A Canadian in the Big Apple

So, I was in New York last weekend for an audition.  It was my first time in the big apple and while I'm not that touristy, it was really hard not to buy every kitschy "I  NY" thing I laid my eyes on.  I was there for only one night, sadly, and my purpose of being there for an audition kept me fairly cloistered in my little hotel room.  So, not too much exploring.  I loved the diversity there, though.  And, I can honestly say that my need for multiethnic exposure was briefly satiated and left my hungry for more.  

My hotel was on Korea Avenue and walking through that little microcosm really made me feel like I was back in Seoul.  And the food, oh! the food.  Let's just say that it was tough to choose form the 20+ Korean restaurants on that block and that the bibimbap that I had was the best I've had in a long time.

So much to celebrate!  I loved hearing all the accents and languages being spoken as I walked the town. My favourite moment, however, was having a New Yorker ask me "how you doin'?" in a real NY accent.  It was GREAT! Accents are a thing with me for those who don't know me and there was a little giddy giggling and a dumb smile after I was on my way if I'm honest.

Along those lines, I had another funny/slightly embarrassing experience too.  I was in a coffee shop waiting for my audition time and went to ask for the wifi password (oh, another thing I love about NY city is that there's free wifi everywhere).  

The girl behind the register said "hatrep".  

Hatrep? I asked.  

She said yes.  

It didn't work.

The third time I went up to ask for clarification she had a look on her face that was a weird combination of mild agitation - like the kind you get from an itch that you can't reach, amusement, and credulity-straining wonder at my apparent lack of intelligence.  She looked like she was going to suggest I order a CAT scan or something.  Despite that, more or less graciously she said, "yeah... HATREP" and wrote the password down for me. 

Oh, "hot wrap" I said.  I blushed, apologized in a very appropriately Canadian way, and retreated to my seat followed by her eyes, which looked at me in exactly the same way that approval doesn't.  

Embarrassment aside, it was wonderful to experience a tiny slice of the city that never sleeps, and the wonderful cultures there...and the cheddar and truffle street-food pretzel I had the night before my audition.  Oi!  Amazing!

As for the audition, it was for St. Louis Opera Threater, a really wonderful company that distinguishes itself by doing all operas in English. I think it went really, really well. I'm thankful. It's too soon to know if I've won a role or not, but the audition panel was very nice and it was a pleasure to sing for them. I have another audition in NY in a couple weeks for Utah Opera. I'll let you know how it goes!

...maybe I should go back to that coffee shop...maybe they've changed the wifi password...







Canadian, eh?

So, what does it mean to be a Canadian?  What does it mean beyond not being American?  Isn’t it time that "not American" isn't enough of an answer?  But try coming up with something else! 

I’m here in Edmonton in rehearsals for Madama Butterfly with Edmonton Opera.  We open in a couple days! It’s been a lot of fun preparing this opera and it’s going to be a great show.  Now, the other day our fabulous Italian tenor asked me “what eez Canadian food?”  I started to give an immediate answer but stopped short, mouth gaping a little, because nothing immediately came to mind. 

I explained that maybe bannock or beavertails would do.  Then I had to explain what those were, which didn’t go too well. Or maybe poutine.   Maple syrup?  I explained that Canada, being a mix of cultures, has a variety of foods that it calls its own like perogies to Ukrainian-Canadians and pizza – a good Canadian pizza with bacon, ham, sausage and cheese…MMMM.  That’s about when his eyes glazed over and he said “si, si” kindly and we moved on to another topic.

Why was that so hard?  Why did I feel so apologetic, that perhaps most universal of Canadian virtues?

Well, recently I’ve been thinking that perhaps it’s time to enter the fray and put in my 2 bits plus GST about what it is to be Canadian. Why?  Well, because I’m proud about being a Canadian.  You might be too.  For me, my ideas about being Canadian mainly derived from growing up overseas.  While I was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, my dad’s job moved us all over the world for most of my childhood.   Hockey, football (the north American kind), skiing, skating, sledding, and often snow were not parts of my childhood.  One Christmas, Santa arrived in a canoe on a rainforest river.  Sleigh?  Reindeer?  Wut?

