Edmonton in June

Edmonton in June

Dateline: Edmonton AB, June 11 2019

10 days to go, then back to Kitchener. It’s been a whirlwind trip. Tasked with finding a place for our family to live, and a school with a compatible IB program for my son, and a school with the right sort of support system for my daughter, I took advantage of last week’s lighter schedule to roam the city searching and researching and meeting and viewing and interviewing and checking off the crucial to-do list items one by one.

I roamed mostly by foot and I must admit I’m liking this city. It doesn’t hurt to have had several sunny warm days in a row while I was out and about. But even when it rained, it was nice to be out. I think I’ll dump a bunch of photos here to show off just how nice it’s been.

Oh, hold on - it was only nice for a couple of days and then Edmonton got really smokey because of the several big fires burning about 400km north.

On the worst day of smokiness I stayed indoors as much as possible, but I still had some wandering to do, and eventually the smoke cleared, and I got back to it…

See? Lots of beautiful views. But I wasn’t just sightseeing. I found a couple of school options for my daughter and a great place for my son. And the staff/principals are (so far) all so nice and helpful! Little by little the stress has been falling away, and things are lining up nicely.

Oh - and we’ve been playing concerts and I’ve been hanging out with my new colleagues, having fun making new friends (yay me! :)

That’s enough for now. Sunday we played with Thorgy Thor. Today we played with YONA Sistema. Tomorrow we begin rehearsals for the last Masterworks program of the season - Scheherazade, Swan Lake, and Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini.

watch this space!

Edmonton in May

Edmonton in May

Dateline: May 28, 2019. Edmonton, Alberta

So I flew to Edmonton today. It’s my fourth trip this season, and it’ll be my longest, not returning to Ontario until June 22. I’ll take a moment right here to both apologize and thank my wife for waking up at 4:30 with me to accompany me to the airport in Hamilton for a 7:15am flight on the super-cheap Swoop airline. She half-slept in the car on the way and the. Apparently half-slept in the car on the way back home, pulling over at one point to rest and thankfully startled back awake after not-too-long by a text from me telling her I’d made it to the gate, so she got back on the road and back home in time to help our kids off to school.

word to the wise: if you’re flying Swoop early from YHM, get there early. You know, usually the airport says arrive 90 minutes early for a domestic flight, 2 hours for international? I’d recommend padding that by 30min. Swoop is cheap but it also operates cheaply, which is to say they got completely overwhelmed by travelers checking in and bag-dropping. Actually they don’t have a separate place for people to just drop their bags if they’re already checked in, so it was pretty messy and packed and the $35 extra I paid to be allowed to bring my viola on board as a carry-on was almost a waste of money, if I’d been a few minutes later and missed getting to board early with it to ensure getting overhead space....... anyway I made it and it was fine.

Except it was raining and Swoop at YHM doesn’t have access to a covered walkway, or even signs out on the tarmac walkway pointing to which of those three planes over there is the one you’re supposed to be boarding...


YHM tarmac. 3 Swoop planes. No signage. No covered walk. Spitting rain. 

So we flew to Edmonton. My window seat was fine. He window shade kept sliding partway closed. My neighbors were two young ladies flying with a near-newborn baby boy who cried a lot at first but then settled down for most of the flight, so that was fine. Except the way they settled him down (on and off throughout the flight) was to hold up an iPhone playing some animated movie in front of him to distract him instead of actually trying to comfort him. I tried to sleep but I kept half-waking up with a stiff and sore neck because the headrest wings wouldn’t stay folded to support my heavy head. But it was fine. Because it was cheap. Enough whining! Sorry. I’ll stop.



Because we made it, and we made it on time, and even early, and my bag came out on the baggage claim carousel quickly, and I was able to catch the shuttle to town without having to wait an extra hour! So that was really fine.  And now I know what to expect the next couple of times I fly Swoop during this Crazy Summer.

who knows, maybe this place in Strathcona? Too far from the train routes, I think...

who knows, maybe this place in Strathcona? Too far from the train routes, I think...

Victoria School near downtown is lovely, but it doesn’t have enough IB course options to handle my son’s diploma-completion needs...

Victoria School near downtown is lovely, but it doesn’t have enough IB course options to handle my son’s diploma-completion needs...

