I met with Jennifer West, the artistic director of Muzewest Concerts on a rainy evening at 49th Parallel. I went with my usual small americano and doughnut and she had the ginger tea. We talked about her love for classical music, what she hopes it will give to others and their upcoming concert on November 14th.
It was a friend that had suggested I speak to Jennifer for this series. She explained that Muzewest was doing some great things to make classical music more accessible to those who may not otherwise experience the genre.
Their vision is two fold:
1) Music education
- Each artist that performs at a Müzewest recital gives a concert in a local public school. This concert is at no charge to the school!
- Each artist that performs at a Müzewest recital gives a Masterclass for students of their particular instrument
- Müzewest firmly believes that music education helps young people develop socially, emotionally, and intellectually. Our priority is that young people and individuals studying music (in all capacities) have access to wonderful performances.
2) Affordable access to culture
- Müzewest strongly feels that culture should be affordable to a variety of socioeconomic groups. Our ticket prices reflect our desire that people from any financial background should be able to attend an extremely high quality classical music concert.
- Classical music has the power to change people’s lives and shape our communities. Given the influence that this art form can have, it is imperative that financial reasons not restrict people from accessing this amazing music.
Jennifer breaks classical music down for me chronologically and sends me home with some recommendations.
I just wanted to start by asking you about who you are and what you do at Muzewest Concerts.
I am the artistic director of Muzewest concerts, along with Diana Chan. I am a grade 5-6 French immersion teacher and I am also a piano teacher.
How did you become involved with Muzewest?
I became involved by accident. A lady I knew, a year and a half ago was wanting to start a new classical music series in Vancouver. I had a few friends who were musicians who wanted to come play so I got her in touch with them. About three months before the first scheduled concert, she got very ill. I had to take over the whole thing. I was just going to help for a little bit, but she got so ill and convinced me I could do it myself. That was August of 2013. That’s when I took over and made some changes, changed the name, brought in a new partner and gave it a facelift.
What is your passion?
My passion is classical music! I listen to it all the time. I would talk about it all the time if I could. I connect strongly with people who share that.
What are three principles that you live by?
Honesty. Transparency. Forgiveness.
What are you up to with Muzewest and what do you hope to achieve?
We are a classical music recital series that presents concerts at an affordable price to adults and families on evenings and weekends. Part of the deal for our musicians who come and play an evening concert for us is…because it’s very popular to come and play a concert, lots of musicians are looking for a place to play and there are more musicians than there are concerts — part of what we ask of the musicians is that they please play at a school. We would do a half hour school recital, children can’t sit for much longer than that, they’re little ladybugs and squirm and move all over and a twenty minute question and answer period after that, at no charge to the school. We like to offer that because we know that the arts are the first thing to get cut in schools.
What do you hope to give to students by going into schools and to the people for whom you’ve made these concerts accessible?
Classical music it really needs to be brought out of it’s box. It’s box is black tie, suit, long dress, sixty dollar ticket, a donor circle. Fancy. That doesn’t mean we don’t encourage excellent concert behaviour, these are still serious concerts. There’s no hanging out, talking, or eating cheezies in the middle of the concert. No, it’s a serious recital. These are serious musicians. We want the public to feel at ease to come as they are and part of that is prices. People will look at a $30 symphony ticket and say that’s too much money. That’s just the way it is. Our tickets are twenty dollars and under.
What do you think that classical music can give to people?
Classical music is the greatest avenue I know of for expressing what it means to be human. It encompasses every range of emotion, from delirious joy to the most profound sadness you could possibly encounter. It is calming, it is exciting, it is disturbing, it is humorous it is serious and I think that it offers people an escape, but I think it’s more of a way to deal with our reality better. For children it offers an avenue by which to learn structure, form, pattern, expression of emotion in a healthy way rather than a way that involves physical violence. Classical music says it’s okay to be angry, here’s how to express angry. Classical music says sad is okay, and this is how you do sad. We have so much music for joy and celebration too, I’m thinking of Handle’s water music and royal violins. Major celebratory events for these great kings and queens you have those occasions as well. There’s music for every range of occasion from birth to death.
What are some of the challenges of getting kids to open up to classical music if it’s not something they’re hearing at home or elsewhere?
If I can be frank, their parents. Often time parents want teachers to stick to the curriculum and it takes a lot of work to convince people that this is worth taking ten minutes for. Another challenge is if they haven’t heard it, it might sound strange. They might make funny faces because they think its about old people with wigs and you explain the story and it engages them a lot more. It’s hard to find music that with stick with them, a melody that is beautiful to them and a rhythm or pulse that they might find fun or fascinating. Basically, you’re looking for Stravinsky.
Do they play classical music in schools? When I was in school we used to listen to classical music every day after lunch. It was called SEAL, stop everything and listen. You had to put your head down on your desk for fifteen minutes and listen.
We don’t have a listening program formally in our school. We do however have music classes for all students. I feel that they are exposed to all different genres of music.
If I’m wanting to give classical music a try, what would you recommend as being a good starting point?
I think you need to start with Beethoven’s third symphony. I think within that you’re going to hear a range of instruments, a range of feelings, a range of rhythms, a range of melodies. I would recommend you start with Mozart’s Opera of the Magic Flute or music of the 19th century, after Beethoven. I would recommend listening to the late piano music of Brahms. I would recommend listening to anything by Tchaikowsky, anything, anything, anything! Anything. In the 20th century, I would listen to Shostakovich fifth symphony and I would also listen to Stravinsky’s The Light of Spring. Going back back back, I would listen to Bach’s suites for solo cello. That gives you close to 11 or 12 hours of listening. I think within those, you’re going to encounter a wide variety. When you start listening to classical music, I think it’s important to listen to some solo piano. There’s such a large repertoire written for solo piano, we’re so lucky. You have to kind give that genre a try and that’s why I suggested Brahms and the 20th century was great for how people used to orchestrate differently and that’s why I suggested the Stravinsky and Shostakovich. To me, there’s no greater opera composer than Mozart. For symphonies it begins and ends with Beethoven.
