Steinways on TV and other School of Music news


In case you missed the go! Island episode about the School of Music’s Steinway pianos that ran on Shaw TV between November 19th and 25th, you can now catch it online. The segment featured piano professor Arthur Rowe and dedicated UVic piano tuner Jim Anderson speaking with Shaw host Nikki Ewanyshyn, and showed Anderson working on one the Steinways, as well as some fancy student keyboard action.

In other departmental news, musicology professor Jonathan Goldman appeared on Vancouver’s Radio Canada—that’s the French CBC station—on September 24, discussing the Learning Without Borders program through which he won a course development grant to develop his Mus 391: Global Music class . . . which is having an end-of-semester Global Music Fair from 4:30-6pm on Wednesday, November 28 in the David Lam foyer and MAC A144.

The 150th anniversary of the birth of Debussy was celebrated in the faculty concert Images: the Piano Music of Claude Debussy, featuring piano professor Bruce Vogt—which earned a note in Times Colonist classical music writer Kevin Bazzana’s October 25 column. Bazzana also mentioned that Vogt “celebrated the Liszt bicentenary last year, too, with a three-concert series” and included a plug for the School of Music’s new live streaming concert page on their website.

Christopher Butterfield at Open Space for the Cage 100 Festival.
Photo: Bruce Stotesbury, Times Colonist

Music professor Christopher Butterfield yielded a great deal of coverage for the recent Cage 100 Festival he curated in November. “I think Cage’s whole point is that he wants people to be acutely aware of the kind of aural world or acoustic world around them and to be able to actually, I don’t know, rejoice in the sheer idea of consciousness or of being sensitive to the world, and you don’t need the kind of conventional constructs of music,” Butterfield told Globe and Mail arts writer Marsha Lederman. “It’s much more about a much larger world of sound possibilities than simply the ones put together for people to learn on the piano or the violin or an orchestra or whatever.” He also appeared in articles in the Times Colonist, on CFUV’s U in the Ring show with Phoenix Bain (hear the podcast here), and an interesting review of the Cage 100 fest appeared in the Coastal Spectator blog.

Congratulations go out to composition and music theory professory Dániel Péter Biró, whose Kivrot HaTa’avah (Graves of Craving), a piece for solo bass flute, was selected as an independent submission for the International Society of Contemporary Music 2013 World New Music Days in Kosice, Bratislava, and Vienna. Established back in 1922, ISCM is an international network of members from 50 countries, devoted to the promotion and presentation of contemporary music; they present an annual international festival offering contemporary music across a broad range of contemporary practice. Biró’s Kivrot HaTa’avah will be performed alongside other Canadian pieces including Anna Pidgorna’s solo accordion piece Light-play through curtain holes, and Patrick Saint-Denis’ multimedia work Trombe.

George Tzanetakis in the Saanich News (Photo: Edward Hill)

Meanwhile, Computer Science and Music prof George Tzanetakis talked about robotic musicianship and other electronic music notes in the Saanich News on October 19. “When you play sound, a musician hears what is happening. We are trying to add the ability to understand music to an artificial agent that performs,” he told reporter Edward Hill. “The idea is to make the system musically intelligent, to have robotic musicianship.”

And when fellow music & comp-sci prof Andrew Schloss brought acclaimed futurist Jaron Lanier to campus to speak at the School of Music about Alan Turing’s spiritual legacy on November 7, he also found time to speak to CBC Radio One’s On The Island host Gregor Craigie. You can catch a podcast of Lanier’s interview here. Also, music & comp-sci grad Anthony Theocharis appeared in the Vancouver Sun recently thanks to his association with MediaCore, who won the $100,000 top prize in the BCIC-New Ventures competition. (Theocharis is MediaCore’s chief of engineering.) The Sun noted that the Victoria-based MediaCore “has developed a cloud-based platform that connects instructors with public school and university students, as well as business seminars via online video connections.”

Finally, if you want to keep up on the indie film projects of music prof John Celona, check out his Openfilm channel, where you can see four of his short movies: Nightfreight, Whisper Loretta, Reaching for Paradise and Mistress Italiano.

Good reasons to see Good Person

Phoenix Theatre’s current production of Good Person of Setzuan closes on November 24, so there’s still time to catch it. If you need a bit of prompting, here’s what the local media has been saying about it.

Simon Farrow’s set for Good Person of Setzuan (photo: David Lowes)

Veteran Times Colonist reviewer Adrian Chamberlain felt “The Good Person of Setzuan is as relevant today as it was 70 years ago . . . [it] investigates the corrupting influences of commerce and poverty. And that stuff never goes out of vogue.”

