BC Arts' Council Jeremy Long, composer Andre Cormier and violist Robin Streb

photo: Mitz Naga

Violist Robin Streb

photo: Mitz Naga

Composer / Performer
sylvi macCormac (sic)

photo: Mitz Naga

Recipient Jim Shannon with MC Sam Sullivan

photo: Mitz Naga

VAMS Christmas Showcase Celebrates Society's Champions

By Garry Angus

The Vancouver Adapted Music Society's (VAMS) 2004 Christmas Showcase was a celebration of the champions - the musicians, friends and funders - who have made VAMS and musical opportunities for people with disabilities possible.

The event and luncheon held Dec. 15th at Performance Works on Granville Island featured select pieces of music played by performers affiliated with the society: composer/performer sylvi macCormac (sic) of Vancouver; Burnaby's Jayne Dinsmore with her group "Jayne's Gang"; and introduced the VAMS audience to newcomers, composer Andre Cormier and violist Robin Streb.

Master of ceremonies Sam Sullivan -- executive director and founder of the Disability Foundation - recognized those who have made significant contributions to music, VAMS, and the people the music society serves.

Sullivan honored Rick Hansen Man In Motion Foundation's Scott Mossing and Nancy Adams; Martha Lou Hanley of the Martha Lou Hanley Charitable Foundation; and Harold Kalke of the David Spencer Foundation for their organizations' financial support for VAMS. He acknowledged special guest Jeremy Long, associate director of The British Columbia Arts Council, being instrumental in helping the society achieve one of its first operating grants.

"In the past year," said Sullivan, "VAMS has operated two studios at the GF Strong and Pearson sites that have introduced many disabled people to the possibilities of music. VAMS has been turning its focus, however, from a studio-based program to a musician-based program. We want to identify and support the many people with disabilities who are committed to their musical careers and have the talent and the drive to be successful."

Sullivan introduced one of the goals for the society for the coming year: " A compilation CD that will recognize and promote some of the outstanding musicians with disabilities not just in Vancouver, but in other cities as well."

The Arts Council's Long had the honor of introducing internationally recognized composer Andre Cormier to the audience, who had the rare treat of hearing a selection with the composer in the house.

Cormier's work, Solo for Viola, was performed by able-bodied musician Robin Streb, assistant principal viola for the Vancouver Island Symphony Orchestra. Streb delighted the audience with the pizzicato - punctuated piece and her long bow-stroke interpretation.

Cormier, who has spinal muscular atrophy, has recently been accepted as an associate composer by the prestigious Canadian Music Centre, making his works available internationally through its library archives.
The Christmas Showcase was his and Streb's first involvement with VAMS, and, as Robin put it, they "really didn't know what to expect."

Composer/performer sylvi macCormac (sic) was introduced by Lloy Jefferson, wife of Peter Jefferson, President of the Sam Sullivan Disability Foundation. macCormac - who played harmonica and sang harmony vocals accompanied by her recorded backing tracks of gentle guitar and voice - performed her piece, Aural Shadows, a song inspired by the beauty of the Theremin and the poetry of W.B. Yeats.

The audience was privy to a cut from macCormac's Wheels Project ( - a series of compositions interweaving the sounds and voices of VAMS members and their work into electronic sound portraits. An excerpt from Spirit Wheels: Journey, composition number three in the Wheels project, was played; a tapestry of artist's voices, the sounds of their work and a hauntingly familiar Irish pennywhistle.

macCormac, who has multiple sclerosis, drew inspiration for the Wheels project from audio portraits created by Peggy Seeger [and producer Charles Parker] of the BBC.

"They were doing audio portraits and worked with people with arthritis. So they were the first people with disabilities having a piece about them," macCormac says. " The Simon Fraser University Soundscape studies, Glenn Gould's Solitude trilogies got me composing and Peggy Seeger's work at the BBC was the trigger to do Wheels working with people with disabilities."

Master of ceremonies Sullivan honored special guest Jim Shannon for his karaoke program for long-term residents at the George Pearson Centre - the Vancouver Hospital and Health Science Centre's live in residence for adults with severe disabilities.

Shannon, a paraplegic from a car accident in 1966, regularly visited Pearson as an employee of the B.C. Paraplegic Association. He championed the program in the activity wing 14 years ago when he saw a need and a way to address it with music.

" Every Saturday there was a little canteen where drinks were available, and there wasn't any entertainment, just tapes available," says Jim. "We talked about karaoke and I obtained the funding from the B.C. Paraplegic Association as well as the lady's auxiliary at Pearson, and we bought a 31-inch television, a karaoke machine and 12 disks, and it went from there. Now we are up to right around 100 disks and about 2000 songs."

When asked what a typical karaoke Saturday is like, Jim says: "Sometimes it's rocking, sometimes it's pretty mellow, but there are no shortages of opportunities to sing.

"Some people come with family members and it turns into quite a party. What I really enjoy is when visitors come in that are able to sing," says Shannon, "cause I have gone in there some Saturdays and sang from two til' five. Then I can sit back and relax. I'll flip the disks: they can sing!"

To this date, Shannon is still the champion of the program and can be seen, mike in hand, on any given Saturday looking for willing singing partners.

The Showcase closed with lunch to the music of Jayne's Gang. The audience was treated to Jayne's Dinsmore's full-bodied voice and her band's top- notch interpretation of 'smoky' jazz classics and pop standards from the '40s to the '70s.

Dinsmore's group, consisting of Jayne on vocals, guitarist Steve Vetter, bassist Russell Sholberg, and Tony Williams on saxophone, flute and clarinet, started rehearsing together in 2000 and performed at the first KickstArt-the Society for Disability Arts and Culture's International festival and celebration of disability arts and culture.

Jayne, who has rheumatoid arthritis from a childhood illness, debuted her singing career at a VAMS showcase…and has performed for many audiences, and recorded her own CD, according to Sullivan.

The quiet sax-man from Jayne's Gang, Tony Williams - a professor of organizational leadership at Royal Roads University - gave some fitting closing thoughts about the 2004 VAMS Christmas Showcase.

"The thing I really enjoy about through Jayne, doing these disability functions, is for me, what I see of course is leadership everywhere. It's not necessarily the high-powered 'hero' leaders we think of when we think of leaders. These are leaders by any definition doing remarkable work, and I am just thrilled by it, and love going to these events. I see stuff we don't normally see in traditional organizations."

Related Articles:
Local art and culture group ‘kickstARTs’ disability art movement
How to Join 'Jayne's Gang': The story of the Dinsmore group's formation

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