Piano Man

By Diane Dahli

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The chairs in the dining room of The Kensington have been arranged in concert style to prepare for the monthly performance of pianist extraordinaire Bob LeBlanc. When he arrives, the 40 to 50 residents who assemble to hear this 74-year-old piano virtuoso entertain greet him with enthusiastic applause. Twelve years on and the enthusiasm of Bob’s audiences never wane. 


The one-hour concert that Bob presents is a display of his marvellous keyboard talents, which include an incredible repertoire and an ability to create medleys on the spot from requests provided by his audience. This skill fascinates his listeners. As one resident says, “I simply don’t understand how he does it. He doesn’t know what we are going to ask for, so how can play them without even pausing?”


Bob needs to occasionally rest his back during his concerts, so he began, a couple of years ago, to get up and tell the occasional joke. It has become a staple in his presentations and his audiences urge him on with their laughter at every joke. (Well, most of them, anyway). 


What kind of jokes does he tell? Well, obviously clean ones. An example:

*The nurse at the nursing station answers the phone and the caller asks, ‘Can you tell me what progress Mrs. Duncan in room 313 is making?’ The nurse replies, ‘I’m happy to report that Mrs. Duncan is doing extremely well and we hope to release her later today or tomorrow. May I ask, are you a relative of Mrs. Duncan’s?’ The caller replies, ‘I am Mrs. Duncan and nobody ever tells me anything around here.’*


Here’s another:

*A man living in a retirement home was trying to get up the nerve to ask a widow friend if she would join him for dinner. She said, ‘Yes, yes, yes’, and off they went to a fancy restaurant where they had a wonderful time. Since he had known this lady for some time, he decided to get right to the point and asked her to marry him. She said, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’


The next day, with great embarrassment, he phoned her and said, ‘Last night when I asked you to marry me, I can’t for the life of me remember what you answered.’  She replied, ‘I said, yes, yes, yes. However, I am so glad you called because I must confess I couldn’t remember who asked me.’*


Bob came to Victoria in 1995 from Halifax where he owned various businesses including *WHERE Halifax Magazine*. While living in Nova Scotia, he was the creator and music director of a musical octet group called Variety Fare. The group performed in Halifax dinner theatres and throughout Atlantic Canada, presenting full-stage shows like *On Broadway* and *Legends of Broadway*, which were subsequently mounted by The Victoria Operatic Society at the McPherson Theatre in 1999 and 2002.


Upon arrival in Victoria, Bob longed to be involved in music again. He started by approaching Amica at Somerset House with an offer to perform for the residents. They accepted and he played there almost every Sunday night for two years. That gig led to his introduction to The Kensington in 1997. He has performed there, monthly, ever since. He has also performed at The Carleton House, The Shannon Oaks Retirement Residence, Parkwood Court and Parkwood Place.


While living in Halifax, Bob made regular trips to New York to see the great shows and became an avid fan of Broadway music. He was always impressed by the choral numbers in these shows and dreamed of someday having a chorus of his own to perform this inspiring music.


In 2002, Bob approached the Victoria Operatic Society with the idea of forming a Broadway Chorus as a fundraiser for the Society – and thus was born the Victoria Broadway Chorus. The Chorus has been an outstanding success. In the past, it has featured soloists Kathleen West, Pam Miller, Timothy Kyle, clarinetist Gordon Clements, Dwayne Gordon and Ken Lavigne. Ken recently performed at Carnegie Hall in New York.


Bob likes to say “We are the best musical group in Victoria that nobody has heard of” – he says this despite the fact that the spring concerts of 2008 drew over 1,600 choral fans in Sidney, Victoria and Duncan. As well as being the creator of the chorus, Bob is the artistic director and its writer, accompanist and publicity guru.


Bob has always felt that there should be more purpose to the existence of the chorus. Entering its seventh season, this year’s series of four concerts will benefit the ALS Society of Victoria. A natural charity of choice for Bob, since his family is well acquainted with the debilitating illness, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. With a need to raise their profile, in order to move forward in research and services, this is an important connection for the ALS group.

With over 80 singers participating, this chorus will be the largest ever. 


Through the efforts of choral director Hilary Coupland, the members of the chorus and the volunteers from the ALS Society, Bob hopes to increase attendance at the concerts and thus be able to make a substantial contribution to this worthy charity. Two concerts will be held at the Central Baptist Auditorium in Halifax and two at the Charlie White Theatre in Sidney. Dates and times are available on the chorus website www.victoriabroadwaychorus.com

Halifax’s loss is definitely Victoria’s gain as Bob continues to make a major contribution to the music scene in Victoria.

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