Mushrooms and chocolate, together at last

The following article was originally published over at The Omnivorous Listeners Blog.

By Jocelyn Morlock

If everyone is a musical omnivore these days, composers perhaps even more than others, it seems likely that now and then we’ll mix a couple of things that don’t go entirely well together. Or maybe we’ll mix a couple of things that you wouldn’t think would go well together, only to find that the combination is awesome.


Some years ago, while I was a member of a Balinese gamelan, Gamelan Gita Asmara at the University of British Columbia one of our teachers was talking to us about a class he was teaching in cross-cultural musical interactions, and our conversation digressed from a discussion of musical fusion to fusion cooking. We started trying to come up two foods that just couldn’t work well together, and the most unlikely culinary pairing was mushrooms and chocolate. Raw mushrooms and chocolate syrup — not appealing. Fried mushrooms and onions with chocolate chips on top — also a no-go. Mole sauce was a possibility, although since it was savoury that seemed like cheating...

But I digress — the students in the cross-cultural musical interactions class tried eating some raw mushrooms and dark chocolate together, and it was weird, but it was only a matter of time before someone from the outside world figured out how to combine them in a wonderful way (click the picture):


Back to Gita Asmara, at one point in time we had a small group that learned a gamelan Kotekan on electric guitars and drum kit, and that was improbable and weird, and fun to do. More strange and delightful to my ear was listening to Gambang Kromong — a sort of mashup style of gamelan music from Jakarta. This recording of Stambul Bila includes gamelan instruments, Hawaiian style slide guitar, and Dixieland trumpet. I love it. 

For several years the music director of our gamelan was Dewa Ketut Alit, one of the most amazing and unusual composers I’ve ever known. He’s written some great music for Çudamani, and for the ensemble he founded in 2007, Gamelan Salukat. Alit’s music might combine multiple gamelans of different modes, or incorporate Western instruments — whatever he does, it is always surprising (if not downright shocking) and exciting.

Among the best concerts I ever attended was a sold-out show by Robert Ashley and Jacqueline Humbert at Vancouver’s Western Front. Ashley, who died in 2014, was a deeply iconoclastic composer of what is referred to as opera, but bears little resemblance to Puccini, Wagner, or any other opera I’ve listened to. The first piece of Ashley’s I ever heard, "Automatic Writing" —

— takes as its starting point Ashley’s involuntary vocalizing from Tourette’s syndrome. This is one of the more unlikely premises for vocal music that I’m familiar with; the result is hauntingly beautiful.

When Ashley and his colleague (co-conspirator?) Jacqueline Humbert were performing at the Western Front, the entire experience was joyfully surreal. Something happened at the beginning of the event that set the mood for me: Jacqueline Humbert came onstage looking rather operatic, wearing this elegant black cocktail dress and a somewhat large, flashy rhinestone necklace. I was sitting near the back of the hall and it took me several moments to realize that the rhinestone necklace spelled out the word FUCK in glorious capital letters. One of the pieces they did was Au Pair (first part is here, other parts also available on YouTube):

Ashley and Humbert are having something of a dialogue — Ashley’s part is a combination of listener/commentator/Greek chorus as Humbert tells the strange story of a group of middle-class neighbours who all decide they want au pairs for their children. Their desire to employ trendy European nannies leads to a bevy of appalling though hilarious consequences. For days, the sound of Ashley’s voice mumbling “au pair…au pair…oh, my…” wormed its way through my ear.

I will leave you with one final video, of the music of Milton Babbitt. In my years of academic study, I had to listen to and/or analyze Babbitt’s music more often than I would’ve liked (to be honest, once was more than enough). To my surprise, The Bad Plus covered Milton Babbitt’s rather dry, cerebral piano piece, "Semi-Simple Variations." No one would expect to say of Babbitt’s music “it’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it” but, well…

Jocelyn Morlock is an award-winning composer and instructor at UBC School of Music. You can listen to her music and read her blog at

Announcing the Robert and Ellen Silverman Piano Competition

Ellen Silverman

Ellen Silverman

Open to all UBC piano majors, the Robert and Ellen Silverman Piano Competition is a one-day event on March 2nd, 2018 that provides talented students with the chance to show off their skills. The winner performs with Maestro Jonathan Girard and the UBC Symphony Orchestra at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Sep. 23rd, 2018!

Download the application form or pick up a copy at the Music Office. Please be sure to check out the competition details and appropriate concerto repertoire before applying. 

Application date: Nov. 1st, 2017 

Competition date: March 2nd, 2018

Concert date: Sep. 23rd, 2018 

Further questions? Contact Prof. Mark Anderson at

Playlist: What is a ballad?

This month, Cambridge University Press will publish Prof. David Metzer's new book, The Ballad in American Popular Music: From Elvis to Beyoncé, a wide-ranging investigation of one of contemporary music's most popular artforms. The High Notes team asked David to share some of the songs that inspired the book. He happily obliged. 


By Dr. David Metzer

As the first history of the ballad, The Ballad in American Popular Music gave me a lot of scholarly work to do. A crucial task was to answer the question: what is a ballad?  It is not so simple, as you might conclude after trying it yourself.  So where better to begin the book than with that question? 

My nutshell definition is that a ballad is a song set to a slow tempo that deals with themes of love and loss.  That only takes you so far, though.  “Ballad” has meant many things over decades, actually millennia. Our idea of a love song was only established as recently as the 1940s.  Besides lexical housekeeping, I discuss what makes a ballad a song in terms of music, vocals, and lyrics. 

To that end, I have enlisted songs from over seventy years to back up my points. You can find the songs in the playlist below (for those who don't use Spotify, I've included a few YouTube videos at the bottom of this post).  They not only stretch across decades but also genres, giving us pop, rock, country, and R&B ballads. I use the songs to illustrate particular points, like long versus short melodies (“Goodbye to Love” and “Please, Please, Please”).  Other songs make us ask how slow is slow for a ballad (“Wrecking Ball,” “Sometimes,” and “Try). 

