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From the Noticeboard

Speak–Easy Toastmasters

Speak–Easy Toastmasters meet the first and third Wednesday of the month from 6:00–8:15 pm a [ ... ]

Plays wanted for Community Theatre Festi...

The PEI Community Theatre Festival will be held at the Carrefour in Charlottetown on March 30, 2019, [ ... ]

Hometown Proud

Profile: Haley Zavo

by Jane Ledwell

Haley Zavo (photo: Buzz)I am so privileged to get to come home—really home,” says Haley (Batchilder) Zavo, eyes alight but brimming with emotion. Not only has she come home to PEI, but to her hometown of Georgetown, where she has joined her young family to her parents’ household and is running the King’s Playhouse she grew up in.

“It’s nice to come to your hometown because you chose it, and it’s a place I think is the most beautiful place in the world,” she enthuses. She is staggered at the welcome in the community, and afire with the possibilities the Playhouse and Georgetown share.

“The King’s Playhouse meant so much to me in my formation,” she says. “It was always part of my life.”

She remembers, “When you’re from Georgetown, (the Playhouse) is the first place you perform.” As a youth, after training in Triple Threats, Haley spent a first summer in summer stock theatre at that King’s Playhouse—and “that’s when the theatre bug hit, and all bets were off.”

Haley says, “When I was fourteen and fifteen years old, I could propose shows and they would happen in a real theatre… That exposure and opportunity and support were such a privilege. It taught me about directing and producing and performing, but it also taught me all the other things theatre does: confidence and social skills and awareness of the world around me and empathy and, most of all, the power of a supportive community.”

Community building was what Haley was doing before her return to her hometown, working with a L’Arche community in Cape Breton. When the ad came out for an executive director for the King’s Playhouse, “I loved what I was doing, and it was important work.”

But… A retreat in France, and a visit with friends in London, gave Haley new insight. She couldn’t stop talking about side projects at L’Arche, like the Christmas pageant that brought together community members, a church choir, elementary school kids, and a Zumba class. “The job I was doing was human resources, essentially, but what I was so fired up about was this community art project….”

So, when the job at the Playhouse came up, Haley says, “I interviewed for the role and was offered the job—and offered everything I would need for it to be sustainable.

“I’m incredibly grateful,” she says. “I’ve had so much support from everyone: the Board of Directors, the town, the town Council. The support makes it possible to continue to be passionate about what I do… What makes it sustainable is that the community is behind it.”

Haley says, “The theatre in Georgetown has the opportunity to be a real centre for the town. Absolutely, we want to run a successful theatre, but we also want people to feel they can walk in off the street and feel like they’re at home.”

The Playhouse she imagines will be first for Islanders but also welcome visitors. “If we’re building community together, we want to build it in a way that other people want to come, too,” Haley says. “What everyone likes is when we’re telling our stories.” This summer season at the King’s Playhouse will try out new ways of telling Georgetown stories, with dinner theatre and an art exhibit as well as children’s programming—in addition to the usual concerts and a summer musical.

“I’m not one to turn down anything,” Haley smiles. “When I started in this role, I felt like I would throw all these balls in the air and see what came down that I could juggle month to month,” she laughs. “Now, with summer approaching, I feel more like I’m doing that circus trick, spinning poles with plates on the top.”

Keeping the plates spinning, making that inclusive, welcoming community accessible to all is Haley’s vision for the Playhouse and for Georgetown. And, as important as the Playhouse was to her formation, “the physical surroundings were just as important,” and she wants to raise her family with that, with “cousins you get to play with and the big space ahead…

“It’s good to be home,” she concludes.

Last Chord

Profile: Dr. Alan Reesor

by Jane Ledwell

Alan Reesor (photo: Buzz)Dr. Alan Reesor first played the organ for a full church service when he was just 15 and got a call that “Mrs. Dobson was sick, and could he play?” As a youth, he climbed in church windows to practise the organs until he could negotiate front-door access, and he cut grass and shovelled snow to raise enough money for a reed organ for his bedroom. He will play his last service as organist and choir master at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Charlottetown this June.

