Music professor pioneered rock ’n’ roll course

Twenty-five years after he first introduced the subject of popular music into Canadian academia, Rob Bowman sits on his spacious midtown porch and smiles as he reflects on some of the initial challenges he faced, reported the Toronto Star May 29. “I call it ‘Guerrilla Warfare in the Academy,'” chuckled Bowman, who was 22 and short an MA when he initially proposed to teach a Vanier College tutorial on popular music at York University back in 1979. He received a lukewarm response, but got a panicked call to submit proposals to the Vanier College committee that August when another course fell through. “I proposed two courses, and one on Bob Dylan got turned down,” he said. “But the one that got accepted was called ‘A Social And Historical Survey Of Contemporary Popular Music, 1954 To The Present’ – a coded way of saying it’s a course on rock ‘n’ roll.” But even as classes started, the Toronto-born Bowman faced resistance. York’s Senate rejected the course, agreeing to issue a credit only for the current year. The Senate relented only after a vigorous letter-writing campaign by 19 of Bowman’s 20 students. “When you’re teaching something people are suspicious about, they just assume it’s going to be a Mickey Mouse course,” said Bowman, now a professor of ethnomusicology with York’s Faculty of Fine Arts and director of York’s graduate music program.

Bottom’s up for Thom Marriott

After his impressive work last season as Gower in Pericles, Thom Marriott, a York theatre graduate who turns 32 in June, is now firmly in the front ranks, starring as Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with solid roles in The Count Of Monte Cristo and The Swanne Queen Victoria, reported the Toronto Star May 29 in a story about this season’s Stratford Festival crowd-pleasers. If the advance buzz is anything to go by, Dream could well be one of the season’s hits, suggested the Star’s Robert Crew. It is energetic, contemporary and uses the whole theatre, from ceiling to floor. “It is pretty wild,” said Marriott with a grin. “At student matinees, it’s like a rock concert.” It’s actually the second time he has played Nick Bottom. The first was in 1999, when he understudied Brian Bedford in the role and got to go on a couple of times. “It was tough to get Brian out of my head to begin with,” Marriott admitted. Stratford’s expectations for Marriott, an actor with a deeply resonant voice and imposing presence, are high. Marriott graduated from York in 1998 with a bachelor of fine arts in theatre.

Former troublemaker works to save at-risk kids

“When I was a child I had severe behaviour problems,” Colin Ninvalle said, in a May 31 Toronto Sun profile. “I was a real troublemaker. I got into a lot of fights. When I came to Canada in 1975, I came with the same behaviour and kept getting into trouble.” A teacher suggested that he take a martial arts program to contain his impulsive aggression. This simple idea led to a drastic change in Ninvalle’s temperament and his life. “I fell in love with the discipline,” he said. “It helped me learn how to channel my aggression into something more positive than fighting. I started to excel in martial arts and started excelling in school.” In 1993, Ninvalle graduated from York University with an MA in sociology and he earned a second-degree black belt in Wado-Ryu Karate.

“That year I thought I achieved all I needed to achieve,” remembered Ninvalle, who completed a BA in 1981, then an honours BA in 1987 in sociology as a part-time student at York. But he soon realized there was more he needed to do. Ninvalle confesses that not many people who knew him as a youngster would have guessed he’d have lived past his 18th birthday. So he decided to start a program for at-risk youths like himself to steer them away from trouble. It’s called the Learning Environment Alternative Development Program (LEAD). The program combines the two disciplines that Ninvalle feels had the most positive impact on his life – martial arts and education. LEAD is a two-hour program that targets at-risk youths in the Jane-Finch area. The youths spend the first hour learning martial arts and they spend the next hour being tutored by students from York University. “The program teaches kids how to be disciplined,” said Ninvalle. “It also teaches them how to respect each other, teachers and parents.”

Teen ‘volunteers’ not all that eager

Last year, the first year Grade 12 students had to log 40 volunteer hours to graduate, education officials were alarmed at the high percentage who left the task to their final year, reported the Toronto Star May 31. “The majority of teenagers are strapped for time. They are stressed out and they don’t need something else like this tacked on to their high school requirements,” said Norene Pupo, sociology professor with York’s Faculty of Arts. Pupo supports youth volunteerism. But she believes the government policy is seriously flawed and should be changed. “It reinforces divisions of class, opportunity, privilege and access,” said Pupo, who, as director of York’s Centre for Research on Work and Society, wrote a stinging critique of the policy in the centre’s recent newsletter. Moreover, the policy’s coercive nature – students can’t graduate without it – contradicts the notion of volunteering and could turn students off community service for life, she added. “Maybe if the school organized [community service] placements for you … I think that would be better.” Pupo agrees that for many high school students, a more structured volunteer program might work better. Why not incorporate it into the new compulsory Grade 10 credit in civics and careers, she asked. That way, teachers could ensure placements were meaningful and students would get a chance to share their experiences with their classmates.

