Cauliflower ears and tongue in cheek

By Mike Cochran




George Frederick was in his mid twenties when he settled in London in 1712. Just a couple of years earlier he’d been appointed Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover, who then scooted off with wife Anne to become King George the First of Great Britain and Ireland. Handel couldn’t resist the 200 pounds yearly stipend offered by Queen Anne.  In a few short years he became the most successful English resident composer of his day. Given his German heritage, can we say that Handel’s music, following  Purcell, is truly English? I say we can, and that’s where the cauliflower ear comes in.

Many young men (and nowadays young women), usually of Herculean stature, tend to enjoy running about the place clutching a pigskin, preferably in the freezing wet, covered in mud, bruises and blood. This peculiar endeavor goes back many centuries, possibly originating on the cold, wet, freezing grassy mud of an English private school just outside the English town of Rugby.  Handel, from the looks of him in prints and portraits, is burly of build.  It’s somewhat difficult to discern his Herculean build since our eyes are drawn to facial features and the large curly periwig, considered high fashion for men of stature at the time.  Another aspect of the game of rugby sees many participants banding together to form a tortoise shell structure, all legs, and arms clutching bodies, and heads locked together.  There are two fellows in the centre of the tortoise shell, called hookers, who have an especially hard time of it — their heads being crushed. Proud hookers are considered to be members of an exclusive profession, but not the oldest, and they wear their cauliflower ears as a badge of honour.  To my ears, the distinct “Englishness” of Handel’s music draws some of its uniqueness from the invigorating coldness and wetness of the fields of Britain. “Rough, rugged, vital, thriving, robust, sturdy, tough and vigorous” are adjectives that consummately describe the music and the game. I’m convinced Handel knew rugby — his melodies, counterpoint and harmonies are unerringly direct, logical and powerful — just like the muddy old game.

Our concert contains Handel’s most famous works with excerpts from the Water Music and Messiah. Our Messiah selections are mainly from Part 1 — the prophecy and birth of Christ. In Part 2, the trial and crucifixion of Christ, the Passion is heard, ending with the “Hallelujah” Chorus. It is said that George the First, on hearing the Chorus for the first time, stood in homage. Maybe, maybe not; perhaps he just needed a stretch! Messiah is not crafted as narrative of the life of Christ. It’s more an acclamation of the creation of Christianity with some narrative recitatives when needed, and many reflections on aspects of the Passion.  The soloists ask questions time and again and receive answers or confirmations from the chorus or other soloists. The Bass aria “Why do the Nations so furiously rage”,  followed by the Tenor aria “Thou shalt break them” come to mind.  There’s a pledge of holy betrothal between music and text unsurpassed in Baroque repertoire. Even Bach is second among equals in this respect. Every performer of Messiah experiences the pleasure of discovery of yet another enhancement of text through simple melodic lines, logical direct harmony and ingenious counterpoint. “Glory to God in the highest” with soaring sopranos, “and peace on earth “ — the depths of the earth in the basses. Or “The people that walked in darkness” with bewildering chromaticism as the people felt their way through blackness. Simple means, great effects that inspire great affection in performers and audiences alike. The text of Messiah is like a Da Vinci sketching in the framework of a painting. The music of Messiah is like Da Vinci’s brush and palette — the masterpiece is wondrous and complete.

April 13th 1742, the première of a new Oratorio by Mr .Handel, to be performed at the Great Music Hall in Fishamble  Street, Dublin.  Why Dublin for the first performance is somewhat of a mystery especially for the concert audiences in London.  But we have it on completely reliable rumour that a very prominent Irish family of musicians residing in Dublin had something to do with it. Unfortunately, the name of the musician who persuaded Handel is unknown, but he was known to be a violinist friend. His handle was possibly Norman but surname unknown! The legend of the Dublin première has passed down to the present day and a prominent member of our Sooke musical community is fond of retelling it, albeit with a slight bulge in his cheek!

If you’d been around in Handel’s day, and you were on intimate terms with the master, and you tweaked his periwig a little, you’d be bound to glimpse a cauliflower ear.

