Humber Teacher showcases Bach violin concert at arboretum

Adam Bernards and Leigha Vegh
Arts and Entertainment Reporters

The sound of Bach’s D minor Solo Violin Partita filled the Humber Arboretum last week as Liberal Studies Professor Mark Whale played for an enthusiastic audience at the North campus Centre for Urban Ecology.

Playing one day shy of Good Friday, the time of year reminded the professor of Bach, he explained in his introduction speech.

“Writing in the 1700s [Bach] essentially was writing music for the glory of God”, he said.

The piece was written in five movements, each devoted to a different idea. Some were meant for dancing, while others were intended as a tribute to God.

It was the third time the Liberal Arts and Sciences professor performed at the North campus nature conservancy.

“Bach is not just about keeping to the beat. It actually requires you to listen to what’s going on between the beats,” Whale said.

Whale ended his address with a prophetic message on sustainability, and the need for sustainable building practices like the ones employed by the Centre for Urban Ecology, which has received international recognition.

He spoke to the building itself, and how the space really lends itself to performances like his.

“It’s a really beautiful space, because of the view, and the first time I came in here it didn’t have anything in it, and I felt that, I wanted to play the violin in it,” said Whale.

In the audience was Humber College humanities professor Nathan Radke, a colleague and friend of Whale’s who was moved by the performance.

“The combination of hearing Mark’s exquisite violin playing with the backdrop of the Arboretum at springtime [is] a really good combination”, Radke said.

When Whale isn’t playing in the genre he trained in, he accompanies an experimental punk band called Semi-Colon Powell, he said. The name of the band is a political inside joke for people who remember the first Gulf War (1990-91), Radke said, adding that the name is an homage to United States army four-star general Colin Powell.

Whale first learned to play the violin in England. He performed for a number of years before making a move to Toronto back in 2004, where he would receive his doctorate in music in 2009.

Meanwhile, whether it gets brought out to play Bach or experimental punk, his violin itself comes with a very interesting story.

It was made in England, around 1800, which he notes is interesting from a sustainability standpoint, because it was made with pre-industrial revolution wood, and is still being used today.

But it was the purchase of the instrument that gives it its intrigue.

Looking for a new instrument, Whale went to a violin maker in the town in England where he lived. He found one he liked, and agreed to arrange a trade in with his older violin. Mick Johnson, the violin maker, agreed to sell this violin to Whale for his old violin, plus £5,000. Whale wanted to take some time to think about the deal, and in that time, Johnson went on vacation in Greece.

Johnson never came back.

“He went away to Greece, and the next thing I heard, he’d died, in a mountain biking accident. Literally I saw him on the Tuesday, and the Thursday, he was dead.” he said.

Several months later, Whale went back to the shop, now being watched over by Johnson’s daughters, and finalized the purchase of the violin.

“It has this special place, because it reminds me of Mick Johnson,” said Whale.

With files from Kettelia WrighT

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