Remembering Alfie Kunz – U of Waterloo music director

Alfie Kunz

I was sorry to learn that Alfred “Alfie” Kunz, noted composer and conductor, passed away last week at 87. Here’s a bit about him from the University of Waterloo, where he was music director for many years, and a career retrospective from the Record.

He had a huge musical career all across the K-W area but I remember him most from his UW days. And I want to share some memories of a time before the Internet when nothing ever got written down in a way that it could be searched for later.

Alfie was one of the first people I met when I started at Waterloo in 1977. I hardly knew anybody and had no clue about extra curricular activities but somehow learned that there was a UW Concert Band that rehearsed on Wednesday nights in the Arts Lecture Hall, and I quickly signed up – and also joined the UW Stage Band, that he also directed, and I think I might have even been in the UW Orchestra at one point.

Waterloo actually had a full time Director of Music on staff and it was Alfie’s job to run all these ensembles, up until UW president Burt Matthews eliminated that program in 1979. We were upset! I recall we even wrote a protest song about it –

Tune: Yes, Jesus Loves Me
Matthews hates us, this we know
For the budget tells us so,
Peripheral programs gotta go,
Music's of priority low.

Burt Matthews hates us,
Burt Matthews hates us,
Burt Matthews hates us,
The budget tells us so.

It didn’t do much good though. UW killed its extracurriular music program, and although I was grateful that Conrad Grebel College picked up a few of the pieces – and even made concert band a credit course, which it never was in my day, not that I’m bitter – it was never the same.

I made some great friends in Alfie’s concert band – in fact, it was through the concert band that I learned that the Warriors Band even existed. All I knew about the Warriors Band was that they were a total bunch of goofballs occasionally on TV, and as a proud new student, there was no way I’d ever join that ragtag ensemble.

Needless to say, many members of that ragtag ensemble were also in Alfie’s concert band, including clarinetist Ken Fudurich, who talked me into coming to my first Warriors basketball game one night after concert band practice. We trudged through the snow from the arts lecture hall up to the gym, only to find it deserted, and Ken concluded “Oh, maybe tonight’s game is actually at Laurier, not here.” And we hiked down to WLU, found that the game had already started, Ken introduced me to Warriors Band CCWB Mark Hagen, who was overjoyed to find another trombone player besides himself… and when someone in the WLU crowd held up a sign saying “Waterloo’s Band Sucks”, I knew I’d found a new home.

But that’s kind of another story.
Back to the Concert Band for a moment.

I met a lot of great friends in that group, many of whom I stay in touch with today. I recall an end of year banquet at which Alfie thanked the graduating seniors, and I thought “I gotta stick around, I want to hear that speech about me some day.” Alas, we never got the chance after UW pulled the plug. But, we made some great music. Popular tunes, Christmas selections, interesting Alfie compositions – including one Oktoberfest-themed overture where the trombonist had to stand up and play a drunken, wobbly version of “Ein Prosit”, and I think Rob Gibson had seniority and got to play it instead of me. I hoped we’d do that one again a few years later so it could be my turn but it never happened.

I can recall a raucous concert with the UW Concert Choir, in which they were all behind our Stage Band, singing “Hey Jude” by themselves, and we begged Alfie to let us play along on the chorus even though we weren’t quite sure what key it was in, and it sounded great and Alfie loved it.

I remember a grand afternoon concert Alfie called “Tea and Symphony”, and we all had special “Tea and Symphony” T-shirts, and it wasn’t until much later in life that I understood that that title was some sort of pun on a movie title.

I can remember recruiting some of my new Warriors Band friends to join the Concert Band too. The concert band was chronically short on percussionists and I told Alfie I might know some – thinking, of course, of the many skilled musicians in the Warriors Band, and also thinking of the drummers in the Warriors Band – and I brought Jim Snyder along one time to help out. Except Jim couldn’t make the practice before the big concert, but he came along to the big concert, and I can still recall the shocked look on Alfie’s face as he cued the percussion section at some crucial spot in the opening number and BOOM, there was a huge crash on the cymbals played by someone Alfie had never seen before.

I also remember one weird band rehearsal when we were roaring away on something, triple-forte, and an older man we had never seen before barged into the room, yelling, and grabbed Alfie and threw him to the floor. Huh? We found out later it was a professor whose late night research was being disturbed, and he was of course totally out of line and had to apologize later to the whole band. But the band persevered.

I sure had friends in that band. It kept me sane while I was trying to figure out how university worked. It was a refreshing counterpoint to the disorganized mayhem of the Warriors Band – and Alfie was always a great supporter of that other group too. He composed The Black and White and Gold, UW’s official school song, and of all his hundreds of serious compositions, I bet that one’s been played the most.

Jim Spence. Rob Gibson. Rosalee Mitchell. Ginny Lyons. Ken Fudurich. John Oldfield. And many more great friends from that group and I’m adding their names here in case they stumble across this post in a google search some day. I’ve got some pictures at home that I’ll scan and post when we get back.

