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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy

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Beethoven, Mahler, Penelope, and The Beatles

Playing a bit of catch-up here, on the eclectic mix of KW Symphony concerts we’ve seen this fall and winter…

It began in September with the season opener. The first half were two fairly fabulous modern classical pieces, both by local composers, Stewart Goodyear’s Count Up and John Estacio’s Brio: Toccata and Fantasy for Orchestra. The second half was somewhat more familiar: Beethoven’s Symphony in D minor: The Ode to Joy. It’s a bit funny in that it features a mass choir (four choirs, combined) and four soloists, but for most of the performance time, they are just sitting there. They only start singing in the later movements.

But what a gorgeous piece that is. I’m always worried I’ll get a bit bored during the slow bits of classical pieces, but that didn’t happen here. Too beautiful, too moving. Then afterward, we attended the opening gala, which offered a live band (not classical), dancing, hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and an auction. It was a fun evening.

In October, we saw Penelope, by Sarah Kirland Snider (who was in attendance), which was part of the Intersections series. It was a “song cycle”, in which a woman’s husband returns from the war after many years, not remembering his previous life. The performance is his wife’s reaction to this and attempts to restore his memory, partly through reading Homer’s Odyssey to him.

Haunting is probably the best descriptor of this one. It wasn’t quite like anything I’ve heard before. It was written for and performed by Shara Worden, who has a gorgeous but unusual, almost unearthly, quality to her voice. Think I’d like to get the recording, though it would be the kind of thing you’d want to just listen to and through on its own, and not on shuffle mode with other things.

(I found this video while researching this, and really got drawn into watching it all, though it’s seven minutes long…) After the song cycle, Shara Worden performed some of her own songs, which were quirky and somewhat lighter, even featuring audience participation.

Then earlier this month, Edwin Outwater presented the work he’d listened to a lot as a (clearly very unusual) teenager, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 5. The piece is over an hour long and requires more musicians than KW Symphony has, so they were joined by about 40 additional musicians. In the first half, after with Schubert’s brief Entr’acte No. 3 from Rosamunde, Outwater explained what was going on the various parts of the Mahler symphony, with excerpts, then in the second half, they played it all. Though I’d had kind of a day at work, I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the gorgeous music rather than brooding on that.

He’s right that it’s an amazing work. Still can’t imagine myself having listened to it as a teenager, though.

Revolver cover artFinally, the first Jeans’n’Classics concert led off this month with something I did listen to as a teenager: The Beatles: Rubber Soul and Revolver. Jean calls me a snob for this, but I still protest that following the old US releases of these albums rather than the more definitive UK / CD versions was a weird Boomer thing to do, particularly as it meant the omission of songs like “Love You to” (my favorite of the three Harrison songs on Revolver) and “And Your Bird Can Sing”. And the even more brilliant songs “Drive My Car” and “Nowhere Man” are only recent additions, tacked on at the end of Rubber Soul’s odd US play order.

But then again… Maybe has does have a point that it’s just a quibble, because it was a really good concert. The Beatles music is very suited to the symphonic treatment, and Peter Brennan clearly loves them and does cool, original things with the arrangements, such as intermixing “Within You Without You” (from Sgt. Pepper) into Octopus’s Garden.

The two lead singers, David Blamires and Neil Donnell, both have exquisite voices, and their weaker stage presence was made up for by having personable keyboardist John Regan lead us through the set. We also got Don Paulton on keyboards, in a rare double-shot on the ivories. And one has to mention that apart from singing well, as always, Kathryn Rose looked particularly fetching. She seems to be one of those women who just get more attractive as they get older.

The set list, of course, featured three of my all-time favorite Beatles songs, “Norwegian Wood” (which led to a night-long debate as to just what John Lennon was setting fire to there), “In My Life”, “Girl” (so sensual), and “For No One” (a most devastating breakup song). But those two albums are just strong in general, so there wasn’t much dross. The very odd “Tomorrow Never Knows” was suitably trippy ending to the evening.

