Music for Wilderness Lake

I love playing the trombone, and I love being outdoors, so when I can do both at the same time, it’s a good day. And although I don’t have to worry about bothering neighbours here, there doesn’t seem to be that many opportunities to actually play outside – by the time the weather is warm enough, the mosquitoes have arrived!

One of the most fun occasions I’ve had to play outside was in May, 1993. I, along with eleven other trombonists, was hired to take part in a performance of R. Murray Schafer‘s Music for Wilderness Lake, as part of the Scotia Festival of Music. Schafer himself was there as composer in residence, so that made it even more exciting.

Our performance took place at Long Lake in Middle Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia, with Camp Kidston as our base of operations. Music for Wilderness Lake is in two parts: “Dusk” and “Dawn”, which are meant to be performed at – you guessed it – dusk and dawn! This meant that both performers and audience were required to sleep overnight, and as you can see in one of the photos, tents dotted the camp. In fact, I don’t even think we bothered with “sleep” – there wasn’t much point going to bed when we all had to be in position around the lake by 5:30 AM – and I had to canoe to my spot! I remember that one resourceful trombonist (let’s call him Jim) had the presence of mind to bring beer, and sold it out of the trunk of his car!

For the performance, the twelve trombonists spread out around the lake, and respond to some cues as they hear them. Because of the distances involved, no two performances will be the same, and depending on where the listener is located, nobody hears the same thing. Some of the cues were visual and were directed by Schafer, who positioned himself on a raft in the middle of the lake and used coloured flags to indicate certain events. It’s a very cool piece, and very well written for the instrument. Schafer exhibits a thorough understanding of the technical capabilities of the trombone. The time of day, as well as the weather conditions, are an integral part of the music. At dawn and dusk, the air is very still and conditions allow for optimal refraction of the sound waves. This allows one to hear the music very clearly, even at a great distance, and also results in multiple echoes – it is certainly a unique experience. I would love to perform this work again, but it’s not often one finds himself at a lake with eleven other trombonists! I guess that’s what memories (and photos) are for.

Speaking of which, click on the photo below if you’d like to see my set of six on Flickr.


Music for Wilderness Lake returns to a more remote era, to an era when music took its bearings from the natural environment, a time when musicians played to the water and to the trees and then listened for them to play back to them.” – R. Murray Schafer

Posted in Stories from the Stage, Trombone | 6 Comments

Dancing Trombones

Performing Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker was an annual tradition for the Hamilton Philharmonic, and our low brass section used to have a great time down in the pit where no one could see us. My last year with the HPO, I took my camera in so I could have some pictures of the section together. After watching the Snowflake dancers have their little flurry on stage one night, I jokingly suggested it would be hilarious to have a photo of the low brass taken with the Snowflakes. Marc Donatelle, our principal trombonist, simply said, “I’ll set it up.” Sure enough, he talked to somebody with some sway, and the next thing I know, we’re being called backstage at intermission the next night to make it happen. Somehow, though, it had turned from a casual little thing into a full-blown photo op. That year we were performing the ballet with the Kiev Ballet Company. The Kiev people all had their cameras out, and somebody was barking out orders, in Russian, to the dancers. At one point, we gave our trombones to some of the dancers in exchange for their handheld snowflake-twirly-thingys. They didn’t have a clue how to hold our instruments, as you can probably tell from the picture below. The one holding mine looks like she is trying to blow it through the tuning slide! And the one holding Marc’s actually sent his slide clattering to the floor! Oh dear.

I also remember going to Boris Brott‘s house for a reception after the final performance. When the dancers finally showed up, they pretty much kept to themselves – but boy, they could sure put away the vodka!

L-R: Mark Bonang, tuba; me; Peter Collins, bass trombone; Marc Donatelle.

