Campbell Ryga on the festival honouring his father

The Marginal Arts Festival, honouring Canadian playwright George Ryga, runs from Sept. 1 to 4 in Summerland.

Campbell Ryga on the festival honouring his father

When asked what Canadian playwright and novelist George Ryga was like as a father, his son Campbell chuckled.

“I don’t have anything to compare it to,” Campbell said. “But I can compare it to a lot of the folks I grew up with who still remain my friends now. They would have come from maybe a more traditional upbringing.”

The Ryga household in Summerland, where George penned many of his works including The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, was very social, with the full spectrum of artists coming through the doors on different occasions. Musicians, actors, directors, you name it.

“I know my friends used to like to come and spend some time there because it was interesting. Probably a big departure from the households they grew up in,” Campbell said.

Campbell is excited to return to Summerland, to both see old friends and perform in the first annual Marginal Arts Festival being held in honour of George from Sept. 1 to 4 throughout multiple Summerland venues.

Campbell, a saxophonist, is playing the Centre Stage Theatre at 7 p.m. on Sept. 3, joined by Christ Sigerson on Piano, Miles Foxx Hill on bass and Blaine Wikjord on drums

Campbell is delighted the community decided to honour his father with a festival celebrating the arts.

“I think it’s great. It’s nice, positive movement and I think it’s wonderful the community has gotten together to recognize him and honour the fact that he was there for all those years,” Campbell said. “Of course, it’s going to be great on a personal level to see old friends because I haven’t been back to the community in a long time.”

The Ryga children, including Campbell and his two brothers and two sisters, (musician and music teacher Sergei Ryga is also coming to the festival) were given a lot of freedom to pursue their own interests Campbell said.

“Maybe we could have used a bit more discipline, I don’t know, but we’ve all fared pretty darn well and I think we were very much enriched by the fact that we were very inclusive in the arts family,” Campbell said. “Especially for those in my family who have gone on to pursue a career in the arts, it’s very helpful.”

If the Ryga children showed an interest in anything arts-related, their parents would be very encouraging, Campbell said, though he takes a slightly different approach with his own children.

“I’m a little bit more weary about those things myself. If they like the look of a trumpet I’m not going to go out and get them one the next day, our house was a little bit more that way,” Campbell said. “We were a little bit careful, we didn’t want to show too much interest in one specific thing unless we knew that we had a genuine interest to get into it.”

George’s connections to not only the theatre world, but the music world as well, were influential for Campbell.

“We got into music, which wasn’t really dad’s thing, he didn’t know much about music, but he sure had access to the folks that did. I think that was a really good thing,” Campbell said.

Campbell’s first instrument was the clarinet. Shortly after, within a year and a half, the saxophone came into the picture.

Despite his homestead hosting musicians, Campbell’s foray into music was quite typical, playing in high school band, calling his teacher Jim Grinder “fantastic.”

Grinder noticed Campbell’s interest in his mom’s early jazz records, nudging him to play sax.

“He opened up my world a bit more by saying I could use you as a saxophone player,” Campbell said.

By Grade 8, Campbell was already in the jazz band playing the baritone sax.

“Which was an instrument I couldn’t even reach at the time,” Campbell said. “That was basically the beginning. It wasn’t a smooth transition I was fighting with an instrument almost my size. But after a year or so I got more into the smaller horns, the more fun ones to play in the saxophone world.”

For the last 40 years Campbell has been involved in music in one way or another.

Playing theatre shows, in symphonies, dance bands and anywhere a saxophone could fit in kept Campbell playing for years.

“The music scene has, I don’t want to say a standstill, but a major slowdown,” Campbell said.

He now lives in Cloverdale, where he’s called home since 2000. He’s been a university teacher for 15 years and has more recently delved into instrument repair.

“It’s a big departure. I do that while my boys are in school. I do that during the day and everything supplements, so it’s good,” Campbell said.

He’s excited to play some music in Summerland, with friends from Vancouver and Cranbrook coming down to see the show.

“I even have a friend from Naramata coming in to see the show,” Campbell laughed. “I’m really excited. It’s been too long and life had gotten busy.”

He fondly remembers what Summerland offered him as a kid, something he hopes to one day return to in a more permanent way.

“Not just my family but socially and a place that has four seasons. I’d really  wish I could have that for my boys. It really wouldn’t be a sad day at all if I could move back to that community in hopefully the not-too-distant future,” Campbell said.

Acting and arts workshops, musical performances, poetry and more come to the Marginal Arts Festival from Sept. 1 to 4.

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