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Movie review: The Killing of John Lennon

** The Killing of John Lennon (August 2006) – Rental
Jonas Ball. A look into the mind of Mark Chapman in the days leading up to the murder of John Lennon.

Jean didn’t see this movie, so only my comments this time.

This isn’t a terrible movie. It holds the interest reasonably well, considering that there’s no suspense: we know how this will end. However, it is a pointless one. The movie’s tagline is “We all know who killed John Lennon. This is the first movie to explain why.”—but there is no why. He was a mentally disturbed guy with delusions of grandeur who became fixated on Catcher in the Rye and John Lennon. His actions are insane. Watching them play out is not boring, but it’s not satisfying, either. It’s not spun into a bigger narrative about gun control or failures of mental health treatment or the legal system or anything else. It’s just this dude being crazy and killing a great artist for no reason.

So I don’t recommend it. (Apparently there’s yet another movie about Chapman, called Chapter 27, starring Jared Leto, that is worse than this one. So, be warned.)

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Classical Mystery Tour

When asked who they’d like to go back in time to see in concert, a lot of people say, “The Beatles”. Which would be such a wasted opportunity to break the laws of physics!

The Beatles were a great band, obviously, but live? Pick The Who, The Stones, or Hendrix instead. Or even The Kinks. Heck, pick Paul McCartney and Wings! Any of those would be so much better than the mass hysteria and constant high-pitched screaming that was a Beatles concert. You’d barely be able to see and certainly couldn’t hear the band. They couldn’t even hear themselves. There is a reason they stopped touring.

Beatles on Ed Sullivan

And so, The Beatles leave a legacy of great albums that they never performed live, or performed only poorly. A great big, blank canvas into which many a tribute act has followed.

As a teenager, I saw Beatlemania in Toronto, a tribute that mixed film with live music to cover the history of the Beatles. And in Timmins, I saw another, more straight-up Beatles tribute band, just playing a concert at a hockey arena. More recently, one of the best Jeans’n’Classics concerts I’ve ever seen was based around the Beatles Abbey Road album, featuring Rik Emmett and Alan Frewe, among others. Las Vegas’ Beatles Love show, by Cirque du Soleil, was both touching and astounding. Less successful was Classic Albums Live tribute to Sgt. Pepper, as the efforts at reproducing the album so exactly seem to take all the life out of the live performance.

So I was a little worried about Classical Mystery Tour, as the pre-show interviews emphasized how they went back to the original albums and tried to re-create the symphonic score. I also wasn’t too sure what to think when I saw the odd stage setup, with the symphony fairly far back on the stage, behind sound barriers.

But from the opening notes of “Got to Get You into My Life”, the cast quickly put my fears to rest. They were interactive, relaxed, somewhat improvisational—all around very entertaining. They did provide a reasonable simulation of what might have happened had the actual Beatles ever been able to play their songs live with a symphony, and without all the squealing.

They came out initially garbed in Ed Sullivan Show-style suits, then during “Yesterday”, everyone but “Paul” left the stage, and came back in Sgt. Pepper gear. (“Paul” caught up with them partway through the next number.) Highlights of the first half included hearing the amazing Larry Larson on the “Penny Lane” trumpet solo; “A Little Help from my Friends” as sung by their drummer, a much better vocalist than Ringo; and a searing performance of my favorite Beatles song, “A Day in the Life”, which closed out the first half.

Beatles in Pepper gear

It was a pretty good turnout for the show, but it seemed to me that the crowd was a bit subdued—at least those in front and beside me. Who were probably mostly symphony subscribers first, Beatles fans second.

Nevertheless, everyone really seemed to get into it during the second, with “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” turning into a major clap-along, singalong, fun-fest that mostly continued into “Yellow Submarine”. Since I’ve been reporting on clothes, I’ll say that this half featured the hippie Beatles look, complete with John’s white suit, long hair, and mustaches.