“Never look at the trombones; it only encourages them.” – Richard Strauss

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Mozart Requiem – Unplugged

One of the greatest trombone solos in the entire orchestral repertoire appears in the Tuba mirum of Mozart’s Requiem. I’ve gotten to play the Requiem about a dozen times, and I never get tired of it – it is so much fun to play! Most of those performances took place when I was living in Toronto (1992-1999). There was even one month (April 1998) when I played it on three separate occasions: with the Windsor Symphony, Hamilton Philharmonic, and a pick-up orchestra. The latter performance took place in a church in Oakville, and the trombone section consisted of Zud Gaskin on alto, me on tenor, and Bob Nicholson on bass. I’ll never forget the first rehearsal – I was having a rough time trying to find my sound, and I just couldn’t get comfortable. My chops felt fine, so it had to be the acoustics of the church that was the problem. The Tuba mirum was called, and I made it through the solo well enough, but it just felt like I was playing inside a cardboard box. I hadn’t experienced stuffy acoustics like this ever before, and it was very disconcerting. This was not going to be a fun gig. At home that night, I decided that if I took my valve off and played with the straight horn, maybe things might feel a little easier the next day. When I unscrewed the valve section and removed it from the bell, something dropped out and clattered on the floor – my missing pencil. Somehow my pencil had managed to find its way into the neckpipe of my trombone, and I’d played the whole rehearsal with it lodged in there. Needless to say, at rehearsals the next day I was pleased to discover that the acoustics in the church had improved dramatically overnight!

Hey Bob, can I borrow your pencil? I can’t seem to find mine. – Dale Sorensen, April 12, 1998


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How I chose the trombone

I was in grade eight when our school got its first band program. Gerry Rutten had moved to the area, decided Englewood should have a band, and generously spent his Saturday mornings trying to teach us how to play. At first, I had been pretty resistant to the idea of joining the band – OK, dead set against it. I was at that age where peer acceptance was supremely important, and having just quit the ukulele for that reason, I wasn’t eager to pursue music any further. My mom can be very persuasive however, and I finally agreed to join on one condition – I would only play the drums. Fate had other ideas though, and when we arrived on the first day, another kid showed up with his own drumset that he’d gotten for his birthday. When Gerry informed me that I would have to choose something else, I pointed to the trombone on the floor, and grumbled with contempt, “I’ll take that.” (to which he excitedly replied, “I knew you would pick the trombone!” – Go figure…). Once I figured out how to produce a sound on the damn thing, I caught on pretty quickly and, to my surprise, actually started to dig it. Since I was the only kid who had chosen a bass clef instrument, Gerry would give me the parts for euphonium and bassoon as well as trombone, and I would spread them all out over 2 or 3 music stands and jump from one part to the other, playing the most important passages. A few weeks later, when little drummer boy quit, I had already embarked on what would become a lifelong obsession with the trombone, and the rest is history.

Looking back over my life, there are certain pivotal moments that make me stop and wonder how differently things might have turned out. In what direction would my life have gone if that kid had simply gotten a bicycle for his birthday? If Gerry Rutten had moved to Hunter River instead of Victoria? If I had stuck with the ukulele? (Scary thought!) Such simple little things can propel one onto a completely different path. Well, I like the path I ended up on that day in Grade 8, and although there have been some pretty big cliffs to scale, and some pretty slippery slopes, it’s been a fun trip. I’ve met some great hikers on this path and experienced some breathtaking scenery, and I can’t wait to see what’s around the bend.

I chose the trombone because the trombone players in the marching band got to be up front with the majorettes (because of the slides) and I loved that! – Quincy Jones


Posted in Life, Trombone | 3 Comments

International Trombone Week 2007


I’m sure all of you will be just as excited as I am that April 1-8 is the fifth annual International Trombone Week. This is the week when trombone players all over the world organize concerts and other events to raise the profile of this incredible instrument and prove that the trombone is more than just a slush pump. Check out the International Trombone Association website to see a list of Trombone Week events – if there is one in your area, don’t miss it!

This is also the week when I send in my annual request for trombone music to some of the programs on CBC Radio. Tune in to Here’s To You on CBC Radio2 on Wednesday, April 4th, sometime between 10:00 AM and 12:00, to hear my request on that program. I didn’t request a specific piece, so I am curious to hear what they will play. [Update, April 4: They played Joseph Jongen’s Aria et Polonaise for trombone and piano, very nicely performed by Alain Trudel and Yannick Nézet-Séguin on their CD Conversations (ATMA Classique ACD 22289).]

