Leo Le Couteur photo Members of the White Rock Community Orchestra play at Peace Arch Hospital’s Weatherby Pavilion.

White Rock Community Orchestra pays tribute to local composer

Christmas concert features piece by the late Walter O’Keeffe, former proprietor of the Chit-Chat Cafe

When White Rock Community Orchestra, directed by Maestra Paula DeWit, presents its annual Christmas concert this Saturday (Dec. 2 , 7 p.m. at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 1480 George St.), the program will feature many seasonal-appropriate pieces.

But one notable inclusion is a work for all seasons with a strong White Rock connection – The Vancouver Waltz, written by late city resident Walter O’Keeffe.

Though he died a decade ago, at the age of 77, it’s likely that longtime White Rock residents will remember the composer as the former proprietor of the Chit Chat Cafe, on Marine Drive, in the 1970s.

“It burned down in 1979 and he was the last owner,” said daughter Toni O’Keeffe. “There’s still a little plaque down there.

“As kids working there, we remember he used to go sit by the train tracks and write music and poetry. It’s amazing that the White Rock Community Orchestra will be playing his music in the 10th year of his passing in a place that he loved.”

The former Burnaby City worker fathered seven children in all – including White Rock singer and show producer Jeanette O’Keeffe (Mooncoin Productions) – and also left behind hundreds of poems, carvings and scores for original pieces of music, one of which, The Vancouver Waltz, was brought to the WRCO recently by his widow, Monica.

“We’re incredibly pleased and absolutely thrilled that they wanted to play it,” Toni said.

Born in Mooncoin, County Kilkenny, Ireland in 1930, O’Keefe was noted for his closeness to nature, as manifest in the many shrubs, flowers, plants, fruit trees and vines he planted and nurtured over the years.

“He was such an interesting individual, my father,” Toni said.

“He had this creative brilliance – he could pick up any instrument and play it, he was very poetic, he did carvings. He was such a strong creative spirit.”

His life had been marked by struggles from an early age, she said – as a child left in care, he survived years of inhumane treatment, a story that was shared with the world only weeks before his death, through the publication of a book she wrote, Those Who Trespass Against Us, which created a media stir in Britain, Ireland and North America.

“His parents died when he was young and he and his siblings were split up. He was at an orphanage where he was allowed to join the band – it was the first flowering of his musical talent.”

At the age of 14, he was so noted as a cornetist with the band, Toni said, that a famous British orchestra leader attempted to recruit him.

“But they wouldn’t let him go because they needed him to work in the kitchen,” she said.

“It was one of the great missed opportunities of his life. That’s why it’s so wonderful that the White Rock orchestra is playing his composition – it would have meant the world to him.”

Special guest performers at the concert will be Maria Moularas (harp), mezzo-soprano Ingrid Mapson and the Chilliwack Children’s Choir.

Tickets (including post-concert refreshments) are $15 (children 12 and under free), and are available at the door, from orchestra members, or online at wrco.ca

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