Wind & song highlighted in Faculty Chamber Music Series

Welcome the fall breezes with this special Faculty Chamber Music concert on Saturday, October 13. Wind and Song will highlight the School of Music’s brass, woodwind and voice faculty, along with some special guests, with a bold and surprising lineup of pieces.

From duos to large chamber works, the diverse and entertaining program features Fisher Tull’s Concerto da Camera for alto saxophone and brass quintet, Sonatine en trio by Florent Schmitt, James Barnes’ Divertissement, Op. 50 for brass quintet, and Partita in G by Don Sweete. Tenor Benjamin Butterfield will also sing a few favourites from the songbook of contemporary American composer Randy Newman, including “Marie” and “Lonely At The Top.”

The impressive line-up of performers also includes faculty members Merrie Klazek (trumpet), Scott MacInnes (trombone), Paul Beauchesne (tuba), Suzanne Snizek (flute), Shawn Earle (clarinet), Wendell Clanton (saxophone), Alex Olson (bass), and Arthur Rowe (piano), plus guests including current Masters candidate Marianne Ing (trumpet), alumnus Kelby MacNayr (percussion), and guests Yoomi Kim (piano). Allison Zaichkowski (horn) and Simon MacDonald (violin).

You can learn more about the music on the program in a special pre-concert talk at 7pm.

Wind and Song starts at 8pm Saturday, October 13, in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall (UVic’s MacLaurin Building B-wing). Tickets range from $10-$25.

Theatre historian Sasha Kovacs joins Phoenix

While the Department of Theatre crossed the half-century mark with their 50th anniversary in 2016, they’ve already started planning for the future by welcoming a number of new professors to their teaching faculty. Due to a round of recent retirements that saw the likes of design professor Allan Stichbury, director Linda Hardy and theatre historian Jennifer Wise step down, they had the opportunity to bring in fresh talent in the guise of acclaimed designer Patrick DuWors, voice and speech expert Michael Elliott and theatre historian Sasha Kovacs.

New Theatre professor Sasha Kovacs

An arts researcher, creator, administrator and educator, Kovacs holds a PhD from the University of Toronto. As the new assistant professor in Theatre History, Kovacs specializes in Canadian theatre history and theatre historiography (“how we come to ‘know’ and tell the history of performance in the place we now call Canada,” she explains), as well as performance archives and theory, material theatre culture, devised theatre and experimental dramaturgy.

When asked what she’ll be bringing to UVic (beyond a husband, new daughter and extended family), she says, “A passion for thinking about research as a creative practice.”

The timing is good for Kovacs, who just received a national prize from the Canadian Association for Theatre Research in June for her research work on late 19th/early 20th century poet-performer Pauline Johnson Tekahionwake. Her essay, “Beyond Shame and Blame in Pauline Johnson’s Performance Histories,” was published in the 2017 edited collection Canadian Theatre Histories and Historiographies and won the CATR’s annual Richard Plant Prize.

“I’m thrilled to be joining the community at the Phoenix,” she says. “It’s hard to find a comparable department—one that really values a balanced focus on practice and research. This is a major priority for me—it matches my own commitment to ensuring that the critical academic research I do is creative, and that the creative expressions I generate as an artist are critically engaged.  Being a good thinker and researcher makes a person a better performer/director/designer, just as much as honing creative instincts makes a person a better thinker. I’m happy to join a place that shares these values.”

Teaching and practicing

As a teacher, Kovacs is passionate about both connecting with students “who really believe that this discipline we work in and study can change the world” and building their confidence.

“I want students to feel as though the classes they take under my guidance expand their performance vocabularies and enrich their understanding of the traditions of our discipline.”

2012’s “Telephoney”

Born and raised in Toronto, where she developed both an academic and practicing theatre career, Kovacs has mounted a number of her own projects with the international and interdisciplinary performance collective Ars Mechanica, and has worked with a number of notable Canadian performance companies, including Nightwood Theatre, Tarragon Theatre, Buddies in Bad Times and Canadian Stage. She has also designed community-building arts programs for children, adults and seniors as the program director for Scarborough Arts, one of the City of Toronto’s six Local Arts Service Organizations (LASO).

With such an extensive background, does she have any concerns about swapping life in the theatrical centre of Canada for the western edge of the country?

