Dressed Up for a Fancy Gala

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As mentioned in my last post (here), we were at the music venue, Koerner Hall, twice within a week, last week.

This time we were there for an event that we look forward to every year, called The Royal Occasion, hosted by The Royal Conservatory of Music. It is an event during which three people who’ve made a significant contribution arts and culture in Canada, are presented with an Honorary Fellowship. Our friend Isabel works at the conservatory and we are thankful to be invited each year.

There was a Gala Dinner for conservatory sponsors beforehand, which wasn’t quite finished when we arrived so we had time to check out some of the vintage instruments and a sculpture in their collection. (If you’re interested, I showed some of the wind instruments and sculptures in this previous post from the 2013 party, which happened to be where we first met our now good friend Andrea. I like it because there’s a picture of me sitting in my seat in the hall and Andrea is sitting directly in front of me, but we were strangers at the time, only to meet for the first time about an hour after the shot was taken. Here is the write-up from last year, when I got a selfie with Ron Sexsmith).

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^ A Three-keyed Leather Bound serpent circa 1760 ^

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^ A Harpsichord ^

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^ Franz Liszt ^

Part of the evening was spent within the music hall itself, enjoying performances by some of the students of the conservatory and by the three inductees.

Isabel thought it would be fun if we changed our usual vantage point for the show, and arranged for seats in the upper balcony.

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The show began with a piano piece played by 14 year old Coco Ma, who had had her debut at Carnegie Hall at the age of 9. It was mesmerizing hearing and seeing such a talented young person play so well, wearing a floor length pink gown, sitting so poised at the Steinway Grand piano. She memorized the music (Alberto Ginastera’s Danza Argeninas, Op 2, parts 2 and 3) and played it by heart, with no sheet music.

The inductees were given the stage, one at a time. Each performed for about 10 minutes, stepped up to the podium and spoke a bit. Then their framed certificates were unveiled.

This year they were : (listed in the order they were introduced)

– Mario Romano : While he is a very successful businessman (see his site including his bio here), he has also clearly always been into playing music. His jazz band performed with Mario on piano, a stand-up bass player and a drummer (who used brushes). They were great.

– James Ehnes : He began playing the violin at 4. At 39 he has performed in 30 countries and won many awards (see his site including his bio here). He played a one-of-a-kind violin that is 300 years old – the Marsick Stradivarius. It was breathtaking to hear.

– Buffy Sainte-Marie : You know who she is, but if you’d like details, here’s a link to a wiki page about her and here’s her website. Buffy and her band played 3 songs, including Universal Soldier, which she later told the audience she wrote at The Purple Onion in Yorkville in the early 60s. Seeing her perform live was such a gift.

The presentations were followed by a final onstage performance, 12 year old pianist Sunny Zhai, accompanied by an orchestra, students at the conservatory. If you’d like to be blown away by her remarkable skill, check out this Youtube video, filmed when she was only 10. If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, I encourage you to let it play in the background. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself clicking back just to see this child playing her home piano, dressed in a fluffy pink turtleneck and green corduroy pants. It’s over 7 minutes, all played by heart. Stunning.

A quick selfie while still in our seats …

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Since we were on the second floor, when we exited the hall into the reception area we were up on a balcony.

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This gave us an awesome view of the crowd below.

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We hadn’t seen our friend since February (when she brought us these bagels from Montreal) and were long overdue for a visit, so we decided to stay up where it was quieter, to talk a bit, while a live band played on the main floor.

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The party was catered by 10tation Event Planning.

They always serve such wonderful baked goods at this event. On the way over to the party (we took the streetcar and subway), I told Nick that I had saved room at dinner so I could try one of everything. But I failed – there was so much variety presented I just couldn’t do it. I tried though.

The desserts were so pretty and delicious. My favourite of what I tasted was the tiny canoe-shaped lemon mirengue pie, with a shortbread crust. Nick particularly liked the macarons and Isabel chose a little cheesecake tart with a filigree pattern on top as her fave.

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The exquisite floral beauty included lilies, lilac, sweet peas and hydrangeas, lit by candles in lovely vintage-looking mercury glass holders, and was thanks to Stemz.

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The sounds from the live band eventually lured us downstairs. They were called Asiko Afrobeat and were so much fun.

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We found a table near the band.

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We’ve been to to this event a few times now, and I’ve never seen people dancing. But this band had people moving big time.

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^ Nick’s shirt is by his friends Chris and Jim of Hoax Couture. ^

It was such a good night and we appreciate having been invited.

Thanks very much for checking out my post. I hope you have a great weekend.
xo Lou

Posted in Concerts, Out at Night | 3 Comments

Moving Music : Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project

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A week ago Thursday, when we got home from the art gallery after seeing the Basquiat show (posted about here), we had an email waiting from our pal Isabel. “Hey Guys, Would you be interested in two tickets to this show tomorrow night?”, it read. The offer was for a concert called Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project, to be held at Kroener Hall.

