Music of the Spheres - This Crazy Show - Noam Gagnon's Autobiography
Friday, October 21, 2016
|Noam Gagnon - This Crazy Show - Scotiabank Dance Centre - October 20 2016|
Music of the Spheres
Musica universalis (literally universal music), also
called Music of the spheres or Harmony of the Spheres, is an ancient
philosophical concept that regards proportions in the movements of celestial
bodies—the Sun, Moon, and planets—as a form of musica (the Medieval Latin term
for music). This "music" is not usually thought to be literally
audible, but a harmonic, mathematical or religious concept. The idea continued
to appeal to thinkers about music until the end of the Renaissance, influencing
scholars of many kinds, including humanists. Further scientific exploration has
determined specific proportions in some orbital motion, described as Orbital
At last night’s performance of at the Scotiabank Dance
Centre of Noam Gagnon’s Vision Impure – This Crazy Show
I had the luck to be
sitting right next to retired (not quite) arts critic Max Wyman
and his wife.
With me, hovering in my head was the memory and ghost of the designer of the
Dance Centre, Arthur Erickson.
All three of us, (Wyman and Erickson and yours truly)
would have agreed that every once in a while you have someone who has a talent
that cannot be explained except by a quirk of spirit that the Spaniards call “a
. They used to use the term for virtuoso Jai-Alai
Belmonte the bullfighter was one. Wyman would
add Evelyn Hart
(so would I). To a short list I would include former Ballet BC
dancer Lori Stallings.
And of course Arthur Erickson
himself was a fenómeno
There are some that equate the fenómeno as someone with
inspiration by the devil himself such as Nicolò Paganini. Others cite divine
inspiration. Whatever it is Noam Gagnon is one.
Some years past you might have had a heated discussion on
19th century classical ballet versus modern dance. When John Alleyne
took the helm of Ballet BC he brought us the works of then Frankfurt Ballet
fenómeno director William Forsythe. Vancouver audiences wondered about
performances that included dancers talking. Then Crystal Pite choreographed
theatrical production of The Electric Theatre Company’s Studies in Motion – The Hauntings of Eadward Muybridge. It was
perhaps then that theatre and dance became one in our city.
Any Greek scholar would affirm that the ancient Greeks
did not separate art into modern parts like visual arts, music, theatre,
Noam Gagnon’s This Crazy Show is such an example of a
performance that was all that and more. Bryan Kenny (the Set Designer) and
Stéphane Ménigot (Lighting Designer) gave us a set that was spectacular and reminded me of the
Music of the Spheres. Darryl Milot (Creature Designer) made it scary when it had to be.
But it was Gagnon’s performance that struck a nerve in me
as it was a tender, very intimate autiobiography on how he came to be a dancer.
This included a treatise on how our interior organs help us dance and how the
lungs (his father’s failing ones) and the heart (his mother’s failing heart)
created a pathos (the Greeks knew of that) that led to his catharsis to become
the dancer that he is today.
As a dancer (this amateur dance critic) can cite that
Gagnon is one of the few dancers in Vancouver that can dance on one spot. He
did not quite do this on Friday night. But this style of his makes him as
unique as Lori Stallings was from the ankles down.
The show began in a light-hearted way but it all led and
ended almost scary. The whole show (about one hour and ten minutes of it with
sweat and almost constant movement) finished with a five seconds of a big metallic
sphere swooshing by Gagnon’s slim but washboard chest in what will be for me
one of the most memorable events of Vancouver Dance.
Gagnon’s gentle low key voice, reminded me of Arthur
Erkickson who had exquisite taste. Parts of Gagnon’s show may have not
projected that because of their rawness but I can only hope that Gagnon will
again entertain us, shock us in the House that Erickson built.
I cannot end this with comments on James Coomer
(Composer, Sound Designer and Accordionist). I absolutely hate the accordion
yet…Listening to his playing and using the bellows to suggest
that last whispers of breath of Gagnon’s dying father was extraordinary.
Addendum: As I was watching Gagnon dance I was thinking
about Nanaimo Bars. How can that be? The spring floor of the dance centre was
designed with the help of dancer Cornelius Fischer-credo
designer/dancer Jay Gower Taylor. The floor is made of a sandwich of white and
black rubber that resembles a …
La Cucaracha - Aji-No-Moto & My History With Drugs
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
La Cucaracha (meaning "The Cockroach") is a
traditional Spanish language folk song. It is unknown when the song came about.
