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Jean W. Narveson, The Music Times Editor
Back in the 19th Century when local Mennonites were building houses in the 2-storey style called ‘Mennonite Georgian’, a man in Doon named Adam Ferrie opted for the strikingly different Scottish ‘Gothic Revival’ style – a more vertical look that employed gables, fancy scrollwork, and intricate designs.
Ferrie’s house, constructed in the 1830s, was much admired by a young artist named Homer Watson who appreciated its architectural lines and the way light played into it. Better than just admiring it from the outside, though, Watson and his wife Roxanna eventually had the opportunity to become tenants in the house, and they rented the third floor.
The story could have stopped there –young, struggling artist and wife living on the top floor– but thanks to the sale of a couple of Watson’s paintings to Queen Victoria, his renown and bank account both increased, and in 1883 he was able to buy the house.
Over time, Watson made renovations, including the 1906 addition of a gallery with classic “harmonic proportions” in which to display his art: natural light flooded the gallery from clerestory windows, leaving maximum wall space for paintings.
Eventually the Watson house passed into the hands of the Hamiltons, where they established the Doon School of Fine Arts in 1948, and then in 1981 the City of Kitchener purchased the building “for the enjoyment of the art-loving public”. Remarkably, the house has not only escaped the wrecker’s ball, but has kept its link to visual art during the course of two centuries. As most readers in this region probably know, it is the Homer Watson Gallery.
The 21st century brought a different kind of harmony to the gallery that had been designed with harmonic proportions – musical harmony! Since 2005, the Homer Watson Gallery has been the venue for a number of fund-raising concerts, among them the New Vibes Jazz Quartet, the Lady Racers (an all-female vocal group with guitar from Kingston), Farmington State (a local group that plays a mix of old time country, bluegrass, and original songs), and barbershop quartets.
The Gallery can seat 60 comfortably, with enough space left over for a keyboard, drum set, vibraphones, stand-up bass, mics, and amps. Since concerts are in the Main Gallery, members of the audience get a double treat: they hear the music, and they can see the artwork on the walls at the same time. Additionally, when there’s a break for intermission, people are welcome to wander through the rest of the gallery space, including the Watson Museum. Most often, there are refreshments set up in the other two gallery spaces.
As Kate Macpherson of the Gallery said, “The Gallery is an amazing venue for small, intimate concerts. The acoustics are outstanding and intimate enough that often times, speakers are not required.”
New Vibes Jazz Quartet bass player, Dan Brennan, agrees: “We love playing the Homer Watson Gallery due to it’s intimate setting and warm but lively acoustics. We recorded our CD there over three evenings in the spring of 2005 and hope to record there again at some point. The audience is usually made up of family, friends, and some new faces – those who enjoy listening to live music while under the influence of visual art. We are looking forward to performing at the HWG on May 4th in conjunction with the Quilt Festival.
“The concert setting is a little different at the HWG. There are two sets of music with a variety of food and drink served during intermission. The evening usually has the feeling of an in-home concert with family and friends. A good time is usually had by all.”
You can experience music at the Gallery at the May 4th concert when the New Vibes Jazz Quartet returns, this time with guest violinist Jerzy Kaplanek. Dan Brennan said that Jerzy has been attending jazz concerts at The Jazz Room in Waterloo, and that they’d been talking about the possibility of doing something together for a while, but (no surprise, given busy teaching schedules) “the timing hadn’t worked out for everbody until now.” But hurry: the NVJQ is a popular ensemble, and tickets usually sell quickly. You can buy them online at: www.homerwatson.com. For more information, or if you’re interested in presenting a concert at the Gallery, talk to Kate Macpherson at 519-748-4377.
John Zadro has brought many genres and stylings to the group as well as a vast repetoire of tunes. He is an experienced soloist and band member and has wowed our audiences with his Gospel influenced, striding honky-tonk, traditional and contemporary jazz playing. He is both exciting and expressive in his playing.
Gary Tomlin is a well-known percussionist in the K-W area. He started playing drums while attending K-W Collegiate and has worked in many aspects of percussion. He was head of percussion at Waterloo Music for 10 years and worked 25 years as percussion specialist with the Separate School Board. He has conducted clinics and served as an adjudicator for many music competitions across Canada. For many years Gary has taught privately through the Tomlin Percussion Studio and at Sherwood Music in Kichener. In fact, Andy Macpherson was one of his students, as were a great many other drummers in the region. Gary is a graduate of the Advanced School of Contemporary Music, where he studied with Ed Thigpen, Ray Brown, and Oscar Peterson. He has played on the air, in musicals, and with many local bands, including: George Kadwell Trio, Pat Ludwig Trio, Fritz-Patrick Trio, Bill Gillard, the John Kostigan Big Band, the Sensation Jazz Band, and, of course, the New Vibes Jazz Quartet.
Dan Brennan is often called on by local jazz musicians to play stand-up bass for their groups in performance and recordings. Dan’s percussive bass playing style is very complimentary to the sound of the NVJQ that already boasts two other percussionists. While Dan is classically trained, he grew up playing everything from rock to R&B, classical to jazz. Dan continues to play with the Waterloo Chamber Players as well as the NVJQ. He teaches a string instrument program at Waterloo Collegiate, getting many local musicians off to a great start in their musical careers.
Andy Macpherson has been playing vibes and percussion for over three decades and is the leader of the NVJQ. He has worked in many large and small ensemble settings, spanning Latin, classical, rock, and jazz. His studies at Humber College under the tutelage of Canadian jazz giants Ron Collier and Pat Labarbara in the late 80s were very formative. He continues to make music with many of the region’s finest musicians. Besides the NVJQ, which he co-founded, he currently plays with: Stealing Dan, a Steely Dan cover band; Cranston, an all-occasion band; and Animato, a local percussion ensemble. He was the principle percussionist with the former Waterloo Stage Theatre. He loves playing vibraphone, a visually interesting instrument with lots of tonal variety, whose classic jazz sound is not often heard in a live setting. Andy also teaches mathematics at St. Mary’s High School in Kitchener and directs the SMH Hypercussion Ensemble.
With the Penderecki Quartet, and also as a soloist and chamber musician, Jerzy performs throughout Europe, Asia, and North and South America over 80 concerts each season. His impressive discography includes over two dozen CDs (Marquis, Eclectra, CBC, CMC, EMI labels), including the acclaimed recording of the complete string quartets of Béla Bartók with the PSQ, and Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire with the Blue Rider Ensemble.
His chamber music partners have been pianists Janina Fialkowska, Francine Kay, Vladimir Feltsman, Lev Natochenny, Jamie Parker, Stéphan Sylvestre (with whom he has formed a duo), cellist Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, clarinettist James Campbell, and others. Jerzy is presently an Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, where he has been teaching violin.