There’s a YouTube series I recently discovered, it’s called Partners in Crime. What they do is they have successful people working in various creative careers go up and rather than talk about themselves and what they’re up to, they talk about all of the people who help them be successful at whatever it is that they do, their partners in crime. What I’m wondering is, who are your partners in crime?
Well, my right and left hands, and feet and arms would be Diana Chan. I invited her to join me, I was actually a teacher at her high school and I was impressed with her involvement in music and the community. I’ve had financial donors who have helped us keep alive. The musicians that I’ve worked with who have been easy to work with when we we’re just starting. My mom has been a huge support financially and morally. She’s in Alberta, but she’s still always posting our concerts on her Facebook. Those are the people who have really encouraged me and we’ve also started to develop a bit of a core audience. It seems like this is the shout out section, so my biggest shout out is to Diana Chan and the moment that Diana doesn’t want to do this project is the moment that I will say we’ve had a great time, but let’s move on to something new. It takes such a special relationship to divvy up our tasks and jobs. She’s taken some of the jobs that are less glamourous. She’s poured the coffee for receptions, she’s gone out in the rain to get Starbucks, she’s stayed to clean kitchens after reception. She is so humble and that has allowed me to take a more social role, to interact with donors. I couldn’t do this without Diana and I wouldn’t want to do this with anybody else.
What have been some highlights for Muzewest?
Our first concert last year. November 15th, I’ll never forget this day as long as I live. My friend Alexander Karpeyev, flew in from London to perform. I think that the highlight though was when he played for my class. I’ve never seen their eyes so big. I’ve never seen children respond to music like that. MY highlight has been the school concerts. That first concert with Alex was unbelievable, we had 150 people there. Unbelievable I couldn’t believe my eyes. That evening will always be very precious.
If you had to listen to one piece of music for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I think it’s going to have to be Mozart’s Opera of the Magic Flute.
Why that one? Is there a reason?
Yes! It was the first piece I was ever exposed to truly in the academic sense and actually learned about the opera. When I am sad, I put on the Magic Flute and I’m not sad anymore. I would want to have that music for the rest of my life.
How did you get into playing the piano and into classical music in general?
I got into classical music when I was six years old. My mom went to a garage sale and brought me back ten cassettes. That’s right, cassettes! They were all of Beethoven’s symphonies, played by the Berlin Philharmonic. She said ‘these are for you for the rest of your life.’ I was six, so I said okay. She said ‘you can go have quiet time in your room and go listen to them.’ I knew how to work my cassette player, so I went and I did. Put it in, click. I put in the Fifth Symphony and I lost it. I thought, whoa this is amazing, what’s going on here?! From then on, every Saturday we would go to the store and I was allowed to buy one cassette for five dollars and it had to be classical. One time I convinced her on a U2 or some country music. I took onto Mozart quite strongly. By the time I was in grade three I was asking weekly to take piano lessons. My parents said ‘you need to show maturity and if it’s really what you want, you’re going to have to commit to eight years, until you’re sixteen before you can quit.’ I would have to do eight grades, and I did. After the summer of grade three I said I want to do this please and it happened.
Are you parents very musical, was there a lot of classical music in your house outside of your cassettes?
Sometimes from my mom. My mom grew up with music around her all the time. My grandfather played saxophone, accordion, violin, flute and a traditional Hungarian instrument called the cimballon. There was music all around me.
I took piano lessons when I was seven. The only reason I wanted to take lessons was because I wanted to learn to play ‘My Heart Will Go On’ by Celine Dion. I didn’t like to practice. I was obsessed with Titanic and tried to watch it every day after school and I wanted to learn to play that song, nothing else. My teacher said ‘that’s a great goal, but we’re not going to start with Celine Dion.’ When you started taking lessons, were you itching to play those songs you’d been listening to your room on your cassettes?
I was dying to play Chopin! Dying. I thought I was going to melt every time I heard his music. I’ll never forget going to a sleepover in grade seven and all the other girls were bringing alcohol, makeup and boys all the other things that you sneak in when you’re in middle school. I snuck in my mom’s Chopin cassette and I wanted to play them this piano music when were winding down to go to sleep. I knew I wasn’t going to play it in the middle of the sleepover. I would be like ‘don’t you guys hear that note? Don’t you hear that melody?’ I think that was the first time that I knew it was alienating to love classical music. You either have to tone it down and not talk about it in public or with normal people – i really do mean that – or you have to accept it and surround yourself and say this is who i am. I put it aside in high school and focused on sports. In university I had to take a fine arts class I looked at the music section and they all looked inappropriate for me, except the music history. So I took that class, and it was at that point that I came alive after eight years of piano I really came alive in that class and I never looked back.
Where did you go to school?
The University of Alberta.
What was the first classical piece you learned?
Yeah. Do you play other instruments?
I also play violin.
For piano, the first classical piece was probably a Clementi Sonatina.
Who was that by?
Clementi, that’s the composer. He’s great.
I was actually wondering about your up coming show.
What can I tell you?
Tell me everything!