“It has been wonderful to spend so much of my life in Toronto, where the theatre scene is always buzzing, but it’s also—and only—one scene,” says Kovacs. “It’s a good time for me to expand my horizons and learn about a new community that is making—and has always made—really rich contributions to Canada’s cultural and theatrical landscape. This move is welcome at a time when I’d like to cultivate focus in my life, commit to fostering connections with students through my teaching, and pursue more depth in my research.”

Kovacs (left) in 2013’s “Tomorrow we will run faster”

Given her work with Scarborough Arts, does she foresee any community outreach here in Victoria? “Of course, I want to continue working with different arts communities in Victoria, and I will keep seeking out these interdisciplinary and multi-generational artistic environments,” she says, “but I’ll do so knowing that it will take some time to make meaningful contributions.”

Ultimately, Kovacs is excited to be joining UVic’s Phoenix. “UVic’s theatre department has a rich history in leading exceptional research on theatre and performance history,” she concludes. “I am very honoured and humbled to be working in a place that has inspired so many other historians to make exciting and ground-breaking contributions to the field. I hope I can keep the legacy alive!”

Rapid fire Q&A:

  • What three words would you use to describe Victoria?

“Deep (I’m used to shallow lakes, not the ocean), sweet (are there a lot of pastry shops here, or is it just me?), blue (don’t know why, I just see the colour blue in my mind’s eye whenever I think of the city).”

  • If you could travel back in time and attend any theatrical performance in history, what/when would it be?

“Hmmm—that’s a hard one. You’d think I would have said something specific to Canadian theatre history but I think, in fact, I’d like to have been there for Molière’s last performance in his Le Malade Imaginaire—the biting comedy that marked the end of his life and career.”

  • What would you say to parents worried that their child wants to pursue an arts degree and live a creative life?

“They should be proud, because arts degrees cultivate creative thinkers and the creatives will save the world! ‘Please,’ I’d cry, ‘let your child save the world!’”

  • How do you define student success?

“I’m my happiest when students show me ways of living that even I didn’t think were possible. Then I know I’ve done my job. I’ve given them the tools and confidence to carve out their own path.”

AHVS professor Carolyn Butler-Palmer advised on new $10 bill

When Art History & Visual Studies professor Carolyn Butler-Palmer received an email from the Bank of Canada back in 2017, she didn’t put much stock in it. “To be honest, I thought it was a scam email,” she laughs, “but in fact they wanted to speak to me as an art historian.”

While it’s no secret now that Canada’s new vertical $10 bill features Nova Scotia civil libertarian Viola Desmond, Butler-Palmer was under a strict confidentiality order for several months starting in summer 2017 while she was consulted by the Bank of Canada about the proposed design. One of a number of experts contacted, Butler-Palmer came to their attention due to the Globe and Mail coverage of her early 2017 exhibit Ellen Neel: The First Woman Totem Pole Carver at UVic’s Legacy Gallery.

“They knew I had an interest in women and issues of diversity,” she says. “And while they’d already determined Viola Desmond would be on the front side of the bill, they were trying to get different regional perspectives on options for the flip side—including what they ended up with, the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.”

Carolyn Butler Palmer with one of Ellen Neel’s masks in the Legacy Gallery exhibit

Often described as Canada’s Rosa Parks, the 32-year-old Desmond refused to leave her seat in the “whites only” section at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, back in 1946. As a result, she was dragged out of the theatre by police and then jailed; it wasn’t until 1954 that segregation was legally ended in Nova Scotia, partly due to the publicity around Desmond’s case.

While over 450 iconic Canadian women met the initial qualifying criteria, that list was then narrowed down to a dozen candidates by an independent advisory council for possible inclusion on the $10 bill; Desmond was eventually selected by the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Bank of Canada from a shortlist of five (including poet E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake), engineer Elsie MacGill, athlete Bobbie Rosenfeld and suffragette Idola Saint-Jean) in December 2016. “It was long overdue for a banknote to feature an iconic Canadian woman,” said Stephen Poloz, Governor of the Bank of Canada, when the new bill was unveiled in March 2018. (Butler-Palmer says she “had, in fact, already voted for Viola.”)

And while we now know the new $10 bill features the exterior of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, as well as an excerpt from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and an eagle feather representing the continuing struggle for recognition of the rights of Canada’s Indigenous people, the question of what was going to appear on the reverse of the bill was still up in the air during Butler-Palmer’s consultation. But does she like the final design?

“To be honest, I’m not sure I would’ve gone with what they selected—without going into specifics, there were other objects I thought were more favourable,” she says with a  chuckle. “But I understand why they went in that direction—it’s a new museum and suits the broader issue of human rights. And the vertical design does have more impact.”

