Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thoughts about BC culture, and events between June 11th and August 23rd


My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.   Jack Layton
I awoke Monday morning to the news that Jack Layton had died.  It seemed shocking and terribly sad.  I knew he was very ill, but I wanted to believe he would beat the odds as he did numerous times throughout his career.  He had such a strong will and desire to continue his life and his work.  Separate from politics was the man who lived by the words you see above, written two days before he died.  RIP Jack Layton.  My deepest condolences to your family, friends and colleagues.


There will be posts to follow about some of our adventures in Vancouver and on the Sunshine Coast during a recent holiday, but for now, this one will focus on some thoughts about culture here in BC.

I remember when I told my Montreal friends that I was moving to BC, they warned me that I would miss Montreal's cultural life.  Well, my first year in Fraser Lake, a small mining village two hours west of Prince George, with no cinema and few cultural outlets, had me thinking that my friends were right, but a strong writers' group, occasional concerts with invited musicians from afar, and huge support for the school music program were givens.  I only stayed in Fraser Lake for one year, but when I think of its culture, I always come back to that writing group, and in particular, to Doris Ray, who later published the book she had been working on during our meetings.  

The Ghosts Behind Him was about her terrible dilemma in trying to access help for her schizophrenic son.  Her efforts were in vain, and tragically, he eventually killed someone.  As sad as that story is, it is an important read, one that could perhaps offer comfort to others who have gone through similar experiences, as well as waken those who have the power to change the system.  It is also a constant reminder to me that culture, while perhaps requiring more effort to access outside of the larger cities, nevertheless exists and flourishes wherever there are stories to be told and talent to be expressed.

As for the city of Vancouver, the wealth of entertainment is mind boggling.  It would never be possible to keep up with all that this city offers.

On June 11th, we saw  "Acts of Love and Despair" by The Vancouver Academy of Music.  Bill and I talked several weeks after  seeing it, and he counted it in the "top five" shows we have seen over the past four years.  I would have to agree, and the fact that all of the performers (with the exception of the conductor, Robert Rozek) were students adds to my awe.  The sounds coming from the orchestra and from the singers were spellbinding - exquisitely in tune, rhythmically tight, and with rich instrumental and vocal tone quality throughout.  There were three acts, each from different operas: Act III of Puccini’s La Bohéme; Act I of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro; and Act III of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann.  The following quote by the director, David Meek, explains the format. I am absolutely certain that many of the names on the program will soon be gracing world class performance stages. 
“Some people may wonder why we are not doing a full opera instead of this new approach. There are two basic reasons for this. The main reason is to give as much opportunity as is possible for the Academy singers to appear on stage, and to have the experience of one or more good roles with an orchestra. The other is to offer our audiences a wider variety of styles of operatic entertainment in one evening. In this production the audience will be entertained with comedy, tragedy and romance, all in one package. This is not to say that this will be the format every year, but is an offering of something new and different for this season. We hope the audience enjoys this format, and we are looking forward to the reaction from our patrons for future presentations. The audience will be treated to some very fine young singers on their way to developing careers, and we hope laughs and some tears as well!  
I also loved the sets by Marshall McMahon, and particularly the one for Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann.  If you have the chance to attend any of the Academy's performances next season, I have a feeling you will be in for a treat. 
On June 18th, we attended Paul Luchkow and Michael Jarvis's concert, presented the day before doing a recording of two never-recorded-before sonatas by Hummel.  I took my camera, but forgot to put the sd card in it, so this picture comes from a blog post over a year ago.  It was a most enjoyable performance, with Paul moving from violin to viola as though that were commonplace.  Paul and Michael have a deep love and respect for the works they perform, and that is always enhanced by careful research and a bit of banter just in case they should be tempted to take themselves too seriously.  I loved the Harrison Gallery/The Buzz Cafe as a venue.  For a very personal account of Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's experience at the concert, links to the venue and to the performers, and some absolutely superb photography, you can check out his blog here.
On Sunday, June 19th, we saw the movie, Midnight in Paris, directed by Woody Allen.  Bill wrote this the day after we saw it: 
The opening montage of Paris city scenes made me feel nostalgic as I remembered walking those same streets in 1964. Woody must have read my mind as nostalgia was to be one of his themes. The time shift to the 1920's seemed goofy at first but I soon got in the flow. I noticed when Hemingway spoke there was laughter in the audience but I didn't get the joke. Then I realized that he was being mocked for all his tough guy talk. Hell would freeze over before Woody would box with Hemingway or go to Africa and shoot lions. The last scene where Gabrielle and Gil meet in the rain made me happy because she has such an infectious smile. 
I thought about Ernest Hemingway quite a bit after seeing the movie.  My first thought was, "Was he really like that?"  At least, in the movie, he wasn't sitting proudly beside the dead carcass of a beautiful beast he had been thrilled to kill.  In my fantasy world, greatly talented people are supposed to have gentle hearts. It occurs to me, on thinking a bit more, that he and many of the composers/writers I have come to know (in my way) fail to disguise that soft side.  It emerges, sometimes in spite of their best efforts, through their art.