Not knowing anything about Jayme Stone we scrolled down to get a gist of what the show was about. There was a picture of a man (maybe 35 years old) standing with his hands in his pockets and a banjo strapped over his neck. The written description said, “Celebrating the work of folklorist and field recording pioneer, Alan Lomax, this project revives and re-imagines traditional music from Bahamian sea chanties to African-American acappella singing from the Georgia Sea Islands to Old World weavers’ work songs, to ancient Appalachian ballads.”

We were promised “fiddle tunes, and work songs collected from both well-known musicians and everyday folk: sea captains, cowhands, fishermen, prisoners and homemakers.”

We immediately wrote back, “Yes please, we would like to go”.

That evening, while having a glass of wine by candlelight, we listened to some of the the Lomax Project songs posted online. (It should be mentioned that we don’t regularly drink wine by candlelight — it was beautiful out so we were standing and looking out an open window and didn’t want the lights on, silhouetting us from behind, so we lit a candle. The fact that it made for a romantic moment was an added bonus.)

The music sounded good – I was especially taken by the female vocalist’s voice – but I must say, listening to a few songs through the tiny speaker of my ipad did not prepare me for what I was about to hear the following evening.

Kroener Hall is a special place, described as a “venue designed in the tradition of the classic ‘shoebox’ venues of Europe, built without compromise and with a mission to provide acoustic perfection for music of all genres”. Not only is the sound exceptional within the actual theatre, the whole building is beautiful. Built right alongside the historic building that houses the Royal Conservatory of Music, the modern multi-storied glass structure shares wall with the old building.

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^ The Royal Conservatory Building, erected in 1881, with Koerner Hall, opened in 2009, on the right ^

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The Friday evening show began promptly at 9 o’clock, with a person coming out on stage and requesting that all cameras and phones be turned off. Without the intrusion of social media, we were invited to relax and enjoy the two-hour concert experience that was to come.

Then Jayme Stone came out and introduced the concept of his Lomax Project : each song we would hear had at one point, been recorded by folklorist and field recording pioneer, Alan Lomax.

Alan Lomax was born in Austin Texan in 1915, and is considered one of the great American field collectors of traditional music. At the age of 20, in 1935, he joined his father and began venturing out to small isolated communities in America, to take live recordings of whatever traditional music was being made there at the time. They recorded over 10 thousand songs for the Library of Congress, including Cajun music from Louisiana, ballads and fiddle tunes from the Appalachian Mountains, and blues from the Mississippi Delta. They traveled over 200,000 miles gathering samples, lugging around a Presto Disc Recording Machine.

Eventually he continued collecting folk music without his father, adding 5,000 more hours of recordings. In addition to having a passion for music, Lomax was very outspoken in his support of human rights. In 1949 he was reported as being a member of a communist front group, an accusation that would certainly have a negative effect his career in America, so he moved to Europe and continued making recordings in England, Scotland, Ireland and Spain. He returned to the US in ’59 and continued being actively involved in preserving, sharing and teaching about traditional folk music. He died in 2002 at the age of 87.

Today all of the old recordings have been digitized and can be listened to via this American Government site dedicated to Cultural Equity.

Alan Lomax also traveled with a camera and took many photographs of places and musicians, that can also be accessed through that site.

It is believed that if he had not devoted his life doing what he did, folk music as we know it today would not exist.

So, for this show, Jayme Stone, along with six other musicians, presented a selection of songs that had been amoungst those recorded by Alan Lomax.

Three quarters through the performance of the first song, a tingle ran up my spine to the top of my head. During the third song Oh Shenandoah, I was so moved that tears suddenly sprang to my eyes, at the moment that it changed from a slow haunting melody, sung by the female singer whose voice I’d liked so much when I listened to the recordings, Moira Smiley, to an upbeat instrumental part.

You can hear a recording of the song here – it’s the second one down, with a video created while the group recorded it in a studio.

After almost an hour the band took a break and the audience headed to the lobby for a drink.

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A standing ovation and much calling for an encore followed the second hour of music. I thought it would be ok to snap a quick shot during the ovation.

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The old traditional songs, combined with the acoustic perfection in that particular hall, the excellent stand-up microphone they used, and the group of very talented musicians made for a remarkable and truly memorable show. It was some of the most beautifully performed music I’ve ever heard live.

I’m very glad that we took Isabel up on her last-minute offer. Folk music is not our usual choice and, not knowing what we would be missing, we could easily have declined.

This show is currently touring Canada and the United States – their schedule of stops is here.

By total coincidence, we were back at Kroener hall the very next Thursday, for something else fun and interesting. I’ll tell you about our second visit within a week in my next post.

Thanks for checking out what I’ve been up to. If you’re here in Canada, I hope you had a great long weekend.
xo Lou

Posted in Concerts | 2 Comments