Less Than Springlike Still

paris ayr"Beware the Ides of March,” quoth the soothsayer. We all know what happened to Caesar when he ignored that warning. I didn’t really ignore that cautionary pronouncement, but was a bit cavalier when I ventured out on one of our less than springlike days just prior to the Ides of March and ended up in a thrilling battle to control a fishtailing car. Fortunately for all, the driver of a rapidly approaching vehicle chose to hit the ditch rather than hit my car. What has all of that to do with this month’s column? I began last month’s column with the plea “When will it end?” One month later, and officially into spring, it hasn’t ended. Winter is still here, but the music scene is warming up.

Clarinet Choir?: When I mentioned to my editor that I had the pleasure of attending a concert by the U of T Clarinet Ensemble and the Wychwood Clarinet Choir at “Clarinet Day,” he asked about the practice of using the term choir when referring to ensembles of like instruments. I embarked on a quest to determine how and when the practice evolved. Wikipedia was no help. The Oxford Companion to Music didn’t shed any light either. Nancy Nourse, whose Flute Street group uses both choir and ensemble as terms, told me that the first use of that terminology, to her knowledge, was the clarinet choir at the University of Illinois. If you have any knowledge of how this term came to be so used, please tell us; my editor would really like to know.

Plumbing Factory: As some readers may be aware, Dr. Henry Meredith’s Plumbing Factory Brass Band is one of my favourites. This is not just because it is a very good all brass band, but because “Dr. Hank,” as he is known to his friends, always comes up with very stimulating programs. Some months ago, in this column, I talked about themed programs and the pitfalls of establishing a theme and then having to select some “less than desirable” music in order to adhere to the theme. Dr. Hank’s response? “My process is to pick great music first and put it into a logical sequence for presentation. Then, the unifying concept solidifies in my imagination, suggesting additional pieces which can then fill out the program. I don’t usually start with a ‘theme’ in mind, but often major works or a mood or a general idea formulates a theme.”

For example, Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is the centrepiece of their upcoming April 9 concert, so “A Little Night Music” seemed a logical choice for a “theme.” Other pieces by major composers serendipitously seemed to fit right in. These include Bach’s Arioso (as a serenade melody), Mendelssohn’s Nocturne, Karl King’s A Night in June, and Meredith’s own cornet solo, Stars in a Velvety Sky.

I certainly wish that I could attend that concert, but a prior commitment and the prospect of six hours of driving to and from London dissuaded me. The first thing that I did on reading the program was to rush to my CD collection and play a recording of Karl King’s A Night in June by The Great American Main Street Band.     

Medical misfortunes: In two completely disparate recent conversations I learned of two talented brass musicians who have been forced to stop playing for medical reasons. One was a case where an essential medication for a serious eye condition had a side effect of preventing the player’s producing a tone on the instrument. The obvious choice was to continue the treatment and cease playing. The other was a very different situation. The musician told me that his lips could no longer produce a tone due to a neurological condition known as focal dystonia. Dystonia refers to involuntary muscle contractions, and focal refers to the fact that the problem is localized in one part of the body. In this person’s case he is no longer able to control his lip muscles to produce a tone. In our conversation he mentioned several well-known musicians who developed this condition. One of the most notable cases is that of renowned concert pianist Leon Fleisher. In recent years Fleisher did regain some use of his right hand through botox injections, but he acknowledges that it is limited. There is no such treatment for brass players. I can’t imagine how someone could cope with the news that they could no longer continue their musical career. In this person’s case, he is now considering the clarinet as his instrument.

On the April horizon: First on my calendar is a return of the Band of HMCS York on April 9 at 8pm to the Naval Club of Toronto. This is the fourth year in a row where the multi-talented members of the HMCS York band will showcase their various small ensembles. I can’t promise novelties like last year’s  duet for alto trombone and harpsichord or another didgeridoo solo. However, I can guarantee a stimulating evening of music. The location is 1910 Gerrard St. E. and the price is right. Admission is free and light refreshments will be served.