All in all, it was a unique experience for Butler-Palmer, who also teaches an AHVS elective titled “Fakes, Forgeries and Fraud” (returning in January 2019), which deals specifically with art forgery and theft—both of which are popularly associated with money. “It certainly was interesting to be contacted by a federal agency and be asked your professional opinion,” she says.

Now that’s news you can take to the bank!

Professor challenges WHO “video game addiction”

When the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on June 18 that they were declaring “video game addiction” a mental health condition in the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases, Department of Writing chair David Leach felt compelled to respond.

Writing professor David Leach

“The announcement didn’t necessarily surprise me because there is a feeling in the public consciousness that video games are addictive and that kids spend too much time on them,” Leach told the Vancouver Sun in this June 21 interview. “My problem is when you label it addiction it conjures up visions of heroin and your 12-year-old kid living on the street and not talking to you anymore. It’s like talking about being addicted to movies when what you’re really talking about is being addicted to pornography.”

A journalist who is also an expert in gaming culture, Leach had just returned from Toronto where he’d organized two symposia on the social power of video games the week before the WHO news broke. He recently launched UVic’s fledgling Digital Storytelling & Social Simulation Lab to further these interests, he has also done a double-blind study about the use of gamification for education when he was director of UVic’s Technology & Society program.

The WHO felt labeling “gaming disorder” as its own unique addiction would allow governments, health care workers and families to be more aware of the risks and better prepared to identify and deal with them. But even though they admitted gaming disorder is rare — estimating three percent of all gamers (at most) are affected — Leach challenges this idea.

“Three per cent is a wild exaggeration,” he told the Sun, noting all the people in the world — including grown men and women — and all the platforms on which they play games. “That would be millions of people. It speaks to the lack of understanding of how predominant interactive games and media is. If you think of how many people play video games, that number must be much lower, something like 0.001 percent.”

According to the WHO, gaming disorder shares many symptoms with substance and gambling problems — which, says Leach, “feeds into media and parental concerns that already exist . . . it shouldn’t be disparaged as a gateway drug to addiction.”

Leach also spoke to CBC Radio’s On The Island on June 20, and was featured in this CHEK TV weekend news spotlight on June 25.

Leach recently taught the elective WRIT 324: Writing Interactive Narrative, which looked at the history of interactive media from which-way-books, to ZORK and VR Rollercoasters. It was also under his time as Technology & Society director that the popular History of Video Games & Interactive Media course was introduced. He was also the organizer of the Games Without Frontiers research forums, held during UVic’s Ideafest in 2013 and 2016, which examined the social power of video games.

“Video games have become both the mythology and a form of literacy for, I’d say, the last two generations,” Leach told the Times Colonist in this 2013 interview. “They experience the world through games; games are kind of their narrative expression.”

Leach still believes the variety and potential of video games and their technology need to be taken seriously, examined critically and understood in depth.

New Audain professor examines art as act of reconciliation

When Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist Carey Newman’s Witness Blanket was unveiled at the University of Victoria in 2014, it was clear the large-scale installation would quickly become a national monument and spark reflection and conversation about residential schools, settler-Indigenous relations and reconciliation. Now, Newman will continue the conversation as the sixth Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest with UVic’s Department of Visual Arts.

Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist Carey Newman installs the Witness Blanket at UVic ahead of its unveiling in 2014 at a global conference hosted by the university. Photo: Suzanne Ahearne

“This is breaking new ground for me,” says Newman. “I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to convert the experience of mentorship into a more formal educational setting.”

UVic promotes teaching that reflects the aspirations and calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including addressing issues most relevant to Indigenous people and working with Indigenous communities and organizations to understand, preserve and celebrate traditions, knowledge and cultures.

A former UVic School of Music student, Newman will be the first Audain professor to hold a new three-year position with the department. He will also play a role in the award-winning ACE program with UVic’s Gustavson School of Business, which supports the entrepreneurial practices of Indigenous artists.

“As a master carver, Carey Newman has extensive knowledge of traditions and teachings, as well as a keen interest in contemporary design and digital processes,” says visual arts chair Paul Walde. “Not only is he an extremely well-established artist, but he has strong connections in different mediums and disciplines, both nationally and internationally. With him in the department, we know we would all learn a lot—faculty and students alike—and we look forward to how we can be enriched by that dialogue.”

The artist in his studio in 2013/14, working on one of the cedar panels for the Witness Blanket. Photo: Media One.

