For ten years RSVP, hosted by Leon Cole, was one of the most popular of CBC Stereo's classical music programmes. 300,000 Canadians tuned in every weekday Its success was based on a simple democratic idea -- to play the music that people ask to hear. Frequently, there were stories to go with the music choices; stories that were personal, poignant and often funny.
There were stories of triumph and disaster on stage and unlikely insights into great performers and composers. There were lett ers linking music to majestic landscapes and exotic locales as well as the devastation of war. There were commentaries on the role of music in making us human -- and humane. And because Leon Cole is a dyed-in-the wool Gilbert and Sullivan fan, there were many letters about that divine collaboration. In fact, there was a monthly G & S feature on RSVP (can you think of any other classical music show with that kind of devotion?) You may remember the GST or Gilbert and Sullivan Treat.
Many of the letters and conversations have been collected into a book called DEAR RSVP: listeners share music, life and laughter with Leon Cole. It should appeal to fans of the radio programme as well as the many people who are interested in learning more about classi cal music. And there's an entire chapter devoted to G & S.
The foreward to DEAR RSVP has been written by maestro Bramwell Tovey of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (formerly of the new D'Oyly Carte Opera in London, England.) He dubs Leon "Canada's G&S expert". Leon blushes and denies it. For the record though, he did host a 13 part CBC radio series, The Genius of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Editing the book has been a labour of love for Leon Cole since his retirement from the CBC. His collaborato r is his wife, Jacqui Good, who is also well-known to CBC listeners as an arts broadcaster. In addition to the letters, they've included backstage gossip about the show, lists of all-time most requested works, candid photos, children's drawings and plent y of the quizzes and contests listeners relished.
The 320 page book will retail for $15.95 ( plus shipping and handling.) It will be available in late-November by mail order from Good Cheer Publishing in Hubbards, Nova Scotia (a genuine cottage industry run out of Leon and Jacqui's sea-side cottage.) For every book ordered through the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Nova Scotia, $2.00 will be donated to the society. You can ask to have the books signed for you and your friends.
DEAR RSVP: Listeners share music, life & laughter with Leon Cole Good Cheer Publishing, Box 1, Site 4, RR 2, Hubbards, N.S. BOJ 1T0 tel (902) 857-3817 fax (902) 857 - 1792 Name and Address would like to order _______ copies of DEAR RSVP at $15.95/copy. Shipping and handling will be additional, unless picked up from the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Nova Scotia.
I will receive a bill along with my order.
Please ship to home address _________ or I'll pick up from Society ____________
$2/copy will be donated to the Gilbert and Sullivan Society I would like signed copies for the following names:
Listeners share music, life and laughter with Leon Cole, Box 1, Site 4, RR 2 Hubbards, Nova Scotia B0J 1T0 ph. 902 857 3817 fax 902 857 1792.
I've Got a Little List is the title of the chapter devoted to Gilbert and Sullivan in the up-coming book DEAR RSVP. It includes an annotated list of all the G & S operettas with letters that prove that each and every one is someone's favourite work. For instance, we received this vote for Trial by Jury from Gwenyth Norwell of Toronto. (We haven't been able to track her down, by the way -- so if you're out there Gwenyth, please get in touch.)
One summer at music camp, we were doing Trial By Jury . The "thing" at
the time was to "skip" opera (as we called it then) and hide out in a
deserted cabin in the woods until the class was done! Funnily enough, we
often spent the time there singing the songs. At the end of camp, we put
on the production for our parents and had a great time doing it too! For
many years after, we would break into song on high-school ski trips,
singing Hark the Hour of Ten is Sounding from the chair-lifts back and
Gwenyth Norwell, Toronto.
And there was this vote for Iolanthe.
For sheer vividness of plot, for simplicity of style, for variety and
complexity of music, for easy comprehensibility as a satirical epic of
love under conflict, for dramatic and ingenious blending of voices in
harmony, and for mini mal use of dialogue where songs would do better (and
for excellence of dialogue when humour is needed), the convoluted
love-lives of the Fairies and the Peers of the Realm get my vote.
Frank Good, Fredericton, N. B.
And there are special letters, like this one about the early days of G&S in Canada.
Money was tight during the depression in Toronto but once a month my bachelor uncle --Ted -- who worked in Eaton's Mens Department and could afford this indulgence, would take me to a movie matinee. One Saturday afternoon in 1939 we went to Lowe's Uptown to see something called The Mikado. It starred Kenny Baker and I was astounded. Where had all this delightful music been hiding? Martyn Green of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company was also in it - - a very funny man, and I laughed and enjoyed. On the way home, between whistling some of the tunes, I asked my uncle if there were recordings of this music. He assured me that there were and told me to go to the fifth floor of Eaton's Main Store and see the manager, Mr. Hatton. I actually had a whole dollar saved so the next week I went and found Mr. Hatton, with grizzled grey hair and friendly smile. He seemed very pleased when I enthused about The Mikado and quickly produced a 12-inch Victor Black Seal record of highlights from The Mikado performed by the Victor Light Opera Company, whoever they were. Those were the days when one could listen to a record before buying, so I listened to all that cheerful music, bought the record, and went home whe re I drove my parents to distraction by playing it over and over, until forbidden to play it more than three times per day.
But the most exciting thing was the next spring when Uncle Ted took me out one evening. We went downtown to Eaton's College Stre et store, through the darkened store to an elevator, and up to a theatre I hadn't known was up there. We took our seats and I saw with delight that we were to see H.M.S. Pinafore. I didn't know they had written more operettas but was pleasured by the mu sic and the action. Then, when Josephine appeared she looked familiar and when Sir Joseph Porter arrived I saw that it was my Mr. Hatton! And I realized that Josephine was his assistant in the record department! This was the first real stage show I'd seen. And to actually know two of the performers made it very special.
