Thursday, February 13, 2020

Music to celebrate Valentine's Day this weekend

With tomorrow being Valentine's Day, I thought I'd offer up a trio of musical suggestions for you to romance your sweetie with something other than just flowers and chocolates this year, although either or both of them might be a great accompaniment to any of these upcoming concerts.

First up, Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts gets the romance going tomorrow night with A Century of Heroes:  The music of Frank Sinatra, Jon Hendricks, Billy Eckstine and Nancy Wilson.  Popular jazz vocalist Kurt Elling fronts an all-star band in Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines for an evening of swing classics from the Great American Songbook and beyond.

Holding a dozen Grammy nominations and eight Jazz Journalists Association Awards for "Male Singer of the Year", not to mention a fourteen-year run atop the DownBeat Critics Poll, Elling knows his way around a finely-crafted tune, much as the predecessors he salutes in the show did during their time.  My personal favourite has always been Sinatra, of course, but the classic 50s Capitol recordings remain for me the pinnacle of Old Blue Eyes' craft, so no doubt several songs from that era will be on the programme.

Elling will be including several original compositions in the mix tomorrow night as well I'm told, so that will be an added bonus to keep things up to date as well as timeless.

Tickets are almost sold out for the performance tomorrow night, but you can book online at www.bravoniagara.org or call 289-868-9177.  You can also stop by the PAC box office tomorrow if you're downtown to pick up your tickets in person in advance of the performance.  The show begins at 8 pm, by the way.

On Saturday night you can head down the QEW to downtown Hamilton and stop by FirstOntario Concert Hall, formerly Hamilton Place, for the next concert with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Music Director Gemma New.

Entitled Scheherazade, the performance features the famous orchestral masterpiece of the same name by Rimsky-Korsakov illustrating the tale of One Thousand and One Nights.  In its own way, it is a perfect accompaniment to a romantic weekend as it involves one woman dazzling her man with never-ending tales lasting, well one thousand and one nights, give or take...

The HPO's Principal Trombone David Pell shows why he is a virtuoso on the instrument when he is featured in the Trombone Concerto by Tomasi, and the full orchestra will be in full bloom as they lead off with the popular Semiramide Overture by Rossini.

The concert begins at 7:30 Saturday night.  For tickets, call the box office at 905-526-7756.

Finally, the Niagara Symphony presents their third Pops! concert this weekend, both Saturday night at 7:30 and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 and will be a decidedly more popular programme this weekend. Entitled Music of the knights, the concert highlights music composed by three famous "Sirs", Andrew Lloyd Webber, Paul McCartney and Elton John and includes a number of hits from the Broadway stage as well as from many a playlist these days.

Selections will include Memory from Cats and Don't Cry for Me, Argentina from Evita by Webber, Crocodile Rock by John and Yesterday by McCartney, among others.

Tickets to any of the Niagara Symphony concerts are available by calling the FirstOntario PAC box office at 905-688-0722.  Or you can visit in person while you're downtown buying the flowers and chocolates!

Now, if you decide to go for the trifecta and book all three, well, I won't say you'll be the most popular partner on the planet, but you'll be darn close.  Oh, and the idea is gender-neutral too.  Anyone can book for whomever they are attached to or wish to be.  After all, love should be nothing if not democratic, right?

Good luck and enjoy the weekend!

February 13th, 2020.


Saturday, February 8, 2020

It's all about the singing this weekend

It's all about the singing this weekend, as we collectively try to keep warm and comfortable during the cold winter months we've been enduring.  So if you feel the need to escape the cold for an afternoon of song on a Sunday, I have a couple of great musical suggestions for you.

Here in Niagara the 25th season of Gallery Players of Niagara continues with a performance tomorrow afternoon at 2 at Silver Spire United Church in downtown St. Catharines.  The Gallery Players have programmed a concert entitled From Home and Afar - A Journey of Enchantment, and it  will take listeners on a voyage from Canada to Germany and back again, with a festive stop in warmer Argentina for good measure.

