Archive for December, 2008

The Snowman Cometh!

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I Saw Thee Ships – Traditional

This was the first of at least three fine snowmen that I spotted as I traversed Toronto’s Ramsden Park* with a steady rain moving in. By the time I had finished recording – tricky in wet weather – it had turned into a steady downpour…uh of rain, not snowmen!

With no-one in sight and only the muted sounds of sirens, distant traffic and a spirited scrimmage on the nearby outdoor rink for company, I felt that I was alone in my own world, save for this spooky guy: burrs for eyes (oh, I get it: brr-rs!), dried grasses for hair and a pebble for a nose, how could I resist pausing to see what he had to say?

It turns out that it was a request for I Saw Three Ships!

I pulled some music out, but realized that I didn’t actually have this tune that had suddenly popped into my head – besides, as I checked a couple of indexes, the sound of rain against my open music was a little disconcerting – this was surely an opportunity to simply play by ear. So, after assembling my flute and jerry-rigging a shelter for my Edirol digital recorder against the elements, I gamely let her rip!

In giving a quick listen to the results, I love how the sound of the falling rain gives the effect of surface scratches of an old 78. For the briefest of moments I considered making up some bogus story of finding some old recordings at a garage sale of Marcel Moyse playing Christmas Carols – you know, like that Jackson Pollock I was talking about!

As I packed up, and just before I hustled off to drop off my brown paper packages tied up with string, I saw a dog-walker approaching. His dog, Merlin, was so fetching with the big stick he was running along with, I had to snap a photo and subsequently fell into conversation with two guys Merlin had in tow. Some talk about dog breeds, the sloppy weather…and then it came up that they had heard the flute from far across the park. It was suggested that the sound had travelled surprisingly far on account of the damp weather, and certainly the flute can project great distances outdoors, especially when played in the upper register.

I guess you never really know when you are truly alone, or who your audience might be.

Merry Christmas, Merlin!!

* Who was Ramsden anyways?? I’m just taking a guess here, although I feel I should know the background of one of my favourite local parks. I’m sure there’s a plaque tucked away somewhere where I can double-check…hopefully I’m not barking up the wrong tree with the following:

The Canadian National Exhibition, founded in Toronto in 1879, developed rapidly in the early 1900s into the world’s largest annual fair. Its impact on popular culture and material culture has yet to be explored by scholars. Between 1910 and 1939, a small but significant aspect was the exhibition and sale of Canadian, British and international art at a level unparalleled elsewhere in Canada at the time. By 1922, this had evolved to include modern applied art by prominent British artisans. The Arts and Crafts silversmith Omar Ramsden (1873-1939) was one of the most consistent exhibitors, showing nine times between 1922 and 1934. -source: Canadian Heritage

Winter Solstice

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Frederico Monpou

Happy Winter Solstice from Urban Flute Project!

The nights have been getting so long and lingering, the darkness so palpable – like a veil of silence thrown over the land – you could almost reach out and touch them.

When darkness prevails, I love the impenetrable, mystical feeling that goes along with this time of year. So you can well understand that I have mixed feelings when December 21st rolls around to begin the slow swing back in daylight’s favour!

Sure, it’s exciting to mark the return of Light and Life, but somehow, for me at least, it feels a bit like saying good-bye to a long lost and rather ireverential friend who you’ve just started hanging out with again.

Recently I received an impromptu invite for dinner at a friend’s place where a few of us get together to rehearse once or twice a week, to read through rep and enjoy a meal together. It’s a relaxed atmosphere in which to make music, enjoy a few laughs, as well as an ideal spot to throw the occasional informal apartment recital, Schubertian style!

This is the view from their balcony that looks out over Rosedale Valley, with the Bayview Extension in the foreground.

Even though in this instance this was a simple dinner invitation, I decided to bring along my flute just in case. I learned years ago that Murphy’s Law applies big time to these kinds of decisions: if you don’t bring your flute – or, say, your camera – you will wish you did, and, if you do, sure, it can be a little burdensome, but at least then you have the option.

And at least I don’t play the harp or tuba!

In this case  I was so glad I was so glad to have tucked along my flute, and to be able to read over Stephen’s shoulder – I had never heard such wonderful music.

