What’s In Your Fridge: Don Macdonald of Chor Leoni

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      What’s In Your Fridge is where the Straight asks interesting Vancouverites about their life-changing concerts, favourite albums, and, most importantly, what’s sitting beside the Heinz ketchup in their custom-made Big Chill Retropolitan 20.6-cubic-foot refrigerators. 

      On the grill

      Don Macdonald

      Who are you

      I’m a composer of film and concert music, and I’m currently the composer in residence for Chor Leoni Men’s Choir here in Vancouver. This weekend is the premiere of a six-movement song cycle called “High Flight” that was commissioned for Remembrance Day. The choir, directed by Erick Lichte, is joined by two fabulous musicians: Jonathan Lo on cello and Tina Chang on piano. The composition relies on the brilliant poetry of the young Anglo-American Second World War pilot John Gillespie Magee to create a narrative about personal transformation amidst the turmoil of war.

      First concert

      The first concert I remember going to was when I was around 10 years old. I went with my mom and some family friends to a performance of the opera Hansel and Gretel in Spokane, Washington. My parents were big classical music fans, so anything remotely contemporary was not on their radar. I remember enjoying the show, but the main takeaway was the name of the composer: Engelbert Humperdinck. A 10-year-old can’t be expected to ignore a name like that. My poor parents had to put up with his name being screamed around the house for years to come. It’s a brilliant opera and I feel like I owe an apology to Mr. Humperdinck.

      Life-changing concert

      You know it’s amazing when you get goosebumps, and I had them the entire night when I saw the Bob Berg/Mike Stern jazz quartet play in Victoria around 1989 with Dennis Chambers on drums. It was my first time seeing that kind of jazz improvising in a live setting, and I recall Dennis Chambers playing a 20-minute drum solo that blew the roof off the place. Years later I played saxophone with Mike Stern in a concert at Selkirk College, where I teach in Nelson. Stern was brilliant. Goosebumps again.

      Top three records

      Joni Mitchel Hejira  The melodic twists and turns of two geniuses in their prime: Joni and bassist Jaco Pastorius. As a violinist I’m all too aware of how easy it is to play out of tune since you have no fretboard to guide you. Jaco’s tuning on fretless bass was impeccable even at break-neck speed.

      Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile The Goat Rodeo Sessions  Chris Thile is a whirling dervish on the mandolin and Yo-Yo Ma on cello is…well, Yo-Yo Ma. Add Stuart Duncan on violin and other titans of the new-grass world and you have a modern bluegrass masterpiece. I’m not sure what a “Goat Rodeo” is, but it sounds like something new and a bit crazy. This album is just that.

      Miles Davis Sketches of Spain  This album is special to me because it was the one album in my parents’ collection that wasn’t classical. When my dad purchased the album I was about eight years old and I didn’t really even know what jazz was, but I knew I loved what the trumpeter was doing.

      All-time favourite video

      Peter Gabriel Secret World Tour  I’m going to cheat here and say the whole Peter Gabriel Secret World Tour video. It has the brilliant Tony Levin on bass with his bizarre funk finger extensions. It’s special to me because our youngest son used to dance in his diaper to the song “Kiss That Frog”. Memorable, to say the least.

      What’s in your fridge

      Lots of Parmesan cheese. It’s our dog Sherman’s favourite condiment. When food is first placed in his bowl, he turns up his nose and walks off in disgust—but once he hears you grating a few flakes of Parmesan on top, he’s all in. Like turning Spam into a Michelin three-Star meal.

      Maple syrup. I tree planted near Prince George with my wife Allison. Early in the season it could be brutally cold and damp, so after dinner we needed something that would provide maximum protection from the elements. Hot milk, Scotch, and maple syrup was divine. Now it’s a breakfast and desert staple, minus the Scotch.

      Birch water. A good friend of ours in Quesnel taps his birch trees and draws out this delicious substance. It’s delicate and sweet, but not to be guzzled, because you might only get it once in a lifetime.

      Chor Leoni opens its 32nd season with Boundless, the choir’s annual Remembrance Day observance at St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church. Shows are on November 10 at 7:30pm, and November 11 at 2pm and 5pm. Go here for more information and tickets.