Some capture different types of rhythms in ballads from the heavy four beats in a bar (“Wrecking Ball”) to more sexy grooves (“Let’s Get it On”).  Accompaniments can range from as sparse as a solo piano (“Stay”) to lush (“A House is Not a Home” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing”). 

For more about the other songs on the playlist and ballads in general, check out my book.

The Carpenters — "Goodbye to Love"

James Brown & The Famous Flames — "Please, Please, Please"

Miley Cyrus — "Wrecking Ball"

Marvin Gaye: "Let's Get It On"

Rihanne ft. Mikky Ekko — "Stay"

Dionne Warwick — "A House Is Not a Home" 


David Metzer is a professor and Distinguished University Scholar at the University of British Columbia. He is spending the fall of 2017 in New York City. 

Announcing the UBC School of Music 2017–2018 Season

Photo Credit: Paul Joseph

Photo Credit: Paul Joseph

The UBC School of Music announces our 2017–2018 season, featuring exciting performances and special events by our ensembles, faculty, and guest artists.

80 · 70 · 50 · 20

80 Years
A big birthday year for UBC Music Professor Emeritus Robert Silverman. The School helps him mark this milestone year with three wonderful events: as concerto soloist with the UBC Symphony Orchestra November 10, as recital soloist in the Wednesday Noon Hour series on February 28, and the founding of The Robert and Ellen Silverman Piano Concerto Competition at UBC. The inaugural competition will be held on March 2, 2018.

Harry Adaskin and Frances Marr Photo credit: UBC Archives, Photo by Page Toles

Harry Adaskin and Frances Marr
Photo credit: UBC Archives, Photo by Page Toles

70 Years
In 1947, the first academic courses were offered in the new Department of Music. Soon after, Harry Adaskin and Frances Marr started giving concerts on Wednesdays at noon.

50 Years
The Music Building opened in 1967. Our Wednesday Noon Hour series celebrates this anniversary with a special season launch concert on September 20, featuring performances by Terence Dawson piano, Eric Wilson, Laine Longton, and Oskar Falta cello, with chamber orchestra.

Chan Centre for the Performing Arts Photo credit: Daryl Kahn Cline

Chan Centre for the Performing Arts
Photo credit: Daryl Kahn Cline

20 Years
The Chan Centre is celebrating their 20th anniversary with a special season of concerts, including a performance by UBC Opera Ensemble: Celebrating 20 years of UBC Opera at the Chan Centre on April 3.


Special Guests and New Faces

Jose Franch-Ballester Photo credit: Ashleigh Taylor Photography

Jose Franch-Ballester
Photo credit: Ashleigh Taylor Photography

Special guest UBC President Prof. Santa J. Ono joins UBC Symphony Orchestra as a narrator for Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, under the baton of conductor Jonathan Girard on December 2. The concert also includes works by Poulenc and Stravinsky.

New UBC School of Music faculty member Jose Franch-Ballester will be featured as concerto soloist with UBC Bands in February, featured in the Music on the Point concert in a Mozart quintet with the Borealis String Quartet on October 20, and in a Wednesday Noon Hour concert on January 31.

On March 31, UBC Choirs and UBC Symphony Orchestra perform Bach's masterpiece St John Passion, conducted by Graeme Langager with guest Derek Chester as the Evangelist.

View our online calendar for a complete listing of events.

Download the 17-18 Concert Calendar in PDF format.

Would you like to receive a printed 2017-2018 Concert Calendar by post? Get in touch!

How to build a cathedral

Dr. Robert Taylor (right) 

Dr. Robert Taylor (right) 

Recently, Dr. Robert Taylor, Director of UBC Bands, was selected as conductor of the Minnesota All-State Symphonic Band — an exciting opportunity to work with the state’s most talented young musicians and their teachers.

But while he has conducted a number of state and provincial honour ensembles in the past, Dr. Taylor notes that the approach in Minnesota is unique: “Normally, these events are “one-offs,” where the guest conductor spends a few days with the ensemble leading to a concert. However, in Minnesota they do a weeklong camp in the summer, followed by a feature performance at the state music educators conference the following spring.” 

This emphasis on continuity allows for the conductor and coaches to take a more ambitious approach both to teaching and performance, with inspiring results.

In August, Dr. Taylor spent a week rehearsing the ensemble with a team of coaches. The students spent time in large ensemble rehearsals, sectional coachings, master classes, and doing other camp activities, such as a talent night where they all showed off their other talents. The week concluded with a recording session and two performances.



LISTEN: The Minnesota All-State Symphonic Band performs Bach's "Prelude and Fugue in G Minor." 



The program was entitled “Cathedrals,” and included works inspired by the music of Pérotin, Bach, Debussy, and Wagner. The program concluded with a performance of Frank Ticheli’s “Angels in the Architecture,” a creative work that includes harmonic whirlies, a solo vocalist, and surround-sound elements.

“For the performance, we surprised the audience with students from both bands performing the climactic chorale from all corners of the auditorium,” Dr. Taylor says of the summer concert.

Then, in February 2017, Dr. Taylor returned to Minnesota to work with the same group of students and to present a session for teachers at the MMEA conference. The weekend concluded with a performance of the “Cathedrals” program at Orchestral Hall, a superb acoustic, for a large and enthusiastic audience of music educators.

"The model is also interesting because there are layers of mentorship in the approach," Dr. Taylor says. "I worked with a number of high school band directors in a conducting workshop, who were at camp doing professional development sessions while their students were attending the camp, and presented a session on rehearsal techniques at the state conference, which I was able to demonstrate during rehearsals with the band.”



WATCH: The Minnesota All-State Symphonic Band performs Ticheli's "Angels in the Architecture."

Jon Kimura Parker to receive honorary doctorate from UBC

On May 30th, world-renowned pianist and former School of Music student Jon Kimura Parker, O.C, will receive an honorary Doctorate of Letters, honoris causa, from the University of British Columbia in recognition of his countless contributions to the world of classical music.

WATCH: Pianist Jon Kimura Parker plays and discusses Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1.

