Category Archives: music

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.




Seven Quick Take Friday – Leaving on a Jet Plane

Seven Quick Takes Friday

  1. I’m off to Vancouver today on the early morning flight. Zouheir has been out west since last Monday and will be there until next Thursday evening so I decided to cash in some points and join him for the weekend. I haven’t visited for years, probably in the 90s sometime, so I’m looking forward to seeing the sights. We have a reservation on Tojo’s on Friday evening (thanks for the recommendation, Kathleen!), and then I’m hoping to get to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, maybe Granville Island if the weather is good. Or just walk the city.

    Creation/Raven – Bill Reid
  2. Michael has been subbing on Eb tuba with the Weston Silver Band this summer. They’ll be playing some free concerts in this part of Ontario and I hope to get out to at least one: Ancaster on July 14, Stratford on July 21, and Orillia on July 28.
  3. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has a couple of events as part of Luminato this weekend. Their big free concert at David Pecaut Square is tonight at 8. Billed as a “Symphonic Birthday Party”, Verdi and Wagner make up most of the program this year. Tomorrow afternoon, they’ll be hosting a “Music Mob” in the same location. Folks can dust off their instruments, download the music, and show up and play with the pros. As a member of the TSYO, Michael has been recruited to assist Mark Tetrault, the TSO Principal Tuba as well as other tubists who show up to join the fun. Michael’s had a couple of lessons with Marc and he’s a great guy. Sadly, I’m missing both these events due to my Vancouver trip. Hit the link above if you want to join them. They have simplified instrument parts if you think you need them!
  4. Alex has been in Kingston this week, starting his Master in Management Analytics program. It’s part of the Queen’s School of Business, but classes are (normally) held in Toronto. This week is kind of the kick-off where students get to meet one another, are placed into multi-disciplinary teams, go to classes, and generally socialise. (Apparently a river cruise is part of the program.) The next module starts in Toronto on July 3rd.
  5. Michael never fails to find the funniest stuff online. Yesterday he showed me this: classical sculptures dressed as hipsters. Click on the link. You will not be disappointed.
  6. Vegan Before 6 update: I’m now drinking my coffee black or with heated almond milk. I’ve discovered some new veggie prepared products, and this week made a big pot of vegan bolognese sauce so that I could have leftovers for lunch (or breakfast.) It’s a bit of overkill really… I regularly make tomato sauce for pasta and don’t bother with meat (although adding some crumbled spicy sausage is terrific), but I picked up some Yves Veggie Ground Round and threw it in, along with some fresh herbs from my new planter. So far, so good. We’ll see what eating out this weekend does to the plan. I see some soy lattés in my future. I also neglected to order a vegan meal for my flight today so that may require a cheat.
  7. Reading: This weekend, I’ve packed my current Dominick Dunne novel as well as my Kobo. I’ve got Sussex Drive by Linda Svendsen and Howard Engel’s Man Who Forgot How To Read. I’m also finishing up Skios by Michael Frayne on my ipod (Overdrive Audiobook) and have some new short stories by William Trevor (A Bit On The Side) queued up.

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Perhaps my focus was misplaced….

Yuja Wang. (c) Christian Steiner, UC Berkeley
Yuja Wang. (c) Christian Steiner, UC Berkeley

Yuja Wang played Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 last evening with brio. Enjoyable. Yet I spent the much of the piece marvelling at her outfit, worried that something would go horribly wrong.

Her dress was something like this except with a more fitted, v-shaped bodice:

On her feet she wore something like these:


She has an interesting bow when acknowledging applause. Very fast and deep. I kept expecting her to lose her balance and tumble forward.

After her performance, and surveying the audience for this late night performance, I imagined female Asian teenage pianists saying to their mothers “See! She wears micro-minis and stilettos, and Maestro Oundjian called her one of the best pianists on the planet! You gotta lighten up about my clothes, Mom….”

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The Jazz Ensemble

From the twitter stream:

Introducing the Band

Piano: Pianists are intellectuals and know-it-alls since they studied theory, harmony and composition in college. Most are riddled with self-doubt and are usually bald. They should have big hands, but often don’t. They were social rejects as adolescents. They go home after the gig and play with toy soldiers. Pianists have a special love-hate relationship with singers. If you talk to the piano player during a break, he will condescend.

