Articles About Divertimento

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"Ottawa's best-kept musical secret" 
"A hidden jewel"
"High calibre of music"

March 24, 2008
Parliament’s Carillonneur Set To Retire In June
by Lois Siegel
The Centretown Buzz

©Photo by Lois Siegel
Gordon Slater

Printable Version

You may not know the name Gordon Slater, but you’ve certainly heard his bells at noon on Parliament Hill. He’s the Dominion Carillonneur in the Peace Tower. Hidden away where you can’t see him, he dutifully plays most weekdays September to June, 12 - 12:15 p.m. and July and August, every weekday, (except Canada Day) 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.  He’s been doing this for 31 years now and he plans to retire at the end of June.
And don’t think this is an easy job. His work is solitary. He has no assistants. All depends on his organization and musical skills. Slater has to select the music he plays, sometimes he plays famous works and arranges and transcribes them for performances on the carillon. He has to make sure that everything is ready for the moment his performance begins. Music is an exact discipline, and it has always been a part of Gordon Slater’s life.
Born in Toronto, he started playing the carillon when he was only seven years old. He sat next to his father, James, the former carillonneur at the Metropolitan United Church in Toronto, learning the intricate techniques.
The Peace Tower is 302 feet high. It houses 53 bells in the carillon. And the bells are huge. The largest bell: Bourbon Bell, is 8 feet 4 inches wide and 6 feet 10 inches tall, weighing 10 tonnes (22,400 lbs.) And the bells are tiny: the smallest bell is 7 inches wide and 6 inches tall, weighing 4.5 kg (10 lbs.).
The bells don’t move, the clappers move. The clapper is a cast iron ball hanging on a steel shaft inside a bell. The shaft is hinged, and the ball is pulled up against the lip of the bell to make it sound; it’s the suspended part that moves within the bell.
The carillon comprises the keyboard, the action and the bells, but instead of piano keys, the keyboard consists of large, round, wooden lever-like keys and short pedals that are connected to the bell clappers. The levers are depressed with the side of Slater’s lightly closed hand to create the sound.

©Photo by Lois Siegel

Gordon Slater wears garden gloves that have the fingers cut off.
The gloves protect his hands when he hits the wooden levers.

And we’re not talking light bells: the total weight of all 53 bells is 54 tonnes.
“The carillon is such a wonderful instrument because thousands of people can listen to it all at once, and they’re not listening to any speakers because it’s an acoustic, mechanical instrument,” Slater explains. “It’s also very simple: you push a key gently and ring a bell softly; you push a key more forcefully and ring a bell louder. It’s touch sensitive, just like a piano.”
But the music doesn’t stop there. Every Thursday night, fall to spring, Slater leads Divertimento Orchestra’s 68 musicians through rehearsals. He started conducting the community orchestra 21 years ago.
As a student, Slater had a whirlwind tour of musical instruments: piano, ukulele, organ, violin, viola, clarinet, bassoon, flute, contrabassoon, trumpet and trombone. What better preparation for conducting an orchestra, and he was only 14 when he started doing just that in high school.
An accomplished musician, Slater now plays the bassoon and contrabassoon with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.
Divertimento’s next concerts are April 25 and 26. These all-English concerts are special because of a Canadian premier: the Coleridge-Taylor Violin Concerto. English violinist Mark Hartt-Palmer is the featured soloist, and the British High Commissioner Anthony Cary and his wife Clare have been invited to the Saturday concert. Gordon Slater happens to be Mark Hartt-Palmer’s brother-in-law.
Hartt-Palmer is the “leader” or concertmaster of the Chichester Symphony Orchestra in West Sussex, in the south of England.

©Photo by James Berriman
Mark Hartt-Palmer

On an historical note, the full score and parts of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s violin concerto sank with the Titanic. Luckily, Coleridge-Taylor was not on the sinking ship, and he had other copies. The American premiere of this last major work was performed by Maud Powell (1912) at a festival in Connecticut. Coleridge-Taylor died of pneumonia later that year.

Lois Siegel is a freelance photographer for The Ottawa Citizen and Capital Style Magazine. When she isn’t teaching Video Production at the University of Ottawa, she plays fiddle with The Lyon Street Celtic Band and Celtic North. Celtic North recently performed at the Museum of Civilization on New Year’s Eve.