Parker has played as a soloist at Carnegie Hall, the Beijing Concert Hall and Sydney Opera House, and has given command performances for Queen Elizabeth II and the prime ministers of Canada and Japan. In addition to his performances as concerto soloist and and recitalist, Parker performs regularly with the Montrose Trio and frequently appears on television and radio.

A Vancouver native, “Jackie” Parker studied at UBC School of Music before transferring to Juilliard School in New York. In interviews he has credited his formative musical education for his career as a performer and educator spanning four decades.

Parker studied with Edward Parker and Keiko Parker privately, Lee Kum-Sing at the Vancouver Academy of Music and the University of British Columbia, Robin Wood at the Victoria Conservatory, Marek Jablonski at the Banff Centre, and Adele Marcus at The Juilliard School. He won the Gold Medal at the 1984 Leeds International Piano Competition.

"For UBC faculty, staff, and students, Jackie Parker is synonymous with fond memories of his early days in Vancouver, our gratitude for his visits and friendship to UBC over the years, and above all, enthusiastic admiration for his outstanding artistic accomplishments and exemplary character,” says Richard Kurth, Director of the School of Music. “This honorary degree salutes Parker as a marvelous artist and citizen, as a Vancouver native and a musical ambassador to the world.”

The recognition is full of memories and meaning for Parker:

“As a youngster growing up in Vancouver, a real highlight for me was to attend student and faculty recitals in the UBC Recital Hall. As a teenager I began piano studies with Professor Lee Kum-Sing and was incredibly excited to continue those studies with him at UBC. I learned repertoire while at UBC that I still perform today, and it was at UBC that Mr. Lee helped me transition from a pianist into a musician, with the glimpse of what it might be to become an artist. I can’t say enough about what I learned from him."

"I experienced the piano department in full: I occasionally attended Robert Silverman’s intense studio classes, and recall the wonderful encouragement of Robert Rogers, who once, with a twinkle in his eye, pointed out that I was about to walk onstage to play a noon hour recital without the benefit of shoes. I befriended student composers and played their works, and took advantage of my wonderful colleagues in opportunities in chamber music. Professor James Schell even managed to convince me to enjoy singing, and I still silently pronounce “eggshell” in my head when I encounter the word “excelsis”.

"I am thrilled beyond measure to receive an Honorary Doctorate from UBC and it truly brings me full circle to my days at UBC when I started to truly appreciate music in its fullness and wonder."

Parker is Professor of Piano in the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. He lives in Houston with his wife, violinist Aloysia Friedmann and their daughter Sophie. 

For further information about Parker’s remarkable and diverse accomplishments, please visit



WATCH: Jon Kimura Parker, Lindsay Höhn, Lucas Sanchez and Richard Brown experiment with piano and percussion in the two finales from Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring."


Meet Jose Franch-Ballester, Assistant Professor of Clarinet and Chamber Music

Ashleigh Taylor Photography

Ashleigh Taylor Photography

The School of Music is pleased to welcome our newest faculty member, acclaimed clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester.

Mr. Franch-Ballester joins the School as Assistant Professor of Clarinet and Chamber Music, beginning in the 2017-18 academic year.

“Jose is a wonderful communicator,” says Dr. Richard Kurth, Director of UBC School of Music, “both through his superb playing in all clarinet repertoires, and his articulate enthusiasm for teaching and collaboration with colleagues. He brings exciting ideas and brilliant energy to our wind program.”

One of the finest classical soloists and chamber music artists of his generation, Mr. Franch-Ballester has been hailed for his “technical wizardry and tireless enthusiasm” (New York Times), his “rich, resonant tone” (Birmingham News), and his “subtle and consummate artistry” (Santa Barbara Independent). He joins the School of Music’s dynamic Wind, Brass and Percussion Division.  

“We are thrilled to welcome internationally renowned artist Jose Franch-Ballester to UBC. His passionate teaching and breadth of performance experiences will make UBC a destination for the world’s greatest young clarinetists and bring new excitement to the woodwind area and entire School of Music,” says Dr. Robert Taylor, Division Chair.

Franch-Ballester’s role includes studio instruction in clarinet, woodwind chamber music, and collaborative leadership of the woodwind curriculum, working in partnership with our accomplished team of VSO principals and other top professionals in the city.   UBC and Vancouver audiences will have several opportunities to hear Franch-Ballester perform in the upcoming season. These include a solo recital on the Wednesday Noon Hour series on January 31st featuring the premiere of an electroacoustic work written for him and an evening chamber music on the Music on the Point series.

“I am so excited to start my new role at the University of British Columbia School of Music in Vancouver, Canada. With its distinguished faculty, excellent orchestral and wind ensembles, chamber music programs, and state-of-the-art performance and practice spaces, I really can't imagine a better place to start a lifelong association than in Vancouver and with UBC,” says Mr. Franch-Ballester. "I am very excited to start working with the students to create a unique woodwind and chamber music program."



Originally from Spain, Mr. Franch-Ballester is considered one of the finest classical soloists and chamber music artists of his generation. He has been hailed for his “technical wizardry and tireless enthusiasm” (The New York Times), his “rich, resonant tone” (Birmingham News), and his “subtle and consummate artistry” (Santa Barbara Independent). The recipient of a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2008, and winner of both the Young Concert Artists and Astral Artists auditions, he is a solo artist and chamber musician in great demand.

As a concerto soloist Mr. Franch-Ballester made his New York debut in 2006 with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Lincoln Center. He has also performed with the BBC Concert Orchestra, Louisville Orchestra, Princeton Symphony Orchestra, Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, Wisconsin Philharmonic, Louisiana Philharmonic, Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, and various orchestras in his native Spain.


WATCH: Jose Franch-Ballester performs "Solo de Concours" by André Messager in 2008.


Mr. Franch-Ballester made his New York recital debut at the 92nd Street Y, and has appeared in recital at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Iowa State University, the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, and the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. He performs regularly with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center both in New York City and on tour, and also acts as principal clarinet of the Santa Barbara-based chamber music collective Camerata Pacifica.

