Trumpeter Karen Gustafson will perform with Red Deer pianist Dale Wheeler at Burman University on June 4. (Contributed photo).

Life after RDC includes Estonian music concert for two former college music instructors

Karen Gustafson and Dale Wheeler will perform June 4 at Burman University

Two former Red Deer College music teachers will be performing some seldom heard Estonian folk music in Central Alberta — one of the historic “hot spots” for Estonian settlers in Canada.

Trumpet player Karen Gustafson and pianist Dale Wheeler, who lost their jobs when RDC shut down its music program last year, will be joined by music ethnologist Susan Barber Kahro for a unique free concert on Tuesday, June 4, at Burman University in Lacombe.

It’s called Trumpet Archeology and Digging for Treasure: Estonian Trumpet Literature and will feature various musical influences and contributions of four Estonian composers: Eino Tamberg, Harri Otsa, Rene Eespere and Veljo Tormis.

Lacombe is roughly between Sylvan Lake and Stettler, two of the main centres for Estonian settlers in Alberta, noted Gustafson. She believes it will be a rare treat for those of Estonian background — or of any background — to hear this music as it has never been performed in North America.

The four folk pieces were first heard by Gustafson’s friend, Kahro, during a trip to Europe. The hand-notated sheet music has never been published, so Kahro felt fortunate to receive a personal copy to bring back to Canada.

Among the works is Tormis’s colourful The Killing of a Great Ox. Gustafson said the trumpet and accompanying piano will paint a vivid tonal picture of hunters sneaking up on an ox — only to have it run away — so that they have to creep up on it again.

Wheeler, Gustafson and Kahro plan to give the same performance and lecture in Lacombe as they are later slated to give at the International Trumpet Guild Conference in Miami, Florida on July 10.

This Florida trip was planned two years ago, but almost fell through when the Red Deer College music program was shut down, said Gustafson. She and her trombonist husband, Jim Bicigo, and Wheeler were among the RDC instructors who were laid off, but are continuing to adjudicate, teach and act as clinicians and guest and visiting artists. Gustafson also helped start a new professional ensemble, The Central Alberta Chamber Players, along with horn player Louise McMurray and Bicigo.

Gustafson and her husband decided to stay in Red Deer because “we love Central Alberta” and have set down roots here, she said. “We hope to perform professional music in Red Deer for many years.”

Burman University stepped in to host the local performance of the Estonian concert, and the (now defunct) RDC Music Students’ Association made a final contribution of funds that were raised over the years to send their former music instructors to the Florida conference.

“The students stood behind us,” said Gustafson, who’s had a tough couple of years, including a battle against breast cancer. She’s very moved by this act of generosity.

There’s no admission charge to the 7 p.m. Estonian music concert in the choir room in the West Hall of Burman University, 6730 University Dr. But donations can be made towards the Florida trip.

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