It is very popular in Mexico, and was especially so during the Mexican
Revolution. Many alternative stanzas exist. The basic song describes a
cockroach that cannot walk. It has an uneven 5/4 time signature. The song has
been performed widely. It is about the fact that the bug has lost one of its
six legs and is struggling to walk with its remaining five.The cockroach's
uneven, five-legged gait is imitated by the song's original 5/4 meter, formed
by removing one upbeat (corresponding to the missing sixth leg) from the second
half of a 6/4 measure:
But the most often sung version in Mexico has nothing to
do with its missing hind leg:
cucaracha, la cucaracha,
no tiene, porque le falta
llevan a enterrar
entre cuatro zopilotes
ratón de sacristán.
The cockroach, the cockroach,
can't walk anymore
because it doesn't have, because it's lacking
marijuana to smoke.
The cockroach just died
now they take her to be buried
and a mouse as the sexton.
My first impression when I came to Canada and witnessed
my first hockey game is that I could not understand why an organist would play the
Mexican Hat Dance and La Cucaracha! I am not a lover of the Hammond organ or
the accordion so that may be the reason why I have never warmed up to the
Canadian National Game.
But of late I have been thinking about that buzzed
cockroach a lot and I have decided to look back at my past for a possible drug
In the 50s we all thought (so my mother told me) that
actor Robert Mitchum had semi-closed eyes because he smoked marihuana. The
proof of it was a picture of his sweeping in jail.
In Mexico in the early 70s we called anybody who smoked
the stuff marijuanos. In an article about the weed in a Sunday newspaper I
noticed that the image that they had of the plant was the wrong one. In many an
empty lot in Mexico City the plant grows wild so I knew what it looked like.
Around 1972 two of my friends bought peyote at a local
herb market and decided to experiment with yours truly. I was given a potion of
the stuff that was so vile that I threw it up without any effects to my thought
By the time my wife and two daughters and I moved to
Canada in 1975 I suffered terrible migraines that disappeared one day when I
was 64 or thereabouts. Until that moment I depended on a prescribed drug called
Gravegol. The pills were very strong downers that made me float. With two in my
system I could have taken the shouting of my mother-in-law (who never did shout
at me) in stride. I was so afraid at becoming addicted that I would suffer
migraines for days and not take the pills.
In the late 70s a friend of mine who was the leader of a
pop band that composed a great song called Goodbye Mr. Bond offered (insisted)
I try some of his very good hash in my very good Irish Peterson pipe. We were
sunning ourselves in our birthday suits on Wreck Beach. After a while he asked
me how I was feeling. I was barely able to tell him that I could not move and I
was almost unable to talk. Further forays into tokes that were passed my way in
some editorial kitchen party (there were many of those parties and very few of
my forays) always made me stutter which was something I hated to do. That was
the end of any attempts on my part to smoke the weed.
I can be very firm in saying that I would never ever try
any drug that has to be injected. In the late 40s in Buenos Aires I lived in
the fear every year of the diphtheria vaccine that we had to get at school. For
reasons that have never been explained to me the vaccine was injected in the
spinal column. Ever since then I have had a fear (even more than when I see a
snake) of any injection. Every two weeks I have to inject myself with Humira
for treating my Psoriatic Arthritis. I hate this and I postpone it until the
last possible moment.
Only once about 20 years ago I was asked by a pleasantly
chubby woman at Gary Taylor’s Rock Room to open my hand. She placed a white
powder on it and said, “Enjoy.” I sniffed; I was too embarrassed not to. She
came back and asked how it had been. My answer was one she did not understand or
like, “I felt like I was going up the stairs of the New York City subway on a
very hot summer day and felt a rush of cold air.”
That was the last time I had any kind of illicit drugs.
While teaching in a high school for rich American kids in
Mexico City around 1970 my students asked me on my stand on marihuana. I wanted
to sound cool but at the same time I had to stick to the fact that I was a
teacher in a school run by a female principal who was a member of the John
This is what I told them:
“There are two ways to enjoy a tomato. One is to pluck
one from a vine and sprinkle it with some salt. Another is to buy a supermarket
tomato and sprinkle it with MSG. I like the first way.”
They knew what MSG was because in Mexico they had been
selling a Japanese product called Aji-No-Moto which was pure MSG.
At age 74 I do not need to escape my present reality in
any way with the addition of any additives such as alcohol and drugs. Life is
just fine the way it is.
It may interest some that the 5/4 time signature of La Cucaracha is the same as Paul Desmond's Take Five.
