Haiti Benefit Concert

There was no U2, Bono, or Sir Paul, no Clooney or other big stars answering phone lines, just our own local musicians from Western Canada pitching in to raise funds for earthquake-stricken Haiti. While the Olympic torch had just passed by our city and moved on to cheering crowds in Banff, the flame of compassion burned bright here at the amazing concert last night in Calgary’s Centre Street Church.

Partnered with the Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, the benefit concert was organized on short notice.  With just a few days to prepare, some of Canada’s top Christian musicians and recording artists gathered, together with the Centre Street Church orchestra and choir, to deliver a moving, high-calibred performance.  All funds raised will be sent to Haiti for urgently needed relief work.

I’ve long wanted to hear Juno Award winner, singer songwriter Steve Bell in person, and I had the chance last night.  But I was much more gratified to discover other singers that I would never have known if not for an occasion like this.  For I’m a sporadic listener of Christian music, have not been a fan of the genre, I admit.  But last night I had an altered view and gained a new appreciation for Christian artists and their music.

Steve Bell and Carolyn Arends opened the concert.  Bell had that amazing voice and musicianship.  From his guitar, I could hear chords that seemed to be created new and yet so natural in their progression. From Surrey, B.C., award-winning singer and songwriter Carolyn Arends wrote on her blog about this concert. And there I discovered some inspiring posts.  I was captured by her voice, her lyrics, piano and guitar playing, and now from her blog, her writing.

The spoken words written for the occasion were delivered rap-style, backed by the rhythms of a djembe drum, riveting and forceful. Other musicians came up one after another, among them were Jason Zerbin, Dan Nel, recording artists Raylene Scarrott, John Bauer, the humorous ‘hip hop artist for the night’, Corey Doak, and the group ‘Junkyard Poets’, just love that name.  Brad McGillvrey, with the choir harmonizing, gave a touching rendition of Lenard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’.

They came up one after the other, quietly, low-key and unpretentious.  That in itself was moving, for this was not a show for the musicians themselves.  There was no limelight; their performance had only one purpose, to draw our attention to the devastated victims in Haiti.

It wasn’t just music, of course.  A group from Compassion Canada shared their harrowing experience as they arrived Haiti one hour before the earthquake hit.  Their lives were spared as they were tied up with some VIP protocols and were delayed reaching their hotel.  Hotel Montana was crumbled by the quake an hour later.  Spared for what?  Brent Trask of the group shared his insight from the ordeal using Psalm 116.  Spared to fulfill one’s vows to the Lifegiver, to make one’s life count, to serve, to praise.

The finale is a moving sight with all performers coming on stage to wrap up with Carolyn Arends’ ‘Seize The Day’.

We were excited to hear that the effort of the night was well rewarded as we raised $115,000.  With the Canadian government matching the amount, a total of $230,000 will be sent to relieve the urgently waiting victims in devastated Haiti.  No big Hollywood stars, no international phenom’s, just plain local musicians with a heart, and a community of united spirit.  Steve Bell added an apt reminder. Don’t say ‘pray for Haiti’, he urged us, but ‘pray with Haiti’.  We are all in it together, our shared humanity, one communal spirit.  Something worthwhile to ponder as we drove back to our warm and secure homes.

Update Jan. 24, 2010:  Since the concert, more donations have been pouring in.  As of today, the amount is at $134,000. With the government’s matching funds, $268,000… so far.


** All photos taken by Arti, seated in the eighth row from the stage, using a pocket-sized digital camera.  The actual scene was much more impressive than these blurry photos show. **

Alberta Bound

Autumn in rural Alberta is immensity amplified.  Big sky and expanse of farmland is the main scenery, something what W. O. Mitchell describes as “the least common denominator of nature… land and sky.”

The air is crisp, fresh, and dry.  Colors are simple:  Big blue sky, golden harvest, even just hay rolled up in bales.  Farming against the snow-capped Rockies, rustic, serene, rejuvenating, harmonious fusion of nature and human endeavor.

Trees as windbreaks in the summer, nature’s sculpture in the fall.  So the leaves are gone, but only then can we see the beauty of the bare branches, like dancers celebrating the changing of the seasons.

