Prelude to Christmas

November has been a busy month. On the 14th I was in Courtenay performing withthe Michael Irving Quartet for the Georgia Strait Jazz Society at the Avalanche Lounge. After playing mostly Broadway musical scores for the last four months it’s great to get a chance to stretch out on improvised jazz solos for an entire evening.

PHOTO (above) - Playing with the Michael Irving Quintet is always a thrill. I appear to be mid-solo on piano as Michael (Trumpet) looks on. Other members of the Quintet are Michael Wright (Drums), Dan Craven (Tenor Sax) and Doug Gretsinger (electric bass). Photo credit: PRS Images
Last week I started rehearsals with the Yellow Point Christmas Spectacular cast. I’ve had the pleasure of being part of the production as the rehearsal and orchestra pianist for the past seven Christmas seasons. This year the production includes a Queen tribute, James Bond and Sound of Music medleys, plus Michael Bubléshowstoppers, a nostalgia tribute, as well  as many classical hits and Christmas favorites.
The spectacular will be performed in three different venues. The show will open in the Cedar Community Hall south of Nanaimo with 3:00 pm performances Dec 7, 8, 14 & 15 and 7:00 pm performances on Dec 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, & 15.
During the Cedar run the production will move to the Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay for two performances - Dec 10th & 11th at 7:00 pm.
Closing out the season will be three shows staged at The Port Theatre in downtown Nanaimo on Dec 20 & 21 at 7:00 pm and a matinee at 3:00 pm on Dec 21.
Tickets for the Yellowpoint Christmas Spectacular performances in Cedar and Nanaimo can be purchased through the Port Theatre Box Office (250.754.8550 - The Courtenay shows are handled through the Sid Williams Theatre Box Office (250.338.2430 -
Yellowpoint Christmas Spectacular’s website is

PHOTOS (above) Turning the Cedar Community Hall into a seasonal wonderland for the Yellowpoint Christmas Spectacular is a massive undertaking.

PHOTO (above) - Another gig I played in November was with the Arrowsmith Big Band based in Qualicum. The band is made up of musicians from Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Qualicum Beach and Courtenay. The dance is held annually at the Parksville Legion on the afternoon of Remembrance Day and features music from the swing era of the 1940’s.

PHOTO (above) - Mywife Pat has been busy as well preparing for the Christmas Season driving over the hump to Port Alberni every Monday to rehearse the Timbre! Choir.
My December Blog will feature more about this popular seasonal event.

“Arts Groups reeling from lack of  gaming grants” headlined a recent article by Alberni Valley Times reporter Stewart Burnett. The Port Alberni Orchestra and Chorus Society and member groups, the Alberni Valley Adult Band, Harbour City Big Band, Phil’s Harmonic Orchestra, Echo Centre Youth Recitals and the Timbre! Choir appreciated having our concerns spotlighted.

However, for the record I’d like to clarify a few points relating to Mr. Burnett’s interview with me for the article. The interview was by cell phone as I was in the midst of a rehearsal for the Yellowpoint Christmas Spectacular south of Nanaimo. Not the best time for me to explain clearly how our gaming grants are applied for and dispersed.

Since the interview I’ve rethought some of Mr. Burnett’s questions and my answers. For example, without a yearly gaming grant would our society cease to operate? Possibly. The core function of the PA Orchestra & Chorus is to act as an umbrella organization for our member groups. The society through the gaming grants helps with the cost of liability insurance, purchases of musical instruments such as the $50,000 grand piano currently stored in the new ADSS Theatre, buys sheet music, sponsors workshops and covers portions of hall rentals for rehearsals and concerts, to name a few.

As independent identities, would our member groups be able to carry on, depending wholly on ticket sales and perhaps some corporate sponsorships? Optimistically, I believe they would but with reduced expectations. Ticket prices would need to rise substantially, the danger being audience numbers could fall.

Sadly it appears the BC government has decided that community arts groups in this province are expendable as ever increasing gaming funds are diverted to general revenue. The latest Vancouver Island based performing arts group casualty of this policy that I’m aware of is Nanaimo’s Western Edge Theatre Company, who also had their gaming fund application turned down. Last week the professional theatre group cancelled the remainder of their 2013/14 season and refunded all subscriptions .

Under the current gaming rules, our society is allowed to apply for a grant in the spring of 2014, which if successful, would be available for September 2014. If our application fails a second time, some sobering decisions regarding the society’s future will need to be made.

I recently read a disheartening article in McLean’s magazine that David Suzuki, after a lifetime trying to persuade politicians to look after the planet, felt he’d failed miserably. I must confess after decades trying to convince decision makers that arts and culture are the heart of our communities., that on occasion I have similar thoughts.