Harmony in Summer, May 29th and 30th

Mike Cochran sent along these thoughts about our recent concerts.

Brahms on the way to the Roter Igel, his favorite pub in Vienna. Silhouette by Otto Böhler

Brahms on the way to the Roter Igel, his favorite pub in Vienna. Silhouette by Otto Böhler

 Hemiola  Heaven

There’s a silhouette print of Brahms, stooped, trudging the streets of Vienna, hands clasped behind his back, oversized overcoat draped to his ankles… trudging. Every day, trudging to his favorite haunt, the Red Hedgehog tavern. One glance at the silhouette reveals a man trudging deep in thought. Perhaps he’s deciding the harmonies of another hemiola within the architecture of his current composition as he sits crumpled at a Red Hedgehog corner table, glass of ale half-empty.

It wasn’t music dramas, he was thinking, or tone poems or some Greek legend or an unrequited love… [hhmm well maybe this one…]  It was the purity of abstractism and the upholding of tried and true forms that held him. Baroque polyphony, classical sonata form, the rondo, and allied musical genres, were where his imagination took him. Then there were these hemiolas, they were everywhere. Of all the Romantics, only Brahms latched onto these rhythmic three-against-two’s.

In the Baroque era hemiolas showed up regularly, adding tension to polyphony, yet resolving handsomely. Brahms’ Third Symphony, in contrast, begins by diving into a deep pool of hemiolas. The first movement is awash with them. The tautness of the rhythmic structure creates a brooding, reflective, even meandering substance to the movement, which finishes softly, still seemingly searching for resolution.

The second and third movements are lighter and more delicately scored. A folk tune in the second, a scherzo in the third, almost as if a chamber orchestra were performing. The Finale in F minor, marked sotto voce exhibits a typical Brahmsian subdued melody in the strings. Later the trombones introduce a chorale which evolves into a complex development until the return of sotto voce.

“The music floats away into a Brahmsian quietude.” –Roy Saberton.

All the movements end quietly, contemplatively.

“I look at the Third Symphony of Brahms and I feel like a pygmy.” — Edward Elgar.

And Brahms himself: “You’ll never know how the likes of me feels with the tramp of a giant behind you.” The shadow looming over Brahms curtailed his symphonic imagination at four, as if he feared to approach more symphonies, a giant at his back. Like a golfer trying to score 59, Brahms would never reach 9.

Robert Schumann and Clara were Brahms’ first mentors and after Robert’s incarceration, Brahms came closer to Clara. Much closer… helplessly closer. This was reciprocated to some extent by the older Clara, such that closeness, even at a distance, endured for a lifetime. But a formalized closeness at that. Could it be that embracing hemiolas so persistently was Brahms’ way in music to assuage lonely desperation?  To my ear there’s a hesitant, searching, irresolute quality to these rhythmic structures. More often than not, it seems Brahms’ three-against-twos resolve ambiguously.

 Die Meistersingers Overture with its vast orchestration lets our listeners know what we’re about with this concert. Leitmotif melodies represent the characters of the opera, which surprisingly is Wagner’s only comedic offering. These magnificent melodies on a grand scale (which never end) hardly reflect the light-hearted comedy to come. The lasting popularity of the overture for listeners and performers is an ideal curtain-raiser.


Brian Yoon Photo by Mélanie Provencher

Brian Yoon
Photo by Mélanie Provencher

Here are some final thoughts from our brilliant soloist, Brian Yoon, performing Dvorak’s sumptuous Cello Concerto in B Minor:

“The Dvorak concerto is undoubtedly the most important piece in the concert repertoire for cellists. It is joyful, heroic, nostalgic and passionate. I think it reflects both his time in the United States, when he was invited as the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, and his longing for home in Bohemia. Along with the New World Symphony, the cello concerto was one of the last orchestral works he wrote in the US before returning to Europe. Since learning it over ten years ago, I have returned to this work every season. Despite it being such a standard piece of repertoire, I continue to discover new details and different ways of shaping a phrase. I am especially fond of the duet with the concertmaster in the third movement. Anne sounded great in the rehearsal! I am really looking forward to the performances.”