On the weekend of April 11 to 13 The Hannaford Street Silver Band will present their annual “Festival of Brass.” At time of writing I had no details of this event, but a visit to their website should help.

The Clarington Concert Band will present their Spring Concert on April 26, 7pm at Trinity Pentecostal Church in Bowmanville. Also, on Sunday, May 4 at 2pm the Markham Concert Band and the Pickering Community Concert Band will join forces to present “The Final Frontier,” a musical interpretation of space featuring guest performer bagpiper Ian MacLellan. They don’t say whether or not they consider the bagpipes as the last frontier of music. It all takes place at the Flato Markham Theatre.

Blythwood Winds is a group I hadn’t heard of. It is a traditional wind quintet which had its roots about four years ago with students at the Glenn Gould School, although only two of the original members remain. Sunday, April 13 at 7pm they will be at the Array Space, 155 Walnut Avenue offering a broad selection from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide Overture arranged by their horn player Curtis Vander Hayden to a new work Extensions by local composer, Elisha Denburg. Personally, I hope to be there to hear one of my favourites: Darius Milhaud’s La cheminée du roi René. For advance reservations phone 416-999-6097.

Last year the group of New Horizons bands in Toronto spread their wings and formed a number of small ensembles. The finale of that initiative was an afternoon of short presentations by several of these ensembles. Another such afternoon of “Chamber Sweets” will be held in the Assembly Hall at Lakeshore Road and Kipling Avenue on Sunday, April 27 at 2:00 pm, with about 15 groups playing from the jazz and classics repertoire.

Finally, down the road we have two large scale events to announce now with details to follow: the annual York University Community Band Festival will take place Saturday May 3 from 1:00 to 9:00 pm; and from May 30 to June 1 the Canadian Band Association, Ontario Chapter (CBAO) will host the Ontario EAST Community Band Weekend in Ottawa.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is: Cadenza: Something that happens when you forget what the composer wrote. We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.

  Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Blasts Icy and Otherwise!

As I sit down to the keyboard to write this month’s column, there is one matter first and foremost in my mind. When will IT end? Having just come into the house after a liberal application of salt to the ice-coated sidewalk which followed several days of snow shovelling, I’m looking for an end to wintry blasts and white mountains of snow. I have been assured that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that it is not the light of an oncoming train.

International Horn Day: While the weatherman isn’t very reassuring, there certainly are many signs of spring in the musical world. The brightest musical light on the near horizon is the Toronto International Horn Day on Sunday, March 30. Founded in 2006 by Joan Watson and Gloria Ratcliffe, this year’s event will be held at Humber College, 3199 Lakeshore Blvd W, Toronto.

The inaugural International Horn Day event was held in Toronto in November of 2006. Since then, this has grown into a major annual event bringing together professional, amateur and student horn players to share their love and enthusiasm for the majesty of the horn. This year it will be an all-day event starting at 9am and continuing until the final concert from 4:30 to 6:30. For horn aficionados of all levels this is a must-attend event. Artistic director Ron George will be ably assisted by artistic advisors Joan Watson, James MacDonald and George Lloyd.

The day will begin with a Morning Warm-Up. Ron George, who is horn professor at the University of Western Ontario, will lead everyone through his daily maintenance routine which explores all aspects of horn playing. Then, from 11am to noon there will be Jazz Horn with James MacDonald, for all levels from beginners to seasoned jazz performers to learn the basic 12-bar blues form and the basics of improvisation.

A Mock Audition will be conducted from 10:30am to noon followed by a Feedback Session from 2pm to 3:30. This will have participants performing a mixture of operatic and symphonic excerpts, plus a solo piece. There will also be a masterclass with guest clinician, Chris Gongos, a student horn ensemble with Gary Pattison, principal horn of the National Ballet Orchestra plus several options to perform in the concert and/or the grand finale.

The principal attraction for me would be the “Wagner Tuba Petting Zoo.” Scott Wevers and Bardhyl Gjevori from the Canadian Opera Company will be on hand to demonstrate the instrument and show some basics of how to play it.

