Craig Burns

Capturing essence of Cohen

Artists lend their voices to performing arts centre fundraiser.

It seems that folks either love or hate Leonard Cohen’s music.

And it is interesting that this weekend’s Leonard Cohen Tribute cast of singers and musical crew come from both camps.

Both viola player Rina Schuurman and singer Shan Saatchi had little use for him, but through many weeks of the creative, collaborative process of putting together a show of Cohen’s works, both have gained an appreciation of his poetry and music.

With the variety of voices and the chance for creative accompaniment, it has become not so much a Leonard Cohen show as a Tribute by a group of singers and musicians keen to share this on-stage gig.

Some were motivated to join in on the fun by their love of his music, some by the fact that this is a fundraiser for the proposed Shuswap Performing Arts Centre, others because it is a chance to sing wonderful music with a great gang of folks – an event akin to “one giant kitchen party,” quips singer Pamela Dettwiler.

A few others came onboard because they just happen to be friends/neighbours of Jake Jacobson, the mover and shaker behind this project, and were encouraged to join in.

One thing is  for certain, we have all found this challenge to be exciting and rewarding.

“So many creative ideas and a unique chemistry among the performers,” says musical director and pianist extraordinaire Keiran Rambo.

Having enjoyed his involvement in the Broadway musical revue which Jake and Friends mounted last spring, Rambo was keen, along with many of us who took part in that revue, to undertake another show this spring.

Little did we know what challenge lay ahead, with each performer choosing a Cohen song or two to sing, then selecting back-up singers, in Cohen fashion, to round out the ensemble and working on that communal collaboration together with the band.

This is a band that includes piano, viola, string bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, mandolin and drums.

But here we are, having come out the other end, with a show that promises to surprise and please the audience – Leonard Cohen fan or not.

When Jacobson suggested I sing a couple of Cohen’s recent works, I thought, “I don’t have a gravelly voice like Leonard Cohen. How would that work?”

However, as he reminded me: “It’s not about the voice – it’s about the poetry.”

So the cast of 13, six of whom are women, will each be giving their rendition of Cohen’s pieces in their own register. It makes the songs surprisingly refreshing.

The sole voice in the troupe that rivals Cohen’s is that of our narrator Craig Burns, low and gravelly, perfect for Cohen’s Tower of Song.

Rounding out the cast performing songs of this world-renowned  Canadian icon are:  Miranda McLaws and Bill Remphrey on guitar and mandolin; Reid Gomme on string bass; Lorn McCausland on electric violin; Doug Stuart on bass guitar; Fred Green and Elaine Holmes, well-known Shuswap Theatre actors; Heather Sawyer, Melissa Wood and Randy Arsenault, plus me.

Join us Friday, May 22 and Saturday, May 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 24 at 2:30 p.m. at Shuswap Theatre on Hudson Avenue. Admission is by donation.


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