Abbotsford is situated in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia, 70 kilometers east of Vancouver. It has a population of approximately 140,000 people. It is exquisitely located about half way along the valley which is 140 kilometers long with the town of Hope at the eastern end. The Fraser River flows through the valley and empties into the Pacific Ocean at Vancouver. The surrounding mountains are majestic and the highest ones are more than 7,000 feet high. They are snowcapped from late autumn, through the winter and into early spring. These coastal mountains eventually merge into the Rockies. As a result, wherever we drive or walk in our town there is a vista of mountains. An extra blessing is Mount Baker, 11,000 feet high, in nearby Washington State, USA which is covered in snow all year round. She dominates our town and much of Abbotsford enjoys her resplendent beauty. Martin is a pilot and he has taken many of our visitors in the past for a flight around Mount Baker, in fact, he has logged 56 flights around and over the summit. I never cease to be impressed and awestruck by the beauty of Mount Baker. From Abbotsford to Northern California there is the chain of the Cascade Volcanos starting with Mount Baker then Rainier, Mount St Helens, Adams, Hood and Shasta.
We have had the privilege of living in Abbotsford for over 40 years. It is often described as “the city in the country” and the raspberry capital of Canada. Within a very short distance of our home, we can be completely in the country; our city has been very wise in tastefully creating 97 kilometers of urban trails where we can walk for lengthy periods and enjoy the beauty of wooded areas with picturesque lakes where deer and even black bears live. Canadians love the great outdoors and here in Abbotsford that is made possible because of 157 parks and trails. Within a short period of time, there is the choice of mountain-top hiking, downhill skiing, water skiing, camping, hot-springs and if you are really adventurous, you can head up to Sumas Mountain with mountain bikes or sky diving. In an hour or so you can experience white water rafting and sturgeon fishing.
Abbotsford is a multicultural city: the majority group is European Caucasians such as the Mennonites who came from Germany or Russia, the Dutch and British. The Dutch influence can be seen in the annual, colourful tulip festival on Sumas Prairie (see pictures below – Ann King, a Mexican friend and Grace are featured in one of them). The next largest ethnic group in Abbotsford is South Asian with a large community of Sikhs from India, plus immigrants from Pakistan, the Orient and other parts of the world. We have a 3% population of First Nations (our indigenous people) and over the past few decades many families have adopted Haitian and Ethiopian children. English is the primary language spoken here, with 78.7% of the population having it as their first language. However, we are a bilingual country with French having equal status and we have a number of French Immersion Schools from kindergarten to Grade 12 which is excellent and by far the best way of becoming bilingual.
Abbotsford has a musical tradition partly due to the Mennonites who settled here in large numbers. The Mennonites are known particularly for their choral performances and as I taught in the Mennonite Educational Institute for a number of years, I experienced the high quality of the choral work with the purity of sound that one hears in highly ranked professional choirs. Most of the students in this school play at least one musical instrument as well as singing. Many learn to sight read music from when they are children.
From such a cultural background, emerged Dr. Calvin Dyck, who is the director and conducter of the Abbotsford Youth Orchestra. He is a brilliant violinist and has a teaching studio with 25 students. He is also a producer for local shows and concerts. In 2012, Calvin was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for service to the community and in 2013, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities by Trinity Western University.
We are so blessed to have such a man in our town and I liken him to André Rieu. Calvin has inspired so many children and teens to enjoy classical and good contemporary music. His programmes are full of exhilarating, fun music. He has a very enthusiastic and charismatic personality which is infectious and is reflected in the members of this orchestra. It is gratifying to see how much these young people enjoy what they are doing and I personally think that they are worthy of performing in any concert hall. He has also collaborated with many local performers in the very popular, local series of concerts known as Songs, Strings & Steps. In March, 2016, Martin and I attended a performance called “Down Town Abby” – no, there are no spelling errors in this title but a very clever idea of Calvin’s. Abbotsford is quite frequently called Abby and so because of the very popular and successful British TV production ”Downton Abbey” came the idea to have a concert featuring some of the best of British music in one of our largest churches in Abbotsford. It was a superb concert which left me spellbound.
Those who bought tickets were encouraged to dress up a la Downton Abby era and many did. All the ladies at the doors were dressed as parlour maids.
At the commencement of the programme, as the orchestra started playing an introduction for “God save the Queen,” the “Queen” (a look alike of course) walked majestically on to the stage accompanied by a member of the Queen’s Guards, complete with a red tunic and black bear skin head gear.
They crossed the large stage in a dignified manner with the Queen gently waving to us and she sat down on a “throne” like chair, then about 20 young people walked on to the stage wearing jeans and white T shirts with a Union Jack flag logo.
As that was happening, on a huge screen behind the orchestra and two other screens on either side was a picture of an enormous crowd of patriotic Brits waving union jack flags at an auspicious royal event.
This was followed by the music of “Downton Abbey” by John Lunn and while this was being
played, photos of the characters and scenes from the show were projected. The programme continued with the music from a film of” Pride and Prejudice,” then Lloyd Webber’s “Pie Jesu,” and “Phantom of the Opera.” “Mars” from the Planets Suite by Holst and the Beatles’ song “Blackbird,” which was sung by a group of young people.
When I arrived at the auditorium I noticed that there was a wardrobe on the stage and wondered why it was there but I found the answer to that when I saw the title of the last item before the intermission, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” A lady sat in a red chair with 2 young lads sitting at her feet as she read part of the story of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Scenes from the first film that was made were shown. During the Intermission, free tea and shortbread were available, all in bone china cups.
The concert continued with “Nimrod” from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, followed by “Palladio” by Karl Jenkins and then “Dido’s Lament” from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas which I know so well. It is a favourite of mine because when I was in school in Port Talbot we did the whole work of Dido and Aeneas. Having spent so many hours learning all the choruses and performing it multiple times I think I could have sung all the arias too. I actually had a small part in it as one of the witches and I still have a CD of it. Then we had an aria from “The Phantom of the Opera” by Lloyd-Webber which was dramatic and powerful. The phantom made a quick entrance at the beginning and slipped away and then a spotlight shone on him in the balcony. On the right of the stage were some masked couples dancing, dressed up for a ball while scenes from the film were projected on the screen.
Themes from “007” were played as Agent 007 ran all over the auditorium leaping and trying to escape from an opponent, then from the high ceiling appeared a thick rope down which someone climbed down. The penultimate item was the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” and the choral group again excelled themselves.
The grand finale was Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance march “Land of Hope and Glory,” played with much gusto and we all of course stood up reverently and with the help of the words on the screen sang fervently with hands on our hearts à l’Américaine!!! Many of the sights of London were displayed and needless to say I was a basket case and wanted to catch the next flight to London to see you all.
I was so impressed and delighted from the opening number to the end of this amazing concert and was so glad that I was able afterwards to tell Calvin how much I appreciated all that was done; it was such quality, creativity and talent. Calvin Dyck and his team have every reason to be proud of such an achievement. He is truly our own home spun André Rieu.
Credits: Author – Grace; Photos – Ron Peters (thanks Ron), Susan Being Snippy and Martin