The all-star performers include mezzo-soprano Kristin Hoff, along with Caitlin Boyle on viola, Timothy Phelan on guitar and Antoine Joubert on piano.  That's typical of Gallery Players concerts, as the musical personnel is never constant.  You always hear something new each time out, and that for me is the joy of this artistic endeavour.

On the programme will be Two Songs for mezzo, viola and piano, Op. 91 by Johannes Brahms, Three Songs for mezzo, viola and piano by Frank Bridge, Sid Rabinovitch's Canciones sefardies for guitar and mezzo,  and Penelope for piano and voice by Cecilia Livingston.  Instrumentally, the concert will be rounded out with Timothy Phelan's own arrangement for viola and guitar of Astor Piazzolla's Histoire du Tango.

The tango, incidentally, just never seems to go out of fashion, either as a musical form or dance form.  It's as popular now as ever, with the music of Piazzolla really defining the genre.  I mention that because next weekend in this space I'll be writing about a brand-new CD release by the Toronto-based Ensemble Vivant, who have just recorded and released their new Latin Romance CD.  It is chock full of tangos to light up your Valentine's Day weekend, so keep an eye out for that next week.

Getting back to the Gallery Players performance tomorrow, tickets should be available at the door prior to the concert or in advance by calling 905-468-1525 or logging on to www.galleryplayers.ca.

Meantime in Elora tomorrow afternoon the ever-popular Soup & Song concert will be held at St. John's Church in the heart of Elora.  I'm told the soup tickets are sold out, which is a regular occurrence for this popular winter event, but there are still tickets available for the concert featuring The Elora Singers directed by Mark Vuorinen.  Mr. Vuorinen will also be discussing the music on the programme, which includes three cantatas by J.S. Bach.

Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich is one of Bach's earliest cantatas, although the date of composition is really not known.  But the sparse orchestration Bach gave the cantata coupled with the prominence of the choir - no surprise there with Bach - makes it an excellent vehicle for the considerable talents of The Elora Singers.  Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir was composed in either 1707 or 1708 and remains one of Bach's earliest surviving cantatas.  It is also an early example of Bach's interest in counterpoint.  Finally, the Singers will perform Weinen, klagen, sorgen, zagen, a cantata consisting of seven movements and originally composed by Bach for the third Sunday after Easter.

The sound of St. John's Church, The Elora Singers' home base, is absolutely radiant and the cosy surroundings add to the flavour and intimacy of hearing the Singers at this time of year.  No huge, drafty church here, so you'll be warmed by the music as well as by the soup beforehand.

For tickets and more information call the box office at 519-846-0331 or go to www.elorasingers.ca.

Enjoy your weekend!

February 8th, 2020.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

No shortage of music available in downtown St. Catharines this weekend

The weekend is here and if you are craving some great music in an equally great setting, I have a couple of suggestions for you.  Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon can be musically enjoyed in downtown St. Catharines.

First off,  the Marilyn I. Walker Cultural Leader Series continues this evening in the Recital Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre downtown at 7:30.

Guitar Extravaganza 2020 is Brock University's annual celebration of the guitar, featuring The Mighty Niagara Guitar Orchestra, comprised of 70 classical guitarists from throughout Niagara and the rest of Southern Ontario.  Performers travel from as far away as Sarnia, Sudbury, Ottawa and even Boston to perform right here in our own backyard.  And they all perform under the direction of Artistic Director/Conductor and Brock University guitar instructor Timothy Phelan.

The Department of Music presentation features Niagara natives Paul Wiebe and James Bryan as they join special guests Rene Izquierdo from Cuba, Elina Chekan from Belarus and Emma Rush.  The music is composed and/or arranged by three Niagara-area musicians, James Bryan, Timothy Phelan and Floyd Turner.

I remember years ago listening to the 50 Guitars of Tommy Garrett, who regularly featured some of the best guitarists in the world performing in unison, and the sound was always enjoyable.  Some of those old recordings have made it on to CD and I have a couple in my collection at the moment, in fact.  But 70 classical guitarists?  That is something special, and it should be a spectacular performance tonight.