After dinner there was some sheet music on the piano that had caught my eye: the lesser-known Frederico Monpou, and we discovered that these improvisational miniatures for solo piano work just fine with the flute covering the melodic line of the piano’s right hand.

Every once in a while, just when you think you’ve heard it all, there is that unexpected discovery, that distinctive shock – almost akin to a planetary shift – and what I have come to recognize as a kind of musical epiphany.

This writing/music has an impressionistic, yet distinctive style – think Debussy, with a little Satie rolled in – yet is so fresh and immediate, even modern sounding! In this particular piece, the delicate, reverential tenderness of the simple flute line contrasted by the spare chords of the piano seem to perfectly capture the spirit and mystery of the Winter Solstice season.

* The next apartment recital for Trio Erratica & Friends is set for January 31st. Monpou surely will be featured in the program – let me know if you wish to attend, and even bring a friend or two along, but the deal is that it’s potluck if you want to get in!

Silver Bells

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Playing one of my weekly retirement home gigs earlier this same day, there was a request for Silver Bells, the one carol that wasn’t in my Readers Digest compendium of Christmas Carols. So this is for that resident at Donway Place!

The Royal Conservatory is just moved back to their splendid digs on Bloor Street, next to the already infamous ROM Crystal, and what better way to usher in the holiday season than with a good old-fashioned carol sing, with students and faculty gathered around the piano.

I would have, uh, joined in if I wasn’t meeting up with a student who had recently returned from her honeymoon in India and wanted to get her lessons going again…priorities, what can I say? This was the first time that my student had seen the newly renovated building, and with unsolicited feedback from someone who had just visited the Taj Mahal, we both agreed that it was indeed impressive! The spacious atrium designed by KPMB that ingeniously marries old architecture with the new also, and perhaps inadvertently, offers these wonderful, open acoustics!

A Stelco Moment

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Looking out from one of the wonderfully decrepit Firestone buildings, here is a member of the TLR reflecting on the demise of the adjacent Stelco factory in Hamilton.

Flute Junket

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Always on the lookout for unusual spots to play, it’s almost like I’m constantly on assignment scouting out interesting spaces to record in.This latest was a particularly surprising ‘flute junket’ – junk being the operative word!

Fine acoustics can pop up where you least expect them…check out this massive interior!

It may be odd to admit, but I have never done a ‘dump run’ here in Toronto*, and for a long time I wondered what this would look like. Yesterday I offered my wheels to take a ripe load of garbage down to the waste disposal site off of Commissioner’s Road, within, uh, spitting distance of the Leslie Spit.

After having driven onto the weigh scales by the booth and waiting patiently in queue between mammoth city garbage trucks, we were initially denied entrance. Apparently we had the wrong hours, and the booth attendant – just doing his job – was adamant that we should come back later, despite placations to the contrary.

In the end we were granted permission to drop our bags of garbage in this most evocative location. Joey, the site manager, suggested that the resident flocks of birds swooping through the vast interior reminded him of the Amazon House at the Metro Zoo, which is exactly what I was thinking as I played through this old seasonal chestnut, one of several soundfiles captured that memorable day at the dump.

* This isn’t entirely true – it was part and parcel of my experience as a kid to take heavy bags of stinky garbage once in a while to the dump when staying at cottages back in summers gone by, where we would always be on the lookout for black bears scavenging in the mountains of garbage carved out of the wilderness. Not actually sure if I ever did see a bear, although there was that one time we drove through the dark and did an atypical night-time drop-off, and an image of mysterious, wild eyes furtive in our headlights is burned into my memory. Regardless, it sure was fun to see who could throw the bags the furthest! That particular night, I think we threw the garbage bags more quickly than usual – without the usual discus-throwers type of wind up, and hustled back into the safety of the awaiting car!

The Voice of Firestone

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Bach, Sarabande*

Returning on a rain-soaked QEW from a long day’s outing to Hamilton’s wonderfully derelict Firestone Warehouse Complex with some of the TLR gang, the penny suddenly dropped: The Voice of Firestone!

From 1949-1963, The Voice of Firestone was synonymous with the finest of classical music programming, on both radio and television. What a legacy, and kudos to Firestone for their visionary sponsorship of music, utilizing leading-edge media of the day! Judging by the state of these massive, emptied warehouses, however, there won’t be any such sponsorships forthcoming in the foreseeable future!

