If This Were A Concert ...

If this were a concert then, right now,  I would be the gent who walks out onto the stage just when you think the show is about to start, to a smattering of applause from those of you who thought I might be the artistic director, until you realized my suit was too expensive for that.

I would have a creased, handwritten piece of paper in one hand and would sidle over to the lectern downstage right; I would tap the microphone until someone came and turned it on for me; I would introduce myself as [INSERT NAME OF IMPORTANT NONPERFORMER] in the organization; I would say say that before I can get to the prepared remarks carefully folded in the pocket of my suit jacket, there are three items of housekeeping to take care of.

One, to remind everyone that this is our COMBINED ISSUE, covering December AND January so do NOT call the office on January 2 except to leave a message after the tone wishing us a Happy New Year.

Two, to point out the revised structure AND ORDER of our listing sections as explained right here on this page (to your left);

Three, to thank the readers whose suggestions have helped us take this step forward in making the new Section C: Music Theatre listings a permanent feature of our coverage, and we welcome further input moving ahead.

If this were a concert I would then crumple up the aforementioned handwritten housekeeping notes and put them in my suit pants pocket; I would take out the carefully prepared, neatly folded, printed notes from my suit jacket pocket; I would put my glasses on, introduce myself again from my printed notes; and I would say that it is my great pleasure to welcome you to this 20th annual COMBINED DECEMBER/JANUARY issue of The WholeNote.

“Before going any further,” I would say,  “I wish to thank all those who have not only made this issue possible but have in fact enabled us to reach this memorable 20th December. But that rather than delaying the proceedings any further  I simply direct your attention to the staffers, contributors and funders in the masthead at the foot of this page, and to all the advertisers in the index of advertisers adjacent to it. Without their help, their loyalty and their love, none of this would be possible.”

I would then remember to take the microphone with me and would leave the stage to the performers, and you, dear readers, to your pleasure, after reminding you to turn off all pagers, cellphones and electronic devices.

Since  it is not a concert, however I urge you all to turn ON your cellphones, etcetera, and tweet to the world that the Dec/Jan issue is out.

If this were your concert,  on the other hand,  I would be in the audience hoping that among your resolutions for the New Year would be a couple of things relating to how you address us, the audience from the stage.

Think about this: we all have the goal of attracting new audiences, or to put it another way, audiences to whom what we do is new.  If they were guests in our house we would take it as a given that the first thing we could do to set them at ease would be to acquaint them with the rules of the house, by which I mean all the ways we do things that are particular to us rather than generally known.

If applause for example is a natural spontaneous human reflex at witnessing something spectacularly well done, or deep emotion revealed, it makes only slightly more sense to ask people to hold their applause than it does to ask them to hold back their tears. 

So if our house rule is that in fact such withholding is required, it is more and more incumbent on us to make that fact known to audiences who are new to our house.

It doesn’t cut it, in my book, to put little asterisks in a program next to sections where one wishes the audience to withhold applause and think that by so doing the job has been done, unless someone, [INSERT NAME OF IMPORTANT PERFORMER], has also called the audience’s attention, from somewhere in the vicinity of the lectern, stage right, to what the artists on stage are hoping the houserules will be. 

If I were now to practise what I have just preached, this is what I would say to you, if you were a new reader of this magazine:

 I’d say welcome, and thanks for giving us a try; I’d say if you want to get an idea of what makes us tick, flip quickly through the five listings sections of the magazine – from page 36 to page 68. Everything else around those 33 pages (over 800 individual live events) is  also in some way about those 33 pages. We exist to support the work of the people whose serious love of live music is there for you to see and hear on these days and dates.

If you are reading this in print, you should know that we do 30,000 of these, nine times a year, of which all but a couple of hundred are distributed free of charge at around 800 distribution points in Southern and Southwestern Ontario. And there is a  handy map on our website (under the “About Us” tab) which will show you where you can find us.

You should also know that the listings you have just flipped through are also free of charge, so if you feel as though the music you make belongs here, all you have to do to get the dialogue under way is to contact listings@thewholenote.com.

To all of you, regular readers and new our best wishes for a happy, hearty and hopeful year end and thank you for your kind attention! You won’t see us in print again until the end of January, so if you haven’t already, sign up for our between-issue e-letter HalfTones. (For details, see the house ad on page 18.)

publisher@thewholenote.com


For Whose Benefit?

Above all else, a disclaimer: The WholeNote attests and affirms that no real clarinet choirs were harmed in the making of the licorice stick joke (page 36, col 1, para 5) in Jim Galloway’s Jazz Notes column this issue. Welcome back, Jim! 

