8 years ago

Volume 5 Issue 8 - May 2000

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  • Toronto
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  • Bloor

I rack my brain and

I rack my brain and BEHIND THE SCENES admit:"ldon 'tknow that one." with Ned Dickens continued from page 43 - that's a quote from the play. The next thing they wanted to do was Seneca's Oedipus. Sarah asked me to write a new ve~sion and I accepted, never having written a play and having no idea how hard it was." Me: And ... Ned: "And they performed it under the Gardiner with a huge cast, almost 100. Both shows won Daras and one got a Chalmers nomination. That led to a commission from Young People's Tl;leatre, Bea's .Bedroom. It's based on the Beowulf legend -- I like telling old stories -- but it's about a little girl who's afraid of the dark. We'd done a couple of workshops and it came to the attention of CBC Radio and they used it as a Christmas broadcast in 95/96 - or was it 96/97 ? -- and it toured, to the Grand in London, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and in the schools. ' Then I wrote Luke and the Big Circles, that's a cycle of four narrative poems, CBC broadcast that. It won an award, a gold medal at the International Festival of New York for children's drama." Me: So, the CCOC? Ned: "I got a. phone call out of the blue, more or less, from the Canadian Children's Opera Chorus, and my name had come to their attention. They had a millennium project and they had an agreement with composer John Greer, and they were looking for a librettist he could work with - I thiiVc they told me I was the twelfth one they had tried. It was a fairly protracted process. I seHt John Greer examples of my work. We talked a lot, mostly by phone and e-mail since John is in Rochester, New York. He decided he could work with me and then we had to find a piece to work on. So he came to Toronto and we sat in my backyard reading stacks and stacks of children's books to one another. That's where we read Oscar Wilde's Starchild." Ned:"lt's not wellknown. It's from a book of short stories called House of Pomegranates. The book was not successful, Wilde was experimenting with sound, and ... " Ned shrugs ·apologetically. "The narrative did not work, he was trying to make an instant ancient tale through King James language, 'Yea,, thou hast shown me the error of my ways!' -- that sort of thing. But somehow there was something about Starchild that wouldn't go away. We were looking for a story that would be relevant to the millennium, but not irrelevant on January 2, 2000, and Starchild is the cyclic story of fall and redemption. I liked that. But there were a lot of problems. Me: Such as .. . Ned: Such as John said, "It's an awfully dark story, can't we find a way to lighten the tone?' He proposed a narrator. I resisted. Another problem was that the -cast was to be all children, but many of the characters are adults. That's hard to bring off, children's voices are wrong, they're too short, they don't have the experience to play adults conv.incingly. And there was too much story. " Ned settles into his story: "Now, my approach to a problem is to' try to find the solution within it. What about having the children play animals and the animals play the adults .-- the double mask conceit -- that might work. And the narrator? well, there is the idea of narration itself as a theatrical act. So we start out with a rabbit -- a hare, actually - named Oscar who is being chased by a rather cruel little boy named Alf (as in Lord Alfred Douglas) and his dog, · Beardsley. Beardsley has Oscar cornered and is about to kill him and Oscar offers to tell a story. Alf and Beardsley agree to play parts, Alf taking the role of a cruel little boy who goes on a journey. As the story progresses the other animals in the forest become drawn in and take the other parts. All this seemed to work. ·So then the next problem was how to begin the adaptation. And I remembered Oscar Wilde had said that a thing of beauty, particularly a word or phrase, may not last but its beauty is its justification. So I read the story with a notepad, looking for beautiful phrases. What I got, surprisingly, I ended up with the poem of the story. And then I began just sort of riffing on that poem, turning it into a couple of hundred lines of verse." Me: It's all in verse?! Ned:"Yes, the libretto is all in anapestic tetrameter couplets. At first I tried to get out of the lockstep of rhyming couplets -­ verse gets a bad rap. But I find I'm able to keep the characters alive, keep the ideas alive. And one of the great advantages of poetry is that it's easy for ~e kids to remember. Another 1s that it lifts us out of the immediate time . . . . The whole play is a tongue-twister from top to bottom." Me: Is writing an opera different from writing a play? Ned:"I don't read music, I have no training, I don't sing or play an instrument. John is a very gifted dramaturge and I have learned a great deal from him. I had to learn to leave a lot of the emotional' content to the music and just press on with the story. But there's lots of music, it's through-composed and has six songs." Me:"What's 'throughcomposed'?" Ned explains: "Music all the way through. And it's certainly operatic in scale. O~e of the things I have been learning with John and Tom (director Tom Diamond) is that the complexity just has to come out. I had to cut one whole level of irony." He blinks. "That hurt. Anyway, after pretty much a year at this table ... It hasn't changed much, it's just become more ccoc in rehearsal. Starchild opens Saturday May 13 and more refined." He stops for a minute. "Both John and I loved doing this - I think the CCOC has gotten a lot more out of us than they bargained for. This is a labour of love and we have made something that will last, we have the partnership and we have the work." · Me: "Do you attend the rehearsals?" He shrugs: "I got my chance to control the piece at the beginning, and I'd rather have someone else do that stuff. .. 1 that's the great advantage of being a team player. I've moved on and have a number of new projects." And he's off "What I was working on when you arrived ,is a straight drama version for a Kitchener group called Telling the Starchild, and a thing based on Machiavelli's Prince, and I have just about the right amount of work, but the other day I had an idea for another project, and the people on the street must have thought I was crazy, because I just stopped in my tracks a'nd said out loud, 'I don't need this!'" Ned waves at the biscotti jars and the bins of beans. "I've written six plays here. Sometimes when I get stale I stroll up to the Starchild rehearsals on Sundays or Saturdays. "He smiles at the thought. "It's like going ~ut for ice cream."