Oh! Okay. My upcoming concert is Friday November 14th, 7:30 PM. It is exactly one year after our first concert. Which wasn’t initially on purpose, but it seems extremely appropriate. The performer is Dr. Sergei Saratovsky on piano. He is a fabulous musician! He is a doctor of music. He did his doctorate at UBC in Piano Performance and he studied under Dr. Jane Coop. He has been involved with Jeunesse Musicale in Quebec he went on tour with them, he has played with Symphony Nova Scotia, he’s been featured CBC Radio 2, he has played all over Russia, and he’s been an adjudicator here for high end festivals. He just completed a BC wide tour of duets with his brother Nikolai. He’s a very dear friend of mine who actually, the first time I met him was here! Sergei is going to be playing two Scarlatti sonatas, a Chopin ballad, three movements from Stravinsky’s ballet Pétrouchka, he’ll be playing a piece by Liszt and Rachmaninoff’s ginormous epic sonata for piano, it is huge and it is a lot of work! It’s going to be an absolutely stunning recital of piano music. I’m getting really excited and really nervous! I’m really excited about this concert because it is truly one year after our first concert, it’s a Russian pianist again. Both are beautiful human beings with integrity who I can believe in musically. People should come to Sergei’s concert because this is a very rare opportunity to hear him play solo in Canada. He’s been doing a lot more collaborative work, duos, trios, all sorts of things, teaching. What we have is one of the premier piano recitals in Vancouver, organized by us, by some miracle! It’s going to be spectacular. Not one to miss. I’ve heard him rehearse and I just…jaw to floor, tears, wow! It’s going to be special.
You said at the beginning that you feel classical music needs to come out of it’s box. What do you think are the keys to that?
I have to think about that so I’m not offensive… Attitudes need to change. I don’t think concert behaviour needs to change. I think you can have an attitude and socioeconomic change without changing the fact that a concert is quiet and for listening and not for joking around. I don’t think that concerts need to have cell phones all the time. There are some people are suggesting that it would be nice to have a tweet section, where if people want to tweet about the concert during, they’re with other people who are okay with cell phone use. That’s a consideration, but what really needs to change is the price of tickets. When you’re charging sixty dollars you’re going to get certain people. Those people are welcome at all concerts. The reason our prices are low is because we want to welcome people who normally wouldn’t feel welcome and normally, due to financially means can’t come. That’s what needs to change, the financial accessibility of the concerts. I also think that performers need to speak a bit more to the audience, introduce the piece a bit and make people understand what they’re about to hear. I mean, you make people sit down and listen to twenty-five minutes of Rachmaninoff or twenty minutes of late Brahms you kind of need an explanation as to what’s going on here! If you’ve walked off the street because you heard about some concert or some pianist or cellist is going to play something, you need to know what to expect so that your mind and ears and heart and prepared to open up to this gift of music. More than just handing out programs, make it more open, make it a conversation. I think dress code has a lot to do with it. Granted, I have to dress up for these things because I am part of the organizational team, but there’s no reason that people can’t show up in jeans or that people can’t show up in a hoodie. It’s cold out, it’s raining, it’s hard to look nice in the rain! A lot of people, when I talk to them and say ‘do you want to go to the symphony?’ they say ‘oh I’m not dressed for it, ask me next time’ you don’t need to dress a certain way to hear this music!
I like that!
We’re in Vancouver, people are wearing yoga pants anyways!
Do you think classical music is misunderstood or that people are confused about what it is?
Absolutely! I’d love to do a survey, what comes to mind when you hear the words classical music. Do you picture wigs, do you picture buttoned up clothing, do you picture snobby people, little kids in ridiculous outfits playing in competitions, little boys playing piano in bow ties and pants that don’t fit right? I wonder if that’s what people envision. An elderly piano teacher at their neighbourhood church? I think the words classical music are misunderstood and I think the music itself is accessible if we inform people, which is actually my biggest goal. Yes, you can sit down and listen to late Brhams piano music and you don’t need to be an advanced pianist to understand and appreciate this music.
What has music given to you?
It’s given me the best friendships of my life. It’s given me a way to express myself and accomplish different goals as I go along to develop my brain. It’s given me a source of income. I know that sounds a little materialistic, but truly, when we went on strike! Just the people I’ve met through music, it’s amazing! It’s amazing who I’ve met through music. I think that’s the gift that music gives you, community with other people who love it.
You said earlier that if you could, you would talk about classical music all day. What would you talk about? I guess because I don’t really know anything about classical music I have this, maybe wrong, idea that all the classical that was ever going to be made has already been made and that now it’s really talented people who have studied it and play those pieces…is that wrong?
There are definitely people who are still composting now. They’re composing pieces for the orchestra, they’re composing pieces for those instruments. There are still people actively engaged in creating music.
If you were to talk about classical music all day, what would you be talking about?
How Brahms makes me cry.
Why does Brahms make you cry?!
Because it’s sad. I would talk about better ways to teach piano.
I would love to know all the secrets for achieving good sound and achieving better technique. That’s what I would want to know!
Those were all of the questions I had for you actually, but is there anything you want to add, or tell me as somebody who doesn’t know anything about classical music?
I would say start with music that is recommended to you and you might like some of it, you might like all of it, you might not like any of it. If you don’t like any of it, keep asking though because there is a composer out there for everyone. Within the classical world, I don’t like every composer! Certainly not. In fact, one of the composers that Sergei is playing, Liszt, take him or leave him! A lot of people really like him and I’m not a fan. My one tip would be to start with what’s free, go to your public library, there are CDs, subscribe to Spotify for free now that it’s in Canada, and go to your local symphony for under $15 while you’re under 31 years old. You’ll hear composers and periods of time that you like more than others.
Nice. What is your favourite coffee shop in Vancouver?
My favourite coffee shop in Vancouver is probably…that’s a great question. I think my favourite would be Revolver downtown
What’s your drink of choice?
Interested in submitting a post to the World Cafe Series? Here’s how!
Meet Dave Vukets, the man behind Prima Food for Sport.
