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Torch Songs Resonate the Cathedral

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When speaking with Onalea Gilbertson, mastermind of ‘Torch Songs from the Gypsy Van’ show which graces the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer this coming Saturday, I reassure her that the conversation is a labour of love for both of us. Gypsy folk-jazz pop? And a trombone. I’m trying to picture how this stuff works, and .. . . And a piano?

Full disclosure, there’s also two gypsy vans.

“It’s an intimate evening of original songs, sort of torchy, folky jazz, prairie-jazz style.. . . About 3 years ago I packed up all of my stuff and put it in storage and just went travelling. I started out in my parents’ mini-van (gypsy van #1).. . . . I drove out to Tofino on the Pacific Ocean, and was there for awhile (and (then) up near Prince George in 2010. Then I came back to Calgary, bought a Westfalia(gypsy van #2) and was attempting to drive to the other coast, but it broke down. It’s been a bit of a wild, adventurous time and I’ve been spending time in a lot of different cities.”

So perhaps you’re wondering how this travelogue relates to the musical events of this Saturday (Feb. 9th @ 8:00 pm)? “My travels have taken me all across Canada and to New York a few times. I finished a show here at the High Performance Rodeo about my grandmother’s life: ‘Blanche, the Bittersweet Life of a Wild Prairie Dame’, which has been travelling around. And I created another all-original piece about homelessness called ‘Requiem for a Lost Girl’ with the Land’s End String Quartet (a local modern music performance group) . . . I collaborated with the composer Marcel Bergmann, wrote the libretto and was the head writer working with people experiencing homelessness to put their stories in and around our song structure. It had it’s premiere at the High Performance Rodeo (as Two Bit Oper Eh? Shun), and then we took it to New York off-Broadway (New York Musical Theatre Festival) for a few shows.

“So this travelling time has been really special and yielded a lot of wonderful material.” Onalea goes on to mention that this week’s collection of music, inspired by this whole whirlwind of artistic impressions, is being performed by Les Petits Vagabonds, a self-named group of locals that include CPO performers (in a string quartet), other jazz and folk performers (in a jazz quartet), Poet Laureate Kris Demeanor and his collaborator David Rhymer, who will also include a few pieces from their new musical; and original works from the other performers, all accomplished professionals.

“I really love the crack in the sidewalk between contemporary classical music and jazz and music theatre, kind of in the style of Bertholt Brecht and Kurt Weill. But (this music) doesn’t sound like anyone else because all of the songs are new, and it sounds like us: it’s kind of old style romantic, old-style ironic.”

When asked about the storytelling nature of such a theatrical background, and it’s impact on the music itself, Onalea mentions “there’s definitely some songs in there that are definitely about personal experience (and) other impressions, (like one called) ‘No Hunting: Capture and Crush’, which is from the perspective of a mother who is looking at her young son being taught how to hunt, and what that means.”

At one point Onalea describes one of the sounds as ‘yummy’, and I think that’s a great analogy for the satisfaction one is apt to glean from this buffet. Enjoy!

Cathedral Church of the Redeemer (corner of 7 Ave & 1 St. SE. Concert Info: 403 214 1811)

Les Petits Vagabonds:
-Onalea Gilbertson (Vocals/Piano)
-Jeff Gladstone (Guitar/Bass/Vocals)
-Brent Van Dusen (Percussion)
-Dave Reid (Trombone, Tuba, Euphonium)
Special Guests David Rhymer and Kris Demeanor
String Quartet: Laura Reid (Violin), Jonathan Lewis (Viola), Morag Northey (Cello), Trish -Reid (Bass)

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