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New WSO Principal Tuba Player Justin Gruber a multi-talented musician

By MYRON LOVE Justin Gruber, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s relatively new principal tuba player, is a multi-talented musician – a young man still in his early 20s – who seems to have a bright future ahead of him.” I started playing the tuba in school when I was 9,” recounts Gruber, who spent his early years first in Manhattan and, later, Westchester, New York, where he celebrated his bar-mitzvah. “I adopted the tuba because it is one of the largest instruments, and I was always the biggest kid in my class.”
In 2012, the family moved to Parkland in southern Florida. This community made the news for all the wrong reasons on February 14, 2018. Gruber is a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduate in Parkland, Florida. If this school name seems familiar, that is because Marjory Stoneman Douglas was the high school that made the news on Valentine’s Day when a shooter entered the school and killed 17 people and wounded more while local police hid behind their cars. “I was in Grade 10 at the time,” Gruber recalls. “I was playing tuba in a band class at the time. Two fellow members of our school band were among those murdered.” A couple of years later, Gruber was among the few students invited to visit then-President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence in the Oval Office to recount their experiences on that horrendous day.
While in high school, Gruber participated in his school’s award-winning marching band. The young tuba player’s talents were recognized early on. While still in junior high, he won the Principal Tuba position in the Florida Youth Orchestra. This led to performances with the orchestra at Carnegie Hall in 2018 and the Midwest Clinic in 2019 with his prestigious high school wind symphony. Before leaving high school, Justin was a finalist in the New World Symphony Concerto Competition, a National Young Arts winner – and he also received the Kovner Fellowship from Juilliard.
He subsequently was awarded the President’s Music Scholarship to attend the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, where he studied with Dr. Aaron Tindall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in music performance. He reports that he is still working on his BA in Music Professional Studies online – which he anticipates he will complete next spring.In his first year at Frost, he won third prize in the Leonard Falcone International Tuba Artist Solo Competition and became an Associate Member of the Chicago Civic Orchestra. Shortly after a summer spent in Greensboro, North Carolina, as a Fellow of the Eastern Music Festival Orchestral, he was appointed to the Principal Tuba position with the New Mexico Philharmonic for their 2021-22 season.
After his debut season, Justin attended the Brevard Music Festival as an Orchestral Fellow, where he was a finalist in the Jan and Beattie Wood Concerto Competition. Shortly after his time at Brevard, he was Principal Tuba with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for the remainder of their 2022 season. Earlier this year, he was chosen as a 2023 Yamaha Young Performing Artist. He was also awarded a fellowship to the prestigious Aspen Music Festival, where, over the summer, he studied with Warren Deck.
Gruber joined the WSO last January. Playing tuba – a significant part of his musical life – is not his only musical talent. He is continuing to grow musically in different areas. He has been composing music since he was 11. As a composer, according to his webpage, he is self-taught. He has written various solo, chamber, and large ensemble works. He describes most of his compositions as inspired by the Neo-Romantic – with particular affection for the music of Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, and Strauss. He has won a Special Prize in the 2nd ISAC International Popular Music Composition Competition. He was also selected by the Pacific Chamber Orchestra for their Dream American 2023 workshop and performance of his piece, “This Road Alone.”
Still to come are his contributions to an album released by his mentor, Dr. Tindall, entitled “At the Ballet.” The album will feature Gruber’s arrangements of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” and music from Prokofiev’s “Cinderella”. Next fall, the world premiere of his piece “Beneath the Crypt” will be performed by the prestigious Frost Wind Ensemble.
He further has ambitions to be a conductor. “I have conducted small ensembles,” he reports. “I am looking forward to conducting large ensembles in the future.”
He says that, so far, he is enjoying Winnipeg – despite a couple of unpleasant incidents downtown where he is living. “I appreciate the open terrain,” he comments. “I like being outdoors, and I find the landscape here inspiring.”
In recent months, he has also dedicated himself to getting fit. “In the past 18 months, I have taken off 175 pounds,” says the now svelte Gruber proudly. “I did it through a strict regimen of local eating and working out as much as possible. I fell in love with fitness.”
Where Justin Gruber’s life story goes remains to be written. Suffice it to say that he is a rare talent whom local symphony supporters should appreciate while he is here.

