Return to Arts at UCC – An Interview with the minds behind the Music and the Play

By Ian Ye

Wind Ensembles – Mr. Gomes and Mr. Smith

How does it feel to be back in this space creating music after a year of not having had this opportunity?

Mr. Smith: It’s a relief. It’s like when you hit yourself in the forehead a whole bunch. When you stop doing it, it’s awesome. Music is a live pursuit. 

Mr. Gomes: Not only is it a live pursuit, but it’s also a communal pursuit. Yes, coming to school is great, learning is great, but what we took for granted was that we were communing. That feeling, that personal connection drives our will to learn, even when we don’t want to learn. Sometimes you come in, sit down, say “God, why am I here at 7:15 in the morning?” and you get your horn out, but someone makes you do it and snaps you out of it. Eventually, you get to that moment where you say “Ok, let’s do it, I’m on.” And that is a really important moment in your development as a student. At home, yes, you can hop onto a zoom call, but you’re not being held accountable. 

Mr. Smith: Teaching music without making music is like teaching cooking without food. I can tell you how to roast beef, but it’s just not going to be the same. 

Can you tell us what the bands are like this year – How have you adapted to COVID-19 regulations and how are rehearsals in person working?

Mr. Gomes: Our junior ensembles, which are by grade level, are perfect. We don’t have to worry about cohorting them, so they are doing great. Our senior band, on the other hand, takes a little more juggling. The cohorting doesn’t allow us to be in the same room without masks, so our three different grades have to stay in separate rooms while rehearsing as a whole. It requires another level of maturity from the students, but it also requires a lot of musicianship skills that need development. The ability to listen when the students are by themselves in a room is handicapped for them. However, I continue to be impressed that guys are still wanting to be part of this even when they’re in this weird, compromising scenario. 

What have been the challenges and successes of working within restrictions – what has worked and what hasn’t? What are things that may have surprised you?

Smith: I may be a little surprised by just how eager the students are to get back at it. They all seem to have a “let’s do it!” attitude. We didn’t have a music camp, we started some ensembles late, but we’re making very good progress. 

And how about you Mr. Gomes, working with the senior winds?

Gomes: The surprising factor is, given all of the above, that everyone has met a decent marker. Last year, everything was dysfunctional. There was no real sense of musicality.

Smith: But I’m of the opinion that because they weren’t together for so long, they just didn’t have the same desire to try. It was almost impossible to get students to do anything. 

Gomes: Last year, there were guys in the ensemble who really had to carry the load. And now, those guys are the leaders in the band right now. They are the beacons achieving the standard we’re trying to meet and are giving us the inspiration we need to get to that next level. 

What are your ambitions, and the goals that you are working towards in your respective groups? 

Gomes: I think Mr. Smith and I have the ‘Be ready’ mantra. We’re kind of getting ourselves ready so that the moment someone decides ‘let’s open everything back up, go to festivals, do concerts’ – we could do that. 

Smith: Also, for me, we did what we did in the past for so long, we pushed hard, and we wanted every band to be the best they could be. I’m finding now, I’m just not caring that much about perfection. I’m just happy to be here making music. I used to be so hung up by a 3rd trombone not playing their part correctly, but now I don’t even have a 3rd trombone and I’m okay with that. I’m not saying I’ve lowered my standard, it’s accepting that sometimes it’s okay to make do with what you’ve got. 

Gomes: But to add to that, we will get everyone accountable. The 3rd trombone should be able to play their part.

Smith: First of all, let’s be honest. Trombone – that’s all I need to say. 

Gomes: It is getting much better though. If you think about where we started, to where we are now, we can actually look at where we’ve gone, whereas last year I had no idea what was happening. If we were a sinking ship, last year we were treading in the water trying our best not to die. This year we’ve found some lifeboats and bigger ships, and we’re weathering the storm. We have direction. 

What is your advice for students in bands right now?

Gomes: Don’t take it for granted. Make it as meaningful and rewarding as you can right now – look back and see how much we learnt from being at home and isolated. It’s not even anything music-specific, it’s generally school-specific. Because as we know, it can go away as quickly as it came.

Smith: My advice is to be the leader. Be the guy who brings us back to the focus we’ve had in the past. I’m seeing from some students lazy habits acquired during COVID-19. And we have those leaders we talked about who are dragging the band along, so don’t be the dead weight holding us back. 

Have you noticed any musical bad habits that have developed that are common to students?

Gomes: Lack of concentration. To go for a full hour non-stop feels hard because they’re so used to going to another tab or screen or whatever they want. It is getting better, but it is very difficult, especially for younger kids who have never had the opportunity to go through a full rehearsal. There aren’t any other activities at school that make you concentrate for a full hour without stopping. Even in classes, you can have lapses in concentration, but here it makes us go back to the beginning.

I’ve noticed in my personal experience that you’ve had to repeat instructions a lot in rehearsals, but nothing happens.

Gomes: But even when it does, it’s just a fleeting moment. That’s also the other part, we’ve been conditioned to think that we can just ‘do it again’ or worry about things later.

Smith: And that goes right back to one of the key values of music and music education. There are certain things you have to do in music that you just don’t experience anywhere else, but they’re valuable human skills. Communication, concentration, multitasking – I can’t think of many other activities that make you do all that non-stop. 

