Friday, 29 March 2013

Music In My Life

It seems that we always had at least one radio in the house. For the first few years we did not have electricity so I am presuming that the radio was powered by batteries.

One fairly vivid memory of music that I have is about a song that seemed to have been quite popular during the 1930s. This song must have been written for a British Music Hall skit and the lyrics went something like this:

                  Knees up, Mother Brown!
                  Knees up, Mother Brown!
                  Come on, Dearie, let it go
                  It's your bloomin' birthday.........and so on.

My maternal grandmother was known to all as 'Queenie Brown'  so - at four years of age - I thought that she would be thrilled to be hearing a birthday song about her? No - Grandma was horrified!

When we moved to the Dawes Hill area, Alda and I were signed up for music lessons at a studio in New Westminster.  Dad had had cousins who took music lessons - the girl on the piano and the boy on the violin - so he hoped that we would follow suit. However, that was not to be as our choices were the opposite. The studio loaned smaller instruments to the families of students but pianos did not fall into that category so I had to settle for lessons on the Hawaiian guitar which I hated. A piano did not arrive in the house until many years later and that was when I began lessons on that instrument. This situation lasted for a number of years but I have not touched a piano since.

Our younger sister, Babs, was coming along and she had the gift of being able to play by ear. As far as I know, that same piano is the one found in her living room in Kamloops and she still plays - but by ear.

As that music studio evolved the principal people came to be Mr and Mrs Harvey and a Mrs Brown. Mr. Harvey built a fine little orchestra and I remember the music concerts held on Good Friday evening every year - and in a high school auditorium in Vancouver. Mr Harvey was always attired in a tuxedo and, as he had a fine baritone voice, he would hum and sing along with the music. Also, he was a very proud Englishman so every concert ended with a rendition of "Land of Hope and Glory". The lyrics of the verses would be sung by a young soprano with a lovely voice and Mr. Harvey would always join in at the chorus.

Another memory of those days that has remained with me was that Mrs. Brown smoked so there was always an ashtray on the shelf above the keyboard and the room would be full of cigarette smoke. Yes - even as she was teaching we students how to play, a cigarette would be burning.

A business group in New Westminster was given a license to operate a radio station so CKNW was born. In the early years the studio was on the second floor of an older hotel on Columbia Street - the downtown thoroughfare. The bus from where we lived into town ran every two hours and this got us there well in advance of the time for our music lessons so we would go up to the studio and sit in on the broadcast. The noon hour program was 'The  Roundup' and it was live. There were some local 'cowboy singers' and we got to hear them perform (my best memory is of a trio - Mike, Mark and Jack).

A number of years later I was one of a number of articled students in the office of a Chartered Accountant firm. By that time CKNW had moved the studio and was on the ground floor  of a newer building and our office was immediately above them. The format was no longer Country and Western music but had become that of live talk shows and radio contests. Sometimes the jackpots offered by the main contest would reach a fairly high sum so, when we arrived for work in the morning - and especially on Mondays - when we opened the street door we had to wade through piles of envelopes containing the entries from contestant hopefuls.

While the building was newer than the original one had been, it still was not air-conditioned. As it had been built into the side of a fairly steep hill, the parking lot was out behind the building and was accessed by a ramp from the back of our office up to the door into the alley. Connecting to that ramp was a staircase up from the radio studio. A number of commercials were recorded there so, when the air was warm, the doors were left open and we would hear the same commercial sung over and over and over ad-nauseum.

Many of the guys with whom I worked were avid golfers and were buying  items - especially metal tubing - from which to make golf buggies. It was only natural that the boys would become so fed up by the repetitious nature of recording the commercials that one of them would grab one of the metal pipes, quietly lower it down the back staircase and try to drown out the commercial being recorded  by their vocal noises amplified by the tubing. It worked - the connecting door down below was closed!

While I was always aware of the 'Hit Parade', my musical tastes were Classical so, when I was able to, I tuned into CBC/Radio Canada on Saturday afternoons in order to listen to the live broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera House in NYC. However - I never saw a live opera performance until I lived in Prince George. An American company had been on tour in Alaska and stopped in Prince George to stage a performance in a high school gymnasium. It certainly was not like a real opera house  but I - and the girls from the office where I worked - enjoyed the performance. I cannot remember which opera was performed that evening for certain but I believe that it was one which had been written by Mozart.

This is a late insertion placed here on May 11, 2013.

On this past Wednesday evening I was again a guest at a performance of the Canadian Opera Company. The opera was Poulenc's "Dialogue of the Carmelites". A friend and I saw and heard this opera performed in Vancouver many years ago. The Director at that performance used the classic ending as written by Poulenc. At the end of the performance we hear the nun's singing and - one-by-one - leaving the stage followed shortly by a 'ker-chunk' sound from the orchestra. This continues until there are no nuns left on stage.

