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REMINISCENCES

Stan Farrow
by Stan Farrow
(Our Key Player a.k.a. Pianist)

In 1972, R. H. King/Scarborough Collegiate was celebrating its 50th anniversary. I met Nan and Bill Bates in the course of the afternoon and they mentioned that the St. Peterís Choral Society, which Nan directed and in which Bill took the tenor leads, needed a new pianist, since their original accompanist had moved out to Calgary.  They suggested I come and see their production of "Yeomen of the Guard." So Barb and I and our friends, Dick and Doreen Dean, duly attended.

It was like old home. Some of the cast, like Nan, went back to the days when my dad took Gwen and me to see the G. and S. productions at Scarborough Collegiate, or the days when we actually took part in the shows ourselves. Others had been part of the cast in the St. Aidenís productions in the Beach during the early 1960s, directed by Nanís brother, John Ricciardelli, who would call me in to play for the performances, so that he could conduct. John and I were also part of the chorus for G. and S. productions during my years at Victoria College, U.of T., and the Ontario College of Education in the 1950s.

So I signed up! And, except for a break in 1991, when I was chairing a major province-wide student Classics Conference a week before showtime, Iíve been here ever since. Until 1996, my high-school class-mate, Nan (by then remarried to another Bill - Wells), was our lady-high-everything in directing the shows. She and I shared a fondness for snappy tempos and extra dance music! At rehearsals and shows we could almost anticipate what the other was thinking. That was not always true about the words, music, and actions of those on stage!

My "favourite" nightmare, interestingly, is from a performance of "The Gondoliers" at Laurier C . I. in 1983.  During the Gavotte near the end of the show, everyone except Colin MacPhee, the Duke, forgot words, music, and action all at the same time. I have no idea what I played on the piano until they all somehow moved back to where they were supposed to be and finished the number. John Ricciardelli, who knows all the shows thoroughly, came up afterwards and was still trying to figure out how we had survived. His North Toronto shows use full orchestra. This was one occasion where a single piano was an advantage!

Until 1975, the shows were performed in the hall at St. Peterís Anglican Church. Dressing rooms and gathering area were in the basement. Entrances had to be made from stage right, or by running behind the back curtains over to stage left. Lighting was all done from regular wall switches at the back of the hall. "Ruddigore", in 1975, required a complete blackout in Act 2 for the ancestral portraits to "come to life." Invariably the lights went out too late or came on too early. Perhaps that is why we moved to Thomson the following year!

The Society has been blessed with many fine soloists over the years. I cannot name them all. I must, however, mention the most notorious, Jack Jeffery. He has played both baritone and tenor roles with equal mangling of words and music, but always so confidently that you were sure he was right! Ask Clarke or Nadine about the challenges of playing on stage with Jack. And if John Ricciardelli was in the audience (he laughed at anything Jack did), forget it! 

Jack, like Nan and myself, and Sheila Snelgrove, a superb soloist, was a Scarborough C. I. grad. There was always a moment in "Ruddigore", during the comedy duet, "I Once Was A Very Abandoned Person," when the entire production was being handled by four old S. C. I. types, a tribute to the positive influence of our extra-curricular activities there.

The Society has been a real family affair. Barb joined the cast when our children were old enough to leave at home. Then they joined cast and crew, too. We have made life-long friends from people we met for the first time here. Happy memories include summer parties at Bill and Marg Chickís, playing a grand piano in full regalia for our 25th anniversary production in 1990, and sharing the pride when Nan Wells was named Scarboroughís Citizen of the Year in 1992 (nominated by the Society). 

In 1990 I also organized a summer tour to Gilbert and Sullivan Land, where we visited sites associated with the team or Society members. In Mansfield, Peggy Clarke had arranged for us to entertain at her old church. We felt guilty at our late arrival, but not quite as guilty when we discovered that no one had unlocked the piano! In Huddersfield, the local G. and S. Society feted us with an evening of singing and dining together. Here Peggy performed her famous "íOle in the Road" recitation. We completed our visit with a two-night stay at Grimís Dyke, just north of London. Gilbertís old estate is now a hotel. On our last evening we enjoyed dinner while being entertained with excepts from a number of the operettas. Even Gilbertís "ghost" paid a visit.

In addition to the camaraderie for which the Society has always been noted, I do enjoy the challenge of playing the piano score (difficult, but possible) and acting as the accompanying "orchestra." I know there are some who come to the shows to see me bow while still playing the piano. However, I believe that most come to hear the singing. If you notice the accompanist, itís usually because heís done something wrong. And that I would never do! Well, hardly ever!


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