Dream to make cut still keen

Coverage was extensive about the 1,000 local hockey players who tried out for 68 parts in an upcoming CBC reality show, “Making the Cut” – and a crack at the National Hockey League – at Beatrice Ice Gardens at York University May 28. The tryout – one of seven across Canada over the weekend – made Global TV’s “Global News” the same day, the Toronto Sun and Peterborough Examiner May 29, the Edmonton Journal May 30 and the Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo Record May 31.

Rooftop garden to save heat, purify air

Municipalities have been watching York University‘s new computer science building, designed with a green roof in mind, reported the Newmarket/Aurora Era-Banner May 30 in a story about the environmental savings and high cost of green roofs. The York roof now has 1,800 square metres covered with plants. Glenn MacMillan studied the roof and found it absorbed 55 per cent of the rainwater rolling off the gentle slope. He’s working on a Toronto and Region Conservation Authority policy that may allow green-roof builders to have smaller storm water ponds for projects, saving them precious space.

Vegging out the organic way

Professor Gerda Wekerle of York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies says choosing to eat organic is about bringing one’s politics home, reported the North York Mirror May 29. She said more consumers may be choosing organic produce because “people are more aware of the linkage of environment issues, such as tainted water and pesticide issues, that they are beginning to connect this with what they bring into their house and what they consume. Buying organic fruit is just one part of their [consumers’] political expression.” Wekerle says consumers are starting to use their economic power to make decisions that reflect their beliefs. “One of the things that is happening is that consumers across the board are beginning to use their money to make choices that reflect their values. We see this in fair labelling, the anti-sweatshop movement and in the choices in organic food.”

Dance grad’s new dance fuses original and aboriginal

York master’s student Santee Smith has wanted to weave together the elements of her Iroquois heritage with a dance style all her own, and create a powerful show that everyone could relate to, reported the Toronto Star May 29. For four years she worked on it. Smith chose the theme of a life cycle and then she found stories, traditions and images to give it the vital spark she wanted it to have. She auditioned and trained dancers and recruited native singers to help her prepare a score of original music. Next week her dream will take the stage at Harbourfront’s Premiere Dance Theatre. Smith’s work is called Kaha wi (pronounced “ga howie”), a term from the ancient Mohawk language meaning “she carries.” Kaha wi is made up of 16 scenes, tapping primal emotions and reflecting universal human experiences such as birth, family relationships, community celebrations, falling in love and death. They are seen through the tenets of the Iroquois culture. “Kaha wi honours the life cycle. It celebrates our existence and our connection to the spirit in the sky world.” She recently completed the work required for a master’s degree in dance at York University, using the documentation behind Kaha wi as a basis for her thesis. She will receive her degree two weeks after her work is first performed at Premiere Dance Theatre.

Toronto theatre gets new blood

Effective May 17, Rudi Quammie Williams has taken over as Theatre Passe Muraille’s new general manager, reported the Toronto Sun May 30. Williams, a graduate of York’s Schulich School of Business master’s of business administration program, was the founding executive director of the ReelWorld Film Festival, has produced the Canadian Urban Music Awards and has worked with Caribana, Obsidian, Young Peoples Theatre, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and a host of other arts organizations.

Jobs and travel spur enrolment in language courses

Torontonians are enrolling by the thousands in a plethora of foreign-language courses offered by a welter of teaching institutions, reported the Toronto Star May 30. “The number one [factor] is definitely job motivation,” said Susanne Holunga, director of extended learning at York University’s Glendon College. “Number two is general motivation, like travel.” Whether for business or pleasure, learning a second language offers innumerable rewards, but it doesn’t come easily or quickly. “People think they can come away after 30 hours and be bilingual,” said Holunga.

Gallery director wins award for art writing

Philip Monk, artistic director of the Art Gallery of York University, was among three people honoured at the 27th annual Ontario Association of Art Galleries awards for writing on art, reported the Toronto Star May 30.

Spotlight shines on young musicians

Musician and 1999 York music grad Mark Bond has been nominated for one of three Kingston Arts Council Awards for Excellence for young and emerging artists, reported the Kingston Whig-Standard May 29. The best way to get to know the composer, arranger and musician is not to read about him, but to visit his Web site,, suggested the newspaper. The beautiful piece playing in the background is “Chasms,” a track from the York music grad’s first CD, Outlines. An accomplished composer and arranger, as well as a talented musician and teacher, Bond’s romantic, classical style has earned him a spot on the shortlist of young and emerging artists. Bond, 28, started playing piano at the age of seven, composed his first piece of music before he started high school and earned his bachelor of fine arts in music composition from York University.

Exhibit tells a haunting video tale

To American artist Jeremy Blake, buildings are mysteries waiting for his sleuthing. Blake’s video loop installation “Winchester Trilogy,” at the Art Gallery of York University (until June 27), has all the earmarks – eye-marks? – of a classic Yankee ghost story, with all the right elements: guns, death, madness, a terrifically scary haunted house and a tragic heroine, wrote the Toronto Star’s Peter Goddard in a May 29 review.

