My musical history
I began playing clarinet in grade 9 because my father encouraged me. He was in the high-school marching band and played clarinet. I remember sitting around a campfire while my dad played his rendition of When the Saints go Marching In. He was quite proud of himself that he was still able to get a sound and play the notes many years after high-school. His enthusiasm made me want to take the instrument a little more serious.
My high-school music teacher was very influential. He was a jazz musician and encouraged his students to appreciate the genre while guiding them through improvisation and scales. The high-school jazz band was skilled beyond it’s years and performed around Durham Region in the Toronto region. We were gigging like pros at only 16 to 18 years of age.
I was asked to try out for the school Dixieland group. It had a reputation of being comprised of the best music students at the school and had won National Championships. My music teacher encouraged me to practice hard and I fell into the roll of dixieland clarinetist. This was where I developed my chops. There was a lot of soloing and difficult parts, so daily practicing became a way of life through high-school.
The dixieland group was performing all over southern Ontario. We became so used to each other that we no longer needed music and could get up anywhere and start playing numbers by heart. We could move around and animate the performance.
The dixieland group went on to win three consecutive National Championships in the Canadian Stage Band Festival, and travelled all over the country. Some of the gigs and artists we were honored to play with were: Maxine Andrews (Andrews Sisters), Oscar Peterson (at Hamilton Place), Toronto Molson Jazz Festival, and many many dances, events and functions.
A few years later, after leaving the band scene, I felt a need to see if I had a voice. I had been very shy about singing when I was younger and considered myself average, but when I became a bit older, I realized that it was something I enjoyed, so I set off to build the skill.
I began working with Mervin Fick in Toronto who helped me understand how to get more out of my voice and assisted me with auditions for my new-found love: musical theatre. Mervin was able to increase my range and make me understand how sounds should be made. I spent a few years studying with him and then came across another vocal coach named Ben Stein, also in Toronto.
I was still doing Musical Theatre at Scarborough Music Theatre, Oshawa and Whitby Theatres and my range had improved. After working with Ben, my voice changed substantially; my range increased by another octave and I was able to take on more classical roles which were difficult and demanding. I credit Ben Stein with most of my classical vocal growth. In lessons, we never sang songs, but spent each session on vocalization and physical manifestation of sound. It was gruelling, but truly enlightening.
The CD Christmas project
Spending six years in vocal training, I now considered myself a trained vocalist. I began working with various musicians as a duet and small band, playing local events. A long-time friend and gifted piano player, Paul Moloney, and I decided to create custom music for standard Christmas tunes. We worked a lot through the Christmas season and had developed particular styles for some of the classics. This was also around the time that MIDI reared it’s head and anyone with a computer could be a composer. Paul and I worked steadily for a couple of years to fine-tune and our Christmas arrangements and translate them to the MIDI interface. When we were done, we tracked down a recording studio that supported MIDI to lay down tracks. At the time, many studios were not supporting MIDI and even the ones who were, didn’t always support the technology well.
Paul and I recorded our first CD, Breath of Heaven at Ambassador Records in Oshawa and although the quality was only mediocre, we were thrilled with our little project. All of the instrumentation was created and built on the MIDI interface and played as background in the studio while the vocals were dropped on top. We had 1000 CDs pressed and we were ready to promote.
Unfortunately, of my 500 CDs, I still have about 200. Most were donations and gifts. But that’s the way it goes I guess. It was still a great learning project and tons of fun.