Q: Where did you go on tour?
In November 2004, we visited 13 cities and communities including Vancouver, Burnaby, Kelowna, Vernon, Terrace, Smithers, Kispiox, Nelson, Comox, and Victoria, in British Columbia. The tour concluded with educational events and a concert in Toronto Ontario. The orchestra performed over 95 education events involving 67 musicians, plus regular evening concerts that featured the Brahms First Symphony. On our tour to Alberta and Saskatchewan last fall (2005), there were over 90 educational events.
On the day that seven brass players went to Kispiox, a string quintet, woodwind quintet and the string orchestra played in other places in BC.
Q: Where is Kispiox, BC?
It is 1,000 miles north of Vancouver, and probably halfway between Prince George and Prince Rupert. We left from Nelson on a charter flight, dropped off the woodwind quintet (Principals) in Terrace, BC, and flew on to Smithers, BC. We took a van from Smithers to Kispiox. (During a pre-tour in May of 2004 by Claire Speed, NACO’s Director of Music Education, and myself, Kispiox was chosen as the best location for the event.) In November they get a lot of rain, and (because of it) there was a mud and rock slide that covered about half the highway. The whole side of a mountain had come down – we had to slow down and work our way around it. For a while we weren’t sure we could get to the school for our performance.
The schools in that area are run by the First Nations. Students from three other schools (Gitsegukla, Gitanyow, and Moricetown) were sent to meet us in Kispiox.
Q: How big is Kispiox?
The population is 651.
Q: What kind of a town is it?
There is eco-tourism, logging, mining and fishing in the area. The tribe has money but there is very high unemployment. A lot of well-known native artists live in the area.
The students were all from First Nations families, and each school had a relatively small population. The Kispiox School was a very nice facility – a beautiful carved wooden partition greeted us inside the school. It had lots of cedar and pine, with a “talking circle” in the foyer of the school. If we had played a concert for just that school, we would have played in the “talking circle,” but we played in the gym because it was big enough for the students from all four schools.
Q: What did you do at the school?
We focused on the music of Vivaldi for all the educational components of the tour. NACO had already produced a teacher’s resource kit on Beethoven and Mozart, so Vivaldi was the current focus. Before we left on our trip, a Vivaldi resource kit was constructed, written, and printed in Ottawa, which provided resource material for the teachers. It was sent to every elementary school in BC, a total of 1,400 schools. Included with the handbook was a complimentary copy of the CBC – NACO recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, featuring Pinchas Zukerman as soloist.
Teachers attending the student matinees also received a class set of Vivaldi and the Four Seasons newspaper guides – a total of 2,500 guides – to help prepare their students for the concerts. An on-line teacher resource guide, including further information about the program and featured artists, as well as post-concert activities, was also distributed.
Yamaha Canada was a corporate sponsor. They provided about 500 plastic recorders free of charge, which were distributed to all the schools to be visited by the string quintet or the string orchestra, or the woodwind quintet or the brass group.
Schools got the recorders in September, and we visited them in November. In Kispiox, because they have no existing music programs (they used to have them, but those were cut—as a result they have no music teachers now), Yamaha also paid for a recorder specialist from Terrace to travel a few times to Kispiox. That person trained an identified teacher in each school, who then taught the melody of the Largo from Four Seasons to the kids. The idea was that the students would play the melody on their recorders with us when we arrived.
In Kispiox there were about 60 – 80 kids playing with us (we targeted grades 3 through 7). It was quite exciting. There were various levels of ability, but they were all doing their best.
One thing I should also mention – in the summer before the tour, the seven of us in the brass group went to a rehearsal hall in the National Arts Centre to be videotaped. We each gave our names and demonstrated our instruments. Finally, we played the arrangement of the melody that the students would be playing along with us.
When we got to the school at Kispiox, we were met as if we were rock stars – they knew our names and faces already. One of the trumpet players on the demo video played a theme from Star Wars. We heard from one of the teachers that the kids really liked that. Colin Traquair, one of our tenor trombone players, did an arrangement of themes from Star Wars – we planned to play it as an encore. At the end of the concert, one of the kids asked, “Can you play Star Wars?” We played it – they didn’t know we would do it, and the place went nuts.
In Kispiox we wanted to integrate the aboriginal traditions into our western traditions. We were greeted with a welcome song and a welcome dance. In the Kispiox area each clan is identified with an animal, so they performed the Frog welcome dance. We were seated on the floor of the gymnasium, and the kids entered from the back in traditional dress and performed the song and dance as they approached us.
The local chief welcomed us. We wanted to follow proper protocol, so the elders needed to welcome us to their land.
