Only 5 performances

Only 5 performances left to see Hello Dolly

The Pit Band for Hello Dolly currently playing at the Village Theatre in Qualicum Beach. 
Musicians: Michael Irving (trumpet), Ben Dwyer (bass – August sub for Brian Anderson), Darren Nilsson (trombone), Cindy Spellman (flute), Claudio Fantinato (clarinet), Michael Wright (percussion) and myself on piano. Calling us the Pit Band is a bit of a misdemeanor considering we actually play the show located on a loft built above the actors on stage. 
There are only 5 more chances to see the classic musical Hello Dolly – Aug 5, 6, 9, 10 & 11. Curtain time for all shows is 7:30 pm except Aug 5th (today) which is a 2pm matinee.  Alternating on different nights with Hello Dolly is a comedy titled Becky’s New Car. Dates remaining for this show are –  7, 8, 12 (2pm), 13, 14,15 & 18. The Teen Musical Theatre presentation A Kidsummer Night’s Dream  plays 16, 17, & 18 (2pm). To book tickets for Bard 2 Broadway phone 250-752-4470 or send a message to  For further information check out the B2B website at

Olympic Games Opening Ceremony from London a stunner

I started writing this blog a few hours after watching the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony broadcast live from London last week. Leading up to the event I was forever reading articles or hearing on TV news shows that London would never be able to match the gargantuan Olympic opener the authoritarian leadership of China launched four years ago. I beg to differ. I thought the London ceremony stood up just fine against Beijing and was a heck of a lot more fun to watch. 

Staged on a mountain of green depicting the pastoral English countryside, the made-for-TV extravaganza took viewers on a journey through a montage of British history and culture. The centerpiece was the forging of the five Olympic rings by actors depicting workers of the industrial revolution. There were also some great comic cameos peppering the production. One had James Bond star Daniel Craig escorting the Queen from Buckingham Palace via a helicopter to the Olympic stadium then both of them parachuting into the ceremony. Can you imagine the Chinese poking fun at their head of state on such an occasion? Another sequence had British comedian Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) vamping on synthesizer a single note on the theme from Chariots of Fire accompanied by a condensed version of the London Symphony Orchestra. If there’s one thing the British understand it’s the need for humour – it’s one of the more endearing characteristics of the English. 

There were also some deeply moving sequences. The tribute to the Britain’s National Healthcare System was truly inspirational; something I would never have guessed could be part of an Olympic ceremony’s entertainment line up.  Incorporating it collectively with the glories of great children’s literature was pure genius. British wags on the internet were blogging the piece must have made Prime Minister Cameron squirm considering his government is currently tinkering with the Kingdom’s healthcare structure, a sacred trust to most Brits.  However, not everything in the opening ceremony worked to my mind. I thought the social media interactive sequence was a dud. Paul McCartney pushing as best he could the Na Na Na Hey Jude chestnut I simply felt was boring to the bone. 

However, the many magical parts in the production far eclipsed the lifeless moments that included the longest march of Olympic athletes ever. Cranking the march tempo up to quick-step had no affect whatsoever on the sauntering stream of athletes. The show, conceived by British filmmaker Danny Boyle the Oscar winning director of Slumdog Millionaire, was truly unique - a trait the British entertainment arts are distinguished for. 

(Photo above) British comedian Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) played the theme from Chariots of Fire at opening ceremony. 

British musicians not cheery about Olympics

What is it about the music profession that places it in a category where corporate identities, governments and a considerable percentage of the general public feel that musicians should be happy to perform for free? The Olympic Games is the most recent example. Music always plays a pivotal role in the games and yet the London Olympic Organizing Committee caused a furor by suggesting members of the British Musicians’ Union play for Olympic events without payment and be satisfied with the exposure surrounding the games. Can you imagine the British construction unions being asked to supply free labour to build all those Olympic facilities?

