The last two nights of writing have ended up seeming a bit surreal, because of back inside Helena’s A Level sorcery class, and I’m remembering all the stuff I wrote about her the first time while doing it all again. And make sure realize that some of the instructors at the school have been on the job for close to twenty years: there are two who fall into that category easily, and two more were creeping up on that goal. Helen is one of those instructors who has been teaching for about ten years straight, but during the 1990s she actually had a few other stints between Guardian field operations where she put in a year or two of instruction during her down time.
And when you consider that every instructor, as well as the staff, were students before they became instructors, that tacks on anywhere from six to eight additional years spent at school. When you had that on, Helena has spent nearly twenty years at Salem, and Jessica and Erywin have been at Salem for closer to thirty. But you know, what’s thirty years when you’re likely to live for a hundred and fifty?
Speaking of one of the instructors is actually been at the school for over twenty years, first as a student and then instructor, we now get in to actually meeting Professor Matthias Ellison, the head of the Arts and Music Department. The reality is that save for a few people who come in from time to time to help out with things, he is the Arts and Music Department, as the only other people who are associated with this department are those student tutors who Matthias reaches out to to help other students.
Believe me when I say I had fun putting his background together, because it gives you a little hint of how he actually got to where he’s at and you get to see a little of the Normal background that drove him to be who he is today. So let’s kick back and enjoy Professor Ellison’s opening statements.
(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016, 2017 by Cassidy Frazee)
Professor Ellison waited for everyone to find their workspace before he begin taking the first attendance of the year. As soon as he was satisfied that everyone was in the proper classroom he moved the tablet about three quarters of an arm length from him and turned to face the students. “Good morning, everyone, and I would like to welcome you to Introduction to Art. I am Professor Matthias Ellison, but most people call me Matthias. It’s easy to remember because it sounds like an important name, and I prefer being called that because ‘Professor Ellison’ sometimes sounds a bit too stuffy.
“A little bit about me. I was born in Canada and come from a Normal background. When I came to the school I was placed in Blodeuwedd Coven, were managed to maintain fairly good proficiencies and graduated in 1991. After leaving here I went to college in Canada and managed to get my Masters before coming back here to teach in 1998. I was present during The Scouring and fought with honor alongside a number of instructors and students—and some of those students with whom I fought for now colleagues of mine.
“I mentioned I’m from Canada. Specifically, I’m from White City, Saskatchewan, which is situated on the Trans Canada Highway about ten kilometers east of Regina, a city famous for its NHL hockey players, a song by The Guess Who, the hometown of actors Leslie Nielsen, Stephen Yeun, and Tatiana Maslany, and the fact that everyone messes up the pronunciation of the city by not realizing it rhymes with a body part found only on women.” He waited for a smattering of laughs to die down before continuing. “White City is also known for The Ice House, which serves the greatest hamburgers in all of Canada, and anyone who says that isn’t true is a liar. There’s little that makes the town spectacular: it’s what people in America would call a ‘bedroom community’ and today it’s filled with a lot of upscale people, two of whom are my parents who work in downtown Regina.
“One of the more interesting things about White City is the origin of its name. One says that it came about because of a misspelled store sign, but another—the one I like best—is that it was named after the White City section of London, England. I mean, it’s not unusual: a lot of places in North America are named after cities and towns in Europe, so it makes sense that perhaps someone decided to name my hometown after location back in the old world.
Everything in the preceding three paragraphs is true. Not only did I do my research, but I happen to have a couple of Facebook friends who live in the Regina area, and when I told them that I was actually researching Regina for this section of my novel, they gave me a few hints on what to include. One of the friends remarked that she was surprised to see me include the MacKenzie Art Gallery and the University of Regina, which both appear below. My other friend is actually from White City and found it interesting that I wanted to write about it.
And it’s this friend who told me to make certain that I wrote about The Ice House, a local burger joint that is well known through this part of Saskatchewan, and which she actually said serves the best burgers in all of Canada. So I looked up a little information on The Ice House and discovered that it is not only a burger joint but a liquor store as well, because Canada. I mean, why not? Load up on a burger and fries, maybe a little poutine while you’re at it, and then grab some beer and wine for the drive home.