The solitary figure in the field… en masse.

“Think I’ll go out to Alberta,
Weather’s good there in the fall.
Got some friends that I can go to working for…”

For some inexplicable reasons, as I’m posting these photos, a flood of nostalgia whirls up in me.  The melodies and lyrics of those songs and singers that we can claim our own keep filling my mind all day. Not too many up-and-coming like to hang around here, since all the fame and glory one seeks is down south.

But these remain our own: Gordon Lightfoot, Ian and Sylvia Tyson, Neil Young… and songs about Alberta, about heading west to seek a new life, or to escape from the pain of lost love.  Maybe the wide open country, big blue sky and wide expanse of land do have their healing powers.

And memories, forever clear, keep us rooted… here’s home.


Photos taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, November, 09.  All Rights Reserved.

More Great Finds!

Call me greedy.  I’ m happy to take the blame.  Since this is the last weekend of the gigantic used book sale at the Crossroad Market, I just had to go again for more treasure hunting.  If you take a look at my second loot list below, you’d have done the same.  As the lady said when I was squeezing my way in,

“It was a zoo yesterday.”

“You came here yesterday too?”  I asked.

“Yeah, sure!”   (Subtext:  What a dumb question… and, why didn’t you?)

So, again, these are all trade paperbacks in mint condition.  They are all a dollar each (Canadian).

The Selected Stories of Mavis GallantThe Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant:   887 pages.  Having seen the video of Mavis Gallant reading in a Paris book shop and her conversation with Jhumpa Lahiri, thanks to fellow blogger oh introducing the Granta link, I was elated to find this volume.  It looked like it had not been opened, fresh, clean for the picking.


The Complete Short Stories of Thomas Wolfe

Short stories, the more the merrier.  I was delighted to find this volume:  The Complete Short Stories of Thomas Wolfe, 621 pages.  I’ve long wanted to read Wolfe, now’s a good time.





A Fine BalanceA lady held up a heavy box for me to take this one out underneath:  A Fine Balance by Canadian writer Rohinton Mistry.   “That’s a good pick,” she said.

“I’ve seen it many times, but think it’s too thick,”  I said.

“You wouldn’t want it to end,”  she said.    What higher recommendation can you get for a book?



One Man's BibleOne Man’s Bible by Gao Xingjian, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize for Literature, the first Chinese recipient of the Prize.  Born in China, Gao has been living in France since 1987.  The book is translated into English by Mabel Lee, associate professor of Chinese at the University of Sydney.  Interesting… although this one I can read the original,  the chance of me finding it in a farmers market here in Cowtown, Canada is not great.  I’ll settle for the translation.


John AdamsI missed the Golden Globe winning TV miniseries.  So, grabbing the original material is just great.  David McCullough’s 721 pages John Adams won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for biography.  This is a handsome movie-tie-in- cover edition with many color pictures.  What a find!




The Radiant WayTalking about wonderful covers.  How about this one:  Margaret Drabble’s The Radiant Way.  I’ve never seen this edition of Drabble’s book.  A pleasure just to look at.




The Devil Wears PradaAnd what’s summer reading without beach reads.  Here’s my copy of The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger.  Again, seldom do I see a trade paperback of this title.






Here are the rest of  my 20 titles:

  • Digging to America by Anne Tyler
  • A Patchwork Planet byAnne Tyler
  • The Navigator of New York by Wayne Johnston (Giller and GG Finalist)
  • Larry’s Party by Carol Shields (Winner of 1998 Orange Prize and National Book Critics Circle Awards)
  • Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby (Saw the movie starring Colin Firth, quite liked it.)
  • The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
  • The Reapers by John Connolly
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Just want to read it before the movie comes out.)
  • The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (Winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize)
  • Durable Goods by Elizabeth Berg
  • The Gathering by Anne Enright (Winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize)
  • Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald
  • The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier (Author of Girl With A Pearl Earring)
  • Bird by Bird:  Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

It’s a tall order to read all the 40 books I hauled back these two weekends.  It’ll take me years.  But as any book lover can attest, it’s good to know they’re on my shelves.


