Editor's Opener - September 2014

There’s a little “PRICELESS!” tag we wear proudly at the top right-hand corner of our cover. It used to say FREE. And that’s still true, in its literal sense, for more than 99 percent of the 30,000 copies we distribute each issue from London to Kingston, Ontario.

But in a year like this, as we tiptoe towards our 20th anniversary and start to delve into the treasure trove of musical facts and memories captured in our pages, “Priceless” begins to take on a greater resonance. Look for example at the little features on pages 63 and 67 in this issue, which capture some of the flavour of “How I Met My Teacher” and “Music’s Children” – two features that over the years have helped to show the human and personal face of our region’s extraordinary musical life.

We’ll be digging down regularly over the coming months (with more than a few contests and challenges and prizes along the way). Hope you’ll be along for the ride.

Nearly two decades of chatting like this every month or so with a readership as faithful as ours has its dangers. For one thing it leads to the assumption that every reader of the magazine will “get it” when I fly off on one of my little tangents. But with a lot of guests in town this month (hello TIFFers!) and getting into practice for next July’s Pan Am games, I’m going to try to tone things down a bit, here in the magazine’s ceremonial front office.

(For my more usual ranty style, I’m afraid you’ll have to turn all the way to “Dis-Concerting Stuff” on page 60, where I offer up some suggestions for them as thinks they have a monopoly on what constitutes “proper behaviour” in others at a concert, while remaining sand-blind to their own shortcomings.)

I can’t remember any issue (in the 19 years, two months, 14 days and 23 hours we’ve been doing this) that better reflects the variety and richness of musical life in this neck of the woods. From film to new opera to world music, live and recorded, to insights into what has to happen behind the musical scenes to make it all tick, this issue’s features are an extraordinary testament to the variety and resiliency of art in general and live music in particular, in a town and region that have their ups and downs in terms of wider political support for and understanding of the role that art and culture play in the health of individuals and the communities they inhabit.

(That being said, I made a little promise to myself not to get caught up in the cut and thrust of our fall municipal elections until after Labour Day, so you’ll have to wait until the next issue for any more about that here. Not that there isn’t a fair bit to say, but, as I mentioned, there’s company in town.)

Switching gears again, it’s our regular columnists as much as our feature writers who make the magazine the fine read it’s come to be over time. So hats off, ladies and gents, for hauling in your fishing tackle and hightailing it back to town. A special nod (by way of a placeholder) to horn player and Jazz Notes columnist of long standing, Jim Galloway, whose regular column is conspicuous by its absence this month as Jim battles a bit of a health setback. To say Jim’s missing a column is unusual is an understatement. This is, after all, the man who filed 2,400 typewritten words of an interview with Oscar Peterson by fax machine (miracle of modern technology at the time) from the purser’s office of a cruise ship, rather than miss a deadline. Good news is I can truthfully tell you he’s “on assignment” writing about the musical implications of an impending anniversary five times longer, and with much grimmer resonances, than our own. 

As our Mr. Galloway’s customary signoff in his column would put it: have a good month, and make at least some of your music listening live!  

publisher@thewholenote.com


TIFF TIPS

 

Welcome to The WholeNote’s third annual guide to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) spotlighting films in which music plays an intriguing role. Selections range from music-centred documentaries and musicals to movies featuring characters involved in making music to soundtracks that are integral to the quality of the films they help drive. With 285 feature films in this year’s festival, there was some alchemy involved in choosing the 22 titles on the following list – the soundtrack category is particularly difficult to predict in advance.

tiff tips - seymourYou meet the most interesting people at New York City dinner parties. That’s where Ethan Hawke first met Seymour Bernstein, the 85-year-old subject of his documentary Seymour: An Introduction. Bernstein began playing the piano as a child in Newark, New Jersey and by the age of 15 was already a teacher. He had a brief concert career after studies with such giants as Alexander Brailowsky, Clifford Curzon and Nadia Boulanger before settling into his role of helping others develop.

It was Hawke’s explanation of Bernstein’s teaching mantra in response to Hubert Vigilia’s question on flixist.com two years ago (just as the film was taking shape) that piqued my curiosity and made Seymour a must-see on my TIFF to-do list: “What is harmony? What is dissonance? Why should we practice? Why should we work hard, and what difference does it make when you play the right note or don’t play the right note? He’s a very deep guy. I was touched by him, and I thought he had a lot to teach me about acting, and then I slowly realized that the way he’s talking about the piano relates to every profession.”

