TubaChristmas a “sonic hug” for the city

Support your local tubas!

For 40 years now, tuba and euphonium players from all across Vancouver Island and beyond have been gathering at Market Square in downtown Victoria for one of the city’s most anticipated holiday traditions. TubaChristmas returns to once again raise money for the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, a charity that assists the people most in need in the Greater-Victoria community.

TubaChristmas, as performed by the Victoria TubaChristmas Ensemble, runs from 1-3pm Saturday, Dec. 8, in Market Square, 560 Johnson Street. Donations will be accepted throughout the duration of the event.

Last year, an impressive 101 brass musicians gathered to play an afternoon of favourite carols, and the resulting donations far exceeded those collected in previous years. Tubist and UVic instructor Paul Beauchesne — who will lead the ensemble for the fourth year — has his sights on record-breaking numbers for the 40th anniversary of this beloved event. And this year, local video production company Roll.Focus and CHEK TV are partnering to produce the first livestream of the event.

Paul Beauchesne leading the TubaChristmas ensemble

Beauchesne describes the sound of massed tubas and euphoniums as a “sonic hug,” filling the square with music that will echo through the surrounding streets. Jointly sponsored by Market Square and UVic’s School of Music, TubaChristmas was established in Victoria by the much-loved tubist, Eugene Dowling, who succumbed to cancer in June 2015. Dowling was one of Beauchesne’s tuba instructors, as well as a mentor and friend, and Beauchesne is proud to carry forward the TubaChristmas torch.

TubaChristmas dates back to 1974 where it originated in New York City by the late Harvey Phillips of Indiana University. Concerts now take place in over 200 cities worldwide and this year marks the 45th year for TubaChristmas internationally. The original concept was to honour the late William Bell (1902-1971) — Phillips’ teacher and former tubist with the New York Philharmonic — who was born on Christmas Day, but over the decades it has grown to become so much more.

Don’t miss this once-a-year occurance, which has grown into one of Victoria’s most beloved seasonal events!

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

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!

Jazz ensemble offers new soundtrack for silent classic

How do you improve on one of the greatest films ever made? If you’re the UVIc Jazz Ensemble, you “comprovise” a new score to be played alongside a screening of the 1925 Russian silent classic Battleship Potemkin.

Patrick Boyle and the famous “Odessa Steps” sequence in Battleship Potemkin (photo: John Threlfall)

For jazz ensemble leader and School of Music professor Patrick Boyle, updating silent films with improvised scores is nothing new: he’s been doing it for over a decade now, jazzing up the likes of classic cartoons, Charlie Chaplin shorts and Buster Keaton’s The General. And while the choice of film matters, it’s the idea of “comprovisation” that really grabs his attention.

“Of everything I do professionally, playing live music for silent film is my absolutely favourite thing,” he says. “A lot of it involves going back to the idea behind the earliest type of silent film performance: a person composing and improvising — comprovising — at a piano or organ. We just embody that for the 21st century with a band.”

“I love how what we play can completely transform a scene: changing the music completely warps the interpretation for an audience,” he explains. “It’s especially effective with sentimental moments, which you can make more humorous, and vice-versa. Because part of it is composed and part improvised, it’s different every time we perform it.”

Best known for its iconic “Odessa steps” sequence — which has been echoed by directors ranging from Alfred Hitchcock and Francis Ford Coppola to Brian De Palma, Woody Allen and George Lucas in films like The Godfather, The Untouchables, Brazil, Star Wars: Episode III and the Naked Gun (to name just a few) — Battleship Potemkin has long outlived director Sergei Eisenstein’s original propagandistic intentions to become an undeniable cinematic classic.

Ironically, Eisenstein hoped Edmund Meisel’s original score would be updated every 20 years, in order to keep the film current with future audiences. While Potemkin is often screened with orchestral selections from Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich, new scores have also been written by composers Michael Nyman, Chris Jarrett (brother of famed jazz pianist Keith Jarrett), and Neil Tennant & Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys.

“Traditionally, the scores are more of a pastiche—they’ll play long sections of Shostakovich symphonies then change to another one, but not necessarily in time or balance with the narrative,” says Boyle. “We do that too sometimes, but there’s a whole bunch of different styles beyond jazz music to play with.”

But Boyle stresses that while he may be the band leader, it’s his “extremely excited and motivated” students who are in the spotlight with this concert. “I’m the main guide, but it’s their music: when the students bring their own compositions, they’re out front.”

As for why Potemkin, Boyle just offers a sly smile. “Considering everything that’s going on in the world, I thought showing something with a Russian theme would be appropriate,” he says. “I wanted to see if we could make silent films great again.”

UVic Jazz Ensemble’s Live Music for Silent Film starts at 8pm on Nov. 17 at UVic’s Phillip T. Young Recital Hall. Tickets range from $10-$20 at 250-721-8480 or ticket@uvic.ca.

Bill Gaston wins Victoria Book Prize

Department of Writing professor Bill Gaston has won the 2018 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize for his short-story collection The Mariner’s Guide to Self Sabotage (Douglas & McIntyre).

Gaston (centre) with Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Brian Butler (photo: Victoria Book Prize Society)

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and co-sponsor Brian Butler presented Gaston with his $5,000 prize at a gala October 17 event at downtown’s Union Club.

A set of 10 cautionary tales showcasing the author’s range and narrative versatility, The Mariner’s Guide to Self Sabotage effectively captures Gaston’s gift for making ordinary moments feel transcendent. Judges praised his ability to move “seamlessly from the funny to the poignant to the surprising and absurd.”

The author of seven novels, seven short-story collections, three plays, two nonfiction books and a poetry collection, Gaston also released the memoir Just Let Me Look At You: On Fatherhood (Penguin Random House) in 2018. He previously won the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize in 2007 for the short-story collection Gargoyles (House of Anansi), which was also shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and won the ReLit Award. In 2002, Gaston was a finalist for the Giller Prize with Mount Appetite (Raincoast), as well as the inaugural recipient of the Timothy Findley Prize, awarded by the Writer’s Trust of Canada.

2018 was a strong year for the Writing department at the Victoria Book Prize, given that fellow nominees included professor emerita Lorna Crozier (What the Soul Doesn’t Want), longtime instructor Patrick Friesen (Songen) and longtime Faculty of Fine Arts colleague Maria Tippett (Sculpture in Canada: A History).

Also winning that night was author Monique Gray Smith, who picked up the $5,000 Bolen Books Children’s Book Prize for Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation (Orca).

“This is our 15th year awarding the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize and we are still going strong,” says Victoria Book Prize President Alyssa Polinsky. “We couldn’t do this without the support of our generous sponsors, an engaged community of readers and all the talented writers and illustrators we celebrate each year.”

The awards gala was hosted by CBC Radio’s Gregor Craigie, with Victoria’s Poet Laureate Yvonne Blomer opening the evening with a reading from her recent works.

Established in 2004, the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize is a partnership between the City of Victoria and Brian Butler of Butler Brothers Supplies. The prize is named for UVic alumnus Brian H. Butler (BA, Philosophy), a generous and longtime contributor to the Greater Victoria arts community. Past president of the Victoria Symphony Society, he has served on numerous community boards and for United Way campaigns.

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.”