“In church, you’re responsible for all services, if they want music,” Dr. Reesor says. “There’s the choir you have to rehearse. You’re always searching for new choral repertoire and organ repertoire. I practise the organ two hours a day (it was three hours I used to do at home and at the church), and dear me, it is hard work… Your week is well taken care of.”

When his week is less well taken care of, he will close out his seventies with travel with his wife Sharon, winter breaks in warm locales, and summer times at a cottage on the LaHave River in Nova Scotia.

Travel will include going to Europe for the first time since a European tour doing organ recitals in 1979. He has never been to Italy and would like to see Rome and the Vatican—“Though,” he laughs, “I don’t suppose being an Anglican I’ll have an audience with the Pope.”

His wife Sharon, he says affably, “is a great traveller, so (in her) I have a good travel agent and tour guide.” The great organs of Europe won’t be their sole focus, though the retired professor gives a fascinating crash course on organ development and construction across the continent. He admits he’d like to see the organ in Coventry Cathedral: “The Royal Canadian College of Organists paid much of the cost of the organ,” he says, after the devastation of the Second World War, and he remembers, “I was very young, but I gave my nickels and dimes to the BORF—the British Organ Restoration Fund.”

Dr. Reesor says he will miss colleagues but plans some time away from church music at St. Peter’s, to allow the choir and congregation to adjust to new leadership. He smiles that he will “go to the 8:00 am service where no one knows me and no one will ask, ‘What did you think of the music?’ I don’t want to be asked sit in judgment of my colleagues.”

He says, “I’ve never had a church choir like I have here. They are the most different people you’d ever want to meet. If we didn’t have the music or the church, they might be at each other, I’m sure—but music is a catalyst, and it’s a wonderful thing to see… And we have a lot of fun. They are loyal and faithful and generous with their time and their substance. I will miss them. But they need someone younger then me to attract some of the younger crowd.”

Reminiscing about his own teachers, he recalls his piano teacher in Ontario, Gertrude Jackson, as “not just a piano teacher, but a music teacher.” This means, he says, “you should inspire your students.” His first organ teacher, Wilfred Powell, would sing through his lessons, “and in a way, that was inspiring.” Organ master John McIntosh at Western University, “taught me that on the organ, you can’t make expression by touch, so there are ways you have to get musical expression in tempo, and phrasing.”

He recalls a talented student of his who opted for voice over organ. “Organists are rarely seen, you see,” he says. “I’m in a hole in the floor when I play. It means I don’t have to wear a tie all the time, but because you’re not seen, the audience doesn’t see all the nuances. If I sing, I can also immediately see the reaction of the audience.” Being a church organist, his only sense of audience response is the gusto of congregational singing.

What is it that inspires a congregation? Familiarity, Dr. Reesor says. But also, “It’s the bass line that really supports singing. It’s like someone going up a ladder—you have to have support, so one of your friends stands below and hangs on… It’s physical, because singing is physical.”

The physical demands of playing the organ mean Dr. Reesor is “not going to emphasize in my retirement the playing aspect, but rather the composing aspect”—after the unstructured weeks ahead to do what he’s planned to do. There is no retirement from a life of music, after all.

A musical home

Profile: Mark Geddes

by Jane Ledwell

Mark Geddes [photo: Buzz]In April, Mark “Lefty” Geddes arrived at East Coast Music Week in St. John’s, NL, straight off a five-week tour of Australia with Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys. The roots musicians toured their energetic show through Australian outback towns in Australia’s own version of a Festival of Small Halls tour—inspired by PEI’s own Festival of Small Halls, which began with Mark’s roommate Ward MacDonald. Small world, indeed.

