John Hughes – accompanist for Last Christmas Turkey

December 22, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

There is still time for you to catch the beautiful Christmas show this year at Theatre Orangeville: The Last Christmas Turkey, on now until this Saturday, December 23rd.

John Hughes is music director and pianist for the show. John Hughes’ parents  have a strong connection to this neighbourhood. His grandmother was born in Waldemar in 1887; his father was born in Shelburne and his Irish-born grandfather, Tone Hughes, ran creameries in Laurel and Shelburne. During those years, the Hughes and Claridge families developed a close friendship.

Mr. Hughes had fun telling us about the holidays he went on with his and the Claridge family, who lived across the street on Shelburne’s First Avenue.

“We went on road trips every summer in the ’60’s together with the Claridges,” said he.

By road trip, he meant far and wide, for their summer time tours took them to the West Coast one year and the Maritimes, “including the islands off the coast of Newfoundland,” on others. There were six years of travelling all together, which Fred Claridge chronicled in the family paper, The Free Press and Economist, parent publication of the Citizen.

“By the time I was 10 years old, I had seen the 10 provinces of Canada,” he remarked.

His parents both played the piano, his mother, Norah, formally and earning her grade 10 piano, while his father, Don, played more by ear.

John was taking piano lessons by the time he was six years old, but by then he was already playing, the tunes of the ’40s.

“I could just play,” he reminisced. “So, I have no formal training except for 58 years of playing. I never ever had the notion that I would play for the public. I had an office job which I didn’t like very much.”

His transition happened this way: “A friend of mine was choreographing The Bells are Ringing for a Hart House Production – nobody gets paid – and she said, ‘John Hughes will music direct this for us.’ She didn’t bother to ask me first – she just told me about it after she had assured them I would do it. I had never music-directed anything but I still thought I would have a go.”

Musicians know others. Mr. Hughes called a fellow he had played before when they were students and then, others and the show went well.

It went from there: he did another show, accompanied a singer in a club, worked with community theatres. Enjoyed himself, playing music.

“I was 34 years old, sick of my job and I decided to play professionally.”

He worked for theatre companies and golf courses. To subsidize his income while he promoted himself, he worked as a temp from 1986 to 1992, “a couple of places kept me on – an ad agency,” he commented.

“In 1993, I took my leap of faith and started in earnest as a vocal coach for auditions, help with the material and I often went with the candidate to the audition as we had established a rapport.”

Success did not come in a flash: it came in steady increments of working well and building a reputation for excellence and reliability. To hear him tell it, it was almost like growing up, a clear pathway to his own niche in the professional world.

“When Stratford was doing that search for Maria [Sound of Music], I played all the auditions. I was playing all day for the panel conducting the auditions.”

He has worked as a coach for the Randolph Academy for 20 years. His reputation has grown largely from word of mouth, “which is huge for me.”

“I play with groups but I don’t like conducting because I like playing too much,” he admitted simply.

Since then, many roles are his, including, as with this show, as Music Director, which, in many ways is how he began his walk into a professional musical life.

Of The Last Christmas Turkey, he asked us to tell you, “The music is beautiful and arranged by Michael Mulrooney with four-part harmony. I just can’t get over how great the cast is – so professional – doesn’t matter what’s going on out front. The majority of life is in live theatre.”

He said, “I couldn’t be happier or more delighted that David [Nairn] asked me to do this show.”

Tickets for the remaining shows can be obtained from the Box Office at 87 Broadway and the Information centre on Buena Vista; by telephone on 519-942-3423; or online


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