Tickets should be available at the FirstOntario PAC box office prior to the show tonight.

Meantime in Partridge Hall at the PAC tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 the Niagara Symphony presents a concert entitled Simply Irresistible, the fourth concert in their Masterworks series for the current season.

Maestro Bradley Thachuk conducts the orchestra along with featured soloist Jinjoo Cho on violin in some rather heavy-duty music leaning towards unbridled romance, just in time for the romantic day coming up later this month.

The NSO continues their Sibelius cycle with the Symphony No. 5, certainly one of Sibelius' great orchestral works, as a concert finale.  Leading off will be Toronto-based composer Kevin Lau's Dark Angels concert suite, adapted from his full-length ballet of the same name that was commissioned by the National Ballet of Canada back in 2017.  Lau's interpretation of the Medusa myth is both tense and dark, but along with the Sibelius will show a decidedly full-bodied facet of the Niagara Symphony that perhaps suits the darker winter months as we hibernate until warmer weather arrives.

Sandwiched in between those two orchestral works will be one of the most interesting of the last century's showcases for violin as young violinist Jinjoo Cho joins the NSO in Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto.  Now considered an American classic, the work was considered "unplayable" when it premiered many years ago.  Now, young violinists regularly showcase the work in their repertoire as something of a calling card as they build their musical careers.

If Groundhog Day makes you gag and the Super Bowl makes you yawn, clearly you yearn for something more substantial.  The Niagara Symphony has your back this weekend at the PAC!

Tickets should be available from the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office prior to the performance tomorrow afternoon or in advance by calling 905-688-0722.

Have a great weekend!

February 1st, 2020.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

It's not too early to start thinking of the Annual Canadian Renaissance Music Summer School

I have a confession to make.  I love choral music.  Just love it.  The sound of human voices soaring into the rafters is for me, the nearest thing to heaven on earth I think we mere mortals can achieve.

Unfortunately, my love of choral music does not extend to me actually singing with a choir.  Oh I have been approached to sing in choirs before, but that invitation usually is rescinded when they actually hear me sing.  Really.

It's not that I am all that bad.  I mean, I do have a voice since I spent 40 years in radio broadcasting.  However I never learned to read music, and besides, my timing is off.  My far better half has gone on record as stating I am always about half a beat behind everyone else whenever I sing with a group.  And that's on a good day.  I just like to be ready, that's all.

What's more, I tend to sing as flat as Saskatchewan.  Meaning, of course, my occasional basso-profundo is enough to annoy the cats we share the house with on a regular basis.

But that's not to say I don't enjoy hearing great choral music sung by those who can hold a note or two.  Or three.

Many of those aspiring young singers with an interest in Renaissance polyphony will be more than a little interested in the announcement this week the so-called "soft" deadline for applications to participate in the annual Canadian Renaissance Music Summer School at Huron University in May is set for February 1st.

Huron University is part of Western University in London, Ontario, and CRMSS is directed by world-renowned baritone and choral workshop leader Greg Skidmore.  The summer music school is now in its third year, running this year from May 9th to 17th and is the only Renaissance choral music workshop of its kind in Canada.

If you need a comparison of how important this summer music school is, it's basically on a par with those run by The Tallis Scholars in Seattle and the Early Music Academy in Boston, along with those held in England and throughout Europe.

In fact, the Canadian school's official patron is none other than the current director of The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips.  His recordings with the Scholars are luminous in sound and quite literally can take your breath away with their beauty.

Director Skidmore says this year they will be focusing on the works of the Franco-Flemish school, really the 'home' of Renaissance polyphonic music.  Helping out the home team in musical tutoring this year will be five master's level performance students from the University of York in the U.K., as well as guest artist Robert Hollingworth, director of the dynamic and inventive U.K.-based vocal consort I Fagiolini.

The Canadian Renaissance Music Summer Music School is aimed primarily, but not exclusively, at undergraduate students, graduates and young professional singers.  It will be a week-long deep dive into Renaissance polyphonic vocal music with an intensive period of rehearsal and performance, both liturgically and in concert, all with an emphasis on quality in performance.

