Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Call for Jury Duty

I got my notice that I’d been called for Jury Duty at the end of February. I’d been called twice before and on both occasions, since I was teaching younger children and had letters of explanation from a former principal and a Justice of the Peace, I’d been excused.

I tried to research the process online and found only the videos provided by the government which talk up the value of the experience without really explaining what goes on for those called for jury duty before a trial begins. So I decided to post this recount of the experience for the benefit of anyone who might be going to have a similar experience.

This was a call from the Superior Court of Ontario so the details likely vary in other jurisdictions.

Jury Duty is an obligation of citizenship really akin to nothing in our system except a military draft. It is also an inconvenience to everybody, although a far greater one to some than others. It also pays not at all for the first 10 days and meagerly after that.

My appointment was at the John Sopinka Courthouse in the vary core of Downtown Hamilton. The building was originally a depression era post office but was renovated in the 1990s. I I arrived at the King St. entrance about 8:55 for my 9:00 call. The main entrance is on the other side of the building so there was no waiting in line. They warn you not to bring sharp objects in the letter you receive in the mail. You put your stuff in a tray and pass through a metal detector. A polite and patient Special Constable dug through my backpack.

The building occupies most of a city block so it was a long walk past the numerous, now shuttered, post office wickets to the elevators. As you can see in the photo, it’s a stunning lobby. I found the courtroom on the 6th floor. About 75 people were waiting in what looks just like an airport waiting area. There were only a few empty seats.

At about 9:15 two men took attendance using the numbers assigned on the documents we’d received in the mail. No names of prospective jurors are ever mentioned. About a dozen people hadn’t shown up. There’s no set penalty for not responding to the call for jury duty but you can be held in contempt of court. I suspect the names are simply put on the next list and the people are called again.

They finished taking attendance at about 9:40 and we were told to wait until the judge and other court officials and employees were ready. They finally called us in at about 10:10.

We were led into a a large, modern courtroom looking exactly like the ones you see on Canadian TV shows but with a glassed enclosure for the accused in the middle just in front of the padded pews for the public.

My first real surprise was that the accused was actually there as were the Defence and Crown Counsels. Later we learned that the trial would begin later that day, as soon as the jury had been selected.

The judge gave, what I am sure, was his standard lecture about the importance of serving on a jury, about how each of us, if chosen, would act as a judge. He also mentioned that it was  inconvenient for everyone but the cornerstone of our system of jurisprudence.

The next half hour was taken up with people asking, and often being excused, for various reasons. First were those who knew the accused and accuser, witnesses and the various police and court officials. Then they moved on to other categories including Canadian Citizenship (you must be a citizen to serve on a jury), inability to hear clearly, proficiency in reading and understanding English, extreme financial impact and so forth. Some people had documents to support their appeal others responded to the judges queries anecdotally. Many were excused. Several had their names put back on the ledger for the next call.

Then they drew jury numbers randomly from a wooden jar and called 15 of us to the side of the courtroom. In turn, the were instructed to look at the accused and he at them. Then the two counsels either approved or excused each prospective juror in turn. Those who were chosen were then asked if they would swear solemnly or on a Bible. About two thirds chose not to sear on the Bible.  

In my second surprise, more than half of the first group were refused by one or the other of the counsels.

They then called a further 15 people and repeated the process. By the time they’d chosen and sworn in 12 jurors only one of the second group remained. Thus, they had chosen 12 jurors from a randomly chosen group of 30.

At this point the judge announced that the jury would go to the jury room and the rest of us, about 50 people were thanked and excused.

I  wasn’t looking forward to serving on a jury but, if I’d been chosen, I’d have felt better about it than I had going in. It is an obligation and someone has to do it. Better it be someone educated and in possession of all their faculties. I have no doubt that some juries have a difficult and unpleasant time when one or more members isn’t up to the task.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Dreamer

The Dreamer is a setting of three stanzas of a C.A. Swinburne poem and the third in the set entitled Three Swinburne Songs. They were composed in 1998 and premièred in a concert at McMaster University that year by soprano Elise Bédard and pianist Gloria Saarinen.