There are simply too many opportunities for participants in this one-day event to detail here. For complete details visit the website at  hornday.ca.

Clarinet Day March 2: Not to be outdone by the brass folks, the woodwinds are having their special day as well. Sunday March 2 will be Clarinet Day at Walter Hall in the Edward Johnson Building of the University of Toronto. The day will start at 10am with clarinet workshops conducted by a number of clarinet clinicians. At 1:45pm there will be coaching sessions with James Campbell, the U of T Clarinet Ensemble and the Wychwood Clarinet Choir. At 7:30pm there will be a concert by the two combined ensembles. This time almost all of the many members of the clarinet family will be heard in performance. If you’re not familiar with the sounds of a contrabass clarinet or any of its small relatives, attend the concert for an unusual treat. As an added plus there is no charge for any event. The Edward Johnson Building is at 80 Queens Park Crescent. Visit wychwoodclarinetchoir.com for more details.

1906 bandstand1Having learned that Long and McQuade were having an Instrument Exploration Workshop to acquaint potential recruits for yet another New Horizons beginners’ band in Toronto, it was imperative that I pay a visit. When I arrived with camera in hand, I soon learned that mine was not the only camera there. The sizable group of prospects exploring potential instrumental companions was being filmed for TV. Filmmaker and journalist Sarah Keenlyside of Inkblot Media was there with her crew filming the action and interviewing band prospects for a proposed one-hour documentary on the Toronto New Horizons groups. The final production is slated to be aired on TV Ontario next fall. We discussed the evolution of these bands from the original beginners group to level 2 and level 3 groups and wondered how many group levels there might be. Sarah posed an interesting question: “Is there such a thing as graduation?” Good point!

While on the subject of New Horizons bands, I received an interesting phone call a few days ago. It was from a member of one of the Toronto bands who is contemplating a move to Peterborough. Could I put her in touch with the folks in Peterborough? Playing in a band is now an important part of her life and she doesn’t want to give that up if she moves.

As announced in last month’s column, the Canadian Band Association (Ontario) formally announced their campaign to promote public awareness of the activities of wind bands in Ontario. The campaign was officially launched by the Honourable Brad Duguid, the local MPP and Ontario Minister for Training, Colleges and Universities. Supporting Mr. Duguid at the event were noted composer and conductor Howard Cable and Mr. Jack Long of Long and McQuade Music. So far we don’t have any details on events proposed for this campaign, but look forward to receiving them in the coming weeks.

In a recent conversation with Chris Butcher, leader of the Heavyweights Brass Band, he told me of an interesting event taking place this month. They are inviting anyone who plays brass instruments or saxophones to join in a Street Brass performance on Thursday March 6 at 6:pm. By the time this issue is off the press there will have already been one rehearsal, with a second one scheduled for Saturday March 1. Rehearsals and the performance will all be at Lula Lounge, 1585 Dundas St. W. If interested in joining in the fun, email Chris at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details.

img 1029  copy Al Cheslo. It is with deep sorrow that I must report the passing of another stalwart from the community band scene. As is so frequently the case in the band world, I can’t recall when I first met Al Cheslo. When one joins a group it usually takes some time to get to know those other members who don’t play in one’s section. I just know that Al had been in many groups that I have been associated with for over 25 years. In both big “swing bands” and concert bands Al was a regular member. The last time that I spoke with him he mentioned that he was downsizing from a house to an apartment and would miss the following week ’s rehearsal. Rather than see him at our rehearsal in two weeks’ time, I attended his funeral service. We miss him.

Definition Department. This month’s lesser known musical term is: An Achoired Taste: An appreciation of choral music. We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.

Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Banding Together

As is usual with the beginning of a new year we expect to hear of the spring concert plans and other initiatives by community bands. While there is lots of information on such individual plans in the in-basket, this is also the season in many quarters for news of much broader initiatives promoting banding in this part of the country.

