Variations on a Southern Gospel Tune



by Monte K. Pishny-Floyd


What’s in a title? Variations on a Southern Gospel Tune: what is the genesis (pardon the pun) of this title? So what’s a Jewish guy like me doing writing a piece based on an old Christian Gospel tune? Partly it has to do with my culture. I am from Oklahoma originally, although I’ve lived in Canada more than forty years, long enough to have become almost civilized. My home “town,” Oklahoma City (OKC), used to be described as “two skyscrapers surrounded by Baptists.” It has long since outgrown that ancient joke, but it harbours a truth: Oklahoma has a far larger percentage of Evangelicals among its population than any other state. Being Jewish, or even, for example, Catholic, put one in a minority. Being from a transplanted Czech culture (“Pishny”) put one in another minority. However, the minorities from which my own roots emanate were also quite assimilated and intertwined with the more dominant culture, which was in those days as now distinctly “Gospel”-based.


Further, I am by no means the only Jewish composer to write a work on a Christian subject: one has only to think of, for example, Bernstein’s enormously great Mass, much of the music of such as Mahler and Mendelssohn, and of course those marvelous holiday songs “White Christmas” and “Easter Parade” by Irving Berlin, which I would put right up there with any of Schubert’s songs for artistic quality—beautiful stuff! Such works transcend specific cultures, and belong to everyone’s cultural inheritance—I hope this is true of my own work which you will hear on tonight’s SSO concert. (This will be the first performance of Variations on a Southern Gospel Tune by a professional orchestra.)


My Variations on a Southern Gospel Tune (VSGT) has a long history. It was more than a half-century ago that I first heard the beautiful and powerful tune upon which I based my variations sung. I will have more to say about that, below. When, in about 1963, a fellow music student asked me to write a short set of variations for her to perform on a recital, I immediately thought of this tune, because it is so easy to recognize but so rich in potential. I wrote a short set of variations for piano—these were not performed publicly at the time (only for a piano class). However, I later—much later—expanded them into an extended set of variations for the piano, some of them very difficult, and dedicated it to my wife, Annette, a well-known Canadian pianist. She performed it in many venues, including recording it for a CBC broadcast.


I had long envisioned orchestrating it, and two factors combined in the early part of this century to bring that about. In 2004, our oldest daughter, Amy, became President of the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra (as well as a member of the cello section) in the Houston, Texas metro area. Shortly thereafter, the conductor, Dr. John Ricarte, asked me to become Composer-in-Residence. I agreed, and there ensued nearly a decade-long happy relationship between myself and this fine community orchestra. During this time Dr. Ricarte left to focus more on other musical duties, including a school string program that has now long been highly successful. His successor, Dr. Héctor Agüero. not only wished to continue the relationship I had with FBSO, but in the fall of 2008 commissioned me to write a work for the orchestra. I readily agreed, and began planning the project.


Unfortunately, in May of 2008, my beloved cousin, Mike Farrow (November 4, 1932-May 30, 2008) had died of Mesothelioma. Then on November 22 of 2008, shortly after Hector asked me to write a work, my next-door neighbour and one of my best friends, Mike Wilson (b. 1940), died, also of cancer. This combination of circumstances led me to conclude that my long-planned orchestral version of VSGT would be the appropriate work to memorialize these two people so dear to me, and several others as well.


Initially VSGT was to be for orchestra with harp, and I created a version with harp. However, less than a week before the first performance, the harpist resigned, and so I created a different version (two measures longer, by the way) for orchestra with piano. Annette, my wife, got into the act, learned the piano part literally overnight, played it the next day at the dress rehearsal, and the work was given its world-premiere on June 7, 2009, by the FBSO with Dr. Agüero conducting as scheduled. It was, I am happy to say, a real crowd-pleaser. I will say that I intended it to be one of my more accessible works (because of the more community-oriented orchestra and its constituency) without compromising my own principles and standards. I believe I have achieved that balance with this work. It has since been performed in Saskatoon by the Saskatoon Philharmonic Orchestra, George Charpentier conducting, and given a very special performance by the Brazosport Symphony Orchestra (BSO) in Lake Jackson, Texas, with Dr. John Ricarte conducting on February 23, 2013.