Here is the 3rd movement of Bach’s Partita in a-, his rather elusive and poignant Sarabande for solo flute. Okay, so this may not be opera, but nonetheless it’s delivered in the finest ‘bel canto’ playing style I could muster, especially considering that the temperature was hovering near freezing and that security might approach at any moment. Water drips somewhere from far above and wind tugs at some loose sheet metal cladding as the sound of my flute melds into the middle-distance of this vast interior space: the new voice of Firestone, circa December 2008.

Next time I pack the Puccini!

* Some stubborn soundfiles aren’t uploading easily for some mysterious reason…apologies for any inconveneince as I attempt to resolve this tech glitch! Some readers are able to open and listen to these soundfiles (the ones with the icon should work fine).

If you are able to open any of these files that have written text instead of an icon, unfortunately it will lead you away from the main page…but at least you’ll have an idea what the hec I’m talking about!! Working on it, and please check back soon!

Moon Over the Ruined Castle

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Taki, Moon Over the Ruined Castle

A photo really doesn’t do justice to certain things that we chance upon. The real moment came earlier when the sky was darker, the moon hanging that much higher and brighter over Toronto’s infamous Casa Loma. Far from ruined these days – indeed it is a veritable hub for tourism, weddings and receptions – it’s definitely a cool place, especially that darkened empty pool space in the basement, the steep staircase that takes you up inside the raw interior of main turret, whose small windows afford vertiginous views of the downtown city skyline…and of course the exquisite Horse Stables.

If you look carefully, you will note that the moon is in fact not over the castle, but rather over its neighbour to the east. Just hidden behind the treeline to the right of Casa Loma, is the lesser known Spadina House where this spontaneous recording was made. No less incredible than than Toronto’s castle, this is the real gem on the hill – if you have never been, you owe it to yourself to step back in time, as it affords visitors an extraordinary glimpse into Toronto’s rich past.

The event at Spadina House was a Winter Solstice concert with a Japanese theme nearly a year ago. Picture me in the darkened sitting room, casually running through a couple of traditional folk songs with one of the other performers, the storyteller who would later compliment my solo shakuhachi performance to an attentive, hushed audience. It was a magical evening in magical surroundings – made complete by my handsome, vintage kimono purchased earlier in the day at Courage My Love down in Kensington Market!

Read more about Sir Henry Pellatt did indeed face financial challenges after having completed his dream home. In fact it was at one point reduced to ruins – financial ruins – and perhaps serves as somewhat of a cautionary tale in this day and age of monster homes and credit financing.

Tchaikovsky Roll Over!

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Project’s Nutcracker: Sweet!

I know some of you probably find the Nutcracker terrifying, but this version is especially freaky! Rest assured, there are more seasonal treats coming your way soon courtesy of Urban Flute Project, but I just wanted to share this with you immediately. Thanks, Shar, for the link.

It’s not the first you’ve heard about the master of beat box flute here on UFP. A small group of us were lucky enough to catch Greg Pattillo (pictured above, second from the left) when he was up from NYC workshopping his wonderfully radical style of flute playing. It was great to have had the chance hang out a bit after his lecture/demo at Long & McQuade. Next move? Get Greg and his full trio, Project, up to Toronto!

I guess there is a long tradition of messing with the classics. In fact my first introduction to the Bach Flute Sonatas was courtesy of Moe Koffman. So now I guess it’s Tchaikovsky’s turn to Roll Over! I hope you enjoy this fresh rendition of a seasonal classic. Happy holidays courtesy of Greg and his out-there trio. If the video link at the top is a little slow to load up, I guarantee it’ll be worth the wait!

In a Montreal Courtyard

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Courtyard Improv

Must’ve been to Montreal 25 times over the years, including Expo ’67, as well as back and forth to Brattleboro, Vermont in my student days, but oddly just getting to know Old Montreal…

Reminds me of a small book of Atget photos that I enjoy and draw inspiration from.

Montreal Courtyard 2

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Hilary Taggart, Sundown

There is a short delay for the flute to come in for a second recording that I made in this charming courtyard in Old Montreal. You can use the 20+ seconds to listen to the quiet hush of the place, subdued city sounds in the distance, and perhaps imagine yourself tucked in to this enclosure, in behind the shops and a gallery where a reception is underway. Listen carefully and you might hear the gentle cooing of pigeons as well, bearing in mind that these would be Montreal pigeons, not boring old Toronto pigeons!