In fact the week will culminate in a final live concert performance for the public at the end of the course in London, Ontario on Sunday, May 17th at 2:30 pm.

The theme of CRMSS 2020 is Beyond the Ordinary, with a focus on Franco-Flemish music.  Essentially this polyphonic style, meaning music with multiple, independent melody lines performed simultaneously was pioneered by the great master of the genre Josquin des Prez.

Renaissance music is both vocal and instrumental music written and performed in Europe essentially during the Renaissance era.  Most agree the period began about 1400 and ran for the better part of 200 years, closing around 1600 with the advent of the Baroque period.

The distribution of music and music theory texts to a wider audience was a laborious task at the start of the Renaissance period, as it all had to be hand-copied.  That time-consuming and expensive process was replaced by the first printing press that came out in 1439 and that made music more accessible to those who no longer had to pay a king's ransom to acquire scores with which they could rehearse.

So now here we are in 2020 and the music is not only readily available for study and performance, but there are schools such as CRMSS dedicated to making the music literally come alive for a whole new generation.

If you want more information on the course curriculum just go to http://www.crmss.org/course.html.

I might not be able to sing with the graduates but I think I can handle sitting in the audience and enjoying the final results.  Just so long as I keep my mouth shut...

Have a great weekend!

January 25th, 2020.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Niagara Symphony joins the Beethoven bandwagon this weekend

In classical music we like to observe special dates of note, such as the birth or unfortunately the death of a particular composer for example.  The I used to host my longtime classical music programme on 610CKTB years ago I regularly noted anniversaries of all sorts on the show.

Record companies regularly take advantage of these anniversary dates as well in order to market their classical catalogues, hopefully to new listeners as well as old.  I still remember the huge marketing machine behind the 200th anniversary of the death of Mozart back in 1991 that produced all sorts of repackaged box sets of Mozart's music culminating in the mammoth Phillips Classics Complete Mozart Edition.  That set was incredibly expensive to purchase but included every single work Mozart ever wrote.

Ah yes, Marketing 101:  give people what they want even if they don't know they need it yet.

This year the classical marketing sets its collective sights on the so-called Bad Boy of Classical Music, Ludwig van Beethoven.  In case you were unawares, 2020 would have marked Beethoven's 250th birthday and although he likely would never be able to hear the commotion caused by this anniversary were he alive today, he would most certainly appreciate all the attention nonetheless.

Beethoven has for me held a special place in music.  While Mozart sounds refined and almost perfect, Beethoven on the other hand sounds rougher, almost craggy in comparison.  Where Mozart is depicted often in fine garb at a society event trying to ingratiate himself to a wealthy patron or two, Beethoven appears more often than not as a bit of a lone wolf in the musical world.  Alone in his apartment crafting music amid the chaos of a life well lived, his artistry seems more masculine, dare I say more virile in comparison to his precocious predecessor.

To put this in Hollywood actor terms, which I know I shouldn't but I will nonetheless, Mozart appears polished and rather Cary Grant-ish, while Beethoven might be compared to the swashbuckling swagger of, say, an Erroll Flynn.  At least if you are comparing them on purely musical terms.

So on the heels of this admittedly unorthodox introduction, the Niagara Symphony joins the Beethoven bandwagon for 2020 with an all-Beethoven programme Sunday afternoon titled Triumph of Destiny.  The Masterworks 3 concert happens at 2:30 pm in Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines.

The concert includes three of Beethoven's more muscular works, beginning with his Egmont Overture and concluding with his colossal and iconic Symphony No. 5.  In the middle is the amazing Triple Concerto for violin, cello and piano, featuring the considerable talents of the Gryphon Trio.

All three works date from one turbulent decade, 1803 to 1810 as his hearing was in a steady decline but his creative genius was surely at its peak.  The massive Symphony No. 5 alone pushed the musical boundaries even further than they had been following the debut of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, the "Eroica", which happened shortly before the debut of the Triple Concerto.