A few years later when I was still in the waterloo area, Alfie called me, looking for a trombone player to help out at some gig at one of the German clubs, and I hemmed and hawed and then didn’t actually show up. I felt guilty about that for twenty years afterwards – and was happy to discover that Alfie was on Facebook, so that I could apologize to him – and he forgave me, much to my relief, and we had a good chat about how much fun we’d had.

Thanks, Alfie.
A lot of us wouldn’t have made it through UW without you.

Rest in peace.

On the second date of Christmas, my true love saw with me: “Green Book”

You’ll recall that my adorable wife gave me the greatest Christmas gift of all, and last night, we saw Green Book in #12DatesOfChristmas #1.

Before I get to my review (tl;dr: we both loved it, in particular, the musicianship was outstanding) let me complain for a moment or two.

irrelevant complaining

We took a Lyft to the theatre (so that I can safely look at my phone in the car). On the way there I used the Cineplex app to buy tickets. Normally I like what Cineplex calls the “AVX” experience where you get a reserved seat and need not worry about getting there at the last minute … but this was a normal you-take-your-chances-where-you-sit film, and the Cineplex app was only letting me enter “1” in the ticket quantity field. The stupid “+” button to increment the number of tickets was disabled. Obviously this means there is something broken with the UI in the app. We’ll fix it when we get to the theatre and buy a ticket by standing in line like cavemen.

Well guess what, when the app only lets you buy 1 ticket, it actually means “you are buying the very last ticket, the movie is almost sold out.” Live and learn. We couldn’t get a 2nd ticket, so we decided to have dinner in one of the many fine restaurants in what is actually called the “Oakville Entertainment Centrum” and come back for the 9:30 show.

Conveniently the fine restaurant we selected took their time with abysmally slow service which ate up most of the 3 hour wait for the next show.

movie review

We loved the movie. Movie reviewers love it too, and our local reviewer strongly encouraged us to see it (thanks, Tyler, you were right.)

There are plenty of reasons to love Green Book, but one actually struck me: The actors genuinely seem to be playing their instruments! Mahershala Ali is VERY believable as a concert pianist, and the other actors playing cello and bass seem to be doing it properly too. Even the big band you see at the Copacabana in an early scene seems to be playing the notes correctly. (Am I the only person who studies trombone positions and trumpet fingerings on the screen to decide if they actually represent the correct note? I hope not.)

If you play any instrument, you cringe when you see actors trying to do it, usually badly. Their hand and arm movements are out of sync, the camera shoots from the other side of the piano so you can’t actually see the keyboard, the trombone slide is moving when the note is not changing, the trumpet fingering is all wrong. Actors-as-conductors are usually the worst, waving their arms as if they were shooing away a fly.

But in The Green Book, they really took the effort to make it all believable.

I came across this article on The Secret to Mahershala Ali’s Piano Playing. The film’s music director Kris Bowers is the one actually performing, but he worked with Ali to get the posture and gestures right, and the effect really shows. I wish more productions took the trouble to get this right. (One of the commenters on that article says that Ali’s head was superimposed on Bowers’s body in many shots. It’s seamless.)

It reminds me of one of my all time favourite films, Brassed Off, starring the late Pete Postlethwaite as the leader of the Grimley Colliery Brass Band in a coal mining town in the U.K. and the adversity they face when the mine shuts down. I totally bought that he was a band conductor. I didn’t for a moment think he was an actor faking it – and I felt the same way in The Green Book. Bravo.

More like this please. Find actors who can do it properly, or train the ones that can’t, or – here’s an idea – cast actual musicians once in a while.


I was intrigued by this story. If you’ve seen the movie, you might also like to read up on the real Don Shirley and Tony .Vallelonga

legal note

Counsel has raised an objection to calling this #12DatesOfChristmas #1 since we had earlier seen Mary Poppins Returns, and that this should more properly be at most Date 1(b). I will respond that the viewing of Mary Poppins Returns was #12DatesOfChristmas #0, actually a Pre-Tournament Exhibition Date, in the same way that Canada plays Finland before the World Junior Hockey Championship actually began. And also in Computer Science we often begin counting at zero anyway.

Clamdy Canes. Mmmmm.

Here’s a holiday treat. I ordered some of these unusual candy canes for Christmas.

ClamdycanesUnfortunately, my first choice – Mac & Cheese Candy Canes – was (and still is) out of stock, so I had to settle for Clam, Bacon, Pickle and Rotisserie Chicken.

They are delightfully packaged, but you are probably more interested in what they taste like. Well, they taste like clam, bacon, pickle and rotisserie chicken. Some of my family appreciated the fidelity of these flavours, others immediately spit them out (but at least they tried them) and some flat-out refused.

I think a better strategy would be to order a variety, unpackage them and set them out in a bowl and see what happens if people just randomly take one.

My niece took a few to a party and planned on telling people that the clam/bacon/pickle/chicken ones were actually Vanilla, Strawberry, Lime and Root Beer flavours. I need to find out how that worked out.