From the show’s large cast, Chamberlain noted in his November 10 review—titled “A Person Worth Getting to Know”—that lead actor Veronique Piercy “plays Shen Te as a believably forthright person, while her Shui Ta musters the requisite backbone for a hard-nosed business type. Kale Penny plays Wang the water-seller with flair and the right balance of humour and pathos.”

He also praised director Conrad Alexandrowicz’s “contemporary dance/movement flourishes” that he felt “work very well . . . a gang of street people trudges onstage single file—arms on each other’s shoulders—to seek charity, then exits in the same manner when denied. Bouts of fisticuffs are enacted in exaggerated comic-book style. There’s wit and humour to this approach.”

Some of Kat Jeffery’s costumes for Setzuan (photo: David Lowes)

Meanwhile, Monday Magazine‘s Mary Ellen Green cited the “modern touches” that director Alexandrowicz used to update the story to the 21st century, and enjoyed the original music by third-year student Francis Melling, which, she says, “adds a blues-rock edge to the production, and also a sense of whimsy.”

Green also noted in her November 14 review that “the set, designed by fourth-year student Simon Farrow, is immense, successfully portraying the vastness of a metropolis … The set doesn’t necessarily resemble China, though, but more of a modern international any-city, which makes a lot of sense considering the issues in the play are universal.” She also pointed out “costume designer Kat Jeffery‘s use of armbands emblazoned with the names of mega-corporations really brought home the theme of humans being slaves to unchecked corporate greed.”

Monica Prendergast, one of the theatre reviewers for local CBC Radio morning show On the Island, says “movement professor Conrad Alexandrowicz does quite a nice job directing . . . He has a nice ensemble. The stage is littered with young people, which is always great, and they move nicely together as you would expect from a movement professor . . . The play takes a lighter approach to the story.” Listen to a podcast of Prendergast’s seven-minute On the Island review here.

Director Conrad Alexandrowicz (photo: David Lowes)

Finally, local theatre blogger Janis La Couvée says, “Piercy toggles effortlessly between the two roles . . . the chemistry between Shen Te and her lover, the unemployed pilot Yang Sun (Alex Frankson), is persuasive. It’s easy to see why Shen Te falls for his advances and promises, time and time again, despite her best intentions . . . I particularly enjoyed the annoying antics of Mrs. Shin (Christie Stewart), Shen Te’s nosy and know-it-all neighbour.”

La Couvée also noted how “the massive scale of the set (designed by Simon Farrow) serves to underline the overbearing inevitability of the industrialized complex, and the desperate poverty of the city’s citizens while offsetting it through the creation of more intimate spaces like the magnificently retractable tobacco shop.” You can read the entire review on La Couvée’s blog.

Finally, give a listen to director Conrad Alexandrowicz’s own thoughts about the production, as well as more about the history and philosophies of Bertolt Brecht—from his marxist beliefs to his ideas of Epic theatre—in this podcast from the Phoenix’s Director’s Series. Alexandrowicz offered “The Art of Bertolt Brecht” as a pre-show lecture, and it serves as a great primer before seeing the show.

Defending a fine arts education

We hear it all the time from struggling students and concerned parents alike—what are the job prospects for anyone with a degree in Fine Arts? And while those of us in the field can argue the benefits till we’re cerulean in the face, it’s always nice to hear an outside opinion singing the praises of fine arts.

Fine Arts education proponent Dr. Barbara Falk

Consider the following story that appeared on The Mark, an independent news site whose contributors include “Nobel laureates, heads of state, best-selling authors, business leaders, artists, academics and more.” In Defence of a Fine Arts Education is written by Dr. Barbara J. Falk, an associate professor at the Canadian Forces College, who specializes not in the fine arts but in political philosophy, dissent, Cold War history, war and terrorism, contemporary public policy and debates regarding globalization and global governance.

“What if there is a place in universities today where students are simultaneously acquiring job-related skills, challenged to be entrepreneurial and creative at times of high unemployment and engaging in the ideal process of human development described above?” Dr. Mark asks rhetorically. “It is happening. In the Fine Arts.”

After summarizing the usual post-secondary complaints—high cost, diminishing job prospects, too many graduates—and the standard defences (intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, challenging the status quo), Dr. Falk points out what so many of us already know: how challenging a fine arts education can actually be.

Getting into Fine Arts programs is often considerably more difficult than general admissions into the arts and sciences,” she writes. “Portfolios and auditions are required, and our supposedly over-coddled millennial kids who reputedly want a trophy for just showing up get dished out plenty of criticism and rejection out of the starting gate. And talent is not a replacement for good grades or a tough work ethic. At York University in Toronto, the students accepted into the Theatre program outpace the business students with the highest average entry grades.”

