Bow Valley performers to share historic radio drama
Thursday, Apr 20, 2017 06:00 am
Through the magic of language, music and sound, enter the passionate world of a sensitive Banff artist with a life story known only to a few.
On Sunday, April 23, at 3 p.m., join Bow Valley performers for a special live reading of Jon Whyte’s unique historical radio drama, Swansong. When Banff’s talented bard, Jon Whyte, passed away at age 50 in 1992, he left a legacy of original, complex poetry, essays and a sensitive but rarely heard radio play, Swansong. Now, Bow Valley artists will stage a public reading of this unique poetic drama at the Whyte Museum, with the help of professional theatre director, Shirley Tooke, and the sound wizardry of Martin Finnerty. Featuring cellist Elizabeth Sorochan and Banff Centre alumni, actors Jon Bjorgum and Shirley Truscott, this historic piece illuminates a turning point in the life of Alma Mills. Mills was a professional cellist who fell from a life of privilege and prominence into tragic obscurity as the wife of Banff's “World’s Champion Musher,” Isaac “Ike” Mills. The rehearsal process for Swansong has been a journey of discovery for all the artists, as they explore the complex ideas and layers of meaning hidden in Jon Whyte’s lyrical work. As the childhood neighbour of Mills, Whyte has written a work that is authentic, touching and rich in personal insight.
“It’s so haunting and wonderful, and what I loved about it was it was telling the story of Alma and all we ever hear about is Ike and he’s one of the real characters of Banff with the riding school and you hear a lot about him but nothing about Alma,” said Whyte Museum head librarian Elizabeth Kundert-Cameron.
Mills ran the riding stables and was renting horses to people at the Banff Springs Hotel. Alma LaPalme was a cellist who was with the Boston Quintet and used to perform at the Banff Springs Hotel in the 1920s, and was a totally different person from Mills.
“She got to know him by riding with him, but they were total opposites and they end up getting married around 1938, and once she was married it seems like she gave up her life as an artist,” Kundert-Cameron said.
“Listening to this prose just really struck me, especially at the very end in the epilogue, ‘Ike arrived home from the beer parlor one night and for no clear reason he smashed Alma’s cello, breaking the neck from the body, leaving it hanging by its strings.’ He was a beloved character by day but I guess at night he had a drinking problem.
“She gave up her artistic life and nobody ever talked about her or saw her that much. Jon Whyte lived across the street from them and so he actually wrote about them in Swansong, but he also mentions her in some articles that he wrote for the Crag and Canyon years ago.”
Jon Whyte (1941-1992) – primarily known for his poetry, and awarded the Writer’s Guild of Alberta Stephan Stephansson Award for Poetry in 1983, Whyte’s talent and influence went beyond that of poet. He was involved with the formation of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta, and Summerthought Press, was a columnist for the local newspaper Banff Crag and Canyon for over 20 years, and was the Curator of Heritage Collections at the Whyte Museum until his death. He was also an ardent conservationist serving in executive capacities with the Bow Valley Naturalists and National and Provincial Parks Association of Canada (now known as CPAWS). Posthumously, in 1992,
Whyte received the Banff Mountain Book and Film Festival Summit of Excellence Award.