Go to A Passion for Jazz to read the rest…

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Coming close to baritone bliss

Photo Credit: Sim Canetty-ClarkeI attended the TSO event yesterday featuring Gerald Finley. I have followed his career with interest, if for no other reason than that we were in the same high school class. I heard him sing at the Westben Arts Festival last summer and it was a wonderful, moving, concert. I missed his performance in Dr. Atomic in Atlanta by a couple of weeks when we moved back to Toronto.

Last night, the main event was the Brahms German Requiem, Op. 45. where he was joined by Soprano Klara Ek and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. I was not familiar with much of this work except for the Mäßig bewegt (How wonderful are thy tabernacles), a choral piece that I have sung in the past. Finley did a wonderful job, although the solo parts are small. The choir was great. I wasn’t enamoured of the soprano, although excerpts I’ve listened to online are wonderful.

The first half of the program was the Canadian premiere of “Songs of Love and Sorrow” written by Peter Lieberson based on poems by Pablo Neruda. This work was premiered by Finley in Boston in 2010, and conductor Peter Oundjian noted that they were written with Finley in mind. The story behind this and Lieberson’s previous song cycle “Neruda Songs” is very touching. There is some beautiful music here and a program insert provided the text and translation for the songs, which is very powerful.

Full woman, carnal apple, hot moon, thick smell of seaweed, mud, and light in masquerade, what secret clarity opens up between your columns?
What ancient night does man touch with his senses?

Finley’s voice is so pure and strong. He sang with much emotion. This may be anathema for some, but I wish that there had been surtitles during the performance. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage to peer at the text in my program in the dim light of the hall. But I believe my experience would have been improved with a sense of the meaning of the songs during the performance.

My companion felt that the work was a bit monotonous and I’d have to agree, possibly due to the above. Finley’s voice was sometimes swallowed up by the much-reduced orchestra behind him.

I would have to say that the Westben performance gave so much more of Finley. It was a selection of favourites from the song repertoire and was in a much more intimate setting, possibly a better way to experience what Oundjian called “one of the most extraordinary voices to hit the planet.”

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Seven Quick Takes Friday

  1. I’ve moved my blog again, this time to WordPress. Blogger was getting increasingly unwieldy and I was having to deal with a lot of spam comments.  Wordpress seems much more elegant and has a better user interface. I’ve spent too much time today setting it up, but I think it will be worth it in the long run. Please consider subscribing, using the link to the right.
  2. Last night was Michael’s final high school music concert. It was long and extremely hot in the packed auditorium. There were eight of us there to support him as he played a tuba concerto written by Johnny MacMillan, a Grade Nine student at the school. As well as the concerto, which he played with the Senior Concert Band, he also performed with the Men’s Chorus, the Mixed Vocal Ensemble, and the Senior Stage Band (bass trombone).  My brother and three aunts came out, and Michael’s first tuba teacher, Rob Teehan, was there which was a real honour. I also had a chance to meet Michael’s flat mate for the next school year in Montreal, who also dropped into town from Burlington to hear him play.
  3. I’m heading out to Ottawa next week to hang with my mother so I spent a lot of time today catching up on paperwork. This weekend I need to wrestle the laundry into order and stock the fridge for the men-folk who will fending for themselves. I would love to get the interior of my car cleaned before the trip, but I’m afraid the wet weather will preclude drying of my cloth upholstery, so that will have to wait.
  4. My new computer arrived earlier this week, a MacBook Air, but haven’t had time to get it out of the box and set up yet. I’m finally switching back to the Mac ecosystem after a number of years on Windows. The rest of my devices are Apple, and given that most of my work is done in the cloud these days, it probably makes sense to integrate. I have always preferred the Mac user-interface and design quality but for a while I needed to use software only available in Windows.
  5. I want to get started on a little article for the newsletter of the  Goddard Association of Europe, of which I am a member. Captain Nichola Goddard was the first Canadian female killed in the line of duty (in Afghanistan) and I just got a copy of her biography (Sunray: The Death and Life of Captain Nichola Goddard by Valerie Fortney).
  6. I’m participating in the Sea Change Program started by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. I have been reading Leo’s blog for years and have come to really respect him as thoughtful teacher and thinker. More about this next week!
  7. I will also post about my experience of the COC’s Dialogues des Carmélites. It was beautiful and moving and well worth seeing if you’re in Toronto and love the opera.