Playing in country communities of 100 people, seeing wild kangaroos, Mark loved “bringing live music to places that don’t usually have access to it.” In one town of 80, there were 150 people there for the show. He says, “It really felt like home – but it felt like an authentic Australian experience as well… There’s a guy out in back running a spit, and there are kids running around…”

After that, “Going to Newfoundland was like going to our other home. We were so close to PEI—but flew over,” he says, with an open, easy laugh. Homes away from home are important for a guy who tours seven months of the year.

Music has always been part of Mark’s life since he was sixteen and got his first guitar. “I played rock and roll and metal and teenage angst stuff, and I loved it—and I still kind of do,” he laughs. (When he plays with not-so-much-roots band The Love Junkies, he says, “That’s where I get that out.”)

He first came to PEI to do dinner theatre, and with only a few periods of uncertainty when he went back to school or took a day-job, he has been a PEI professional musician since.

“When I got here from New Brunswick and said ‘Yeah, I’m a musician,’ I heard, ‘Yeah, well so’s everybody else around here.’ There are no big egos. There’s no room for it.” He also says of the PEI music scene, “There are no cliques. Whether it’s rock or roois or hip-hop, people are very collaborative and willing to try everything out,” he says.

Country musician Nudie gave him his “first real band gig, doing original music. He said, ‘If you buy an upright bass, you’re in the band. I drove to Callais, Maine, with my brother to pick up a new bass, and it looked so new…” They panicked about paying duty. “We were scuffing it up so it wouldn’t look too new. Then we drove up to the border, and first thing the guard said, ‘So, what’re you bringing in other than an upright bass?’” They laughed, and he let them through.

Mark toured a lot with Nudie and then put down his musical “roots” in the PEI music community next with Grass Mountain Hobos, then with Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys.

“A lot of times we hear, ‘I don’t really like this kind of music, but I like this,’” Mark says, describing their energetic shows as “very visual, family-oriented. We keep it clean, fun, and upbeat.

“I am incredibly grateful to work with Gordie,” Mark says. “He’s the best entertainer you’re ever going to meet. He’s a dancer too, and I remember the first time I saw him perform, and I saw him start to dance. After the show, I was nervous to meet him!” On stage with the band these days, “I look at the audience and think about that moment I first saw him dancing, and now I see the same looks on people’s faces that I first felt.”

When not on tour, Mark works as a recording engineer specializing in “natural, acoustic sounds, and I really like if you can do things live or mostly live.” He’s currently working on projects with Liam Corcoran and with Kinley Dowling. The East Pointers album is one of his projects.

Mark loves that on PEI, he doesn’t have to justify music as a career. He finds people respect art-making as a job. “One thing I love around here is that nobody’s really impressed by money… Not very often do you hear ‘But what do you do for a living,’ or ‘How long are you gonna do this?’” It means for Mark that his music can always be his home.

A piece of the puzzle

Profile: Kate Gracey-Stewart

by Jane Ledwell

Kate Gracey–Stewart (photo: Buzz)What kind of business acumen does working in arts administration get you? Ask Kate Gracey-Stewart. The busy mother of three with an eye for detail can tell you that in an arts non-profit, where “it’s all hands on deck all the time,” the opportunity is there to learn everything.

“The line I use all the time,” Kate says of the joy of behind-the-scenes work, “is we all have the same goal—we just have different parts of the puzzle.”

Since an unexpected career twist ten years ago landed Kate in arts administration, she has worked with the East Coast Music Association, Music PEI, Atlantic Presenters, and the Cavendish Beach and Big Red Music Festivals on every aspect of the music industry, from artist relations to protocol to sponsorship to booking to marketing and communications, for artists and venues alike. She’s wound every gear that can make an event tick, and in December launched her own business, KGS Management Services.

