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Laughter and Cheer

Review  Chuck & Albert

by Peggy Miles

Whether it’s energy or energie, Chuck & Albert have it. Whatever energy elixir Chuck & Albert are tapping, I want some. And if the dynamic duo ever decided to bottle it, they would never be able to keep up with demand.

If you’re an Islander, you’re probably familiar with these Acadian performers who serve up music, dance and comedy to enthusiastic audiences on a regular basis. And if you’re from away, attending a Chuck & Albert show is sure to be unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed before.

Chuck & Albert are performing this summer at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside. If you go, you’ll forget you’ve purchased tickets in order to attend, and instead feel like you’ve been sent a personal invitation by your quirky Acadian buddies Chuck & Albert, to join the rest of their neighbours and friends for a social evening of laughter and cheer.

They have a visual uniqueness and a multitude of highly animated facial expressions. Their bodies that bend with ease to the music and the intensity level is evident as sweat drips down their faces. The show never drags and feels like a continuous ferris wheel of entertainment.

The duo has a commanding presence on stage, but interacts with the audience in such a way that everyone feels right at home. In fact, it’s the audience participation that makes a Chuck & Albert performance really special.

I enjoyed the ‘C’est What’ part of the show, where the duo sets a comment box in the lobby during intermission and the audience is invited to submit questions, which are answered in the second half of the show. Whether the query is ‘Why are there skunks on PEI?’ or ‘Can you sing any songs in English?’, the guys find a witty way to answer and get a laugh from the crowd.

And what could have been a routine part of the show in which the audience is asked where they hail from, was instead made into an amusing display of down home humour.

The flexibility of these guys is incredible. At one point Albert jumped on top of Chuck’s shoulders, and the two proceeded to weave their way through the audience, providing a step dancing and fiddling demonstration all at the same time.

Their repertoire of instruments includes guitar, fiddle, the spoons, harmonica, saw, and various household items which were used as percussion instruments.

Although all of their songs are performed in French, they are introduced in both official languages. This also applies to story-telling and interactions with the audience. This is done in such a smooth transitional way, that whatever language an audience member speaks, they will easily understand and appreciate the show’s content.

There is a sense of anticipation throughout the entire performance. The duo is skilled at what they do, well-rehearsed and rarely misses a beat. Catch upcoming performances from Chuck & Albert on July 28 and August 4 and 18.

Hatcher Takes Helm

New executive director of the College of Piping

by Peggy Miles

Karen HatcherWhen Karen Hatcher moved to Summerside during high school, she held a monopoly on all the bagpiping gigs. It was the early 80s and at the time, she was the only active piper around town and in demand at banquets and community functions. She spent two summers piping at the local visitor information centre and held the honour of being the piper during Charles and Dianna’s visit to Summerside.

Jumping ahead about 25 years, Hatcher has made her way back to Summerside to lead a different kind of processional, this time as Executive Director of the College of Piping.

A minister’s daughter, Hatcher and her family moved around growing up, and she has memories of living in Bathurst, Halifax, and Sydney before moving to Summerside. In the years after, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Tourism & Hospitality Management from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax (graduating from the program’s very first class) and held a number of managerial jobs in the hospitality industry.

All of which has led her back to Summerside, to the place her family had the closest connection to, and is “familiar and comforting.”

“My professional life and my hobby have coincided. Everything happens for a reason and it’s all about timing,” states Hatcher, who has an air of optimism.

The College has had its struggles over the last couple of years. Hatcher is not oblivious to this. But it’s easy to see that while she recognizes the past, she is very much focused on the future.

For her, communication is key. She wants the community to know that “we’re here, we’re alive.” Her focus is to “stabilize and grow.”

Stability has been added by a change in the operational structure of the College. There will be a more concerted effort to separate the College’s business component from its education mandate. While Hatcher will administer the overall operations of the College, a Director of Education (James MacHattie) will oversee the disciplines of piping, dance and drumming.

And while she’s busy with the upcoming summer season (Highland Storm returns, along with a new Monday night show called Ceilidh at the College) she is also looking at long term goals. Hatcher is committed to growing College programs, facilities and productions, and reveals that the Highland Games will return in 2011.

She describes her leadership style as “fair and consistent” with an open door. Hatcher indicates her experience at the College thus far has been “very positive.”

I ask about the things that inspire her. She communicates that she is motivated by a “life’s too short to be negative” philosophy. Hatcher also shares her excitement for returning to her familiar place of Summerside. And for her, the enthusiasm of a young performer executing their first highland fling is contagious.

Look What I Made

Rediscovering creativity at Right Off The Batt Pottery

by Peggy Miles

Darryl Lentz demonstrates at pottery workshop (photo: Peggy Miles)“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”—Pablo Picasso.