CBA (Ontario): The most notable of these is an initiative by the Canadian Band Association (Ontario). On Thursday, February 6, the Ontario chapter of the CBA will announce a bold campaign to promote public awareness of the activities of wind bands in Ontario. Their pre-announcement states: “The event is the formal launch for our campaign to promote public awareness of the activities of wind bands in Ontario, including, especially, adult concert, swing and brass bands, and the role they play in the arts, in life-long learning and in supporting community-building.” The slogan for this Concert Band Celebration is “If You Play, You Rock.”

This province-wide campaign celebrates the rich tradition of community bands and the important role they play in enriching community life. In the words of Graziano Brescacin, president, Canadian Band Association (Ontario), “Community bands are great to hear and rewarding to play in. This new campaign is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the diverse music of our bands and highlight their role as contributors to the culture and vitality of communities across Ontario.” Several provincial and city politicians, among them the Honourable Brad Duguid, the local MPP and Ontario Minister for Training, Colleges and Universities, as well as dignitaries from the world of bands, have been invited to the launch ceremony which will take place Thursday, February 6 at noon at Wilmar Heights Centre, 963 Pharmacy Ave., Toronto. The launch will be followed by a one-hour free concert by the Encore Symphonic Concert Band under the direction of John Edward Liddle.

Here is the CBA(O) manifesto in support of this initiative:
1. Contribution to community-building. Wind bands take live music, for free and/or very affordable prices, to people who would not otherwise have the opportunity to hear live music played by a large ensemble. Wind band concerts can be a big support to individuals, both in the bands and in the audience. It is not uncommon for audience members to speak to friends who are band members to say how personally important and moving it was for them to hear these friends play. They state that listening to music makes us better citizens by giving us a common cultural understanding, and that listening to music together has been scientifically shown to increase how empathic we feel toward our fellow human beings. Making music together is about being friends and family on the same team; it’s the only team sport in which the entire family can play together.
2. Contribution to the arts. Wind bands have a unique sound, different from any other ensemble. It’s a great sound, and there is lots of music being written for them including much by Canadian composers. Wind bands perform the classics as well as music from the popular repertoire. These bands also innovate what and how they perform, in true artistic fashion.
3. Contribution to lifelong learning. Playing music is good for our brains. Playing music lets us learn about the particulars of the pieces being played, as well as the technical requirements of the instruments. For students, playing music with adults sets them up for success at school and later in life. Many young people have had the experience of playing in a wind band, giving them a productive focus at a time in life when, otherwise, they might have drifted.

New Horizons: Over the past few years I have mentioned many times the activities of the Toronto-based New Horizons bands. This month, I had the good fortune to receive an email message from Harlene Annett who is in charge of membership for the New Horizons bands in Peterborough. While I had known that there was an active group in Peterborough, I had no idea of the extent of their activities.

Since its inception this organization has grown significantly. They now have five bands, all with distinctive names, performing at different levels with the Odyssey band as the highest. They also have at least ten regular small ensembles. The Green, beginners’ band started in September 2013 and has 45 members, with 40 people waiting for the next band to begin next September. Membership in the bands is not limited to very basic instrumentation. In fact there are oboes in all bands and bassoons in three. All five conductors are university-trained in music and all perform regularly in other bands.

With the aid of a Trillium Grant they have been able to purchase several instruments including two tubas and two bassoons. They also have the distinction of having the only conch shell band in Canada!

Far-fetched? Well, I went off to the internet and can report that I have now received my first lesson on “how to blow a conch shell.”

There is so much to learn about their operations. If you are involved in the organization or administration of any band, a visit to their website at nhbpeterborough.com would be well worth the time spent.

Experienced beginners: While there is certainly healthy interest on the part of beginners, there also seems to be a growing interest in some band members to take up another instrument and/or to join another band. I have recently spoken to a baritone player taking up bassoon, a French horn player going for the euphonium, a violinist starting on trumpet and a saxophonist trying out the French horn. Are you considering a new instrument or looking for a second band? Let us hear from you.

Definition Department:This month’s lesser known musical term is Cadenza:  Something that happens when you forget what the composer wrote.

We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.

Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Diversity is the Seasonal Key

1904 bandstandSince this issue of The WholeNote is a double issue covering the periods before and after the Christmas holiday season, I expected to be flooded with information on concerts devoted to traditional Christmas music. I also expected a small smattering of information on what might be in store in the community band world in the new year. I was mistaken. In my ad hoc unscientific survey of band activities, the clear pattern was that there is no pattern. The key word is diversity. Where to start? How are they diverse? How do they differ from the traditional activities we think of when we use the phrase “Town Band”?

Traditionally most town bands performed regularly in parades. Now, most community bands restrict their activities to concerts. In the more extreme cases, the word parade is akin to blasphemy. In other words, to play in a parade would be beneath their artistic dignity. A special bouquet then goes to the Newmarket Citizens Band. In a three-week period before Christmas the members of that town band are scheduled to perform in no fewer than five Santa Claus Parades interspersed with some free concerts at retirement residences. That is community service. At the other end of the diversity spectrum, many community bands perform one concert of Christmas or seasonal music.

As for concert programming, that too has diversified greatly. Few of the groups that we have heard from restrict their programming to band music only. Most have guest soloists, choirs or both. For the Milton Concert Band their special guests are the Kingsway Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir under music director Karen Sexton and a very special secret guest vocalist. They’ll cover the spectrum from Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride to Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium. The Brampton Concert Band takes diversity further with both the Brampton Youth Concert Band and the Mayfield Singers from Mayfield Secondary School as guests. As an additional attraction, this year’s “Christmas at the Rose” will intertwine the music with story-telling presented by local Brampton actor Joe Rose. On the eastern front, out in Pickering, the Pickering Community Concert Band’s Christmas Concert will include theme music from Harry Potter films performed with synchronized video. To complete the mix, in addition to an audience carol sing-along they will be joined by the Pickering High School Jazz Band.

Plumbing the repertoire: Although their concerts will be past history by the time this issue is off the presses, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the creative efforts of professor Henry Meredith and his Plumbing Factory Brass Band in London. In their late November concerts they included a tasteful variety of Christmas melodies in original arrangements for brass band by band members. On the religious side, these included the Ukrainian folk chant Carol of the Bells, the 17th century French Canadian Huron Carol also known as Twas in the Moon of Wintertime and the premiere performance of A Christmas Carol Medley arranged by band member Ronald Morgan. On the lighter side there was The Parade of the Tin Soldiers (1897) by Leon Jessel and the March of the Toys (from Babes in Toyland) (1903) by Victor Herbert. Then, as frequently happens in their programs, there was the unknown Canadian gem most of us had never heard of. This time such a gem was The Mistletoe Galop (c. 1867–75, published by P. Grossman, Hamilton, ON)

Horizons past: From time to time I report on the happenings of the New Horizons bands. Now in their fourth season in Toronto, there are now five concert bands and one jazz class with another new group starting in February on Wednesday afternoons. A familiarization evening will be held for anyone interested in learning more about the New Horizons movement on Friday, January 31 from 7pm to 9pm at the Long and McQuade Bloor Street store in Toronto. The original intent of this movement, when it was started about 15 years ago, was to encourage older absolute beginners or those who hadn’t touched an instrument since school days to get into playing in a group. Having decided to look at diversity this month, I inquired about the musical backgrounds, if any, of the local New Horizons members. What I learned was surprising. Many had considerable experience in music, but on other instruments. Here again, an unscientific, informal survey was in order.

One of the dedicated members of the senior group, Alizon, who plays the oboe in the band, came to New Horizons with piano experience and as a singer. Maureen, new to the group this year, who picked up the French horn on her own, just happens to teach harp at the Royal Conservatory. Gail, on alto saxophone, with no previous musical experience, is one of the sort that I expected. Russell, a professional bassist, is now performing on tenor saxophone. Ken, a professional bassoonist and bass clarinetist, now embraces a tuba. He does admit though that carrying a tuba on public transit presents a challenge. Carol, with no prior experience, originally took up the flute and now plays that in the level two band. However, she had a long-suppressed urge to try drums. She now also plays drums in the level one band. One of the most interesting members is Randy. Having never played any instrument in his life, Randy, a seasoned member on flute in the level three band, is now trying his hand at composition. The members of the group hope to give his first effort a read through in the coming weeks.