As it was getting late in the day with the temperature and grey light beginning to fade, Sundown by Hilary Taggart seemed fitting. It can be a tricky piece to find just the right tempo, and as I listened for the gentle resonance of the courtyard, I started out a little on the slow side. Mid-way through the piece a shop owner off to my right caught my eye through a rear window of his store, and we exchanged a friendly wave as I played on valiantly. Just as I finished playing, a couple chanced into the courtyard and a short discussion in French ensued. It is the gentle reverberation of human voices – with me holding up my end of the conversation, I might add – that defines this wonderful acoustic space as much as the sound of my flute.

This piece is wonderfully Coplandesque, don’t you think?

Note: I happened to have Hilary Taggart’s studies with me as part of a collection of Etudes being considered for the new RCM Flute Syllabus that I am currently working on with colleague Dianne Aitken. Taggart’s extensive output for flute players of all levels offers writing that is fresh-sounding and descriptive, full of wonderful imagery that cover a broad musical range – they are a natural fit for an expanded syllabus, and this study is currently listed for Grade 5.

The new RCM Flute Syllabus is due out in August, 2010.

Atrium Improv

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Atrium Improv

Atrium Improv

Diminutive as I stand on the upper walkway of the RCM’s new atrium, here is a sampling of the ample acoustics of this massive, light-filled space during the last official tour of the Royal Conservatory before it opened back in September.

A smallish yet enthusiastic group of Faculty and Admin had gathered together that day in the – heated – construction trailer out on the front lawn of 273 Bloor to sign in and get our hardhats and steel-toe boots. Well, ‘lawn’ might be a bit of a stretch, since those trailers still adorn the front area, contrasting what is otherwise a phenomenal retrofit of our beloved old McMaster Hall, that architectural grand dame of Bloor Street West. The rather ostentatious ROM Crystal just next door better serves to show off the classic renovation that architects KPMB envisioned for the RCM TELUS Centre.

I guess the tentative character of this improv reflects how a lot of people were feeling at that time – after being relocated for three years, a feeling that there remained a lot to be done before we could all feel that we were ‘back home’.

Nuit Bronze

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Sometimes the purest musical experiences emerge in the most unexpected of places. Earlier this fall I checked out Nuit Blanche for the first time, walked into Musideum at 401 Richmond West and chanced upon this incredible and accomplished quartet, just moments before they launched into this impromptu performance.

Friends and colleagues seem to agree, there is almost too much music in this city. The concert listings in Toronto’s Whole Note magazine can actually be immobilizing in their scope and diversity. Nonetheless I still try to get out there and check out some of the, let’s say, ‘less mainstream’ offerings, the Art of Time Ensemble‘s and New Music Concerts series of this town, or bands up from California or Nashville playing at Lee’s Palace.

Despite – or maybe because of – the huge popularity of the Nuit Blanche, I have had the distinct impression that it represents tokenism writ large: why shouldn’t there be all night, arts-related goings on every weekend of the year, rather than one big blow-out event? The same feeling holds for Open Doors Toronto – like Nuit Blanche, my inclination has been to run in the opposite direction.

Nuit Blanche-phobic you might say, at least until this year when it suddenly became Nuit-Bronze!

Check out this hypnotic playing, the exquisite instrumentation and communal, close-knit arrangement of the four players. If you have yet to drop by and visit Musideum in Toronto’s ever-so-trendy Fashion District, you will be delighted by their hands-on collection of world instruments, a collection that truly compliments Toronto’s history and rich cultural diversity.

Do they have flutes? Hello-o!! And their prices ain’t too bad either!

Footprint in the Sand

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Bach, Chaconne

To our collective Amazement and Surprise, the first thing that we laid our Mortal eyes upon were these Aged documents, affixed as they were with Yellowed cellophane to a partition of Industrial Glass . These curled papers, as if presented by the very Heavens, revealed the familiar music of Europe that I had heard once as a Child, but never had the Fortune to sound on my instrument. Not knowing if I might ever return to those distant Shores, nor possibly ever hear these Sounds again in the good company of Family and Friends, I assembled my Flute and tried to do the notes Justice.