It's also interesting to note the Niagara Symphony last performed the Symphony No. 5 in 2015 as they performed their final concert in the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at Brock University in the spring of that year.  Now, they launch the year-long Beethoven celebration with the same work.

The No. 5, replete with that very familiar four-note opening "dun-dun-dun-dah" has been a musical calling card of sorts for many orchestras and dare I say, conductors, for many years now.  It seems any conductor wanting to show they are in control of the musical forces that lie in front of them while on the podium often chooses to conduct this work to show what he or she, and by extension they, can do as a team.

It is that very team spirit that evidently prompted the redoubtable Dr. Peter Schickle to create his famous dissertation of the opening movement of the Symphony No. 5 as a give-and-take between a couple of well-intentioned football commentators describing the "action" on stage.  It's a classic recording and was certainly a boundary-pusher in its own right when the old Vanguard recording was released back in the '60s.

So with football season soon to climax in the United States early next month, that analogy is perhaps not lost on the esteemed players of the NSO and their popular conductor, Bradley Thachuck.

Kickoff, er, concert time is 2:30 tomorrow afternoon at Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines.  Tickets are still available through the box office at the PAC by visiting in person or calling 905-688-0722.

Pennants are not needed for the concert, by the way...

Have a great weekend!

January 18th, 2020.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Returning to Downton Abbey in downtown St. Catharines

I don't write often about movies in this space but this week I'll make an exception.

There was much hype over the past year about the release of the movie Downton Abbey, as a follow up for fans of the long-running television series that held fans captive on PBS for about five or six seasons.  Early preview notes suggested the plot revolved around the King & Queen of England visiting the Abbey and now-retired head butler Carson being pressed into service to save the day.  As one pundit commented at the time..."is that it?  That's the plot line?!"

Well there was much more to the story line than that, thankfully, and I won't go into all the details here in case you have yet to see the movie.  But suffice it to say there is an attempt on the King's life while visiting the area (not specifically at the Abbey) and the service staff at the Abbey are no pushovers.  It all ends with pretty much everyone happy in the end, save perhaps with ageing Violet Crawley who is merely 'satisfied' a family crisis only she seems concerned about appears to have been averted.

My far better half and I have become fans of the show over the years, she much sooner than I.  Due to the fact I usually have to be in bed by 9 for work the next morning I never really had the chance to get into the series the first time around.  When PBS ran a Downton Abbey marathon weekend a couple of years ago and I couldn't tear Sophie away from the telly for two whole days, I wasn't exactly a fan then either.

But towards the end of the series' run I did in fact try to catch up on the wealthy yet struggling Crawley household and their imposing and iconic Abbey, trying to make sense of each character and what import they had in contributing to the story.  I quickly learned Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley was the glue that kept things together and always would be, snide remarks and all.

Fast-forward to August of 2018 and Sophie and I are on our PBS tour of England and included on the second day of the tour (and the main reason Sophie was adamant about being on this particular tour) was a visit to the much-venerated and oft-visited home used in the TV series.  Known of course as Highclere Castle, the imposing Georgian mansion appears amongst the rolling hills about halfway between Windsor and Bath.  As we drove up the winding drive in our tour bus the tour director cleverly played the opening theme from the TV series rather loudly on the bus sound system.

It was effective if not somewhat predictable.

But the visit was amazing.  Tour groups are allowed only at certain times of the year and although you cannot see every corner of the Castle you get to see a good part of it.  And what you see in the TV series and now the movie Downton Abbey is a somewhat glossy version of what actually greets you upon arrival.

The first thing you notice is that due to the high volume of tourist traffic through the estate, the carpets are rather threadbare in many spots.  You don't see that on the show!  There are some rough spots on the walls and such, as one would expect from such an old building.

For the better part of the 18th and 19th centuries the Carnavon family lived in the old brick and freestone house, but it was in 1838 the 3rd Earl of Carnavon sought to transform the home into the grand mansion we know today as Highclere Castle.  The structural work on the interior of the Castle was completed in 1878 and once built, the Castle became a centre of political life during the latter part of the Victorian era.