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Shabbat Unplugged returns for seventh year with increased participation

115 students from four different provinces participated in this year's Shabbaton January 26-28

By MYRON LOVE This year’s second annual – post Covid lockdown – Shabbat Unplugged on the weekend of January 26-28 – had a different feel to it in the shadow of the dark events of October 7 in Israel (events that are being felt by, Jews worldwide), notes Shabbat unplugged co-ordinator and Winnipeg Hillel  Director Raya Margulets.

“My sense is that there was a much stronger feeling among our participants of shared community,” she comments.

She reports that this year’s Shabbaton attracted 115 students,including participants from Edmonton, Calgary, Regina and Toronto.

Among the participants this year were a number of non-Jewish university students – StandWithUs Emerson Fellows from across Canada – who spoke about how they have come to develop a sense of solidarity with Israel.  As Shabbat Unplugged co-founder Dr. Sheppy Coodin observed, these non-Jewish students were disturbed by the anti-Israel and antisemitic actions on many university campuses.  They were angered by what they viewed as a double standard where Israel was concerned and have chosen to make common cause with their Jewish contemporaries.

As usual, the weekend began with a candle lighting, Kiddush, and a traditional Shabbat dinner.  Following the Shabbat service led by Coodin, a long time Gray Academy science teacher,  and some of the students, there were presentations (in addition to the non-Jewish students) from representatives of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) and StandWithUs Canada and a presentation by Emily Kalo, immediate past president of the Winnipeg chapter of Students Supporting Israel (SSI), outlining measures which are being taken to  counter anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity on university campuses.

As noted earlier, Shabbat Unplugged was started in 2016   by Coodin, a science teaher at Gray Academy, and fellow Gray Academy teacher Avi Posen (who made aliyah in 2019) – building on the Shabbatons that Gray Academy had been organizing for the school’s high school students for many years. 

The inaugural Shabbat Unplugged was so successful that Coodin and Posen did it again in 2017 and took things one step further by combining their Shabbat Unplugged with Hillel’s annual Shabbat Shabang Shabbaton, which brings together Jewish university students from Winnipeg and other Jewish university students from Western Canada.

“It was a pleasure working with Raya again,” Coodin said, noting that Margulets is also  a former student of his who took part in the 2017 Shabbat unplugged as a student.  “Raya worked incredibly hard to make the weekend a success,” he noted.  “There were a lot of details to be worked out for 100-plus students as well as the presenters. She is just fantastic.”

Margulets observed that the weekend was funded in part by grants from the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, CJPAC. the JNF, and StandWithUs Canada, along with a generous gift from the Asper Foundation.,

“We are looking forward to having even more students joining us for Shabbat Unplugged next year,” she says.     

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Local News

“Festival of New Yiddish Culture opens to rave reviews

Beyond the Pale performed in front of a large crowd at the Berney Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 8

By SHARON LOVE The Festival of New Yiddish Culture ‘Put A Yid On It’ is on from February 7th to the 11th, 2024. As stated in the program, movies, music and more is what it’s all about.

As of Friday morning (Feb. 9) we are at the halfway point of the festival. Two Yiddish films ‘Yiddle With His Fiddle’ and ‘The Light Ahead’ have both played at the Berney Theatre.

On Wednesday evening at the Handsome Daughter Cafe, a standing room only crowd took in the book launch of ‘Yiddish Cinema:The Drama of Troubled Communication’. Co-authors Jonah Corne and Monika Vrecar along with moderator Simone Mahrenholz provided an interesting discussion about the thoughts, philosophy and research that led the authors to write this text. Of special note is that Corne, Vrecar and Mahrenholz are all on staff at the University of Manitoba.