    Courtesy Canadian Opera Company

Seven Quick Takes Friday

  1.  Michael and I attended Bésame Ópera last evening, presented by Opera 5, a small group of young singers. Presented at Gallery 345, they staged two Spanish operas, El Retablo de Maese Pedro by Manuel de Fallo and Goyescas by Enrique Granados.  Opera 5 wants to bring opera back to the masses:
  2. When opera was developed it was meant to combine all art forms and we intend to push that to the limit by combining opera with any and every distinct art form such as dance, photography, visual art, performance art, creative writing, and even culinary arts by showcasing new talent in each medium. (About Opera 5 

    Last night’s production included shadow puppets in the first half, sangria and tuna ceviche at the break, and some beautiful visual effects involving wardrobe in the second half. The cast was superb, with the only difficulties being the sightlines in the small-ish space. I will definitely be back for next season.  

  3. I have failed miserably at getting to anything at HotDocs this week. I went down to try to get a same day ticket for Rent a Family Inc on Tuesday but they only had rush tickets and I was there two hours in advance. I decided not to wait around and risk not getting in. Yesterdays pick was bumping up against the opera. So I need to get better organized next year.
  4. I wandered into Belle de Provence yesterday when I was on my dress-hunting expedition. They sell scented soaps, candles, tableware, and other French loveliness. I adore liquid soap from France, even the inexpensive stuff. The scents are very natural, unlike North American products that all seem to have a chemical/not-made-in-nature smell. My in-laws bring Le Petit Marseillais brand soap in these funky earth-friendly tubes when they visit, and when I run out, I get a supply of a similar product in large bottles at Winners (1L of liquid soap for 9.99), which is WAY less expensive than what I saw in the shop. I suspect that the packaging changed, or something. If you see a gal in the bath products section at Winners sniffing all the bottles, it’s probably me.
  5. We’re off to an engagement party this evening, but if we weren’t, I’d be joining Michael at Baroque Idol with the Aradia Chamber Ensemble at the Music Gallery. Young composers have been invited to submit works for the baroque ensemble and then the audience gets to vote. The winning composer gets a commission.
  6. My new to-list app for iphone is kicking my butt. It’s the gamification of personal productivity. Check it out.
  7. It was HOT outside today.
  8. We’re seeing two operas next week at the COC. Because of Z’s travel schedule, we had to switch around some dates, which left us with Strauss’ Salome (directed by Atom Egoyan) on Tuesday and Dialogues des Carmelites (Poulenc) on Wednesday. 
Thanks for dropping by! Feel free to leave a comment below.

My father and the Ozark Rambler

I’ve been browsing through a box of old photos from my father’s mother. I’ve been through them many times before, but these caught my eye and I’m trying to follow up on them.

The first is of my father, Franklin Berkman, who would have been six years old.  


The second has some writing on it.  It says “Bunny’s girl Gloria Jane and the Ozark Rambler of KMBC Radio on the roof of Pickwick Nov 8/30.” Bunny was the name that my grandmother called my father all his life. I have no idea who Gloria Jane is.


I did some online searching and determined that KMBC (now KMBZ) joined CBS in 1928 and moved to the 11th floor of Kansas City, Missouri’s Pickwick Hotel in 1930 (Reference)

Union Bus Terminal and Pickwick Hotel Kansas City Missouri

[Image courtesy of]

All I’ve been able to find out about the Ozark Rambler is from some photos on the site of the Kansas City Public Library’s Missouri Valley Special Collections. I haven’t received permission to reproduce images here, but you can go to the links to check them out.

Ozark Rambler (second from left) with touring cast of Happy Hollow Gang outside Pickwick Hotel. The Happy Hollow gang performed a radio show that was a precursor to the Beverly Hillbillies. 

Informal group portrait of “Ozark Rambler” (left), Brookings Montgomery, and others.on roof of Pickwick Hotel.

