Category Archives: Jennifer Messelink

Cage teaches us how to inhabit our world

Cage 100 Festival
Victoria Symphony Orchestra
Tania Miller, conductor
Tzenka Dianova, piano
Rick Sacks, percussion
Alix Goolden Hall
Saturday, November 17, 2012

Reviewed by Jennifer Messelink
Sit. Breathe. Listen.

When was the last time you sat in intentional silence with a hundred people, including an orchestra? The Victoria Symphony, directed by Tania Miller, gave us the opportunity on Saturday night at Alex Goolden Hall, performing works by Charles Ives, John Cage and the world premier performance of Rick Sacks’ Water Music. Victoria is host to The Cage 100 Festival. Curated by UVIC professor of composition Christopher Butterfield, the festival celebrates the centennial birth of American composer John Cage, his influences, and his lasting legacy.

The program began with three works by Charles Ives: Tone Roads No. 1 and No. 3 and The Unanswered Question. Charles Ives was a significant influence on John Cage; both composers used music in new forms, often employing elements of chance and non-traditional techniques. The Unanswered Question is an early example of aleatoric music, or music composed by the principles of chance operations. The work is a collage of three elements, the strings and solo trumpet in the distance off stage, and the woodwinds on stage. The dialogue is notated, but still allows for improvisation through the exchange between the groups. Director Tania Miller commented that, “for music over one hundred years old, Ives’ ideas of polytonality are still fresh, and taking us in new directions. We don’t need to follow tonality, we can go in many directions and at the end come together.”

The Victoria Symphony skillfully presented the tension of Ives’s dissonant chords and extreme dynamics, under layers of familiar tunes of another time. It was a pleasure to hear this music in a live performance.

No John Cage festival would be complete without his most famous, and most notorious work: 4’33”. We live in a world of constant background noise, people talking endlessly on cell phones, the blare of radio and commercials in most public spaces. To sit in silence in a concert hall feels, perhaps more radical now than ever. The ritual of preparation for the performance was usual, but there was noticeable anticipation in the air. The entire orchestra arrived onstage, tuned their instruments and . . . silence. Sitting quietly, one becomes acutely aware of the ambient noises: a car passing outside, whispering in the distance, chairs creaking, shifting, a cough. Applause.

The music of both Ives and Cage is extremely visual, and elements of both could be heard in Rick Sacks’s world premiere of Water Music. Familiar melodies layered on each other, a march and fanfare, and a large percussion section made this work thick with textures and bright sonorities. This work was also visual like Cage and Ives, but in a more direct way. As the work began, a large clown fish and a huge shark floated above the stage and through the audience. It was a fun and effective visual tool, but I found the handlers with their remote controls chasing the watery creatures throughout the hall more than a little distracting.

After Cage’s The Seasons came his Concerto for Prepared Piano, performed by Tzenka Dianova. John Cage experimented with prepared piano to the extent that it became otherworldly, a totally different instrument. The effect is extraordinary when experienced live. When Dianova played a chord, what was expected was not what was heard. The orchestra played with style, very little vibrato and open, bright sonorities. The Concerto for Prepared Piano was written in traditional form, but the effect is distorted yet absolutely beautiful.

Charles Ives and John Cage were revolutionary, both in their compositions and philosophy. The Victoria Symphony handled a challenging, and unusual program, and made it remarkably accessible. John Cage believed life itself can be art, but instead of creating it, we would be altered by it. Let us raise a toast to the centennial birth of John Cage, and to our continued awareness of our place on the canvas.

Jennifer Messelink is a music lover who’s not afraid of silence




Lovely listening but no easy answers




Terra Hazelton and Her Easy Answers
Herman’s Jazz Club October 26, 8:00 pm
Terra Hazelton, vocals
Nathan Hiltz, ukelele, guitar
Kelby McNair, drums
Bruce Meeko, bass
Patrick Boyle, trumpet

Reviewed by Jennifer Messelink

We sometimes forget what a vast country Canada is, but Terra Hazelton reminded us how far she had to come from Toronto, in her Ford Escort, to get here, to Herman’s Jazz Club. Hazelton, along with her musical partner Nathan Hiltz and local musicians Kelby McNair, Bruce Meeko and Patrick Boyle, performed a fabulous selection of 1920s jazz combined with distinct expressions of Canadian culture.