Although I don’t actually have any performances planned myself for this week, I intend to listen to a lot of trombone CDs, practice every day, and maybe even write a few things about the trombone here. 😉

“The thing that influenced me most was the way Tommy [Dorsey] played his trombone. It was my idea to make my voice work in the same way as a trombone or violin – not sounding like them, but “playing” the voice like those instrumentalists.” – Frank Sinatra

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Until recently I hadn’t even thought about downloading songs from the internet, legally or illegally, mainly because high-speed isn’t available out here in the sticks. But a couple of months ago I got an email from the musicians’ union requesting that I complete a survey. In exchange for my participation, I would be given a free download from For me, “free” is a magic word, so I happily completed the survey and went straight to Puretracks to get my free song. When I got to their website, I discovered that they are a Canadian business, which is cool, and I also discovered that they only have songs available in WMA format*. OK, no problem – all I have to do is download Windows Media Player for Mac or, even better, Flip4Mac. I download both. Now, back to Puretracks. I select my song: Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (from the album “Grace”) – if you don’t know this one, you have to check it out – it is an incredible performance. Anyway, I download Hallelujah, but then I can’t do anything with it because there is some “.exe” file that has to be run first*, and since I don’t have Windows on my Mac, I realize I’ve just wasted two hours downloading all that stuff for nothing. Damn Windows. Damn dial-up. I do come up with a solution, though – burn the WMA file to data CD, take it to the Confederation Centre Library and use their computer to burn the file to audio CD, thereby converting it to a file type that I can actually play in iTunes!

Since registering with Puretracks, I have been receiving their weekly e-newsletter, and every week they have a free download available to members. So this has become a weekly ritual – I go to the CC Library, download the free song of the week, burn it to CD (CD-RW, of course – reduce, reuse, recycle!) and take it home to experience something new (half the groups I’ve never even heard of!). This has been fun.

Since I’m on the topic of downloading, I may as well throw in my 2¢ about that issue. Puretracks is a legitimate provider of music on the web, and individual songs cost 99¢ to $1.19. Obviously, as a musician, I believe that we should all pay for songs we download – artists should be compensated for their works. I’ve heard a lot of pretty flimsy justifications for downloading illegally, most notably “I wouldn’t have bought the album anyway.” Well, music sales are down and downloading is up – explain that! – something’s not “working out in the wash”. These ones are entertaining: “They’re all rich anyway” (uh, not all of us!) or conversely, “The artists don’t see much of the money anyway – the labels take most of it.” Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Of course, if a band wants to give away their music, they have every right to do so – and some of them are doing just that, for very legitimate reasons, i.e. promotion and exposure. What we as consumers have to keep in mind is whether the artists want their music distributed freely, or whether they actually would like to be paid for their work. P2P file sharing and illegal downloading is not cool – we are consuming music for which “give-away status” hasn’t necessarily been approved by the artists.

I like analogies, so here’s one about grapes: if we walk into a grocery store, put a bunch of grapes in our cart, and eat a couple while we continue shopping, that’s stealing. Sure, it’s a drop in the bucket – it’s really not going to make that much difference in the price when it’s weighed in. But what if everyone does it? The cost adds up, and it does make a difference. And if the store offers free samples of those delicious grapes for people to try out? Yes, there is a cost to the store, but we’re obviously not stealing if we eat those grapes. In this case, the store has an expectation that their offer of free grapes (promotion and exposure) will translate into higher sales of grapes. This is exactly what Puretracks is hoping to do by offering a free song every week – and you know what? It works, because I’ve actually started buying stuff from them – stuff I wouldn’t have bought anyway.

Free stuff is great, as long as it’s free with the artist’s blessing.

*Note for Mac users: Puretracks is now starting to offer MP3s, and are working toward offering a download manager that is Mac compatible. (Now, I wonder if we’ll ever get high-speed here).