The scenes that regularly played out in the series and now the movie were a part of life during the early part of the 20th century, although during the First World War Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnavon transformed the Castle into a hospital, with patients arriving in late 1914 from Flanders.  It also became home to evacuee children from London at one point.

The Castle returned to a private home after the war and in 1922 the 5th Earl of Carnavon and Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, really the first global world media event.  To this day there is an extensive Egyptian display in the basement of the Castle the public can visit.

Today the current (8th) Earl and Countess of Carnavon live partly in the Castle and partly in another home on the grounds nearby but remain closely involved in the Castle's day to day life and future.  It is not unusual even today to see the Countess on the grounds near the Castle on pleasant days.

But back to the movie.  Although it helps it isn't necessary to be a fan of the TV series in order to follow or even enjoy the movie version.  I still have to defer to Sophie to figure out where a particular character figures in the story line.

The filming is stunning, especially the drone shots of the Castle and grounds from above.  The dining scenes are especially fun to watch, if you are at all interested in proper dining etiquette.  Incidentally, the basement of the present Castle no longer houses the kitchen facilities as depicted in the movie.  All that would be shot off-site I'm told.

While Sophie marvels at the elaborate decor and ladies' gowns, I instead take a keen interest in the men's formal wear of the period, as outlined in my blog post in this space last week.  It is all very grand, and all very proper, as you would expect.

As a fan of movies not utilizing an overabundance of computer-generated special effects, I found the near total lack of same here refreshing, as well as the total absence of any foul language at all.

As mentioned earlier, all ends well with the Crawley family bound and determined to soldier on and keep the old gal going for awhile longer and one guy actually gets the girl in the end.

Oh and the music: sweeping, familiar and as comfortable as your old slippers.  John Lunn's score is lush and appropriate without every being over the top.  Just a perfect complement to what we're watching on the screen.

Now I know the film was released world-wide last September and we loved it then.  But paying a return visit this past Friday evening at The Film House at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines allowed us to savour the glory of a bygone age yet again and perhaps see some things we missed in the first viewing.  It was well worth a revisit.

Clearly Downton Abbey the movie is not for everyone, as was the case with the TV series.  But for those of us who love British period pieces aired on PBS we're in our glory.

If you have not succumbed to the magic of Highclere Castle, now might be a good time to catch the movie and perhaps if you're ever over in England, actually visit in person.  It will be an unforgettable experience either way.

Have a great weekend!

January 12th, 2020.




Sunday, January 5, 2020

The first post of the New Year takes a detour with my New Year's Resolution

So here we are already five days into the New Year and I am working hard to make my New Year's resolution a reality.  With that in mind we'll dispense with the usual arts reporting in this space this week to reveal something that has been on my mind for quite some time now.  It doesn't deal directly with the arts per se, but in a roundabout way it does...

I have always prided myself on dressing reasonably well and trying to look respectable when out in public.  Oh sure, there are days even I let the bar slip a little bit, as we all do, but recently I have been making a concerted effort to raise the proverbial bar regarding my personal style and I hope I'll be successful.

If I have a particular style it is probably classic, traditional wear most days, save for the odd day when I just feel like wearing slim jeans and a sport shirt, especially on weekends.

But about a year ago I made a discovery.  One of my longstanding guilty pleasures has been to scour resale and thrift shops for real vintage finds.  I've done pretty well over the years, including one in Windsor, England in August of 2018 when I found a spectacular self-tie bow tie in bright red with white dots.  It prompted me to finally learn how to properly tie a bow tie, something that had eluded me for many years.

With that small mountain climbed, let's get back to my find of about a year ago.  I have always admired properly tailored formal wear, such as a tuxedo, and always secretly longed for a vintage set of full evening dress.  I don't really have any reason to own full evening dress, but then so few of us do nowadays.  In fact, if you poll most men they will scratch their collective heads and ask "what's that?".