The real-life subject is Sara Winchester, widow to the heir of the Winchester rifle fortune. The house is the Winchester mansion in California. Distraught over the 1866 death of her infant daughter Annie and the 1881 death of husband William, the widow Winchester grew particularly vulnerable to the suggestions of a psychic. All the victims of “the gun that won the west haunted her house,” he told her. She was terrified. But if the house itself came alive, the psychic went on, with sounds of building and some visible expansion, the ghosts would be assuaged. Starting in 1884, and for the next 38 years, carpenters worked around the clock, every day of the year, to erect what’s now a 160-room mansion, with miles of hallways leading nowhere and doors opening up directly to the open air.

In Blake’s vision of this mania, this Never Ending Land comes across as a mutation of the Disney-fied Never Never Land, a dream that manages to go from fab to batty in the blink of an eye. The big old house in “Winchester Trilogy” is not many psychic miles from the William Randolph Hearst estate, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane or Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion – nor from Hollywood Boulevard itself.

Shuffle Demons chase Guinness record

On Sunday, May 30, more than 800 disciples of Adolphe Sax were due to converge on Dundas Square to honk out an epic version of the Hockey Night in Canada theme. And what better band to organize such mayhem than the Shuffle Demons? asked the National Post May 29. “The Demons are a real civic-spirit kind of band,” alto player Richard Underhill said of the jazz quintet he founded in the early 1980s. Twenty years ago, when he was a York University music student, Underhill dragged some friends out busking on the streets of Toronto. Quickly dubbed the Shuffle Demons (after Underhill’s strangely catchy tune The Shuffle Monster), the three-sax, bass and drums quintet got heavy airplay on MuchMusic with their videos Spadina Bus and Get Out of My House, Roach. That exposure, combined with their crazy goatees and wild suits (designed by a Gambian tailor living in Paris), made them household names.

Women still feel unwelcome at the top

In the 1950s, women who were the sole breadwinners had to deal with pressure and suffer the guilt of long absences from their children, but mothers who stayed at home had their own set of difficulties, says Bettina Bradbury, professor of history and women’s studies at York University, reported Hamilton’s Spectator May 29. “Women proved that they could do anything during World War Two, but there was strong pressure to give up their jobs so that men [returning from the war] could take them,” explained Bradbury. “Normality after the war meant returning to the older generation order.” But staying at home in the suburbs, raising children and taking care of a husband were an uncomfortable switch for the one-third of Canadian women who had joined the labour force during the war. These women, Bradbury says, helped shape a critical wave for women in the Canadian workforce in the 1960s and 1970s. “There was the idea that women could take on careers for life and would receive equal pay for work of equal value.”

Despite women’s increasing representation and success in the workplace, Bradbury said they face more challenges than ever before. For instance, according to research co-authored last year by social scientist Leah Vosko, a Canada Research Chair at York University, women are more likely to be employed in precarious situations, such as part-time jobs, lacking security and benefits. Bradbury said women can improve the quality of their lives if they can attain flexibility in working conditions, access to good day care and supportive spouses.

Voters bucking for changes, says student candidate

According to New Democrat Cesar Martello, a second-year political science student at York University who ran for the party in the provincial election, voters are bucking for a change of government, reported the Toronto Star May 31 in a profile of federal election candidates in Etobicoke North riding. They’re soured by the scandal and misspent tax dollars “and there’s a negative backlash because of broken promises by the provincial Liberals,” he said.

Education grad is minister of international cooperation

Barrie Liberal MP Aileen Carroll earned a bachelor of education degree in 1989 from York University, reported the Barrie Advance May 28. Carroll recently was given the post of minister of international co-operation by Prime Minister Paul Martin. Before that, she was appointed parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs and has represented Canada in Europe, the Middle East, Mexico and the United States.

Testing time for top NHL prospects

The NHL had its annual fitness and medical testing this past week at a hotel near the Toronto airport, reported the Peterborough Examiner May 29. More than 100 of the top young prospects from Europe and North America eligible for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft in Raleigh, North Carolina, at the end of June, were invited. Students from York University’s Department of Kinesiology put the players through a series of medical and fitness tests. 

Two friends seek US crown

York grad Brooke Ross, 25, and Delynn Haggith, 20, both took part in the Michigan State finals of the Cover Miss USA pageant recently. Ross came home with the crowning title and Haggith was awarded first runner-up, reported the Chatham Daily News May 29. The two Chatham women will be heading to Orlando, Florida, in July to compete for the crown in the Cover Miss USA finals. Ross obtained her BA in history from York University in 2002.

On air

  • Robert MacDermid, political science professor with York’s Faculty of Arts, discussed federal election campaigning and backroom deals on the “Peter Warren Show” on Edmonton’s CHED-AM May 30.
  • Economist Gervan Fearon, a professor with York’s School of Analytic Studies & Information Technology, discussed how election spending is good for business, on CBC Newsworld’s news column “Business Weekly” May 29.
  • Ben Johnson doesn’t stray too far from his athletic roots, reported CBC TV “News and Current Affairs” May 28. He still works out regularly at York University. The same track where, almost 20 years ago, he learned to become the world’s fastest man. Charlie Frances, the coach who taught him, is embroiled in controversy again, reported CBC.