I’m not sure what my father was doing in Kansas City. He was born in Regina Saskatchewan in 1924 and by 1934 he was living in Ottawa. His father David had a fur shop in Regina until 1930 and then owned dress and hat shops in Ottawa where his mother Vera worked. His parents eventually divorced and I never met David, but Vera married Maurice Winer and they were known as Grandma and Grandpa Winer.

[Update Aug 18: A check of my family history records reminded me that one of Vera’s younger sisters, Lally, had married a KC man named Conrad Orloff in1929 and so Vera was very likely visiting her.]

Anyway, I’d love to hear from anyone who knows anything about the Ozark Rambler in 1930s Missouri. Or recognizes Gloria Jane.


Seven Quick Takes Friday


  1. The boys are both away from home this week and it’s been nice, in a wierd kind of way. Alex is up at the cottage witih his girlfriend and they’re due back sometime today. Michael is working at the Toronto District School Board’s Music by the Lake camp for elementary school students. He’s a junior staff assistant, asked to work sort of last-minute-ish as they needed a trombone player. From the few texts we’ve received, it sounds like he’s having a good time. We’ll pick him up tomorrow around noon and then he needs to study for his exams next week.
  2. Saw the absolutely thrilling production of Alice in Wonderland last night at the National Ballet of Canada. I’m not a big ballet afficianado…I’ve only ever been to The Nutcracker (multiple times, from childhood) but this got such raves that I thought it was worth checking out.  I’m a convert! Originally a production of the Royal Ballet, it’s full of surprises with stunning sets, props, and effects, and the score by Joby Talbot is terrific.

  3. Saw an old friend from high school on Wednesday evening. It’s been years, yet we fell into conversation as if it had been a few days. Isn’t it wonderful how that happens?  I’ll see her again tonight as we’re both attending Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, courtesy of Opera By Request, in which a mutual friend (also from high school) is singing.
  4. The annual Luminato Festival starts this weekend and we’ve actually lined up tickets to some events this year! On our calendar:
    – One Thousand and One Nights, a new theatrical production of these Arabic folktales. It’s actually being staged in two three-hour segments, but we’ll see one of them.
    – We tried to get tickets to hear Lebanese author and creator of the script for 1001 Nights Hanan al-Shayk, but they were sold out. I’m hoping maybe they’ll repeat the event. 
    – Next weekend, we’ll see “a raw and shocking re-imagination of Racine’s classic play [Andromache] from provocative Scottish director Graham McLaren.” Z studied the play in school, but I am completely ignorant, so I should probably do a little reading about it … 
    – I’m keen to take in the free installation by architect Philip Beesley called Sargasso. It was at the Vienna Biennale. There’s a little promo video about it at the link that’s well worth a watch.
    – Next Friday is a free outdoor concert in David Pecaut square featuring kd lang. Yay! 
    Can you see why I love Toronto?! 
  5. Next Thursday, I’m heading to Stratford with two gal pals to see Seana McKenna in Richard III. As Richard III. The play did NOT get great reviews, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.

  6.  Our garden is actually looking somewhat acceptable this summer. There is still a whole section to tidy up, but I’ve started putting mulch down after I pull weeds, and the grass seed I picked up at Costco on the spur of the moment is doing really well in filling in some of the patchiness of the lawn. Being on a corner lot, everuthing is basically exposed, so it’s been kind of embarrassing to have this wild and wooly thing happening on our property.  
  7. Just finished a terrific book, Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin. It’s the story of a young Irish woman in the 50s who emigrates to Brooklyn and finds herself stuck between her old and new lives.  It’s a compelling portrait of that time, relations between Irish, Italians, Jews, and African-Americans in this bustling city of immigrants. As a genealogist, it gave me some insight into what it must have been like for single women to come to the “new world” for a better life, without family, having to make new friends and find their way on their own (or, as in this case, with help from her parish priest.)  I highly recommend this quick read.
  8. Bonus: I am desperately trying to break my habit of putting two spaces after a period. There has been so much mockery of old-school people like me who were taught that in the last century, and it’s terribly ingrained. But I’m trying.

Visit Jennifer over at Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!