“If I had tried ten years ago to get a career in the arts, I wouldn’t have known how to go about it. It was not my master plan,” Kate says with wide eyes. Willingness to try and confidence to learn have taken Kate far. More than once, sometimes more than once a day, Kate has been called on do work “not in her wheelhouse,” but she says, “We people in the ‘event’ world know each other, and we know we’re winging it. We’re finding solutions, and finding solutions in the moment,” and loving it.

Kate hasn’t had to seek out new clients, and jokes that she is “almost too busy to look into the future,” with contracts to work on block-bookings for Atlantic Presenters, sponsorship for the major Contact East industry event in PEI in September, ad sales for the Indian River Festival, and overseeing marketing and communications for the Credit Union May Run Music Festival & Bell Aliant Canadian Song Conference—two new components of what was formerly Music PEI Week. “My clients are my mentors,” Kate says.

Kate remembers some of her first work in the music industry with ECMA: “You did the admin-based stuff until the event happened, and then it felt like you were part of something special: you see there are people’s hopes and dreams on that stage, their hopes for a career.”

Access to arts administration is too valuable a puzzle piece to leave in the box, Kate realizes: “Artists don’t have the flexibility to hire people. They need the help and can’t afford the help. I would encourage them to join organizations like Music PEI, to take full advantage of every service they provide for members.”

It’s a win-win, because, she says, “What’s rewarding is when someone is moved by a performance… Or when a tour comes to town you worked on the year before, and sales go really well and the audience loved it, and you can say, ‘I brought that here. I had a part in that.’”

She adds, “The value of the arts is mental health and wellbeing, and every community deserves to have that in their community.”

What Kate wants to do, “once I get more established, is to do things that are really important to me.” She says, “It’s great that on PEI, people need people like me. Businesses need help, and they can’t afford to hire people full-time… I would encourage anyone who wants to try their hand at their own thing: there’s lots of room.”

Reflecting on music in her family and her future, Kate says, “I was married young and had kids young. I didn’t get out to festivals and theatres and shows.” Through Kate, her children have had a more direct link to performances. She recalls taking one of her children to hear Joel Plaskett and explaining, “I get this feeling in my stomach when I see a live performance. It’s like I feel full. I feel joy.” And her child said, “I know what you mean. I felt that too.” Kate knows the artists—and the less visible team behind them—make that feeling happen.

Taking a Shot

Profile: Suzanne Scott

by Jane Ledwell

Suzanne Scott (photo: The Buzz)Suzanne Scott has just had a photo taken as part of a PEI Business Women’s Association partnership with photographer Rachel Peters to give Island women entrepreneurs up-to-date professional headshots. Suzanne needed “multiple outfits,” to portray her multiple sides: an outfit to show “the casual laidback professional that being a potter is,” and “a blazer to portray the side of me that is doing speaking, training, and (being team leader for) Etsy Artisans of PEI.” (Etsy is the online artisan emporium.) Suzanne is a leading light among a new generation of Island artisans making and marketing handmade wares.

The headshot won’t include hats, but Suzanne wears lots of those. “Some days I wear all my hats in one day,” she laughs warmly. She recalls the PEI Craft Buyers’ Market, where “I was there as President of the PEI Crafts Council, as a buyer for Village Pottery” (where she’s a potter with her mother), “and as a speaker at a session on social media—and in the breaks was doing Etsy promos and on my phone tweeting communications for the Crafts Council. Those are the days I live for!”

There may be a number of those days in 2015, which is Canada’s Craft Year, a nationwide, year-long celebration of crafts, which will see special events across Canada, including a major exhibition at Eptek Centre. “I love that it’s a big survey of Island artisans and all mediums, all summer long,” says Suzanne.

Suzanne is team leader for Etsy Artisans of PEI, a team that supports artisans to do online selling but has also set up successful pop-up local markets in PEI. “It’s so exciting. I love being involved in this team,” Suzanne says. “Some of the best-selling Etsy Artisans are based here on PEI.”

