Musical Solo: Jane Forner — a colourful past, an exciting present

“Some people seem to live many lives in one lifetime.”

December 13, 2014

I moved to Salt Spring Island, with my son, shortly before ArtSpring opened its doors on the island. I lived so close to ArtSpring that I was able to dash over there with five minutes notice when a friend, who volunteered , phoned to tell me someone had turned in an already paid ticket for a Randy Bachman (formerly of The Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive) concert.

The following is a profile I wrote about ArtSpring’s first artistic director shortly after she was hired. (It was later that naysayers drove her out of the position and off the island.):

The Barnacle

August 10, 1999

Musical Solo: Jane Forner — a colourful past, an exciting present

by Tanya Lester

Some people seem to live many lives in one lifetime. Still only half way through hers, ArtSpring’s executive director Jane Forner already fits in this category. She has resided with royalty and studied music in Vienna, but insists that when she came to live on Salt Spring Island, she found paradise.

Two threads woven into Jane’s life at an early age have remained her constant companions: music and solo travel. Raised as an only child by a single parent (Jane’s father “worked away”, two older brothers and a sister had left home by the time she was school age). Jane started playing the piano at 3 years old.

In St. George, New Brunswick, where Jane began her life, there was a steam engine train which travelledd to Bonny River each day. The young girl pleaded with her mother to go on that train until she finally was allowed to board it alone and rode it many times under the watchful eye of the engineer.

To progress in her music, Jane and her mother moved to St. John by the time she was seven. She won all the piano recital awards at festivals right through high school. “I was a big frog in a very small pond,” she said.

After obtaining a music degree from Mount Allison University, Jane received a Canada Council grant to study in Vienna for two years. It was there the “virginal Jane learned about the real world.”

Having grown up in the fiefdom of pulp and paper K.C. Irving, a man “who gave nothing to the arts or sports”, Jane had not even attended a professional opera until she arrived in Austria. There, you could pay a shilling and stand at the back of the hall for a performance.

She and a singer friend rented a room, but Jane moved four times because of her hours practicing on the piano. Dedication paid off when she landed a job as a piano accompanist to voice students studying under a Russian professor of renown. She spent seven summers on the Italian Mediterranean island of Elba, where  the professor took his students each year.

During this time, Jane met her husband, an American conductor from California. He got a job with an opera theatre in northern Germany where Jane played in the orchestra and coached singers. After they divorced, she moved to London and worked in a bank.

But her close friend Adventure did not forsake Jane. “If you watch the London Times long enough, you can get almost any interesting position ( it’s still like that today),” she said.

One day, there is was: “Tutor to distinguished family sought.” The family turned out to be King Idris of Libya, his queen, who was twenty years his junior, and their adopted daughter who was a Berber with flaxen blond hair and brown eyes. Jane worked as her companion and tutor for a year.

One day the queen called her aside and said Jane must leave because they were concerned their daughter was speaking too much English and was losing her Arabic. Jane was offered an airplane ticket to anywhere in the world.

The year was 1968. Jane returned to Canada. In Libya, Colonel Qaddafi overthrew King Idris. Jane got a letter from the queen. With not even a Canadian embassy in that country, Jane would have been thrown into prison during the coup and remained their indefinitely.

Back in Canada, Jane, still in her twenties, began career building. She worked as an assistant editor to Ruby Mercer at Opera Canada. That was followed by recording and executive producer positions for CBC Radio in Ottawa and Toronto and for programs including the popular Mostly Music. “It was at the end of the good times,” she said. “We had money, management who would take risks and creativity coming our of our ears.”

A decade later, Jane “wanted to do something which was much more hands-on with the audience,” so she began programming at arts centres. She worked as presenter for Toronto’s Centre Stage where the performances were always of an international caliber. During that time, Maureen Forrester did many concerts for Jane . Many other prestigious jobs throughout North America followed.

Now at ArtSpring, Jane was surprised by the resistance the arts centre has been faced with from some islanders during its initial months of operation, but six months into her job, she enjoys her work here tremendously and predicts a thriving arts centre two years from now.

“It’s just like being hungry for a good meal,” she said. “I don’t have to lift a finger for the local talent, which is phenomenal and those of international stature I know, for the most part.”

In the same breath, she adds that more fundraising is a must and she has done some counting.

“There have been about 47 evenings with ticket prices ranging from  $12 to $15 with only one fundraiser (the Maureen Forrester concert).”

When questioned concerning the rental rates for the gallery and theatre, Jane explained she met with the artists and they arrived at a figure that they found acceptable. The rates are a bargain, she said.

“I  love the excitement of getting the building (ArtSpring) up and running,” Jane said. “I love working with the artists and encouraging everyone to have a stake in it.”

Jane has worked in big jobs in big urban centres including the opera in Richmond, Virginia, but she is tired of cities. She feels at home in the rural setting of Salt Spring Island, working with the community and residing on Mount Belcher, where she enjoys one of the most spectacular island views.



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