Read more: TIFF TIPS

Panamania-Bound: Obeah Rising

panamaniaThere is an old adage that says, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but that is exactly what composer/lyricist Nicole Brooks did with Obeah Opera.

 

In 2012, the hit production earned a nomination for a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Musical/Opera. Nonetheless, the Obeah Opera that will be unveiled at Nightwood Theatre’s New Groundswell Festival (September 11 to 14) is a totally new work. “I always knew it wasn’t complete,” says Brooks. “Both the story and the music had to evolve. The ancestors wouldn’t allow me to rest.”

The ancestors Brooks references are the West African female practitioners of the ancient healing art of obeah. Obeah women who were captured and enslaved brought their healing practices to the Americas where the pressure of Christianity converted the concept of obeah into an evil force. Even today, some superstitious people from the Caribbean fear the very sound of the word. When Weyni Mengesha, the director of the new version, asked each member of the cast to bring one fact about obeah to the first day of rehearsals, over half cited negative connotations. One cast member said her mother even refused to talk about it.

Read more: Panamania-Bound: Obeah Rising

Ready, Set... Houselights Down

ready set - marc mahonOpening night of a concert season is something of a landmark moment, and one likely to have presenters and concertgoers alike on the edge of their seats. The first show of the year acts as a beginning of sorts, setting the tone for the season ahead. And yet, a season opener is also in many ways a culmination of the great work of preparation – the not-always-visible efforts of the myriad people who shape a musical project into its final, public form.

We spoke with some of those behind-the-scenes music professionals whose work is just that – to ensure that each concert of the season, for both audience and performers, happens just the way it should. Opening night, when the houselights go down and the curtain rises, is in fact a very different sort of landmark for each individual involved – and for some, just another day on the job.

What follows are conversations with a cluster of industry experts: the acoustician working on the The Isabel, the hall in the new Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts at Queen’s University; the principal Toronto Symphony Orchestra librarian backstage at Roy Thomson Hall; and two individuals whose sets and surtitles respectively, help give opera in Toronto its visual presence. As each prepares in his own way for the onset of another season, they divulge the secrets of the job and reveal just how crucial that behind-the-scenes clockwork can be.

So, as you enjoy your musical firsts of the upcoming concert season, be sure to keep an eye (or an ear) out for the handiwork of some of these industry experts. While you may not see them onstage under the spotlights, you’ll know just what, at that moment, they might be up to.

Read more: Ready, Set... Houselights Down

For The Record | Kiran Ahluwalia

 

for the record - kiranIn his 2005 article “Ghazal Original” British music critic Ken Hunt reckoned that Kiran Ahluwalia “has the potential to become one of the great ambassadors of Indo-Pakistani diaspora music, not [just] from Canada, [but] from anywhere…” (fRoots Issue 269). With each new album she has come closer to fulfilling that promise; two JUNO Best World Music Album awards (and several nominations) later, Ahluwalia has proven her perennial appeal to audiences and critics alike. In 2009 the Songlines/WOMAD Best Newcomer of the Year Award heralded her as an international world music star of growing stature. Various World Music charts over the years have echoed that trend. Her 2011 cover of the qawwali song Mustt Mustt, by the celebrated late Pakistani qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, recorded with the Malian group Tinariwen, has garnered an impressive 314,000 visits on YouTube.

Since Ahluwalia‘s first CD in 2001, her string of album releases, accompanied by evolving instrumentation and stylistic components, has been called “one of global music’s most interesting adventures.” It seems that each new album marks personal growth, the expansion of her careful listening to yet another geo-cultural zone of our world. She has also shown a continued eagerness to contest the borders of her musical comfort zone in live performance. For instance, last year she shared the Harbourfront Centre stage with the rising Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq as well as divas from other musical traditions. On other occasions she’s sung with electronica groups Eccodek and Delerium, with an Afghan rubab player and a Cape Breton fiddler. She has performed her compositions, as arranged by Glenn Buhr, with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. The list of genres she’s collaborated in also includes Portuguese fado, sub-Saharan percussion, Pakistani qawwali, and most recently, African blues. Incorporating just one culturally “other” element in one’s music can be problematic on several levels, yet she integrates each new element with seeming grace and ease.

Read more: For The Record | Kiran Ahluwalia

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