Within that group there are two individuals who warrant special mention for their musical dealings with adversity. Lawrence, once an accomplished organist and choir director, was forced to relinquish his post when the arthritis in his hands reached the stage where he could no longer cope with a keyboard instrument. While the organ is no longer within his grasp, his musical talent is now expressed through the xylophone. Then there is Randall. Totally blind since birth, Randall is seen regularly carrying his euphonium at various band events around Toronto. He even performs frequently on euphonium at York University. I have grown accustomed to observing Randall’s proficiency on a valved instrument. To put it mildly, I was blown away when I spotted him holding forth on a large bass trombone during a recent visit to a New Horizons rehearsal. My exploration into diversity in the band world took me to places that I could not have imagined.

Readers write: Although there is a regular request in this column for readers to write, it rarely happens. What a joy this time to have two new responses to report, The first from reader John Ryerson offers a correction to my referral in the last issue to “a decision by the Toronto District School Board to cut the funding of some music programs in Toronto schools.” He states: “For the record, it was the Ministry of Education that wanted the ‘flex’ funding program removed but the TDSB wore it. Regards.”

Another reader response, with a twist of humour, came from “Suzanne.” Last month’s lesser known musical term was “basso continuo: when musicians are still fishing long after the legal season has ended.” Suzanne’s rejoinder requires careful pronunciation to fully comprehend.

“One of the more unsavory types out on the waters after the end of the legal season is the solitary and elusive bass angling for bass. I hope that this will change the tenor of the common belief that basso continuo is just a little harmless illegal fishy fun. One must also question Liona Boyd’s intentions. As you will note from her picture, (page 31, right next to your column), she appears to be just enjoying a little harmless R&R in a canoe. Or has she succumbed to this derelict basso continuo craze. After all let’s not forget that the guitar which she just ‘happens’ to have with her in the canoe is a popular choice for basso continuo illegal fishing types. I hope this clarifies things.”

DEFINITION DEPARTMENT

This month’s lesser known musical term is ben sostenuto: First cousin of the second trombonist.

We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions. 

Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Music Education No ‘Frill’

bandstand - condolezza riceSome months ago there was quite a fuss in the news over a decision by the Toronto District School Board to do away with the itinerant music teachers, as a cost-cutting measure. These itinerant teachers normally teach only music and travel between an assigned number of schools. The effect would have been to eliminate most music education at the elementary school level. Proponents of this action expressed the opinion that music education was a frill which could readily be eliminated in a time of budget constraint. Those on the pro-music side argued that music was an integral part of our lives, and that early music education had a positive role to play in the development of many skills in later life. After considerable debate, the board arrived at a compromise, and the itinerant teachers are back in their classrooms this year. Whether this decision is merely a stay of execution or a more permanent solution remains to be seen.

Personally I attended an excellent secondary school with very high academic standards, but with absolutely no formal music program. On the other hand, in my formative years I had the good fortune to have lived in a home filled with music. There were regular rehearsals in our living room and the radio always delivered symphony concerts and opera. I have lived a life filled with music. So this current debate on the merits of music education called out to me to try to get some factual information.

As luck would have it there was a recent article — “Is Music the Key to Success?” — by Joanne Lipman, which I read in the October 12, 2013 New York Times. In this article Lipman cites many prominent figures in diverse fields who were high achievers in music. Examples: Condoleezza Rice trained to be a concert pianist. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, was a professional clarinet and saxophone player. The hedge fund billionaire Bruce Kovner is a pianist who took classes at Juilliard.