Note: Archie McPhee sells all sorts of fascinatingly odd products but they won’t ship to Canada! Booooo. I had to have them shipped to a hotel I was staying at in the US. It was a little awkward bringing them back through Canada Customs – I declared that I had some candy, and the border agent said, “Well, did you bring enough for all of us?” I’m glad I didn’t share with them. I need to be able to cross the border in the future.

Quest for Hayman’s Gin

I suppose if my last name was Beefeater, Bombay or Tanqueray I’d drink something else, but ever since some random Google ego-search turned up Hayman’s Gin, I knew what we’d be drinking from now on. Gin and Tonic is the most favoured drink at our summer cottage going back generations, so we’ve been acquiring a nice collection of Hayman’s products, and, occasionally, even drinking some.Hayman's Gin selections

Recently I learned of a new entry: Hayman’s Family Reserve Gin. How can I resist? Everybody in the Hayman family supports everybody else in the Hayman family; we buy our coffee from Hayman Coffee, we save up for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation on Hayman Island, we get our buildings built by Hayman Construction, and if you ever need some rope, I’m sure Steve Hayman of Island Ropes in Malvern can fix you up.

So, I had to find some Hayman’s Family Reserve Gin.

Step one. Visit the local LCBO. (Note for those outside Ontario: In our enlightened society, you must buy your alcohol at the government alcohol store, because reasons.) No dice. Even though they occasionally had other Hayman’s brands, they didn’t have this one.

Step two: A search on revealed that it was out of stock online, but might be available in certain stores. Back before Christmas, they showed a couple of bottles in Toronto, a couple in Ottawa, a couple in Mississauga, and that was it.
I went to visit our local LCBO outlet and Sabina, the very kind manager, even though it was December 23 and she was probably swamped with important pre-holiday work, got on the phone and located two of the last bottles of Hayman’s Family Reserve Gin at a downtown Toronto store and somehow, by asking nicely, arranged to have it shipped to the Oakville store. I didn’t know they’d do that! But she did, and even though it couldn’t possibly arrive before Christmas I was very happy about this.

Step 3: A few days later we got the word – it’s here! Since my son works near the LCBO in question, I had him pick it up, and he came home, having thanked the manager profusely at my instruction, with two bottles.

Of Hayman’s Gently Rested Gin.

What? What the heck is that?
That’s not the family reserve that my family had reserved!

I couldn’t bring myself to go back to the manager and say “Um, thank you for the HUGE favour, but that wasn’t what I thought you were ordering, so I need to bug you again.”

So, step 3: Back to a search on, which revealed that there is now exactly ONE bottle of Hayman’s Family Reserve Gin left in the entire province of Ontario – at a store in Mississauga.


I must have this. It’s off to Mississauga.

The gin section includes all sorts of gins, including something called “Ungava”, distilled in Canada from native northern botanicals, that was a completely (un)appetizing yellow colour. Well I better buy one of those. But where’s the Hayman’s Family Reserve Gin bottle? The one bottle left in all of Ontario? Where? Where? Please help me, Mississauga store employee!

Well, she did help me. “Oh, it might be in the back. Sometimes when there’s only one left, it’s in the back; let me go check.”

Fingers crossed.

Imagine my disappointment when, moments later, she returned with the news that

  1. Yes they have one bottle of Hayman’s Family Reserve Gin, just like the web site says
  2. No you can’t have it
  3. Because the bottle is broken
  4. No you can’t have it anyway.

Defeat. Maybe this was some limited edition thing and the world really is out.

There’s only one thing left to do – tweet about it.

Now, my friends on Twitter are awesome; they immediately reported sightings of Hayman’s Gin (not necessarily this kind), or places in other countries that were able to ship me a bottle and perhaps I could have one shipped on an upcoming trip … but here was the best response.

What? Can it be? Yes! James is the actual proprietor of Hayman’s Gin, a family business since 1863 in London, UK, and after an exchange of messages, I learned that

  • The reason it’s not available is because it’s been renamed “Hayman’s Gently Rested Gin.”
  • And therefore the LCBO actually HAD sent me the right product. Same gin, new label! (Same SKU, apparently)
  • It was renamed because too many people thought that “Hayman’s Family Reserve” meant that it was the best Hayman’s gin, and nobody was buying the other varieties
  • We should come and visit the Home of English Gin in Balham, South West London, which we totally will, they have tours!
  • He’ll send me one of the remaining bottles from his personal stock.

Well that is fantastic. Thank you James. And we definitely will come and visit. I mean, come on, their stills are named after their mothers and they have some fascinating recipies. We are definitely trying the Hayman’s Winter Warmers, including Mulled Sloe Gin, because, what do you know, I happen to have some Hayman’s Sloe Gin on hand already.

Will update this story when the Family Reserve arrives and when the London (Ontario) Hayman Family visits the London (UK) Hayman Family distillery.