Their primary burger is known as The Iceberg, which is a homemade confection that appears to be the sort of thing that I would eat if I visited this place. But if you have a huge appetite you can try the scaled up version of The Iceberg called The Glacier Burger, a CAD $29 monstrosity that will guarantee you don’t leave this establishment hungry if you can find the energy to regains your feet and stagger out to your car. In fact, it looks almost like one of those novelties that you see restaurant served from time to time: you know, like a five pound/two and a half kilogram steak that if you can eat the whole thing you get for free. Though I’m pretty sure with this burger you pay up front before you start eating.
And one last thing to point out and that’s the correct pronunciation of the name Regina. This one I got directly from my friend Nicole, who lives and works in Regina, and who has said on occasion that since far too many people pronounce the name “Ra-GE-na”, there is an easy phrase to help you remember the correct way to pronounce the name: “Regina like Vagina.” Yes, just like Professor Ellison said, it rhymes with a particular body part found only on women–well, on csiwomen. There’s just some of us gals who haven’t quite caught on with that particular trend…
Now that Matthias has given us a little background on Canadian geography, he gets into one of the main reasons why he is the person he is today:
“I really didn’t think much about my hometown’s name origin until I started here as an A Level. That’s because two months after I started here an album came out titled White City: A Novel, which was written and performed by Pete Townsend—he’s a guy who’s been in the band The Who for like forever, which is something I’m sure almost all of you didn’t know.
“White City—the album, not my hometown—is what was known as a ‘concept album’, which means all of the songs tied together to tell a story. You don’t hear of those too much these days, mostly because the music buying public can’t really listen to a song that’s more than four minutes long before they tune out, but back in the 1970s and through a bit of the 1980s, they were all the rage; it seem like every famous band then put out at least one during their lifetime.
“Now here’s a dirty little secret of mine: before coming to Salem I wasn’t really that into music. I listened to music, but it was little more than background noise to my life. It wasn’t until I was able to sit and listen to White City that I started to get into music. It wasn’t that the music was great—because it was, it was fantastic—but it was the idea that one could convey a story using music and lyrics, and make it a coherent, meaningful experience.
“You might say that this album was my musical epiphany, because it wasn’t long after that I realized that all music tells the story. It does this because music triggers an emotional response in each of us and makes us feel things that we didn’t realize we could feel.
“While I was home on Yule holiday that year I parents took me to the MacKenzie Art Gallery, which at that time was still connected to the University of Regina, my other alma mater. This was the first time I was exposed to paintings and sculpture, and the experience left me speechless. When you’re twelve years old you’re supposed to find art stuffy and boring, but I didn’t: I found it amazing. When we were leaving the museum I bugged my parents to buy me a book that would show me how to sketch, and I spent the rest of my Yule holiday working on sketching. And I brought that book back to school with me, managed to get a hold of a sketch pad and pencils, and spent the rest of my A Levels sketching whenever I had time.
“When we returned home from school that summer I couldn’t work on magic, so I worked developing my artistic talent. I also asked my mother if I could take piano lessons that summer, and she paid for me to see a teacher. So that summer I was not only learning to draw and paint, but I was also learning to become a musician—or, I should say, I was learning how to play piano.
“After returning to school I asked the then head of the Arts and Music Department if I could perform during Ostara, and if she could get a tutor to help me work on a piece between the start of my B Levels and March of the following calendar year. She agreed to both my request, and in 1987 I performed at my first Ostara. After I left the school I went back to the University of Regina enrolled in the music program graduated with honors from there, and then worked on a Masters that would allow me to teach music and composition.
“And when I was finished with all that, I decided that the one place in the world where I could make the greatest impact with what I’d learned was right here at Salem. And I’ve been here ever since.”
There you have it: Matthias Ellison discovered music because the guitarist from The Who created album that, I feel, is one of his best and most underrated works, and because his parents decided to expose him to art. And from that he learned to draw and play, then went to college to understand it better before coming back to Salem to pass along what he learned. Which is how real teachers do this.
Now that we have his background, it’s about time for him to explain why he likes the arts–and why you should as well…