“The Woods Are Burning” Celebrates Tom Thomson at His Birthplace

It was a hundred years ago this Saturday that Tom Thomson, one of Canada’s most important painters, disappeared into the wilderness.  A magical evening called “The Woods Are Burning” is planned at The Historic Leith Church, the church that Thomson and his family attended when he was growing up in Leith, to mark the occasion with a celebration of his life and work presented in poetry and song.  At the helm of this production is singer-songwriter David Sereda, and he has assembled some of the area’s most impressive musicians along with internationally celebrated poet Anne Michaels to create “a long kind of journey in two parts about the painter and the place.”

David Sereda has a long history in theatre, having worked as actor, musical director, composer and teacher through a long and distinguished career.  Originally from Edmonton, he now lives in Annan, not far from the Leith Church, but that is not his only connection with the story of Tom Thomson.  He still remembers when he was young how he was struck by seeing a painting called “The Fisherman”, one of the few Thomson paintings that has a human figure in it.  In 2002 he produced, with Joan Chandler, a musical based on Thomson’s life.  Although this current show includes a few songs written from that project, this is not a play.  “It’s more letting the songs tell the story,” he says, “we let the songs sing for themselves.  The way into his paintings is trying to imagine his thoughts.”  Some of them include excerpts from letters written or received by Thomson, and in addition to the original songs, the production will include some songs from Tom’s lifetime like Stephen Foster tunes and even some local songs.

Listen to, download and buy David Sereda’s music on iTunes by clicking on this album cover

To help him perform these songs, David has assembled a stellar group of musicians from the area, names familiar to local music fans.

To help him perform these songs, David has assembled a stellar group of musicians from the area, names familiar to local music fans.    The ensemble features Keira McArthur on cello, Tyler Wagler on bass, Sandra Swanell on violin and Terry Young on mandolin.  Tyler is not only an accomplished jazz player as part of Hammerton Wagler O’Neill  but also carries the bottom end in the local reggae band The Human Rights.  Keira and Sandra are both classically trained musicians who have branched into other styles.  Keira is also a visual artist which gives her a particular affinity for the material.  Sanda, along with Terry, were longtime members of Tanglefoot and now tour internationally with their roots and ragtime duo My Sweet Patootie.  Terry, a renowned multi-instrumentalist, is new to the ensemble, which performed a similar show in Toronto last fall utilizing the talents of Ken Whiteley in the role Terry has assumed.  All of the musicians will be adding vocals as well.

“This show will have more local references than the show we did in Toronto,” David says.  It will also be presenting Thomson’s approach to his art without showing examples of his work.  “I toyed with that idea for about a second, but you want people’s imagination to go wherever they will go.”

Another change with this show is that Anne Michaels has some new poems that were not part of the Toronto performance.  Her work, spoken word intermixed with the music, is a big part of the magic.

“It’s really fun to bring poetry into a concert,” David says, “The music within a poem is just beautiful”

Anne Michaels is not just any poet.  A world famous poet and novelist, she is currently Toronto’s Poet Laureate and her novel “Fugitive Pieces”, after winning a long list of awards, was made into a movie in 2007 (which also won seven awards).  She has also written for the stage and she has her own personal connection with Thomson, having spent her childhood in Algonquin Park, where Thomson created his most iconic work.

Tickets for “The Woods Are Burning” are $25 in advance through the Roxy Theatre (519-371-2833, tickets.roxytheatre.ca) or at the door. Showtime is 7:30, Saturday July 8th, at the Historic Leith Church.

This performance is one of a number of events planned at the Leith Church this summer to mark the disappearance of Tom Thomson.  On Friday, July 21st there will be a graveside ceremony in the little graveyard beside the church to mark the centennial of his interment there.  And on Oct. 21st a Tom Thomson event is planned called Sonic Palette, by the Algonquin Ensemble, which was specifically formed to interpret and celebrate the painter’s work with original music and visual projections.

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