Posted in Music | 1 Comment

UPEI Student Centre concert

Last Monday at lunch time my new music group eklektikos performed at the UPEI Student Centre, in the big courtyard area next to the cafeteria. The concert was put on by the Canadian Music Centre as part of their New Music in New Places program, a festival “designed to bring Canadian contemporary music out of the concert halls and into the lives of Canadians.” A lot of people pass through the Student Centre at lunch time – hopefully they enjoyed our music. We tried not to play too much of that bleep-fart stuff. We heard some great comments afterward, and I think people came away from it with a greater appreciation for Canadian-grown concert music. There is some excellent stuff being written all across this country.

It’s funny – I am a trombone player, yet I have very few photos of me actually playing the thing. Thanks to Tony Dawe, who photographed our event, I now have proof that I play the trombone. Click on the photo below to see the set on my Flickr.


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Mus euphoniumus

I came across this interview with Stephen Saunders, bass trombonist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, by Matt Guilford, bass trombonist with the National Symphony Orchestra, in which Saunders’ recounts his strangest experience as a performer. It is a horrifying tale – I hope I will never have a better story to tell!

Probably the most bizarre occurrence was in the early 1970’s playing in a West End Show at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden. I was playing euphonium and had an important soloistic part to play in a show called “Billy”. A little pushed for time I arrived at the theatre and went to the bandroom locker where I used to hang my instrument on a coat hook not bothering to put it away in its case after each show. I was last into the pit and the overture began straight away. After a few bars I had a solo to play which started well but became worse and worse getting sharp and losing volume. A particularly unpleasant Musical Director who shall remain nameless (Alf Railston) was glaring at me and went completely mad when the solo came back at the end of the piece and I couldn’t get a single note out of the euphonium!.

It occurred to me that perhaps something wrong with the instrument so I began to remove each valve slide and blow through it to see where the blockage was. Still under the poisonous glare of the MD who by now was scribbling something about me in the theater incident book, I got to the main tuning slide and when I put it into my mouth to blow through it I felt something fluffy on my tongue. I held it out and looked at a pair of beady little eyes and some whiskers sticking out of the tube. It was a rat! I had just put a rat in my mouth!

I think it was the tuba player who took it from me and shook it out into a large can we used as ash trays in those days while I ran out to the band room bar and rinsed my mouth out with vodka. I finished the first act hearing the rat running around the can until it managed to escape.

During the interval I went to see the theater manager to complain about vermin in my euphonium. After a pointless discussion about whether it was a mouse or a rat he told me there was a problem because the Covent Garden vegetable market had closed down and all the rats had come into the theaters for food. He than told me that at the beginning of the show a female member of the audience had, after using the toilet facilities, pulled up her tights (panty hose) with a rat inside. I suddenly thought perhaps I had got off quite lightly and said no more but always put my instrument in its case after that.

An excellent argument for keeping vodka handy backstage!

Posted in Stories from the Stage | 1 Comment

Bailey’s First Haircut

For weeks I’ve been trying to convince my 4-year old son that he desperately needs a haircut, all to no avail. No matter how fun or exciting I’ve tried to make it sound, he just hasn’t bought it. Until today. The motivation? No, not the fact that he’s been mistaken for a girl lately. A lollipop. A lollipop!? Come on – I’m sure I’ve tried bribing him with better than that! Bribing is an essential parenting tool, you know – and I’m pretty handy with tools, if I do say so myself – or so I thought… A lollipop… Turns out kids get a lollipop at Ray’s Barbershop in Charlottetown – a fact which Bailey found out quite by chance. He and Sandy were having lunch today at the new Tai Chi Gardens, when in walk our friends Peter Rukavina and his son Oliver, freshly shorn after their own visit to Ray’s. Perhaps it was Peter and Oliver’s new-found dashing good looks that turned the tide for Bailey. Perhaps it was the sudden realization that if he got his hair cut, he might actually be able to see. Or maybe, just maybe, it was Oliver’s reference to having received a lollipop for his sacrificial offering. Whatever the reason, Bailey decided right then and there to go to Ray’s with his mother, and forsake his father’s ceremonial right to preside over his first haircut! All for a lollipop! Is there no justice!? It sure is a great haircut though. What a handsome little man – a real chip off the old block! 😉

Posted in Kids | 2 Comments

Al Gore’s Oscar Speech

I can’t believe I wasted my evening watching the Oscars last night, but it was worth it just to hear Al Gore‘s eloquent acceptance speech for his film, An Inconvenient Truth, winning the Best Documentary Feature award.

