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. **

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

J. S. Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring has never ceased to stir my heart.  Of all the renditions, none can grab me so movingly as Josh Groban in his captivating performance with the mesmerizing Lili Hayden on the violin.

Bach wrote the Cantata that contains this excerpt in 1723.  Its lyrics articulate for us what is unspoken in the depth of our souls, releasing our yearnings for a transcendent Creator, magnificent yet compassionate, afar yet ever so near.

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring
Holy wisdom, love most bright

Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light

Word of God, our flesh that fashioned
With the fire of life impassioned
Striving still to truth unknown
Soaring, dying round Thy throne

Through the way where hope is guiding
Hark, what peaceful music rings
Where the flock, in Thee confiding
Drink of joy from deathless springs
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown

*****

Glenn Gould: The Russian Journey (2002, TV)

 For two months, I had to stay away from home while my house underwent a major renovation.  After sequestered from TV watching for the whole summer, that was one of the first things I delved into as soon as I moved back last week.  A couple of days ago, in between re-runs of Olympics events, I was most gratified to watch this CBC/National Film Board documentary.  What a breath of fresh air and what an invigorating luxury I have been deprived of all summer!  Only on CBC.

The legendary Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932 – 1982) visited the Soviet Union in 1957, at the age of 24, the first concert pianist from North America to be extended and accepted an invitation to play behind the Iron Curtain.  Stalin died just four years ago.  The Cold War was at its climax.  Very few had heard of a Canadian pianist named Glenn Gould, what more, very few had heard Bach since the composer was banned by the totalitarian regime for the religiosity of his work. 

This 56 minutes documentary, which won the Grand Prize of the 2003 Montreal International Festival of Films on Art, is packed with valuable archival footage of the actual Gould concerts, meditative shots of the lone pianist against the grand Russian architectural backdrop, as well as some of Gould’s own reminiscence of the historic journey. Interspersed are interviews with significant personalities within the Soviet arts and music circles, sharing their life-changing Gould experiences.  Among them are prominent musicians such as the renowned pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, and dissident cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who sheltered the writer Solzhenitsyn and resulted in the Soviet government banning his performances.

Tatiana Selikman, a pianist and teacher at the Russian Academy of Music, recalls the day of Gould’s first concert in May, 1957.  She saw the poster and was curious about a pianist from Canada, playing The Art of the Fugue, which nobody ever played in Communist Soviet Union.  The Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory was sparsely seated.  Then the pale faced pianist came on stage, sat on a low chair, and unleashed a magical performance that mesmerized his small audience.  During the intermission, those in the concert hall dashed out to phone their friends, urging them to come right away.  As the concert resumed for the second half, the hall was packed to overflow.

And the rest is history…

What Gould brought to the Russian audience was not just Bach, or the intricacies of the Fugue, or the beguiling Goldberg Variations, but a new perspective.  Gould’s performance embodied the liberating effect of music, the freedom of artistic expression and the bold exhibition of individualism.  The audience was emancipated to a new found freedom that was not sanctioned under totalitarian rule.  Using the words of some of the musicians interviewed in the film, the Berlin Wall of music came down, warming the Cold War by a few degrees. For the first time, they were applauding something that was not Soviet.  And they were exhilarated.

The recent passing of the Russian dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and the events taking place in Georgia, or even the Olympics, have whirled up sentiments in me that I thought was long gone… the pathos of hearing the muffled cries of the oppressed, be it political, social, or artistic. 

There are those who are indignant about the Canadian government subsidizing the Glenn Gould trip, arguing it was a waste of taxpayers’ money.  If a lone pianist can inspire the masses, and if music can soften the hearts of man, enhance international goodwill, and reiterate the ideals of humanity, I am all for it.  Would it not cost more to send hundreds of thousands of soldiers to the front line?

 ~ ~ ~ ½ Ripples

The documentary has been posted on YouTube in six parts.  Here is the beginning.  However, nothing compares to the big screen especially with Glenn Gould playing Bach:

                                     

                                                                              *****

CBC Disbands Radio Orchestra

Update April 1:  Reader Tom has alerted me to the site for online petition to save the CBC Radio Orchestra.  http://www.savecbcorchestra.com  Please sign the petition and spread the word. 

Another shocking news:  The CBC Radio executives have just decreed that The CBC Radio Orchestra is to be dismantled as of November, 2008, on the heels of Cutting Classical Music Programs on Radio 2. 

What a swift one-two punch!

Formed in 1938, mandated “to make engaging musical radio programs, commission and perform works by Canadian composers, showcase Canadian performers and conductors, and discover and expose Canadian excellence”, the orchestra has been a Canadian cultural and musical tradition for 70 years.

 Click here for the news coverage in the Globe and Mail of March 27, 2008.

Click here for the Vancouver Sun article on Canada.com: CBC Kills Radio Orchestra

Click here for the article:  The Day The Music Died in The McGill Daily.

Does the CBC management even have the right to do that?  I thought this is a publicly-owned national radio station.  A cultural and arts institution with 70 years of history can be chopped off the Canadian landscape by a few executives like a branch off an old tree in the backyard? 

With this executive order, the CBC has finished off a piece of North American history, disbanding the last radio orchestra in the continent.

Again, I was alerted to this piece of appalling news by my teenaged son…talking about axing classical music to attract younger audiences.  CBC has gravely miscalculated the musicality of our youth and done an utter disservice to them, depriving them of knowing and appreciating a heritage dating back to hundreds of years of human civilization.

To save Classical Music from being axed off the cultural tree, Click here for the Online Petition.

BTW, the Facebook Group ‘Save Classical Music on the CBC’ now has over 8,000 members…I’m not trying to stereotype, but would these not be some of the ‘younger audiences’ CBC is trying to woo?

                                                            ******

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