It’s true that well established British artists have chosen to perform for gratis at the major Olympic events such as the opening and closing ceremonies. Such artists can afford to and the world-wide TV exposure it gives their latest recordings and up-coming tours is a no-brainer for such established stars. However, in the case of the non-headlining musician trying to make a living performing in a profession that likely took a lifetime of hard work and study to perfect, being asked to play for free at non-televised Olympic events around London is downright insulting. 

Rubbing salt into the wound, the Olympic Organizing Committee insisted these musicians had to sign a document saying that they wouldn't publicize that they were playing at the Olympics, wouldn't sell merchandise, wear their logo on their clothing or hand out publicity.  Unbelievable! In my opinion the big-timers at the top should have threatened to withdraw from the opening and closing ceremonies unless their professional colleagues received a fair wage for their services. 
The official song of the Olympics is titled Survival and was played as the athletes trudged into the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies. I suggest it could be used as a tribute to all those hard-working musicians who somehow survive despite having to play the London Olympic games, with its multi-billion dollar budget and vast array of big business sponsors, for free.

Nanaimo train station opens
On Wednesday of last week my wife Pat and I donned our APR conductor’s uniforms to promote the Alberni Pacific Railway and McLean’s Mill at the re-opening of the Nanaimo Train Station. Unlike the Port Alberni station that is actually used as a train station, the Nanaimo station awaits the return of the VIA Dayliner service to Courtenay and Victoria. The service is promised for next year if repairs to the aging island railway’s infrastructure are accomplished.
The Nanaimo train station had been boarded up since an arson fire almost destroyed the building in 2007.  However, like the phoenix bird of Greek mythology, the station has risen from the ashes and stands as a monument to the strength of support (and optimism) there is for a return of rail and passenger service on Vancouver Island. The completely rebuilt station now houses an Irish pub called Fibber McGees and a section of the building is reserved to be used as a train station if and when a passenger service is resumed on the line. 

Swiss train trip continued - Interlaken/Berne/Munich

(Photo above) At the Interlaken station we boarded a German ICE (Inter City Express) train headed for Berlin. Our plan was to take the train as far as Berne, the capital of Switzerland, and spend a few hours touring the medieval city before continuing on to Munich. The equipment on the slick streamlined German train looked brand new.

(Photo above) Swiss Parliament Buildings 

The capital of Switzerland is Berne. The Swiss Confederation (conventional name of Switzerland) was founded on August 1,1291 and is a multi-party federal republic divided into Executive, Legislative and Judicial branch. The country is split into 26 administrative divisions called cantons. 

Switzerland does not have a full-time president. The representational functions of a president are taken over by one (or all) of the government members. Every year another member of the government team is elected federal president in turn so that every government member assumes this role once in seven years. The president is primus inter pares [first among equals] with very limited special powers. He or she sets the agenda of the weekly conferences and leads the discussion and reports to the population on the 1st of January and on the 1st of August, the National Holiday. Official foreign guests to Switzerland are usually welcomed by the government in corpore (all members).

BC’s ex-premier Bill Vandersalm would relish working in the Swiss parliamentary system as any change in the constitution, a referendum is mandatory and for any change in a law a referendum can be requested, although a member of the public must collect 50,000 signatures within 3 months to put it on a ballot. This makes Switzerland the closest state in the world to a direct democracy. In other words, the sovereign of Switzerland is actually its entire electorate. Contrary to most other countries today, being a member of the Swiss parliament is not a full time job.  This tends to make members of parliament to be seen as closer to the everyday life of their electorate.

(Photo above) The Cathedral of Berne (Das Berner Münster) is Switzerland's largest ecclesiastical building. Construction started in 1421 and continued under a series of different builders for generations.

(Photo above) The Cathedral of Berne (Das Berner Münster) is Switzerland's largest ecclesiastical building. Construction started in 1421 and continued under a series of different builders for generations.

