January 2015
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Posted By on January 15, 2015

Piper James Cleland Richardson V.C. Leadership - Age 20.

Piper James Cleland Richardson V.C.
Leadership – Age 20.

Remember to Breathe

What is leadership I ask myself? Where can I go to find it? Who has it? Do I have it?

With some recent exploration into these very questions I find that leadership is truly in each one of us. It may be in that person whose vision allows everyone to make it their own, or it could be that grandmother whose silent steadiness teaches and inspires. Perhaps it is that person who found their way through adversity or from another who has impacted us by the power of their message.

When I think about our film I realize it is about leadership. It is recognizing leadership in the unlikeliest of persons because we made assumptions. Jimmy is young. He has not had the opportunity for an experienced life nor gained the wisdom of eldership yet Jimmy is a leader finding his years in a single moment in that fractured world of the Great War. Jimmy, who stood before his team exposed and vulnerable to all those against him, brought his breath to the pipes that called to the heart and soul of those who followed. In asking, “Wull I gie em wund?”, Jimmy chose to breathe, he chose in an instant leadership…

After three amazing days exploring leadership at the Justice Institute of British Columbia I am empowered and feeling enriched. We have learned how we are perceived…our strengths and weaknesses…how we can improve ourselves for the betterment of others…what greater reward can there be but to give back? Perhaps we will never face the adversity of our Jimmy, but we can at least learn to let go of the stress and allow ourselves to absorb the wellness of our lives. We must remember to breathe. However, this is not about that daily rhythmic steady pulse that beats within our hearts and souls, this is about remembering to truly breathe…to breathe deeply for our personal wellness. In doing so we discover our abilities, we bring calm to the stress, we find the beauty in the affects.

As I sit here wandering through my words I begin to feel in-studio searching for the magic of these last few days. How to remind us all to breathe and at the same time relate my self-discoveries to you through the sung voices of others? There is of course the classic rock, “Breathe” written and performed by Pink Floyd where Roger Waters sings, “Look around and choose your own ground”. Or we have Country’s Faith Hill who finds comfort in the leadership of the love she has with another, “Cause I feel you breathe” when encountering “As the walls come tumbling down”. Regardless of your tastes or the messages you find, they are yours to work with or to find your own meanings.

Finding our leadership selves amidst these busy days of our lives has been an insightful internal search. Our instructor at the JIBC, Kathryn Thomson, led us with her gift of leadership, and recognized our journey together by reminding us to breathe. And like our film’s Jimmy, we found ourselves…we found our strengths…we found leadership. Kathryn…you are an inspiration…a gift to us all…thank you!

I invite our readers to comment: “Who do you identify with as leaders and what are their qualities you respect?”

As 2014 Fades Away

Posted By on December 31, 2014

Thoughts of Home

I find inspiration in many places and sometime in the last year or two was told about Alfie Boe and the song Bring Him Home from Les Miserables. I have seen “Les Mis” at the Palace Theatre, London with good friends and my best friend Rosemary. I recall the event well, enthralled by the live performances from the stage and the power generated from the fine voices that empowered the audience. When our film director, Casey Williams suggested I re-listen to the song by Alfie Boe, it struck a deep connection for me, one that you can even feel with your eyes.

With my interest in military history on both the front lines and on the home front the thought of home is forever an enchanted message. As the notes first begin, I sense my eyes gently closing, head back slightly and wait for this magical voice to fill my heart, my soul, my person. Home…what does it mean to us, what does it mean to you? It can be a place of joy or sadness, but regardless home is always a place of hope. As the son of a soldier I know what it is like sitting beside a decorated tree with my mother by my side and with my father somewhere else. Now after all these years later thoughts of home become increasingly more powerful as our dear loved ones become more and more meaningful with each passing day.

The Palace Theatre, London. Thoughts of home and the magic of performance.

The Palace Theatre, London. Thoughts of home and the magic of performance.

Home is to the soldier what home is to all of us, a chance to be whole and to be part of something more than ourselves. As Bring Him Home delivers its message, regardless of the context, it reminds me that we find our own experience in anything that we relate to. It reminds me that everyone feels something differently and that is the beauty of the arts, taking any form, any amount of emotion, making it our own and sharing it with those we love. So as 2014 slips past, remember those who cannot be with us, remember absent family and friends, and provide a kind thought for them as you gently close your eyes, head back and listen to Bring Him Home.

