Cuts To Vancouver School Board’s Excellent Music Program?

vsb-stringCBC News reports that the Vancouver School Board is cutting elementary school music programs this fall, axing the band program for Grade Five students and eliminating the string program for Grade Four students. I know governments at all levels are struggling to meet all of the demands placed on them by society, but in a province with the highest rate of child poverty in the country, can’t we find a way to maintain these lifelines for children?

What difference does it actually make?

The Microbe And The Galaxy


Loki’s Castle. (New York Times Photo / R.B. Pedersen/Centre for Geobiology/University of Bergen)

Two recent scientific discoveries seem to encapsulate the majesty of the entire universe, its enormity, its infinite complexity and bewildering variety.

In mud found 2 miles below the seabed of the Arctic Ocean with its punishing pressures, depth and darkness, scientists have discovered a miniscule microbe that is revolutionizing our understanding of our own evolution and altering forever the Tree of Life as we know it.

According to Karl Zimmer, writing in The New York Times, genetic scientists working forty years ago expanded what had been thought to be the two major branches of the Tree of Life – bacteria in one and Eukaryotes likes ourselves in another – into three branches, separating out what they called Archae, “lesser-known species of microbes that live in extreme environments such as swamp bottoms and hot springs” or those that live in the human stomach, like E. Coli.

m03-treeoflife03But this latest discovery radically reshapes the Tree yet again, lopping off the third branch established just forty years ago, finding that Lokiarchaeum, as the new microbes have been named, (indeed all Archaea), are not a separate branch but instead an evolutionary link to Eukaryotes like ourselves. Teasing out secrets billions of years old from mud 2 miles beneath the sea, we are learning how life itself evolved and where our own origins as humans lie.

Turning from the fathomless depths of the earth’s lithosphere to the farthest reaches of the infinite Cosmos, other scientists have precisely measured the distance to the oldest and most distant galaxy in the Universe, capturing rays of light that first set sail across the firmament more than 13 billion years ago, almost at the beginning of Time itself.

Galaxy EGS-zs8-1

Galaxy EGS-zs8-1

Training telescopic eyes on one of the brightest and most massive galaxies in the early universe, known today simply as EGS-zs8-1, Dennis Overbye reports in the New York Times that scientists have accurately measured its distance as 30 billion light-years away, much further away now than at its birth due to the constant expansion of the fabric of time and space between us.

How miraculous that, despite all of our petty differences and troubles, and the violence we seem naturally to propagate as a species, we are also capable of finding enlightenment in the furthest stars, and knowledge about ourselves and Life itself in mud lying miles beneath the ocean deep.


A Great Year for the VRS!

logoThe Vancouver Recital Society held its Annual General Meeting recently to celebrate some of the successes of the past year, and by any measure, 2013-14 was an extremely successful year for the VRS.

Selling out seven concerts – in the Orpheum, Chan Centre and Vancouver Playhouse theatres – meant that ticket sales doubled from the season before. And the good news continues into this season, with subscription income for 2014-15 up 20% over last year.

After undertaking the largest consultation project in our history, the VRS was successfully rebranded with a vibrant new look that is instantly recognizable online and in print, and we adopted a new Mission, Vision and Values to guide us.

IMG_8772I have also worked hard to enhance every aspect of the patron experience, improving everything from how our phones are answered to how tickets are received (and now even printed at home), including a new look for our concert programs and a new voice writing our program notes — Donald Gislason.

And we completely streamlined the VRS website experience, which now features at-a-glance videos of every artist and a much simpler process to buy concert tickets online.

Yet despite these investments in rebranding, technology and infrastructure, our audited statements show the VRS generated a surplus of $44,000 in the 2013-14 fiscal year. I’m particularly proud of the fact that VRS expenses are lower today than they were seven years ago.

IMG_9345When I first started at the beginning of the 2013-14 season, the organization had lost two Executive Directors in just two years and was at a standstill. But I took on the challenge with the same dedication I’ve demonstrated to the VRS since I became its first intern more than thirty years ago, then later as a member and Vice President of the Board of Directors, and finally as Chair of the Futures Committee.

The VRS has always been a team effort. When we asked for the advice and support of VRS patrons, they engaged with us and came back in record numbers. So it is the entire family of the VRS that should take pride in these accomplishments – staff, everyone that attends concerts, volunteers their time, subscribes to our series, donates to the Society and sponsors our concerts.