They also broke out of the strictly Beatles format and gave us “Live and Let Die”, one of the numbers that best took advantage of the symphonic power available. For fairness, we also got “Imagine”. We weren’t sure if there would be encores at this type of show, but there were 2 or 3, actually. The first was “Hey Jude” (after a bit of a humorous false start, as “George” struggled to get guitar plugged in, prompting a do-over: At least we know it was all live), which of course become another singalong, men vs. women at one point. (“Paul” declared the women had it.)

Then we had just the band on “Twist and Shout”, for which the audience stayed on their feet dancing, and “whoo-ing” along at all the appropriate times. And “Can’t Buy Me Love” to close out the show.

Definitely one of the most fun symphony concerts I’ve ever been to.


Our programs didn’t include the set list, so the first half is approximate, based on what I recalled at intermission. The second half, I actually wrote down as we went.

Part I

  1. KW Symphony – Beatles medley, including “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
  2. Got to Get You Into My Life
  3. I Saw Her Standing There
  4. A Hard Day’s Night
  5. Yesterday
  6. All You Need Is Love
  7. Eleanor Rigby
  8. Penny Lane
  9. Here Comes the Sun
  10. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band / A Little Help from My Friends
  11. A Day in the Life

Part II

  1. Magical Mystery Tour
  2. I Am the Walrus
  3. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
  4. Yellow Submarine
  5. Come Together
  6. Dear Prudence
  7. The Long and Winding Road
  8. Live and Let Die
  9. Imagine
  10. Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight


  1. Hey, Jude
  2. Twist’n’Shout
  3. Can’t Buy Me Love


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Visiting the Canyon lands

We’ve recently returned from a trip with the following itinerary:

  • 2 days in Zion, Utah
  • 2 days in Sedonah, Arizona
  • 2 days in Grand Canyon Village, Arizona
  • 2 days in Las Vegas Nevada

Map of area

(Not quite our itinerary, but gives you an idea)

Getting around: Why drive when you can walk?

We flew into Vegas, rented a car, and drove ourselves to the other locations. (And by that I mean, Jean did all the driving.) But it was still a pretty active vacation, because we managed to get some walking in on the driving days, and on the non-driving ones, we did a lot of hiking. And the thing about Canyon areas is, there a lot of uphills! So it wasn’t just ambling down paved lanes.

On Grand Canyon trail

Even in sprawling Vegas, since we abandoned the car as soon as we arrived, we got around mostly on foot.

We did use a bit of public transit, trying out the cool monorail in Vegas, and having to take the free park shuttle to get out of Springdale (the little town right outside Zion) into Zion park, and to get to the various trail heads. Grand Canyon Village also had a free shuttle, but it wasn’t as frequent or as late-running as the Zion. So we did some car-supplementing there, especially at night.

But still, pretty active. And I have to say, that does wonders for sleep. And gives you quite the appetite, too. (For food. What did you think I meant?)

We’ve discovered that quite a few people actually visit all these parks from a Las Vegas base, driving out and back in the same day. If you have limited mobility, such that hiking isn’t too feasible anyway, it’s probably a reasonable approach. The landscape is very interesting—sometimes, but not always, gorgeous—but so varied and different from here, it does make for good drives. And Las Vegas is cheaper to stay in than the other places.

Route 66 scene

Not our rental car! A view from Route 66, one of the interesting drives you can do around these parts

But our best days were definitely the hiking ones, not the car ones. So if healthy and wealthy enough to do so, I’d strongly recommend getting out of Vegas and spending non-driving time in the other places.

Trail in Zion

You can’t get here by car! (trail in Zion)

The weather outside is (not at all) frightful

The weather was perfect. It was sunny everyday. It was warm, but not too warm. Despite SP15, I even got a bit of a tan.

I’m not sure that was such great luck. It is desert area, after all; warm and sunny’s not so unusual. Still, we heard that the week before we were there, Grand Canyon had turned so frigid, they actually got some snow. And Vegas got a flash flood that left knee deep water in parts.