There was a standing ovation at all three concerts, which of course pleases any composer or performer, but at the Lake Jackson BSO concert of February 23, 2013 things got even better. This was special, because Annette and I were the featured guests of honour at a BSO weekend in Lake Jackson. The theme was “Young at Heart,” and Annette was the guest pianist. Indeed, Annette has been the pianist in all the performances of my work to now and is looking forward to sitting in the audience and hearing the whole thing for the first time when the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra (SSO) plays it. For me the nicest thing about the BSO concert was that, since it happened to be Annette’s 71st birthday, as soon as the applause had died away the orchestra launched into “Happy Birthday” with Dr. Ricarte conducting the audience who stood and sang “Happy Birthday” to Annette. At intermission, the BSO served birthday cupcakes—all of this surprised both of us, especially Annette. It also made us happy several of our children and grandchildren were present at the Lake Jackson concert.


For VSGT I took a cue from Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and put the initials of beloved family members and friends on each of VSGT’s sections. The entire work is dedicated to the memory of “the two Mikes,” Mike Farrow and Mike Wilson. The Introduction bears the initials “D. M.,” for Daniel M. Rahm, my late father-in-law, a solid, salt-of-the-earth highly-respected refinery foreman and rock of his Southern Baptist Church; the Theme is “for H. & L.,” known to us as “Uncle Hank & Aunt Lela Rahm,” staunch Methodists, successful farmers/investors, and generous benefactors of charities throughout the Garfield County region of northern Oklahoma including the city of Enid. Variation I is “for B.H.,” namely, our own Bob Hinitt, a dear friend of mine, a Sorbonne-educated gardener and theatrical set-builder whose annual Christmas displays on Wiggins thrilled so many Saskatonians for so many years—and always benefited his favourite charity, the SPCA; Variation II is “a musical sketch of Mike Farrow,” and is in the lively “Black Gospel” style; Variation III is “a musical sketch of Mike Wilson,” and is in an “Appalachian-Southern White Gospel” style; Variation IV bears the indication, “J. J., Magister Musicae De Facto,” implying that one of my closest friends in Saskatoon, the late Jack Johnson, more than proved he deserved the master’s degree that fate and departmental politics denied him; Variation V. has the indication, “for G. H. F.,” which is for my Uncle George Hunter Floyd, a “Wounded Warrior” of WWII, and in this short variation which is nothing but marching drums. I envisioned the phantom that had been Uncle George (nicknamed “Tag”) marching across a silent battlefield still smoking from the struggle; Variation VI is marked “for E. S.,” for my first best friend, Eddie Strickland, whom I met in the summer of 1944 when we were both still two years old. We were friends until his death about a quarter-century ago. Eddie was haunted by “demons” from a tragic childhood accident in which his younger brother died—but after Eddie married into a very Catholic family (which caused idle chatter in our old mostly-Protestant neighbourhood) he seemed quite happy until his untimely death in a late-night motorcycle accident. I believe to the end he was “haunted” by those “demons”—the “Dies Irae” setting expresses my own deepest feelings about him and his end; Variation VII is labeled “M. C.,” for Irish-born Dr. Mary Cronin, also Catholic, a brilliant educator, and one of our dearest friends. I could not help but think of her name, “Mary,” and the symbolism of her calming spiritual effect on the wrath of the “Dies Irae,” which calm leads into the “N’awlins” style Gospel Blues funeral march of Variations VIII-X: Variation VIII is “for V. and R.P.,” for my Aunt Vivian and Uncle Roger Pishny, wonderful people, Roger being also a gifted musician who, when I was young, introduced me to many great organists and their playing when they came to OKC; Variation IX is “for C.O.,” which stands for “Cousin Otto.” Otto Norman was a businessman, but also a musician who played his last New Year’s dance in 2004 with his group “The Pacemakers” at age 90 and died in 2008; Variation X is “for E. & A.P.,” which is in memory of my Aunt Ernesteen and Uncle Anton Pishny—Anton, with Ernesteen’s help, for many years did something in OKC similar to what Bob Hinitt did here: an annual Christmas display. Anton played Santa Claus to many people over the years with the help of the lady we knew at Christmas as “Mrs. Claus”—my Aunt Ernesteen, the fantastic Earth-mother cook who tried her best to make me permanently overweight. Without pause, Variation XI, the Coda, concludes the work. It bears the note, “for G. M.,” referring to Annette’s Mother Rosalie Rahm, whom we all knew as “Grandmother” or simply, “G. M,” the wife of “D.M.” She lived to be 91, and was the one to whom we all turned for both wise counsel AND her incredible sense of humour. She was a deeply-committed Southern Baptist (and as she said, “a lonely Democrat in a nest of Republicans”) who was open and welcoming to people of all faiths and ethnicities.