An Ontario native who came west to attend university and train year round, Dave is hugely passionate about food and sport. Using his practical experience following a successful cycling career and his degree in Food and Nutrition from UBC, he founded Prima Food for Sport.
In his early teens Dave joined a cycling club in his hometown of Waterloo. He went on to race at a high level and even represented Canada as a road cyclist. He also spent some time training and racing in Europe.
While racing in France, he noticed quickly that things were different. “Here it seems like everyone wants the magic bullet. You know? You see guys who have the fanciest bikes and the best gear and all these ‘nutrition’ products. There, the guys are riding old bikes and they’ve got ham sandwiches in their pockets. It’s just a totally different outlook on everything, not just nutrition,” he told me.
His hope is to simplify the way we eat and to remind us that fueling your active lifestyle doesn’t need to be so complicated. No gels, powders, shakes or mystery ingredients required. Dave is not in the business of sports nutrition, instead he is focused on real food for sport.
I know from reading your blog that you used to be a pretty serious cyclist. Can you tell me about that?
I just joined a club when I was 13-14. I was always riding my bike around. I joined the waterloo rides and then I started racing. I always liked biking and my parents were like, well this might be a good activity for you. While studying at UBC I took some semesters off from school to race and I did a season in France and raced on a French team. There’s a ton of amateur racing out there. It’s really easy to get on a team. I raced on a team there. I did some races with the Canadian national team over France. I was pretty full-on into it. I kind of wanted to turn professional in cycling. By the time I got to finally finishing university, I’d already been racing for a number of years and pro cycling is kind like, if you’re doing well, you can make $20 000 a year, that kind of thing. There’s a few guys who make good money, but everyone else is kind of…
Also has a job probably?
Kind of, yeah. Pro is kind of in quotation marks. After I finished shcool, I raced a little bit. I was racing part time and working. I worked for Thomas Haas. Speaking of passion, you should interview him if he has time! He is the most crazy passionate guy that you’ll ever meet. I was just working as a barista while I was sort of half still in school. My degree took six years.
That’s definitely normal for athletes.
I was working there and then still kind of racing and also trying to get my business started. I started doing some work as a nutritionist on the side. Then my buddy, sort of an acquiaintance through cycling, was opening a cafe, Musette Cafe. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that?
Yeah! It’s quite cool.
Thomas is a pretty passionate guy, too. The other Thomas that owns Musette. He phoned me up and was like ‘oh hey, I’m doing this cafe you should help me with it, I know you’re into food’. So, we actually first made the bar recipe to sell stricktly through the cafe. Once we sold a lot of them, I was like okay! It was kind of my idea in the first place to sort of use that as a stepping stone to start a food business. I had seen what Thomas Haas did with his business and the way that he started, it’s a much bigger thing, but he was doing something and he started this sort of on the side and at night that sort of thing. So basically, I started making bars as I sold more bars, I found less nutrition coaching work. Now I’m doing it full time.
Wow. Okay, so what I really liked about Prima and why I really wanted to talk to you was because you talked on your blog about how when you were in France the cyclists were eating real food and everyone else was eating gels and weird things that you don’t know the ingredients of. That really spoke to me because I used to play rugby and we would drink protein shakes and carbs. And I was like, what is in this?! I don’t know what any of the words mean. At the same time, I didn’t know anything about food — or care to do the work and learn. I was in this weird place where I didn’t really know how to feed myself for sport and so I was like okay I’ll just drink shakes because that’s easy. So Prima was really awesome to me. I love the idea of Food For Sport. So what I’m wondering is what was that like, and how did that experience change you and then lead to Prima coming into existence? What were you eating before that?
Yeah. Your story kind of shows how people get caught up in the whole performance enhancing drugs thing, too right? It’s like, oh, you need to be big or fast, just take this supplement and don’t worry about it. There is a lot of that that goes on. Here, it’s actually interesting on other levels aside from nutrition, too. Here it seems like everyone wants the magic bullet. You know? You see guys who have the fanciest bikes and the best gear and all these ‘nutrition’ products. There, the guys are riding old bikes and they’ve got ham sandwiches in their pockets. It’s just a totally different outlook on everything, not just nutrition. Europeans, I think, are way more sensible than us in the sense that you know the food is not so… I mean you can buy a granola bar that’s just wrapped in white wrapper instead of having all this flashy marketing stuff all over it. They’re more sensible in that sense, with food in particular. Going over there, the first time we went over we went for a month. We were riding on a French team basically and how it works in cycling is that you would show up for a race and the team director will give you a bag for food for the race. Here you’d get a gel, a couple bars, whatever. There, it’s a bag of dried figs, little fruit jelly things called pate de fruit. Just regular stuff. First of all, it’s way cheaper and second of all, it’s hard to find that other stuff in Europe, gels and stuff are hard to find. A big part of it is marketing.
Cyclists around here will say oh I saw this on tv and stuff like that. The guy on the Tour de France is taking energy gels. Well, yeah he’s taking that when he’s in front of the camera, but what do you think he’s eating the rest of the time when he’s not on camera? It’s a fruit tart or a waffle, that kind of stuff. All this crap — to put it politely — that we’re being sold here, as performance products. It’s all marketing. Same goes for the protein powders, I guarantee you, none of that stuff necessary if you eat a balanced diet – if you’re a vegetarian, it’s a little more difficult – but you can eat enough protein without any supplements. I just bought this beef jerky stuff at MEC that I really like. This natural beef jerky, Krave. Have you tried it?
Super good! It’s expensive, I mean it’s seven bucks for a thing of jerky, but it’s all natural meat.
I mean, the other stuff is not cheap either!
