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L.A. Beat

The world as we know it

Meet the Rose Lady

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There is always much more around us than meets the eye. The Lethbridge nightlife scene is a dynamic one, with new
Donna Danuta Polak Saunders, best known as the rose lady. Photo submitted
 clubs and pubs seeming to open every other weekend, only to close their doors months later. Within this changing climate however, one element has stayed the same for almost twenty years. A quiet, inconspicuous little woman weaves between us late at night, tempting us with her wares. She is our history, our neighbour, and our friend. She is our Rose Lady.

You may not call her by this name, and for the most part, you probably pay her little mind, but one way or the other, you likely know of whom I write. This short woman walks among you in the wee hours of the evening; selling individually wrapped roses to aspiring individuals, courting couples and blissfully married husbands and wives. Yet few of us stop to consider that she has been a familiar fixture (albeit a fleeting one), at our late night establishments since many of us were still in high school. 

Known throughout both Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, our Rose Lady's full name is Donna Danuta Polak Saunders. Donna was born four years after the end of the Second World War, in the city of Hamburg, Germany. Her father was a Polish P.O.W. who was captured by the Germans but survived the holocaust after being liberated by the Americans.
Donna and her mother fled Germany to escape the country as the Polish people were facing death in gas chambers in the later months of the war. Crossing the Atlantic at the age of five via an old battleship, Donna and the passengers were evacuated into life rafts as the ship was taking on water.
They were finally met in Canada by Catholic nuns, still clad in black habits, after safely landing in Quebec. The two international refugees were given money by the Catholic Immigration Fund for a railroad trip across Canada in boxcars. Their journey took them to the small hamlet of Redcliff, Alberta, where Donna began Grade 1.
Now married to the same man for over 37 years, Donna the Rose Lady is the proud mother of two adult children and the grandmother of three young ones, whom she cherishes dearly. She met her husband at the U of C and married him in 1973. They were both first year teachers seeking employment. Sharing the same profession, they have taught in many different places in Alberta, finally moving from the Carseland area to Lethbridge in 1987. 

It was in 1990, while Donna was teaching part-time in Cardston, that she responded to an advertisement in the Lethbridge Herald for a flower seller. Thinking it was a retail flower shop position, she responded and was hired. It was a shock to find out what was really expected of her, she recalled.

Me? A Critic?

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A stranger asked me the other day, as a trivial conversation starter, "So what kind of music do you like?"
I suppressed a smile and replied, "A better question would actually be what kind of music don't I like. That would result in a much shorter list."
For the truth is, I am a music lover - but even I have my limits. Certain types of music to me are boring, uninspired, offensive or just downright stupid.

For example, I don't care much for the newest form of night/dance club music; including the house and crunk genres. I love electronic music; and can lose myself in its many forms. But with the added imposition of cheesy female vocals about love; gangsta rap lyrics about GATs and 9's and repetitive megaphone style shouts for better bigger booty shakin', just manage to ruin it for me. Silly songs about hamsters and thongs seem to drain my IQ points, and it seems like that vocoder/voice modulator device is everywhere. (I blame both Cher and Kanye West equally for this.)

Most of the lyrics are disguised beneath this vocal distortion, all modulated to come across pitch-perfect, robotic and emotionless. As for the electronic music that I do like; that I dance around the house and bang out to; well, they just don't play that at bars here. Which is really a shame; for there are a ton of great electronic music artists out there right now. Artists like Caribou, Justice, MSTRKFRT - and a thousand others that pack dance floors around the world. Everywhere but here, of course.


An open letter to all major, commercial rock radio stations

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Dear sirs/madams,

The other day I found myself spending several hours in a car that had no CD player, IPod port or tape deck. While cruising in and around Lethbridge, I spent countless minutes skipping around our local radio dial, tuning in and out of regular daily broadcasting.

In doing so, I was disgusted, yet morbidly amused to hear the same phrases used over the airwaves time and time again – “commercial free rock-ride” and “45-minutes commercial free.”

Phrases like these would be repeated at least once an hour, yet every fifteen minutes (or three songs) I would hear commercials.

Now, I somewhat understand the goings-on at a radio station, having been a faithful volunteer programmer for the last several years at our local campus and community radio station, CKXU 88.3 FM. So I realize the importance of self-promotion, i.e. playing a station ID or call sign as frequently as possible.

I also realize that ad managers at radio stations are paid to solicit money from advertisers; in exchange for the guarantee their business' ads would be played at particular (or random) times slots throughout the week.

I understand as well that certain record labels and companies promote their artists heavily via singles released to radio, and believe that they likely pay big bucks to do so.

So, having clarified what I know, or at least what I think I know, I have some suggestions for you, the owners/operators of these commercial and network radio stations, as to how you might better your stations and our city in the process. Please forgive my tone, as these suggestions may not be pretty.

Listeners are not stupid. They see through your “45-minute commercial-free” sets, as they hear your advertisements played every 20
minutes. You are, in my opinion, blatantly committing false advertising, yet we all accept it like sheep or cattle and don’t heckle you for it. Well sirs/madams, consider yourself heckled. Stop telling lies please.
Thank you.