The master carver for the Cowichan 2008 Spirit Pole, Newman had another piece, “Dancing Wind,” featured at the 2010 Olympic Games. For over 20 years, he owned Sooke’s recently closed Blue Raven Gallery. He is also an accomplished pianist and singer who has performed at the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards and with Pacific Opera Victoria, where he is currently a board member.

Best known for his 12-metre-long Witness Blanket—created and assembled from 600 objects and artifacts including pieces of residential schools, an old drum and a shoe—Newman spent four years travelling across Canada with the installation that evokes the atrocities of Indian residential schools and a national journey toward reconciliation. Newman is excited to bring ideas of reconciliation into his classes at UVic.

“I’m interested in looking at how artists can take on the issue of reconciliation through their own relationship with Canada,” he says. “That way, it’s not limiting it to Indigenous people but is encouraging anyone, even international students, to relate to it.”

Established by a $2-million gift from philanthropist and UVic alumnus Michael Audain in 2010, the position has brought distinguished practicing artists Rande Cook, Nicholas Galanin, Michael Nicol YahgulanaasJackson 2Bears, and Governor General’s Award-winner Rebecca Belmore to teach in the visual arts department.

 

New Music & Digital Media Festival

The landscape of new and experimental music in Canada has been greatly influenced by the creative individuals who have taught and studied at the UVic School of Music. From February 2-4, this dynamic community spanning five decades — from former faculty to current students — will converge for a New Music & Digital Media Festival as part of the School’s ongoing 50th anniversary season. 

Music composition has been a vital part of the program at the School of Music since the early days. In 1971 Rudolf Komorous was named Head of Composition and the School’s first analogue electronic music studio was established. “New and experimental music has always been central to what we do,” explains School of Music Director, composition instructor and alumnus Christopher Butterfield. “Many of Canada’s leading composers and interpreters of contemporary music had their training here . . . and our Music and Computer Science program, a major draw for the School, is the only one of its kind in the country.”

Rudolf Komorous & then-student Tony Genge work in the electronic music studio circa 1979

As a direct result of our program, where contemporary music study, creation and practice are at the core, Victoria itself is recognized world-wide as a hub for new music. Faculty and alumni initiatives — including the Aventa Ensemble, A Place to Listen, the Victoria Composers Collective, and collaborations with organizations such as the Victoria Symphony, Pacific Opera Victoria, and Open Space — continue to produce and perform some of the most exciting music of our time, all on the tip of this island off Canada’s west coast. “Show me any place in the country with that kind of activity,” says Butterfield.

The festival will be a great opportunity to hear music by many of the School’s alumni. On February 2, the UVic Orchestra will perform Cassandra Miller’s Round, a new commission from the Toronto Symphony; Miller has twice received the Jules-Léger Prize for New Chamber Music, Canada’s highest honour for composition. 

In a UVic Minute on February 3, features clarinetist Heather Roche and pianist Tzenka Dianova — two leading interpreters of new music — with the Chroma String Quartet performing a smorgasbord of miniature compositions (some written especially for this occasion) by 20 Music alumni. Along with works by Linda Catlin Smith, Anna Hostman, and Nicholas Fairbank, you’ll hear festina lente by Rodney Sharman. Sharman was recently awarded the prestigious $50,000 Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts, which recognizes the highest level of artistic excellence and distinguished career achievements by a Canadian professional artist in music, theatre or dance. The Faculty Chamber Music concert on February 3 offers a program of music by the School’s current and former composition faculty as well as Kristy Farkas and Liova Bueno.

Music alumna Tzenka Dianova

Many UVic School of Music faculty and alumni can be seen and heard during the screening on February 3 of five short films from the Canadian Music Centre BC’s Legacy Composer Film Series. Produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker John Bolton, each film features a performance of a signature work by the composer juxtaposed against a storyline unique to that piece. 

A highlight of the festival is sure to be the lecture-recital with electronic music pioneer and Buchla synthesizer specialist, Suzanne Ciani, on February 4. While the School of Music has a vintage Buchla 200 Series from the 1970s, Ciani will perform on her own Buchla 200e, a modern model of the instrument. 

Of course, our current student body is central to the festival. Find out what the School’s composition students are up to at the Fridaymusic  concert on February 2. UVic’s experimental music ensemble, Sonic Lab, as well as the UVic Percussion Ensemble, will each also give performances on February 4. 

—Kristy Farkas