The Twelve Days of Christmas

Double the Christmas gift.

As I wrote last column, welcoming a baby grandson into the world was truly a gift. That was the First Day of Christmas. On the Second Day of Christmas, I went looking for a gift for my sister. I searched and then I found a photograph, taken of the two of us about 1972. So, I went to a local photo place and the guy said he could duplicate it, but that he didn’t normally adjust for contrast and brightness.

“But in the spirit of the season,” young Michael said, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Thoughtful, I’d say. Unexpected gifts are the best.

All the world is his stage

OLIVER_TWIST_POSTEROur two families met during an elementary school production of “Oliver!” back about 1990. In the musical, our daughter Whitney performed the role of the old thief Fagin and Lisa and Conrad Boyce’s daughter Alida played Mrs. Bumble, the wife of the workhouse caretaker. Of course, the girls were great. I didn’t realize it right away, but Alida probably had an edge. She was coached by a man steeped in theatrical experience as an actor, director, producer and critic. In a note to me this week, Conrad described his own stage debut.

“I played my first role in Grade 1,” he wrote, “a Canadian history pageant (in which I was) Maisonneuve, the founder of Montreal.”

Is Christmas relevant?

"It's Christmas Eve" brought together Alex, the composer, and Quenby and Whitney, the singers and grandchildren, in 2001.
“It’s Christmas Eve” brought together Alex, the composer, and Quenby and Whitney, the singers and grandchildren, in 2001.

A number of Christmases ago, my father Alex called me. He was worried about something. I asked him what was wrong. He said he was facing a dilemma. He had just written a Christmas song and wanted one of our two daughters to record it. Since both were good singers, he didn’t know which to choose.

“Dad, I don’t see a problem,” I said. “They both sing. Why not ask them to record it together? They can sing it in harmony.”

Well, it was one of those times in my life when instinct proved to be bang on. My father approached both our daughters – Quenby, the teacher, and Whitney, the actor/singer – and they agreed to work on it together.

A prince by any other name

The new arrival – a “royal” entry.

Everybody was buzzing about it. There had been a new arrival. We knew it was a boy. But nobody knew what he would be called. We were all breathless with speculation. Then after a couple of days, we saw the announcement from the parents on social media.

“All right,” the mother said by text. “It’s official. Tell the press and the paparazzi. We have a name…”

Canada Day attitude

B. J. Byers presented a solo concert in Uxbridge on June 22, 2013… It was 15 years in the making.

Part way through B.J. Byers’ concert last Saturday night in Uxbridge, the young pianist finished one of his toughest pieces – an etude by Chopin. He wiped the perspiration from his face with a towel, smiled broadly – as if he had just conquered Everest – and acknowledged the packed house at Trinity United Church.

“There was once a time, I wouldn’t have been able to face this,” Byers said. “I would have just turned and run away.”

It takes a musical village

Whitney Ross-Barris headlined Toronto’s Lula Lounge, Dec. 5, launching her first jazz CD, “Everybody’s Here.”

It might have been the night she opened in the musical “Oliver” as the character Fagin and sang, “You have to pick a pocket or two.” Then again, it could have happened when she played the White Rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland.” They were both staged when our daughter attended public school. On one of those occasions she asked us for some last minute advice.

“Imagine I’m at the back of the auditorium, Whitney,” I said to her. “And sing out, so I can hear you from there.”

Impatient to get on with life

J.M. Barrie wrote
Reading from J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan"

I received a photograph online from my son-in-law this week. It shows his wife – our daughter Whitney – holding two very precious creations. One is a copy of the play/book “Peter Pan.” The second is her recently delivered son – Coen George Ross-Barris. The picture shows Whitney reading from the J.M. Barrie book in a hospital.

“All children, except one, grow up,” author Barrie writes in Peter Pan.

Keys to a musical life

Susan Sparks (now Hall) at the time of her graduation from University of Western Ontario in 1967.
Susan Sparks (now Hall) at the time of her graduation from University of Western Ontario in 1967.

A few months ago now, our daughter performed a gig at a popular Toronto jazz nightclub called the Reservoir Lounge. Nothing particularly special about the venue. But when Whitney brought her piano, sax and bass combo on stage, the place just seemed to jump with the energy and interpretation of her music. Not so long ago, she and I talked about where that all came from.

“I always credit my being able to connect emotionally with expressing myself musically to Susan Hall,” Whitney said. “It’s not just that I’m telling the story with the lyrics, but it’s the story of the melody that a lot of singers don’t think about … It’s because of what I learned playing with her.”

A true inheritance

WHIT_SINGINGIt’s a turn of phrase. It’s the way my hair continues to disappear atop my head. Sometimes it’s the stance I take on certain issues or my philosophy of life. Other times it’s just similar mannerisms that people notice. But those who knew us both often comment about the way I’m very much like my dad.

“Apple didn’t fall far from the tree,” people say.