Don't mess with a soprano  

There's magic in the wind

In 2018, five strangers, carrying cases, enter a room. They quietly unpack and assemble the tools of their trade.

Chairs screech as they are dragged into a semi-circle. Arms are lifted. Breaths are taken. The first note is played. Magic. 

The five blew the breath of life into the Valley Winds. Strangers no more. The friends are:

  • Anna McGuigan — flute
  • Catherine Scott Taggart — clarinet
  • Carole Fitsell — oboe
  • Lorri Simpson — French horn
  • Cuyler Page — bassoon

I was completely flummoxed when they related this to me.  Really, just one note? I’m a musician, I know how long synergy between musicians takes, usually years. I leaned closer to hear more.

“The amazing feeling when we played the first note and it was so together as if we were one instrument,” Cuyler said with a smile, while admitting that they can’t remember what music they played.  

“We knew we had something special. It was magic.”

What do you do when you’re not creating magic? 

The response was as varied as their instruments.

Anna, the flautist is a financial adviser at Valley First.

Catherine, the clarinetist is a scientist.

Carole Fitzell, the oboist, works part-time as a Similkameen recreational programmer and teaches music privately.

Lorri Simpson, the French horn player, is a psychotherapist.

Cuyler Page, the bassoonist, is an architect.

They are definitely busy people, who live from Kamloops to Keremeos.

Their love of music, ethereal sound, and shared camaraderie keep them cemented in their dedication to the development of the Valley Winds, a name coined by Carole to represent where they live.

It took three continents and thousands of hours of combined training for them to find each other.  

Anna, Catherine and Carole were born in England.

Anna, who grew up in Devon, was enthralled with the orchestral piece Peter and the Wolf when she was six. This orchestral piece, by Sergei Prokofiev, uses instruments to depict the characters of the story. The little bird sounds inspired a life long dedication to the flute. 

She couldn’t have known that later in her life she would be in a group with all the other characters in this piece; the duck is an oboe, the cat is a clarinet, the big bad wolf is a French horn and the grandfather is played by the bassoon.

Catherine was born in the Wimbledon part of London. Her family moved around following available work. She ended up in Hudson, Que., for high school, where she started playing in the band. 

“The band director asked me what I wanted to play. I shyly said flute. He said, ‘You look like a clarinet player,’ and handed me a mouthpiece.”

Catherine loved the sciences too. She has a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and a master’s degree in Plant Physiology from the University of Guelph, and Graduate Diploma of Oenology, the study of wine-making, from the University of Adelaide, Australia.

Carole, from East Sussex, grew up in a rural setting. Her school didn’t have a lot of resources for music, but she was one of two students from her town to be picked for a special music school that was starting.

She was asked what instrument did she want to play? She chose the oboe.

“The school didn’t have an oboe. They valiantly tried to have me choose a flute. I really put my foot down and insisted on an oboe. I had no idea what an oboe was. I just wanted my way.”

Carole became a music teacher and taught until a series of fortunate events landed her in White Rock in 2005 and eventually she bought an orchard in Keremeos in 2006.

Lorri was born in Vancouver but moved to Wishart, Sask., when she was six. The school band needed a horn player when she was 14.

Her parents drove her to the Royal Conservatory School of Music in Regina every few weeks. “It became a regular part of my life and I became addicted to the music and instrument.” 

Between 1976-80, she was busy getting a degree in psychotherapy while playing with the University of Regina’s Wind Ensemble.

Cuyler grew up on a farm in Ithaca, New York. “My mom played popular music on the baby grand piano we had. My dad loved to be in the garden listening to the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts.  

“I played the violin in Grade 3, the clarinet in Grade 4 and the clarinet through high school, but I really wanted to play the trumpet,” said Cuyler with a sigh.

His high school was one of a kind. Frank Battisti, a world-renowned teacher and conductor was in his first year of teaching and assigned Pictures at an Exhibition arranged by Ravel from a piano piece by Modest Mussorgsky to play.

This is a big work and very gutsy for a high school to tackle.

While at Cornell University, he was bored to death in the band.  He was given a bassoon. He hasn’t been bored since.

Cuyler’s life as an architect allowed him to move around. His love of music and the bassoon, allowed him to play with every symphony in the Okanagan Valley. He is 80 and still playing at a world-class level.

These five friends have come together by the equality of their talent and by sharing their strengths. Their programming regularly incorporates their love of jazz, renaissance, baroque, classical, and American band music.

I sat on a Sunday, not long past, at Summerland’s Memorial Park, in the drizzling rain and biting wind. I was oblivious to the weather, mesmerized by their playing. 

Blue Moon had never sounded sexier nor Teddy Bears Picnic more whimsical. What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

If you would love to hire them for your next soiree, please see below:

Facebook: Valley Winds. Email: [email protected]


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About the Author

Sue Skinner is a singer of opera and musical theatre, a choral conductor and a teacher/coach of voice. 

She has travelled the world, learned many languages, seen every little town in Alberta and supported herself with music all her life.

She has sung at weddings, funerals, musicals, operettas, opera, with symphonies, guitars, jazz groups, rock bands and at play schools. 

Skinner has taken two choirs to Carnegie Hall, sung around the world, and teaches for Wentworth Music on Zoom.

[email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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