As for myself… if there was a Stanley Cup Final for cello concertos, it would be the Elgar vs. the Dvorak.

Tanya Prochazka 1952-2015

Goodbye, Tanya!

You have our deepest respect, admiration, friendship, love. The Sooke orchestra community will miss you terribly!

As a young woman. (photo from her Facebook page)

As a young woman. (photo from her Facebook page)

Our tenth anniversary concert.

Our tenth anniversary concert.

Tanya & SPO 2

Sooke Chamber Music Workshop '07 008

Coaching at the Chamber Music Workshop 2007 (photo from Trevor MacHattie)

Coaching at the Chamber Music Workshop 2007 (photos from Trevor MacHattie)

Chamber Music, 2007

Chamber Music, 2007

The photos below of the 2013 workshop are by Shima Takeda Photography courtesy Lee Anderson.


Lee's Tanya 1

Tanya hand

Tanya stand

in action

Cello Group This photo is from Mary Jane Watson

Cello Group
This photo is from Mary Jane Watson

Don Chrysler Concerto Competition, 2015


Rae Gallimore took the first prize with Bartok.

Rae Gallimore took the first prize with Bartok.

Saturday, April 25th was the night of this season’s young musicians’ competition — the tenth anniversary of this event. As usual, it was a fascinating and enjoyable evening of listening to six concertos. At the end of the night, it was Rae Gallimore who was chosen the winner. This October, the Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra will be presenting the Bartók Viola Concerto, and Rae Gallimore will be our soloist.

Rae Gallimore is no stranger to Sooke and Metchosin audiences. She placed second in last year’s concerto competition; she also played the Telemann Viola Concerto in G last November with the Sooke Philharmonic Chamber Players, in our Warming to Winter concerts.

Alyssa Fu played Shostakovich and won second prize

Alyssa Fu played Shostakovich and won second prize

Ya-Ping Huang won second prize with Mendelssohn

Ya-Ping Huang won second prize with Mendelssohn

The young people were all amazingly skilled on their instruments. Four of the six — Leo Phanichphant, Ya-Ping Huang, Ashley Green and Rae Gallimore — were competing for the second year in a row, and the improvement in their playing was remarkable, not that they weren’t already impressive last year.

No one envied Linda Gould, Lanny Pollet and Dolores Vann, the adjudicators; it must have been a difficult choice.

The adjudicators had their work cut out.

The adjudicators had their work cut out.

Leo Phanichphant, clarinet

Leo Phanichphant, clarinet

Only two people marked “can’t decide” on their Audience Choice ballots, however. The 74 ballots returned showed this to be an audience that admired virtuosity. Nelly Tian got the most votes for her performance of the Saint-Saens Violin Concerto No. 3, and Ya-Ping Huang came second. Third place in the audience’s estimation went to Alyssa Fu. The three others were tied. Leo Phanichphant played the Krommer Clarinet Concerto, and Ashley Green (cello) brought us Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations.

Nelly Tian. violin

Nelly Tian. violin

Ashley Green, cello

Ashley Green, cello

Our congratulations go to all six for their dedication, courage and skill. We should also congratulate the accompanists — Tzenka Dianova, Elfi Gleusteen, Ingrid Henderson and May-Ling Kwok — for their skillful rendition of the orchestra parts. And of course, our thanks go to the adjudicators and the SPO volunteers who make this competition happen.

Thank you Michael Nyikes for these great photos!

See you next year!

Alison Crone, SPO Principal Flute, was the M.C. for the evening.

Alison Crone, SPO Principal Flute, was the M.C. for the evening.

Jean Knight 1923 – 2014

Mike Cochrane, SPO bass, was one of the musicians who gathered this past Sunday at All Saints Church on Saltspring to remember our friend and fellow musician, Jean Knight, and he sent us a few words about the memorial.