That quotationwould describe my recent situation as I stared at the slab of clay in front of me. I was at a workshop hosted by Right off the Batt Pottery. Owners Cindy and Darryl Lentz have recently expanded their studio space at the Kinkora Business Centre, which allows them to offer an enhanced experience for workshop participants.

As the workshop begins, Darryl shares the history of the two year old business. The process of glazing and kilning is described. Darryl gives details on shaping pieces using the various templates on hand, and we are shown techniques for adding texture. Tools and equipment are explained, and then we are left to create.

This leaves me standing in front of my flat piece of clay, drawing a blank. I had arrived at the studio with my head full of clutter about deadlines, paperwork and errands.

But when provided with all of the resources in which to create, one has no other choice but to begin. I searched the shelves, finally picking out a heart shaped plastic template. I followed Darryl’s earlier instructions, putting the template face down onto the clay and cutting around it. I began to shape the clay, enhancing the curves and eliminating rough edges. I could feel my brow furrow in concentration, and wayward thoughts quickly vanished.

Next, it was time to add texture. I picked through bins of bobbles, finding an antique key. I pressed it into the centre of my clay creation, took the key away, and admired the impression it left. Voila! My masterpiece was complete.

As I looked around the studio, I observed participants creating plates, mugs, trays, vases, and even saki bowls. There were more furrowed brows, and also chit chat and laughter.

I am asked to write my name on the bottom of my creation, and confirmed that I would like the piece glazed in red (yes, a red heart shaped plate with a key in the centre…call me sappy, ok?). From there, the staff take care of the rest, readying the piece for placement in the firing kiln. They give you a call 2–3 weeks later when the piece is ready for pick up (or shipped to off-Island workshop participants).

It’s interesting to learn that the pottery studio has the capacity to host up to three workshops a day, and have hosted birthday parties, “girls’ night out” gatherings, and team building exercises for nurses, teachers and students. Participants range from age 4 and up.

The Lentz’s feel they are “leading the pack” in experiential tourism on PEI and have had a high volume of out-of-province visitors also taking advantage of the workshop program. These participants create pieces that become part of their family’s history, and keepsakes of their time spent on the Island.

As for me, I’m looking forward to returning soon to let my inner child play in clay.

Lefurgey Concerts

Mike Dixon invites musical guests to perform in Summerside

by Peggy Miles

Musical guest Norm Bowser with host and accompanist Mike DixonDarn it, what have I been doing all winter?” was the question I asked myself after a recent event at the Lefurgey Cultural Centre in Summerside. Wyatt Heritage Properties has been hosting a monthly concert series since the fall, and I just got around to taking it in. The series allows collaboration between local performers and offers a new small performance venue for the community.

An 1867 shipbuilder’s home, Lefurgey Cultural Centre provides a cozy setting in which to enjoy the entertainment…a small bar is set up in the parlour for pre-show beverages, and concerts take place in the drawing room, with its muted lighting and buttery coloured walls. There are rows of chairs accommodating 60-70 people, and the performers are literally a “heads up—catch my guitar pick” away from the audience. Mics and monitors are not necessary.

The monthly concerts feature Summerside singer-songwriter Mike Dixon as host. I remember Mike as the heavy-metal revering kid I went to school with, who was full of charisma, and friends with everyone. Mike’s musical style has evolved to include bluegrass, folk, and blues, but he still knows how to capture the attention of a room, which makes him the perfect anchor to manage the tempo of the show and carry the evening.

Each month Dixon invites a different musical guest—one that has a Summerside connection. Past company includes Catherine MacLellan, Nathan Wiley, Nikkie Gallant and others.

The night I headed down to Lefurgey, Dixon was joined by singer, songwriter and musician Norm Bowser. The duo shared original music as well as old time bluegrass and folk songs. Switching between guitar, banjo and mandolin, their musical skills were evident, and amusing was the friendly chatter the two shared between numbers. The audience listened intently as Dixon and Bowser contributed thoughtful musings about the history of original works, and the characters in each song.

Speaking with Dixon after the show, he expressed his enthusiasm for the concert series and the importance of providing opportunities for local musicians to express their creativity, something he feels has been lacking in Summerside.

Event organizers at Wyatt Heritage Properties echo those thoughts. “We want (the public) to simply enjoy and soak up the cultural flavor available to them,” says Lori Ellis, Manager of Cultural and Heritage Properties for the City of Summerside.

The last show for the season takes place in June. Organizers anticipate the program will return in the fall.

Elderly Expression

LEAP program brings art and crafts to manors in Summerside

by Peggy Miles

Artist Lynn Gaudet of “Where Pigs Fly,” with Wedgewood resident Anna Banks. (photo: Peggy Miles)Anna Banks is no stranger to a painting pallet, and was an avid artist throughout the course of her life. Now the distinguished elderly woman is a new resident of Wedgewood Manor in Summerside, and as with any transition in life, adjustments are not always easy.