Visiting professor Michael Nicol Yahgulannas critiques student art

“Fine Arts students—whether in Theatre or Music, Creative Writing or Visual Art—learn early on that they had better cope constructively with intense and often very public criticism, or they are not going to survive. They have to learn how to respond quickly and offer feedback to their peers—tactfully and not boorishly.

They learn to work together in pressure-cooker situations, multi-task, and project manage—as much if not more so than in business schools, because the results are real and not imaginary. In Theatre and Music especially, students must be enormously respectful of deadlines that are not amenable to ‘the dog ate my homework’ kinds of excuses. If you’re stage managing or acting in a production, being late is not an option. An orchestra cannot begin a concert without its members present. And the variety and type of written assignments—either in traditional essay or more creative format—on top of all the audition, rehearsal, performance and skills development activity—directly contradicts the reigning campus stereotype of the BFA as the Bachelor of F—K All.”

Now, Dr. Falk does admit that her own daughter is a Department of Theatre acting student right here in UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and her extensive bio does include one tangentially fine arts-related position—as the director of human resources at Sony Music Canada—but she’s hardly someone you would turn to as the first line of fine arts defence. But her points are incredibly valid.

Piano professor Arthur Rowe well knows talent alone often isn’t enough to guarantee success

“Students in the Fine Arts are prepared from day one that there are no automatic job guarantees once they graduate from university,” she writes. “They know they have to think entrepreneurially about their work, that it’s not demeaning to take other jobs while you hone your craft, and that you often have to work as a team and take risks to be successful. Because the arts are perpetually under siege, students are acutely aware that you had better learn to make your own opportunities in life, and when things don’t turn out, that you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going.

“Artists are also an inherently interdisciplinary bunch, learning—out of desire and necessity—to research and understand time periods, characters, conflicts, and methodologies, in order to complete their work. In a sense, they are part-time sociologists, psychologists, philosophers and historians. Ultimately, they are students of the human condition, and realize that learning is lifelong and does not stop at graduation day.

“Artistic examination of a subject is hardly arid, but meant to provoke, inspire, generate catharsis. In that respect, artistic endeavor is deeply community oriented, requiring a public and respecting an audience. Moreover, historically it’s those pesky artists who are often the most dangerously insightful, taking risks in creatively speaking truth to power, and suffering the political consequences. It’s no accident that artists are disproportionately overrepresented in dissident groups who often crazy enough to fight for and then successfully achieve some measure of societal change. We need artists to act as a mirror—to reflect back to us our shortcomings and failures—and demand that we deliver, and do better.

“Finally, Fine Arts programs combine the practical with the theoretical. The skills they learn—whether in marketing or the use of power tools—are transferable in ways not immediately evident in traditional university offerings. Of course not every student with a degree in Theatre is going to become an award-winning playwright, actor or director. But it bears worth mentioning that, during the financial meltdown in 2008-2009, the entertainment industry kept generating jobs while many at the bottom of the food chain, armed only with their Bachelor of Commerce degrees, were left pounding the pavement. And a large proportion of arts-related jobs—from the menial to the celebrity—are not easily amenable to outsourcing to export-processing zones overseas.”

Read the full article here.

Two Visual Arts related shows

There are two Department of Visual Arts related shows happening this week that look to be well worth a visit.

Becky Cao

First up is cheerfultearful, an exhibit of new work by the students of Visual Arts painting professor Sandra Meigs‘ third-year painting class. Featuring work by nine students—Jesse Betman, Linnea Blum, Terri-Lynn Cayhill, Becky Cao, Nadine Halston, Carmen Low, Owen Mathieson, Jeffrey Sedun and Erin Shuttleworth—this brief exhibit is on now and runs through to Saturday, November 10, in the Audain Gallery in the Visual Arts building. Why wait for the annual BFA show in the spring? Check out student work now!

Also opening this week is the photography exhibit _backspace at the Slide Room Gallery. Curated by Visual Arts sessional instructor Tara Nicholson and featuring work by Visual Arts photography professor Vikky Alexander, _backspace also offers photos by the acclaimed likes of Stephen Waddell and Sarah Fuller. Alexander and Waddell are both featured in the 2012 Canadian Biennale at the National Gallery in Ottawa (on now till January 20, 2013) while Fuller will be included in Alberta’s 2013 Biennale. Also appearing in  _backspace are Elspeth Finlay, Johanne Hemond, Francis Sullivan and Selena Roberts.

Stephen Waddell

As curator Nicholson explains, photographs were selected from over 40 submissions, based not only on each artist’s response to the thematic concerns but also how their work paralleled the practices of the three internationally recognized artists invited to appear: Alexander, Fuller and Waddell.