People all over the world, we need to solve the climate crisis. It’s not a political issue, it’s a moral issue. We have everything we need to get started, with the possible exception of the will to act. That’s a renewable resource. Let’s renew it. – Al Gore

I think it ranks right up there with Margaret Mead‘s famous quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

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The Trombone, more than just a slush pump

Joe Alessi is one of my favourite trombonists, and this week he gave the world premiere performance of a new Trombone Concerto by Melinda Wagner with his own orchestra, the New York Philharmonic. (See the New York Times review here). I would have loved to have been there, but I will get a chance to hear a recording – the concert will be available in streaming audio on the NY Phil’s website, for two weeks beginning on March 8. An article by Susan Stewart, For whom the trombone tolls, appeared in The Journal News on the day of the premiere, and provided a brief introduction to Joe Alessi, the man and the musician, as well as a glimpse into Alessi’s preparation for the performance. What the article did not do was give audience members any hint of what they could expect from the piece, or Alessi’s interpretation of it. In fact, about the only thing the audience would be anticipating, based on this article, would be how and when the trombonist might go about emptying the spit from his instrument during the 24 minute work.

In any interview, whether for print or audio/visual medium, the writer will collect a surplus of material, from which a limited amount will end up being included in an article. How disappointing then, that of all the meaningful things Stewart could have written about, she instead chose to descend into a discourse on spit valves. Sure, she mentioned that composer Melinda Wagner is only the third woman to have ever won a Pulitzer Prize for composition – but what about the significance of her being commissioned by the New York Philharmonic? And how about elaborating more on why the trombone is more than “Tommy Dorsey, big bands and spit valves”, more on what Joe Alessi has done in his stellar career to improve the image of the trombone and help raise its reputation to a place alongside the more traditional solo instruments.

But no, she decides to write about spit valves.

Granted, it’s still a pretty new thing for a trombonist to be seen front and center, but the fact is, in the past decade most orchestras in North America have featured a trombonist in the solo role. (This is an even more common occurrence in Europe, thanks in large part to the incredible efforts of Christian Lindberg, the world’s only full-time trombone soloist.) While all of this has greatly raised the profile of my favourite instrument, I have no illusion that the trombone will ever appear with the same frequency as the violin or piano, but I do believe we have reached the point where it is no longer necessary for the obligatory oratory on spit valves, or the trombone’s oft-mentioned stereotypical circus trick, the glissando. Artists like Alessi and Lindberg (along with many, many others) have proved with their performances and recordings that the trombone is so much more. Can we please move on?

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A Day in Crapaud

The connotations brought to mind by the term “Small Town” don’t come close to accurately reflecting the truth about living in a rural community. Here’s an example – a typical day out and about in the Greater Crapaud Area:

This morning I went to Englewood School to help prepare the Thursday fruit and cheese tray (part of Englewood’s Healthy Eating Lunch & Snack initiative to provide healthy food for every kid in the school). There I met another parent, who I sort of recognized from a long time ago. As we chatted, I learned that we had attended Englewood at the same time, although she would have been several grades ahead, which is why I didn’t really know her. Turns out she lives just up the road from us, and I taught her son (who plays trombone) at the Englewood Band Camp last summer. While we sliced fruit, various teachers walked by for one reason or another, including:

the Phys.Ed. teacher: my older brother Kerry.

the Grade 5 teacher: was in Kerry’s class all through school, and is married to a guy I went to high school with. She’s also our third cousin.

the Music teacher: a friend of mine – we were in Music together at UPEI.

the Grade 4 teacher: married to one of my best friends in high school.