Summer Hours (l’Heure d’été, France 2008)

September is International Film Fest month in several Canadian cities.  Kicking off was the prominent TIFF (Toronto, world’s largest FF), now’s the CIFF (Calgary), and later on in the month, the VIFF (Vancouver).  Last year I was able to catch a glimpse from each one of these events.  But this year I’ll just stick with Calgary.

Went to see French director Olivier Assayas’ (Paris, je t’aime, 2006; Clean, 2004)  Summer Hours last night, the only screening in Calgary.  Writing the script himself, Assayas has created a film so realistic that it seems like a docudrama.  The story is about three adult siblings dealing with the estate of their mother (Edith Scob), a treasure house filled with objets d’arts, from furniture to vases, paintings to artist notebooks.  It’s a visual delight for the art lovers in the audience, albeit the camera doesn’t stay long enough for us to savor… I’d love to see more close-up lingering shots of the notebooks.

What’s realistic of course is, while the objects can easily be passed on from one generation to the next, the emotions and sentiments associated with them cannot.  The eldest son Frédéric (Charles Berling) wishes to leave the house as is so everyone in the family can still stop by and cherish the memories, but his other two siblings think otherwise.  Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) works as a designer in New York and is soon getting married.  Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) works with a sports manufacturing company in China and is settled there with his family.  Though all appreciate the memories of their childhood home in France and the artifacts within, they have their own life to live and family to raise elsewhere.  Their decision of how to deal with their mother’s estate is a practical one, sell it.

The Musée d’Orsay in Paris is the honorable recipient of these personal treasures.  Actually, Assayas was commissioned by the Museum to create the film in celebration of its 20th anniversary.  Here we see the pathos of turning family heirloom into museum pieces, albeit handled gently and meticulously by the staff.  Herein lies the crux of the film.  Assayas has depicted the human side of objets d’arts that we see in museums, how they could have been everyday household items, a table on which notes have been scribbled and letters written, a vase that has held many cut flowers from the garden.  These have been objects used and enjoyed privately by families, but are now desensitized, hung or displayed in a public arena.  The personal and subjective experiences could never be captured by the public eye.

The last scene is a closure for the pain of letting go.  The teenage grandchildren have one last chance to enjoy the house and its idyllic setting as they hold a large party for their friends.  The young immerse themselves in loud music, dancing, doping, and dipping in the pond, unaware of the passing of one era to the next.  A brief moment of sadness takes hold of the oldest granddaughter, as she savors a lingering memory in the garden.  She is joined by her boyfriend for a brief reminiscence and the next moment, they quickly dash back to the house to rejoin the party.  Assayas has painted the poignant in a most subtle manner.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

JunoFest: Celebrating Classical at the Junos

Junos 2008 Venue Calgary Pengrowth Saddledome

What do Toronto classical composer Brian Current, Montreal cellist Matt Haimovitz, or violinist James Ehnes have in common with Anne Murray, Avril Lavigne, Feist, Jann Arden, Paul Brandt, or Michael Bublé?

They are all Canadian musicians sharing the limelight in this year’s Juno Awards coming up April 6.

The Canadian Music Awards extravaganza is to be held this Sunday April 6 in Calgary’s Pengrowth Saddledome.  Click here for the official website of the 2008 Juno Awards.

Before the grand event, there is going to be a celebration of classical music.  A first ever JunoFest will be held in Calgary’s Grand Theatre this Saturday.  The event celebrating classical music is organized by CBC Radio 2, the Canadian Music Centre Prairie Region, the 2008 Juno Awards Host Committee, and the Honens International Piano Competition.  It will feature works and performance by nominees in the classical music categories of this year’s Juno Awards.

Click here to read the April 2 Calgary Herald article on JunoFest.

Items on the JunoFest program include work by Toronto composer Brian Current (nominee for Classical Composition of the Year), performance by Montreal cellist Matt Haimovitz (nominee for Classical Album of the Year), and the renowned violinist James Ehnes (nominee for two Album of the Year).