I know that’s the thing. If you look at the cost of that. Whey protein for example, that’s just a biproduct of making cheese. Somebody is making cheese and they’re just skimming all that whey off and they’re making this other stuff and selling it people for sixty bucks a jug. No one needs that much protein, even the biggest guys in body building. I mean, those guys are all doped up too. It’s all just this marketing thing and over there, they don’t buy into it. You can find those products, but nobody uses them. It’s the same with the diet stuff and regular nutrition, nevermind sports nutrition. People just eat regular food there. They don’t do the whole… I mean I think it’s getting worse in Europe, but you see a lot of people just eating regular stuff.
I think they have different relationship with food than we do. They don’t eat mindlessly, they don’t seem to snack, they practice moderation.
Yeah. I mean I was always the kid showing up at training camp with homemade granola bars that my mom would make me. So, I was already that guy. After going there, I came back and I didn’t eat any of the other stuff and I just made all of my food for racing. I would sometimes bring stuff for my teammates and that sort of stuff. That’s what got me on this way of thinking. And then studying nutrition at UBC, it’s pretty much all the profs telling you ‘hey, here’s how to make processed food and it’s bad for you’.
Okay, so I wanted to ask you, in running Prima, and also Performa, what do you hope to give to people or athletes?
I just hate seeing people do stuff that they think is necessary, but that totally isn’t, you know? I want to be able to show people, it’s a lot more simple than you think it is. If you and I had talked when you were in your rugby career, I would have said okay you know what, don’t worry about the supplements. If you just do these things every day, you’ll be fine and you can get to what’s important, which is enjoying your sport or your lifestyle. Having to sort of worry about food, which I think everyone does, and athletes especially. ‘What do I eat, what do I eat’ everybody asks me that, and it’s so straight forward. Sometimes I’ll tell people, just take a sandwich with you. They’re like, ‘what? I can do that’. Think of food that you would eat and then bring that with you on a hike. You don’t need that other stuff. The amount of dollars of marketing and advertising that’s been through this is so crazy that I just want to tone the whole thing down.
That’s why I called it ‘Food for Sport.’ People always misname it. They call it Prima sports nutrition or whatever. For me, sports nutrition, even just the term you’re telling people that this is nutrition. You can look at the ingredients and see that its almonds and stuff like that, that’s nutritious, but I’m not trying to force it down your throat like, oh this is good for you, it’s going to make you go faster. It’s not going to make you go faster. It’s healthy food, it’s regular food. That’s my thing. Making things more simple and letting people enjoy what they’re doing instead of worrying about food.
I really like how on the package it says ‘contains good things like…” (Actually, it says: “Made with care in a kitchen that uses good stuff like wheat, soy, dairy, egg, peanuts, and tree nuts.”)
Oh yeah actually I have to change that. I’ve got a new package design that we’re working on one of our potential customers was like ‘oh please change your allergy warning to comply with CFIA regulations and stuff. Technically, it’s supposed to read in that boring way, ‘may contain traces of x, y, z.’
I thought it was really clever and, I thought it was really in line with and stays true to this idea that it’s real food.
Thanks. We’re trying to sneak something into the new wrappers. When I have potential customers, places like Whole Foods and stuff, they’re like ‘make sure that your labels are in compliance’, which they’re not right now. But, anyways…
So I was wondering, what has been a valuable lesson learned or a pleasant surprise as a business owner?
That’s a tough one. A pleasant surprise has been that throughout the whole thing – even just yourself reaching out – just how much support that I’ve had from people coming out of the woodwork almost. Tons of people, I mean my friends and family are supportive of me of course, trying to start a business. People that I don’t know that well or customers or whoever, they’ll just get excited about it and they’ll really go out of their way to help me or support me. That has been the biggest surprise. I wasn’t really expecting that. I was expecting it to be kind of a slog. In that sense that, I think people talk about brands and that sort of thing and if you can create a brand that’s more about a lifestyle and that kind of thing — it sort of sounds cheesy, but I’m authentic to my brand and so people that are interested in the same things that I’m interested in are going to get behind it. That’s been awesome because there are lots of times where something goes wrong. Having lots of people behind it, I know my new friend or person that helps me with such and such, I have to make sure I finish this order because they helped me out and they set it up for me.
A valuable lesson… there’s been tons. I don’t know if I could pick out one. Asking for help I guess. That’s kind of the flips side of having people get behind it is being open to people helping you. I have no business background, but it’s amazing how many people who, you just pick up the phone, call them up and say ‘hey this is what I’m doing and I’m having trouble with figuring out’. Not being afraid to ask for help is something that I’m getting better at doing. You know, I don’t want to bug people and I just kind of want to do this myself but, asking for help and being open to it. Sometimes you ask for help, but you don’t neccessarily want to hear any of it. For me I know that people know more than me in almost every aspect of what I do.
It’s always a pleasant surprise when you ask somebody to help you with something and I’m always like ‘uhhh’ and then they say yes and I always think, ‘really?!’
Something else I wanted to ask you was, what is your passion. Or, what are your passions?
I would say my passion is cycling, definitely all sports, but cycling is my number one passion. I wanted to be a professioal cyclist for a long time. I wanted to do that every day for a long time and I was able to do it full time for a couple summers and stuff, which was awesome. Food is my other passion. I sell mostly to cyclists, so far. If I can spend four or five or six hours in the kitchen and then go for a three or four hour ride every day, I’d be pretty content!
Actually, my girlfriend is super into food and stuf too and she’s opening a restaurant right now, so we have lots of kitchen time. It’s opening hopefully next month. It’s on the North Shore, it’s a pizzeria. It’s called Il Castello.
Il Castello. Nice! That’s super exctiing. I wanted to ask, what is your involvement in cycling now. Are you racing still?