Youthanized: It’s amazing how the keepers of various public arts and cultural purses (arts and cultural councils and funds) have the power to send the spirits of their clients and would-be clients soaring to the heights or plunging to the depths. We only qualify for one or two of these, a situation not likely to change unless “survival arts” becomes a discipline like “visual arts” for example. And at the best of times, such as right now, the money that we receive from these sources never exceeds more than five or six percent of what it takes to keep this enterprise swimming doggedly towards the economic safety of some distant (and perhaps imaginary) shore.

Starting with soaring, we are chuffed beyond measure to announce that the Ontario Media Development Corporation has agreed to support our proposal to develop an online “Listening Room” as an adjunct to our DISCoveries CD/Record Review Section.  We’ll be tweaking and testing starting this coming month, with a full scale launch in the spring. Stay tuned, And welcome aboard, Thom McKercher, who will be piloting this initiative.

The “sinking feeling” side of things is a little harder to nail down, because it’s not specific to us but rather something that the whole musical milieu we serve is going through to some extent. It is the result of the fact that, despite the emergence of new creative organizations all the time, the governments that supply the aforesaid arts councils and funds with cash are hugely resistant to increasing the amount of money available. The Ontario Arts Council, for one, has had its budgets flatlined for years. So the money available must be shared among more recipients. Older organizations find themselves threatened with “youthanizing” - letters announcing little cuts here and there, and threatening larger cuts unless the organizations in question address themselves to newer or younger or more diverse audiences. Would it not be better to have the resources to fund directly the arts and culture arising organically from these new constituencies as they emerge?

It’s not the fault of the councils and funds. It’s the chronic lack of respect that arts work gets from dumb politicians at every level. 

Election reflections, Ontario October 27 2014: Speaking of dumb politicians,make no mistake, there’s no worse feeling after an election than to have voted fearfully (“strategically” it’s sometimes called) for the lesser of two evils. And it’s especially sour when the stratagem fails. That’s what happened in my small town the last time round. The bigger bully got elected anyway, and I had the taste of it in my mouth for a long time.

So this time round I said “strategy be damned” and voted with a hopeful heart. (So how did that work out for you, Dave?)

Well, definitely no sour taste so far; and a bit less fear in the air, because it appears the strategic voters carried the day, even without my help, which is a bit of a blow to the ol’ ego.

Mine is just a small town, mind you, but I suspect that even in what are colloquially referred to as “world class cities” the same dynamic applies: you vote, then wait, en masse, to see who the real beneficiaries of the power you have awarded will be.

Best chat I had along the way during this election campaign, by far,  was not with a candidate but with a super-fine young vocalist who showed up at a fundraiser/party for a particularly hopeful mayoralty candidate in the old home town. We chatted away, while an evening’s worth of fine musicians added their musical hearts and skills to the evening’s hopeful hullabaloo.

As is so often the case, the fundraiser fell further and further behind schedule the longer it went, and our conversation had time to wander over the whole range of galas, fundraisers, benefits  and the like – events that as you know run the gamut  from “pay what you can” to hundreds of dollars a plate; and from spontaneous uprisings, organized at lightning speed in response to calamity, to events planned months in advance with military precision all the way though to huge events.

Where music and musicians fit into such events is as varied as the range and scale of the events. “Sometimes, as in a case like this” my musical companion said, “I am doing it because I would give this candidate money myself if I had money to give. And it’s funny ... I am happier sitting around here waiting my turn even if we are an hour and a half behind, than I would be if the same thing was happening at an event for which I was being paid scale or more and was just part of the decor, arriving and departing through the kitchen door like the rest of the hired help.”

“And somewhere in between,” she said, “there are the events where you know that a lot of the people involved are being paid a standard wage or fee, for the flowers, or the catering, or the invitations, but  somehow, as a musician, I’m expected to do my work for free because as an artist I should understand that it’s for a good cause. Or even more grating, that I should be grateful because I am being given the opportunity to perform for a ‘real’ audience.”

It wasn’t an embittered rant; just a bit of gentle back and forth on how it takes all kinds to make a world. And to make the world better.  

When my musical companion did finally get up to add her voice to the mix, that election fundraising night at Hugh’s Room, it was as always with all her heart and all her might; all in all the music that night made the club feel like it had rafters, ringing with hope and with laughter.
The point is that when hope needs harvesting, music is often just what is needed to gas the engine and to bring muscle to the mix. In cases like that, who benefits? Everyone.

This issue’s Galas and Fundraisers listings are chock-a-block with events at every scale of ambition and complexity from the simplest to the grandest. But the concert listings too are replete with the same impulse. Scan the concert listings for any week, and see how often a worthwhile cause is named as the beneficiary of a given event, even if it is only to enable the venue to keep the roof over the rafters the music rings round in.