Cellist and McGill faculty member Matt Haimovitz’s work may be most effective in dispelling the myth of Classical music being elitist and passé.  His work embraces both the classical and modern day popular genres, as well as the multicultural roots of folk music.  From his own repertoire, he has an eight-cello rendition of Jimi Hendrix’ war protest song Machine Gun, and from his multicultural, fusion CD “Goulash”, Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir in a four-cellos arrangement.

As we go further into this so-called postmodern era, we’re going to see the increasing blurring of the line between “classical” and “contemporary”.  And why not, we’re already enjoying a proliferation of fusion food.

This is another reason CBC Radio 2 should all the more venture into this brave new world.  Instead of cutting classical music programs, instill fresh and creative ideas to present the exciting development of “classical music” in the 21st century, and act as a bridge to draw closer the cultural and musical chasm.  Just look into the myriad of modern day film scores, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Kite Runner, Atonement, just to name a few, you’ll be surprised how much you enjoy ‘fusion’ music.  You may not recognize the classical music theory on which the compositions are based, but you’ll be enthralled just the same.

Calgary’s Pengrowth Saddledome Photo Source: aol travel

Garfunkel In Calgary

Art GarfunkelThe frizzy blond hair was still there, but the face belonged to a 65 year-old man.  What was gripping though, was the same soft, angelic, tenor voice that was unmistakeably … Garfunkel.  No, we didn’t buy a ticket to listen to the youthful folk singer we once knew, but what we’d purchased was an encounter, an experience, probably once in a lifetime, to see the iconic Art Garfunkel, the voice of our youthful past.

“Many a times I’ve been mistaken, and many times confused…” The haunting melody and the captivating lyrics of American Tune opened the concert.  The face might have changed, yes, a great deal, but the sound remained, and along with it, the soul-searching quietness once again overcame me.

The circumstances might have changed, but the sentiments linger…”After changes and changes, we’re more or less the same…after changes, we’re more or less the same.”

What followed were the satisfaction of listening to the original voice singing the familiar tunes of Homeward Bound, Scarborough Fair, and The Boxer.  What was regrettable, of course, was that we missed the harmonizing singing of the song creator, Paul Simon.

Backed by four talented band members, many of the familiar Simon and Garfunkel numbers had been re-arranged and improvisations added to make  new renditions of old tunes, allowing Garfunkel to perform as a soloist. The singer had stepped aside many times to let the band and each musician shine in the limelight.  Well, no matter how much it was altered, as soon as the audience recognized the introductory bars to such great classics as Mrs. Robinson, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and The Sound of Silence, unbridled excitement, cheers and applause would break out.  I’d noticed that for many in the Jubilee Auditorium tonight, the concert could well be a chance to savor a piece of their past, awaking them to some long forgotten youthful longings, idealism, and the yearning of a better world.  But what I didn’t understand was, why did those relatively young females in the audience jump to their feet, swaying, dancing and clapping to the tune of Cecilia?  How old were they when Simon and Garfunkel first sang that song?  I then realized that the work of the iconic duo transcends generations, their lyrics and melodies mesmerize audience of all ages.

Garfunkel also sang several of his newer titles, changing the mood of the concert hall with jazzy overtone, or moving into a more contemporary number written by Randy Newman.  But it was the Simon and Garfunkel songs that elicited the most applause, bringing the audience to a standing ovation several times.

At one point, the singer introduced a song by reading a prose poem from a collection of his own writing.  Here, I see Garfunkel the reader transformed into Garfunkel the writer.  The singer is known for his wide reading interest, which is impressively chronicled in the Garfunkel Library, a site that records the books he has read since 1968 up till 2006, almost a thousand titles in all.  Here in the concert, the singer shared his own writing with the audience, reading a prose poem from a collection of his published work, as an introduction to a song written also by himself.