All of these good people, and with them many, many stories, are imbedded in this work of mine, part and parcel of its fabric. It occurred to me that this is, in a very real sense my musical equivalent of Thornton Wilder’s deservedly-famous play, “Our Town.”


I first heard the tune, “I will arise and go to Jesus” sung by people from rural southern Oklahoma, not in a Black Gospel style but in an Appalachian style as upbeat and fervent as the Black Gospel style. I was captivated then and since with the simple strength and emotional power of that tune, which I refer to in my music’s title as a “Southern Gospel Tune.” “Gospel Music” per se has more to do with the style of performance than the tune actually being sung. Some of the variations in my work are—for me—like musical snapshots of these two (among many) Gospel styles. For example, Variations II and III allude to, respectively, the Black Gospel style with built-in “hand-clappin’” and “foot-stompin’,” and the Appalachian/”Southr’in Okie” Gospel style with various vocal “swoops ‘n’ catches” in the singing (here, left to the strings).


My Variations on a Southern Gospel Tune, more than any other work I have ever written, grows out of my Oklahoma cultural roots. Oklahoma is a state where cultures were and are in conflict. For example, part of the state prior to the Civil War had been the Cherokee Nation, the Creek-Seminole Nation, and the Choctaw-Chickasaw Nation. After the war, it was Indian Territory until statehood in 1907. More than 30 Native American tribes live in Oklahoma, nearly twenty percent of the population is of Native American ancestry, and state license plates for decades now have proclaimed Oklahoma to be “Native America.” Not only that, when I was growing up our state was as rigidly segregated (until post-1954) vis-à-vis Black/White as South Africa’s Apartheid. On top of that, another form of almost-equally-stringent de facto segregation was Protestant/Catholic. Many Protestants/Catholics did not mix socially, and quite often parents of one faith would not even allow their children to play with children of the other faith.


All of this is interwoven in my mind and in my work. I have subtly slipped in a symbolic musical reference to the Protestant/Catholic conflict beginning with Variation I, in which the main tune, “I will arise and go to Jesus” is combined with the “Dies Irae” (“Day of Wrath”) from the old Latin Catholic Mass. Here “Dies Irae” is quiet; it reaches its full wrathfulness and terror in Variation VI, where its immense inner energy and musical force is unleashed.


The following Variation, VII, tempers “the harsh decree” with mercy and love, and the work concludes with an extended excursion into the Gospel Blues idiom, a sort of “N’awlins” type sound, coming to full fruition in Variation X. It is my take on the traditional “N’awlins” Dixieland march to the cemetery, and the work concludes with an ethereal, transcendental Coda which uses another tune associated with the words “I will arise and go to Jesus.” As IF it was actually being sung, the melody leaves the text and tune unfinished: “…no turnin’ back, no turnin’….” as the music fades—over a bass note from the depths of eternity—into silence.

Messiah’s fearless leader


When the SSO embarked on the plans to do an auditioned chorus, we called Duff Warkentin – it was clear that he was the man for the job.  He’s become Saskatchewan’s go-to guy for a Messiah chorus!  Choral rehearsals have been filled not only with Duff’s musicianship, but his wonderful stories of meeting people like Ben Heppner and the legendary Robert Shaw.