The Director of the version currently being performed at the Four Seasons Center here in Toronto has a newer - and even more powerful - ending. The nuns remain on the stage - clad in white habits - singing and then, one-by-one, they collapse on to the floor and into the classic posture of one about to be guillotined. This continued until  there are none left. There was silence from the audience followed by thunderous applause! 

As I have written in the blogs which cover my time in Australia I did see - and hear - some wonderful performances while I was down there. The most memorable of those was a performance in Brisbane by a Maori group from New Zealand of Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" - it was pure magic!

While in Brisbane I attended Kedron Methodist Church and sang in the tenor section of the church choir. I must confess, though, that I am a 'coattail singer' in that I am able to sing what you are singing - but ask me to sing a certain note by myself then I am lost! The Messiah is performed every Easter and once I was coerced into being in the choir for that. Rehearsals were in the evening and I was horrified at one rehearsal to find myself the only tenor present! There was no way that I alone could sing a certain note and be in harmony with vocalists from other sections!

As I have mentioned in some previous blogs, I was also very fortunate in being able to be at some wonderful musical performances like Gracie Fields - while on her farewell tour - and to hear the great Paul Robeson (also while he was on his farewell tour).

I love opera - and I love hearing (and watching) performances of Broadway hit shows. While I have never been to NYC I have attended performances of "West Side Story", "My Fair Lady", "The Music Man" and "Les Miserables" in other cities.  Also, I must mention a performance of "Cats" at an AIDS benefit in Vancouver.

While in Vancouver I had come to know a younger fellow who had a wonderful baritone voice (he had gone to the auditions in Seattle for the Metropolitan Opera). While I was in Victoria, he was as well. He was ill with an AIDS related condition but he sang "You'll Never Walk Alone" from the Rogers and Hammerstein production of "Carousal" at an AIDS benefit concert while most of us wept.

Here in Toronto I have a friend who has two season tickets for every opera performed. Always he takes friends to these operas and I get to see and hear every other one. These, of course, are at the magnificent Four Seasons Opera House down on Queen Street West. I have seen some little known operas as well as 'chestnuts' like "Madama Butterfly" and Wagner's "Ring Cycle".

I am a regular attendee at church and - I must confess - the biggest draw for me is the music. For instance, this past weekend was Palm Sunday and the soloist was a bass baritone who sang one of my absolute favorites - "The Holy City". We have an incredible Music Director and she has her finger in seemingly all of the musical circles in the city. Therefore, we have been blessed by incredible soloists and other musical performers. 

I could go on and on with this subject of music - but I will close here - at least, for now!


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Prejudices and Bigotry

I own a large collection of movies on DVD and, on evenings when I am at home, I watch one.

Last evening I re-watched one of my favorite Westerns - "The Magnificent Seven". The movie begins in a rough and ready frontier town somewhere in the southwest of the United States.  A North American Indian (an Amerind) has died and a wagon is ready to take the casket out to the community cemetery - only the driver and his helper are being shot at. Why? "Those no good Injuns are not to be buried beside White Folks!" The character played by Yul Brynner - along with a couple of other Caucasian gunslingers - take over the wagon, shoot up a few naysayers, and the interment happens.

The story goes on to relate how they - and a few other white gunslingers - then unite to go to a village over the border in Mexico where the local peasants are beset by Mexican Bandidos. The film is amusing, exciting and romantic all at the same time. All through that film racial tension raises its ugly head but the 'good guys' (mostly) overcome it and win out in the end.

It is a beautifully filmed movie, exciting to watch and - in places - amusing and with great background scenery. However, I am struck by the bigotry portrayed throughout the film which begs the question, "When will stupid thinking end - or will it ever go away?"

My parents were very different from each other. Dad was raised in a Roman Catholic boys' orphanage in Montreal until he was of the age when he could leave and be on his own. After that he worked in a market garden, on Great Lake boats which carried grains and other supplies through the Great Lakes system - and even across the Atlantic to England. When the Depression happened, he rode the rails out to B.C., was hired by a man who needed help on his dairy farm, met Mom there, married her and raised a family.

Mom - on the other hand -  was born in London to a woman who had been disowned by her upper middle class family and who had to work to support her child. The man whom I knew as my maternal Granddad was a Canadian soldier from Saskatchewan who had joined the Canadian Army upon the outbreak of World War I, was sent with his unit to Belgium where many of them were gassed by German soldiers while in a church. While recuperating in London, Granddad met my grandmother, married her and brought her to Canada.