MUSICIANS IN OUR MIDST Kelly Galbraith by Allan Pulker By day a producer for CBC Radio Two, the rest of the time a ~horal conductor and an organist, Kelly Galbraith somehow also finds time to serve on the Ontario Regional Council of the Canadian Music Centre -- all part of a musical life that is personally fulfilling and is making a significant contribution to Toronto and to Canada. Kelly grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick, where at an early age she learned how to play the accordion from her grandfather. "At the age when most kids are practising their scales on the piano" she commented, "I was learning to play Button Boogie!" Her grandmother (on the other side of the family) had her own plans for Kelly's musical future, saving dimes to buy her an electric organ, because she was determined that Kelly would become an organist. Grandmother's desires were nudged along by the fact that one of Kelly's classmates had an organ, and when Kelly tried it she found it so much fun that she asked her parents for one. She took to the little electric organ they got her like the proverbial duck to water and by the age of 15 was playing the organ in one of the local churches - without the benefit of formal lessons. To this day she remains amazed - and grateful - that Dr. Willis PHOTO: STRUAN Noble, the organ professor at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, accepted her as a student. "He took me right back to the beginning, to the basics of playing the organ." And by all accounts she rose to the challenge. As she recalls it, she took on a nine-hour-aday practice regime, beginning her day by practising from 5:30 until 8:30, when her classes began. In the afternoon, after her classes were finished, she practised another two to three hours and again in the evening, after which she would do her assignments. According to Willis Noble, now organist and choirmaster at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, she usually began practising at 4:30 and 5:00 in the morning, and actually wore out the organ that she practised on! He told me he has never had a student with her energy and drive. "I slept only about five hours a night then" Kelly told me; "I put a picture on the wall of a curly headed stick figure (me) on her way to Toronto. I was determined to succeed and to go to Toronto to study and play." And go to Toronto she did in 1984. Here she studied with ' Douglas Bodle and earned her livi~g as a church organist and choir master. It was in this role that she would hone the skills she had begun to develop at Mount Allison where she had sung in Dr. Noble's women's choir, which he sometimes gave her the opportunity to conduct. One. of the biggest challenges of leadmg a church choir, she found, was that all the members were volunteers. Since auditions were not part of the process of becoming a member, not everyone that she had to work with was an equally competent singer. "But there's always a Continues Long & McQuade Musical Instruments Where the Music Begins We carry a selection of woodwind, brass and percussion instruments for students and professionals 925 Bloor St. W. Toronto, Ontario (416) 588-7886 1133 Markham Rd. Scarborough, Ontario (416) 439-8001 380 Simcoe St. S. Oshawa, Ontario (905) 434-1612 ~ £ CC~

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