Culture builds community! A strong believer in this truism, Duff Warkentin has had a significant and varied career as a choral singer, conductor, clinician, and adjudicator. His first intensive experience as a choral singer came when he was a student at Rosthern Junior College. Here he also had the opportunity to conduct the choir in the absence of their regular conductor. His post-secondary studies include degrees from Canadian Mennonite Bible College in Winnipeg, University of Waterloo, and the University of Regina. He has served as Music Director at Rosthern Junior College, taught and conducted choirs for several years at the University of Saskatchewan, served as Choral Artist in Residence in the Battlefords and Rosthern, was the conductor of the Saskatoon Chamber Singers, conducted a number of church choirs, and is the founding conductor of the Station Singers of Rosthern. He is grateful for the opportunity to conduct Handel’s magnificent oratorio.

Messiah’s returning favourite Lisa Hornung

lisa pic

The SSO is thrilled to have Lisa Hornung return to our Messiah performances – always a crowd favourite, her performances of Messiah show a true dedication and commitment to Handel’s beautiful music.

Honoured as one of the University of Saskatchewan’s Arts and Science Alumni of Influence, Saskatchewan born mezzo-soprano, Lisa Hornung has been acclaimed for performances in repertoire ranging from Baroque to contemporary composers. Her voice has been called “rich and powerful” and her stage presence has “inspired audiences and musicians alike”. Most often heard in Handel’s Messiah, Ms. Hornung’s orchestral performances also include Beethoven’s Mass in C major, Mozart’s Requiem, Coronation Mass and Vesperae solennes de Confessore, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, the Durufle Requiem, Ruth Watson-Henderson’s From Darkness to Light, Verdi’s Requiem, Bach’s Magnificat and Christmas Oratorio, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Vaughn William’s Magnificat, The May Queen by Bennett and the Alto Rhapsody by Brahms.

In addition to her oratorio and orchestral work Ms. Hornung enjoys an active recital career with recent performances including works by Brahms, Schumann, Marx, Debussy and Handel as well as Christmas, Spiritual and Folk repertoire. She has toured the United States and Europe as a soloist and ensemble member with the American Spiritual Ensemble, a group of professional singers dedicated to the preservation and performance of Negro Spirituals. Very excited about the talents of composer Paul Suchan, Lisa was delighted to record his full nuptial mass entitled May, and to have premiered the role of May Bartram in his opera The Beast in the Jungle.

After completing a Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance at the University of Saskatchewan under the tutelage of Professor Dorothy Howard, Ms. Hornung went on to further her studies at the Institute of Vocal Arts in Chiari, Italy. This was followed by an intensive study time at the University of Illinois with Richard Best. More recently she completed a year of study with the support of the Saskatchewan Arts Board, enabling her to spend time travelling to work with Mr. Nico Castel, Dr. Everett McCorvey, Dr. Cliff Jackson, Dr. Bill Cooper, Professor Micheal McMahon, Professor Tedrin Lindsey and Mr. Richard Best.

In accordance with her belief that every child deserves the opportunity to sing, Lisa runs a non-audition community youth choir and often collaborates with elementary and high school musical endeavours. She also enjoys lending a hand when the local drama club, Battlefords Community Players, is in need of musical direction. Ms. Hornung has gained a deeper appreciation and love of choral arts through her continued work as vocal coach for the Cantilon and Belle Canto choral programs, directed by Heather Johnson.

Well known as a teacher, adjudicator, clinician and choral coach, Lisa lives in North Battleford, Saskatchewan with her husband John and their twins James and Larissa.

Hear Lisa live with our Messiah December 12th and 13th.

Introducin Matthew Pauls

Matt Pauls

For our third debut of the season we’re thrilled to welcome a voice that audiences need to hear more of!

Baritone Matthew Pauls, praised for his poise and magnificent singing (Opera Canada), is in his fourth year of a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Vocal Performance at the University of Western Ontario. He made his operatic debut with Saskatoon Opera as Marullo in Verdi’s Rigoletto. Other stage credits include, Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro, the Speaker and 2nd Armoured Man in Die Zauberflöte, Dr. Falke in Die Fledermaus, Don Inigo Gomez in L’Heure Espagnole, the Mysterious Man in Sondheim’s Into the Woods, Frank Maurant in Street Scene, and Masetto in Don Giovanni, which he performed with UWOpera and La Musica Lirica in Italy.