And the kids! Kids of friends. Kids of cousins. Kids of former classmates…

Then, somehow word had gotten to the Grade 1 teacher that I was there, so she shows up to give me homework for Riley who has been home with the flu all week.

All this happened in less than an hour, after which I head over to the Pharmacy in Crapaud. I sort of recognize the pharmacist, but can’t figure out who she is. I ask her if she has any Oscillococcinum, a homeopathic flu remedy, but they don’t carry any homeopathics. I move on to look for acetaminophen. A couple of minutes later, the pharmacist calls me from the back, “Oh, Dale! I found what you were looking for! I almost forgot – Jocelyn [the former post mistress] always used to have us keep some homeopathic remedies in stock.” Thanks! Obviously, she seems to know who I am, but I still can’t figure out who she is. Then I go to pay for my stuff, and the woman at the cash register is another of Kerry’s former classmates.

Then, I go to the library… But you get the picture. A very large percentage of people who grow up in this area never leave, or, if they do leave, eventually return. This is true for a lot of communities in PEI, which I think says a lot about the importance of connection – connection to place, to family, to community. I’ve always felt that connection, which is sometimes hard to explain to others who haven’t experienced it. Even when I did move away (to Toronto for 7 years), I always felt drawn to this place, and knew I’d come back sometime. And here I am – a 10 minute drive from my parents. And, like I’ve said before, there’s no anonymity here, but I love it. I love that everyone looks out for everyone else – for everyone else’s kids. People really care. You have to. A stranger is not just a nameless face – he/she is someone you’re connected to somehow, even if you don’t have it figured out quite yet. So we treat strangers as if they are our cousins – after all, they just might be!

Incidentally, “crapaud” is French for “toad”, but it can also mean “flawed”; specifically, flawed in relation to “gems”. How apt is that! Crapaud, the village, may have its flaws, but at its core it’s a real gem.

Posted in Life on PEI | 2 Comments

Jazz invades the PEI Symphony, and Anne throws down the gauntlet!

This past Sunday was the PEI Symphony’s pops concert featuring jazz pianist Doug Riley (along with Chris Mitchell, sax; Jamie Gatti, bass; and Alan Dowling, drums) in Doug’s own “Concerto” for jazz piano and orchestra, The PEI Suite. Doug and the guys were amazing; it was a great concert. We also played John Fenwick’s Charlottetown Festival Suite which, of course, contained selections from Anne of Green Gables-The Musical. Now, I have played in the orchestra for the Charlottetown Festival’s production of Anne for 17 years, and have logged well over 1000 performances, so you’d think Fenwick’s Suite would be a piece of cake for me. Oddly enough, it ended up being the hardest thing on the program, not because it was difficult per se, but because it was a different arrangement than the one I am used to. I have the “real” show memorized, and am so conditioned to playing that arrangement that my mind and body can almost not cope with having to play different notes. We’d be playing along, and I’d have a few notes that were “right”, but then I’d see the next note and would be hearing another. I’d find my slide moving all on its own out to 4th position when it should have been moving in to 1st. What a weird sensation. It required my highest concentration – it was worse than sight reading! In fact, I had to pretend I was sight reading – to pretend I had never heard the music before – in order to make it work. There is such a thing as knowing something too well.

Incidentally, if you live in PEI and want some fruit (apples, oranges or grapefruit), why not buy it from the Symphony. The annual PEI Symphony Citrus Sale is one of their biggest fundraisers of the year (details here). I bought a bag of grapefruit myself the other day, and they are delicious. I might have to go buy more, because the kids seem to like them too!

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My Boy and Bobby McFerrin

Here’s a sample of the crazy conversations that go on in our house. Background: I introduced Bailey (who is 4) to Bobby McFerrin‘s version of Cream‘s Sunshine of Your Love last summer, although his name was mentioned again fairly recently because he has a song on a “lullaby” CD that we listen to at bedtime. Riley is (at times) a very mature 7. It’s supper time:

Bailey: I have to go meet my friend Bobby McFerrin.

Me: [incredulously] You know Bobby McFerrin?