January 25th 2008
For whom the bell tolls
Parliament Hill musician and conductor coming to Orléans

Photo by Darren Brown
Gordon Slater, official Dominion Carillonneur and conductor of Ottawa's Divertimento Orchestra

Jim Donnelly by Jim Donnelly
Orleans Star/Weekly Journal

December 14, 2007
Centretown's Con Brio String Quartet
by Lois Siegel
The Centretown Buzz

©Photo by Lois Siegel
Marlene Cruz (violin), Jennifer Hall (violin), Jeremy Greenberg (cello), Felix Chow (viola)

November 2007
Timely Information for Travelers

November 18, 2006
Professionals in everything, except music
by Kate Jaimet
The Ottawa Citizen

©Photo by Charles Frost

November 17, 2006
Music Makers
By Lois Siegel
Centretown Buzz

©Photo by Charles Frost
Gordon Slater

Jennifer Hall

November 14, 2006
Divertimento Orchestra Strikes a sweet note
by Christie Mailey
Nepean This Week

©Photo by Lois Siegel
Conductor Gordon  Slater with his wife Elsa

November 10, 2006
Barrhaven musicians contribute ot Divertimento Orchestra
by Lois Siegel
Barrhaven Independent

©Photo by Charles Frost
Gordon Slater

©Photo by Lois Siegel
Gordon Slater
Walter Babiak

October 21, 2005
Divertimento to Premiere
New Walter Babiak Piece
By Lois Siegel
Special to The Weekly Journal

July 14, 2005
Parliament Hill virtuoso's tools are 53 bells,
bizarre machine, flailing limbs
By Stephen Thorne

©Photo by Lois Siegel

He's a virtuoso who's played for millions, but his audiences have never seen him perform nor has he ever seen them.  Gordon Slater has given thousands of performances since he was appointed Canada's fourth dominion Carillonneur on April Fool's Day 1977. But the greatest compliment this quirky, mildly eccentric musician says he ever received came, unwittingly, from a Parliament Hill maintenance worker.

Slater had just finished performing his daily recital from his little nest buried deep in the bowels of the Peace Tower, where his only companions are 53 bells and the bizarre-looking instrument he uses to play them. "I was leaving the tower, walking through the corridors of power, and there was a guy pushing a broom, sweeping the floor, whistling a tune I had just played," Slater recalls with a kind of subdued, measured glee. "I got him! I knew I had reached him. And that was very gratifying. "He didn't know who I was, to see me. He didn't realize what had happened. But he had heard a tune that resonated with him and he whistled it while he swept."

In fact, many people have seen the bearded, bespectacled Slater, and many more have heard him. But most would be hard pressed to put the two together.

Slater's work life is largely solitary.


Photo by Bruno Schlumberger, The Ottawa Citizen
Reprinted with permission

Gordon Slater

He works alone. He has no secretary, assistant or understudy. His sprawling office is in an isolated corner of the East Block, decorated with tiny dinner bells, Buddhist chimes and concert posters from the world over.

Shelves are packed with files, scores and music books. There's a keyboard and in the back is a practice carillon, its 53 "keys" - levers, actually - laid out exactly as those inside the tower where he plays five days a week.  Each day, he takes a set of back stairs to work because he likes the paneled skylight above them, the ornate, cast-iron balustrades and the converted gas lamps that illuminate his way. From there he enters a tunnel, crossing over into the Centre Block, then takes an elevator up, up, up - 50 metres above the picnickers and politicians, pundits and protesters, tourists and bureaucrats scattered across the lawns of Parliament who will be his audience.

He has no pretences, this son of a Carillonneur who first took up piano at age 4, then sat for years next to his father in Toronto's Metropolitan United Church, learning the not-so-delicate art and technique of playing the bells.

He now conducts the 70-piece Divertimento (amateur) Orchestra and plays bassoon and contrabassoon in the Ottawa Symphony.

©Photo by Charles Frost

But, in his most notable gig, he acknowledges, "I am largely ignored."  And he likes it that way. "This just tells me I'm doing OK."

For those working on the Hill and living in the neighbourhood, the bells are "part of the wallpaper." They ring every 15 minutes, with the requisite bongs every hour, on the hour.

For 10 months a year, Slater plays for 15 minutes most weekdays after the noon bells. In July and August, he's up there for an hour after the weekday 2 p.m. bells.

"I am keenly aware of this background nature of the sound," he says.  "However, it is that very thing - the retiring nature of the sound - that empowers me to try and lift the spirit, if you will, of you and your kind on the ground as you go about your daily work."

Slater and his bells are "the same as the architecture, the same as the portraits and sculptures on the walls."