Mr. Franch-Ballester performs "Rhapsodie for Solo Clarinet" in 2016.

U.S. festival appearances include the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival, Music@Menlo, Mainly Mozart, Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, Music from Angel Fire, Chamber Music Northwest, and Skaneateles Festival. Abroad, Mr. Franch-Ballester has appeared at the Usedomer Musikfestival in Germany, the Verbier Festival in Switzerland, the Cartagena Festival Internacional de Música in Colombia, the Kon-Tiki Festival in Norway, and the Young Concert Artists Festival in Tokyo.

Mr. Franch-Ballester is artistic director of miXt, an ensemble of award-winning soloists from the Young Concert Artists roster that he founded in the 2012-13 season. Performing in a variety of configurations, miXt made its New York and Washington debuts in YCA’s series at Merkin Hall and the Kennedy Center. His instrumental collaborators have also included the American, St. Lawrence, Jupiter, and Modigliani string quartets.


WATCH: Mr. Franch-Ballester performs John Novacek's "Four Rags for Two Jons" with pianist Warren Jones.


An avid proponent of new music, he performed the world premiere of Jake Heggie’s Winter Roses in 2004 with mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade at Camerata Pacifica. During the 2011-2012 season, he premiered two new works by Spanish composers: the II Concerto by Oscar Navarro, with the Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias in Oviedo, Spain; and Concerto Valencia by Andrés Valero-Castells, with the Orquesta de Valencia. Mr. Franch-Ballester’s commitment to new music has led him to commission and work with such contemporary composers as Kenji Bunch, Paul Schoenfield, Edgar Meyer, William Bolcom, George Tsontakis, Andrés Valero-Castells, Oscar Navarro, and Huang Ruo. He has also been a dedicated music educator, developing new audiences through countless educational concerts and workshops for young people and community audiences.

Mr. Franch-Ballester performs "Allegro con fuoco" from Francis Poulenc's Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, with Gloria Chien, piano.

Performing regularly in Spain, Mr. Franch-Ballester has appeared with the Orquesta de Radio y Television Española, Orquesta de Valencia, Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias, and Orquesta Sinfónica del Valles. He is the founder of Jose Franch-Ballester & i amics (and friends), a series of concerts in which young musicians from all over the world are presented in Mr. Franch-Ballester’s hometown of Moncofa and throughout the Valencia area.

Mr. Franch-Ballester’s recordings include a Deutsche Grammophon CD of Bartók’s Contrasts with members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. In 2010 he was awarded the Midem Prize for “Outstanding Young Artist,” which aims to introduce currently unsigned recording stars of the future to the classical recording industry. “Jose Franch-Ballester & Friends,” a CD of chamber music released by iTinerant Classics in 2011, includes the premiere recording of Oscar Navarro’s Creation and works by Brahms, Stravinsky, and Paul Schoenfield. Mr. Franch-Ballester can also be heard on “Piazzolla Masterworks,” a CD recorded with cellist Young Song and pianist Pablo Zinger that contains works by Astor Piazzolla.

Born in Moncofa into a family of clarinetists and Zarzuela singers, Jose Franch-Ballester began clarinet lessons at the age of nine with Venancio Rius, and graduated from the Joaquin Rodrigo Music Conservatory in Valencia. In 2005 he earned a bachelor’s degree from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied with Donald Montanaro. Mr. Franch-Ballester’s mentors also include Ricardo Morales, principal clarinet in the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Jose Franch-Ballester is represented in the Americas by Sciolino Artist Management. He is a Backun Artist.

Welcome, Jose!

Music Heals iPod Pharmacy

UBC School of Music is collecting iPods for Music Heals!

Do you have an old iPod sitting in a drawer? Why not donate it to a worthy cause? Music Heals is a nonprofit group that collects used iPods and provides them to registered music therapists, who create playlists tailored specifically for each client.

Music therapy is used to help people of all ages with pain management, neurological disorders, anxiety disorders, and much more — and restore mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Bring your used iPods to the UBC School of Music main office and our friendly staff will collect them:

UBC School of Music
Main office (Room 202)
UBC Music Building
6361 Memorial Road, Vancouver
Office Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30am–4:30pm (closed for lunch 1:00pm–2:00pm)
Contact us

More info about music therapy and the Music Heals program:

Music Heals is a registered Canadian charity which has donated over $800,000 to music therapy programs across the country. They are chasing one million in donations this year!  Learn more

UBC Music faculty and alumni receive four WCMA nods

UBC School of Music faculty and alumni have been nominated for four Western Canadian Music awards in 2017! 

Contemporary chamber music ensemble Standing Wave received nominations for 'Classical Ensemble of the Year' for New Wave, their latest album with Redshift Records, as well as for 'Classical Composition of the Year' for two different pieces on the album — "Raven Tales" and "Pots 'n' Pans Falling.

The ensemble features School of Music lecturers Christie Reside (flutes) and Vern Griffiths (percussion), alumni A.K. Coope (BMus'90) and Allen Stiles (BMus'84, MMus'86), and includes contributions from composer Michael Oesterle (BMus'92) and producer Will Howie (BMus'04).

Professor Stephen Chatman is also nominated for 'Classical Composition of the Year' for Choir Practice: A Comic Opera in One Act. Released by CMC Centrediscs, Choir Practice was performed by the UBC Symphony Orchestra and UBC Opera, with words by Tara Wohlberg. 

The winners will be announced in September 2017. Congratulations and good luck to all the nominees!

Dr. John Sawyer (1937–2017)

The School of Music notes with great sadness the passing of Dr. John Sawyer, Associate Professor Emeritus, on Friday, April 7th, 2017. He was 80 years old.