It was Pinchas’ idea to have a First Nations focus while on tour. Claire Speed, NACO’s Education Director, went to an umbrella group of First Nations in BC and said, “This is what we want. Suggest an area or schools that would fit with what we want to do.” They identified the contact people. With input from the provincial council and local band councils, we had the right protocols to follow.
After the welcome dance by students and elders from Kispiox and the welcome by the local chief, the principal of the Kispiox School welcomed us and the other schools. Claire Speed introduced the NAC Orchestra BC Tour and then turned it over to me. I was the Master of Ceremonies, so I made a short speech. To start off, we played a brass septet arrangement of Septimi Toni No. 2 by Giovanni Gabrielli.
Following that, children from the Morristown School performed a local song –“Today’s the Day” is the translation.
My concept was to break into smaller groups within the septet to provide a variety in sound and texture, as well as the ability to focus on various brass instruments more closely. We did a brass trio arrangement of a Johann Pezel fanfare, then an arrangement of William Tell Overture for trio, and a short arrangement of themes from Sponge Bob Squarepants. Then we had a song by children from the Gitanyow School.
Our trombone trio played pieces by Guillaume Dufay, Raymond Premru, and a Scott Joplin Rag. Then children from the Gitsegukla School sang two songs – a welcome song and “Walking in the Light.” We ended with a brass quintet segment – arrangements of Newfoundland folk songs, Bizet’s Aragonaise, and an arrangement of the TV theme from “Hockey Night in Canada” (all Canadians apparently know that one).
The grand finale was the Vivaldi Four Seasons.
Since it’s a short melody, the brass played it alone first. The second time through was the students playing their recorders alone. Someone had put words to the melody – words about the seasons and the land, so the third time through the kids put down their recorders and sang, accompanied by solo trumpet and bass trombone. The fourth time through was with everyone – recorders, brass, and native drums.
This concert took place shortly after lunch. We had arrived mid-morning for rehearsals. We didn’t know exactly how this would work, so we waited to get there to plan it. We decided to have a 45 minute run-through, with two of us working with each of the three schools who were already there. A fourth school had not yet arrived – more on that later. After that run-through, the players reported back to me, so we knew where the strengths and weaknesses were. We put everything together at a dress rehearsal before lunch. Colin Traquair, also the arranger of the Vivaldi excerpt for brass, rehearsed and conducted the massed musicians. That was the only time the four schools and the seven brass players all got together, and we kept that rehearsal to about half an hour.
Any student who performs with us gets a tour T-shirt, so they were wearing the tour T-shirts during the concert along with their traditional attire. Following the concert, they wanted us to autograph their T-shirts while they were wearing them!
When Claire and I did the pre-tour, we planned that the brass would have lunch at a local restaurant, but we were invited by the school and the band council to join them for a potluck lunch at the school. It was wonderful! We had moose stew, fresh salmon sandwiches, bannock bread, etc. We were able to mix and mingle with students at the lunch hour, and then we all played the concert together.
Doug and George in Kispiox.
There was another interesting element. One of the schools that was supposed to be there was very, very late. Someone put regular gas in the school bus instead of diesel fuel. The engine died halfway there, so some kids didn’t get to perform with us. They wanted us to hear them play their recorders, so we went aside and they played for us after the concert.
We took framed tour posters, which we gave to the principals of each participating school. We in return received gifts from each school – sweatshirts with school logos, and mugs.
One very positive thing is that one of the schools contacted us a month later and said that everyone was so thrilled by the music infusion that they decided to rent band instruments to get a program going the following fall.
Q: Do you do tours like this very often?
It’s evolved since Pinchas arrived in 1999. The first tour went to the east coast of Canada, but they didn’t take the low brass. The scope of this tour didn’t get started till 2004. It takes a lot of planning and money.
Next fall we’re going to Quebec. I’m on the Education Committee, and we’ve got a rough draft of where we’re going in November 2006. Things have to be fleshed out, but I think we’re going to use the Vivaldi package again, since we use the same package for three years in a row before developing a new one.
Q: Do you have any special training for the kind of outreach work you’re doing?
Not formally. All of us are involved in some sort of a group that plays school concerts in the Ottawa area. Mostly it’s been an evolution in our own experience. We’ve learned to:
Keep it simple, keep it lively, keep each piece relatively short, don’t talk down to the kids, be open, be happy, be friendly, play good quality music.
Douglas Burden has been playing bass trombone with NACO since 1972. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music in 1975, he now teaches at McGill University and the University of Ottawa, as well as performing with Capitol BrassWorks, a 13-piece group of brass and percussion.