The only full-time, paid Carillonneur in Canada - there are just 11 carillons in the country - Slater enters his tiny tower workspace, doffs his jacket, empties his pockets, takes off his watch, his wedding band and his tie.

He loves the carillon - he calls it the ultimate acoustic instrument. He likens it to a piano but much louder, more resonant (there's no deadening pedal) and far simpler, partly because it never has to be tuned.

The tension on the steel cables that connect the keys to the clappers - which weigh up to 229 kilograms - vary with temperature and humidity, however, and do have to be adjusted.

The keen-eared can hear him doing so before virtually every performance - soft dings and dongs that precede the inspiring version of O Canada he plays at the beginning of every summertime recital.

Then, Slater turns off the quarter-hour bells - a few performances have been muddled because he's forgotten - and dons a pair of gardening gloves with all but the baby fingers half-removed.  The instrument's 53 brown wooden levers are laid out like a piano's 88 keys - the sharps, or black keys on a piano, elevated above the so-called "naturals," equivalent to the piano's white keys.  The gloves allow his fists to slide easily across the levers.

©Photo by Lois Siegel

Half the bells -the heavier, deeper-toned ones - can also be played with the feet. The instrument covers 4 1/2 octaves; a piano covers 7 1/3.

A rarely seen performance by the gangly six-footer is a sight to behold.

Slater takes his seat on a long, elevated wooden bench and begins slowly, his sinewy arms and legs moving back and forth as he plays the national anthem, first softly, then building into a chorus and ultimately a crescendo of resonant chimes, his limbs flailing wildly like a dancing puppet.

Outside, it sounds harmonious. But inside the three-by-five-metre room, it's a cacophony of clattering cables and thunking keys, underscored by the dings and dongs from 47 bells above him and six below.

There are 935 pieces in his day-to-day repertoire, and hundreds more at his fingertips. He plays all forms of music, from baroque to folk, and many nationalities.  He's played the Beatles (Yesterday) and Gordon Lightfoot (Did She Mention My Name), Burt Bacharach (Say a Little Prayer) and a piece written by former prime minister John Diefenbaker's father D.T. Diefenbaker (Rush to the Klondike). He plays Japanese folk tunes (Sabura Sabura) for the Japanese tourists who flock by the busload to Parliament Hill.  Then of course, there's Mozart and Chopin and Pachelbel and Handel, and a host of lesser-knowns and unknowns, high-brow and low.

Slater recently played a set of three English folk songs: 10 Green Bottles (a "precursor to 99 Bottle of Beer on the Wall," he jokes), a British Navy battle song called Spanish Ladies (about the dilemma of fighting the men of the Spanish armada while wanting to love the Spanish women), and The Lincolnshire Poacher, for which he knows no "clean set of words."

He tries to avoid political commentary in his music - it's stated in his mandate - but he admits it's not always easy "to remain apolitical in this arena." "It's a constant struggle. Someone can usually derive some connection between something I've played and some news item of the day.

He once ditched a song called School Days at the last minute, when he realized teachers were protesting on Parliament Hill. He feared the innocent ditty from days gone by might offend someone.

Slater, 54, is only the fourth dominion Carillonneur since the bells were cast by Gillett and Johnston Bellfounders and Clockmakers in Croydon, England, in 1927.

©Photo by Lois Siegel

Then-prime minister MacKenzie King was so enthused about the project he visited the foundry and tossed a coin into the mould where one of the bells was being struck.

An inscription on the bell, the lowest of the five that ring on the quarter-hour, commemorates the event. Slater says it's also the most temperamental of the 53 bells in the tower.

He says the bells "cry" at night, a constant moaning. He suggests they're haunted, though "skeptics" claim it's just the ever present wind blowing across their mouths, like bottle tops.

Stephen J. Thorne
The Canadian Press
Suite 800, 165 Sparks Street
Ottawa ON K1P 5B9
 (613) -231-8628

November 18, 2003
Divertimento Orchestra to play Orléans this Saturday
By Lois Siegel
Special to Orleans Online

©Photo by John Perrins
(613) 820-8812

They are doctors, lawyers, physicists, teachers, physiotherapists, high tech workers, accountants, filmmakers and mathematicians, and Gordon Slater, conductor, is the Dominion Carillonneur on Parliament Hill.

What do all these people have in common? They play music together as part of Divertimento Orchestra, a 70-member Ottawa community group. This is the orchestra's 20th Anniversary, and they will be playing in Orléans this Saturday at 8 p.m. at at the Orleans United Church, 1111 Orleans Blvd.