Bailey: [whispered] Dad, it’s just pretend. [normal] It’s the little boy named Bobby McFerrin. See his head out the window over there? I play instruments and we have a band together.

Me: Really! That’s cool.

Bailey: Yeah. Do you want to know the name of the band?

Me: Sure.

Bailey: OK, but I have to tell you upstairs in the bathroom, because the name is bathroom talk.

Riley: [maternally] Well, thank you for being so polite, Bailey, and not saying it at the table.

I wish I could report that the band’s name was as funny as the lead-up. Let’s just say it wasn’t worth the trip upstairs. Bailey thought it was pretty hilarious, though. Ah, kids!

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Face Recognition

I have to say, I’ve been enjoying CBC’s The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos. I find it to be a very interesting news show, talk show, whatever kind of show it is. There was an intriguing segment on one show about Prosopagnosia (Face Blindness), a disorder which affects people’s ability to recognize faces. In extreme cases, an affected individual may not even recognize members of his own family! Strombo mentioned a website which contains some Face Recognition Tests that anyone can take to assess their face recognition abilities. I love puzzles/problems/quizzes/tests, so I couldn’t wait to take the tests. (However, since my internet connection is dial-up, I had to wait to do them until I could use a computer with high-speed). Well, I finally had an opportunity to do the tests, and it was great fun! There are 5 tests on the website: Two shorter face recognition tests (Famous Faces Test and Old-New Faces Test) and one longer one, and two object recognition tests (Old-New Cars Test and Old-New Shoes Test). The average score for all the tests is around 85%. I scored 96% for the Famous Faces Test, which kind of surprised me – I had no idea I was so up on who’s who. The only error I made was mistaking Tony Blair for Jack Nicholson – sorry, Tony! The “Old-New” tests consist of being introduced to 10 people/objects, followed by a sequence of 50 images where you indicate whether each image was one of the original 10 or not. I scored above average for these as well. Oddly enough, I scored higher on the Shoes Test than the Cars Test (and don’t go reading anything into that!). And finally, I scored 100% on the longer face recognition test – now if I could just remember names…

If you have a few minutes, check out these tests. And feel free to share your results!

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New Year’s Levee with Pat Binns

On New Year’s Day, the kids and I found ourselves stuck in downtown Charlottetown for a little while, waiting for Sandy. There being not much to do, we made our way over to the Confederation Centre, where PEI Premier Pat Binns’ New Year’s Levee was taking place. This was actually the first time I’ve ever been to a levee, which is perhaps surprising because levees are a pretty big Thing To Do on PEI. It was an interesting experience. We arrived near the end, so there was no punch left, but there were lots of sweetbreads, cookies, etc. I told the kids they could each eat two things, and hoped they wouldn’t notice the woman who was surreptitiously stuffing sweets into her coat pockets – I didn’t know how I would explain why they could only have two things while she was allowed to take all she wanted. (I dare say there must be several interesting characters show up to these things!) While waiting in line to greet Premier Binns, I coached the kids on how to shake hands, and they did great – it was very cute – and as we shook hands with the Premier, our photo was taken. Now check this out: upon arrival, I’d been instructed to write my name on a card, which I was to give to the Premier’s aide so she could introduce us to him. Apparently, this card and the photo were cross-referenced, and as if by magic, an envelope containing the photo was mailed to us from the Premier’s office. Scary in a way, since I hadn’t given anyone my address. There’s no anonymity in PEI!

Here’s the photo:

PEI Premier Pat Binns and us

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UPEI’s New Steinway Piano

Last night I played on a UPEI Department of Music Faculty Recital to welcome the new Steinway Concert Grand Piano at Steel Recital Hall. Although this was the official launch of PEI’s “newest and finest concert Grand Piano”, it has been in use since its arrival in August 2006. In fact, my sister Jacqueline Sorensen gave the inaugural public performance on August 13 with my contemporary music ensemble eklektikos. It’s kind of fun to think that we made history that night! The new piano replaces an older Steinway, built in 1888, and which is still being used by Dr. Fran Gray in her teaching studio. One can only imagine the musical history of that instrument – the performers who have caressed its keys, the repertoire that it has realized, the sounds that have soared from its strings. What rich history awaits the new instrument as it embarks on its voyage – a musical journey that will end long after those of us who nurture it through its youth are gone? Last night’s program gave a hint of what’s to come: a variety of music ranging from Bach’s Partita No. 6 for keyboard, to an arrangement of Piazzolla’s Meditango for trombone, bass trombone, tuba and piano. Here’s to a new century of music making on PEI!