In a nutshell, full evening dress is a proper black tailcoat extending at the back to about the knee, matching tuxedo pants with a braided stripe running down the outer seam of both legs, and the usual accessories that define the outfit as being "white tie":  a marcella cotton white pique vest, formal wing-collar shirt and matching self-tie white bow tie.  To complete the ensemble properly you add patent leather pumps or shoes.

I found the tailcoat but alas, no pants.  The coat needed some alterations but otherwise was in exceptional shape considering it dated from about the mid-1940s and was tailored by the venerable Eatons store.  Continued scouring of my local shops turned up the appropriate high-waisted pants at my local Goodwill for only $6.  Then I had to work on the accessories.  I had the shoes, but an online search revealed a great deal in the U.K. for the white pique vest and matching tie, which was promptly delivered back in the spring.

The proper shirt proved somewhat problematic, as good quality vintage shirts in my size seem to be hard to come by.  But I did find a modern-day equivalent that works just as well I had my friends at Herzog's downtown order in for me, and voila, we were done!

Or so I thought.

The tailcoat proved to be slightly bigger than I would like it to be and although I was prepared to alter it properly, before I could fate stepped in and changed everything.  Unbelievably at the very same thrift shop I found the first tailcoat at I found a second, somewhat better fitting one complete with pants.  It was ridiculously affordable and so there I was with two sets of full evening dress.

My December visit to my local tailor revealed the second, somewhat smaller tailcoat was considered to be the better fit, so we went with that one and had jacket and pants altered properly.  When I looked inside the inside pocket along with another Eatons label I found the custom tailoring information.  It appears to be local, and dates from...November 11th 1940!  The thing is way older than I am!

Now came the first wearing of the new/old ensemble.  As I've reported in this space before I have hosted the Midnight Mass broadcast for CKTB Radio for over 30 years now and although it is a radio broadcast, from the very start I always opted for a tuxedo to add some elegance to the proceedings.

This year I upped that level considerably with my 1940-era full evening dress.  I must say I felt completely comfortable in it and plan to wear it every year I am still able to do the broadcast on Christmas Eve at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria.

For me it was an easy decision to rescue the ensemble from an uncertain future of possible halloween costuming or worse still, the landfill.  I wondered how many society events this ensemble had been to and where.  Last week on my Facebook page I posted a picture from the Welland House Hotel in downtown St. Catharines where in the once-celebrated Crystal Ballroom New Year's Eve revellers can be seen in full formal regalia:  ladies in proper gowns and all the men without exception in full evening dress.  I wondered if my outfit might actually have been worn that night as a first event.  Who knows?

I have spent much of the past year researching the traditions of full evening dress so I could get it right and I think I did.  But in my ongoing research I found numerous pictures of Hollywood stars at the Academy Awards show from the early 60s with all the men in full evening dress, and they looked fantastic.  Just today I watched the 1935 Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers classic Top Hat and it was such a pleasure to see the men dressed so well.  Astaire of course pioneered not only stylish dressing in formal wear but also in a suit and tie.  He was classic and he was always correct.

And that brings me to my New Year's resolution.  Inspired by my journey of the past year to get full evening dress right, I have now decided it is time to take my cue from Mr. Astaire whom I've always admired and simply dress better from here on in.

It doesn't take a lot of money to do it, as I proved this past year on my odyssey.  But it takes a keen eye and style smarts and in the New Year I plan to hone my present wardrobe to reflect this newfound desire to look my very best whenever I'm out in the public eye.  I have all the ingredients in my closet; now I just have to edit better and say goodbye to some trusted pieces that are showing their age somewhat.

And the original tailcoat that is slightly too large for me?  My equally style-conscious historian Chris in Toronto wants it so we'll do the ceremonial hand off in the New Year sometime.

I have lots more to write about this subject and in fact I might just start work on a new blog entirely devoted to men's fashion from my perspective.  But for now I will take the occasional detour in this space to look at the good, the bad and the outright ugly in men's fashion.  I hope you'll indulge me.

Now, if anyone needs an emcee with a great full evening dress ensemble at his disposal, I'm your man...

Happy New Year!

January 5th, 2020.