And it was a beautiful day in Edmonton! I hopped off the shuttle, walked the 10 minutes to my hosts’ house in the very nice neighborhood of Windsor Park, dropped my stuff, picked up some waiting mail, printed another important document, organized my little bag of dossiers for registering my kids in schools and myself for a drivers license and AHCIP (OHIP provincial health insurance, but in Alberta), and took off walking. I walked to Strathcona to swap my ON license for an AB license, and then realizing I didn’t have correct change for the bus I decided to walk into town across the river to son’s school registration packet to the place we were hopeful would work for him to transfer into. It probably won’t work or that school, but the woman I met with seemed willing to help us figure it out for him no matter where he ends up landing for the fall term. Ultimately, he wants to complete his IB program, and we want him to be with us in Edmonton and not boarding with my in-laws back in KW for his final year before heading off to University, wherever that may turn out to be...

So I walked, and walked, and walked some more, and enjoyed seeing the city on this beautiful non-snowy day (my other visits have all been white-encrusted). And I grabbed a simple Subway sandwich dinner, and watched a cheap-Tuesday’s movie in the City Centre mall cinema, and LRT back to the University stop near where I’m calling my new home address until further notice. And those steps really add up!

I just bought expensive new keen shoes because I always wear out my cheap Payless-ish shoes too fast, and these should last longer. But not if I keep up this daily pace!

I just bought expensive new keen shoes because I always wear out my cheap Payless-ish shoes too fast, and these should last longer. But not if I keep up this daily pace!

And then, I got a call from a long-lost friend who happens to have settled in Vancouver recently, and we had a lovely chat. That was nice.

Tomorrow? Rehearsals for this week’s ESO program commence in the morning. Looking forward! 

Watch this space! 

Go West!

Dateline: May 23, 2019. Kitchener, Ontario

NACO decided to offer the job to another candidate, so the wait is over and we now have a new direction confirmed: We’re moving to Edmonton!

It’s amazing how much suddenly falls into place when for so long it was all up in the air. There are still details to work out regarding schools for my kids in Edmonton and an apartment for the family to move into out there, and what size truck are we going to move our stuff with, and when will our AHCIP (Alberta provincial health care) take effect, when will my benefits kick in through he ESO (Sep.1, I just learned)... 

But many other things are now set - namely, our summer schedule. 


This weekend is the final program I’ll play with the KWS for the foreseeable future: a pops show, “The Piano Men.” Next week I fly out to Edmonton on my own to play the last few weeks of the ESO season, except for the final few days of concerts which are a reprise of Harry Potter music concerts happening this week, which I won’t play because I’ve been invited to perform In the Summer Solstice Chamber Music Festival final concert on June 21, and coach groups participating in the connected Amateur Chamber Music Workshop from June 11-15.

My wife and daughter will fly to Edmonton a few days before I’m done, so that they can see the city a bit and investigate schools for Miss M. I’ll fly back with the little one on June 22, leaving my wife alone for a few days when she is auditioning for the ESO oboe job coincidentally now open.


On the day of Z’s audition I’ll be driving with my kids to Boston where we’ll pick her up at the airport the next morning, visiting our friend Elena Ruehr, and the MIT campus (yes, my son is that age, considering university options for after next year... yikes!). We’ll be in Massachusetts until July 1 when they drop me at the airport and drive up to Ottawa to visit my father-in-law on their way back to Kitchener. I’m flying west to Jackson Hole Wyoming where I’ve just been asked to sub last-minute for somebody in the viola section at the Grand Teton Music Festival for 2 weeks.

When I head back to Kitchener I’m flying into Buffalo to save $ and a friend has agreed to come pick me up in the middle of the night so that my wife doesn’t have to. I owe him big time! The morning we roll back into Kitchener I’ll pick up the U-haul for the final move and head home to load up all our worldly possessions that made the downsizing cut that is currently going on.

With the U-haul ready to go, my 16-year old son and I will head out on the road the next day, while Miss M and Z stay with a friend in Kitchener - M is attending a very cool musical theatre summer camp the second half of July - for a 35 hour drive (over at least a few days) on the trans-Canada highway all the way to Edmonton where we’ll unload the truck into storage and fly back one more time to Ontario.

Miss M’s final theatre camp performance is on July 26, after which we all pile into our remaining sedan loaded with a cooler full of food and our three suitcases and instruments, and drive west back to Wyoming - Beulah, this time, in the north-eastern edge of the state where my grandparents lived - to spend a week visiting with my brother’s family and our mom who now owns the inherited cabin.