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Star Wars in My House

Today the kids are playing Star Wars. They’ve never seen the movies, but are fascinated by the characters, whose images they see in books, toys, etc. Luke and Oola have been leaving messages around the house to try to trick Darth Vader into a trap:

Note to Darth Vader
“Follow this note and follow this clue. Love, Oola and Luke.”

Precious. Darth Vader doesn’t have a chance!

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Hope for Our Schools

For a while, Sandy and I, feeling disillusioned with the school system, had considered home schooling our children. Of course, we worried about whether we had the discipline to pull off such an endeavour, and whether it would be a disservice to our children by taking away the main opportunity kids have for social development. Luckily for us, we live within the district of one of the best schools going, Englewood School in Crapaud, PEI. I had gone there myself from Grades 1-9, and had always felt that it was someplace special. In the end, we believed that it would be a positive environment for our children, and our daughter is LOVING her first year there. We are always pleased to have our view of Englewood positively reinforced, especially by someone with no connection to the place. We were therefore very excited to read Rob Paterson’s article, Hope is not lost – Englewood School PEI. I encourage you to read this article and learn about some of the effective (yet simple) strategies that the staff at Englewood have implemented to eliminate “exclusion” and “labelling”, and to make sure all students have an equal chance at success. While you’re at it, check out the Peaceful School Initiatives section on Englewood’s website. There really is hope for our schools.

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My Danish Roots

I am not a regular newspaper reader. About the only time I read it is when something catches my eye as I am crumpling up the paper to start a fire in the wood stove. Today’s fire-starter included an article in the Nov. 30 Guardian about Charlottetown native Frank Zakem’s new book The Zakem-Marji Story: Five Generations. The article was yet another reminder that I should try to trace back the Sorensen line of my ancestry a little further. My mom has had great genealogical success with much of our family’s history, but we just don’t know all that much about our Sorensen ancestors. My grandfather Aage Sørensen came to Canada in 1928 at the age of 17, and never returned to his home country. His youngest brother Gunnar related a story to my brother Barrie (the only one of us who has ever made it over to Denmark for a visit), in which he recalled watching Aage board the ship to Canada, somehow knowing it would be the last time he would ever see his big brother. Aage died in 1961. Interestingly, it was my PEI-born grandmother that would maintain any correspondence with our Danish relatives, first with her sister-in-law Katherine, then with Gunnar’s daughter Inge Lisa (with whom my parents now keep in touch).

The Zakem article inspired me to do a brief internet search for information. A great starting point for anyone is the Mormon genealogy site,, and I did find an entry there for my grandfather which listed the names of his parents. I also came across a very interesting website called My Danish, where I learned that “Sørensen” is the eighth most common surname in Denmark – of 5.3 million Danes, 127,078 are Sørensens. (Click here for the list of the 100 most common surnames in Denmark). A common last name would be a natural extension of a first name being common:

Unlike in England, for example, surnames were generally adopted rather late in Scandinavia. This meant that most families until the mid-1800s did not have an actual family name as we know them today. Peoble [sic] were instead named according to the patronymic naming tradition where [the] childrens’ last name derived from their father’s given name with the addition of a suffix meaning “son” or “daughter”. [My Danish]

(If we still followed this tradition, I would be named “Dale Jacksen”).

This means that many of those 127,078 Sørensens would be of no relation at all. It also means that the “Sorensen” trail will end after only a few generations, at which point last names will begin changing. No matter what, it won’t be easy. In fact, it seems the only way to find out anything more at this point is to head on over to Denmark and search the birth/baptismal records at one of the 2200 parishes! I’ve got to make it over there one of these days…

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