All the best for a grand and fine 2015.

The Lyrics of Bring Him Home .

God on high
Hear my prayer
In my need
You have always been there

He is young
He’s afraid
Let him rest
Heaven blessed.
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.

He’s like the son I might have known
If God had granted me a son.
The summers die
One by one
How soon they fly
On and on
And I am old
And will be gone.

Bring him peace
Bring him joy
He is young
He is only a boy

You can take
You can give
Let him be
Let him live
If I die, let me die
Let him live
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.

With A Little Help From My Friends

Posted By on December 25, 2014

Woodstock 1969, Joe, “Remember it!”

On 22 December 2014 we lost a large voice that defined a generation, a voice that also epitomized the heart and soul of Sheffield born singer Joe Cocker. For this writer 1969 was an interesting year. The family Ferguson had been back in Canada for two years and I had discovered ice hockey, hockey cards, outdoor rinks, and television. Our years in Europe bring back few memories of that media though one is Yogi Bear on our German landlord’s black and white television – near to her oil painting portrait of her husband, lost to her during the Second World War. Without a television in Sardinia I remember the Grey Cup game, East vs. West, played on the Poetto beach by Canadian service personnel, where further along there were concrete fortifications and then of course there was the first snowfall in 75 years much to the angst of my parents.

It was in Nova Scotia, however, where I learned via television more and more of the day to day events of the Vietnam War reported through the voice of Walter Cronkite who also reported on what, at the time, seemed liked an unlikely event that spoke of generational divide and heralded a new vision where music defined the speech of the young…and where today that generation asks “Do you remember Woodstock”?

I will miss Joe Cocker, his voice and delivery. We have lost a part of ourselves that whether we know it or not has been the glaze upon our souls. I never saw him, but he was always one of those acts that you hoped you might see, however I did listen to his soulful anthem, “With a Little Help From My Friends”, over and over again, I cannot even tell you when I first heard the song. Maybe I want to believe it was in 1969 Nova Scotia with Woodstock in the news.

I had been to live performances, but never outdoors. The first I seem to recall was Canada’s Tommy Hunter on a Canadian armed forces base sometime prior to 1967. Then there was Johnny Gold in Nova Scotia who I believe we saw as part of a television studio audience. The greatest in-person Nova Scotia concert though…Johnny Cash. What a magnificent performance to witness as the man in black stood on stage a few rows in front of me and at a time when I was under 10 years of age.

Music has been one of the greatest gifts from my father, who played endless tracks of vinyl recordings taking on many forms…traditional big band, folk, and so much variety in instrumentation. Somehow it became ingrained in me, recorder, clarinet and ultimately guitars. The guitar fascinated me, allowing me to explore new depths of creativity. And how did I learn? I wrote songs, learned the fingerboard and changed it up all the time. Now I look back upon my musical life and think upon my early emulations of talent. I recall playing Beatles air guitar in the school playgrounds at Zweibrucken, Germany in the early 1960s and skating in circles in the late 1960s to Beatles’ music at the ice rink in Nova Scotia. In 1970 British Columbia I recall the first Led Zeppelin record I heard, then journeyed through some dark metal that eerily caught my interest and attention as the steady Ionomi drone appealed to my teenage experience. There would be more, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Kiss, (their first live album), Aerosmith, Queen and of course Rush who led to my desire to own a hollow body. I journeyed on, changing tastes leading to the searing tones and acoustic delicacies from Pink Floyd and how can I ever forget Jeff Beck in concert, Vancouver 1980. These were defining moments at least in my youth and yes I would like to think they were born from that 1969 concert at a little place called Woodstock.

Returning to that voice of today’s blog, what did Joe Cocker mean to me? What has been lost this holiday season is the voice of a generation and perhaps I too have lost a little of that glazing or cracking that captures our own sweet, sweet heart. Dazzling the world with his Woodstock performance Joe Cocker gave us “With A Little Help From My Friends” and turned this Ringo led Beatles classic into his own. This performance defines the definition of creativity, gave this writer the desire to seek new boundaries of expression. I was too young to go to Woodstock and too curious about a place called Vietnam that I saw every day on that Nova Scotia television. Somehow the two interests, music and history, came together allowing me to seek, through creative expression, a voice searching for regeneration from the wreckage that mankind can wield.