My American baroque stand-up bassist from Portland, Curtis Daily
, always alert and never buzzed except for his morning addiction to coffee has weighed in on the La Cucaracha:
I just read your post about La Cucaracha. I was about to
write that while the rhythmic divisions cross bar lines, the tune is solidly in
4/4, I then looked it up in Wikipedia, where I found the information about it
being in 5/4 originally.
After looking at all the sheet music online for it that
is all in 4/4, it made me think about your recent post with all the different
biblical translations of one passage.
I can easily see that it would have originally been in
5/4 where the “la” is the downbeat rather than the first of three eighth note
pickups: la cu ca RA(3 eighths) cha followed by another eighth rest to make it
Then I though how nice it would be to hear it played,
perhaps in 5/4, by a son jarocho
group[a musical ensemble from the State of Veracruz], as it seemed to be the kind
of song that could come from the jarochos.
while in 4/4 is still pleasantly off kilter.
That Funky Cascadia Reed Quintet
Sunday, October 16, 2016
|Cascadia Reed Quintet at St.Philip's Anglican October 16 2016|
Perhaps the ugliest word in the Spanish language is the word
for arm pit, sobaco.
Compared with Paris, Venice, London or New York you
might say that Vancouver is the sobaco of the world or at the very least the
armpit of the Pacific Northwest.
And yet culturally and specifically in the theatre arts,
dance and music are a phenomenon of sorts. Many of those cities cited above
might want to hire Vancouver Symphony Orchestra's Bramwell Tovey
to lead their orchestras. In fact every
summer Tovey charms Nuyoricans as the Pops Conductor of the New York
Early Music Vancouver
and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra
programming of the 17th and 18th
century with a smattering of works
from earlier and later periods. The city with the help of Victoria, Seattle,
Portland, Toronto and Montreal is able to provide EMV with a long bench of
exquisite performers of period instruments that fill the Chan Centre for the Arts.
And then there is the Turning Point Ensemble
produces concerts every year that tap in to contemporary new-wave music with
the rarely performed symphonic works of Duke Ellington.
And baroque violinist Marc Destrubé, very well known abroad is not
content in playing just the baroque. He is constantly pushing the envelope of the
not often played quartets of Benjamin Britten and Bella Bartok with his Microcosmos String Quartet
and with his La Modestine
a very intimate peek into the small group baroque.
The new music/contemporary milieu in our city is
branching out in all directions with a large core of young and youngish
composers. Not only do we have a fine Vancouver Opera, but also the University
of British Columbia Opera which graduates young singers of quality every year.
But there is one reason why some are not aware of this.
It has to do with moribund state of journalism in Vancouver and the fact that
music criticism and music education via well-written previews are on
life-support. While I am a pessimist, retired dance critic and editor Max Wyman
sees it differently. I am the twin who will not ride the red bicycle because I
might fall and he is the optimistic twin looking for the horse after finding a
bag of horseshit under the Christmas tree.
Why that tirade and or rant?
Today I went to a concert at St. Philips Anglican
Avenue near Dunbar. It is a lovely church in which its Musical Director Michael
Murray (a fine pipe organist) organizes concerts that run the gamut from
Purcell to new Vancouver composers
Today’s concert was something almost new to me (I wrote
about them here
). It is the Cascadia Reed Quintet.
Let me clarify the doubts I may have had at one time about reed instruments:
Reed instruments include the oboe, the bassoon, the
English horn, the clarinet and the family of saxophones.
Because the saxophones are made of metal they are reed
intruments but not woodwinds.
Woodwinds include wooden flutes and recordersa as well as the bassoon, the oboe, English horn and the clarinet..
My doubts went beyond the above. It seems that wind
instruments are in two categories, those that are made of metal and those which
are not. Thus a recorder is a wind instrument as is a clarinet. But go figure
where the sax falls into! Don’t ask me as I am not a music critic.
The quintet members besides being performers, also teach
or are part of symphony orchestras. Colin MacDonald
plays several saxophones but
for the reed quintet it is the alto and the soprano saxophone. Olivia Martin
plays the bassoon, AK Coupe the part metal (but it is still a woodwind) bass
clarinet, Marea Chernoff plays the oboe and occasionally the English horn. Julliard graduate
Christopher Lee does not have large incisor teeth and plays the clarinet.
For a fan of Early Music Vancouver, a quintet that has no
string instruments (I repeat no string instruments!) is Champagne after a heavy
meal. It represents a change that paradoxically with the sound of those
woodwinds, I am reminded of warm and subtle baroque violins which is my attraction to EMV.
