Shane Koyczan performs with the Okanagan Symphony in Vernon Sunday.

CLASSICAL NOTES: Koyczan dominates

Sunday’s standing ovation was instant, unanimous, and before the orchestra had stopped playing.

Sunday’s standing ovation for Okanagan Symphony was instant, unanimous, and before the orchestra had stopped playing.

Not just for the soloist, spoken word poet Shane Koyczan, but also for the brilliant pairing of text and orchestra. Like all good pairings, the sum was greater than its parts.

I’d already seen him at the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival with his band Short Story Long, also at the Performing Arts Centre. And no-one could forget his appearance at the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

But Okanagan Symphony’s music director and conductor Rosemary Thomson saw a bigger picture,  “I discovered he lives in Penticton, and after the Olympics, I stalked him for two years.  Finally at a CD table, I waited in line and asked, ‘Now will you come and play with my band?’”

It was a first for him, and also the first time OSO has programmed a single soloist for an entire show. Two years in preparation, they collaborated on how to combine poetry and music.

The third partner was Canadian composer Jordan Nobles, who’d already written two pieces for Koyczan. For this concert, four more were commissioned, with a fifth added just one day before dress rehearsal.

But his music is far from straight-forward. Nobles instructed the orchestra about his piece for Specials, consisting of a dozen separate motifs, one for for each player or group, to be repeated at the musician’s discretion.

During rehearsals he would help them come in, then they were on their own.

Thus each performance would be different.  When I wanted him to define this style of composition he hesitated.  “Can it be called improvisation” I asked?  He finally decided on “rhythmically independent melodies.”

Nobles has emerged as one of Canada’s finest composers, known for creating music filled with an “unearthly beauty” (Mondo magazine), and recently, his piece Simulacrum was nominated classical composition of the year at the Western Canadian Music Awards.

On Sunday, his pieces were a perfect compliment to Shane’s poetry, and the resulting synergy was electric. But during rehearsals Rosemary told me: “My gut’s been in a knot for a week – what if it doesn’t work?

But it did, and the audience was wildly enthusiastic.  I’ve never experienced an orchestral concert like this.  What was particularly impressive was the extent to which the orchestra gave way to the spoken word. They really did play second fiddle!

Koyczan’s peotry is deeply personal, while at the same time touching on human feelings which are all too familiar.  Unrequited love, rejection, frustration, loneliness, and the striving for personal integrity surfaced again and again.

His delivery style is unrelentingly blunt, and life experiences have led him to dark places. Certainly this might offend some, but Sunday’s audience was enraptured, and his use of words is a delight.

His poem When I Was a Kid touched on his childhood:  “I hid my heart under my bed because my mother said that if you’re not careful, someday somebody’s going to break it.”

The anguish of his passion was evident.  People were crying.

“When I was 14, I was asked to seriously consider a career path.  I said, I’d like to be a writer.  And they said, choose something realistic.

We were being told that we somehow must become what we are not, sacrificing what we are, to inherit the masquerade of what we will be.”

Not all the selected music was new.

Koyczan made his stage entrance to Darth Vader’s theme, his anti-bullying piece used Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, a tribute to his cat used Gabriel’e Oboe from The Mission, and his final piece How to be a Parent was accompanied by Barber’s haunting Adagio For Strings.

And for his encore, A Letter to Myself, they played Freddie Mercury’s We are The Champions.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Miners dig up services of Vernon player

Ontario’s Red Lake Miners Junior A hockey club ink North Okanagan Knights forward Nic Bolin

UPDATE: Missing Kelowna teen located

Police are still looking to speak with the unidentified man she was spotted with

Vernon officer returns soccer ball and boy’s smile

RCMP officer retrieves errant soccer ball, returns it to five-year-old with cruiser lights flashing

Former Vernon psychologist disciplined

Complaint filed against Dr. Kevin Miller over conduct in context of treatment provided to client

Queen Silver Star tradition upheld despite COVID-19

Vernon, Coldstream, Lumby, Armstrong and Enderby youth can apply

B.C. records 30-50 new COVID-19 cases a day over weekend, no new deaths

Many of those testing positive were identified by contact tracing for being linked to other confirmed infections

Five B.C. First Nations call out Canada for ‘discriminatory’ food fish practices

West Coast nations say government ignoring court-won right to chinook and coho

No new COVID-19 cases in Kelowna over the weekend

Kelowna has nine of the Interior Health region’s 13 active cases

Rent-relief program becomes new front in fight between Liberals, opposition

Opposition trying to draw parallels between decision to have Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. run program and the WE controversy

West Kelowna woman upset with RCMP response to street brawl

A physical altercation between a group of teens and a group of adults erupted on a West Kelowna street Sunday evening

Kelowna real estate agent fined $6,500 for ‘misleading’ website

The website listed several services its owner was not licensed to provide

Ottawa sets minimum unemployment rate at 13.1% for EI calculation

Statistics Canada says the unemployment rate was 10.9 per cent in July

$45K in donations received after couple’s sudden death in Tulameen

Sarah MacDermid, 31, and Casey Bussiere, 37, died August long weekend

Most Read