As upon the day that I discovered a Footprint in the sand, I realized, indeed, that I am not alone – someone, perhaps an Apparition with her unearthly Violin, had been in this god-forsaken Warehouse before me.

It happen’d one Day about Noon going towards my Boat, I was exceedingly surpriz’d with the Print of a Man’s naked Foot on the Shore, which was very plain to be seen in the Sand: I stood like one Thunder-struck, or as if I had seen an Apparition; I listen’d, I look’d round me, I could hear nothing, nor see any Thing, I went up to a rising Ground to look farther, I went up the Shore and down the Shore, but it was all one, I could see no other Impression but that one, I went to it again to see if there were any more, and to observe if it might not be my Fancy; but there was no Room for that, for there was exactly the very Print of a Foot, Toes, Heel, and every Part of a Foot; how it came thither, I knew not, nor could in the least imagine. But after innumerable fluttering Thoughts, like a Man perfectly confus’d and out of my self, I came Home to my Fortification, not feeling, as we say, the Ground I went on, but terrify’d to the last Degree, looking behind me at every two or three Steps, mistaking every Bush and Tree, and fancying every Stump at a Distance to be a Man; nor is it possible to describe how many various Shapes affrighted Imagination represented Things to me in, how many wild Ideas were found every Moment in my Fancy, and what strange unaccountable Whimsies came into my Thoughts by the Way.

When I came to my Castle, for so I think I call’d it ever after this, I fled into it like one pursued; whether I went over by the Ladder as first contriv’d, or went in at the Hole in the Rock, which I call’d a Door, I cannot remember; no, nor could I remember the next Morning, for never frighted Hare fled to Cover, or Fox to Earth, with more Terror of Mind than I to this Retreat.

Once secure in my Castle, I pulled out my laptop and Surfed on YouTube for a Souvenir that might rekindle my memories of Childhood, that distant Island seemingly beyond reach, save for the Gift of Musik.

Laird Return

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After a long and enjoyable evening of recording with friends in a studio just off Laird Avenue last Friday, I decided to see if that underground echo chamber as described in Laird Crow, Leaside was still accessible. As evidenced by the photo above, the massive space was awaiting and fortunately had not been bricked over as feared.

When it comes to photography, I generally am a ‘natural light’ kinda guy, but in this case the use of flash was necessitated by the inky black that had welcomed me at the bottom of some forgotten stairs. The pitch darkness of the midnight hour added to the ambiance of playing f lute in this space as I gave ‘Waves on the Beach’ one last run-through.

For more images of this incredible underground space, check out images posted on Flickr by a member of TLR, Toronto’s Twin Lens Reflex camera club. As you can see by the elaborate wall paintings here, I was not the first to visit, and, likely, not the last!

Quel Surpris!

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Habs Tam-Tam!

Definitely a ‘quel surpris’ kind of moment here, as I inadvertantly stumbled upon this enthusiastic bongo band up on the upper terrace (how do you say ‘nose-bleed section’ en francais?!) during the second intermission of a recent Habs game, thereby completing my religious experience at the Bell Centre, la Centre Bell in Montreal.

Despite the Habs losing a squeaker that night – dommage, ca – this musical epiphany more than made up for the unfortunate loss. With the ravages of Old Man Winter blowing in rather unexpectedly the next day while recording in Old Montreal, the energy of these bongo players sustained me and represents a defining moment in my search for the meaning of music!

Oh well, I guess I won’t win many Toronto fans with this particular post…ca c’est dommage aussi, what can I say? I’ll take the Canadiens joi de vivre and passionate approach to Canada’s national game over the blue collar work ethic the Maple Leafs any day of the week.

Who the #$&% is Joe?

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Teri’s Find, Take One

As described in an earlier post, Jackson Pollock in Toronto, I had a wonderful evening checking out the controversial painting attributed to Jackson Pollock that rolled in to town recently. I had first heard of the painting years ago, and at some point saw parts of the movie, Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock, the title making reference to what Teri Horton – Joe’s mom and the owner of the painting – apparently exclaimed when she first heard that her paint-splattered canvas might be worth more than the $5 (US) that she paid for it at a flea-market in California.

