From Vegas to Zombies to Simon Brault to Arts and Culture in Guelph


What did you choose to listen to, see or read as a preteen and a teenager?

That’s a question posed by Simon Brault, CEO of Canada’s national theatre school, in his 2009 book No Culture, No Future.

Introduce arts and culture early to kids, and you might help youngsters not only to widen their palate as kids but also to keep on broadening their tastes for the rest of their lives.

I read Brault’s book recently. I also found my own reading horizons expanding through a chance encounter with New York writer Colson Whitehead — first through a magazine article about Las Vegas, then through his zombie novel Zone One.

Never been to Vegas myself. Never been much for zombies — in film, TV or books. But interesting what happens when you’re treated to unaccustomed topics through a new and engaging authorial voice.

I riffed on early and not-so-early cultural influences, along with an interview with Marie Zimmerman, ED of this past weekend’s Hillside Inside festival in Guelph, Ontario, in my column last week in the Guelph Mercury here:

Juno Nominee Jordan Raycroft on CFRU Radio, Guelph

Jordan Raycroft

He only began learning guitar and composing songs as a University of Guelph student.

Now getting ready to graduate this spring, Jordan Raycroft has just been nominated for a Juno award for contemporary Christian/gospel album of the year for his self-titled album, Jordan Raycroft.

There are five nominees in the category. The winner will be announced March 30.

Jordan visited today on my CFRU Radio program From the Second Storey. We talked about his nomination, his singing and songwriting, his faith and his commitment to social justice, and his travels as entertainer aboard cross-Canada trains. And we played a couple of tunes from his album — plus Jordan brought along his guitar to play a couple of other songs not on the recording.

Check out the program here:

Hand-Drawn Map-Making Business Stems From Childhood Explorations

Remember exploring your neighbourhood as a kid? Finding all of the hidden and even forbidden places?

As kids, we create mental maps of our immediate Terra Incognita. My own childhood map included the wild ravine behind the apartment building, the stream we weren’t supposed to play in and the shack belonging to the old man whom we kids feared and pestered.

Jeremy Shute grew up in Guelph, Ontario, mapping his own world. But he went a step further. He and his childhood buddies drew actual maps of their neighbourhood, even popping into culverts to trace buried streams.

Now grown up, he still follows that pursuit through a side business creating hand-drawn maps of downtown districts and Guelph’s buried and forgotten streams. Read his story in my Guelph Mercury column today here:

Have you ever drawn a map of your childhood neighbourhood? During a creative writing class last year, we did just that, looking for the landmarks of growing up and the stories in and around them. What does your map of childhood look like — and what are its stories?

Sound, Music and a City Listening Tour Topics of CFRU Radio Show

Sue Smith, David Knight and Gary Diggins with Sue's homemade "bell tree" at CFRU radio station in Guelph, Ontario.

Sue Smith, David Knight and Gary Diggins with Sue’s homemade “bell tree” at CFRU radio station in Guelph, Ontario.

Did you know that the song of a blue whale swimming off Canada’s eastern coast can be heard all the way down in the Caribbean? The catch: You’d have to be another blue whale or at least the correctly tuned listening device to pick up the long-wave message.

“Sonic” is the theme of my radio show this week on CFRU 93.3 FM in Guelph, Ontario.

Singer-songwriter Sue Smith, music therapist Gary Diggins and David Knight, an archeoacoustician, joined me live in the studio to talk about sound, listening and music.

Whale music, too — including that bit of blue whale trivia from Sue, a fan of all things cetacean. We played Into the Dark, her track on a new recording called Towards a Little Light from Guelph’s Ondine Chorus due out this spring.

David Knight sang a sixth-century Ravennate chant recorded using the acoustic parameters of the Basilica of San Vitale — effectively the first public airing of this piece in centuries.

Gary Diggins talked about the benefits of sonic therapy for clients and about his new book to be self-published this year called All Ears: Listening as a Mindful Practice.

They also talked about the idea of a city listening tour. Close your eyes, walk around your town or city, and listen for the signature sounds of where you live. What does your city sound like?

Have a listen here:

Project Bookmark Canada Draws Readers to Real-Life Locations That Inspired Fiction

Walk down the Main in Montreal — Mordecai Richler territory — and you can almost imagine running into Duddy Kravitz or maybe Jake Hersh from St. Urbain’s Horseman.

“Up Grace, along Henderson, up Manning to Harbord I whimpered”: Reading Anne Michaels’ novel Fugitive Pieces, we follow the footsteps of a young man through a corner of downtown Toronto.