Unlike the main character in the movie, I have never really had the desire to live in another time, but I realize I have long had the craving to spend just a few living moments (maybe an hour or two) with people from the past who have caught and stimulated my imagination. I loved the movie for realizing that fantasy.  If you have ever wanted to spend a little time with Cole Porter, or Picasso, or Gertrude Stein, or the Fitzgeralds, then this will give you one of several good reasons to take in this movie.   

That Sunday, before seeing Midnight in Paris, we walked downtown, and spent some time reading the messages by people upset and saddened over the Stanley Cup riot.  I didn't think of the messages as part of Vancouver's cultural scene at the time, but as I look again over my photos, I realize they were exactly that.   

I could see in Bill's eyes that he felt as saddened as I was.  This sculpture by Joe Fafard of a bull stands at the corner overlooking the Blenz Coffee Shop that only reopened a few days ago.  I thought I saw sadness in its eyes as well.
 I also contemplated the many scenes the bull must have witnessed over the years at that busy corner.  I'm glad that it survived.
 There were many messages of hope and recognition posted.

I just today noticed this among my pictures of the messages, and it seems to fit perfectly here.
 I loved this story, painstakingly written and posted.
 Another one that really hit home.
I want this site to be family-friendly, and choose my words carefully, but I showed this to my students, and it was their favourite of all the messages.
 Another one that really hit home.
 I felt ashamed that a new citizen had to witness such a scene, so soon after proudly becoming a Canadian.
 This letter was two pages long.  Without reading the details, I felt the emotion behind the words.
 Bill and I took a few minutes to ponder our message.  I wrote the words, and Bill outlined them.  I know that I was somehow comforted by that small gesture.
 "It's okay to shed a tear, but..  remember the real Vancouver is here."
I took this next picture on Pacific Boulevard.  We were just about to get into the truck, and the big lens was on my camera, so the picture only gives a small taste of what we saw. The words intrigued me, and I googled them once I arrived home.  These particular ones are from a poem by Earle Birney, but there are other words taken from various writings, distributed in random spots around the False Creek area.  You can find more info at this link, but here are a few words by the artist, Gwen Boyle: (I underlined the words that resonated most with me.)
This public artwork is located on part of what was once a shoreline.... The work is site specific in that it is based on research and archival material, as well as writings about this North Shore of False Creek, from pre-settlement time onwards.... I have quoted from the City Archives, C.P. Railway Archives, anthropologists and poets to find words to sandcarve into 57 blocks of unpolished black granite. Set into pavers, they are like markers on a path (of time), an echo. Although I feel the words selected are specific to this place, they are also general, sometimes evocative, the ardent hope they will bring out a smile on a rainy day. A private moment in a public space. Assistance from Anita Green, Melanie Boyle and Patti Lynes are gratefully acknowledged.
On Saturday, June 25th, we saw the play Our Class at Jericho Arts Club.  Written by Tadeusz Slobodzianek, it was not a pleasure to watch, but it was extremely well acted and directed and it made me think about the director's opinion that there is "an inner blind spot in our being" as we make our choice between good and evil, because "our consciences are subject to historical, cultural and biographical circumstances."  
As Victor Vasuta said, "I hope that by seeing them played out on the stage, we banish them from our hearts forever."  He was talking about atrocities committed during WW11, not by the Nazis as everyone at first thought, but by the villagers of a small town in Poland. He added that:  ".. it is a story of the common guilt we all feel when choices made by individuals under the pressure of some collective errors and prejudices prove the failure of human conscience." 
On Sunday, June 26th, we went to the Vogue Theatre to hear one of the first Jazz Festival groups to perform - Secret Society - a band led by Darcy James Argue.  He is a very talented musician born in Vancouver but now living in Brooklyn. 
Here is the comment I left at Secret Society's blog:
I heard your concert in Vancouver. Two members of your band are relatives of a close friend of mine. To say I was blown away would be an understatement! The precision, the discipline, the passion, the energy, the talent, the solos, the unbelievable technique and musicality - anyone who missed it missed the concert of a lifetime. I am about to retire from 30+ years of teaching music (concert and stage bands as well as choir). Your concert made me wish I could start all over again. 
I guess you could say I loved the concert! Here is an article crediting Darcy's high school music teacher, Bob Rebagliati, for triggering his interest in jazz.  Here also are links to Gordon Webster and Erica VonKleist, the family members (Phyllis's nephew and a niece-in-law) I referred to.  They both did very impressive solos.  

On Saturday, July 2nd, we saw the movie, Beginners.  It has already been mentioned in a previous post.  I liked it for a couple of reasons, not least of which was the idea that it's "never too late" to be happy.  

On Sunday, July 17th, we saw Potiche.  I wrote in my little book, "longish.. sometimes annoying, but glad to have seen it."  The link above is by a reviewer from the Globe and Mail, who declared the movie's only saving grace to be Catherine Deneuve. I don't agree with that, although she was definitely a highlight.  We saw it at Denman Cinema, and I liked that theatre for its reasonable prices, very comfortable seats, and (at least on that occasion) non-blasting sound system.  I didn't take (or at least didn't keep) any photos, so I'm using this opportunity to insert the only bird of this post, a young starling taken the same day, during a walk at Granville Island.

On Saturday, July 23rd, we saw The Adding Machine at Granville Island.  It was a musical, and had many very clever moments that depicted the drudgery of mindless and repetitive work that preceded the invention of the adding machine.  It is not a happy play, but it gave me food for thought.  I liked this review of a performance in Boston, describing accountants "hammering through their day."  That particular musical number was perhaps my favourite, with complex rhythms backed by metronome-like precision adding a sense of the stifling boredom, but perhaps representing as well a kind of comfort some feel from familiar routines.   
We took the Aquabus to Granville Island, and I had fun afterwards trying to capture some of the magical light over False Creek.
The Burrard Bridge looked golden,
and the rolling waves, taken through the Aquabus door, caught a bit of that light. 

On Sunday, July 31st we decided to walk along the seawall to see China's fireworks display.  We never made it there, so it became the "Failed Fireworks Walk," one that still makes me smile as I marvel at Bill's patience with my (occasional) obsessions.  A group of young people displayed signs of inebriation as they dropped a beer bottle on the walkway in front of us.  It smashed into many pieces and I was heartened at first to see one of the young men pick up a piece of the glass.  However, to my horror, he threw it in the creek, and then continued on his way with the other members of the group.  Bill picked up the other large pieces, and I began trying to gather the smaller shards together.  A woman came by and gave me a napkin, but that was soon used up, and I was still concerned that an animal or person would be injured.  Finally, Bill, seeing my distress, went all the way back to the apartment to get a broom.  I stood there, trying to guide the 100's of people on their way to the fireworks, as well as others just out walking their dogs, away from the glass. A person in bare feet, one dog walker, and a couple of parents with young children in flip-flops thanked me, but overall, I felt pretty silly standing there.  Poor Bill returned as quickly as he possibly could, but the 20-minute wait seemed interminable, and I wasn't in such a great mood by the time he arrived back with the broom.  All I can say is that that small stretch of seawall is probably the cleanest of any for miles around.  As we walked back homeward, Bill joked and pretty soon, we were both giggling.  Looking back on it now, I see that evening as yet more evidence of Bill's kindness.  He is a true gem.

On Wednesday, August 3rd, I was inside as I heard the first practice run for Spain's Fireworks display.  This brings me to the question of whether fireworks should be included in a post about culture.  Definitely debatable, especially since I tolerate them, at best.  I think they are sometimes pretty, but can never stop thinking about the stress to pets and to wildlife.  Nevertheless, they seem to be a fact of life in Vancouver, and sometimes, it pays to make the best of a not so great situation.  Ironically, Black Jack loves the crowds and excitement, and is not the least bit phased by the noise.  I didn't do well with pictures, but here are two shots taken that evening.