After that week of play and catching up with the Florida cousins, back in the car for more driving, further west! To California for a few days visiting more old friends in the Bay Area, then a u-turn to Yosemite, Death Valley, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon en route to El Paso, Texas where I’ll be performing concerts with Zuill Bailey and a couple other guest artists in a new late-summer Chamber Music mini-Festival he’s getting started there. 

That brings us to Aug. 19 when we get back into the car for one last long drive straight north through Utah’s Monument Valley and everything else between Texas and Alberta, arriving sometime before August 24 when my season with the ESO commences with a weeklong summer outdoor concert series. We should have somewhere to live by then, but we’ll see what it ends up actually being, looking like, where it’s located, how long-term the rent may be... we’ll see.. and then you’ll see! ‘Cause I plan to keep sharing our journey, bit by bit.


Watch this space! 


Moving on

Dateline: Kitchener, Ontario. May 8, 2019

I was granted tenure today by my colleagues in the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. I've been a member, as their Assistant Principal Viola, since I won the audition in May 2017.

I was also granted a 12 month leave of absence today so that I’ll be able to move with my family to a new job in either Edmonton or Ottawa over the summer.


The NACO trials are all completed as of yesterday, so we're all (three of us, and all our friends and family) awaiting the results of a vote, whenever that happens. Now, NACO has just departed today for an 18 day European tour, so I'm not sure when this vote will happen, but it's gotta be soon. No?


So it's been quite a year. My second season with KWS, my wife's first substantial string of freelancing work with KWS and, over the past summer, with the Toronto Concert Orchestra at Casa Loma and this unique (and rather infamous) “Mandle Phil” experience that so many Toronto freelancers have taken part in over the last few years…

I've made a few trips west to Edmonton to get a headstart on working in the ESO, while my 16 year old son works his way through the 11th grade in an International Baccalaureate program and my daughter makes her way through 5th grade in a French school in Waterloo, and my wife keeps everything running at home while preparing for auditions that have been coming and going throughout the season.

And all the while we've been putting off confirming for anybody what our plans are for everything beyond June 2019. While we wait. And now the waiting is almost over.


I am fortunate to have these options in front of me, whether Ottawa ends up being an offer or only an almost, it's a good set of possibilities by any measure.


Family is in Waterloo and Gatineau. New friends and colleagues-to-be eagerly await us in Edmonton. The KWS family is already sad to know we're heading out, and I am thankful for their support and encouragement as we all wait for news from NACO.

My competitors for the section job in Ottawa are talented and accomplished, and nearly 20 years my junior. My friends tell me NACO would be lucky to have me, but I know they're already lucky to have the three of us to choose from.

So I'm waiting. Two more days? Three? We'll see.


But March! What happened in March? I played some recitals with different friends in different places. Jamie Parker was my Sonata partner in a noontime concert at U of T on March 14.


On the 16th I shared a repeat of the program with my KWS colleague Jody Davenport, with Wilfred Laurier University faculty pianist Beth Ann de Sousa accompanying each of us and a few fun viola duos thrown in for good measure.


Then on the 24th I drove down to Kutztown Pennsylvania where my friend (and past collaborator from my days in the CSQ) Daniel Immel is a pianist on the faculty, and we played back-to-back recitals there on the 26th at KU and on the 27th at Lebanon Valley College in nearby Annville, where my other good friend Hannes Dietrich teaches violin and viola, and had for many years welcomed the CSQ to campus to spend a week at a time almost every season in residence working with LVC students and performing concerts there and in neighboring communities. Hannes’s wife Marie-Aline Cadieux teaches cello at KU, and another old friend and collaborator Kurt Nikkanen teaches violin there... the whole week was full of wonderful reconnections.

And April? It’s a blur, mostly full of KWS services - a “Baroque & Beyond” program with our music director Andrew Feher at the helm (usually it’s a guest conductor involved); our retiring principal oboe, the legendary Jim Mason’s final Signature Series performance conducted by great violinist-turned conductor Joseph Swenson - brother of longtime San Francisco Conservatory faculty violinist Ian Swenson; and a crazy choose-your-own-adventure program of Hollywood Hits that the audience votes in real time for their favourites out of three options per category (musicals, sports films, John Williams scores, etc.) conducted by Cincinnati Pops’ own John Morris Russel, aka “JMR”.


And my son had a youth orchestra concert, and a youth concert band concert, and a high school music concert, and I taught my last lessons at U of T, and my students had their juries... Plenty of stuff to keep me busy and my mind off the stressful waiting for my upcoming NACO trial.