So maybe it wasn’t great luck, but at least some luck. (Hmm, maybe I should have tried the slots at Vegas. Oh well.)

And, we were even graced with a full moon, which apart from looking gorgeous, was helpful in those small towns which (unlike Vegas) are not very illuminated at night. Especially given that the sun set around 6:00.

Moon over Grand Canyon

Hotels: Living in the lap of luxury

This wasn’t an organized tour, so we booked all our hotels a little haphazardly, over a series of weeks. In Zion and Grand Canyon, it quickly became clear that things were selling out fast, so the main criteria became, which hotel has space? In Sedona and Las Vegas, we were able to deal-hunt more, and picked out places mostly based on value (most stars for the least money).

So we were repeatedly surprised at just how fancy the places we were staying at were. In Zion, we had a full suite with complete kitchen, a hot tub outside, and a beautiful view of the park. In Sedona, we got valet parking, porters, free yoga classes, another hot tub, and walk-in closet. It also had the most gorgeous dining area, with a view, and on the Monday night, a great guitar player performing. Really, super-romantic.

And Vegas—our cheapest accommodation—was the best room of all! Again a full suite with complete living room as well as bathroom, two flat-screen TVs, walk-in closet (of course! Too bad we were never bothering to unpack), enormous bathtub (Jean said you could get a full workout walking around in there while taking your morning shower), escort by golf cart… 9 pools (all heated)… Crazy.

The only “normal” room—a perfectly fine room of the type we normally stay in—was at Grand Canyon Village. That was the most expensive one of all.

Hell is other people: The crowds

Actually, it wasn’t that bad. But, we weren’t exactly the only people there. All accommodations in Zion/Springdale and Grand Canyon Village were fully booked. (In Utah, they post Sorry! instead of No Vacancies. Isn’t that cute?) But where Zion had some crowded buses and busy restaurants, it really wasn’t annoying. Like, we never made restaurant reservations, and that was never a problem.

But in Grand Canyon, there really were people everywhere, all the time. Really hard to get parking, most any of time of day. Really hard to get a seat at a restaurant, especially the better ones. (One we had to reserve weeks ahead, and still got only an 8:45 dining time; another we had to wait 45 minutes before being seated.) In Zion, on some trails, we hardly met anyone. Not so at Grand Canyon.

Crowd at sunset in Grand Canyon

Joining the crowd to watch the sunset at Grand Canyon

In Sedona, the trail we did was really quiet; hardly met anyone. I guess most people were visiting the little town, which was quite a bit busier. But manageable. And except for one very popular restaurant, no dining issues here, either.

Las Vegas is packed with people. Especially at night. On the streets, in the hotels, everywhere. But, great people watching, especially given the higher percentage of attractive people here (especially female, but some men as well). And of course, so many restaurants, they’re not all going to be booked.

But all in all, if this is sort of the low season, can’t imagine what it’s like in these places in the high season…

You didn’t come all this way for the food, did you?

Well, no, we didn’t. But, with the help of a few guide books, we mostly did pretty well in the dining department. It was not a big foodie focus (for once), but with about two exceptions (both in the Grand Canyon—who knew breakfast could be so dire?), all the meals ranged from decent to very good.

A real Mexican focus to the food options here, which unfortunately made us realize that we get tired of Mexican food faster than other types (despite it being better prepared there than anywhere around here). The El Tovar at Grand Canyon was touted as a five-star restaurant; I’d say that’s generous. It was good, but in local terms, I’d say it was Solé good rather than Verses good. But it was just a gorgeous place to be at; too bad it was too dark to see the view.

The beautiful restaurant at Sedona also had really good food, though with very disorganized service. Still, that benefited us one night, as they were so late bringing us the wine, we got it free! And pretty much every place we tried in Springdale was rather remarkably good.

In Las Vegas, we had supper in Paris, lunch in New York. (I just like saying that.) And back in Sedona, we did an Arizona wine tasting. I only learned on the flight over that they even made wine there. None of the restaurants seemed to serve it, but two of the whites and one of the reds were very enjoyable.