 (Photo above) Stained glassed windows in the Cathedral of Berne 

The plagues of the early 1500’s converted many of Zurich’s citizens to the Reformation. In 1527 the Reformed party gained control of the Cathedral’s great council and it ordered that the new faith should be preached. However, there was an inconsistency in that some congregations in the city were still observing the mass.  It was decided that there should be a religious disputation at Berne and on January 6, 1528 a meeting of church leaders was held to settle the question. The result was the council ordered that throughout the city all masses should be stopped and all icons cast out. Following on February 7, 1528, it ordered the same for the whole canton (province). In April 1528, a Protestant service was first celebrated in the Cathedral (Münster).

The photo above is the famous Berne musical clock tower. The astronomical clock was first mentioned in the city accounts of 1444 when it had to be repainted. It therefore dates from the early 15th century. We stood before the clock tower at 1 pm, not the best time. 12 noon would have been preferable in order to hear a longer session of the clock bells chiming.
Returning to the Berne train station, we retrieved our luggage from a locker and caught the train to Zurich. 

(Photo above) - Downtown Zurich is located on the banks of the river Limmat.
Arriving in Zurich in the late afternoon we took a tram to the lakeshore. A German Oomph-Pa Band was performing on the pier of the local boating club. We tried to get closer to the concert but it was a private member’s party only and the grounds were gated.  After taking a 1-hour boat cruise on Lake Zurich we downed some Bratwürste cooked by a park vendor and took a walk along the river Limmat. We still had one more heritage railway to visit before leaving Switzerland. Boarding a local train at the Zurich station the following morning, we traveled northeast to Winterthur, transferring to a second train to the small town of Bauma. 

The station platform at Bauma is shared with the Dampfbahnverein Zürcher Oberland railway and is one of the most interesting preserved rail lines in Switzerland. 
(Photo above) In front of the train shed in Bauma, these steam locomotives built in 1907 by SLM (Swiss locomotive & machine factory) prepare for a hard day’s work. The young firemen on the steam locomotives are National Swiss Railway apprentice employees and are paid a full wage by the national network as they work towards their certification as professional train drivers. The program guarantees the historic steam engines will have trained crews available into the future.
The DVZO association started its operations in 1978 on a stretch of private line called the Uerikon-Bauma Bahn that had just been closed. The line had been initially constructed by a local industrial tycoon Guyer-Zeller to access his factory but since it merely linked a number of small villages the railway never satisfied actual traffic needs.
Over time the association has equipped the line with semaphore signals, historic railroad crossings and restored the old infrastructure including several steam locomotives. The line runs from Bauma to Hinwil and features steep grades of over 20%, so the steam engines have to work hard on each trip.

(Photo above): Commuters in Switzerland use their bicycles to get to the station to catch a train to work. This station in Winterthur had underground parking for hundreds of bikes. You don’t have to wear a helmet to ride a bicycle in Switzerland. I think more folks in this country would commute by bike to work if helmets weren’t mandatory, especially those women who don’t like having their hair messed.

After our round trip on the DVZO we boarded a train back to Winterthur and transferred to a local train to the platform stop of Schloss Laufen am Rheifall near the city of Schaffhausen. Here we walked a short distance along the cliffs above the River Rhine to view Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfall. The falls are truly magnificent, not so much for their height as for their impressive width and the sheer drama of the place with the spray rising in a cloud of rainbows above the forested banks. The turreted castle Schloss Laufen on a cliff directly above the falls to the south completes the spectacle.
Hiking down a switchback trail to a small riverside jetty we climbed aboard one of the daredevil skiff-like boats that scurry around in the spray.
Returning to Winterthur we re-boarded a mainline train to Zurich. This was our final day in Switzerland and we topped it off in the evening with a meal called Röschti, a dish consisting mostly of potatoes. Usually the dish (similar to our hash browns) accompanies a meat side dish such as bacon or sausage. The following day we flew to London. Half the time in the short trip is spent circling Heathrow Airport waiting in stack formation for a slot to land. Proceeding though customs we caught the train to Paddington Station and stayed in the Hilton that is located within the terminal. Our time in London during the Queen’s Jubilee is documented in my June 11/12 blog. 
The train-spotting birthday present trip my brother Terry prepared for me to Switzerland was a trip of a lifetime. Writing about it this past month has enabled me to relive it all over again.