Here is a link to an orchestral realization of the song. The cycle, for soprano and piano, is available at from Canadian Music Centre.

The Dreamer

Glad, but not flush'd with gladness,
Since joys go by;
Sad, but not bent with sadness,
Since sorrows die;
Deep in the gleaming glass
She sees all past things pass,
And all sweet life that was lie down and lie.
There glowing ghosts of flowers
Draw down, draw nigh;
And wings of swift spent hours
Take flight and fly;
She sees by formless gleams,
She hears across cold streams,
Dead mouths of many dreams that sing and sigh.
Face fallen and white throat lifted,
With sleepless eye
She sees old loves that drifted,
She knew not why,
Old loves and faded fears
Float down a stream that hears
The flowing of all men's tears beneath the sky.

Monday, April 8, 2019

25th Anniversary of the BPOC

The 25th Anniversary Season of the Buchanan Park Opera Club has arrived and performances will take place in the first week of May. I was, as some readers will know, for 13 seasons the Maestro and Chorus Master of the BPOC. It was a volunteer position and one I was happy to fill. My time as a Music Teacher was past when I arrived at Buchanan Park but the musical education of children is of great value and I believe my contribution there benefited hundreds of children.

I had very little to do with the preparation of the first production as I was preoccupied with learning my real job as a Grade 3 teacher. I knew what an opera conductor was supposed to do. Unfortunately, aside from Dawn, nobody else did. I remember waving my arms and attempting to conduct the Grand March from Aida. The orchestra consisted of a piano and three trumpeters wearing elephant trunk masks. More than one hundred children made their way into the theatre (i.e. the gym) during the introduction. One of my own students stood directly behind me and, as the singing started (Glory to Egypt) he let fly loudly with the appropriate words and rhythm but with pitches which had nothing whatever to do with the melody. It was an alarming foreshadowing of what was to come. None of the performers had ever worked with a conductor before and they paid me very little heed but we all persevered. By the time the preparations for the next year’s show rolled around I made sure it didn’t happen again. I spent hundreds of hours working with kids in preparation for the opera and teaching choral music over the time I taught at Buchanan Park School.

It was a couple of years before I suggested to Dawn Martens, pianist and artistic director, that it might be helpful if we started a choir. The children could learn better how to learn music by rote (few of them could read music at all) and how to work with a conductor (i.e. me). We did that, preparing and performing Christmas music each fall. Beginning in February we started to learn properly the chorus music for that year’s production and whatever Festival selections were appropriate. For more than 10 years we had an excellent Junior School Choir and won accolades where ever the choir sang. We took Gold and Silver awards at the Toronto and Hamilton Kiwanis Festivals and always won Gold at the HWDSB’s annual Choral Fest.


I interview Dawn for my blog some years ago and asked her for amusing anecdotes. She could come up with very few and I realized that I hadn’t many either. As many hours as I put in working on “the opera” she spent many, many more. We were too busy doing that, while at the same time doing our actual jobs, to take much notice. And the children picked up how seriously the adults treated the work of preparation. Any serious stage production, especially one involving children, requires lots and lots of advanced work and as silly as doing Grand Opera with children seems, we always took it seriously. Unforeseeable events are a given but the readier one is the less frequently they happen and, when they do, the more likely is everyone to cope.

Dawn and me during Romeo and Juliet.
I'm holding a William Shakespeare puppet.

I suppose many people were surprised when I retired and told them I wouldn’t continue working with Dawn at BP as a volunteer. It was her project and, as willing as I had been to help, she’d done it before I arrived and I knew that she could continue to do so. I stopped going to performances once the children I knew had moved on to Middle School.

This year, though, I’ll be there on Thursday morning for the Dress Rehearsal. A 25th Anniversary is a special occasion and teachers don’t go on forever.

The little boy who couldn’t sing in tune in the Aida chorus is, incidentally, working for an airline as a Commercial Pilot. I don’t know whether he ever learned to sing in tune but I’ll bet he remembers Aida.