Saturday, August 6th was the final fireworks show, this one by Canada.  Bill and I were really brave this time and took happy Black Jack right into the centre of the action at English Bay. I tried to show the hundreds of ships gathered together, but really struggled to figure out camera settings. 
We were just about deafened by the noise, but did enjoy some parts of the show.
I liked the greens,
and the blues..
the best.  I admit to breathing a sigh of relief that fireworks season is over for another year.  Congratulations to China, the top winner for this year.
On Monday, August 8, we saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  I took these pictures..
of the gardens outside the Vancouver Lawcourts through the windows of Scotia Band Theatre before the show.  There are much better photographs at this site.  
I hadn't realized Arthur Erickson was the architect for these buildings, as well as for the wavy building that I love near my apartment.  I have come to admire him a lot, especially after watching a Knowledge Network documentary about his life.
And the movie?  I didn't enjoy it, but I was glad I saw it.  Does that make any sense?  I think sometimes, we just have to admit when, for whatever reason, certain types of entertainment leave us cold.  That's the case for me in most "monster" movies, although I do have great admiration for the visual effects created by Weta Digital.  The apes had unbelievably expressive eyes and conveyed almost (in my case) convincing emotions. 
On Tuesday, August 9th, we saw the hilarious and very clever Die Roten Punkte at The Cultch.  Can you tell I loved it?  As my sister said recently, "Who knew?"  The Cultch is housed in a heritage building, and I took this picture outside before the performance.
Daniel Tobias and Claire Bartholomew are solid musicians with impeccable timing.
We both found ourselves tapping along to the beat,
in between the laughter.
This was my favourite (in spite of its poor focus) shot of the night.  People were asking to have their pictures taken with Daniel, and since I couldn't quite work up the nerve to do that myself, I asked ever-patient Bill if he would take my place.  He didn't actually approach Daniel, but he did manage a wave from the rear.  
On Wednesday, August 10th, we went from the ridiculous to the sublime with the performance of Purcell's King Arthur at the Chan Centre.  I took this picture in the UBC garden before the performance.
This picture was on the front page of the program.  There were no reviews to be found of this concert, but I did find a blog entry by Chris Sivak.  He mostly stayed away from discussing the music, but noted that he was disappointed that counter-tenor Matthew White (who could not be there) was replaced by Meg Bragle.  I loved her voice, and felt that she and the other members of the trio singing, "For Folded Flocks, on Fruitful Plains" created one of many moments when I sank into the luxurious folds of a perfect blend of rich, velvet vocal texture.  As always, I loved watching Alexander Weimann's deeply personal style of conducting, and I was as proud as I could be to see Paul and Dr. Mom Glenys (barely a couple of weeks after giving birth and successfully completing her dissertation defense on Exposure sources and thyroid effects of perfluorinated compounds during pregnancy: Results of the Chemicals, Health and Pregnancy Study) performing with the orchestra.  All in all, it was a memorable performance that continues to give pleasure as I go back over its details now. 
On Sunday, August 14th, I accidentally came across the Chariot Parade and Festival of India while I was out walking with Black Jack.  I was happy to photograph this from afar with my big lens, as the loud speakers were at an unbearable volume.  Distorted sound that causes physical pain is not the way to attract fans, but I did enjoy the bright colours.
There were many nationalities represented and I particularly enjoyed these dancers and Mexican musicians, who played their instruments and sang without amplification.
They were definitely my favourite part of the parade, and this trumpet player was a special hit. His singing and his playing were truly impressive.
Talk about multi-cultural.  Once I made it past the chariot, I thought the parade was a lot of fun.