My ideas of being Canadian came from the reaction my family got when we identified as Canadians in countries like the Netherlands, England and Greece – a reaction of respect, kindness and appreciation, though that doesn’t quite cover it.  It’s the same sort of reaction that motivates some Americans to wear Canadian flags when they travel, though that respect seems somehow diminished today. 

I believe this reaction is the fruit of seeds sown by the blood of Canadian soldiers in the world wars. It was the result of kindness, interest and respect given by travelling Canadians to the nationals of the countries they visited.  The reaction was earned in part, I believe, by judicious, fair, generous and honourable foreign policy by our government, at least that which we knew about. 

My Canadian identity also came from what my parents told me.  They said Canada was a place where there was much less poverty and corruption than some of the places we lived, where people from all nations were welcomed, where healthcare was by nature inclusive and universal, where there was less concern about being robbed in the middle of the night, where there were freedoms to be enjoyed.  These things, though looking pretty Utopian and far from absolute in reality, define being Canadian for me - these things and how diverse and beautiful our country is.

Getting back to the opera, the interesting thing is that Madama Butterfly was written by an Italian, is sung in Italian, is set in Japan and is about the relationship between a Japanese geisha and American sailor (and you know that’ll never end well). The singers, directors and crew involved in the show are from the USA, Italy, France, the UK, South Korea, and…Canada.  How very Canadian!  It’s a mesh, a patchwork quilt of nationalities coming together to create something beautiful and bigger than each one alone. 

So, while I can’t help but think and feel that my childhood identity about being Canadian has been diminished in the last decade or two – that my Canada isn’t the true north strong and free that I once knew, Canada is still precious to me.  Being Canadian means something special and I find it annoying that it’s so difficult to define what it is to be Canadian! 

So, I have an idea and need your help.

I want to create a concert about being Canadian.  While it will take a while to put together, I hope to use it to engage Canadians across the country about what being Canadian is.  Maybe it’ll help all of us to come closer together. 

Here’s how you can help.  What does being Canadian mean to you?  Whether funny or serious, what stories can you share?  In your opinion, what ideals bind us all together?  What do you think we need to talk about more as a nation?  Are there any poems or other artistic works that mean Canada to you?

These ideas will help to fuel the narrative and musical selections for the concert and also give inspiration to composers who will write some of the music.   I’ll give more details about this concert here in the blog as it develops.  I really hope you’ll choose to pitch in your ideas and stories and pass the word along, eh!

So, there it is.  That’s all for this blog post.  Be well!

How I procrastinate while working on Saturday's recital...

Now I lay me down to sleep…
I pray the Deutsch my mind will keep.
O dear Schubert, please refrain –
Please don’t evacuate my brain.

Words of Rellstab, Heine, Seidl,
Of learning you I’ve not been idle,
But hear me now, ach! Hear my plea:
Please do not hide! I call for thee!

For all to soon the time will come
When words and music make a sum.
The joining two one song will make -
Wait, just one song?  Surely I jape!

Seventeen songs there are all told!
Running amok and making bold!
This mix and mash, alas!, I find,
Creates a pain in my behind!

Heine’s lads and Rellstab’s ladies?
They’re over there! They’re raising hades!
They jump from one verse to the next
Messing up my well-learned text.

They loose the nightingales and pigeons,
Which then let loose in other regions
Of my mind where I had ordered
Rows and lines of prose unnumbered.

Alas! What grim menagerie
Has learning Schubert come to be.
I wish, I wish their hands they’d stay
For my recital Saturday.

Now then, dear Schubert, Wolf, et al
Return the beasties to their stall.
For soon your songs will all be sung.
Would you their verse smell full of dung?

The hour grows late.  Ach! I must sleep.
All too soon my clock will beep!
So help me please, please do not wait.
Help me keep the verses straight.

So, to start with...


This blog and this website represent a refocusing of my efforts and focus in my professional life.  That life, of course, is as a singer of Western art music, a voice teacher, and, most recently, a student.  Heh.  It still feels weird to write that and I'm at the beginning of my second semester.  Well, the student thing is easy to explain. I've wanted to finish my graduate studies in music for a while since starting them and leaving them unfinished at UBC some time ago.  Since I live in London, I'm taking advantage of living near Western University and I'm finishing off my Master's degree.  It's been a blast and, my friends and profs there are really wonderful and, as I said before, it has been weird to be one of the shall we say more-chronologically-gifted of the students. Haha.