The program includes Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 4 in G, with Carla Sved, soprano solo; Franz Schubert's Overture to "Rosamunde;" and Georges Bizet, Suite No. 1 from "Carmen."

Divertimento Orchestra was founded by Patrick and Brigid Fitzgerald in 1984. It started in a basement and then expanded to a larger hall. The rest is history. The first conductor was Gabor Finta. His daughter, Eszter, now plays violin with Divertimento. She joined the orchestra in the fall 2002 and met Gordon Slater, Martin Bueno and Patrick Fitzgerald, who played with Divertimento when her father conducted.

Anne Cure, viola, lives in Blackburn Hamlet where she has a music shop: "Anne Cure Violins," above the Blackburn Arms. She's a luthier and has been teaching for over 30 years.

The overall reaction of Divertimento's players is that they love playing with this orchestra. And there is never a dull moment. What was one of Cure's favorite 'happenings'? "When the viola section of the orchestra dressed up as cats for Halloween," she insists.

Carole Dence, violin, is one of the original members of the orchestra. She explains that discipline within the orchestra and cooperation among members makes it work. "In the beginning it was a struggle to build the sense of community and commitment that makes such a group survive in good and bad times. Our level of attendance at rehearsals is nothing short of phenomenal for an amateur orchestra of this size."

©Photo by Lois Siegel
Carole Dence

But it isn't always easy. This type of orchestra has no permanent home for concerts with good acoustics and seating, they have to rely on other organizations to help sell tickets, and they are their own caterers and moving crew. "But there is less pressure than in a professional orchestra. We can please ourselves about what we play, and we don't have to answer to professional critics," Dence says.

David Sale, oboe/English horn, is impressed by the willingness of the members of the orchestra to play difficult pieces. "Where else can you play Mahler?" he says.

Violinist Felicity Mulgan joined Divertimento last January. "I had allowed my violin playing to stagnate for a long time for various reasons (3 kids and a full-time job). I resolved that when I moved to Ottawa from Toronto, I would start playing regularly again."

Carl Widstrand was a professor of African Studies for 25 years. "Now, in my dotage, he claims, I humbly fiddle the double bass." He started to play the instrument at age 60.

And former Orleans resident, Quinn Redekop, says about Divertimento Orchestra, "Everyone is treated fairly, and everyone gets involved."

©Photo by Lois Siegel
Quinn Redekop

August 7, 2003
Orchestra Celebrates 20 Years
By Tom Collins
The News

December 2003
Orchestral Maneuvers in Old Ottawa South
By Lois Siegel
The Oscar

December 2003
Music Lady
By Lois Siegel
New Edinburgh News

©Photo by Lois Siegel

September 12, 2003
Music Men in the Glebe
By Lois Siegel
The Glebe Report

©Photo by Lois Siegel

October 17, 2003
The Music Men
By Lois Siegel
The Centretown Buzz

Chris Bancej

November 14, 2003
Pakenham Resident a Perfect Fit
with the Divertimento Orchestra
By Lois Siegel
The Weekender

©Photo by Lois Siegel
David Sale

Catalfamo Shares Musical Talent
As Part of Prestigious Orchestra
By Phillip Ambroziak
Carleton Place

©Photo by Charles Frost

November 14, 2003
Music Man Comes Down the Hill
By Lois Siegel
Special to Nepean This Week

©Photo by Charles Frost

November 14, 2003
Divertimento Orchestra comes to Orleans
By Lois Siegel
The Weekly Journal

For two decades Divertimento Orchestra,
 a community orchestra, has been playing
 in the Ottawa area with a group of dedicated musicians.

 September 10, 2003
Blackburn violinist lives and breathes music
By Lois Siegel
Special to The Weekly Journal


©Photo by Lois Siegel

Tucked away in Blackburn Hamlet is a little music shop. Anne Cure, who moved to the hamlet three years ago, devotes most of her time to music. She plays viola in Divertimento Orchestra, a community music group of 60 members and is also a luthier and teacher.

Cure was born in East Orange, New Jersey. She received a Bachelor of Music from Westminster Choir College, Princeton, New Jersey. In 1993, she opened her own violin shop in Falmouth, Maine, and in 2000 she moved to Canada, married and created "Anne Cure Violins," which sells, repairs and restores violins, violas and cellos.

"(Canada) was where my husband lived, and after two years of visiting back and forth between here and Maine, we wanted to live in the same place," she explains.