The multi-talented Hazelton is described by some as a Renaissance woman; she is a Canadian singer, Genie-nominated actress, and radio personality originally from B.C. Now a staple on the Toronto jazz scene, she leads her own band ‘Terra Hazelton and Her Easy Answers.” Victoria was the final stop on tour to promote her new recording “That’s All,” a trio album recorded live off the floor, and as she explained, the most sentimental recording she has done.

This is for all the broken hearts out there.

Hazelton is at home when singing love songs. Her powerful, sweet and growly vocal range perfectly combines old-school jazz with a modern cynicism. Speaking of her repertoire of love songs, she explained, “I can’t afford therapy, so I do this.” The first song of the evening “I’m Confessing,” by Louis Armstrong began with Nathan Hiltz on the ukelele, accompanied by an easy drums and walking bass. The ukelele was a popular standard instrument during the jazz age, and Hiltz played it with style and depth. Throughout the 1920s, the ukelele was popular with musicians and amateur players, higher pitched than the guitar, less resonant but with a light, transparent sound. Hiltz moved easily to the guitar on the popular songs “You’re Driving Me Crazy, and “Trouble in Mine.” The ensemble (who had never played together before Friday) communicated playfully with the audience and each other.

Hazelton’s original song “There’s a Cry,” based on the Canadian poet Robert Service’s poem “The Lure of Little Voices,” expressed her Canadian voice. The solo guitar, and folk-like character, was distinctly Canadian, but the dissonance and jazzy chords at the end were unique to this ensemble. She spoke highly of the next song “Keeping You in Mind,” written by Mary Margaret O’Hara, an established musician, songwriter and sister of SCTV cast member Catherine O’Hara.

Humorous and sarcastic with a sweet disposition, Hazelton is at ease performing and fun to watch. Throughout the evening she expressed her hatred of love, in a tone that was a bit sweet and a bit salty. She asked if anyone in the audience was in love and was shocked when some answered yes; allegedly, Torontonians don’t believe in love. The Ballad “Am I Blue?” moves through minor keys to end with a bright timbre on a major chord. Does Hazelton really hate love? The repertoire she chose said it all. Although she confessed that she is “not a therapist, just a sad, sad girl,” I think that, like the rest of us, she would rather have heartbreak than nothing.

Jennifer Messelink is a Victoria writer



Boyle’s recital kept audience leaning forward

Patrick Boyle, trumpet, flugelhorn, resonator guitar, electric guitar

Brian Anderson, double bass
Jonathan Goldman, accordion
Joanna Hood, viola
Ian McDougall, trombone

Review by Jennifer Messelink

“Tonight someone’s going to get a haircut!!!!”

That phrase was the last thing I expected to hear thundering through the Philip T. Young Recital hall on Friday, Sept. 28, but this was Patrick Boyle’s recital, and having witnessed many of his performances, I should have known it would be remarkable.

Boyle is assistant professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Victoria. CBC Radio calls him a “trumpet personality” and “one of Canada’s top trumpet players and jazz musicians in general.” The audience was treated to an unexpected array of original compositions, jazz standards, and unique improvisation. Boyle described the program as having, “no theme, just melodies I like with people who will tolerate being with me.” Being the tolerant audience we were, we sat back and enjoyed the show.

