“20,000 chords”: piano duo review

by Bob Park

There’s an old joke about the difference between jazz musicians and rock musicians. “A rock musician plays 3 chords for 20, 000 people. A jazz musician plays 20, 000 chords for 3 people.”

So, what happens if classical gets thrown in the mix? Turns out, the played those 20, 000 chords for over 200 people Friday night (November 10, 2017) at the Frank Venables Theatre—and we gave them a standing ovation.

The South Okanagan Concert Society’s first concert of the 2017/18 season was over-the-top wonderful. Both the Frank Venables Theatre’s lobby piano (a Petrof)  and the concert society’s stage piano (the Yamaha C3)  had a workout as never before. This high energy show  took us on a captivating tour of  familiar classical music themes infused with imaginative jazz twists and turns throughout. Every one of those “20,000 chords” brought us surprises and delight.

Having heard one of the pianists, internationally acclaimed Matt Herskowitz, perform solo in Oliver ten years ago—yes, on that dear old Steinway in that ageing school auditorium!— , I looked forward to this concert in which he was teaming up with another international great, jazz pianist John Roney . The rest of the audience had also clued in that this would be different—they didn’t all crowd to the one side to see a soloist’s hands on the piano keys. From all angles, it was such fun to watch these two world-class musicians constantly interact with each other as they explored the possibilities of those beloved classical themes fused with the rich harmonic language and creativity of jazz. The music of Bach, Debussy, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Beethoven was given new life as they re-interpreted it for us so masterfully, all the while referencing the spirit of the original.

As I listened to Matt and John pushing harmonic boundaries so effortlessly and with a smile, I wondered what those old masters would have thought of people tampering with their music. When you consider that these composers were either considered off the wall, avant garde or inveterate improvisers in their own time, I suspect they probably would have joined us in standing and shouting, “Bravo!”

In this entire program of excellence what really stood out for me was the Piano Cameleons’ performance  of Beethoven’s well-known “Pathetique” Sonata.

Besides playing the two first movements mentioned on the program, they  treated us to the “premiere in BC” of the third movement, which they had just finished working up. Watching them egg each other on, feeding off each other’s energy and enthusiasm, we witnessed Beethoven morphing into “All the Things You Are”, and then into “Blueberry Hill”, and then into something that sounded like the soundtrack to an Alfred Hitchcock horror movie! Wonderful stuff! Somewhere Beethoven and Fats Domino are smiling.

Music lovers in the South Okanagan: mark your calendars for January 19, 2018. Another duo, this one a 26-year old pianist and her 19-year old brother on the cello. Check out the Frank Venables website, for the Cheng2Duo and other future musical delights which the South Okanagan Concert Society has in store for the rest of the concert season.

Photo Credit: Alan Dean Photography

Music for all ears

Musaic Vocal Ensemble presents: “A Christmas Collage”
Join us to experience a sound collage of Christmas choral music. From 16th Century Renaissance polyphony to brand new compositions, from a bit of jazz to a bit of folk, from Benjamin Britten to the Pentatonix – whatever your choral tastes, you’ll be filled with the joy and beauty of the season. And if you love to sing, you’ll even have the opportunity to sing along with some favourite Christmas carols.

December 8th, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
St. Savior’s Anglican Church
150 Orchard Ave,
Penticton BC

December 9th, 2:30 p.m.
St. John’s Lutheran Church,
15244 Victoria Rd N

Ding dong merrily

Oliver is a small town with plenty of talent. Filled to the brim with artists, it’s no wonder that two young musicians are getting set to represent the community this Christmas.

Nicole Thorp and Devin Riley are members of the Oliver Handbell Ringers (OHR). The pair have been selected to join the Okanagan Handbell Chorus, an elite group of ringers cherry-picked for their talents, to accompany the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra.

Both have musical backgrounds in piano, which is certainly an asset with the handbells.

Thorp’s ringing career began in 2007, as a charter member of OHR. Nicole began piano lessons at 8 years old, and carried that love for music throughout her entire life. She earned two separate music degrees in college. When asked about the differences between performing an instrument, such as the piano and performing with a handbell choir Thorp informed, “It is a VERY different experience than playing on a keyboard instrument. In an ensemble situation you may be responsible for 2 or 10 tones in the entire piece. You rely on body cues from other players and develop a real awareness of the entire group.”