If I could speak with Joe Cocker I might tell him that this is one life that was inspired by his voice – that delivery – some 45 years ago. Our loss makes me write, it helps regenerate that part of the glaze that has left me. All these influences that we hold onto, our mentors and teachers define our own wanderings. Joe Cocker’s voice at Woodstock sits in my heart, it is more than a glaze it is a traditional finish, polished into the soul, and I will, with a little help from my friends, make tomorrow a new day where I will find a little bit more of myself once again.


Faithful Friends Who Are Dear to Us

Posted By on December 20, 2014

The Bruges Madonna. One masterpiece recovered by the Monuments Men.

The Madonna of Bruges. One masterpiece recovered by the Monuments Men.

Monuments, Men, Film and Home

Well there they are again those wonderful black keys with their snow-like white letters and characters stretched before my fingertips. So what will it be today? We are back because of what I can do by finding a bit of inspiration in the most surprising of places and times. After watching “The Monuments Men” I decided it was time to place my thoughts on the screen once more for all to muse upon. Whether you enjoyed the film or not, my background in the world of heritage is such that the film relates directly to what I have done – though I have never sought to recover looted works of art during a time of war. For me the film is about the magic of our creations, the will to make things right and to ponder the question is a work of art worth a man’s [or woman’s] life? For two souls portrayed in this Second World War era film it certainly was, and for those who stood with them, they certainly carried forward in their task to make things right, as best as it could be made.

The film is the story of our culture, featuring the Madonna of Bruges and the Altarpiece of Ghent (also known as The Lamb of God). Men from the United States, England and France in search of these masterpieces of their time, our time. Although some viewed the film with skepticism the film reminds me that it is good to reflect upon these true stories of our world and admire those that tried to do what was the right thing to do.

Personally I enjoyed the film. It reaffirms, for me, that when you see something that moves us, we are offered a chance to express what we feel. We become witnesses to the master’s craft that we can only hope will survive for generations to come. These are the experiences that I wish to to enjoy, to seek and discover, to explore and to search for mankind’s true legacies and passion.

It seems I was meant to see “The Monuments Men” at this time of year. After all its Christmas and once again there is a scene of a care package from home delivered to actor Bill Murray. Within the parcel a recording from his family, with the treasured hiss and pop of old recordings that instantly reminds one of our well loved passions whether it is family, friends or music that reminds us of our heart’s true place. Do enjoy Nora Sagal’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, after all it is this tune that brought today’s inspiration. Merry Christmas everyone!

Final Message from the Front

Posted By on October 8, 2014

I find myself working late into the night on the Pipes of War film project. As the 7th of October 2014 becomes the 8th my mind ponders what Jimmy must have been thinking 98 years ago this very night.  Only  a few hours earlier he would have “implored the Commanding Officer with tears in his eyes” for the right to pipe the men into the battle. His exact words are were not recorded, but having studied his writing I’ve imagined the conversation… the entirety of which will be revealed in the film, but it concludes with the pure and simple statement accented by a single tear…”Please sir, I am a piper.”

Jimmy’s plea was so moving that his Commanding Officer relented. Jimmy along with 3 other pipers were allowed to lead each company over top. James and John Park did not survive the battle.

(apropos to my thoughts the soundtrack to Les Miserables is playing in the background while I write and Alfie Boe is signing “Bring him Home”… but I return to this post…)

Jimmy, along with the majority of the 16th Battalion would have taken a moment to scribble a final message home. It took the form of the Field Service Post Card seen here.  A few hours later he would take up position in the first wave of men to advance on Regina Trench at 4:50am.  Today, 2014, in a strange twist of cosmic fate I will observe a lunar eclipse where the Earth’s shadow passes across our moon creating a phenomenon known as the blood moon. The celestial event will occur between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. over my little spot on this globe…. and so I will watch and remember. I will remember James and the brave men of the 16th who fought and bled this day so long ago.

Field Service Postcard written by James Richardson just before the attack on Regina Trench. This is the final document he mailed before he fell earning the Victoria Cross.

Field Service Postcard written by James Richardson just before the attack on Regina Trench. This is the final document he mailed before he fell earning the Victoria Cross.

Front of Richardson's final postcard dated October 7, 1916.

Front of Richardson’s final postcard dated October 7, 1916.