Gomes: We take it for granted that people can do that. How many people can rely on having to do four things at one moment and sustain it? Sound, tuning, time, and other things – be able to follow that for a whole rehearsal. And not only that, we’re fine-tuning each one of these as we go along. Not everyone has those skills. What we’re doing is producing them. 

*At this point in the interview, Mr. Smith and Mr. Gomes begin to argue over a cookie. 

Thank you so much for answering our questions! We wish you all the best with your musical endeavours. 

Gomes: No, thank you.

Smith: Thanks for having us on!

The Fall Play – Mr. Bauld and Ms. Bell

How does it feel for you personally to be back, after over a year of quarantine, rehearsing and collaborating to perform a play again?

Bell: For me, it is refreshing and inspiring to be just in a theatre space again, collaborating, and working with young artists. It goes without saying that the past 18 months were incredibly difficult for theatre makers, and I feel profoundly honoured to be at UCC where we can get together and create theatre once again.

Do you think the students feel the same way?

Bell: I think the students do feel the same way — moving in the space, engaging in ideas, and working together in person is a significant change for them as well. An invigorating and thrilling change, I hope.

Can you tell us a little about the play, and how it will be presented this year?

Bauld: The Senior Fall play this year is The Book of Job, a work from the Hebrew Bible and probably one of its better-known stories, if not by name, then by its influence. It starts off with what seems to be a casual bet between God and Satan, an accusing angel. God boasts about a man named Job, but Satan says that the man is only reverent because he is protected by God. And to that, God says, ‘Oh, you think so do you? Well, put him through some hardship. He won’t curse me.’ It’s an interesting premise because it seems to come out of nowhere, and it lands directly on this unsuspecting fellow who has been living a fair and just life. To add insult to the significant injuries Satan has thrust upon him, Job is visited by his friends who each carefully explain to him why he is deserving of such misery.

This is one of the world’s oldest stories, but even though our times are decidedly more secular, it presents questions and problems that we all have at some point in our lives. On one level it questions the origin of suffering, but it also challenges us to think, specifically, about who suffers, particularly the innocent. It reminds us of the limitation of our reason and our demands for answers and confirms that sometimes we just do not get to know why things happen or how things work. One of the more immediate things to watch in the play is to see how friendship can dissolve if one side is too certain. It is a really old story, but we continue to read it because it continues to make sense.

Because of the pandemic restrictions, we have the added challenge of presenting the play online. We practice on stage, and we block scenes, and do so to get the energy of the drama, but the production itself will be quite different. You’ll have to tune in to see it on December 10th. It would be great to have a live audience, and that’s going to happen in 2022 with other productions, but this cast and crew have been unwavering in their efforts to lift the play off the page and onto the small screen. It’s also been great working with Ms. Bell who has extensive theatre experience, and also a very good ear which has really helped our actors find their voices in a demanding script.

Can you tell us what it’s like to be working within COVID-19 regulations?

Bell: Working within COVID-19 regulations forces you to think differently about how to make theatre that is engaging for audiences viewing a ‘streamed, digital’ production. What I really enjoy about theatre is the relationship between the performer and the audience–I am always eager to try to start the event as soon as I can for the audience, in the lobby, or ‘in media res’ so that the audience enters the space and there is some sort of action already in progress. At home streaming ‘theatre’ productions is a great way to share what we create, but it is a completely different ‘theatre’ experience for the audience. Being at home versus being in a dark room with strangers experiencing theatre together are completely different. The physical act of going to the theatre by car, TTC, by bicycle makes it an event, and we are all so accustomed to our screens that streaming ‘theatre’ often loses its ‘event-ness’, its sense of community. Although, I do love seeing the number of ‘viewers’ appear on the screen and knowing that there is an audience out there, there is a community…we just can’t see them. For me, the magic is in live performance, with performers and audience in the same space.

How have you adapted to maintain health and safety protocols? Have you had to revise the play to stay within the restrictions? How are rehearsals working?

Bell: We adhere to physical distance and mask protocols in rehearsals to ensure the health and safety of everyone. The structure of the play does not rely on physical interaction or proximity, so we haven’t had to adapt or re-conceptualize the script to prioritize safety protocols. There are 11 performers in the cast, with a maximum of 6 in a scene together, so the wonderful David Chu Theatre is large enough to ensure physical distancing.

What are some of the challenges and successes you’ve faced this term in particular? What has worked and what hasn’t? Has anything surprised you in this regard?

Bauld: One of the biggest challenges of putting a production together with an ancient text, is to understand the story. The actors have been working hard, getting to know their roles, and also allowing the language to bring them to the emotional honesty in the play. It’s great to see. I don’t think any of the actors knew the story coming into the auditions, but now they have a good feel for the philosophical questions and for archetypal characters. We are nearing the film  production aspect of the play and that will be a new set of challenges. It’s tough work, but it’s also pretty exciting to watch people make something come to life.

What is your advice for students that are participating in the Fall play, or are looking to participate in future theatre activities at UCC?

Bauld: Sometimes I’ll talk to graduating students who say, “I wish I had been in a play. I always wanted to but I didn’t have the confidence or time to audition. ”  High school goes really fast and there are few places that will provide as much security and possibility as the College. I think if a student has an interest in being part of theatre, whether on the stage or in the lighting booth or in the workshop with Mr. Densted, then he should get involved. After the December break, there will be three more plays. It’s a great way to get to know others, and an even better way to get to know yourself.