Prof. Sawyer (viol, right) with Pat Unruh (viol, left) and Ray Nurse (lute, center). Photo: Daryl Kahn Cline

Prof. Sawyer (viol, right) with Pat Unruh (viol, left) and Ray Nurse (lute, center). Photo: Daryl Kahn Cline

A leading figure in the development of Canada’s early music scene, Prof. Sawyer was a musicologist and baroque violinist and viol player. Over the course of a career that spanned five decades and touched many lives, he taught generations of UBC undergraduate and graduate students in both music history and performance, founding and directing the School’s Collegium Musicum early music ensemble.  As a scholar, he published vital essays on Mendelssohn, Schubert, Beethoven, Bach, and others, and edited the critical edition of Handel’s Agrippina. He was also a founder and performer in the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, serving as both its director and as one of its orchestral librarians, and he was involved in many other aspects of Vancouver’s musical community.

A member of UBC’s first Bachelor of Music cohort (B.Mus.’62), Sawyer graduated with first class honours. He went on to complete M.Mus. and Ph.D. degrees in musicology from the University of Illinois (1965) and University of Toronto (1973), respectively. Prof. Sawyer returned to UBC as a faculty member beginning in 1967, and retired in 2002. In September 1967, he was a faculty performer on the first Wednesday Noon Hour concert in the new Recital Hall of the newly built Music Building.

He is survived by his wife, Elaine (also B.Mus.’62), and their three children.

On May 7th, 2017 there will be an event celebrating the life of John Sawyer. Click here for more information.

What follows are fond memories of John from his friends and colleagues in the music community.



"Almost single-handedly, he created a truly wonderful program"

I was very saddened to hear of the passing of John Sawyer, a person who was absolutely central to the establishment of the early music movement here at UBC and in Vancouver at large. The original “Handel freak,” John was an expert on his music, and was a top-notch performer on the baroque violin and the viola da gamba. He had a very long history here at UBC, and essentially founded the Collegium Musicum which exposed innumerable students to the joys of historical repertory and performance.

I have long been amazed at how many of today’s professional and amateur musicians in the early music scene were taught by John, and recall his passion and focus. He was one of the founding members of the Vancouver Society for Early Music, an organization which has made a truly distinctive cultural contribution to the city. Through his work with the Society and with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, a group he also helped to found, John brought early music and musicians into the life of the university as well. Almost single-handedly, he created a truly wonderful program.

I occupy John’s former office in the Music Building and recall fondly his help and support as I got started at UBC. I’ve tried, to the best of my ability, to carry on his legacy, but I am surrounded by constant reminders of his initiative, energy, and passion: the dozens of historical instruments—violins, gambas, trombones, recorders, even crumhorns!—and the hundreds of musical scores and parts in this office are all his doing. Without John’s efforts, early music would simply not be possible here. He will be sorely missed.

– Dr. Alexander Fisher, Professor, UBC School of Music



"An enthusiastic and supportive teacher"

I was saddened to hear of John’s passing. When I was a student in the School of Music and later when I led the Collegium Musicum Vocal Ensemble in the early '90s, John was an enthusiastic and supportive teacher and colleague.

– Morna Edmundson (BMus'81)



"An ideal colleague"

John’s sly smile always caught me. During my first years at UBC, he would flash that smile and invite me to unburden my stress about classes and such. After his retirement, I would still see that smile at concerts, after which we would discuss the performance and upcoming concerts.  John was an ideal colleague, supportive of his peers and interested in what we were doing. We, of course, were interested in his work.

I was impressed by how well John blended performance and scholarship. His study of performance practice enriched his playing, while his perspective as a musician deepened his academic work, as with his edition of Handel’s Agrippina. As both a musician and scholar, John laid a foundation for early music performance and study at UBC. Recent performances by the Early Music Ensemble and the Baroque Orchestra Mentorship Program build upon that foundation.  I am sure that John would have loved the concerts by both ensembles, and I would have loved to talk to him afterwards.

– David Metzer, Professor, UBC School of Music



"A real gentleman"

I have been thinking about John today . . . there were lots of great Vancouver Cantata Singer parties at the Sawyers' Dunbar home, Elaine was a vibrant hostess with John, quiet in the background. I never had him as a professor, but I do remember him fiddling in the violin section of PBO. I also remember him as a frequent Music Library user, I think he had most of our early music score collection checked out on his library card and sitting in his office.  A space saver for the crowded library! 

To mark his retirement, he and Elaine invited the Music Library staff to their home for lunch, what a lovely occasion. He was always gracious and kind, a real gentleman. He will be missed.

– Maureen Bennington (BMus’82), Reference Assistant, Music, Art & Architecture Library, UBC



"A very dear person"

I had a special time in his Handel course.  I started singing so much music by Handel after it, and purchased (back then) my own video copies of Agrippina and other works for which he shared his enthusiasm.  My love for Handel's music is because of John.  He would also bring home-made muffins to class!  

Whenever I saw him at a VCS/PBO collaboration, he always said 'Hi' to me and remembered me.  Later, when I was having a difficult time accommodating my work schedule with the graduate degree courses in music theory because of my new job (I was just regularized at the college), John was my 'advisor' and all he said was, "Jobs are hard to come by", and that was that, he took care of it - won't ever forget it.

I'm very sad to learn of his passing.  I thought he was a very dear person.

– Paula Kremer (BMus’94), Artistic Director of the Vancouver Cantata Singers and Faculty member at the School of Music, Vancouver Community College



"His legacy as a teacher, performer, musicologist and editor is stellar"

Doreen Oke (BMus'68) with John. Photo courtesy Doreen Oke

Doreen Oke (BMus'68) with John. Photo courtesy Doreen Oke

I’ve known John since 1967, when I was a student in his very first Baroque Music History class at UBC. A newly-minted Musicology professor, he approached the course as if it were a graduate seminar, with the students giving colloquia while he sat back to provide comments and ask probing questions. It was all very formal at first (“Dr. Sawyer; Miss Oke,” etc.) but I’m not sure that lasted very long. The course became convivial as well as challenging, and I remember some good class parties at John & Elaine’s home that year.

