The word eclectic doesn’t even begin to describe the range of musical styles arranged, composed, and performed by Vancouver violin virtuoso Cameron Wilson.
He was with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for 17 years. He’s written music for and performed alongside legendary CBC Radio storyteller Stuart McLean. Wilson has played with pop star Bryan Adams, children’s entertainer Charlotte Diamond, hard rockers Nickelback, and famed poet George Bowering. And he’s done musical parody. That’s to say nothing of all the jazz, mariachi, Celtic, and Beatles music that he’s performed.
“I’ve just been exposed to a lot of different kinds of music—all kinds of music,” Wilson tells the Straight in a phone interview. “When I was 13, I heard Stéphane Grappelli play. I really like swing-jazz music, I like rock ’n’ roll, and I like country music. And I like the old-time music that my parents grew up on.”
His dad was a fiddler from the Ottawa Valley who couldn’t read music but loved playing tunes by Don Messer and Ned Landry. Wilson says that when his family moved to Edmonton, he was exposed to the Suzuki method, created by Japanese violinist and pedagogue Shinichi Suzuki.
“It was the first Canadian city that had the Suzuki string program,” he states. “A lot of violinists and cellists and string players are from that era.”
On December 17, 18, and 20, Wilson will premiere six new arrangements in the return of Chor Leoni’s popular Christmas concerts.
Wilson’s links to the men’s choir go back to when it was conducted by its founder, Diane Loomer, performing with the singers in a tent at Bard on the Beach. He also arranged music for Chor Leoni’s Cadillac Cathedral shows following Loomer’s death in 2012.
He’s thrilled that he’ll be back playing live with Chor Leoni, emphasizing that artistic director Erick Lichte has the choir singing at a very high level.
In light of the pandemic, Wilson says, he is never going to take playing in front of an audience for granted.
“It’s been such a part of my life, performing in front of people, getting energy back from an audience, just feeling a connection with an audience,” he says. “When that was taken away…it’s a part of your soul that’s just been taken away.”
Highlights include Green Eggs and Cam
It’s hard to sum up a career as varied as Wilson’s. But when asked for the highlights, he most certainly includes his times performing with McLean.
They were introduced by Denise Ball, a former executive producer at CBC Radio, when Wilson was a member of the CBC Orchestra. Wilson arranged music for McLean’s History of Canada recording, then followed up by writing and arranging music for another McLean story called “I Remember Wayne”. It’s loosely based around a family that lived next door to hockey great Wayne Gretzky.
“It was fantastic,” Wilson recalls. “We found out we had similar tastes in music, too. Right toward the end, before he passed away, he invited Joe Trio to do a western tour with him.… It was just great working with him because he had a really great sense of humour.”
Another highlight for Wilson was gathering Vancouver musicians at the Cultch to re-create the Beatles’ White Album on its 30th anniversary. That was in 1998. Then Wilson revisited this 20 years later with different musicians at St. James Community Centre.
“It just goes to show what an incredible array of musical talent we have right here in Vancouver,” he says. “I don’t think people realize how many great artists there are in town.”
A third pinnacle was a retroactive musical guide called Green Eggs and Cam, featuring music he had written for different groups.
“It was all over the map,” he says. “That’s kind of me, anyway—some classical and some not so classical.”
Then there have been the good times with the VSO, Hard Rubber Orchestra, and so many others over the years.
“You think of a violin as a lead instrument, or an instrument that plays solos or is in the forefront,” Wilson says. “But when I’ve been involved in group situations, I often say to people that the violin is an amazing accompanying instrument too, because you can do so many things with it that enhance what other people are doing.
"It doesn’t have to stick out and be a lead.”