The real highlight of the night was meeting both Joe and Teri along with the staff of the Delisle Gallery who were hosting the exhibition out in the Beaches, and little did I expect that I would find myself performing several times that night, accompanying Joe with some flute improv for his original song, Teri’s Find, which is featured in the film. Joe had come along with his mom expressly to perform his songs at the opening, and let’s just say we kinda hit it of!

With this first soundfile, he has just given me a quick tutorial, and my cue is when he shouts “Geetar!”, which is when I’m supposed to crank out my flute solos! Minutes later we were jamming away like long-lost musical soul-mates to a delighted audience at Delisle!

Who the #$&% is Joe? My new best bud is all!

Water Fantasia: a World Premiere!

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Masalar, Water Fantasia

Joined by my friend and colleague Joy Tappenden in a read-through of a charming piece for flute and piano, this is a recent rehearsal of Water Fantasia, composed by a student of hers, Marius Masalar. I will be performing this piece here with Joy at Cooksville United Church as part of a student recital that she is hosting on December 21st at 3pm, the last Sunday before Christmas. Joy is the organist and choir director at the Cooksville United, and when we collaborated a few years back – music for a funeral, of all things – we discovered that we are both seasoned members of the Royal College of Examiners, going on the road as ambassadors for the Royal Conservatory of Music Examinations 2-3 times per year conducting music exams for candidates of all ages.

Water Fantasia has really grown on me in the short time that I’ve had to rehearse it with Joy. There is a distinctive style here: fresh, modern, playful, and yet with a few surprises thrown in. Personally I love the contrast between the lyrical and more rhythmic sections, not to mention the carefree sense of humour that comes through…and this in a composition penned by a student who isn’t yet 20 years of age!

Feel free to drop by on Sunday, December 21st if you want to hear some terrific piano playing as performed by some of Joy’s students, along with a more polished version of this original piece for flute and piano! I understand that Mathius is planning on dropping by, so I look forward to meeting him…unless I’m mistaken, this will be the official World Premiere of Water Fantasia!

L’Orchestre Symphonique de Skydome!

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Superman/Tequila/Argo’s Theme

I’m not sure when I first felt the urge to perform Canada’s national anthem at a major sporting event, but recently I finally had my chance, but not as some grand-standing soloist. Proudly sporting my new FLUTIE jersey, this is a photo of yours truly taken in the Rogers Centre after a recent Argos game where my dream came true. Still often referred to as The Skydome, Toronto’s Rogers Centre is of course named after the late Ted Rogers (1933-2008), who transformed Canada’s media landscape – and who’s legacy in part inspires this post.

It is actually due to his efforts that I enjoy this Internet connection, that I’m able to put together this post to share with the world…and, with my ROGERS cable connection, that I can have a late night-movie on in the background as I write…uh, Eight-Legged Freaks, if you must know! There may be those in our midst who grumble about their latest ROGERS bill, but with his death yesterday morning, I say credit where credit’s due, and let’s show some respect for his visionary accomplishments.

Some of you might recall that I was impressed band that I heard up in the bleachers at a Toronto Marlies hockey game last spring. I recounted that experience in the rather droll Surfin’ USA. What unfolded afterwards is that I soon joined their ranks and found myself unwittingly a full-fledged member of the Argonotes, the official pep band for the Toronto Argonauts. It would be an understatement to say that playing flute with the Argonotes has proven to be lot of fun, as I discovered at a half-dozen home games this year. It’s a great view from our stage just behind the end-zone, as long as you keep your eyes open for the ball during field goal attempts, and, if you’ll forgive me a football joke, I guess you might even call me an Argo’s ‘convert’!

Okay, so back to the anthem thing…at the last home game of the season, the band was invited to provide the ‘official’ playing of O Canada, which I thought was pretty cool. Naturally, we took it up-tempo – our signature style – and I suspect that we set a record for the shortest version of our national anthem ever played! No saccharin sentimentality for this fine ensemble!

You can get a glimpse of our fine performance of O Canada in the link below, along with our rendition of Smoke on the Water among other classics. Just by chance some of the guys from TFO’s very witty show VOLT were on the case, documenting the best pep band of the CFL…The Argonotes, or, in this case: L’Orchestre Symphonique de Skydome.