The concert is part of a Green Planet Concert Series presented by the Pembina Institute, a national enviornmental organization.  The displays in the foyer outside the auditorium had raised awareness of wind power and other safe and sustainable energy solutions.  The sound and atmosphere inside had evoked reminiscence of mindscapes sustained by soul-searching melodies and lyrics.  A powerful evening inside out.

~~~3 Ripples

Photo Source: http://www.jewishjournal.com/images/photos/7da_sat_garfunkel_010507.jpg

Josh Groban Awake in Calgary

Josh Groban Awake in Calgary

The finale of my summer of indulgence came with a bang. August 15 is going to be a memorable date. Close to 20,000 of us at the Pengrowth Saddledome, home to the Calgary Flames hockey team, witnessed an electrifying concert brimming with talents. Everyone who had a part in the production of the show, from the set design, the sound, the visual and stage effects, the arrangement of the music, to the performance on stage, had demonstrated superfluous expertise in putting together such a show. It was a non-stop, 2 hours of pure entertainment and inspiration.

The concert “Awake” was opened by “You Are Loved” (Don’t Give Up), with Groban rising to the challenge, literally, from beneath the stage to appear in a charismatic presence, to the cheers of a long-awaiting audience. Yes, over an hour had passed since we’d settled in our seats, the first 40 minutes listening to a spirited West African band led by Kidjo, the several-times Grammy nominee. Well prepped and roused up for the main event, the audience was left waiting for another 25 minutes. As soon as the curtain opened I realized it was all worth it. The initial attraction was the tastful and grandeur stage design, and the corresponding video and lighting in the background, as well as movable lighted panels above for added effects. Groban was backed by a 15-member orchestra, a 6-piece band, and at the front, on one side, cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith, and the other , violinist Lucia Micarelli.

Other numbers from the album Awake soon followed, including “Mai”, “So She Dances”, “Machine”… But it was “Un Giorno Per Noi”, the adapted theme “A Time For Us” from the movie Romeo and Juliet that convinced the audience early on that it was going to be an unforgetable night. We were spellbound by Cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith’s introduction and accompaniment to the piece. Watching her play answers the question: “Why go to concerts when you can listen to the CD, or your iPod?” You go to a concert to see music in-the-making; you experience the sights and sounds and excitement of a massive conglomeration of talents displayed in producing the sounds you hear on your electronic device. Last night, all 20,000 of us were witnessing art-in-progress. In the same way, Lucia Micarelli’s solo rendition leading to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” was electrifying. She transformed the music into a visual fusion of exuberant energy and poetic dance.

It was a much more mature, confident, and relaxed Groban last night since his last concert in Calgary three years ago, commanding the stage with his energetic prance from one end to the other, without compromising the quality of his vocal deliverance. Always a crowd pleaser, but last night Groban showed a more mature side than the “every-mother’s-dream-son” image. Yes, he’s still that clean, wholesome, good humored, and gorgeous looking young man with a mesmerizing and powerful voice. On top of that, Groban also showed he has a social conscience. As clips of his visit to South Africa’s impoverished Soweto area were shown, with his cheering on the local children’s dance and songs, meeting the historical figure Nelson Mandela, he appealed to his concert audience to support the children charities projected on the giant screen.

“I am not a hero, I am not an angel, I am just a man…” as the lyrics from “In Her Eyes” were sung, Groban was spotlighted at the back of the dome weaving his way in through the enthusiastic crowd, touching the eager, out-stretched hands from both female and male audience. I know, Groban’s good guy persona irritates some, and turning away those who see being cool as being foul. He’s even been criticized for being ‘conservative’. But tell it to this crowd of thousands who paid up to $125 to see him, seems like ‘conservatism’ is alive and well.

Later on, Groban also demonstrated his versatility in several numbers in which he played the piano and the drums, like “Remember When It Rained”, and “Canto Alla Vita”, from his previous albums. The evening ended with a few encores, including the satisfying “You Raise Me Up” and a new piece that has not been recorded on CD.  This is the success of a singer performer, you don’t need to know a song to enjoy it.

Don’t get me wrong, the concert was not without flaws. In several places the lower registers seemed to pose some voice projection glitches for Groban. And towards the end physical exhaustion appeared to affect his act. All in all, such shortfalls paled in comparision to the whole night’s captivating performance. To the critics who may have deleted words synonymous with ‘wholesome’ from their dictionary, I’m glad mine has just a few more words. A most memorable concert experience.

~~~~ 4 Ripples

Photo Source: Sun Media