Cure loves living in Canada. "It's calmer, saner, and Canadians have more of a sense of humour about issues, which seems to make them easier to handle," she says.

In the U.S., Cure studied violin restoration with German Master Violin Maker Horst Kloss, who cares for such collections as that of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. She studied bow repair and restoration with Lynn Armour Hannings, a respected bow maker in the French tradition, and cello with international soloist Hélène Gagné of Montreal. She also performed with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony and the National Orchestra, Washington, D.C.

Cure also taught piano and voice at the Florida School for the Blind. It's something she loves to do, even after 30 years.

"Teaching never gets old. There's always something interesting: new students, different learning styles," she says.

"Children see things freshly. It's great to see music from their perspective, while figuring out how they learn best. Adults often know more about how they learn, about what works best for them."

In addition to individual lessons, she directs a group of cellists: "The Cello Experience," as well as a string ensemble: violin, viola, and cello. She will also be directing a one-day workshop for string players, for CAMMAC (Canadian Amateur Musicians Musiciens Amateurs Du Canada) in October.

©Photo by Lois Siegel

Cure also enjoys playing with Divertimento Orchestra. "There's a sense of community, a different attitude when music making is not one's job," she says.

Ottawa's Unique 70 Member Community Orchestra

November 16, 2003
It's Never Too Late
By Lois Siegel
Ottawa Seniors


They come from all types of backgrounds: medicine, law, science, education, engineering, math and business, and Gordon Slater, conductor, is the Dominion Carillonneur on Parliament Hill.

What do all these people with diverse backgrounds have in common? They come together every week to play music as part of Divertimento Orchestra, a 70-member Ottawa community group. This is the orchestra's 20th Anniversary Season.

Many people play an instrument as children and give it up. Some would have liked to have played, but just didn’t have the opportunity. Carl Widstrand was a professor of African Studies for 25 years. "Now, in my dotage, he claims, I humbly fiddle the double bass." He started to play the instrument at age 60. So, you see, it's never too late.

image The university professor, emeritus, was born in Stockholm, Sweden. He grew up with the swing and big bands of WWII. Widstrand was educated at the University of Stockholm, (Classics, Archaeology, Anthropology), and Freie Universitat, Berlin, and he has a PhD in Anthropology and Archaeology from Uppsala University. He spent a lot of time on archaeological sites in the Nile valley, Sweden, Africa and the Aegean.

He was Director of the Scandinavian Institute of African Studies at Uppsala 1962-1984, and on leave from the University, he was Professor of Anthropology in the University of East Africa, University College Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

His international work included serving as a Resident Representative of the United National Development Programme in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and as a consultant for WHO (World Health Organization), Geneva.

Widstrand also taught environmental science and a course on Egyptian culture. He is now an adjunct professor at Carleton University in the classics where he teaches "Classical Mythology." To Widstrand, teaching is fun.

He also enjoys playing with Divertimento Orchestra. "If you are a double bass player and not into solo work, the big orchestra is the place for you," he says. Widstrand finds Divertimento very relaxed, and he treasures the friendships he has made with them. His background also includes a stint as a trombonist in an army band and classical training on the bassoon.

Widstrand's other interests are ancient science and technology as well as " reading thick books and being bloody intellectual."

He has three kids (in Manila, Milano and Stockholm); two grandchildren; he's written 17 books, including Agnus Deli: The Widstrand-Wiles Lamb Cookbook (available for at the Ottawa Public Library, main branch, in library use only), and he has some 120 published papers, among them what he calls "two unplayable string quartets."

New books in the planning stages are "Beef Encounters," "1000 Ways of Cooking Lemons," "Chicken Itza, a Peruvian Chicken Cookbook," "The Most Awful Recipes of the World," "Organ Transplant Cooking," and an autography "When Memory Fails."

At 75, Widstrand insists, 'Life, itself, has been a pretty interesting adventure."

Note: Carl Widstrand recently received a wonderful accolade. He traveled to Sweden for the jubilee , the 50th anniversary of the PhD that he earned in 1958 at the University of Uppsala. Since 1804 that institution has brought its PhD graduates back to celebrate their accomplishments with their colleagues. Only seven of the original class of 1958 returned to Uppsala, and it was Carl who delivered the convocation address.

LOIS SIEGEL is a filmmaker, photographer, writer, who recently started haunting the music scene in Ottawa. When she isn’t playing the fiddle/violin, she teaches Video Production at the University of Ottawa. Siegel is a member of he Lyon Street Celtic Band, Celtic North, and Siegel Entertainment