A pale sunlit afternoon, the welcoming vestibule of All Saints-by-the-Sea.

This coolly pleasant January.

        This is Jean’s church.

There in the sanctuary a smile: compelling, magnetic, irresistible.

Her beauty, alluring, delicate.

        This is Jean not so long ago.

And there is another photo:

Jean’s smile ever more invincible… ever more gracious.

        This is Jean now.

Jean the den mother. Nurturing her “kits”.

Those seconds Norman met.

        This is Vancouver Jean.

The Elgar Serenade; profound

Inevitability of life’s passage.

        There is Jean playing second.

And Mozart, carefree, cheerful, cheeky; Jean all over.

I believe she’s dancing, sharing joy, as we play.

        This is the Jean we know.

In my tiny cramped place as I play, a daisy is misplaced

From the vase behind my Bass. Detached from its stem

It rests like a delicate white posy at my feet.

The Service concludes – retrieving my fragile posy I place

Her back in her family’s vase, Jean smiling from her portrait.

        This is Jean.

Mike Cochrane played his bass at the memorial.

Mike Cochrane played his bass at the memorial. (Brenda Knight, photo.)

The Harmony Project Is Coming!

Norman and Anne working with young string players

Norman and Anne working with young string players

Playing a musical instrument is good for the brain; research has shown this. Norman Nelson, Lorna Bjorklund and Anne McDougall are planning to implement this idea with Sooke youngsters, particularly those who lack support or resources; who are, in the words of the organisers, “under-served”.

The U.S.-based Harmony Project has developed a method to put these new findings about brain development and music into practice. It has been successfully set up in urban schools in Los Angeles, Miami and New Orleans. Lorna and Anne went to L.A. in the fall to see the projects first-hand and meet some of the teachers involved.

Anne is the concertmaster of the SPO

Anne is the concertmaster of the SPO

We all know Anne, our concertmaster. Lorna, of course, is the Journey Middle School music teacher who is responsible for their extremely successful string and band programs. Norman and the Sooke Philharmonic Society are fully on board.

Lorna is the music teacher at Journey Middle School

Lorna is the music teacher at Journey Middle School

Norman was introduced to the program through the Ernest Lieblich Foundation, and he immediately saw its enormous potential to make a positive change in young people’s lives.

“If things go through as planned, this will be the first instance in Canada of the fast-developing Harmony Project, making this American endeavour an International one — on a par with the Suzuki programme. The importance of this situation should not be underestimated,“  Norman said, just back from meetings with the Harmony people and the  Ernest Lieblich people, in California.

Youngsters who are interested and willing to make certain basic commitments can be accepted in the program as early as Grade 2. The child must agree to attend his or her music lessons and music classes, to take care of the musical instrument, and to demonstrate responsible behaviour generally. The music program stays with the student through school, and at graduation there are university scholarships available.

The purpose of the Harmony program is not to turn out musicians; it is literally to develop young brains. Of the 2014 Harmony graduates in L.A., no fewer than 97% were accepted into four-year college or university programs.  This is not because they were pre-selected as kids who would do well, but because, as music students in the Harmony program, they developed the ability to do well. Music develops intellectual skills that have been shown to be good for academic subjects like reading and math. Participation in the program also benefits the whole person: the kids learn how to behave in a community of musicians. And of course, the pleasure of making music can give them something to stay in school for.

The L.A. Harmony Project started out with 36 students and now has almost 2,000. The projects vary:  in L.A., projects feature drums, mariachi, and choir.

Sooke plans are to start with a string program At this point, Norman, Anne and Lorna are exploring the details and developing a budget. Instruments will need to be bought and teachers will be paid. Fundraising is just getting underway.

All Harmony projects require three partners: one is the site donor, which in Sooke is School District 62; second is the project manager and music teachers; the third Sooke partner will be Norman Nelson and the Sooke Philharmonic Society.

For more information about the American projects, go to the Harmony Project site.

It’s an intriguing and exciting prospect for all of us here in Sooke!