They went to my Granddad's home village of Theodore, Saskatchewan and, shortly thereafter, followed other relatives to North Vancouver. Once there, Granddad learned of an abandoned homestead in the community of Ruskin in the Fraser Valley so he acquired ownership of it, built a house and lived there until the house was destroyed by fire in 1941.

They became involved in their new community which consisted of people from many backgrounds. Grandma got along well with those who were British by origin - but not necessarily with those who were not. For instance - neighbors along the road out from the homestead were Ukrainian people and Grandma refused to learn how to correctly pronounce their name! I have been told how, when I learned to talk, I knew how to pronounce the surname of this family so I would correct Grandma  every time that she got the name wrong!

Other neighbors in that community were of Japanese origin and, when hostilities erupted in the Pacific during World War II, they were deemed a threat and were forced to move to internment camps over the mountains from the coastal area (for a more detailed writing about that period, please read my first blog "Our Japanese Neighbors"). Mom, Granddad and Dad all liked our Japanese neighbors so were saddened by that event. Many of the Japanese young women were 'girlfriends' of Mom - a legacy from their school days together at the Ruskin Public School. 

Growing up in B.C. we had neighbors from numerous ethnic backgrounds - especially after we moved to the Dawes Hill area of Coquitlam and we kids attended Millside Public School followed by Coquitlam High.  In my class was Emma Wong every year until we graduated. As well there was a Sikh family whose kids attended with us. The majority of the folk were of French-Canadian origin but there were Icelandic, Swedish, Norwegian and Ukrainian kids among us - and even more of other ethnic backgrounds. An adage espoused by Dad and Granddad has always been with me - "It matters not what a person's ethnicity nor religious beliefs are - it is who he or she is as a person that counts!"

When Mom and her parents arrived in B.C., they lived in North Vancouver for a few years before moving to Ruskin and Mom remained in touch with some of her girlfriends. One of these was May who was married to Bob Brown.

One weekend - when I was about twelve years old - our family spent a weekend with the Browns. Saturday afternoon Bob took Dad, Alda and I for a drive. We traveled along Third Street towards Lonsdale (the dock for the ferry from downtown Vancouver was at the foot of Lonsdale). As we neared this main thoroughfare, Bob pointed out an older and well-dressed lady who was walking along the sidewalk. That person had been a neighbor of the Browns when they lived in an apartment building on Lonsdale. This person was not a woman but a man dressed in women's clothing. He was a house painter by trade and dressed in female attire every Saturday and Sunday when he went for his/her walks along East and then West Third Street.

I was intrigued but - as yet - had no idea that I would have a feeling of affinity for that person. There was no indication of disapproval by Bob as he told us the person's story. However, he did mention that he/she was not allowed by the authorities to travel across to Vancouver.

As I mentioned in the first "Dawes Hill" blog, there were an inordinate number of bachelors living on and around that hill while I was growing up. One of them whom I did not mention before was 'Old' Bill Collicott who lived in a bungalow on Mundy Road along which the Dawes Hill bus traveled while on its way out from New Westminster. I remember overhearing Mom gossiping with some of her lady friends and saying, "Old Bill likes boys, you know!" By that she did not mean that he was a pedophile but that he looked for sexual relations with other males.

Again - there was no judgment in that statement.    

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Ice Sculptures

As I write this entry the date is March 19 - only two days away from the advent to Spring. However - warm it is not! The weather forecast issued yesterday was for a major storm with a combination of snow, ice pellets - and rain. When I arose this morning and looked out through the blinds I saw a mere skiff of snow on the plaza but noticed the people, who were passing by, were rugged up suggesting that it was cold out there.

When one lives in a cold climate the best way to cope with the elements is to join with what the weather provides. The upscale shopping area known as Yorkville is only three blocks from here. Every winter the businesses which are located there unite in a festival celebrating winter and that features an ice sculpting competition. On a cold Saturday morning a few years ago I went up there with my camera. The following is a photo essay of what I saw while I watched - and shivered!

                                                   A competitor working on his ice creation.

                                                 A different sculptor working on his creation.

Naturally, the sponsors of the event are local businessmen so the works of art reflect those businesses.

Harry Rosen is a well known local haberdasher. He is a tall man and specializes in outfitting larger males.


                                                A well known upscale department store.

                                       A bulletin board sponsored by a number of media outlets.

                                                            A more elaborate sculpture

The Whole Foods chain owns upscale supermarkets. As well as the one here in Yorkville, I have been with Ric to the one in Alameda, California too.

                            This is an incomplete 'work in progress' for a hair styling salon.

I used a file on Photobucket to store these photos. Somebody saw this particular one and asked how they got those items into the block of ice? I have no idea - this was a completed 'work of art' by the time that I saw it.