Tributes Abound: Close cousin to the benefit concert, but with a differently generous impulse at its heart is the tribute concert. There are two I want to mention briefly here. One is a Counterpoint Orchestra event in memory of a longtime member, Paul Willis. You can find it November 8 at 7pm in the GTA listings and read a short “remembering” article about him in the previous issue of The WholeNote. The second is a concert in memory of organist Massimo Nosetti, November 12 at 7.30 at St. Paul’s Anglican Church on Bloor Street East (also to be found in the GTA listings). I remember an organ concert Nosetti gave there in 2012, with a 30-piece orchestra.

Milestones

This month’s issue contains at its centre our 15th annual “Blue Pages” directory of presenters - a compilation of around 150 players in Southern Ontario’s musical life. As it says in the Blue Pages intro, we make no claim to completeness.

For one thing, there’s no such thing as completeness in the area of live musical endeavour; like music itself, new voices and venues arise out of, and return, to silence. For another thing, there is no perfectly definable boundary to the range of genres we include in these pages, partly because we have limited space (in print, anyway) and partly because you our readers have limits to the time you want to spend wading through events you are not interested in, searching for the ones you might be. Again this is more of an problem in print than in digital media. Speaking of which, there are some VERY significant milestones just ahead for The WholeNote on the digital front - as next issue’s opener will reveal.

Beyond the question of logistical constraints to the range of what we cover, there is also the very interesting question as to whether the method of dividing up the musical universe into discrete musical genres, each with a separate “beat columnist,” will stand up to the demands of what promises to be an era of increasingly fluid musical practice. (Witness Andrew Timar’s story on David Dacks and the Music Gallery on page 16 and Wende Bartley’s thoughts on transculturalism immediately following it.)

Anniversaries: devotedreaders of this column both know that I have a love-hate relationship with the topic of anniversaries. (If you are reading this on our website you can simply click here to read my October 2008 reflections on the subject.) It’s a particularly thorny topic in October, when we are trying to come up with a cover image which reflects, on behalf of ALL our Blue Pages members, the range and spirit of the music we cover – a task to which we bring the same high seriousness that the Canadian Olympic Association does when choosing the country’s flagbearer for the opening ceremonies of each Olympic Games.

Anniversaries aren’t always the deciding factor, though. Otherwise this year would have been no contest, with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, celebrating an astonishing 120 years of continuous existence (see the write-up of my chat with the TMC’s Noel Edison in “Conversations <at> TheWholeNote” on page 14).

Ten years ago Inna Perkis and Boris Zarankin of Off Centre Music Salon graced our October cover. This was partly because they had started out the same year we did, and with the same lack of any official endorsement or precedent. And partly because of their unique formula: virtuosic two- and four-hand piano playing along with chamber music and art song contributions by guest artists, all in the spirit of a 19th century salon, with ideas being tossed around with the same verve as the music.  Happily they are still at it; this October 26 is the 20th installment of their annual Schubertiad, kicking off yet another four-salon season at the Glenn Gould Studio.

Turning from the topic of the cover of the magazine to the cover of the Blue Pages, how does a photo of the city’s second largest concert hall speak to the range of music we cover? Well, there is the music that RTH/Massey presents, spanning a range of genres and cultures. Then there’s the fact that the photo covers two performance spaces – the hall inside, and the great outdoors. Then there’s the hall’s anchor tenant, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra whose individual members  are the animators and architects of dozens of other small musical ensembles in the city. And finally, there are the one-time entrepreneurial “upstarts” such as Attila Glatz and Show One Productions, for whom conquerin,g “the Hall” for the first time was a significant milestone on their road to credibility in our ever evolving, endlessly fascinating musical scene.

 (Besides which, its a gorgeous photo.)

Milestones 2: TorQ at Ten

Milestones-TorQ

If you had found yourself at Stratford Summer Music this past July anytime between July 15 and July 20, you might well have spotted a sign or two pointing the way to something called “Tom Percussion Island.” Had you followed the signs, you’d have found yourself meandering among what The WholeNote’s new music columnist Wende Bartley described in our summer issue as “nine percussion-based instrumental exhibits on display for audiences to engage with, including a tongue drum made from a hollowed-out apple tree trunk, fire drums made from cut and tuned fire extinguishers, a piano dulcimer made from a 110-year-old piano flipped on its side and a Dream Gong Maze for you to get lost in.”

If you were lucky, you’d also have run into the percussion quartet TorQ there, “performing their own ‘pop-up concerts’ or joining with the public in exploring the sounds of these instruments in the outside environment.”

Read more: Milestones 2: TorQ at Ten

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


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