Luckily, this past winter, Wedgewood and Somerset Manors in Summerside were able to host art therapy sessions for their residents through the L.E.A.P. Program (Learning Elders Arts Program). L.E.A.P. connects members of the Island’s older population with local artists. The goal: to enhance the lives of seniors through the arts.

In March I stopped into the open house hosted at Wedgewood Manor, where residents and family members were celebrating their finished projects – works of art, painted directly onto cloth tote bags. Although the L.E.A.P. projects at the Summerside manors were short term, it was evident that they had been effective.

Island artist Lynn Gaudet had been meeting with Wedgewood residents once a week since the beginning of the new year. Art classes were adapted to residence’s abilities. So while some residents had no trouble holding a paint brush, those with less hand mobility would use plastic wrap to move paint around the canvas (canvas bag in this case) to create colourful images.

Gaudet explained that the program not only supplied creative relief, but also provided seniors with choices—something that isn’t always in abundance as this sector of the population gets older. Residents were able to decide on the subject of their painting, adding features and colours of their choosing.

Local potter and sculptor Candy Gallant worked with residents at Somerset Manor in their creation of clay pottery pieces. She recalls one resident who passed away during the project, and her family was touched to receive her artwork as a lasting souvenir.

The weekly art classes gave residents something to look forward to each week, says Frances Holt-Gallant, the activity manager at Wedgewood Manor. “It gives them another choice…a chance to use their creativity when they otherwise may not have used it.” Many seniors created out of need over the course of their lives—knitting mittens, for example. Holt-Gallant expresses that the program was able to offer residents opportunities to create for personal satisfaction and pleasure.

“It’s the best she’s felt in a long time” Diane Vessey says about her mother Anna Banks. Although her mother has dementia, the program has allowed Banks to reconnect with her passion for painting.

Seniors weren’t the only ones affected by the program. It also provided local artists with a new venue in which to share their artistic expression. After watching artists Gallant and Gaudet tenderly interact with residents, it’s clear that they too will remember the L.E.A.P program as a unique experience. “I don’t want to say goodbye,” says Gaudet. “Me neither,” nods Gallant.

The L.E.A.P. Program is funded by the PEI Department of Tourism & Culture and is administered by the PEI Senior Citizen’s Federation.

St. Patrick’s in Summerside

City entertainment venues celebrate the Irish traditions

by Peggy Miles

A few years back I was visiting St. John’s, Newfoundland. It was the beginning of March and more than once I was asked by excited Newfoundlanders if I was going to be in town for St. Patrick’s Day. After replying that unfortunately I was not, each time I received a sympathetic look that really said “we feel sorry for you.”

St. Paddy’s day was still a couple of weeks away, but it seemed like virtually every bar on George Street had green streamers and paper shamrocks hanging from the ceiling and they were more than ready to welcome the big event.

I was inspired by these inhabitants who, in the bleakness of winter, rallied around a holiday initiated in a completely different country than their own, involving an obscure legend about a saint and his triumphant ability to scare away snakes.

But I think those jubilant Newfies had the right idea. In the middle of March, at a time when we’re all feeling the winter blahs, why not get our friends together, put on a goofy plastic green leprechaun hat, go out and contribute to our local economy? Gosh darned it, let’s drink some Guinness and—in our best Irish accent—see if we can identify every single one of those frosted lucky charms.

Since I’m from Summerside, I am challenging my fellow residents to be PEI’s leaders in celebrating St. Paddy’s Day 2010. Get your blarney butt in gear and take advantage of the following Summerside venues that are getting in the spirit of the Emerald Isle.

For an early start on the celebrations, attend the second annual “Wearing of the Green: event at the Silver Fox Curling & Yacht Club on March 13. The event takes place from 3–6 pm and will include music by Dave Doyle, plus prizes and giveaways. And if you wear green, you’ll gain free admission to the event. They’ll also be serving a “hearty Irish Stew” and (I quote) “lots and lots of Guinness.”

And come the big day on March 17, a number of local establishments will be “going green” by offering a variety of food and drink specials tying in with the St. Patrick’s Day theme.

The Brothers Two has been faithful in hosting annual St. Paddy’s Day festivities, this year offering patrons live entertainment, green beer and special menu items. I love the after dinner treats at B2, and I have been told that there just might be a special Bailey’s Irish Crème dessert item on the menu that night. Pair that with one of their tasty Irish coffee drinks, and leaping leprechauns!

The Loyalist’s Crown & Anchor Tavern and Credit Union Place’s Fiveeleven West Restaurant will both have special drink and menu items as well. And if you’re not sure if your regular haunt is hosting festivities, call ahead and check it out.

Éirinn go Brách!