I later found out that Geoffrey Hatton had been in the D'Oyly Carte Company for some years, but after the death of his wife had come out to Canada to be near his daughter and his family. D'Oyly Carte's loss was the Eaton Operatic Society's gain.
Frank Fice, Wolfville, N. S.
And then there's this much more recent story about a five-year-old girl who was taken to see the Brian MacDonald production of The Mikado. Her mother wrot e about her devotion. It just goes to show the importance of "getting them young".
Katherine adored The Mikado and spoke of it constantly for weeks following. She lived and breathed Mikado and decided that she wanted to be Yum-Yum for Hallowe'en th at year. Good old Mum that I am, I made a wig and a rather lovely pink embroidered and beaded kimono for her to wear. For her birthday (October 25th) we gave her a Japanese oiled paper parasol to complete her ensemble. She was in seventh heaven!
Every evening after school, she'd race home, peel off her school clothes, don her Yum-Yum attire and watch the video tape of the Stratford production -- beginning to end. Eventually, she knew every song and all of the script -- even the credits!
In the spring of '83, we decided to take our daughter back to Stratford that summer. Katherine wanted nothing better than to see Mikado again, so we ordered those tickets and three for Gondodliers as well. This child was over the moon with excitement, so I mustered some kind of special bravery reserved for indulgent and doting mothers and I wrote to Brian MacDonald to tell him about our little Yum-Yum. Bless that man!!! He offered to let Katherine visit backstage following the show to see the set and the actors.
That expedition to Stratford turned out to be the thrill of a life-time for all of us, but most especially for Katherine. Dressed in her very best dress-up clothes, she trotted through the stage door and down a long flight of steps. At the bottom of the stairs sat a very long-legged man on a chair. When he saw Katherine, he unfolded and stood up to his full height and asked Katherine her name. As cooly as can be, she replied, "Katherine McMillan." He bent down and shook her hand, saying "Hi! I'm Rick McMillan. Do you suppose we're related?" We all recognized Richard McMIllan -- Pooh-Bah! They chatted away like old buddies, Katherine's eyes nearly rolling out of her head.
A bit later, she met Marie Baron (the "real" Yum-Yum), Christina James (Katisha), the big Mikado and, briefly, Eric Donkin (Ko-Ko). She was allowed to touch costumes and Christina James showed her a wonderful wig and her enormously long red fingernails. Katherine was absolutely enthralled. The whole cast had been primed to expect this visitor and they were wonderful to her. As a parting gift, they presented her with a fully autographed souvenir programme.
This whole experience served to increase Katherine's passion for G & S,
and my husband and I were sure we'd both have to get paying work to
support her habit. Stratford kept on adding operettas each summer and we
saw all of them! It was marvellous. Then, in its great wisdom Stratford
decided that G & S was distracting from the Shakespearean aspect of the
Festival and G & S were put on the shelf. However, our family still
quotes the lines, still sings the songs and still has fond memories of
those magical experiences.
Carolynn McMillan (Yum-Yum's Mum!), Burlington, Ontario
Here's another letter about an other production -- this one in Sackville, New Brunswick. And it comes from another mom. "When stern Duty calls, I must obey."
In January 1982 when my son Rob was in his senior year at Mount Allison University, the Garnet and Gold Society was preparing for their production of H.M.S. Pinafore -- Rob was singing the role of Captain Corcoran as well as co-producing the show.
On the afternoon of the dress rehearsal there was a problem to do with the props and it necessitated a trip to Amherst, Nova Scotia. Rob barged into the class his father was teaching and begged the car keys. He promised to return in an hour and, apologizing for the inerruption, he dashed off.
Twenty minutes later the phone call came, interrupting that same class with the news of an accident at the N.B./N.S. border during a sudden snow squall. Anyone familiar with the Tantramar Marshes will know the terrifying feeling during those squalls when the wind comes out of nowhere and the snow swirls wildly causing a whiteout and zero vi sibility -- unfortunately the other vehicle involved was the county snow-plow and when they met head on, on the Missaquash bridge, our car was simply demolished.
Miraculously the two students survived, suffering only concussions and minor injuries. After being examined and x-rayed they were released from the hospital. Rob insisted on going through with the rehearsal and, so, a couple of hours later my husband and I sat, still trembling, in the front row and watched the performance unfold. Everyone else in the cast (including Rob's younger sister) was a nervous wreck while Rob, white as a ghost (even through his make-up) was totally oblivious that every eye on stage was glued to him. He went through the whole show word perfect and never missing a note. He was in a complete state of shock.
The show must go on and did to great success for four performances. I'm sure the rest of the cast all have great memories of this Pinafore but to this day Rob can't recall anything that happened that week beyond the crunching sound of the plow as it smashed the car into the side of the bridge.
How blessed we
are that he's alive but it's too bad he does not recall singing with
Joanne Hounsell as Josephine and Wendy Neilsen as Cousin Hebe. Both girls
have gone on to such successful musical careers and Joanne starred once
again as Josephine in the 1993 Stratford production of H.M.S. Pinafore.
Dodie McLeod, Sackville, N.B.
There are many more Gilbert and Sullivan stories -- and lots of Gilbert and Sullivan questions in the quizzes -- in DEAR RSVP: listeners share music, life and laughter with Leon Cole. And it's arriving just in time for Christmas.