I don’t race anymore. Tons of people ask me that. I still help out with a local team, a team that I raced on for years, it’s called Trek Red Truck. I’m actually just getting a cross bike put together for the fall. I still ride and stuff and I help out with a team. Right now, I’m so busy with this (Prima), but I try to keep involved a little bit. One of the guys who works for me actually is part of DEVO. Hopefully eventually I can support cycling in that way, but providing employment for people. When I was racing, that was something that was difficult for me. Thomas Haas was great because he gets the cycling thing. A lot of places are like, ‘well you have to work weekends’, and I’m like ‘well I have to race on weekends’.
What’s your favourite ride in the area?
From here, I can’t really say I love riding out here. I really like riding out in Fort Langley, out that way. From the North Shore it’s doable to ride out there and come back, it’s a five or so hour ride. On the North Shore, Indian River Road, if you haven’t been out there.
I’m scared to go on rides alone because I haven’t had to change a flat tire yet. I’ve been shown. I want to have a flat and then have the confidence to deal with it by myself.
Well, we should find the time to go out on a ride then.
I would be really keen! Okay, so one of the questions I’m supposed to ask as part of this series is, what are three principles that you live by?
That I live by? I haven’t really thought of my life in that sort of way…
It’s a hard one.
Good experience here! Number one would be just being nice to people and treating people the way you would want to be treated, with respect. Another one is just trying to keep a sense of perspective on everything. Maybe something goes wrong and somebody finds that their bar came unwrapped when it got shipped and these types of things. It can seem like such a problem, but then you think about the greater scheme of the world and human history, it’s totally not important at all. It’s the same thing with getting a flat tire and you have to take a bus home, it’s like well, you have a bike and… I don’t know. I try to keep a sense of perspective, though it can be hard to do that when you’re so focused in on one thing. And then staying active. Trying to incorporate some kind of exercise every day. Getting used to a more sedentary lifestyle now relative to what I did before. When I came off of training twenty hours a week, but if I get out for a jog today I’ll be happy with that. Just getting some fresh air every day and getting some exercise.
What have sport and cycling given to you?
Pretty much everything. A huge network of people that I know, friends a lot of kind of those things that I live by. Skills of work ethic and having perspective of if there’s standing for eight hours making bars, its really not as hard as doing a 250 km race wherever and getting dropped and not being able to read street signs. Cycling I think, is a cool sport for everyone because you get out what you put in. I think that’s the most important lesson from cycling. Sport and life, I think are parallels. You can always draw them parallels.
I think sport is a great metaphor for life.
That’s why I think sport is really important. That’s what I really got out of cycling, and the same goes for building a business. You stay patient about it, you work hard every day, and you really can achieve a lot of things. When I started out cycling I wasn’t that good, and everything is relative, but I made a lot of progress from where I started and the same thing goes for everything else.
I wanted to ask you, what’s your favourite coffee shop in Vancouver?
Musette. Definitely Musette.
What’s your drink of choice?
It’s boring. I just drink drip coffee. Black coffee.
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So, we’re a little bit behind schedule (sorry!) but here we are! Interview numero uno by Sagal Kahin _________________________________________________________________________________________
When Tarini invited me to be part of this series, I knew right away that I wanted to talk to Anita Cheung. A yoga and pilates instructor in Vancouver, and the woman behind Community Social Yoga and Pop-Up MOMENT.
Anita and I did not meet for coffee. I know, breaking the rules already. Instead, we met at This Open Space (formerly, The Chinatown Experiment), where she was hosting a week long pop-up installation dedicated to bringing mindfullness to our busy city. This Open Space is an “ideas playground” that has hosted over 70 pop-up installations in the last two years.
“MOMENT Is a pop up installation dedicated to sparking curiosity about mindfulness. We aim to make mindful meditation simple, and accessible. We believe that meditation allows us to take more responsibility of our mind and our mental health. By changing the way we think, we can change our own lives as well as the world around us. “
MOMENT has since wrapped up, but the audio meditations are available online are available here. The space had been transformed with the help of Anita’s friends, or as she calls them, her crew. The afternoon sun was pouring in and it was just dreamy. There were plants everywhere, beautiful photographs on the walls, and on the floor were bamboo mats topped with pillows .
Since the installation was only a week long, I assumed (hoped) that you would forgive me for not conducting the interview in a café. To keep the spirit of the series alive, I made a point to have coffee some place new, so I could report back. Luckily, This Open Space is right next door to The Shop. The Shop is a store front that sells motorcycle parts, men’s clothing, and coffee. A space I would never have wandered into otherwise, but I’m glad to have found this gem.
While studying international nutrition at The University of British Columbia, Anita travelled to Melbourne Austrailia to fulfill a degree requirement and to run away from her own unhappiness. “I went there running away from problems, running away from dark thoughts.” At the time, she was certain that Vancouver was to blame. Soon after she realized that those feelings would have followed her anywhere. Eventually, the excitement of a new place wore off, and the unhappiness crept back in.
It was only in her darkest hour that Anita turned to meditation. “I found meditation, and as I always say, it saved my life. It allowed me to distance myself from my thoughts, and know that they’re just thoughts.”
Anita gained piece of mind, and became increasingly comfortable in her own skin. When she spoke to her friends, they told her meditation was not for them, it was too spiritual they explained. Now, she’s focused on making the practices of yoga and meditation accessible. Anita wants to give her students an experience that’s difficult to replicate. “I want to offer movement and connection in a way that makes us kinder, more conscious people. That’s my mission statement, if I were to have one.
What do you hope to give to your students as a yoga teacher?
