It was around 7 hours on a coach from Edmonton to Saskatoon – I figured going by land was a nice way to see some of Canada. It turned out that it was a good way to see a very cold, white, flat desert!
But it past quickly (thanks to listening to Pink Floyd almost all of the way), and on arrival I was met by a Will Martin – a friend from Manchester, in fact we both lived in Chorlton a few years ago (it feels quite a long time ago now!) who now lives out there with his wife Karen.
My bulk of work in Saskatoon was towards the end of the week, so i was glad of a lie in on the Monday morning – Edmonton was great fun, but it is fair to say that we closed the bar every night, which meant I was a little short of sleep! We headed to Will’s workplace – St Johns Music where we met his work collegue, a great guy called Kris, before heading to a pub for lunch. It was here that they warned me about the bears…if you see a grizzly, you are supposed to curl up in a ball and play dead…if the bear is a the black variety, you have to make yourself big and try and scare it away. A floor in the plan seems to be telling the difference between the two – I wasn’t planning on hanging around to ask the bear, should I come across one!
I spent the evening at a school band on the outskirts of Saskatoon (it is quite a way away from the centre – I am told that the province of Saskatchewan is 17 times the size of England, but has only 1 million residents- 250,000 of them are in Saskatoon, and the province has more lakes than people!) We did a group composition class – the band separated out in to groups and they all produced miniature works to perform to each other. Sometimes, composition is just a confidence game – without it, it is very difficult to write at all (at least, that is the way it seems to be for me). With it, all of a sudden a blank sheet of paper has many exciting possibilities, and getting young people to see that and recognise that a blank sheet is an opportunity, not an impossible task, is a lot of fun – if hard work.
A day off on Tuesday meant I could get on with some composing, although I did manage to find time to watch England v Sweden. We headed to a local bar that evening to meet Kris, and the Director of Bands at the University of Saskatchewan, Darrin Oehlerking. By this stage, I had grown fond of a beer called Trad (Traditional Ale). There is a great micro-brewery movement in North America (my favourite of which is Goose Island from Chicago – Honker’s Ale being my tipple of choice!), and it is developing in to a fine tradition.
As mentioned in the first part of my Canada blog, composing is just about the best job I can imagine. It always amazes me that people take the time to learn your music – I mean, when you are just someone from Nuneaton who went to a normal school, came from a very modest background, the idea that someone will practise your music seems surreal. So on Thursday evening, when I was invited by Will and Roy Sydiaha to go and conductBridge City Brass (the brass band they both conduct) through some of my pieces, it was a real honour.
I conducted Fanfare for a Festival, Match Day, Sentinel and – what was most special to me – The Pohutukawa Stands. It is a work that was commissioned by Woolston Brass Band from Christchurch, NZ, to be written in memory of those who lost their lives in the terrible earthquake earlier in the year. I’d not heard the piece live in person before, so this was a real treat for me. The band were of a really good standard – they had lots of patience, enthusiasm, and were great sight readers.
The final two days were spent judging and giving clinics at UNIFEST. Thursday was spent around local Saskatoon schools, hearing their short performances (which by the way, were all to a really high standard) before giving some feedback, and delivering a clinic for each band, working with them to find areas as to where to better their performances. It turned out that I had a power – unbeknown to me – which was my accent. A music teacher/band teacher can tell them 100 times to watch the conductor, but they don’t. A guy who they have known for 5 minutes and is from England, they listen immediately!
The same was true on Friday, where I was based at the central UNIFEST venue, doing the same job, but this time to bands who had travelled from further afield in the state – up to 4 hours away, maybe more! This was again fun, although I was also slightly in awe of how a country can deal with a blizzard, leaving 10cm of snow, and hardly blink! One band in particular were as near to perfect as a grade 2 band could be – it was a tough 40 minutes to fill in the clinic!
A fun evening followed at a cowboy bar – I didn’t see any cowboys, I just mean that the bar was cowboy themed (all the cowboys seemed to be in Edmonton for the rodeo – now that was an experience!) – where I was given the bar’s traditional birthday treat: a bowl of ice cream, complete with sparklers, whilst having a mosses head and antlers put on. Strangely, it wasn’t my birthday…
It was a great night, which made the 7 hour return trip to Edmonton the next day a little tough – this time, Dire Straits got me through! A pretty rubbish Lufthansa flight home (where the console highlight was an episode of Midsummer Murders) followed, and before I knew it, was back in the UK.
Canada is an amazing country – I really hope I get the chance to go back there (and really hope I avoid the bears again…). I have been fortunate enough to go to many different and varied places around the world, but I have no doubt that Canada was the most friendly – and I received the most incredible performance of Apophenia there, and they even have the Queen on their coins! What more could you want from a country?