Boyle opened with Dave Douglas’s “Charms of the Night Sky” joined by Joanna Hood on viola, Jonathan Goldman on accordion and student Brian Anderson on double bass. Dave Douglas is a trumpeter and composer whose music derives from classical, European folk and Klezmer, and his composition was a fitting beginning. The unique orchestration produced a rich texture, with each instrument having a complementary voice. The bird calls, beautiful melodies, and walking bass were seductive and exotic, and the ensemble clearly enjoyed this piece. As a performer and composer Boyle moves easily between the genres but is consistently true to his own style. His composition “Fresh Duds” was written for legendary guitarist Bill Frisell. He calls it country music, and it had distinctive country touches: Hood strumming her viola like a guitar along with a bass solo. Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” Boyle’s Esquimalt-inspired composition “Paradise Found” segued into “Did I Ever” with the Dobro, a resonator guitar, visually beautiful with a distinctive sound. The spacious open chords resonated throughout the recital hall. To finish the first half Boyle was joined by Ian McDougall on trombone for the jazz standard, “Everything Happens To Me,” and he effortlessly switched between trumpet and guitar on McDougall’s composition, “Mc Not Mac- Two”L’s.” As the first half closed, the trombonist said what we were all thinking: “he’s a versatile little bugger isn’t he?”

The second part of the recital began informally with Boyle alone on stage playing a jazzy impressionist interpretation of “The Flintstones” on electric guitar, filled with whole tone runs and resonant harmonics. The final piece of the night, an improvised soundtrack to a 1980s wresting match projected on the wall, was unlike anything I have seen. As a female with no brothers, I have never been exposed to wrestling, especially wrestling circa 1987, in a Detroit stadium filled with 93,000 screaming fans. Imagine, in the dark recital Hall, large men in tight pink shorts and improvised music. “There are a lot of elements in wrestling to be mined, socially and emotionally,” Boyle explained. ”

As the night drew to a close, I reflected on his diverse influences, his ease performing and his comfort with silences. The audience was not overburdened with constant sound; instead, Boyle, utilized silence to give each chord, note and phrase deeper meaning. It is analogous to listening to someone rambling on without much substance, or listening to someone who has wisdom to share, without saying too much: we lean forward attentively in our seats and savor every word and sound.

Jennifer Messelink is a regular reviewer for The Coastal Spectator.






The Very Thought of You: Trombone with String Orchestra by Ian McDougall

The Very Thought of You: Trombone with String Orchestra,
Ian McDougall SOCAN TMMPCD01,
2012, compact disc.

Reviewed by Jennifer Messelink

Juno Award winner Ian MacDougall is perhaps best known for his work in the Big Band idiom, with the Toronto Jazz ensemble Boss Brass. But his former students at the University of Victoria know the now-professor emeritus as a supportive and inspiring trombone instructor for fifteen years. With the release of his most recent recording, The Very Thought of You, Ian McDougall once again has the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young musicians.

The Very Thought of You benefits the “Ten Mile Fine Arts Student Assistance Fund” with ten dollars of every $20 CD sold going to support struggling fine arts students. The fundraiser was conceived one night after McDougall witnessed a student buying his dinner at a local grocery store: a single potato. McDougall and fellow Boss Brass bandmate Rob Wilkinson have arranged fourteen jazz standards for trombone and string orchestra. Performed in a relaxed, intimate swing ballad style, McDougall brings that warmth and intimacy to this recording of well-known 1930s and 40s classics.

The Thirties fostered the development and popularity of the swing era, and Big Band orchestras led by Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Tommy Dorsey were well regarded. Tommy Dorsey was the first to play the trombone as a lyrical instrument. His featured soloist Frank Sinatra stated, “My greatest teacher was not a vocal coach, not the work of other singers, but the way Tommy Dorsey breathed and phrased on the trombone.” Ian McDougall continues in the tradition with “Everything Happens to Me,” a recognizable standard originally recorded by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. McDougall effortlessly blends the lyrical qualities of the trombone with the rich harmonies of the orchestra. “I’m Through With Love” features solo oboe, as well as trombone, and a comfortable conversation develops, creating a multi-voiced orchestral experience. In the memorable title track “The Very Thought of You,” McDougall offers us familiarity with a unique view, reminding us that what is old can still be fresh and new.

The Very Thought of You is available at Lyle’s Place, Munro’s Books, Larsen Music, UVIC School of Music, Fine Arts café, and Ian McDougall’s website.

Jennifer Messelink is a fourth-year student in the School of Music at UVIC.