Living Library

Summerside Rotary Library is a well-used community resource

by Peggy Miles

Summerside Rotary Library staff Rebecca Boulter (left) and Susan Harris.My typical Saturday might include a few errands—groceries, dropping off recyclables, and leaving my dog eared copies of Style at Home at the magazine exchange table just inside the front doors of the Summerside Rotary Public Library. I’ve used the services of the library on and off since I was a kid. But in the last few years I haven’t made it much past the magazines.

As part of a group representing a number of Summerside community organizations that meets monthly to discuss our respective activities, one of our group members (Susan Harris, Senior Library Technician at the Summerside Library) recently mentioned how her facility is busier than ever.

Summerside Rotary LibraryWhich caught my attention and shifted my perspective. I thought I had outgrown the library. I was beginning to think libraries were going the way of the Polaroid camera and rotary telephones.

So I requested a meeting with Susan and her colleague Rebecca Boulter, Literacy and Public Services Librarian, and they quickly set me straight.

Library services have expanded far beyond the facility’s four walls. If you have a valid library card, you can go online to renew and place holds on books. And library staff can access books from across Canada, so if you’re searching for that favourite childhood book and can’t find it on the library shelf, chances are staff can arrange to get it in for you. And students—for times when the library is closed and you’re working on that late night project, check out the library’s Info Track System, which allows access to thousands of books and articles online.

The Summerside Library has a variety of in-house programs as well, including a lap sit program for babies, toddlers and their parents, pre-school story time, and a summer reading program. They also have a book club that meets monthly, and are in the process of starting up a junior book club. Library users can lend out CDs and DVDs, and read newspapers and magazines in the library’s cozy surroundings, which once existed as Summerside’s railway station.

Last year the Summerside Library had an average of 250 people per day through its doors, and circulated over 106,000 items. And in the summer months, the facility sees a significant increase in traffic from tourists.

I asked how the public would be affected if the library wasn’t there. Library staff indicated that it would severely affect its regular users, many of whom use the facility’s computers on a daily basis. For some there would be “no access to books at all,” since library services are free to the public.

Staffers Susan and Rebecca share that the library is a “welcoming community space” where families come for weekly visits, seniors peruse the book shelves and teenagers sprawl out to do their homework. “I have never shushed anyone,” laughs Rebecca.

And what can the public do to show their support for their local library? “Visit often, borrow often, and don’t be afraid to ask questions!”


Back at Church

Trinity United Church in Summerside offers community concerts

by Peggy Miles

A few months ago I graced the doors at my house of worship, and the minister greeted me excitedly with a “Hello! How are you?”. His comments came after a very long absence at the church where I once spent many hours as a Sunday school student.

I admit, I am not a regular parishioner. But for me Summerside’s Trinity United Church offers a familiar retreat. Although I don’t get there often, when I do I’m there for the music because gosh darn it, they’ve got rhythm.

They’ve also got a beautiful setting that provides a wonderful backdrop for enjoying melodic sounds. Trinity is a fair sized church and when you walk in from the back, you’ll see that it’s filled with pews, bordered by multi-coloured stained glass windows. Your eye will go directly to the dark wooden vaulted ceiling, and then be drawn to the stage at the front, where century old organ pipes frame the back wall of the pulpit and a beautiful grand piano sits.

Christine Anderson Gallant, Music Director at Trinity, as well as conductor of the Summerside Community Choir, shares that acoustically Trinity is “one of the best places for choral singing.” And in the last few years Trinity has gained a reputation of having a strong and varied musical program which blends traditional with contemporary.

Trinity’s talent will be on display at the December 20 Sunday morning service as the senior choir performs its annual cantata. Entitled “The Winter Rose,” the cantata will take the melodies of traditional Christmas carols and Celtic tunes, blending them with narration. As outlined in the score written by composers Joseph and Pamela Martin, “…the rose remains a vital expression of love and peace both inside the church and the outside world…the rose’s delicate beauty is usually reserved for the most meaningful expressions of the heart.”

This musical offering is sure to delight the ears of the Trinity congregation (the general public is also welcome), but will also provide a visual sensory experience. The cantata’s message of divine love will be accompanied by a visual presentation appearing on screens placed around the sanctuary. Service starts at 10:30 am.

The church also offers itself as a venue for a variety of community concerts, including one at 3:30 pm on December 6 with the Summerside Community Choir. The theme of the concert is “Winter, Fire and Snow” and will explore the beauty, mystery and silence of winter. Included in the performance will be songs that portray winter images, such as one tune based on the poetry of Robert Frost. The program will feature carols arranged by Canadian composer Donald Patriquin, and there’ll be a medley of old English carols, as well as spirituals. Guitar, percussion, flute and cello will accompany many of the songs. And the Three Oaks Senior High Choral Ensemble will be a guest performer under the direction of Shirley Anne Cameron.

I can’t wait to pass through the doors again, slide into a pew and enjoy the sounds.

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