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Us Three - 1

Any number of people, mostly friends and the odd critic or two, have read my memoir Rant & Dawdle, glanced through it perhaps – most not having the constitution for other peoples ramblings. So every now and again I pluck a scenario from that chronicle; a marginal edit, illustrate it and add a musical soundtrack. And so again he[a]r[e] it be. The first post of a Hornby Island trilogy – The Great Rift – with Dana Inglis [bass], Carole Chambers [voice], Bill Smith [percussion], Charles Gauvin [piano] [not shown] is an extract from a longer performance of the Olduvai Suite.

I had read that the three million year old 3-1/2 foot tall skeleton of Lucy (her name taken from a Beatles song playing on the night of her discovery at the archaeological dig in Olduvai Gorge) had for the first time been removed from the vaults of the Ethiopian Natural History Museum for a six-year tour of museums in Houston, Washington, New York, Denver and Chicago. By then the Olduvai Orchestra had already celebrated her discovery on Hornby Island.

It was the previous winter when it all began, with whoever was available on Thursday mornings meeting up at Dana Inglis’s house, to develop into orchestral form two simple melodic counterpoint lines that Dana had imagined, which Montreal pianist Charles Gauvin and myself, formalised into notation. The C major melody, still coming uninvited into my brain at the oddest moments, was a loping waltz, swinging in a lilting jazzy manner.Ann Ngan

Bush telegraph was soon spreading rumours of these early morning gatherings, often enticing artist Ann Ngan to attend the sessions, sketching, chronicling the proceedings. It was rarely possible for everyone to attend the rehearsals, many having day jobs of one kind or another, and four of the wind players – two flautists, a bass clarinetist and a trombonist – lived on Denman Island, so it was not until the evening before the premier of the Olduvai Suite at the community hall, that the entire orchestra was assembled.

A two-dozen strong orchestra with brass, reed and string sections, piano, bass and an assortment of hand drums and a vast array of percussion instruments including a marimbaist to accompany an exotic tribal dancer.  Spread out across the front of the stage was the strangest collection of Idiophones and Membranophones ever witnessed; gongs, bells, cymbals, wood blocks, metal junk, pot lids, toys, drums from every-which-where. Stevi Kittleson had loaned me, from her collection of bones, the scapulas of an elephant seal: all waiting to be struck, shaken, rubbed and scraped. Poet Carole Chambers had been commissioned to create her masterpiece: The Great Rift.


Curiosity about this project had reached such heights throughout those winter months that when the first performance took place our community hall was packed, past the legal capacity, causing our fire marshal some concern. Looking out from the perspective afforded us on stage, the excitement was palpable, and judging from Bob Cain’s photographs of this wonderful evening we presented to the audience a most impressive picture, the orchestra outfitted entirely in black.

The music: Wooden sticks clapped in the rhythm of the melody opened a historical trip through time leading to vocalisations, klezmer, folk, jazz, Carole Chambers’ poem [featured in this post], on to to a climax with yours truly soloing on a 1914 Conn C Melody soprano, the evening culminating in a raucous finale of Dana’s original composition. The Olduvai Suite.

It took some time for the enthusiastic applause, the shouting and hollering to die down. The audience, with the exception of a professional jazz critic visiting from back east, ecstatic. Champagne bottles popped and a t-shirt silk screened with an image of Lucy’s head proclaiming: The Olduvai Orchestra World Tour, presented to each member of the orchestra. A world tour never did happen, although we did perform the same piece twice more, once suitably at the Festival Of Myth and our only off island presentation at the community hall of neighbouring Denman Island.


End Notes:

Echo Location

Rant & Dawdle: The Fictional Memoir of Colston Willmott
Music IS Rapid Transportation …from the Beatles to Xenakis
Photography Bob Cain
Stevi Kittleson Art:

Comments are invited: classicimprov@yahoo.ca