Like in the photo above, this sculpture was already finished when I saw it and the 'BT' sign was in the block.

                The artist of this creation is the fellow on the right hand side of the photo.

                                                         The signature piece for the event.

It may be cold enough to 'freeze one's butt off' but there are still interesting and fun things to do.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Communication Devices

On this past Monday afternoon - when I left the Lillian H. Smith branch library - the time was near 4:30 in the afternoon and the sidewalks (especially on the north side of College Street) were crowded by university students leaving their classes. As I turned onto the sidewalk to walk east I was faced by a younger man walking along while texting. I could have walked around him but I stopped just to see what would happen. At the last minute he glanced up, noticed me, and stepped to his right in order to pass on my left.

I have noticed people doing this all the time - whether on sidewalks, in stores, on subway platforms, in transit vehicles - and I wonder how many have encountered accidents because they were not alert?  We - as a society - have become addicted to the communication devices so, as a senior citizen, I have begun to wonder how this is affecting interaction between people?

Telephones were invented well before I was born and, as we were a poor family, we could not afford to have one in our house until I was well into my teen-age years.

My maternal grandfather was born and raised in the agricultural village of Theodore, Saskatchewan and - one of the stories that he used to relate - was about the arrival of telephones in that village.

Naturally, the doctor was one of the first to acquire a telephone. One day he was chatting over the telephone with a patient when he heard the telltale 'click' of another receiver being lifted. Somehow he knew who that other person was so he said, "Mrs. S............?" A woman's voice responded breathlessly, "Yes, Doctor?" "Get off the line!"

For many of our growing up years, either my sister or I would be sent to a neighbor's house - quite a distance away from where we lived - with a quarter or a dime so that we could use the telephone that was there. Finally - in the early 1950s - the British Columbia Telephone Company acquired the funds to expand the telephone system so that everybody could have one. Our number was Lakeview (there was no lake any where near us!) 4398L3. It was a party line with six subscribers (three of us were given the descriptive 'L1, L2, and L3' with the other three subscribers 'R1, R2 and R3'). Our telephone would ring when calls were coming in for the "L" numbers but not for the "R" ones. "L2" had been assigned to our neighbor across the road but we had no idea who owned "L1".

Around that same time two of Alda's girlfriends were hired as telephone operators so, when we picked up the receiver to place a call, we would hope that either Kathleen or Gladys would be the operator and, if so, we would gossip for a couple of minutes before giving her the number that we wanted.

One of Alda's sisters-in-law was married to a son of a leading family in the Forest Grove/100 Mile House area in the Cariboo Country in north central B.C. In the eyes of many of the neighbors, the Sandbacks were rich people - they had done well with the ranch that they owned as well as with a sawmill or two - so, when Claire Sandback would give us a call, we would hear the ring, pick up the receiver and Claire would begin chatting to whichever one of us had answered. Not long after we began the chat we would hear the line becoming fainter and fainter and then Claire's voice  yelling, "Get Off the Effing Line!". B. C. Telephone was not yet established in the smaller interior communities so the local system was locally owned. When a caller wanted to call long distance, a special number had to be used. This caused a certain ring to sound in all of the subscribers' homes  so many would know that one of the 'Rich Sandbacks' was calling long distance and curiosity would outweigh good manners. We always chuckled when that occurred!

Now all sorts of methods for communicating with others are in use. My partner lives in the San Francisco Bay area. He has a computer and at least one of the texting devices. His telephone, however, is a cellphone which was given to him by his grandparents. Therefore - when I call him in the Bay Area - actually I am calling Arkansas and that is the area code which appears in the listing of long distance calls on the telephone bill. Even that is different as I have signed up with a long distance service for seniors that is based in Montreal - it is to them that I send my remittance to cover the long distance charges. Gone are the telephones hooked up to a wall in the house and shared by a number of neighbors!

I have a computer, Ric has a computer, most of my family members who live in B.C. and Alberta have computers, and I believe that all of my friends and acquaintances have them as well. Sometimes we message friends or family members directly while - at other times - we leave messages in the more public places like Facebook. As for me, the latter only works when what I want to communicate is NOT personal and private.

When I lived in Australia and needed to call my family - or be called by them - the process was lengthy and passed through services rendered by many different operators. The transmission was by cable which extended from continent to continent beneath the oceans (which made the sound of the transmissions odd - it was like speaking into a tube with a 'hollow sound' emitting at the other end). Those calls were quite infrequent, however, due to the awkwardness of the system and the cost that would appear upon the monthly telephone bill!

I have a computer and a land line telephone. I have had a cellphone but it was used only when I was traveling in the Bay Area and needed to communicate with Ric. I may get another cellphone at some future time - but I doubt very much that I will be texting!