On August 14th, we saw the movie,Tree of Life.  This movie was disturbing, and I closed my eyes quite a few times throughout.  I simply couldn't bare to watch some of the scenes.  Nevertheless, I appreciated seeing it, and recognize that there were moments (or more) of brilliant film making in it.  One of the aspects that I loved was the music.  Here is a link to the playlist, although some of the pieces are no longer able to be heard.  It is an annoying link with a 20-second advertisement at the beginning, so be warned.  Be warned as well about going to the movie.  Some, or perhaps, many of you will hate it.  One thing I have thought about over and over since seeing it is that childhood has, for many, aspects that we either choose to forget, or that somehow fade into a part of our subconscious where they remain safely hidden.  Terrence Malick accesses those memories in a way that is frightening, but also admirable. As a guide said to us this past weekend when we attended the Vancouver Art Gallery to see The Colour of My Dreams: The Surrealist Revolution in Art, "surrealism dared to explore the darker side of human nature."  I think the movie explored the darker side of childhood, and for many, if not most of us, that may well be a risky voyage better avoided.  This picture is taken from an internet site promoting the movie, but unfortunately, I don't seem to be able to find that site again.
You may remember my post with a picture of Sierra, a student at my school.  She had said in her speech about Canada that her father was a master carver, so when we were in Sechelt, I wanted to look up the totem poles in front of the shopping centre.  I believe (but am not absolutely certain) that her father (and possibly his son?) may have done the one to the far left as well as the one in the middle.  We talked to the lady at Tsain-Ko village and she told us that her father had done the grey one, second from the left.  I really enjoyed the chance to see these beautiful examples of BC First Nations Culture. You can find more information here.
I took this photo in Roberts Creek during our Sunshine Coast trip.  As with the Art Gallery visit, I plan to come back to it again, but for now, it stands as more evidence of the culture that can come out of very small towns.  Each portion of this sidewalk mural is done by members of the town and it is erased and started anew each year.  Children, adults and professional artists may all contribute.  Bill and I had a wonderful time exploring it.
On the last day of our holiday, we lucked into the most wonderful of concerts.  This is one I would like to come back to again later as well, but for now, this young deer, just behind the performance hall, simply has to be included here.
This link will take you to the musicians we heard.  The Borealis String Quartet, James Ehnes and Daniel Bolshoy were unbelievably exciting.  This was a free concert, and taking place in the small town by Pender Harbour.  Karen, a Vancouver flamenco dancer, was also part of the concert. You can see a sample of her dancing here.  I could not take a picture of her at the concert, but coincidentally, she turned up at a picnic celebration in David Lam Park only two days after we had seen her perform on the Sunshine Coast.
On Saturday, August 20th, we saw a play called Clara, Clara.  It was the story of Clara Schumann's struggle between her responsibilities as a wife and mother to her eight children, and to her very successful career as a concert pianist.  As you can imagine, she was hardly typical of women of her time (1819-1896).  Her story has long fascinated me for many reasons, and I felt Adrienne Paulson did an admirable job of presenting this aspect of Clara's life.  
Debi Wong and Emily Forsyth sang huge roles and were outstanding, as was the pianist, Damien Jinks.  You can read a review by The Straight here, the only one I found, and in my opinion, a rather condescending one.  
On Monday, August 22nd, we saw the movie, Terri.  I'm at the end of my endurance for this post, so I will only say that I liked it, that it was definitely quirky, and that it had disturbing moments in it, but unlike "Tree of Life", there were also moments when I found myself giggling uncontrollably.
Finally, last evening, we saw Salmon Row, a very interesting theatre production in Steveston. I liked it as well, but will leave you to read the review written my Jerry Wasserman in a special to The Province.  Below is a picture of a picture that was posted on a wall near the theatre.  We explored these small homes in a previous trip to Steveston, and I will come back to them in another post.  There is a wealth of history in that town, and I feel I have a better grasp on that background after seeing the play. 
I took this picture of one of the musicians.  They played many fascinating instruments, representing First Nations, Japanese, Chinese, and Anglo cultures.
We couldn't take pictures during the performance, but this photo from The Province review shows one of the puppets in the background.  I was especially thrilled by the stilt-walkers and masked performers, and by some of the musical numbers.  

