April Verch performs at Vancouver Olympics opening
In the rousing opening ceremonies at the Vancouver Winter Olympics last Friday the Ottawa Valley was showcased alongside Canada's great cultural icons with a performance by Rankin's own April Verch.
In front of a packed audience of 50,000 and an estimated two billion television viewers around the world, Ms. Verch took centre stage at B.C. Place joining internat i o na l fiddling sensation Ashley MacIsaac and a cast of 200 in a program called "Rhythms of the Fall."
People watching the televised ceremonies here at home were pleasantly surprised to see the multi-talented Ms. Verch, sporting a yellow striped dress, dash onto a raised platform during the explosive spectacle and perform a brief number while surrounded by a chorus of colourfully dressed stepdancers and fiddlers.
"It was a once in a lifetime experience," Ms. Verch told The Daily Observer from Vancouver Wednesday. "It's not every night you get to perform and look at your peers and say 'we are performing in the biggest show in the world right now and know for certain that it's true.' I can't imagine doing anything in my lifetime that will have as big an audience as that."
Her appearance in Vancouver was kept secret until the moment she stepped out onto the stage performing in a number illustrating Canada's rich musical culture. Last June, the Vancouver Olympic Committee invited the 31-year-old national fiddling champion and recording artist to perform at the ceremony, however, she had to maintain confidentiality up until the opening.
Organizers gradually laid out plans for the segment and her role in it. Her music was specially written for the ceremony by Calvin Vollrath, of St. Paul, Alberta, and she pre-recorded her selection at Damon Criger's studio in Pembroke.
"The best part was thinking about how fortunate we were to be bringing Canadian fiddle music to the world stage," explained Ms. Verch. "I felt honoured that the Ottawa Valley had a fiddler amongst the crowd. I couldn't help but think of all the fiddlers who have influenced me in my lifetime and the ones that came before me and just how proud I thought they would be to have Canadian fiddle music heard in that way."
She learned more details during a conference call with David Atkins, the ceremony's executive producer, and choreographer Drew Anthony. Ms. Verch finally went to Vancouver in late January to rehearse and get fitted with a costume specifically designed by Anne Sequin-Poirier, of the Cirque de Soleil. The performers then returned to Vancouver on Feb. 5 and rehearsed daily until the opening day of the 21st Winter Olympiad.
"It was amazing to see the scope of such a production," she added. "Everyone we encountered throughout the process was friendly, professional, positive thinking and first class."
The number, itself, began after singer and composer Loreena McKennitt performed "The Old Ways" on a Gaelic harp. Amid a carpet of red maple leafs, the fiddling procession, led by MacIsaac and tap soloist Brock Jellison, leapt onto the stage with a burst of vigour and energy. Keeping the beat of the rhythm along with Ms. Verch were renowned Canadian fiddlers Daniel Lapp, Andre Brunet, Samantha Robichaud and Sierra Noble.
Ms. Verch, who was accompanied by her husband, Marc Bru, had the chance to see many of the VIPs who were a part of the ceremonies including veteran actor Donald Sutherland, one of the Olympic flag bearers who also narrat
ed the proceedings, former astronaut Julie Payette, former Olympic great Barbara Ann Scott and speed skater Clara Hughes, who led the Canadian athletes' contingent into B.C. Place carrying the Maple Leaf flag.
"Everyone was so thrilled to be part of this event and there was great camaraderie," she said.
Before she returns to her current tour, which will include stops in Denver, Los Angeles and Bakersfield, California, Ms. Verch is taking the opportunity to attend some of the venues including the men's curling and ice hockey games. She recalled where she was last Sunday night when Alexandre Bilodeau captured Canada's first-ever gold medal on home soil in the men's moguls freestyle.
"We were enjoying the men's moguls in a restaurant with giant TVs when Bilodeau won his gold medal," she said describing the scene. "The entire place and the streets erupted. That was something I'll never forget."
Ms. Verch will be home on Feb. 28 when she'll appear at the Rankin Recreation Centre to speak on her Olympic experience. David Shulist, who carried the Olympic flame for Renfrew County during last December's torch relay, will also be on hand.
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer reporter