Riley has been swinging the bronze since 2010. This was his grad year in high school and when his piano lessons, which commenced in kindergarten, also culminated by completing his grade 8 in the Royal Conservatory of Music program. 

When asked what draws Devin to this unique instrument he stated, “I find that handbells are deceptively complex. I might only have four bells in a piece, but once you add five or six different ringing techniques, or hand chimes it gets complicated in a hurry. I don’t think I’ve ever been bored playing bells…and then there is the added challenge of making it appear easily done to the audience.”

Okanagan Handbell Chorus (OHC) was organized in the early months of 2011 by ringer and director Nikki Atwell of Westbank, BC and directed under the watchful eye of Susan Carscadden-Mifsud, an Ontario ringer/ director (and president of OGEHR). Maestro Rosemary Thompson of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra approached Atwell, knowing she had connections to musicians with enough passion and drive to produce high quality handbell pieces to be incorporated with the Christmas production. 

Unlike being a member to a regular choir, the ringers of OHC study and rehearse their music individually. There are no weekly practices to slowly brush up on the material. The group only gets together to ring as an ensemble two days prior to performance. The week of performance is gruelling both mentally and physically.  But, the pieces come together by show time to be absolutely top-notch. 

Okanagan Symphony Orchestra’s “Ringing in the Season” treats the public to a second insertion of the Okanagan Handbell Chorus on December 21, 22 and 23.

Nicole and Devin have busy lives with work and family commitments, yet both continue to ring with their regularly scheduled handbell group on a weekly basis. The members of OHR are busy preparing for their own big Christmas event. 

Christmas and bells will forever go together, hand in glove. Musicians dedicated to creating quality music to help others celebrate the season have no shortage of things to practice and brush up on. Let us all be thankful for the talent, commitment and passion of young people like Mr. Riley and Ms. Thorp. Look for the pair with their bright smiles and tinkling bells on Thursday, Dec 21(Vernon Performing Arts Centre), Friday, Dec 22 (Kelowna Community Theatre) and Saturday Dec 23 (Penticton’s Cleland Community Theatre).

The Oliver Handbell Ringers are working diligently on producing their own Christmas program entitled “One Winter’s Night” held at Christ the King Catholic Church (Oliver, BC), Friday, December 15th at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 17th at 3:00 p.m.

Auditions November 19 for New Play

SOAP Theatre will be hosting open auditions for the spring 2018 production of “Outside Mullingar” at the following times:

– Sun. Nov. 19 at 2 pm – Big Blue Building – 5840 Airport St. Oliver
– Mon. Nov. 20 at 7 pm – Arts Centre, Upstairs – 8713 Main St. Osoyoos

Two male and two female actors are required to cast this Tony Award nominated romantic comedy by John Patrick Shanley (Doubt, Moonstruck, Joe vs the Volcano). For a full description of each character and preparation materials for your audition, please review the information and script excerpts on the SOAP Theatre website at:

and script excerpts on the SOAP Theatre website at:


Outside Mullingar is booked to play five performances at the Frank Venables Theatre between April 21 and 28. It will also be SOAP Theatre’s entry into the Okanagan Zone Theatre Festival in Vernon on or about May 24.

Cast members selected will be given scripts to review prior to rehearsals, scheduled to begin in early February. There will also be 3-4 meetings of the cast and director for script read-throughs and character development discussions prior to rehearsals.

Valdy and Fjellgaard will entertain

Ken Smedley presents THE CONTENDERSGary Fjellgaard and Valdy on their 16th Annual Tour of the Okanagan Interior with special guests Blu & Kelly Hopkins.

Sunday November 5


Frank Venables Theatre,

6100 Gala Street, Oliver, BC

Tickets  www.venablestheatre.ca


Over the past 16 years of touring and recording together THE CONTENDERS have delighted audiences across Canada with their distinct Western/Roots/Folk style of music that champions vanishing values and the frontier spirit. As Canadian as they come, they are all rolled into one unique brand of character, humour, authenticity and sincerity. Gary Fjellgaard was recently inducted into the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame.  Fjellgaard, who has been a Juno Award Winner and a Canadian Country Music Hall of Famer, is one half of the CONTENDERS (with side-kick, Valdy – also a Juno Award Winner and a member of the Order of Canada).