Similar to what I received, it’s the idea of being comfortable with who you are. You’ll notice that in a lot of my classes I’m always like ‘And if you fall out of a balance, that’s fine just come back in! Or, not.’ It’s your practice. I’m just here to kind of guide you through it. You can listen to me if you want. I always say that. Another thing is, like I said earlier, my mission statement, if I were to have one, is to connect people, I think a lot of people are doing a really great job in the yoga community of teaching people how to be really self reflective. What I aim to do with my other business, Social Yoga, is to continue that self reflection, and being really conscious of what you’re doing in your day to day life, but at the same time, connecting. Self consciousness and connecting. Connecting with people, especially in cities, we’re just b lining in our own world, and in reality, we’re all living through the same things. We all crave connection, we’re just too shy to admit it.
Can you tell me about Community Social Yoga?
It is small group progressive yoga class. What I’ve realized, is that people think that means liberal, like progressive art or something, but it’s progressive in the very literal sense. It’s like a dance class, you’re progressing. You take one, and you learn a little bit more and you see the same people, and you sign up for four classes at a time. They’re small group, so no more than 8 or 10, I have one that’s 12, but that’s just because the venue is larger. They’re held in unconventional places, that was a really organic thing that happened. I originally was going to rent out a space in Hastings temporarily and then a friend of mind sort of stepped up and said ‘Do you want to hold it in my shop?’ she wanted to do some yoga at the same time, so it was perfect. Then I realized, ‘Hey, that really works!’ because not only do you get people — you know, people always talk about yoga, off the mat which is the idea of being gentle with yourself and being kind with yourself off your yoga mat, in real life — but taking it one step further, and taking yoga out of the studio, I think is really powerful. I was reading somewhere that, when you see your kitchen table, your brain knows it’s time to eat. You see your bed and you’re like ‘Okay, it’s time to sleep’ so it’s really easy for us to fall into a state of calm and peace when we see our yoga studio because we’re so trained to see that. When you throw someone into a brewery, a coffee shop, or something, it re-jigs you. I think that if you can find peace in a brewery, you can find peace anywhere. That’s the goal there.
What sounded really great about Community Social Yoga is … Maybe an anecdote because I don’t know how to explain it. I played rugby for a long time and then I was really injured and I couldn’t play anymore. I was really itching for something to help me deal with all of the stress and anxiety I was feeling, so I bought a Groupon for Bikram Yoga. Now, I wouldn’t do Bikram, but if not for that experience, I wouldn’t have been open to trying other styles of yoga. Even though I was able to find the release and stress relief, and feeling like my body was working, I still really craved the community that comes from being on a team and having those people, where you all always show up and work hard together…
Your crew, essentially.
Yeah! And so, I’m not very good at approaching people, but I still always thought it strange that every day, at the same time, the same people are there and you get naked together, you go in the room and you sweat together, and it’s awful, and then you leave. Nobody says hi, no one talks to each other. I wasn’t bold enough to say hi and that is a thing I’m working on, but that is why Community Social Yoga sounded so amazing to me. What I’m wondering is, how do you incorporate that social element into a yoga practice?
The classes are different. Here’s the thing, people are like ‘Oh it’s so cool, it’s yoga in a brewery or it’s yoga to cool music‘ but I feel like anybody can do that. Anybody could put out a cool event, and it could be yoga to cool music, and maybe they’ll have beers, but it’s not the same. For me, it’s the social aspect, that you see the same peopel four times in a row, whenever somebody wants to sign up and they’re like ‘Actually, I’m gonna‘ be gone this week‘ I usually say, ‘sorry, wait for the next one’, because it’s so crucial and so essential to be there. It includes a flow practice, but it starts with conscious time of breaking the ice. Whether it’s telling someone about your day, well that’s actually really cheesy, I’ve never done that! Something that helps us mingle together very consciously. Then, the last 15 to 20 minutes is a little bit of the digging deep. The thing is that we are all watching Netflix, and we’re so fucking alone. It’s the real talk that doesn’t happen. That’s the goal, the layers and why things are the way they are. The class is very special on it’s own and it’s hard to replicate in a one hour yoga class anywhere else.
I ramble a lot! Sorry.
No! I feel like I’m nerding out a little bit, getting to talk to you. It’s weird to say this… actually it’s not weird to say. Through social media, I feel like I learn about a lot of cool people and I feel like I’m following they’re lives through photos. Sometimes though, I’ll see the person in real time and I’m like ‘Oh my goodness this is horrible! I don’t know how to behave!
Oh, don’t worry!
But, that’s what it’s there for! So that you find about people and the things that are happening, but when it comes to ‘in real life‘ I never know how to behave so I’m ‘ugh!’
Oh! I’m the queen of awkward, right here.
No way! Okay, so I wanted to ask you… well I should probably explain first. I saw this video series on YouTube and it’s called Partners in Crime. What I really like about it is that they find people who are doing really cool things, usually they’re entrepreneurs, and rather than talk about themselves the series has them take five to seven minutes and talk about all the people who help them be amazing and do cool things. Not for seven minutes, of course, but I’m wondering who are some of the people who help you to be awesome?
Oh my god. I have no problem listing this. I could probably ramble for seven minutes!
Well do, if you feel like it! I just didn’t want you to think you had to talk for that long.
There’s so many people! First person that I can think of is a yoga teacher named Alex Mazerolle, everybody calls her Ally Maz. She is from Vancouver, she is very well known in the yoga community, is an ambassador for Lululemon. Honestly, having her as a mentor, she’s like a friend, big sister, boss because I work at her studio. It’s this jack of all trades thing. She’s so grounded and has a really god ear, to listen and help you figure things out, which I think everybody needs. She owns Distrikt, she just opened a yoga studio, and she does yoga for teen girls.
That’s how I found out about you, actually! I somehow stumbled across girlvana and was obsessed with it! I was like, I’m too old but everyone needs this. I wish I could go on their retreats.