The late '60s were heady years to be involved with the fledgling “early music” movement. Wonderful recordings on historical instruments by the pioneering great players and ensembles in Europe were beginning to appear, and there was a feeling of being launched into an exciting new world. For me personally, this sense of discovery deepened immeasurably in John’s Baroque History class. I remember being enthusiastic about my first assignment, Bach’s Coffee Cantata (it gave me a chance to bring coffee for the class), but then John asked me to give a presentation on the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers. I duly trudged up to the Music Library and listened to whatever fusty old recordings were there, only to be taken aback that anyone could think this was interesting music, much less a great work. Then, just before my presentation, the breakthrough Archiv recording of the Vespers by Jürgen Jürgens et al was released, and I — and, I hope, the rest of the class — was blown away. It's fair to say that this experience was a real turning point for me.

John performing on CBC in the late 1970s.

John performing on CBC in the late 1970s.

At about this time, John was one of the founders of the Vancouver Society for Early Music (now Early Music Vancouver), which over the following decades brought early-music performance and teaching to prominence in Vancouver. John not only directed and/or performed in many of the Society’s locally-produced concerts, but also served on the Artistic Committee and Board for years. He volunteered a vast amount of time, attending countless meetings, sending out mailings, and participating in various money-raising tasks, such as selling raffle tickets in shopping malls, or — believe it or not — invigilating at casinos. (A “charity” such as the VSEM would supply volunteers for a night in a casino, and in return would be given some of the money taken in.)

John was also involved with the annual Early Music & Dance Workshop co-sponsored by the VSEM and the UBC School of Music each summer, co-directing it several times, and — for many years — teaching viol students, coaching ensembles and performing in the faculty concerts. Even after he stepped down from participation in the workshops, John continued to act as liaison between the VSEM and UBC Music, and the summer Early Music Program’s ongoing success was secured. In the early years, although the workshops were fun for the teachers as well as for students, they were exhausting, as we faculty members did much of the organizing as well as giving lessons, coaching ensembles, rehearsing and performing. Every day we would aim to finish teaching by 5:00 pm on the dot, so that we could rush over to the Faculty Club and have drinks in the luxurious Lounge with its fabulous view, and happen to be on hand when free appetizers were circulated at just that time. An annual perk, much appreciated.

As has been said by others, John put early music on the map at UBC by establishing the Collegium Musicum as a small-ensemble option. Before its inception, students could take lessons on early instruments (yes, millennials, there was a time when most Music students took secondary instruments as a matter of course), but there were no early-music ensembles given for credit. Collegium was invariably well-enrolled by John’s viol students, by wind players and by select singers, and John worked very hard to involve violinists and cellists as well. Some years there would be a solid core of students learning to play Baroque stringed instruments, but other years they would be sparse. He must have been thrilled when a couple of years ago the Baroque Orchestra Mentorship program was established at UBC, with the aid of Early Music Vancouver, as part of Early Music Ensembles (formerly Collegium). This would have been a dream come true for him.

I believe I owe my years of teaching at UBC to John, as he notified me when the sessional position for harpsichord instructor became available in 1979, and encouraged me to apply. From that time until his retirement in 2002, John and I were colleagues in the School of Music as well as friends. We were also fellow-performers in many concerts over the decades, usually in chamber-music ensembles of various sizes, and as founding members of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra. John was that rare bird, a musicologist who also performs, and it is greatly to his credit that he was able to devote himself so well to both disciplines.

It has been a pleasure knowing John and Elaine over the years: enjoying many memorable parties and fabulous dinners at their home; relaxing, hiking, eating royally at their Mt. Baker “cabin;” watching their three bright, beautiful daughters grow up; going for walks with whichever faithful dog they owned at any given time. John’s impact on early music in Vancouver, and at UBC in particular, is undeniable; his legacy as a teacher, performer, musicologist and editor is stellar. Perhaps less well-known was his devotion to his family, his wry sense of humour, and his hilarious ability to unwind at parties, all of which provided his many friends with countless priceless memories.

He will be greatly missed.

– Doreen Oke (BMus'68), harpsichordist and former instructor, UBC School of Music

High Notes | Spring 2017 Edition


Welcome to the Spring 2017 edition of High Notes

In this issue we celebrate 20 years of the Chan Centre as a launching pad for talented young musicians; we talk to Turning Point Ensemble's Jeremy Berkman about the role of entrepreneurship in music; we catch up with Eugene Onegin guest director Krzysztof Biernacki (DMA'06); and we introduce our new B.Mus./B.Ed. dual degree program

Also in this issue:

As always, we want to hear from you! Send us your comments and story ideas.


Celebrating the Chan Centre at 20 — live on CBC Music

On April 8th, 2017, the UBC School of Music celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts with a special performance of Mozart’s Requiem and Dr. Stephen Chatman’s A Song of Joys, featuring UBC Choirs and Symphony Orchestra. The concert will be broadcast live on CBC Music as well.

Designed by renowned Vancouver architect Bing Thom, D.Litt. Honoris Causa (UBC), the Chan Centre is recognized as one of Canada’s premier musical venues thanks to its bold architecture and state-of-the-art acoustics. Over the past two decades it has also become an important launching pad for ambitious and talented student musicians. 

“Without question, the Chan Centre experience is at the heart of our learning and artistic enterprise for everyone in the School. With this celebratory concert we want to thank the Chan family for their extraordinary vision and generosity, and to showcase the abundant talents of our students,” says Dr. Richard Kurth, Director of the UBC School of Music. 

Read the full story
Watch the concert (original broadcast: April 8th, 2017 on CBC Music)

Photo: Chris Randle

Photo: Chris Randle


Turning Point Ensemble on music and entrepreneurship

“What's very important to realize as a student of musical performance is that you are not only a potential employee, but also a future employer and entrepreneur and can create the work you wish for. That's what we did—we developed a business plan, attracted a Board of Directors, and created an organization that would support the musical activity we wished to engage in.”

– Jeremy Berkman, School of Music lecturer and Turning Point trombonist  

Read the full Q & A with Jeremy Berkman

The duel scene from UBC Opera's production of Eugene Onegin. Photo: Tim Matheson

The duel scene from UBC Opera's production of Eugene Onegin. Photo: Tim Matheson


A homecoming in Onegin

Eugene Onegin has always been important to baritone Krzysztof Biernacki (DMA ’06). While pursuing his doctorate at the School of Music, he cut his teeth in the role of the arrogant and tragic title character of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1878 opera.