But because the trial is happening so late in the season, when I finally know the deal, there won’t be a lot of time left before summer hits, to get organized for the move in one direction or the other. Yikes! 

Watch this space! 

Is it Spring yet?


Dateline: Kitchener, Ontario. March 2019

My daughter asks me about the weather each night, these days, to figure out what would be appropriate  to wear the next morning. It’s been a rough winter, as everybody knows, but the period of transition into Spring, like the transition to Winter from the Fall, is… difficult for us to navigate.

Can I wear my running shoes yet? Do I still have to wear my snowpants? Can I just wear a warm sweater or do I still need my jacket? Is it going to rain? Or snow again? Which boots should I wear? Is the ice melted yet?

Meanwhile, my 11th-grader son, who seems to have finally gotten used to the daily walk to school no matter the weather, despises boots and snowpants unless he’s going sledding. The warm layers make no sense for him to bring to school where the air conditioners are offline and/or the heat is cranked up, and recess ain’t a thing anymore. A true California boy, he can hardly wait to start wearing shorts again. I had a friend in high school who wore shorts all the time - literally every day of the school year, like it was a challenge, or a uniform. But that was California, this is Ontario. Seasons are different here!


I feel lucky to experience the changing seasons right along with my children as they’ve been growing up, little by little, year by year, these past few years since relocating to Canada from California. In my former life I was sometimes away more than I was home, and the constant irregularities in my schedule made it difficult to stay truly connected with my kids as they were developing. These are some serious benefits of my post-quartet career shift - basically settling into life as an orchestral player, freelancing and teaching commutes notwithstanding: I’m home more regularly, I’m a more involved dad, I’m a more connected husband. I’m able to see, and talk in person with, and cuddle with, my wife, and hug my kids, almost every day. I can actually be there for family dinners, parties with in-laws and friends-of-friends, nephews’ birthday parties.

But it’s been a busy concert season and another round of career-shifting changes are a-comin’. I’ve been on the road a lot since January - the Edmonton Symphony work has been enjoyable, and I’m learning a lot, and quickly, in the principal position - and more travels are looming, and the separations and the uncertainties have been hard on all of us. I don’t recommend it! That said, but perhaps the relevant saying is ‘can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs’ — yeah, it’s a stretch... but it helps us all to keep looking forward to when this will all settle down.

As I wrote earlier, I won an audition last September for the Assistant Principal (2nd chair) viola in the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. I’d been in the finals for the Principal seat the day before, and the update here is that I later learned the guy who did win that ended up turning down the job a few weeks later, so the top spot ultimately has remained open. Until recently, that is, when a different previous finalist from a previous audition was invited back for an official trial this month. *Cue the Jeopardy timer music. Or a reallllly long drum roll.

Meanwhile... There was an audition in Ottawa last weekend (Saturday through Monday) for a Section Viola position in the National Arts Centre Orchestra, considered by many to be the best (and best paying) orchestra job in Canada. Thanks to my existing relationship with them as an occasional extra player, and because of my current job as a titled player in another professional orchestra, I was granted a ‘by’ into the semi-final round taking place on Sunday. I had requested simply to not have to play on Saturday because in my efforts to be a good boy in Kitchener, I needed to play in a concert there Saturday night at 8pm, making my participation that morning in an audition in Ottawa impossible, or at least impractical. In any case I of course appreciated the allowance, even though it meant I would have to drive from Kitchener to Ottawa after the KWS concert (10:45pm departure, 5 hour drive), sleep 3 or 4 hours, wake up, warm up, get myself to the audition venue by 11am.

So I did that. Except at about 7am I found myself lying in bed half asleep trying to visualize a shift in the music I had to be prepared to do because at the last minute an email had come through from the personnel manager notifying us of an update to the audition repertoire, and in my head I tried the shift over and over and over again and could never quite complete the motion, and it was only when I got up out of bed and staggered around the house for a few minutes, checked my email and saw there hadn’t actually been a message, that I realized I couldn’t make he shift because the music didn’t exist.

I played a pretty good audition - friends had suggested I might be so tired from the drive I wouldn’t have the energy to get nervous and choke - and ended up by Monday night one of three finalists to be offered a trial with NACO. My trial is scheduled for the end of April, for a week. I don’t know yet when the other two will be playing theirs, but I suppose I’ll know the final result by the second week in May when NACO goes on its big 50th anniversary European tour.

Watch this space!