What would a Yiddish festival be without music? And lively musical as well! The opening concert was held at the Berney Theatre on Thursday evening and featured ‘Beyond The Pale’. This Toronto based acoustic ensemble which has been around from the late ‘90s started out playing classic Klezmer music. Over the years they have broadened their scope to include Balkan, Reggae, Romanian music and much more, in their repertoire. This award winning group has travelled the world while performing at music festivals and concerts. Members of the ensemble are leader Eric Stein on mandolin and vocals (Yiddish and English), Bret Higgins on base, Martin Van De Ven on clarinet, Milos Popovic on accordion, and Brigette Dajczer on violin. These musicians had smiles on their faces all evening. They seemed to enjoy making music together as much as the audience of about 150 people enjoyed being at the concert. It was pointed out that this was Brigette’s first gig with this band. No one in their wildest dreams would have suspected this. She played with energy and enthusiasm all evening and never missed a beat!

Eric Stein, who is presently the Artistic Director of Toronto’s Ashkenaz Festival, introduced the numbers on the program and had a delightful rapport with the audience. During the concert he paid tribute to Winnipeg’s own ‘Finjan’ who are definitely pioneers in the revival of klezmer music and Yiddish culture.

The program was eclectic and included both material from years back as well as numbers from their newest CD. The playful tune ‘Turkish Delight’ is their original piece, in tribute to the late Irving Fields (Yitzhak Schwartz) who was a well known pianist and lounge artist. Another number, a combination of a Hora and Bulgarian music was very melodic. ‘Ruckus in Ralia’ with its strong beat was written in memory of the group’s trip to Serbia. Chazan-ja is a mix of klezmer and reggae music and traces of the Yiddish song ‘Dei Muzinke Oysgegebn’ could be heard.

Speaking of Yiddish numbers, the first song was early in the program. It was a comical love song written by Aaron Lebedeff, a Yiddish song writer and actor. ‘A Glezela Yash’ a cute drinking song and an old favourite ‘Az Der Rebbe Zingt’ had people humming along. A song about Shabbes in remembrance of Yiddish theatre star and singer Mina Berne was also on the program. With Stein on vocals these numbers added to the versatility of this group and their emphasis on reclaiming the Yiddish language through music.

As the program was coming to an end the music kept getting livelier. If, after close to two hours on stage, with a short intermission, you would have thought that these performers would be toning down, you were definitely wrong. The final number, a medley of Bulgar music, featured Van De Ven on clarinet who thrilled the crowd with a very very long held note.

After the standing ovation the encore number was a high energy series of Jewish wedding tunes. You could feel the excitement in the air! This is the third time in almost twenty years that Beyond The Pale has performed here and judging by the reaction from the audience, they will be welcomed back anytime!
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The second half of this festival is also jam packed. Two more films will be shown, and the second concert features Montreal based Socalled(Josh Dolgin) in performance at the West End Cultural Centre. Bagels and a Bisl Yiddish with Prof. Itay Zutra is on tap for Sunday morning. An I.L.Peretz Folk School Alumni mini reunion will wrap up the festival late Sunday afternoon.

Kudos to Shira Newman, the Festival Producer as well as the Coordinator of Arts and Older Adult Programming at the Rady J.C.C. Shira had a vision to mount a Yiddish festival and it has now come to fruition. Thanks go out to the Rady staff and volunteers and to Lionel Steiman, Rochelle Zucker, Itay Zutra and Sharon Love of the organizing committee. The support from sponsors the Asper Foundation, the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, the I.L.Peretz Folk School Endowment Trust and the Rady J.C.C is very much appreciated. This festival has provided an opportunity for Winnipeg audiences to celebrate the richness of the Yiddish culture and language.