Dr. Krzysztof Biernacki.

Dr. Krzysztof Biernacki.

“[Onegin] cannot be compared to anything else in the operatic canon. It’s full of sensitive lyricism, fantastic melodies and real passion. The language is absolutely gorgeous, and Tchaikovsky really captured the essence of Russian life in the 19th century,” Biernacki says.

Since graduating a decade ago, Biernacki has performed in and directed a wide range of productions across Canada, the U.S. and Europe, from La Boheme to Die Fledermaus, Dido and Aeneas to The Consul

But Onegin remains a touchstone, and UBC his home away from home. When the opportunity to return to Vancouver this year as guest director for UBC Opera’s production of the classic Russian opera, he jumped at the chance: “I was hugely grateful for the invitation,” he says.

Read the full Q & A with Krzysztof Biernacki 

Fourth-year B.Mus./B.Ed. student Janine King.

Fourth-year B.Mus./B.Ed. student Janine King.

New dual degree program gives students career flexibility

Music careers are famously diverse. Some musicians perform and record exclusively. Many also teach, or produce, or work in an entirely different industry. There’s no single career path—that’s why the School of Music strives to offer degree programs that give students the flexibility to pursue multiple interests and vocations. 

In 2016 we launched the dual Bachelor of Music/Bachelor of Education degree program. This new offering allows students to complete both the B.Mus. (general studies major) and the B.Ed. (music major) within five years, gaining practical teaching experience much sooner in their studies. 

Read the full story


Winter concerts available on Livestream

The UBC Symphony Orchestra, Symphonic Winds, Concert Winds, Choirs, and Opera all staged ambitious concerts and events this winter. You can watch them on our Livestream page:

For more School of Music performances, check out our video archive.

Pictured (left to right): Dr. Ève Poudrier, Dr. Alan Dodson, and Dr. Nathan Hesselink

Pictured (left to right): Dr. Ève Poudrier, Dr. Alan Dodson, and Dr. Nathan Hesselink

New research and publications

Dr. John Roeder presented two conference papers recently:  “Formative processes of durational projection in 'free rhythm' world music” at the Fourth International Analytical Approaches to World Music Conference in New York last June; and “Durational process and affect in a Papua New Guinea song” at the SMT World Music Analysis interest group meeting, in Vancouver in November. Dr. Roeder also published "Superposition in Saariaho's 'The claw of the magnolia….'" in Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers: Concert Music, 1960-2000, ed. Laurel Parsons and Brenda Ravenscroft, 156-175. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Drs. Alan DodsonNathan Hesselink and Ève Poudrier were awarded a grant from the Grants for Catalyzing Research Clusters: Performing & Creative Arts for a series of three symposium on the theme “Exploring Musical Time” during the academic year 2017-2018. The newly formed Rhythm Research Cluster brings together the research interests of six UBC faculty members (including Drs. Richard KurthJohn Roeder, and Michael Tenzer) in the fields of music theory and ethnomusicology that converge on the study of musical time and the production and experience of musical rhythm, timing, and periodicity. The first symposium on “Entrainment and the Human-Technology Interface” is planned to take place in September 2017; stay tuned for more details in the next issue!

Dr. Stephen Chatman published three new educational books for piano at part of Canticle Publishing’s “Mix and Match” series. His compositions offer “an array of stylistically varied pieces, all paired with harmonically rich duets” for beginning students to learn from. 

Continue reading research and publications news


Mixtape by Maestro Jonathan Girard

Here on the High Notes Blog we're debuting a brand-new Mixtape column, where School of Music faculty, students, and staff curate their favourite music for your listening pleasure. In this issue, UBC Symphony Orchestra director Jonathan Girard shares his favourite recordings of composers Gustav Holst and Kaija Saariaho — inspiration for the most recent UBCSO concert.

Check out Dr. Girard's Mixtape or load the playlist in Spotify (login required)

Pictured (left to right): Annie Yim, Matthew Emery, and Janna Sailor

Pictured (left to right): Annie Yim, Matthew Emery, and Janna Sailor


Alumni Making Waves: An all-female orchestra, tours in Europe and Canada, and awards galore

Composer Matthew Emery (BMus’14) released Sing Your Song, a new choral album with Amabile Choirs of London, on CMC Centrediscs. The album was featured on CBC Music in February. In 2016, Emery was named one of CBC’s “hot Canadian classical musicians under 30.”

Conductor and violinist Janna Sailor (MMus’08, DMPS’12) recently formed Allegra Chamber Orchestra, an all-female orchestra devoted to performing the work of female composers. One of the few of its kind in the world. Listen to Sailor’s interview with Sheryl MacKay of CBC Radio’s North by Northwest about the genesis of ACO and its mandate “to empower women and those who identify as women through music, maintaining the role of the artist in society to bring to light issues that need to be addressed, while provoking creative thought and solutions.”

Pianist and Minerva Piano Trio founder Annie Yim (BMus’02) recently completed her DMA at City University of London and was selected — alongside her group — for the prestigious St. John’s Smith Square Young Artists’ Scheme. They will perform three different concerts at St John Smith’s Square in London over the course of the concert season.

Continue reading alumni news

Dr. Jonathan Girard with Peter Louw. Click on the image to watch the documentary.

Dr. Jonathan Girard with Peter Louw. Click on the image to watch the documentary.


Beyond the Gates

In December, Drs. Jonathan Girard and Stephen Chatman helped to make a lifelong wish come true for Peter Louw, an 83-year-old former teacher and UBC alumnus. Louw, who emigrated from South Africa in the 1960s to escape Apartheid, is a lover of classical music and his dream from boyhood was to conduct an orchestra.

Drs. Girard and Chatman worked with the Wish of a Lifetime Canada and Chartwell Retirement Residences to make Peter’s wish come true, and CBC News: The National was there to capture the moment as Peter conducted ‘O Canada’ with UBC Symphony Orchestra.

