It’s always interesting when worlds collide. For instance, 15 years ago I was employed by the Canadian Music Centre’s Atlantic Region office as the manager and later worked in the Vancouver office after I’d decided to move to BC. The CMC is a wonderful organization that supports Canadian composers by functioning as a library, archives, and record-label that focuses on compositions from composers working in Canada. I still receive emails from them occasionally and I like hearing about news within that community when time allows.
The last email that I received was fascinating though because it mentioned a winery.
Quail’s Gate to be exact. They are hosting a performance of a Canadian opera called “The Lake – N-ha-a-itk”. The music is by composer Barbara Pentland and the libretto by poet Dorothy Livesay. If those names don’t ring a bell then maybe the name of the true-life character in the story might – Susan Allison. Visitors to Quail’s Gate know that she, with her husband John, were one of the first European settlers to live in the Okanagan valley. They built the Sunnyside Ranch (which is now Quail’s Gate’s location) and lived in the ranch house now known as “Allison House” that still stands on the Quail’s Gate property today. It also used to be Quail’s Gate’s wine shop which is where I stopped in for a tasting in 2003.
The story is about what Susan saw in the autumn of 1873 on the lake – Ogopogo, the famous creature that lives in the Okanagan Lake and in the hearts and minds of souvenir shop owners throughout the valley. It’s a fascinatingly accurate starting point for western culture in the Okanagan Valley and the performance is all the more special because, through some freak cosmic alignment, it’s going to be performed in the very place where the story actually happened. The hermenutical musicologist in me is flipping out about the significance of this performance because of this.
It’s culturally significant to everyone in the Okanagan and it’s being represented through music that is there (and has always been there) to do that – show us who we are as people and bind us together in some way. Cultural similarities are what tie us all together. You are reading this article now because you enjoy being a part of the wine culture that emanates from the Okanagan Valley through the bottles of wine that you bring home from the Okanagan or your local wine store. Wine is what binds you to this culture and sharing stories and experiences enriches that relationship. As someone who grew up as an anglo-Quebecer devoid of any real culture to speak of (other than the constant struggle to be allowed to speak our own language – that’s another story I don’t want to get into here), I can tell you it was shocking to move to a place where everyone spoke the same language and knew all the same songs and stories. Culture was something new to me and it’s a notion that I still have to grapple with occasionally but still fascinates me. As a professional wine nerd, I spend countless hours studying the texts of this culture (magazines, books on wine, bottles, photos, etc) in order to immerse myself in it the way that an athlete studies the history, legends, lore, and attitudes of their chosen sport. I’ve been exploring that recently with the sub-culture of motorcycling which has its own set of cultural practices, history, and vocabulary.
Barbara Pentland is probably one of Canada’s most under-rated composers, male or female, and this music is from an earlier stage in her career. I had the opportunity to perform some of her orchestral music with an orchestra I was in when I lived in Vancouver and I remember it being a challenge to play, but enjoyable. I recognize that perhaps “The Lake”, being ‘classical’ music (for the record, I hate that term) may not immediately send you rushing out to get tickets, I urge you to consider doing so because it is a part of our shared Okanagan culture. ‘Classical’ concert music in real life is every bit as powerful and moving (more so in my opinion) as it is in the movies, which is where most people seem completely comfortable with it and perhaps expect it. It can have subtle uses in film and viewers might not really appreciate it in the moment other than it sets the mood or heightens the dramatic tension. I expect the Harry Potter movies would have been far less thrilling had they been entirely set to songs by Katy Perry or Justin Bieber.
The lake moderates our climate so that grapes can grow in Naramata, Summerland, and Kelowna. It provides a means of transportation (remember when Highway 97 was closed for a month in 2008 between Summerland and Peachland?), refreshment (beaches), and recreation (boating, water skiing, swimming, etc.) that unites all of us who dwell between these mountains and who make the Okanagan our home.
And really, we’ve all looked for Ogopogo at some point.
Cheers from wine country!
Tickets for performances August 14, 15, and 16 are available here.
“The Lake” is presented by Astrolabe Musik Theatre and The Turning Point Ensemble. More information is available here.