The program that I heard tonight included Suite la
Triumphante – Gavot et ses six doubles (1726/27) by Jean Philippe Remaeu
(1638-1764) arranged for reeds by Raff Hekkema.
Quintet in c minor, KV. 406 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(1756-1791) arrange for a reed quintet by Eudar Wesly.
When Remaeu was alive the clarinet had not yet been
invented. It was then later popularized by Mozart. I believe that the bass clarinet
came into existence in the 19th century so AK (Anne-Katherine) Coope
was very happy to be finally playing the Mozart and baroque music as nothing was ever written (some argue
this point but I will not) for the bass clarinet in the 19th
century. And if the bass clarinet resembles a longish saxophone you can blame
the inventor Adolphe Sax.
Both the above performances would have pleased many a grandmother
and they did this grandfather.
The other pieces were all contemporary: Échecs (2013) by César Lütger (b.1991), Raíces
(2015) by Colin MacDonald (b. 1971) and arranged for the quinted by him from the original work
for Michael Murray’s pipe organ..
The piece that had me stamping by foot in delight was
Splinter (2014) by Marc Mellits (b.1966).
What is astounding about that piece is that I found it on
Youtube. It is 15 minutes long consisting of 8 trees, the work is about trees).
I was completely charmed by the lovely sixth River Birch.
In my continuing attendance of many concerts from Early
Music Vancouver, to anything by my fave cellist Marina Hasselberg
(I even go to
the cemetery on Fraser and 41st
to hear her play) to the TurningPoint Ensemble
, the Microcosmos Quartet, etc I hardly ever see any music
critics. If I now about the concerts it has to do with the fact that I am on the
email list of these groups. This is a shame. Only a few of us will know that
the armpit we are smells so sweet.
Because Colin MacDonald is a teacher you can always count
with complete, thorough and fun concert notes. Of the last tree (The Red Pine)
of Échecs he wrote: “… and ending with the funky grooves of Red Pine.”
I would say that the Cascadia Reed Quintet is funky at
A couple of details of great importance. Both oboist Marea Chernoff and bassoonist Oliva Martin as in previous Cascadia Reed Quintet performances that I have witnessed still have an eye-popping taste for very fine and expensive shoes. And if anybody asks you how many reeds in a reed quintet? The answer is a tad complicated as the oboe and the basson have double reeds so the correct answer is 7. As for the grass/cane from which the reeds are made it is Arundo donax
which is classified as an invasive weed in most countries including Canada. The solution to that infestation problem is engendering more reed quintets.
Complete Splinter by Marc Mellis
by the Akropolis Reed Quintet
Christopher Dafoe - That Civil Man
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
On Friday morning, that morning when Trump’s recording on
a bus first emerged onto the media I
noticed that words like bi--- (female dog), pu—sy ( not vagina as reported but
accurately vulva) and other words were bleeped. By the afternoon they were not.
At age 74 I am still shocked when someone on TV (even if
it is supposed to be funny) uses that four-letter word. My hero MSNBC’s Rachel
Maddow only goes as far as saying “frigging”.
Since I am from the generation that grew up with WalterCronkite
I abhor what the 21st
century has done to transform and
demean journalism. Perhaps it has to do with journalism now really being
Could we say it began in the United States with Lenny
Bruce and then taken over by George Carlin? A Houston friend took me to a
performance by Carlin in the mid 80s. I was not impressed.
All this reminds me of a man with whom I worked for some
years when he was the arts correspondent for the Globe& Mail.
He is my
friend Christopher Dafoe who knew in what direction journalism was
headed so he quit the business and became a highfalutin lawyer
for a Vancouver
In the years that I worked with him when I would set up
my photo equipment and lights while he interviewed celebrities of all kinds (he
kindly permitted me to be present so that I could get an idea on my subject’s
movements and gestures) I noticed that he hardly ever spoke and the persons he
faced seemed to be comfortable and told all. He was never nasty nor pushy. His demeanour
was a sort of “aw shucks I am just a lowly journalist in a one-horse town”.
Dafoe was the sort of man that would invite novelist
for a hamburger and interview him over fries.
Now as a lawyer I call him every once in a while to check
if something I might have written in a blog can pass the libel test. Or I call
him for his take on some arts scene situation in our city. He is invariably
kind in his remarks. In person when I run into him at the theatre he is the
very man I remember him to be.
What ever happened to civility?