be in full swing.

But fall classes and activities aren’t just for children.

Research shows that group classes and private lessons for adults enrich lives. Life-long learning benefits everyone, whether learning to play an instrument or singing as a hobby, or private speech arts lessons for boosting your career in the boardroom.

Curious? See what the Conservatory is offering and join us.


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“Approachable” Fall Family Concert
Oct. 19, 2014
3 p.m. Leacock Theatre
A free early season family concert aimed at recruitment, featuring the Senior Choir and a variety of child-friendly post-concert activities.

Calgary Organ Festival and SymposiumMRU carthy closeup
Oct. 26-Nov. 2
Internationally-acclaimed performers and a Halloween silent film screening  set to live music are in store for audiences of the fifth annual Calgary Organ Festival. This year’s 10-day festival lineup of recitals and concerts includes performances by Luc Beauséjour (Montreal), and David Baskeyfield (UK/USA). The Great Halloween Organ SpookTacular is featuring a screening of the 1925 silent movie Phantom of the Opera with live pipe organ accompaniment at Knox United Church.  Free recitals at MRU include a live carillon concert outdoors. See complete listings at

Wyatt Artist in Residence Concert Series
Assad Brothers Guitar DuoAssad Bros Mount Royal Conservatory
Nov. 9, 2014
7:30 p.m., Leacock Theatre
Brazilian-born brothers Sergio and Odair Assad have set the benchmark for all other guitarists by creating a new standard of guitar innovation, ingenuity and expression. “Call it one of the most engaging musical presentations of the season. Better yet, call it a stunning display of the music of the Western Hemisphere:” The Los Angeles Times

Christmas in Songcons_img_header_cis
Nov. 29, 2014
7 p.m. Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
A family holiday tradition and a celebration the season with the joyful sounds of Mount Royal Conservatory. Christmas in Song has been a treasured part of Calgary’s holiday festivities for nearly three decades. This, our 26th annual concert, will feature Mount Royal’s Arietta, Arioso, Artio and Kantorei choirs, the outstanding Calgary Youth Orchestra, and a surprise line-up of special guest artists.

“Winter Wonderland” Concert by Calgary Boys’ Choir
Dec. 7, 2014
Leacock Theatre  7 p.m.
This will be a full-length, ticketed concert event featuring both levels of the Calgary Boys’ Choir in music celebrating the glories of winter, wildlife and scenery.

Sherri Zickefoose, Sept. 2, 2014

Director combines choral and contemporary dance on stage


Nearly 130,000 viewers have watched his jaw-dropping So You Think You Can Dance audition on youtube and now Calgary contemporary dancer and choreographer Gessuri Gaitan is ready to dazzle audiences again.

Gaitan wows dance judges

Gaitan is teaming up with Mount Royal Artio Choir for Paradox: a dramatic exploration of our difficult relationship with time and technology through song and dance April 30 in Mount Royal University’s Leacock Theatre.

UPDATE: Read what FFWD Weekly says about Paradox.

cons_img_fac_bleauParadox is led by Mount Royal Conservatory artistic director Jean-Louis Bleau, known for his alternative approaches to music: he’s staged performances around a lake in the heart of Kananaskis, inside a planetarium, parking garages, an industrial shop and in a swimming pool involving synchronized swimmers.

The collaboration between these two young Calgary cultural powerhouses is an exciting one.

“Gessuri’s work is jaw-dropping and intense. You’re physically on edge and almost on fire and entranced by what he’s doing,” says Bleau. “That’s why I thought he’d be so fantastic and unique to work with.”

Gaitan first discovered dance at the age of 17 during high school and began training at Calgary’s Decidedly Jazz Danceworks. His travels have taken him to Montreal, Toronto, New York, Portugal, and India.

While studying dance in Dharamsala, India in 2008, Gaitan experienced butoh for the first time. Gessuri was able to return to India in 2011-12 to delve deeper into butoh, a form of Japanese dance theatre involving slow, hyper-controlled motion.

He says working with members of the Artio Choir has been a pleasure.

“The choir members have filled me with so much joy and inspiration. I feel loved and accepted by them and extremely fulfilled to know that I am sharing something valuable with them,” said Gaitan.

Bleau is the artistic director of choral programs at Mount Royal Conservatory.

Besides conducting many city choirs (Calgary Men’s Chorus, Cum Vino Cantus, Mount Royal Youth Choir, St. Gerard’s Parish), he is in demand as a choral clinician.

Bleau says Paradox draws its inspiration from the sometimes difficult struggle to integrate technology into our lives.

“Each of us carries a smart phone that keeps us plugged into our work and business lives long after the work day has ended,” he said. “The very machines that were once meant to free us have, in fact, become our masters. We are the slaves of technology, plugged into and held prisoner by the inventions that were once meant to give us greater freedom.”

Says Gaitan: “I have never had a cell phone and therefore stand outside of this phenomenon that has changed so much of how we live and interact with others. I have not been enslaved by technology that much, but I am still a slave within my own habits so during this performance I will attempt to destroy my old self and then begin again.”

 Sherri Zickefoose, April 22, 2014