Lipman asked the question: “What is it about serious music training that seems to correlate with outsize success in other fields?” It has been generally accepted in academic circles for some time that mathematical skills are considerably enhanced by proficiency in music. Parini goes further, however, stating that the music/success correlation extends beyond the math-music connection. Many high achievers told her that music opened up many pathways to creative thinking: qualities such as collaboration, the ability to listen, ways of thinking that weave together disparate ideas, and the power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously. Advertising executive Steve Hayden credits his background as a cellist for his famous work in producing commercials for Apple computers, stating that his cello performance background helps him work collaboratively and that ensemble playing trains you, quite literally, to play well with others, to know when to solo and when to follow.

These studies got me thinking of famous musicians who also made their mark in other fields. That took me back to my days in the navy when I appeared before my Officer Selection Board. The first question that I was asked by the officer in charge of the board: “You say that one of your major interests is music.” “Yes sir.” “Name a famous composer who was also a naval officer.” My immediate reply: “Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.” I passed; Rimsky-Korsakov had been an officer in the Imperial Russian Navy. Then there was the famous pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the first prime minister of Poland. Another Russian composer, Alexander Borodin, was a physician and professor of chemistry. Former British prime minister Edward Heath maintained an interest in orchestral music as an organist and conductor. Heath directed the London Symphony Orchestra, notably at a gala concert at the Royal Festival Hall in 1971. He also conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the English Chamber Orchestra, as well as orchestras in Germany and the United States. He also wrote a book called The Joy of Christmas: A Collection of Carols, published in 1978 by Oxford University Press.

When I first started collecting LP records, some of my favourite recordings were by the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under the direction of its founding director Ernest Ansermet. Originally he was a mathematics professor, teaching at the University of Lausanne, but music took over most of his life. Ansermet was one of the first in the field of classical music to take jazz seriously, and in 1919 he wrote an article praising jazz saxophonist Sidney Bechet.

Closer to home, former Canadian Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn was an accomplished bass clarinetist. Internationally renowned Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, noted as much for her stage presence as for her musicality, just happens to have an honours degree in Biomedical Engineering.

There certainly is considerable anecdotal evidence to support the belief that proficiency in music plays a role in the development of many other cognitive skills, but the evidence goes way beyond the anecdotal. I know of at least three ongoing university research efforts closely related to this subject. One researcher at McMaster University has been investigating a broad spectrum of society to investigate the role music plays in people’s lives. Another research project at Ryerson University is examining differences in people with musical expertise when it comes to auditory versus visual selective attention. The third, at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences is the most interesting to me in terms of making a case for the value of early musical training. Stefanie Hutka, a PhD student at the Rotman Institute (and a violinist) provided this information.

“Our NeuroEducation Across the Lifespan laboratory is directly targeting an increase in awareness and accessibility of music training. On the awareness side, we are heavily involved in public outreach such as the Brain Power conference, which presents accessible information about neuroscience findings on music to scientists, educators, and parents. On the accessibility side, we have studies supporting the benefits of music, including via short-term training on software, which have been published in top scientific journals. In one 2011 study, school-aged children used music training software called Smarter Kids, developed by our lead scientist, Dr. Sylvain Moreno. After only 20 days of training, improvements on measures of verbal intelligence were observed. We are currently extending this theme of accessibility, creating software using music to train the aging brain, with very positive preliminary data.”

Her summary of the project’s findings to date?: “Everyone can benefit from music training. A wealth of empirical, neuroscientific evidence supports the positive influence of music training on numerous non-musical brain functions, such as language, reading and attention. Such benefits are seen in children, and continue across the lifespan into older adulthood. Despite this evidence, music education is still often seen as a supplemental and expensive subject in schools, and often is the target of budget cuts. Increasing awareness of the real-world benefits associated with learning music, as well as making music training more accessible, are critical steps towards supporting the inclusion of this important subject in curricula.”

As formal Liberal Leader Bob Rae (who has himself been known to lead a rousing sing-song from the piano) is reported to have stated some months ago in a debate on financing culture: “Culture is not a luxury.” Couldn’t have said it better myself!

DEFINITION DEPARTMENT

This month’s lesser known musical term is basso continuo: When musicians are still fishing long after the legal season has ended.

We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions. 

Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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