I would appreciate it (and presume that many others would too) if you would stop announcing the “new” song from Green Day or Billy Talent (just two random examples), when you’ve already played that same “new” track four times a day for the last 90 days. After 75 spins on-air, (enough time for every citizen in North America to memorize each and every lyric) the track should no longer be considered “new”.

I feel compelled to ask you a question: Are the major record labels/companies (i.e. Sony, BMG, Maverick) also your owners, bosses, and essential dictators?


A brief history of Canadian music

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This week we celebrated Canada's 143rd birthday. Thanks to my involvement with a spectacular CKXU radio celebration, I did a lot of thinking this week about Canadian musicians. That thinking led to doing a little digging; finding out if our country truly has its own 'Canadian music' identity; trying to see what sets us apart and makes our music so special.

This was not an easy task. Thankfully, there have been certain organizations holding it all together almost since the very beginning.  Now that I have done some research, here is the history of music in Canada. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

The earliest Canadian music was here before the French settlers were. Aboriginal drumming, multi-part vocalization, Inuit throat singing and songs that would last for days were noted in some of the earliest settler' journal entries. Then along came the French settlers, who brought their fiddles and dancing, teaching Aboriginal children to sing and play violin, guitars, flutes and trumpets as far back as the 1630's.  

By the turn of the century, original music was being composed in Canada's earliest colonies and settlements. While many traditional songs and dances were transmitted from village to village and down through generations, very little of it was transcribed or written down, and a great deal of it has been lost forever. By 1770, regular operatic and chamber music concerts had become part of Canada's cultural landscape. By 1800, Bach and Mozart's classical fare was being performed in Halifax and Quebec City.

Through the early 1800's, music publishing and printing was a thriving industry in Europe, but written reproductions of music were still predominantly reserved for a privileged, upper class minority in Canada. Most Canadian composers and musicians were making a living by leading choirs, playing organs in churches, teaching music lessons to students and children or playing in regimental military bands.

Fiddlers were still a fixture in most public drinking establishments. The accordion and harmonica had been introduced, and barn dances and inspired jamboree sessions were not uncommon — our earliest folk music. Soon ensembles of musicians were playing around the country, performing waltzes and polkas for adoring, dancing audiences. Mass immigration during the 1840s and 1850s, largely from Ireland, England and Scotland, considerably broadened the Canadian musical culture. Since many of them lived in relative isolation, many of their original folk songs can still be heard today in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.  

By 1835, sheet music had begun being included in newspapers and magazines — the only media sources in operation, and in 1844, Canada's first music store opened in Toronto selling pianos and publishing sheet music. By the time the Constitution Act was signed in 1867, songwriting had become a favored means of expression. Most middle-class families now owned a piano, and standard school education included at least a rudimentary introduction to music and songwriting. By the 1870's, Canada had several conservatories open to the public, leading to greater opportunities for individuals to 'officially' learn music. Original Canadian operas were becoming popular by 1880; and by 1900, there were more than 40 piano manufacturers operating across the then-still fully developed nation.

By 1910, Canadians were purchasing their own gramophones, the precursor to our modern day record player. They were purchasing works made by American and British singers, but many international hits would soon be created by Canadian musicians; published as sheet music and distributed far and wide. Then came the First World War which was a catalyst for the writing and recording of many patriotic Canadian songs.


No such thing as desert island music

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I got into a discussion with a friend the other day that led into that old hypothetical argument: if you knew you were going to be stranded on a remote island somewhere for an undetermined period of time, which albums would you want to take with you? Now this little argument is silly I know. It is really an unanswerable question; for though I could likely list 150 albums I would like to take along, the sad truth is eventually I would grow tired of hearing the same 150 hours of music played repeatedly. Once you have memorized every note, examined every lyric and danced to every beat; then what do you do?

If one introduces logic into the equation, this whole scenario is flawed right from the beginning. Is this island remote and secluded - some hunk of sand floating in the middle of nowhere? If so, did I remember to pack an iPod that is solar-powered? Did I bring a Discman and a lifetime supply of batteries? If there is a place on the island to plug in a music player, then there must be electricity. If there is electricity, what the heck am I doing on the island in the first place?

If this was a huge tropical island like certain television characters were stranded on for eight seasons; I would be too busy exploring and struggling to find food, shelter and water to even be concerned with albums. If this were a tiny little bump of an island, as often pictured in silly comic strips, the only things I would want with me would include a fishing rod, an inflatable raft and a flare gun - all music be damned.
Nevertheless, for the sake of this hypothetical game I have been giving it some thought. However, I just cannot seem to turn the logic off.
Let us assume this island is capable of supporting life for a long period. There is a nice freshwater spring somewhere and a variety of edibles to select from. Let us assume that I am physically healthy and psychologically fit, able to creatively care for myself and wise enough to stave off tropical-borne disease and infection. Let us assume there is some portable nuclear nuclear generator somewhere to supply me with an unlimited source of energy for my stereo system. Let us assume that my stereo system is weatherproof and can run well even if buried in sand. Having assumed all of these things, then I can start thinking about music.

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