Stringbeans on the side, if you please.
No, this is not a restaurant order. It’s a punchy assessment of Mark Moran’s long career as a cellist for Stringbeans Quartet, a vocation he deftly combines with his profession as project manager for Chandos Construction.
The longtime St. Albert cellist is the new chair of the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts Gala, a much-vaunted position he inherits from past chair Nancy Watt.
With Moran’s savvy problem-solving skills as an engineer, and extensive network of artistic contacts, it appears the gala committee has nabbed a powerhouse leader determined to take the awards ceremony to the next level.
Last fall Moran, 34, joined a roundtable committee meeting after seeing an advertisement in the newspaper.
“I was looking to be on a board. I showed up at the first meeting. I had quite a bit to say and by the end, they asked if I would be on the committee,” Moran says.
“I started talking about how it just can’t be a gala. How it needs to be different – engage citizens. I think they liked the energy.”
In previous years, the gala ran simply as an awards ceremony with local entertainment interspersed between each presentation.
This year “more pizzazz” is the catch phrase. The theme is a ’50s style retro show with the awards ceremony organically flowing through it.
For starters, playwright Tracey Aisenstat, with assists from Heather Dolman, Lexie Pendzich and Adam Mitchell, are collaborating on a fast-paced script.
Hosting the glam night on Friday, March 14 is internationally-celebrated pianist-actor-director Ted Dykstra twinned with local actor Kelly Aisenstat. Both are adept showmen with a shrewd knack for mugging, pratfalls and well-timed comedy.
Born in St. Albert in 1979 to a musical family, Moran was positioned to harness the artistic life at a very early age. His two older brothers were studying piano and violin. Moran was given the cello.
“Growing up in St. Albert gave me the opportunity to do anything I wanted,” he said, adding that he competed for the Sailfish Club, and played volleyball and soccer. An avid soccer player, he continued playing for St. Albert Rangers until 2004.
“Then I retired my shoes. It was time. Once you get older the body just doesn’t respond and I let room for younger guys to take over.”
Under the direction of Maralyn Ryan and John Lowe, Moran acted in about 18 St. Albert Children Theatre productions. At ease on stage, coupled with striking good looks and strong voice, he nabbed a variety of roles from Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol to Prince Charming in Cinderella.
“I liked being on stage. I liked performing, singing and acting. It was exhilarating to be on stage and see what you can do,” he says.
While Moran’s brothers quit the music arena to focus on sports, Moran simply cocooned himself with a great breadth and depth of artists.
From 1990 to his graduating year at St. Albert Catholic High in 1997, he was a cellist with Edmonton Youth Orchestra under the direction of renowned conductor Michael Massey.
“At EYO, you learned how to love the classics. Michael Massey had such energy and he loved classical music. You learned so much when he explored why a composer wrote a piece of music. And he knew how to draw the energy from you.”
Fortunate to have supportive parents, Moran spent summers at music camps in Switzerland, Ireland and Montreal, grooming himself for what he hoped would be a professional career a classical cellist.
It was hard not to be intoxicated by dreams of such a sophisticated career. However, in Switzerland, during a four-hour rehearsal, his Brazilian instructor impressed upon him the hardships of a professional career.
“I didn’t know if I had that intensity to do it. And yeah, I stopped. It was too intense. You are always looking for perfection.”
Moran returned home and completed a music degree at the University of Alberta under the ministrations of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s Tanya Prochazka.
In what appeared to be a 180-degree turn, he later joined the university’s faculty of engineering and graduated as a civil engineer in 2007.
“Engineering and music are different but similar. Both are based around math and use the same part of the brain. I love how things go together.”
“I worked a couple of different jobs in construction before I found my way to Chandos. I enjoy building and problem solving and that I do daily. It takes a certain aptitude and patience, and I have a lot of patience sitting in practice rooms six to eight hours a day,” he laughs.
Throughout his five-year co-operative program, the aspiring engineer continued to perform in Stringbeans Quartet, Edmonton’s “premier power pop quartet.”
In the last 15 years, the string quartet has developed a sure-footed stance with an eclectic array of music from the classical Four Seasons and Rigoletto to Danny Boy, Billie Jean, the Russian Rag and the James Bond Theme.
“Stringbeans plays in a different form the music that is heard on the radio. We just change it to suit what we are doing.”
Not just a weekend band, Stringbeans has developed a reputation that extends beyond the province’s borders. Edmonton Tourism flew the foursome to Chicago to serenade clients.
And when country icon Johnny Reid played the Jube in Nov. 2013, he hired Stringbeans to open for him with tunes from U-2, Coldplay, Rolling Stones and a few Christmas standards.
“He loved us. The first night was great. We had a standing ovation.”
As a longtime musician, Moran is acutely aware that occasionally artists can forget that their creative vision may be misunderstood or misinterpreted by the recipient.
His philosophy of “art should be available to the masses instead of being so far out there no one gets it” is a strong belief that will be applied to the gala.
“This is a great community. We have culture, sports, green spaces and neighbours we can depend on,” he says.
“St. Albert lets you do what you want. It’s a happy place to be. So let’s just work at trying to get it better.”