Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in high school anymore….

My trip to Montreal last week to visit Michael was as lovely as it could have been, given that I had a cold and was not feeling 100% (or even 25%, to be honest.) Because I was driving from the cottage, the trip was only three and a half hours or so, the start of which was through lovely Ontario farmland as I headed west to the 401 at Brockville. I stopped there to walk around a bit and re-energize myself, and arrived in Montreal late in the afternoon.

I checked in to the charming Hotel Kutuma, recommended to me by a friend and offering an excellent rate on It’s on St. Denis near Sherbrooke, walking distance to Michael’s apartment, and surrounded by cafes and shops. It’s small hotel above an Ethiopian restaurant, and my room was luxurious with an African theme. It had a kitchenette, gorgeous bathroom, multiple heating and cooling controls, and a little balcony overlooking the rear of the building. There were even two wrapped toothbrushes with mini-toothpaste tubes in the bathroom, a first for me.

The bonus for this post-Thanksgiving trip was that Michael had performances with two of the ensembles he’s in, on two successive nights. He’d elected not to come home over Thanksgiving so that he could have more time to prepare his repertoire, and his flat-mate, another music student, did the same.

We had a quick dinner at a local pub (Ye Olde Orchard Pub and Grill) where I realised I was having my first drink in a public location with my son who, in Quebec, is of legal age (18). His call was for 6:30 so I dropped him off at the music building and took my time finding parking (a difficult feat I must say in this bustling city.)

The concert was Opera Choruses presented by the Schulich School Singers and was very impressive. The director, Patrick Hansen, walked us through the different chorus groupings, and the choir was joined by members of Opera McGill when required.

Schulich School Singers, October 2013.
Schulich School Singers, October 2013.

The concert finished with the spectacular show stopper Who holds himself apart from Peter Grimes (that I’d seen very recently at the Canadian Opera Company.) Michael confessed to me afterwards that there was some amount of chaos in the choir during a couple of moments of the performance, but with Britten, it’s sometimes hard to tell. It sounded fantastic to me.

Michael is one of a handful of non-voice majors in this ensemble and remarked that his voice is really [technical stuff that I didn’t understand but is good.] He likes to push himself and be around musicians working at a higher level than he is. He credits his voice teacher here in Toronto (Paula Wickberg) for giving him a great foundation for singing at this level, and also for talking him (texting him?) through the audition process.

I spent much of the second day lounging around at the hotel, trying to feel better. I had told Michael that I’d take him to Costco or wherever, but I really didn’t feel up to it and his schedule didn’t have very many openings. So we simply had dinner at Frites Alors! and arrived at Tanna Schulich Hall for his second concert, this one with Jazz Orchestra I.

Michael auditioned on his bass trombone for the McGill jazz orchestras (big bands, in other words) and didn’t think he did very well. The audition was just sight reading, and he hadn’t picked up his trombone very much over the summer as his main focus was getting ready for the tuba ensemble auditions. So he was surprised to get placed in the top of the three orchestras, the only non-Jazz student. The group is led by Joe Sullivan and the concert featured three of his original compositions, as well as pieces by Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, and John Coltrane. No doubt his years in his high school stage band and two years with the Youth Big Band paid off, as well as a series of lessons with Barnaby Kerekes and Jules Estrin.

McGill Jazz Orchestra I
McGill Jazz Orchestra I

They sounded great, and I was hoping to find a video online of the band but no luck. Michael plans to take some courses from the Jazz department (even though he’s in the classical program) as he’s headed for a rather eclectic musical career.

The next morning we met for breakfast before I headed home. I recall the last couple of years of high school, when all he wanted was for it to be over and to be able to focus on what he loved: music. He seems really content, is making friends, and enjoying Montreal. He’s managing to combine all of his interests (classical tuba, jazz trombone, and singing) into an academic program that will prepare him for whatever comes in the future. We’re proud of him for following his dream and, as parents, that is what you want for your children.




1 thought on “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in high school anymore….

  1. I haven’t sung for ages but I did sing in a Stravinsky once and it’s so funny when you’re rehearsing and you wonder if it will make any difference to the audience how exactly the notes come out.

    I’m glad your son’s managed to sort his course out. He sounds very focused and I think that’s relatively unusual, but definitely something to be pleased about. It’s nice too that he’s so talented but so relaxed about it and enjoying his musical life.

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