But why school now, you may ask? I was asking myself that last month as I was writing the first paper I had written in about 17 years. Seriously though, I had been singing pretty steadily for a couple years, which means I was away for about 6 months of the year (many of my singer colleagues are away much more than that but my family and I were happy with that balance).  At the end of one particularly long stint away about 5 years ago, my wife Anita and I noticed how my son's (I have 2 boys) attitudes were starting to tank in no small part because they were missing their dad.  Neither was it particularly easy for my wife to be what we in the biz call an opera widow.  Don't get me wrong, email, texting, phone calls and Skype really help but all my time away was really beginning to take a toll on my family.

Now, as an aside, my criteria for success in singing opera have always been threefold: 1) always to sing as best as l could so as to be satisfied with the work as often as possible; 2) to work enough to put bread on the table; and most importantly 3) to do so without my family self-destructing.  So, when I noticed my kid's attitudes getting problematic and one of the other two criteria becoming a problem - I'll let you conjecture as to which - I decided to start looking for another way to be musical but to be local for my family.  

This was hard. Perhaps it shouldn't have been.  After all, family is the most important thing, right? Giving up anything for family should be easy, right?  Potentially giving up singing felt inside like setting one foot in the grave. Dramatic?  A little, but I'm am opera singer.  What did you expect?  It is how I felt, though.  But, I also kept thinking about not wanting to be 75 and alone with kids who didn't want to know me because I wasn't there for them when they were young.  I kept thinking about my dad, who was away for most of my childhood because of his work, asking me if my kids had started calling me uncle yet.  Yeah, he really did. He said he had regretted his time away from me, which didn't make his admonishment any easier.

Well, to make a long story short, it was hard, but the "other way" turned out to be four wonderful years spent as music director of West London Alliance Church.  The job was a haven for our family really and attending there still is.  I was still able to accept singing engagements, though many less.  After a couple years I needed to say no to most singing opportunities because it was impossible to balance the needs of my job and the liturgical year with the demands of travel for a singing career.  All in all though, I got to have my cake and eat it too.  I got to rebuild my family. I got to work a great job with great people in a great community.  And now, I'm able to follow my heart fully again and focus on singing.

Going to school has provided a way to focus on technique as my voice has changed and has really solidified over the past five years.  It's given me the freedom to explore new repertoire that will be more artistically satisfying.  With two engagements this season, the operatic ball is rolling in a great direction.  My family's well and my formerly quite young kids are a little more seasoned and independent - enough so perhaps to start accompanying me for portions of gigs.  How cool is that?!  

All I know is that I'm really thankful for all the good that has come of the last five years.  I'm thankful for having found a wonderful community at WLA.  I'm thankful for great kids.  I'm thankful for my amazing wife who is ever supportive and who is my number one fan.  I'm thankful for the chance to re-engage in music and am very excited about the opportunities coming up in the future.  



Revving Up


So, this is mainly a test to see if the backend of my website is working. So, if you reading this, it is and I'm good. Sweet!

This blog is going to be about my life as an opera singer and voice teacher, about music and what it is to be a singer, about Canada and the arts in Canada, about hopes, dreams, and as you probably read, about sushi.  

Mmmmmmm sushi.  You know what vexes me though? Why is it that sushi restaurants out east serve only bluefin and yellowfin varieties of tuna?  Where's the albacore that they serve out west?  Where?  I mean, the tuna all comes from the same place. i.e. it's shipped to Toronto from Vancouver weekly and restaurant owners and suppliers flock to the Toronto fish market to buy tuna.  Why not albacore? Why? Why?!

This delicious pic comes from the Origami Restaurant's menu. I found it googling albacore sushi. Sadly, it's in Minneapolis, not where I live.

This delicious pic comes from the Origami Restaurant's menu. I found it googling albacore sushi. Sadly, it's in Minneapolis, not where I live.


MMMMmmmm albacore.  It's rich, succulent, delicate, and just melts in your mouth.  It's the chocolate truffle of sushi!  It's also cheaper than the other varieties! Ach! Well, when I'm out west this summer I'll have to buy some to bring back. In the mean time, hearken unto me all ye sushi restaurant owner people! Buy albacore!