I wonder at my obsession to record every single cultural experience here, but will just offer this thought by way of excuse.  Every single concert, play, and movie required hours and hours and hours of thought, planning and rehearsal.  Every effort, from the least to the most successful, leaves me feeling enriched and very grateful to the artists who have given their energy, time and spirit.  Writing about them here is my way of expressing my thanks and preserving those memories.

Please, dear Blogger, I know this post is yet again too long, but please don't make it disappear.  I am slowly catching up, and will try to do better!


  1. Your post covers so many events and certainly shows how culturally diverse and rich our city is. I too saw the play "Our Class" at JAC and it was indeed difficult to watch but at the same time so well staged and acted. Thank you for this amazing cultural journey and yes Bill is certainly a keeper.

  2. Well, Carol, I am breathless at all the events you and Bill managed to take in and to write about. As Gillian says, your summary shows exactly how diverse, entertaining and artistically expressive life can be in southwest BC. Funny that I, too, visited Sechelt recently. Our paths continue to cross as they so often do. In this post, I was particularly interested in the “inner blindspot” concept. I suspect there is truth in this and sometimes wonder how free we truly are of ingrain cultural prejudices. The fireworks photos also caught my attention. Some remind me of puffs of dandelions exploding in the night sky. Finally, I absolutely love your remembrance of Jack Layton and his strong message of hope. Thanks as always, Carol, for sharing your insights and journey.

  3. Beautiful shots, interesting commentary as always. Like Penelope, I also thought some of the fireworks shots looked like "puffs of dandelions" - wonderful photos!

  4. What a busy and intense and "cultural" interlude these weeks were for you!
    I can only hope that upon retiring, Allan and I will have the energy to do half of what you and Bill manage to do--and you're not even retired yet! Both of our jobs require such intense social interaction that at the end of a day, and on weekends, we just want to retreat to the farm. Even the club trail rides are often to "crowded" for me... Thanks for taking me along on your adventures.

  5. What a wonderful paean to the arts and to artists! I wish all Ministers of Culture, premiers and especially the Prime Minister could read it and understand that art will define who we are and what we dream of becoming!

    We should all take the opportunity to speak to our politicians to restore and increase funding for the arts. I think we need to have a better curriculum in the schools to foster music, drama, the visual arts as well.

    Thanks for the tribute to Jack Layton; Canada has lost a great man and I hope we can keep his vision in mind on a daily basis.
    Fondly, Phyllis