Suzanne always loved both making and selling pottery. “As a little kid, I was so into being into the clay,” she recalls. As she got older, she loved being “out front in the neon sweater, hanging out in the shop,” and by the time she was a teen, she “loved interacting,” but her mom, Village Potter Daphne Large, also insisted, “Do something with yourself, make something—you can’t just sit idle.”

Suzanne says, “Sometimes I say I have a ‘bipolar career.’ In the summer, I’m commuting to New London and talking to tourists all day long. In winter, I’m in my studio in Charlottetown, not talking to anyone. I’ve just finished a new production space in town, with a new kiln, and am working on meeting production deadlines of 250 pieces of pottery a week.”

Suzanne’s focus on making and selling extends to her role as president of the PEI Crafts Council. Suzanne says, “I feel like a kind of bridge bringing together old and new.” She hopes she is helping “older artisans embracing the online, social media—creating more awareness that it’s where everything is going, especially for our seasonal Island.” She hopes she is helping the younger artisans by “showing that the quality has to be there. The PEI Crafts Council’s high standards are ingrained in me: the time you have to put into it.” Making a handmade craft “has to be done with love and thought, and over time you get better and better at what you do.”

Suzanne says, “I do see a lot of opportunity here in PEI. If you find a niche or something you’re passionate about, there is a chance to run with it. Village Pottery would not exist in Toronto. It’s so dependent on New London, on Anne of Green Gables, and on rural PEI.” Suzanne has lived and travelled all over the world but says, “I still feel like I’m travelling around the world every day at Village Pottery, through all these people I get to meet.

“I hate sitting at the computer now,” Suzanne says. “The clay really demands your attention. When the clay is getting dry, or a handle needs to be attached, I have to drop other things.” Her personal goal for the year is to “try not to do everything.” It may be hard. Potters are hands-on types. And whatever her headshot portrays, Suzanne says, “I still have clay under my fingernails.”

Living tradition

Profile: Sheila Fitzpatrick

by Jane Ledwell

Sheila Fitzpatrick (photo: Buzz)What makes the Maritimes unique? According to the new organization CLEF, the Celtic Learning and Education Foundation, it’s the living tradition of Celtic music and culture that enlivens the community from the kitchen party to the ceilidh.

As co-founder, fiddler Sheila FitzPatrick expresses it, “CLEF wants to make sure every generation gets exposure to traditional music. For the former generation, that was their music. Today’s generation doesn’t have the same opportunity to be exposed to it. We want to make it part of everyone’s everyday life.”

Sheila says, “I like other kinds of music too, but the unique thing that has propelled us forward in the Maritimes is keeping the Celtic tradition alive.” The founders of CLEF, traditional music players like Sheila, came together after the ECMAs in Charlottetown, where they perceived a major decline in the focus on Celtic music.

So CLEF’s founders decided, “If the ECMAs are not gonna do it, someone’s gotta do it.” They incorporated their foundation last September and began hosting events, building excitement, and raising funds.

CLEF’s current focus is exposing youth to traditional music. Sheila is quick to say that CLEF’s work is not a lament. “Traditional music is not dying,” she says. “There are young people getting involved in music and dance. But they still need audiences, too. We need to create a generation of people who go to these events.”

Sheila and CLEF have been approaching schools and youth groups to talk about programming opportunities, whether that’s a traditional musician for an assembly, a lunchtime cafeteria ceilidh, all-ages connections of grandparents and youth, dance lessons in phys ed, PEI and Celtic history in the classroom, or making bannock in home ec. “We want to show another way of engaging in society and the community… That’s what a tradition is—it’s there for every generation.

“We want to make Celtic music and culture front and centre to draw people to PEI and the Maritimes.” And, she says, it has to be a regional approach. “Cape Breton is known as the epicentre for all things Celtic,” she notes appreciatively, but the loss of population there threatens the continuity of tradition of both players and audiences. This is what CLEF will work against.