Peter described his experience: "I looked around and smiled at them, they smiled at me...I lifted my right hand up and started pointing at the percussion side and gave them the sign, and they started making a noise. That was the moment you see, to suddenly say start and they start—magical.  I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is wonderful!’" 

Continue reading faculty news

Pictured (left to right): Marie Civitarese, Benjamin Hopkins, and Aidan Mulldoon Wong

Pictured (left to right): Marie Civitarese, Benjamin Hopkins, and Aidan Mulldoon Wong


Catching up with our students

Ph.D student and vocalist Julia Úlehla released The Book of Transfigurations, a new album with her group Dálava, in March 2017. The album, a blend of traditional Moravian folk music and forward-looking jazz and post-rock, is inspired by the work of her late grandfather, the biologist and ethnomusicologist Vladimir Ulehla. Julia was recently profiled in the Georgia Straight

In August, M.Mus. student Katerina Gimon won the SOCAN Foundation's Godfrey Ridout Award for her composition, "Elements." The Annual SOCAN Foundation Awards for Young Composers recognize Canadian composers 30 years of age and under for specific musical works in five categories of concert music.

BMus students Benjamin Hopkins (piano), Aidan Mulldoon Wong (clarinet), and Marie Civitarese (voice) won first, second, and third prize respectively in the 2017 UBC School of Music Concerto Competition. Wong performed O. Navarro's Il Concerto for Clarinet with UBC Symphony Orchestra at a special concert in March. Hopkins will perform Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor in autumn 2017. 

Continue reading student news

New recordings

Contemporary chamber music ensemble Standing Wave released their latest album, New Wave, on Redshift Records this January. The album features School of Music lecturers Christie Reside (flutes) and Vern Griffiths (percussion). The album includes compositions by Michael Oesterle (BMus'92) and was recorded and produced by Will Howie (BMus'04).

Redshift Records' brand-new compilation, Redshift XVfeatures works by Prof. Keith Hamel, alumnus Benton Roark (MMus'07, DMA'13). With performances by School of Music ensemble-in-residence PEP (Piano and Erhu Project) as well as Standing Wave and Saxophilia. Performers include Corey Hamm (piano), Paolo Bortolussi (flute), Christie Reside (flute), Vern Griffiths (percussion), Julia Nolan (soprano sax), and Mark Takeshi MacGregor (DMA'12) (flute).

In 2016 Chrystal Records released Double Concertos for Violin and Clarinet, part of their "Making of a Medium" series, which features Prof. Stephen Chatman's 20-minute concerto in four movements for clarinet, violin, and orchestra. One reviewer describes the piece as "a joyous, rhapsodic work that lives up to its putative subject matter." 

Do you have a story? Let us know!

If you're a UBC Music alumnus and you have news to share, please send a note to We're always looking for stories for upcoming editions of High Notes and our other networks.


The Chan Centre at 20

Conductors James Fankhauser (left) and Jesse Read (centre) meet with Chan Centre architect Bing Thom backstage at the inaugural concert. Photo: Daryl Kahn Cline

Conductors James Fankhauser (left) and Jesse Read (centre) meet with Chan Centre architect Bing Thom backstage at the inaugural concert. Photo: Daryl Kahn Cline

Celebrating one of Canada’s premier launching pads for talented young musicians

On April 8th, 2017, the UBC School of Music celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts with a special performance of Mozart’s Requiem and Dr. Stephen Chatman’s A Song of Joys, featuring UBC Choirs and Symphony Orchestra. The concert will be broadcast live on CBC Music at 8 p.m. PT / 11 p.m. EST as well.

Designed by renowned Vancouver architect Bing Thom, D.Litt. Honoris Causa (UBC), the Chan Centre is recognized as one of Canada’s premier musical venues thanks to its bold architecture and state-of-the-art acoustics. Over the past two decades it has also become an important launching pad for ambitious and talented student musicians.

“Without question, the Chan Centre experience is at the heart of our learning and artistic enterprise for everyone in the School. With this celebratory concert we want to thank the Chan family for their extraordinary vision and generosity, and to showcase the abundant talents of our students,” says Dr. Richard Kurth, Director of the UBC School of Music. 

For percussionist and M.Mus. student Julia Chien, performing at the Chan Centre is exciting — and a little terrifying. “It’s such a privilege. I’m always challenged beyond the limits of what I think I am capable of!” she says. Chien will perform the timpani solo in A Song of Joys.

Dozens of UBC Music students have parlayed their experiences at the Chan into exciting careers. Baritone Tyler Duncan (BMus ’98) credits the Chan with setting the stage (so to speak) for a life in music that has taken him around the world, with stints at the Metropolitan Opera, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and Carnegie Hall.

“I remember singing in the choir [at the inaugural concert] and being in awe of the amazing acoustics. I walked across that stage to receive my Bachelor of Music degree and one of my first professional jobs as a singer with Early Music Vancouver was there… the Chan feels like home to me,” Duncan says.

M.Mus student Julia Chien is the timpani soloist for A Song of Joys. Photo courtesy of Julia Chien

M.Mus student Julia Chien is the timpani soloist for A Song of Joys. Photo courtesy of Julia Chien

Other notable alumni include Cynthia Yeh, principal percussionist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, soprano Shirin Eskandani, who this year made her debut with the Met in Carmen, cellist Luke Kim of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and up-and-coming pianist Bogdan Dulu.

The Song of Joys concert features the next generation of incredible student musicians performing under the direction of School of Music conducting faculty Dr. Graeme Langager and Dr. Jonathan Girard.

The concert is dedicated to the memory of Bing Thom, who passed away suddenly in 2016. Thom’s vision and his attention to acoustic detail — he was an amateur musician, and an aspiring conductor before he decided to pursue architecture — are what made the Chan Centre the world-class facility it is today.

Visit to read more about the anniversary concert and the history of the Chan Centre, including memories from School of Music faculty and alumni.