An evening with THE CONTENDERS will lift your spirit, touch your soul and leave you grinnin’ from ear to ear – guaranteed! Get your tickets early to this evening of laughter and songs to fill your hearts – with The Boys of Rhythm – THE CONTENDERS!

Special Guests Blu and Kelly Hopkins, on the 16th Annual Contenders Tour, are an award winning, songwriting, multi-instrumentalist duo. Focusing on original material, their extensive repertoire lets them blend traditional and contemporary tunes in to their show with a dash of humor to achieve an entertaining, exciting, yet mellow brew of good times, good tunes!

Handbell Ringers Open First Concert Series show

As if the talents of duelling pianists Matt Herskowitz and John Roney were not enough, pre-show entertainment for the first show of the South Okanagan Concert Society’s 2017-18 series will be provided by our own Oliver Handbell Ringers in the lobby of the Venables Theatre.

The Bell Ringers will be performing prior to the 7:30 pm start of the SOCS first concert of the season,”Piano Chameleons: Classics with a Jazzy Touch”, on Friday, November 10th. The Bell Ringers will entertain from 6:45 to 7:15 in the Theatre foyer.  Come early and enjoy!

Tickets for this crowd pleasing event can be obtained online www.venablestheatre.ca or at the theatre box office on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between 10 and 3 pm.  All four concerts of the season, bought in advance, cost $19 each.  Any 2 or 3 tickets in advance are $21/ticket.   A single ticket in advance is $23 and a single ticket at the door is $25.   Children and Youth can come and explore their wide ranging tastes and interests for only $2.50!

Back row L to R: Julie Thorp, Rosemary Pritchard, Patricia Landry, Shana Cachola, Nicole Thorp, Ginette Aubin   Front row L to R: Helen Wollf, Ruth Knippelberg, Devin Riley, Jorden Harty, Liam Riley.       There is one missing ringer,  Sue Gay.


MacNeill wins jury prize at SSNAP

Katherine MacNeill, a member of the Oliver Community Arts Council, is having a winning autumn. Skilled as a mixed media collage artist, Katherine recently took home a coveted jury prize at the biennial Salt Spring National Art Prize (SSNAP), organized by one of the premier arts communities in Canada. Her submission, “Offroad East of Oyama BC”  was among the 50 shortlisted by an independent jury over the summer, out of a huge field of 2,000 works of art from across the country.

Eight winners were announced at the Gala Awards Night on Salt Spring Island on Saturday, October 21, 2017. Five awards were selected by jurors, and MacNeill’s work was one of these.  Three other works were selected by public vote.

In her artist statement, MacNeill explains: “My collages involve the collection, assembly and gluing of torn or cut paper and other recycled materials to recreate, for the most part, close and personal images of landscapes on canvas. Reusing old calendars, discarded magazines and books gives new vitality to re-purposed consumer goods.”

Katherine MacNeill also took home “Best in Show” and first prize in Mixed/Other Media at the Fall Art Show and Sale on September 30.

Art for People with Special Abilities

It is my belief that everyone, of all ages and abilities, has the right to freedom of creative expression through the arts. Adults with disabilities in the South Okanagan up until now have had very little opportunity to express their individual creativity through community based arts programs.

A pilot program called “Art for People with Special Abilities” was held in August of 2017 involving adults from the Oliver Day program (part of the South Okanagan Association for Integrated Community Living; SOAICL). Three volunteer instructors and 9 adults and 5 staff members participated in the 3 hour morning program. The response to this trial program was overwhelmingly positive. Please see attached photos for some visual images from that day.

A proposal for monthly meetings and support for the program was presented to the Oliver Arts Council Board of Directors in September of 2017. The board approved a motion to sponsor and financially support the pilot program.

We are now seeking volunteer instructors for our scheduled Oct. 26, Nov. 16 and Dec. 14 2017 morning sessions at the Quail’s nest Studio space. Funds are available to pay for basic supplies and to pay instructors an hourly wage. For further information please contact J. Bednarczyk at:

This pilot program is FREE and open to anyone living in the South Okanagan who has mental or physical disabilities. The space is wheelchair accessible. Feel free to drop in and check us out. No pre-registration is required.

Janet Bednarczyk


Please note that all participants shown in these photographs have given written permission for use of these photographs to be shared.