Thanks to the entire VRS family, the 2013-14 season was a very good year and one we can all be proud of! And 2014-15 is shaping up equally well.

Sean Bickerton,
Executive Director

A Tribute To Gerald Obre (1952 – 2014)


A Balinesian feast! Gerald Obre (L)

Following is the Eulogy I gave for Gerald Obre at the memorial services held for him at Christ Church Cathedral on Saturday, August 23, presided over by our good friend Peter Elliott, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral:

I’m a friend of Gerald Obre and it’s good to see so many friends and family of Gerald here today.

There are no words adequate to describe the sense of loss we all feel; or to express those last thoughts we wish we’d had a chance to share with Gerald. There is no way now to hug him one last time, and there is nothing I can say that will call his infectious laugh forth once more to ring out, that we might laugh with him one more time.

And yet, all I could think about this last week was how lucky we all are – and I mean everyone here in this magnificent cathedral – lucky beyond measure to have lived in a world large enough to contain a Gerald Obre!

All of us who knew him, those of us on the earth fortunate to call him uncle, or friend or brother or lover are a very privileged few.

Because I think the only reason we all really know what true exultation is, is because we’ve seen Gerald ranting away happily at us about the amazing flavor of spot prawns! Or smoked sea salt! Or that stunning new cashmere sweater he just happened to find half-price on sale at Holts!

We all know what true unadulterated joy is because we saw his delight when we roared our approval for the irresistibly delicious, pomegranate molasses-glazed, maple-smoked bacon he served to us on skewers as a nibbly with our drinks!

And we know what true dedication to perfection is, because of all the friends contributing courses to a Millennium New Year’s dinner, only Gerald actually brought a plating diagram along to ensure he and his partner Glen got every single element of the complex dish they’d prepared onto each plate perfectly in place.

But that is not all or even the half of Gerald, even though that alone would be enough to laud him and honor his passing here today.

Gerald sometimes seemed so open to the world and so vulnerable that we all, I think, felt a bit protective towards him. Yet he was made of stronger stuff than any of us realized! Just think for a moment of what he’s overcome to make this long journey with us. Think too of how often you ever heard him complain? Never, in my experience. Not once, even in the darkest hours.

When he was first diagnosed with cancer, Reverend Elliott and Thomas Roach — who have been true angels throughout Gerald’s battle with illness — organized a group of friends to drive Gerald back and forth to chemo treatments.

I spent a number of mornings with Gerald in this way, and grew to know his fearless honesty and courage during those trips together.

It sometimes took him a long time to walk the short distance from the front door of his building to the car, his body was so exhausted. And even longer to sit down and get buckled in, he was in so much pain. But once the pain subsided and he caught his breath again, the first words inevitably out of his mouth were: “Hi Mr. Sean. Now tell me how you and Tom are doing.”

I guess what I admired most about Gerald was his extraordinary creativity. He was truly a self-made, self-actualized and self-realized individual, a true Renaissance man.

Tom, his sister Diane, Sean, Gerald & Glen up at Sakinaw

Tom, his sister Diane, Sean, Gerald & Glen up at Sakinaw

He was an amazingly inventive artist in his own right, and one of the most knowledgable collectors we knew. He loved beauty and surrounded himself with it. Almost as much as he loved men, and he could wax as poetic about their beauty as his latest acquisition of art.

In the summer of 2000, Gerald and Glen spent a few days with Tom and me up at a cabin on Sakinaw Lake. After they’d gone I wrote a poem and I would like to share it with you today, dedicating it to Gerald’s memory. The poem is called “Summer Days”

Summer Days

There comes a point some summer days
When balance calms Time’s ebb and flow,
When quiet falls, and resplendent rays
make ripples, waves and rivulets glow.

Eyelids grow heavy in somnambulant shade,
And gentled winds die down in mute homage;
Day’s end preceding, Day’s light begins to fade,
Sun’s last embrace of it’s earthly paradisic Raj.

The lake grows still, looks back in sad farewell,
Narcissus’ loss too painful here to tell.

Gerald Obre was magnificent, larger than life, and we are right to mourn him, but I urge you to honor his memory by embracing the beauty of life for which every waking moment of his time on this earth was a joyous celebration!