On the concert stage, Matthew has performed numerous works such as Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Handel’s Alexander’s Feast and Messiah, Haydn’s Creation, Mozart’s Requiem and Vesperae solennes de confessore, Fauré’s Requiem, Grieg’s Four Psalms, J. S. Bach’s cantata Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit (BWV 106), and Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem and Five Mystical Songs.

Matthew has been delighted to perform with ensembles such as the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional del Paraguay, Windsor Symphony, Canadian Chamber Choir, Pro Coro Canada, Winnipeg Singers, Guelph Chamber Choir, Windsor Classic Chorale, and the Windsor Symphony Chorus.

In addition to performing, Matthew also maintains a small voice studio in London, Ontario.

Introducing Spencer McKnight


At 22, tenor Spencer McKnight has only been singing for a few years – but he’s really made use of those 5 years.

At age 17 he started singing when a friend of his at school wanted to do a musical theatre duet at festival – though his family wasn’t a musical one, he had spent a lot of time listening to recordings, so it seemed like a good idea to see how lessons would go.  As time went on he began studying with mezzo soprano Lisa Hornung, and over time he left his Political Studies degree to pursue music.

In 2013 Spencer won the Saskatoon Kinsmen Competition, and took home top awards at the Provincial Music Festival Finals.  In the summer of 2013 he traveled to Ontario to represent Saskatchewan at the National Music Finals – the only male singing in the competition, and one of the youngest, he took home the Jan Simmons Award for Art Song for a performance of a song cycle by Catalan composer Fredric Mompou.

Spencer is presently studying at the University of Toronto with vocal pedagogue Mark Daboll, and was recently featured as the soloist for the University of Toronto’s Men’s Chorus December concert.  And in the last few years he’s had the opportunity to work with the who’s who of the voice world: Tracy Dahl, Judith Forst, Mary Lou Fallis, Laurence Ewashko, Robert MacLaren, Laura Loewen, Elizabeth McDonald, Elizabeth Turnbull, Monica Whitcher, and Bonnie Cutsforth Huber.

His voice is fresh and brassy and exciting – and it is a pleasure to present him as our second debut of the season.

Introducing Chelsea Mahan


Canadian-American soprano Chelsea Mahan is making an impression on the independent music scene with her transparency of character in unconventional performance spaces. These intimate performances include the roles of Monica in The Medium and Laurette in Bizet’s comedy Le Docteur Miracle with Stu and Jess Productions in Montreal. Having recently completed her Masters of Music at McGill University studying with renowned Canadian soprano Joanne Kolomyjec, Ms. Mahan is currently balancing engagements in and around Montreal and her home province of Saskatchewan.

As a prize-winning competitor, her achievements include first prize in the 65th Young Artist Series Western Concert tour in conjunction with the Canadian Federation of Music Teachers’ Association. Through the CFMTA, Ms. Mahan collaborated with pianist Kathleen Lohrenz Gable, in recital, to tour the cities of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Ms. Mahan also won first prize in the prestigious Gordon Wallis Opera Competition (2012), which included professional engagements with both the Saskatoon and Regina Symphony Orchestras. Most recently, Ms. Mahan was named a finalist in the Concorso Internazionale per Giovani Cantanti Lirici in Riva del Garda, Italy.

 On the operatic stage, Ms. Mahan has traveled throughout Canada performing various roles such as Ida (Die Fledermaus) and Soeur Constance (Dialogues des Carmelites) with Opera NUOVA, and Helena in Halifax Summer Opera Workshop’s production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In Montreal, she was seen as Casilda in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers with the McGill Savoy Society and Erste Dame (Die Zauberflöte) and Tytania (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) with Opera McGill. Comfortable on stage, as well as in a studio setting, Ms. Mahan has just finished recording excerpts from Lucia di Lammermoore for an upcoming Canadian short film by David Uloth.

 Singing the soprano soloist of Messiah with the Saskatoon and Regina Symphony Orchestras and covering it for the McGill Chamber Orchestra marked Ms. Mahan’s professional debut in 2013. She will return to her hometown of Saskatoon this December for another Messiah.

 Ms. Mahan has recently been appointed a Laureate of Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques (2014) and over the next year will be traveling to Europe for various competitions with their generous support.

Ukrainian Christmas Concert on St Nicholas’ Day

In Ukraine, St. Nicholas is a special saint, for it was Prince Vladimir who brought back tales of the saint after he went to Constantinople to be baptized. The Ukrainian prince Vsevolod Yaroslavych introduced the feast of St. Nicholas during the time of Pope Urban II (1088-99 AD).

St. Nicholas’ Day was a time of great fun in Ukraine. On this day, people would invite guests in and sleighs would be ridden around the village to see if the snow was slippery [icy]. This was the holiday for young children, for they would receive gifts from St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. “St. Nicholas” was often accompanied by “angels” and might have quizzed the children on their catechism. St. Nicholas Day, not Christmas, is the usual gift-giving day in much of Europe including Ukraine, although for Christmas it was the custom of all members in the family to get a new article of clothing.

st nick

Haydn Symphony Video Interviews

We had a chance to sit down with Thomas Yu and Mark Turner to discuss our Haydn Symphony Masters Series concert, this Saturday at TCU place. Tickets are going fast!

SSO Executive Director Mark Turner

On the rare and beautiful Fazioli that will make it’s debut at TCU place for this concert “Everyone loves particular pianos more than others but every pianist loves a Fazioli” 0:00

On Brahm’s tribute “In years since we’ve discovered that likely Haydn didn’t write that piece, but his name sticks with it to this day” 1:21

On Haydn and Mozart “..both thought the other was a genius, and both were right” 1:42

The Farewell Symphony “Haydn wrote the Farewell Symphony when he was wanting to stick it to his boss a little bit…” 2:17

We are happy to welcome Adam Johnson as the guest conductor for this concert “He is a pianist himself, so getting to work as a conductor in a piano concerto is going to be an excellent opportunity” 2:55

On our guest artist Thomas Yu “One of the first calls I made once I joined the SSO was to Thomas” 3:16


We are very happy to welcome pianist Thomas Yu, returning to his home town for this concert

On the concert experience and what it’s like to perform “We are all human beings and we have that innate ability to feel bigger forces” 0:00

Thomas has a great career as a periodontist in Calgary but continues to perform all over the world “There are different motivations throughout my life for performing” 1:42

Why perform “He had painted all these paintings and he had never showed them in his entire life to anybody..” 2:54

After years studying with Bonnie Nicholson in Saskatoon Thomas moved to Toronto and learned from Marc Durand, one of the first things Marc said to Thomas after hearing him play “You play like a scientist…you play all the black dots really well, I’m going to teach you how to play all the white parts on the page” 4:07

Thomas will be performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto 21 “Mozart’s not a common composer for me, so I’m also really excited to discover him now.” 5:50

There is often only two chances for rehearsal with the orchestra before a concert so preparation is very important “You try to get into the headspace of why the composer wrote it and then you listen to the other people who have interpreted it” 6:33

Orchestra’s have an important place in a cities identity and culture “There are a few things that every city needs to be defined as a city” 8:18



Rare and Remarkable Piano to be Debuted at TCU Place

thomas pianoOn Saturday, November 22nd, award winning Canadian celebrity pianist Thomas Yu will perform on a Fazioli piano made by hand in Italy and valued at $260,000. This will be the first time a Fazioli appears at TCU place. The rare piano is being loaned from Lipnicki Fine Pianos in Calgary and transported to Saskatoon for Yu’s guest appearance with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. World renowned piano technician Michael Lipnicki will travel with the Fazioli to ensure it is in perfect form for Yu’s performance.

Thomas Yu was born and raised in Saskatoon. While studying piano Yu earned his DMD with Great Distinction from the University of Saskatchewan and his Masters Degree in Periodontics at the University of Toronto. He now owns a private practice in Calgary and teaches at the Foothills Medical Hospital. Yu has performed in competitions and recitals all over the world, and now joins the list of great Canadian pianists like Angela Hewitt and Louis Lortie to perform on a Fazioli piano.

The Fazioli piano factory was founded in northeastern Italy in 1979 by pianist and engineer Paolo Fazioli who set out to make the world’s finest pianos in a corner of his parents furniture factory.  Fazioli pianos take nearly three years of person-hours to build, and have many parts plated in 18k gold to prevent corrosion.  The soundboard wood, which is at the heart of the piano, is carved from the same trees in northern Italy that Antonio Stradivari harvested for his famous violins. Today pianists, around the world, are requesting Fazioli pianos for their performances because of the incredible expression and colour in their tone.

Thomas Yu will perform Mozart’s beloved Piano Concerto 21. The concert will be lead by guest conductor Adam Johnson, a longtime friend of Yu. Johnson will also conduct the orchestra in Brahms’s tribute to Haydn and close the evening with Haydn’s delightful “Farewell” Symphony.

Core Series at PAVED Arts – feature on Lia Pas

This Friday and Saturday the SSO’s Core Musicians will be heard at PAVED Arts in one of the most unique and original music programming series in Canada.

For more information and tickets please CLICK HERE


In this feature we learn about the ideas and process behind the world premier performance of Book, Chair, Table by Lia Pas:

I’ve been working on a collaborative piece with new media artist Ellen Moffat for the past number of months and am very excited to announce the premiere this November 7 & 8.

Book. Chair. Table. is a three-movement work based on three poems from Gertrude Stein‘s Tender Buttons. I’ve been calling it a new media chamber music theatre piece. I’ve written the music for voice, oboe, double bass, and new electronic instruments. Ellen Moffat has created new electronic instruments which integrate amplified sound, recorded texts, and video projection.

Book. Chair. Table. will be performed by Lia Pas on voice, Erin Brophey on oboe, Richard Carnegie on double bass, and Ellen Moffat on electronic instruments.

A bit more about the piece:

Late in 2012, Ellen Moffat asked me and Saskatoon actor Rob Benz to record three poems by Gertrude Stein from Stein’s book of prose poems, Tender Buttons. I’ve always loved the rhythms and repetitions of Stein’s poetry and was very happy to work with Ellen on one of her projects. Ellen used the recordings in a collaboration with an actor/dancer in Vancouver and when she returned asked me if I was interested in collaborating on a piece of music involving the recordings and the idea of triggering them from an amplified table.

In 2013 Ellen and I approached Erin Brophey of the SSO Chamber Players and Alex Rogalski at PAVED Arts about whether this might be a suitable project for one of the CORE series concerts. Erin & Alex were both excited about the possibilities of Ellen and I working together and so we began the work.

The main source material is the recordings of Stein’s poems Book. Chair. and Table. While listening to them I noticed immediately that not only did Rob and I speak in very different ranges, but in very different rhythms. With the help of some fancy computer programming (thanks to my son, Jarrod, for help with that), I was able to come up with a fairly accurate pitch and rhythm transcription of the recordings and these became the source for melody and ostinati (repeating phrases). Erin had expressed interest in the piece having some stage directions and I had always been impressed by Richard Carnegie’s speaking while playing bass so integrated these things into the piece.

I have always been fascinated by rhythm and process and the entire piece explores both.

In the beginning of Book. the pitches and rhythms of the phrases are slowed down significantly and become quite melodic. All the players speak and then play their phrases as ostinati and the movement ends with jarring sparse rhythms in the bass and oboe with the voice singing melodically above. During the music, Ellen performs on her glass amplified table, writing, fanning pages, and triggering the recordings.

In Chair. Ellen and I perform on a metal folding chair. The seat of the chair becomes my microphone and my part is quite melodic. Ellen is in charge of effects and the recordings triggered from the chair. While Ellen and I perform on the chair one side of the room, Erin and Richard play a game of ostinato cards that are shuffled at the beginning of the movement. These cards have notated phrases from the text recordings that are played in tandem with each other, shifting when either player decides to choose a new card.

In Table. we begin by all using the glass table as a percussion instrument and speak the entirety of Stein’s poem (the shortest poem of the three). One by one, we go back to our own music stands and repeat our spoken phrases as music. Ellen’s part involves glasses struck and bowed and playing with all six recordings of the poems while we speak and play. In the middle there is a chorale-like section created from our ostinati played very slowly.

There are small moments where the meaning of the text and what is happening in the music become apparent, either through the music, Ellen’s actions on the table, or on the screen which projects images of Ellen’s work on the table.

Lia Pas