Sheila has also jumped feet-first into active support for community development by getting elected as a town councillor for Montague. “A municipality has the ability to set the tone for priorities,” she says, and she wants Montague to build on arts and culture. “You need to recognize the assets you already have,” she says.

Now that she is in local politics, her hope is “to get the town to a place where we’re rid of the small-town politics, where we work together on everything… I want to encourage younger people in councils. I know it’s a different world, and people are very busy… But if you commit to it, it happens. You find the time.”

Sheila’s other commitments include the group Treble with Girls, which, she notes, “is not just a Celtic group… There’s more variety of music, and I’m singing harmony more. It’s a good break from fiddle!” She still fills in with Fiddlers’ Sons “very often.”

She lives out her commitments as a mom. “My girls are three and six (almost four and seven), and… We take them to everything we can,” whether that’s sitting in on dance classes or sitting in the audience at performances. “It doesn’t need to be a public ceilidh—it’s at home.”

Her son Matthew is now 19, and as he was growing up Sheila dragged him around—and even on-stage. “I was always scared to push too much or not enough,” she says, but the youthful exposure she is working so hard to provide to Islanders through CLEF has paid off in her own family, in small ways—even if it’s just recognizing a fiddle tune as one that mom played. Sheila says her son’s iPod “is not standard for a 19 year old. And I’m happy with that. You don’t need everyone to be a fiddle player or a dancer,” though a community full of fiddlers would be no failure.

Sounds Amazing

Profile: Adam Gallant

by Jane Ledwell

Adam Gallant (photo: Buzz)Every day I watch a movie, and I would never go back to watching movies the way I used to,” says musician and record producer and film sound designer Adam Gallant. “I can watch a really bad movie and really enjoy it—if it has incredible sound design and special effects.”

Out of his home and his dedicated recording studio, The Hill Sound Studio, in “the old garage” in his backyard, Adam is working sound design, sound editing, and mixing on a full-length feature film for the first time, Sally’s Way directed by Joanne Johnson, a family drama for young audiences being produced out of Trinidad and Tobago.

Adam now listens to films with curiosity about the “storytelling standpoint and creative standpoint. I previously didn’t get this when watching a movie.” It’s like “adding thunder in a rainy scene: there’s a distinct purpose behind every little detail”—down to the pitch of the “silence” in a room, whether it matches or clashes with the music, to reassure or discomfit an audience.

When sound design works, Adam says, “It’s not even a question the sound is there; it’s an emotional effect.”

After establishing a strong reputation recording independent bands, including Racoon Bandit, of which he is a member, Adam has “just been getting into film work the last few years.” He has done work with Millefiore Clarkes on documentaries and on the dramatic short Islands, written by his partner Jill MacRae for an Island Media Arts Festival premiere. He and fellow–Racoon Bandit Roger Carter also did music for the Rainbow Valley documentary, which Adam describes as “a total blast.”

Working on an independent feature film is an enormous challenge. “Normally,” Adam says, “a team would do that on a big film.” This film—a family drama—is about 80 minutes, and Adam’s sound work takes about one to two hours per minute, “depending on how much repair work is needed.” Adam also is excited that there’s some music composition involved—“filling in the gaps with stingers and musical elements, and two more performance-length musical pieces.”

The key to a creative career in Charlottetown, Adam says, is “diversity.” It’s “being able to do twenty or thirty different jobs. The advice I got was to say yes to everything, and you have to do something every day to further your skills.”

Adam is in awe of the film-making process, which he describes as very collaborative. “It takes way more people to make films than to make an album. You have people like Mille, or Monica Lacey, or Jill, with these broad, sweeping skill sets and vision, and then people with highly specialized skills, like knowing how to slate properly, or making wardrobe and makeup work well on film.”

Working on sound for film doesn’t mean leaving behind the independent music scene. The Hill Sound Studio, in its downtown location, “is booked every day of the week,” for Adam or others to produce recordings and is available for rent.

Everything Adam has learned is influencing current projects. Adam’s band, Racoon Bandit, is working on a new full-length album. I ask his thoughts on the role of albums: with album sales so tough, are albums more of a hook to get audiences for live performance? “Maybe,” Adam says, “eight years ago, I might have thought of an album as a calling card. But more and more, I’m finding recording really gratifying. What comes out of the speakers can blow you away, or bring tears to your eyes. The more I treat recordings as an art form, the more impressed I am with sonics, and with mood.”

On the Racoon Bandit project, he and the band are more inspired by the question, “How can we make this sound amazing and really hit people with it?”

Sound in film is the invisible element in a visual format. He adds, “The burden is off the musical focus, so it can be way more subtle or way less subtle… A great reason to go to the movie theatre is the sound,” paying credit to a sonic art form through the art of listening.

Uncalculated Thrills

Profile: Leo Marchildon

by Jane Ledwell

Leo Marchildon (photo: Buzz)Christmas is a “fast and furious” season for St. Dunstan’s Basilica and Diocese of Charlottetown music director Leo Marchildon. “I want to give people a welcoming community to allow them to develop,” he says - which this time of year means helping a Christmas choir made up of many singers who don’t read music challenge themselves to fill the Basilica with the sounds of Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” cantatas, and carols. Many of the carol service accompanists will be accustomed to Leo’s baton, since he is also conductor of the Strathgartney Chamber Orchestra.

Himself a pianist and organist active in church music since the age of 16, Leo says he challenges choirs and orchestras with “music that is a little bit beyond them” because, “as a musician, I love to be challenged.”

After the Christmas season, his next challenge engages his love of composing music. In January, he will be mounting the premiere of his composition “Canada: Our Dear Home,” with soloist Sylvia Mutch performing with the Strathgartney Chamber Orchestra.

“Canada, Our Dear Home” had its origins in 1992, “when Canada was 125 years young,” he laughs, “when I wrote a little song of that name, an anthemic ‘yeah, Canada’ song, in the wake of all the other anthemic songs of the ‘90s, like ‘We Are the World.’” Another song written at the time, “We call it Canada,” got a little more airplay – “but ‘Canada, Our Dear Home’ was left on the shelf.” PEI’s celebrations of the sesquicentennial of the Charlottetown Conference revived the anthems, and he developed the idea of interweaving those Canada compositions with songs by PEI traditional music composers.

“There is lots of talent here on the Island, but to hear it you have to go to the ceilidhs and the kitchen parties, and it hasn’t been heard as much in the concert hall,” Leo says, “I wanted to give it the symphonic treatment, to bring it to a different audience.” Working with compositions by eight musicians, working with the composers themselves or their family members if the composers had died, was an inspiration. “I want it to be an homage to them. I want them to be celebrated,” he says.

“What was it about PEI that was so special to make it the birthplace of Canada? I think it was three very strong cultures. We have very strong examples of Celtic music, Acadian music, and Mi’kmaw music,” he says. What we had here, culturally, “was the seed of what would become the flower of our country – that’s the suitability that PEI was chosen for the birthplace.”

Making time for composition has always been a priority for Leo, whose childhood dream was to write scores for films. “Luckily for me, the job I do as music director for the Diocese is not a clearly defined nine-to-five job,” he says. There is room in his work for composition, and, he says, “I send new settings of the psalms to congregations to pick up and sing.”

The stages Leo works on here on PEI are smaller than some of the stages of his past.  Studying film scoring in California and working “with the best – a who’s who of Hollywood’s music department” was thrilling, but it led, accidentally, to a performance career in musical theatre.

While working on a project to transcribe and restore film scores for Looney Tunes cartoons, to present them on stage in what would become the successful show Bugs Bunny on Broadway, a scheduling mix-up for his supervisor led to an offer of free tickets for a first visit to New York  – a week before the show was to open. The jazz pianist slated to perform in the show was having trouble playing with the click track and kept missing his cues. Leo said, “I said, I think I can play that score.” The director hadn’t known he could play keyboard but heard him perform and said, “You just hired yourself for the next three years.”

It was an immensely successful run, and Leo then travelled the world with touring productions of the show, as well as Phantom of the Opera, Sunset Boulevard, Kiss of the Spider Woman.

After returning to LA and working as a music editor on TV shows, doing film composition, still working in the industry, and also doing church work out there, Leo says, “In 2004, I came on a road trip to PEI. I went to the North Shore, to Cavendish, and it was one of those June days, when the lupines were out and the grass was greener than Ireland. I got emotional. I felt I had arrived home.

“We had just gone to see Anne of Green Gables the night before, because it was raining, and what do you do when you’re visiting PEI and it’s raining? You go to the theatre. I was with a writer friend, and we thought we should write a musical about Anne when she grows up. We came back the next year with Anne books in hand – and no sooner had we gotten to the visitors’ information centre in Borden than we saw the advertisements for Anne and Gilbert.” They made an abrupt change of plans and at the suggestion of the owner of the B&B where they were staying, they started to look at writing a story about the author. “Her journals were raising a lot of eyebrows… And, as often happens, truth is stranger than fiction. We wrote the Nine Lives of L.M. Montgomery in LA and workshopped it at Confederation Centre in 2007. That workshop was the instigating factor to leave my life in LA. We decided to produce the show at the King’s Playhouse,” Leo says.

“Sometimes thrills come at strange moments,” Leo says. “My most public moment was conducting Bugs Bunny at the Hollywood Bowl for 18,000 people. That was a calculated thrill. But the moment when all the forces assemble in you and around you… so many times those things just happen. Sometimes it’s best not to make them happen.” For the musician who loves to “move the heart,” it’s the “uncalculated thrill” that matters. He admits, “I love the gushy and sentimental. The Romantic. I love the moment the music surges up. That’s where the magic comes, and music to me is magic.

“Working in the pit, glamorous as the shows were, felt somewhat anonymous,” he says. “I guess you could say I’ve seen ‘Paree’,” Leo jokes good-naturedly, but on PEI, “people ask questions about you and are actually interested in you.”

Working with a community “means more to me than hearing a professional orchestra play everything note-perfect. I’ve had it happen that you hear an orchestra that is so professional, so note-perfect that you don’t hear the humanity, the connection to an organic process -- the rustic, raw, sound that is not finessed, it’s just there.

“But it is still an art. There is still an artistic desire to excel. I try to do it in a non-intimidating way.” As a composer, he says, “You have to put something on the page, to give you a design. But without interpetation, it’s lifeless.”

 “I could spend my life in LA working in the pit -- and it’s not that I aspire to recognition. But when I’m in the Sobey’s picking out asparagus, and someone stops me to say ‘Oh, I loved the music in church,’ I feel part of a very connected community. I don’t feel alone on PEI.”

Events Calendar

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Some Upcoming Events

Jack Frost Winterfest at Eastlink Centre

February 15–18
Charlottetown Emmy-Award winning entertainers, Imagination Movers, will bring their [ ... ]

Confederation Centre: Art Gallery exhibi...

Open daily Mitchell Wiebe: VampSites Until March 3 The Gallery opened a new solo exhibition by Mi [ ... ]

PEI Symphony Orchestra

Guest conductor Dina Gilbert will lead  February 24
Zion Church  The PEI Symphony Or [ ... ]

Recent News & Articles

Music PEI Canadian Songwriter Challenge

In partnership with ECMA 2019 Music PEI and ECMA 2019 have announced a partnership bringing togethe [ ... ]

The facilitator

Profile: Steve Bellamy by Jane Ledwell “Arts are ways into emotions. Arts are where we connect, [ ... ]

A gift of Island poetry: John MacKenzie

The Feet of Blue Herons If you happen to live in another town,
Or country, or even galaxy
As dim and  [ ... ]