When I think of Gerald, it is of him smiling, exuberant, feisty, surrounded by his friends, good-naturedly enduring our teasing about his latest enthusiasm.

And if just one or two of us could walk out into the sunshine when we leave here today resolved to demonstrate even a modicum of Gerald’s unbridled enthusiasm for life, for its flavor and texture and color and light and beauty, the world will be a better place. And perhaps in this small way, others too might come to know what it means to have someone as wonderful as Gerald Obre in their lives!


Gerald Obre was born on December 8, 1952 to William Applin and Alma Obre in Wells, BC, and raised in Vancouver, BC. He completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts at UBC. His love of fine cuisine led to a career in management in some of the country’s finest restaurants, and he finished his career as the demonstration chef at Whole Foods Caper’s store on Robson Street.

Gerald loved art, took many courses in jewelry-making, and he and his partner, Glen Hillson were sophisticated collectors of ceramics, glass and paintings. But his greatest passion was cooking.

He is survived by his brother Harold Applin and Harold’s wife Jeannie, nephews Ben (and Ben’s wife Stephanie) and Cody, and grand-nieces Ryanne and Addyson, and by many friends who loved him, not least of whom is Robert Strayer, who was closest to him and a crucial support to him throughout his illness.

It Takes A (Global) Village!

Times Square

Times Square

Visiting New York is like a shot of adrenalin! I spent half my adult life in that city. Half of that was spent working at Columbia Artists when it was at its peak, learning the business of managing artists and producing international concert tours for orchestras, dance companies and chamber groups from around the world.

When I go back, I find nearly every block of that city imbued with memories and reflections of some of the most defining experiences and people in my life.

The reason for my trip was to give a seminar on social media at this year’s Chamber Music America conference. I presented my “Top Ten Tips For Mastering The Twitterverse” to agents, artists and presenters I’ve long known and admired: Edna Landau, co-founder of IMG Artists and Jamie Broumas, Director of the Kennedy Center, among others. It was fun and I think it went over well. (Actually I know it did. 2 weeks later Jamie joined Twitter and sent me the following tweet: “Took your advice and came to the party!”)

Rebranding for Lincoln Center

Rebranding for Lincoln Center

I also took advantage of the trip to arrange meetings with the Artistic staff at Carnegie Hall and the 92nd Street Y; the Marketing and Brand director for Lincoln Center; and a fundraising expert for Cambridge University in America.

And many old friends: Mentors Doug Sheldon at Columbia Artists and Charlie Hamlen, co-founder of IMG Artists and founder of Classical Action Against AIDS, now VP of Artistic Planning for the Orchestra of St. Luke’s; Shirley Kirshbaum, Susan Catalano and Jason Belz from Kirshbaum-Demler Artists; Jenny Palmer from IMG Artists; Stephen Jacobson, my counterpart at Shriver Hall in Baltimore; Derrick Inouye, resident conductor at the Met Opera and James Levine’s right hand both there and at the Verbier Festival; David Lamarche, Music Director of American Ballet Theater; and Nikki Chooi, a brilliant young violinist from Victoria with a burgeoning career.

It reconfirmed for me the thousands of people around the world so crucial to the ecosystem that produces the great artists that appear on the Vancouver Recital Series every year: the teachers, music schools and great artists that mentor young talent; the foundations, competitions and festivals that give them a leg up; the agents that find and help develop careers; the publicists that help promote them; the critics that maintain standards and push artists to grow; the record labels, web developers, instrument makers and sponsors that are all necessary to that elusive magical alchemy that leads to a career.

New offices for Carnegie Hall

New offices for Carnegie Hall

And most important of all, people like Leila Getz, our Artistic Director, whose international connections, knowledge, artistic integrity and willingness to take risks are the key to the success of our series.

Ultimately the trip reminded me again of how much this business, like much of life itself, is based on relationships and reputation. It is still an industry where one’s word is literally one’s bond.

I’m overjoyed to get back home to my Tom, and to our great team at the Vancouver Recital Society. But it’s been quite a moving, emotional visit – so many joy-filled hellos followed too soon with emotional goodbyes.

And now it’s time for the last goodbye of all, to New York itself. They’ve just called my flight back to Vancouver!