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Tom Traves: From the north end to the presidency of several Canadian universities

Tom Traves

By GERRY POSNER There haven’t been lot of Jewish presidents of Canadian universities.
To be clear, there have been some, but not as many as one might expect – given how many Jewish academics we’ve had in Canada over the years.
One person who made the short list of Jewish university presidents in this country has been none other than a former Winnipegger – right out of the north end of Winnipeg: Tom Traves. Now retired, Traves had a long and distinguished career in the university setting as President of Dalhousie University in Halifax, serving for 18 years in that position.
Traves’s tenure as Dalhousie president followed a four-year term as Vice- President of the University of New Brunswick. But, if you read the CV of Tom Traves, you can understand how this came to be.
Tom was a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a B.A. ( Hons.) in 1970, followed by an M.A. from York in 1973, and a Ph.D., also from York, in 1976.
Tom began his teaching career at York (where he spent many years) in 1974 as a lecturer, then as an associate professor, from 1976 to 1991. From 1981 to 1983, Tom was the Chairman of the Division of Social Science at York. He was soon appointed, in 1983, as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, where he served until 1991. From York Tom moved to the University of New Brunswick, where he became both Vice President (Academic) and a Professor of History, from 1991 to 1995.
Then, in 1995, Traves was invited to be the President and Vice- Chancellor of Dalhousie University for a six year term. When that term ended, Tom was appointed again for another six year term. And still later, in 2007 – for yet a third term of three years. When that ended, he was renewed for another three year term. Would you not agree that Tom Traves and Dalhousie had a strong connection, to put it mildly? Just to lend credence to this statement, it was during the Tom Traves tenure that enrolment at Dalhousie grew by over forty percent and external research grants and contract income increased by over three hundred percent. Now, those are impressive statistics. Perhaps the most telling assessment of Traves during his time at Dalhousie is a comment made by a former member of the University’s Board of Governors, who noted that Traves had been at the centre of a fund raising campaign which raised over $250 million during his time at Dalhousie, the highest total in the history of the province. When asked about Traves and his successor, Richard Florizone, this board member called them both remarkable individuals: “I would hire them for my company in a minute, and they would make me money.”
To read through the list of books, articles and other credits of Tom Traves is more than the Jewish Post & News could put on its website, as it might overload the system. But for sure some of the highlights of his career (aside from all the boards he has sat on across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), would be the awards and honours that have come his way. He was the recipient of an award not commonly given to Canadians: the Filosofie Hedersdocktor Honoris Causa, from Umea University in Sweden in 1997, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Commemorative Medal in 2000. Not to be forgotten was Tom’s inclusion on the list as one of the top 50 CEOs in Atlantic Canada in 2005, 2006 and 2007. There were so many other major awards, culminating in 2014 when he was appointed to the Order of Canada.
With all of that, Traves was still in demand when he retired and moved back to Toronto in 2016. He was asked to be the Interim President of Brock University in 2016 while that university sought out a long term person to fill that position. Once he completed that role, he semi-retired, taking on consulting activities over the last number of years.
How did a quiet unassuming boy, son of Sam and Marjorie Traves (Kay), brother to the late Nancy Traves, a product of West Kildonan, advance so far and so fast? Did he show signs of this kind of superior level of scholarship and leadership in his early days? Some might answer that it was his time spent at West Kildonan Collegiate that spurred him on to greater heights. Was it perhaps his days as an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba (from 1966-1970?) No one can say for sure, but the truth is that Traves had a speedy trajectory upward and even in retirement he has moved along at a decent clip. He is quite active these days, playing Bridge, golf, and now Pickleball. In large part, he and his wife Karen (Posner), my first cousin, (and that connection to the Posner family might be the real reason for his great success) have focused time and attention on their grandson Ben, son of his daughter Julie. There are also trips to the Washington D. C area, where his son Will and his wife live, along with his oldest grandson, Daniel.
In short, the Tom Traves story is just another Winnipeg success story – if the city wishes to lay claim to it: North End Jewish boy makes good in the east. The best part of the whole story is that, if you know Tom, or just met him, you would never have an inkling of his accomplishments, so unassuming is he. That is Tom Traves.

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