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MUSIC IS HIS MISTRESS
By Nina Discombe
A classical violinist, a thirty-one-year old who makes sushi and savors Shostakovich, an entrepreneur with a Governor General’s award, Chris Wilshere would, if he won the lottery, become a news junkie, a ski bum, a philanthropist and a father.
In early March, when the jacaranda blossoms are floating down on the carretera, Chris Wilshere will bring The Northern Lights’ orchestra back to Ajijic for its eighth season, and, by popular demand, there will be two evenings of jazz, sandwiched between Mozart and Shostakovich.
Though many of the Lakeside ladies are in their blue-rinse years and the gentlemen are toting suspenders, most would agree with John Philip Sousa that, “Jazz will endure as long as people hear it through their feet instead of their brains.”
Recently I had a chance to talk to Chris in his parents’ lovely home on the shores of Lake Chapala.
“You and Drew Jurecka are no longer the Peter Pans who wowed the girls in Chapala. I was wondering if losing your original slant – your youth, your spontaneity, the baggy shorts at the afternoon concerts at the Nueva Posada – has caused you concern.”
“Let me use an analogy to answer you. I may not approve of greasy hamburgers, but that won’t stop me from making you a gourmet hamburger. I haven’t compromised what I believe in, just because I’ve changed the ingredients.”
“February is a good time for gigs and teaching jobs in Toronto, yet your musicians are willing to forgo $2000 (Canadian money) in income to join the festival. What’s the big attraction, other than the weather and free room and board?”
“The chance to play with great musicians.The venue. Their CVs. Not to mention the flowers, the camaraderie and the cervezas. I don’t have to twist their arms.”
I am curious about the challenges of orchestrating 26 musical egos. Are musicians, I wonder, anything like actors – highly strung, sensitive, prickly – impossible to billet?
“I’m careful who I invite. If I hear that a musician is temperamental, it won’t matter how many competitions he or she has won. Once the plane lands, I have to impose on our patrons and my parents’ friends for lifts, lunches and laundry, so compatibility is muy importante.”
“I read somewhere that you don’t play mariachi music, yet I saw a picture of you in a sombrero, fiddle in hand.”
“That was a montage,” he says, laughing. Friends in Toronto superimposed the sombrero on an old photograph.”
And for a split second, I see past the CEO who must keep his sponsor Scotiabank smiling. I see the Toronto schoolboy who loved downhill racing, and the undergraduate, who earned a few bucks playing his fiddle at St. Lawrence Market.
“You play, you teach and you’re an entrepreneur. Which hat do you prefer wearing?”
“That’s like asking how I’d rate steak, sushi, and Korean food. I like each one equally and for different reasons, but playing would probably come first. I can’t imagine my life without music.”
“And what about teaching?”
“If I won the lottery I’d also open a music conservatory, though conservatories are never money makers. Eight years ago, when I started giving master classes, some students had to walk six miles to Chapala for a lesson.”
His wife, Priscilla, walks towards us into the dining room, where we are seated at the glass-topped table. She is a beauty even without make-up, tall and slim like Chris. She excuses herself and heads for the kitchen.
“Duke Ellington called music his mistress. You’ve been married three years. If you’ve spent all day practicing, does Priscilla ever feel like second fiddle?”
“Back to the food analogy. I like sushi and steak for different reasons, just as I love the violin and my wife for different reasons. Sometimes, I have to explain that to her.”
“What are, if any, some differences musically between Canadians and Mexicans?”
“Mexicans will play with the music. They aren’t afraid of emotion.”
“Mexico is your new home. You’ve spoken of how inspirational it has been for you – the beauty, the slower pace - but I was wondering if you ever get homesick.”
Ever the diplomat, Chris chooses his words carefully.
“I miss my friends. I’ve made new ones, of course, but ...”
I hear the wistfulness of those who have fallen in love with the Sierra Madres, but who can’t get the Canadian Shield out of their blood.
For seven consecutive years, to the delight of his audience, patrons and sponsors, Chris Wilshere has pulled the rabbit out of the sombrero, enticing The Northern Lights back to Mexico, promising his musicians camaraderie and standing ovations – good reasons for music to be their mistress for one short week, when the streets of Ajijic are petalled in purple blossoms.