Dining in Vegas

Sorry; probably more of me than you want to see. But when in Vegas…

Leaving Las Vegas

And what did we think of Vegas, really? Worth visiting… for a day. Never seen anything like it before. But if you don’t gamble or drink your face off, it doesn’t take that long to get tired of the crowds, the noise, the smoky casinos (that all look and sound the same). And mainly what there is to do there (besides gambling and drinking your face off) is visiting big, lavish hotels and fancy designer stores. Which gets old.

But, they do have good shows. And we did get same-day discount tickets to one of those, the Cirque du Soleil Beatles Love. It was really excellent. It was compelling in itself, but I also felt it gave me new insight into the familiar Beatles music. Even at a discount, not cheap, but certainly my favorite part of Vegas.

Cirque Du Soleil at Mirage

For more photos, see

(And Jean will be continuing to add and update that area in the coming days.)

And for a particularly detailed account of the trip:

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Classic albums live

A concert is not a live rendition of our album. It’s a theatrical event.

—Freddie Mercury

The most recent “Electric Thursdays” concert did not feature the usual Jeans’n’Classics band. Instead, it was the Classic Albums live crew, trademark “Note for note, cut for cut”. We were warned that there would not even be any talking to the audience ( I guess, because there wasn’t any on the album).

The subject of the “full album” treatment was The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. And although the Centre in the Square website had the peculiar note that this concert did not feature the KWS (Kitchener Waterloo Symphony), that was not the case. They were there, although sitting farther back than usual. And also just sitting around more than usual, because of this idea of faithfully rendering the original album. Not all of which featured orchestra.

Now, though it is not my favorite Beatle album, I do like Sgt. Pepper. The musicians performing it were very good. The Symphony, when they did have occasion to play (“She’s Leaving Home”, “Mr. Kite”, and of course, “A Day in the Life”) sounded wonderful. The songs they played on were the highlight to me. The sound mixing seemed particularly good.

But the whole concept is kind of peculiar. The no interaction with the audience. The covering everything on the album, including the little sounds effects and spoken asides. Seemed more of an exercise than a performance, and left me a little cold, and Jean somewhat bored.

Fortunately, the second act, of “Beatles greatest hits” was somewhat more free-wheeling. They still stuck with the “as originally performed by the Beatles” idea, but by selecting a whole series of songs that were originally orchestrated, at least the Symphony had more to do. And this one did feature some of my favorites: I Am the Walrus, All You Need Is Love, Eleanor Rigby, Hey Jude.

The “encore”, which the only the band (not the symphony) came back for, turned into a rather extended set of various other Beatles classics like Ob-la-di Ob-la-da, While My Guitar Gently Weeps (with truly awesome re-creation of the original Clapton guitar solo), Twist’n’Shout, Norwegian Wood (with sitar, which was cool) and Helter Skelter! (And Jean amused me to no end with his shock that this cacophony of feedback was actually a Beatles song.) The band really seemed to be having fun at this part, and interacted a lot more with crowd, speaking occasionally, and getting us to clap and sing along at times.

Still, I have to say that overall, I prefer the Jeans’n’Classics approach. Even though they also sometimes do entire albums, sometimes even with the original artist, it’s never presented exactly as it was originally recorded. It’s always a re-creation, designed to take advantage of the concert hall and the variety of talented musicians available in the orchestra.

And isn’t that the point of live? To hear something different than what you can hear in your living room?

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Movie review: Nowhere Boy

*** Nowhere Boy (October 2010) – Theatre
Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas. A look at the early life of John Lennon, when he was getting to know both his mother Julia and a boy named Paul.

She says: Well cast and acted; a fairly intense look at this tumultuous time in John Lennon’s life. Lots of passion burning below the reserved British surface, which occasionally erupts.
He says: I think you have to care about The Beatles more than I do to really get into this movie.