_backspace signifies overlooked or forgotten spaces and eludes to a disengagement or desire to exit from everyday processes,” Nicholson says in the exhibit’s catalogue. “The physical and psychological borders between private and public space materialize within the work in this exhibition. _backspace investigates the idea of sanctuary in rural and urban space and the never-ending layers of ownership attached to many landmasses.”

_backspace opens 7:30pm, Friday November 9, at the Slide Room Gallery in the Vancouver Island School of Art, 2549 Quadra, and runs Monday to Friday 9am-5pm to December 10. 

Creating an “anywhere” city

It could be any city . . . any big international anywhere city. It could be Victoria. It is every city. In his classic parable play Good Person of Setzuan, Bertolt Brecht asks many difficult questions of his characters and of his audience. Why is it so hard to do the right thing, to be a good person?

Director Conrad Alexandrowicz (photo: David Lowes)

While developing his current production for the Phoenix Theatre, director Conrad Alexandrowicz couldn’t help but think not only of those caught in the global economic crisis, but also of the poverty and homelessness in his own city. “I was curious to see how the philosophical questions and moral lessons of Brecht’s original translated to a world that has grown more thoroughly corporatized and materialistic than that of his day,” says  Alexandrowicz, not only a professor in UVic’s Theatre department but also the Artistic Director of Wild Excursions Performance.

“We live in one big globalized world now,” he continues. “Corporatized culture and branding in China is as similar to its effect in North America as it is in many places across the world. Now more than ever, this parable is universal and therefore, it could also happen here in Victoria. Brecht’s play is as topical and poignant now as when it was written—if not more so.”

The trials of living in Victoria were recently recounted in the Vital Signs report (produced by the Victoria Foundation). It described a city where a “living wage” that keeps up with expenses should be $18.07 per hour, but the minimum wage is only $10.25—and 11.3 percent of people in the region live in poverty and rental costs continue to increase . . . if, at three percent rental availability, you can find a suite available at all.

Economic times are also tight in Brecht’s mythical city of Setzuan when three gods come in search of “one good person.” They are dismayed to find the search is so difficult. After seeking accommodation at many households, wealthy and otherwise, it is at the home of an impoverished young prostitute, Shen Te, that they find good will. However, Shen Te’s troubles really begin after a thank-you gift from the gods places her new-found status, new tobacco shop and her generosity in jeopardy and makes her an easy mark for theft, deceit and corruption. To avoid financial ruin, she re-invents herself as Shui Ta, a shrewd, no-nonsense male cousin to protect her business interests.

“It’s an incredibly clever play,” says Alexandrowicz. “Brecht shows great depth in his understanding of the human condition and the way that different classes operate in a money-centric society.”

Simon Farrow’s set for Good Person of Setzuan (photo: David Lowes)

Alexandrowicz’s vision for the play is mirrored in the set designed by fourth year student Simon Farrow. It is dominated by a large panoramic skyline of a big “anywhere” international city that includes references to Shanghai (World Financial Centre), New York (the waterfront), Johannesburg (the designer’s home town), Kuala Lampur (Petronas Twin Towers), Dubai (Burj Dubai) and Soweto (Orlando Nuclear Towers). Recent MFA grad Bryan Kenney‘s lighting design spotlights the action, including Brecht’s many theatrical asides where the actors philosophize to the audience, and creates amazing coloured evening skies behind the row of skyliners. These corporate towers loom over a downtrodden slum that can magically transform from Shen Te’s tobacco shop, to Sandalmaker’s Lane, to a restaurant’s private dining room.

Some of Kat Jeffery’s costumes for Setzuan (photo: David Lowes)

The costumes for Setzuan’s residents, designed by fourth-year student Kat Jeffery, also have a globalized inspiration, merging Western street style with a sense of Orientalism which seemingly channel the uniform-like style that became synonymous with China’s communist revolution. The three gods, on the other hand, are colourful hybrids of many eastern deities. In a reference to growing corporatization, the Setzuan slum’s characters all sport armbands that promote different international corporate brands.

Third-year student Francis Melling has composed music to accompany Brecht’s song lyrics in the play and is overseeing the music direction. “Francis is incredibly talented,” says Alexandrowicz. “He’s integrated Brecht’s lyrics into contemporary pop music that will have you singing along by the end!”

—Adrienne Holierhoek

Good Person of Setzuan runs November 8 – 24 at the Phoenix Theatre. Evening performances run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, with a 2pm matinee on November 24.

There will be a pre-show lecture by director Conrad Alexandrowicz at 7pm Friday, November 9, where he’ll share his inspiration and ideas around this production. All are welcome no matter which day your tickets are for. (This lecture will be recorded and the audio file posted on our website for your listening pleasure the week following the lecture.)