Visit Bonne Bay in Newfoundland, and you can find the actual building that housed the Sea Breeze Lounge — the title of a poem by Al Pittman.

Encountering real places from fictional works sparks a kind of recognition that might be summed up as: “Hey, here’s the place that only existed in my head before now.”

Project Bookmark Canada marks real-life spots from novels, poems and short stories. Including the three examples above, 13 locations across Canada have been commemorated under the program so far.

Read more in this week’s Guelph Mercury column, here:


Who Was Shakespeare and What Did He Look Like?

Shakespeare hovers in the wings 400 years on. He’s always there, isn’t he? Watching and ready to comment. Whoever he is…

Intermittently this month I’ve been reading Shakespeare By Another Name, Mark Anderson’s book about the Oxford theory. You know, Edward de Vere actually wrote the works we know as Shakespeare’s.

Happened to find the book in a second-hand store around the time I was watching Anonymous again. The 2011 Roland Emmerich film plays with the same idea. Who was Shakespeare?

And what did he look like?

I’ve written here recently about scholars in Guelph, Ontario, and elsewhere who believe a four-centuries-old portrait owned by an Ottawa family is the authentic likeness of Shakespeare painted during his lifetime.

Lloyd Sullivan says the so-called Sanders portrait, depicted above, has been passed through his family from John Sanders, reputed to have been a painter and actor with Shakespeare’s theatre company.

The Sanders likeness challenges long-time contender portraits, notably the Chandos portrait championed by England’s National Portrait Gallery and the Cobbe portrait put forward by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Here’s a story published this past week, including a link to a Globe and Mail story about a recent tentative agreement to sell the Sanders portrait to a Canadian family. Who’s the buyer? Anonymous, of course.

Storytelling Knits Together Spoken Word, Song, Art, Even Science

“We tell stories to render and order our world, to imagine, to connect and to live — even if some of our manuscripts are best left in a box.”

Storytelling is the theme of my Guelph Mercury column this week. A singer-songwriter turned train troubadour is a natural storyteller. But we find tellers and stories in other creative pursuits, including visual art, music and even science.

Here’s a link:

Guelph Singer-Songwriter James Gordon Visits CFRU Radio With Rail Tales and Tunes

Riding the rails across western Canada aboard the Canadian with Guelph singer-songwriter James Gordon.

That’s what we did this week on my radio show From the Second Storey, aired on CFRU 93.3 FM in Guelph, Ontario.

James visited live to sing and tell  stories from his travels. We also played a few tracks from his 2013 CD, Coyote’s Calling.

From Longevity John to a crew of drifters who pilfered Gordon’s CDs to hawk at the pawn shop, check out “rail tales and tunes” from this born storyteller here:  Click on entry for Monday Jan. 13.

Back to Life Drawing Sessions at the Guelph Art Hub

Went to life drawing class for the first time in months — and for the first time in Guelph since I moved here in the fall.

Attended a Sunday session at the Guelph Art Hub run by Garth Laidlaw. He’s a grad of Sheridan College’s animation program. Besides running life drawing and landscape drawing sessions, he’s working on his first animated kids’ storybook. You can see his work and other resources by clicking on the link.

Garth runs the sessions out of his family home downtown. His parents don’t mind the twice-weekly rearrangement of their living room to accommodate artists and model. His dad, David, is an artist, too, and was among the half-dozen practitioners who came out today for Garth’s first session of the new year.

I first attended life drawing sessions in Hamilton two years ago. Those took place in big upper-floor studio spaces, with a dozen or more artists arrayed in a circle around the model.

Garth’s place offers less opportunity to move around for different vantage points. But it was a friendly bunch working away with paints, charcoal, pastel and conte, and kibbitzing about movies, music, books and whatever else came to mind.

Today’s model kept the same pose for the entire three-hour period. (Tuesday evening sessions mix up shorter gesture drawings, as well as mid-length and longer poses.) I tend to work fairly quickly and have yet to investigate much more than basic work with charcoal or conte, so I managed to complete a few drawings.

Felt a bit out of practice, as it has been a few months since I bundled up my drawing board, paper and tools. Here are a few results.

53 Musical Bits. 52 Weeks in a Year. A Minimalist Concert Fit for New Year’s Day

In C, a musical work written by California composer Terry Riley, is considered among the forerunners of the musical minimalist movement of the 1960s and ’70s.

On New Year’s Day afternoon, an eclectic ensemble — when did you last hear an orchestra including cello, ukulele, synthesizer, glockenspiel and hurdy-gurdy — gathered at an alternative music venue in Guelph, Ontario, to play this intriguing piece.

Read the result in this week’s Guelph Mercury column here: