Around Town: Timeless music on the palate

You couldn’t blame guests who thought Crystal Garden might literally become a hothouse last Wednesday as they headed inside for Uncork Your Palate.

Victoria’s historic “glass palace” was steamy enough to accommodate tropical plants and exotic animals for years, after all, and the social event took place on the balmiest day in April.

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Any such concerns were allayed once Victoria Conservatory of Music’s seventh annual signature fundraising event began in what for many was a comfort zone in more ways than one.

“A little AC [air-conditioning] goes a long way,” chirped Erin Fraser, executive assistant to CEO Jane Butler McGregor, as she greeted patrons eager to “sip, sample and celebrate” at the event showcasing partner Naramata Bench Wineries Association’s spring release wine portfolio and small plates dished up by some of Victoria’s finest culinary establishments.

There was magic in the air as guests raised a glass, listened to fine music and nibbled on creative hors d’oeuvres, which might have prompted VCM dean Stephen Green’s alarming declaration.

“We’re walking on water,” he noted with a smile, acknowledging the festivities were taking place above where the iconic heritage building’s former salt-water swimming pool was once housed.

A beaming McGregor said organizers sold a record-setting 400 tickets to the lead-in event to the conservatory’s 50th year.

“It’s a great way to bring awareness to our 50th anniversary and all the great things that are going to happen,” she said, referring to such upcoming highlights as its 32nd annual Mother’s Day Garden Tour and its 50th Jubilee Alumni Concert featuring Richard Margison, Eve-Lyn de la Haye, Benjamin Butterfield, Jonathan Crow and others May 31 at Alix Goolden Performance Hall.

Green said he hoped such events will help dispel misconceptions some people still have about organizations such as the non-profit Victoria Conservatory of Music.

“While a ‘conservatory’ was once typically a place where only those with enough money could afford lessons, it’s not the case anymore,” Green said, recalling the term’s origins.

“We try to get back to where the original conservatory model came from, in [16th century] Renaissance Italy. Nuns were training orphans to give them some kind of vocation so they wouldn’t be on the streets, so they trained them to become musicians in the court and in the winter they needed a place to train, so they used the conservatory.”

While the VCM might not be as “front and centre and in-your-face as Pacific Opera Victoria and Victoria Symphony,” board chairman Roy Cullen expressed his gratitude to music lovers whose awareness of how the conservatory trains musicians in the background help raise funds to complement grants and the 70 per cent of revenues it generates through operations.

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised by that,” Cullen said. “It can be harder to get a higher profile, but we have a strong nucleus of support.”

Drummer Damian Graham’s jazz trio provided musical entertainment, as did strolling violinists Ceilidh Briscoe, Rowan Osborne and Hannah Williamson, and The Riverside, a contemporary local band featuring singer-pianist Aidan Miller, Grapes of Wrath guitarist Tom Hooper and 54-40 drummer Matt Johnson, instructors for VCM’s new contemporary music program starting July 21.

Performing for such a music-savvy crowd was an honour, said Graham, also a faculty member and instructor.

He acknowledges his career path might seem unusual for someone whose father and grandfather were doctors, and whose father-in-law was a veterinarian.

“People ask me ‘Why didn’t you want to become a doctor?’ ” Graham says. “Doctors save people’s lives. Musicians give people a reason to want to live.”

While being a musician might not be what society considers a “valuable asset” compared to, say, doctors or lawyers, he said its value shouldn’t be underestimated.

Said Graham: “I triple-dog dare anyone to go a day without listening to music.”

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