Yeah! When I was coming back from Melbourne, I’m the kind of person that I can’t just casually come back with my tail between my legs, right? I was like ‘I need a purpose, something where I could be like I came back for this’. So, I met Alex online. I googled ‘yoga teen girls’ and she came up. I emailed her and told her my skill set and she was like ‘perfect, you’re just the person I need to get my shit sorted’. Then we skyped, we met and I came back then started interning for her, working for free and that has been amazing. She’s always so supportive. Of this (Pop-Up Moment) of social yoga. Alex is one, definitely.
My blood sister is another one for sure! She’s Confetti & Co, I don’t know if you know that?
I’ve seen that! I feel like a weirdo for knowing.
That’s my sister! Her work ethic and her support is such an inspiration. My edible advice, Jennifer Trecartin is someone else.
I saw that you are part of My Edible Advice, on the blog…
Yeah! It’s sort of weird. We’re friends, I worked with her sister, at barre method a couple years ago, and that’s how we know each other. Jen just needed help with her admin and she wanted to make some more fun work for me, so I wrote a little bit for her blog and then started teaching yoga to some of her clients. Really, she’s got my back! She’s an entrepreur that I really look up to.
All of my friends from high school, from university, from sorority land. Always so supportive. Parents, also so supportive. Even in this space, Marina an interior designer friend, Jordan who is a photographer. Megan all the plants are from this woman who owns three shops in Deep Cove: Ahoy, Sunnyside and Room Six. She co-owns two of them with the guys from Herschel. She came in and did the plants and they’re just so beautiful it really lightens up the space. Cat who painted the pallets. So many people.
The girl who does the malas! I’m an ambassador for her, with this and when she first asked me I was like ‘What? You asked me to be an ambassador and I was like, Why me? I’m no one!’ It’s funny because her company has really grown, and I’ve grown since then too.
Jian, who co-owns Distrikt, he’s the best man that could possibly exist. He’s just a really solid guy, whose helped both Alex and I with our boy problems and life problems, stuff like that.
So many friends. The guy who DJ’d our opening night and the Social Yoga night at Fortune, he’s a friend of mine. He’s a math geek by day, DJ by night, pretty rad! His name is Rob, but his DJ name is elrizzy.
There’s so many! Any yoga teacher, studio owner, like the kids yoga studio I sub at, Yoga Buttons. So, Carolyn from Yoga Buttons, I’m like ‘You trust me with children?” Well, I actually have a lot of experience working with children, so it’s really not weird at all.
I know what you mean though, trusting you with their business.
Yes. As a budding yoga teacher, anyone who gives you the opportunity is golden! The guys from the Juice Truck, again trusting me to come into your space. Josh from the brewery. ‘What are you people thinking?! Are you crazy?’ I’ve got a friend that’s a photographer as well that’s very inspiring. So many young entrepreneurs that I admire so much. . Those people are my crew, I’d say.
I meant to ask this sooner, sorry I’m botching the order here. What is your passion?
It’s funny. Before, my passion was to ‘save people,’ (using her university degree, though she said she learned quickly that the world didn’t need saving, especially from the western world) and then I realized that my passion was never food. I actually have a terrible relationship with food. It’s better now, but as a teenager, it was terrible. I think I was trying to hide that a lot. For me now, my passion is to bring together people and give connection and consciousness, it always comes down to that. And adding self compassion too, but it’s to connect people. In this space, it’s a beautiful marriage of everyone’s best work. I love being the connector. Just being aware of who you are and what you bring to the table. I love self help books and self discovery things, and being able to share those learnings.
What’s a really inspiring book that you read recently, or ever, or…
The Art of Possibility, it’s a beautiful book. I used to work for Ivviva — oh yeah, those are some other people to add to that list! My manager and assistant manager, amazing — but yeah, The Art of Possibility.
Nice. Okay, I have two more questions, and then I’ll be done. They’re not deep at all. The first one is, what is your favourite coffee shop in Vancouver?
Hm! It’s funny, I don’t drink coffee. I do drink tea.
You don’t drink coffee? That’s fine! Or, what’s your favourite tea shop.
I actually just started drinking vietnamese coffee, but that I make at home. Favourite coffee shop, I’d say Nelson the Seagull probably. I haven’t been to Matchstick yet, everybody tells me I would love matchstick.
Matchstick is really beautiful! It’s very different from Nelson the Seagull.
Really? I haven’t been yet.
I’ll ask you first, what is it that you like about Nelson the Seagull?
Well, they’re really cool people in the sense that they’re really supportive of things. I know that Ally, my friend, mentor, sister from another mister-ish, she did Yoga Eat Repeat there.
I went to that!
Yeah! That they’re so supportive of that is amazing. They’re food is delicous, they’re all about local homemade and all that stuff. I love anyone who supports local businesses. Anybody who falls in that group. And, they’re space is beautiful, that helps!
I really like Nelson the Seagull because it feels like somebody’s home. I like how they have communal tables, too. I mean, I don’t know how to talk to strangers, but I still like sitting beside other people.
Another thing that I really like about them is that they seem to be really aware of where they’re situated geographically.
Yes! The suspended coffees. Love that!
Yes, and there’s people always coming in and talking to the people who work there and they really seem to have integrated into the community really nicely, and they found a way to make it work. That’s always a touchy subject, young and hip and in what neighbourhood, and at whose expense, but I think that’s something special about them.
I totally agree.
What’s your drink of choice?
Oh, that’s a hard one! Alcoholic or…..
No caffeinated, or tea.
Well vietnamese coffee if we’re going to say a coffee type thing. Or a milky oolong. Ooooh! A Thai iced tea actually.
Oh, what is that?
I don’t what the difference is actually. They do something with the tea that’s a little bit different and I’ve had it only at a few restaurants here.
Oh, I think I know what that is. It’s with milk, and it’s sweet and it’s cold.
Yes. So good!
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