Daily Archives: November 29, 2009

Sudbury: The Last YOTF Event, November 19

The 19th and very last musical and dramatic Year of the Flood Event took place at the Fraser Auditorium of Laurentian University on November 19, after the Margaret Atwood Birthday Dinner. I arrived at the auditorium not knowing what to expect, because for the Sudbury Event – alone among all of them – I had not been at a rehearsal. There was an atmosphere of suppressed glee, especially among the Banner-bearers: I would be surprised, this told me. And so I was.

 

After an introduction by MC Sherry Drysdale – a well-known CBC North radio voice – there was an Honour Song, excellently performed by Angela Recollet, manager of Native Student Programs at Laurentian. It said that the honouree had been guided by ancestral spirits, certainly true in my case. Then came the Banner Bearers (Andy Sekora, Stephanie Grant, April Passi, Sandra McPhee, Anthony Cecchetto, Meghan Juuti, Alanna Negssanti and Jennifer Preen), and the Singers of the Ariadne Womens’ Chamber Choir: Pat Bailey, Alice Brownlee, Patti Brace, Danielle Brinkman, Jan Buley, Marissa Charette, Kristina Donato, Mary-Jo Gordon, Amy Hallman, Marybeth Hickey, Leslie King, Shelbey Krahn, Kate McLaughlin, Charlene Mannings, and Hilary Welch). The three Readers were also in the procession: Adam One, played by Dan Lessard, another CBC voice and a good sport, giving vent to his inner pastor; Toby, played by Patricia Tedford, startling in a bright pink raincoat; and Ren, played by Pandora Topp, astonishing and lustrous in a sequined body-suit number topped off by a feather robe. These were accomplished actors who did full justice to their parts, and made the characters very sympathetic and believable.

 

But this was not the surprising part. It turned out that Sudbury was – through the musical director, Dr. David Buley – bent on full audience participation. For “The Holy Weeds,” Buley hopped back and forth like a ponytailed gnome, pulling two-part harmony for an underlying “Holy Weeds” chant out of the audience, while a solo soprano soared above them. For the Predator Day hymn, he led some serious “constant threat” chanting.

 

But his most impressive feat was yet to come. After an all-singing, all-clapping finale, and after the bows and waving, up on a giant screen above the stage flashed a giant head: mine! I was handed a scroll, and upon unrolling it, discovered a freshly-minted Birthday Ode, composed by the Margaret Atwood Hymn-writing Club (around a kitchen table, I was later told, at a session during which vinous beverages were not unpresent). The tune was that wonderful Welsh favourite, Cwm Rhondda, and the words were – well, inspirational. Or something. What can I say? (Full text from Rublemusic, 259 Maki Ave., Sudbury, ON, P3E 2PE.) Under David Buley’s direction, the entire audience burst into glorious song.

 

So there I was – very surprise, pleased as anything, and – for 10 bonus points – still alive. It was grand all round. But what will Sudbury do next year? They can hardly top this!

 

 

 

 

 

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Sudbury, Part 1: A Unique Birthday

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Every year, on or around November 18, Laurentian University in Sudbury,Ontario hosts Margaret Atwood’s Birthday. It’s kind of like Robert Burns’Birthday, with the advantage that I’m still alive. Or maybe it’s a disadvantage: dead poets are by definition more glamorous, most of the time.

How to explain this Sudbury Margaret Atwood Atwood’s Birthday thing? Is it a joke? Sort of. But it’s sort of not a joke. Canada’s like that.

Laurentian started the birthday caper five years ago, using each event as a fundraiser for a worthy cause, but I wasn’t present the first three times. However, working on a Build It And They Will Come model, they kept on trucking, and then, finally, on the fourth year – like magic! — I did appear. (Wonder if it would work with Robert Burns? No matter how much bagpipe music we play, he’s never turned up at our place.) Happy Birthday was sung in French, English, and Cree, and I had such a good time that I went back again this year.

So after a brief encounter with Anne Murray in the Toronto airport – during which I traded my book for a Dawn Langstroth CD (Dawn being Anne’s daughter), off I went to Sudbury, to the 5th Margaret Atwood Birthday Dinner. The food was themed to the novel: local, organic as possible, with blueberry vinegrette for the salad, root vegetables, Georgian Bay whitefish, Finch Haven Orchards sparkling cider, Sumatrra Gayo Mountain shade-grown coffee, little desserts, some with cranberries — and menus on paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

I was among some old friends – Helen Macdonald, with whom I formed half of a Dutch windmill in Miss Pickering’s Sault Ste. Marie dance class in 1945, who brought oatmeal cookies made from my mother’s recipe; and Jim and John Savage, whom I’ve known ever since we were all young –see pic of us on a self-made raft – who brought a CD of some old photos (See John’s website at http://homepage.mac.com/oldshep/Atwood-Sud.html ). There were some newer friends, too – Shannon Hengen and Susan Glover of the English Department, instrumental in putting the whole Sudbury event together, and MC Ashley Thomson, who is also my bibliographer, dedicated to recording every written word: the Blogs and Tweets are driving him mad. And more than 200 others — including the arts-friendly Mayor, John Rodriguez — who’d all come out to see me being turned into a lake (Lake Margaret is now one of Sudbury’s 700 lakes), and also a grove — the Margaret Atwood Grove on the Jane Goodall Trail. I thought I might end up as the Margaret Atwood Tea Room and Bun Shop, but this is better. I also received a statue called “Pretty in Pink,” incorporating a Sudbury fish bone showing growth rings and improving fish health. Lake, grove, and statue were courtesy the three beneficiaries of the dinner: the Living with Lakes Centre, the Vegetation Enhancement Technical Advisory Committee, and the Junction Creek Stewardship Committee.

And finally friend Chief Harry St. Denis of the Wolf Lake First Nation from Lac Kipawa, Québec, presented me with a beautiful Eagle Feather — a very high honour indeed. What had I done to deserve it? Not nearly enough; though Chief Harry and our family have recently been thinking together about the problems of the lake, and about the desirability of small electrical installations that use existing facilities as opposed to new, huge megadams that would not only destroy forest habitat, but disrupt the flow of water in the lake and lead to stagnation.

It was fitting that such concerns should be raised in Sudbury: for just as the Sudbury of the past was an emblem of the nightmares caused by a disregard for nature, the Sudbury of the present and future shows what can be accomplished through understanding and respect. Go, Sudbury!

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