on the way from the lobby (the north lobby that is, of Roy Thomson Hall). I was on my way back from RTH to the WholeNote office here at the Centre for Social Innovation at 720 Bathurst Street, last Wednesday morning January 15 2014. I had been at the Simcoe-King punchbowl for a Toronto Symphony Orchestra 10am season launch for their 2014/15 season (more about that in a minute), and was heading back to the WholeNote office. On that particular morning it was cold enough that instead of my usual King-Streetcar-to-Bathurst/Bathurst-Streetcar to-Lennox saunter I took the coward’s way and slunk through the underground tunnels from RTH to St. Andrew and took the trains to Bathurst. And it was there that the aforementioned funny thing happened. Ah but I am going too fast. Some background is needed.
Two bits of history
First bit of history: around 10 or 12 years ago the TTC decided that loitering at Bathurst subway station was becoming a real problem. The best possible way to deal with the perceived problem, their experts decided, was to pipe non-stop classical music into the station, reasoning that the loiterers, being of a certain ilk, would be so offended that they would vacate.
Second bit of history: around two years ago the TTC decided that the pigeons who had moved into residence inside the Bathurst subway station were becoming a real problem (riding the escalators to the platforms, for example). The way to deal with the problem, the experts said, was to pipe loud recordings of hawks at unpredictable intervals into the station, reasoning that any self-respecting pigeon would immediately beat a retreat no matter how cold it was outside.
Back to our story
And so it was that at around 12:30pm this past January 15 I was strolling through the mezzanine level at Bathurst subway station, my press kit from the TSO season launch in one hand and a patty from the station patty shop in the other. And right then, a funny thing happened. What happened was that the Brandenburg concerto (in A440) stopped, and simultaneously Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite and a Sharp-shinned Hawk launched their respective cadences into the mezzanine. And nary a loiterer bolted. And not one pigeon ducked for cover.
Aha, I said to myself. There is a new audience for this music we love.
And back to RTH
I love the way that season launches and press conferences have morphed over the years we’ve been doing this stuff. Ten years ago a TSO season launch would have attracted 30 TSO staffers, about the same number of sponsors, and maybe 15 ink-stained wretches from media, mainstream and otherwise. Someone from the TSO would have introduced some key sponsor who would have read a quick speech and then the music director would have tried to sound spontaneous as he made his way through the media package that was going to be handed out at the end of the launch anyway, so no real need to take notes or listen.
It’s sure not that way any more! For one thing, there were well over 250 people at this launch, most of them TSO subscribers, seduced by an occasion offering genuinely witty and off-the-cuff stuff from the music director, interspersed with four or five well-produced little video greetings from the coming season’s luminaries, and an opportunity right after the launch to sit in on a TSO rehearsal in the hall. In fact there were so many people there enjoying the event that you could hardly see that the number of media types in attendance these days is far-and-away less healthy than, say, the number of pigeons on the platform at Bathurst subway station.
As for the details of the season announced last Wednesday, stay tuned over the next month or so. There’s a lovely lot to talk about, and Peter Oundjian, the TSO music director, has promised us a visit, probably at the beginning of March, during their New Creations Festival, to talk about it all. “Hard to believe it’s already ten years since he came on the scene” you hear some say. “Hard to believe it’s only ten years” you hear from others; testament, I suppose to the fact that he wears the role with all the comfort of an old pair of slippers and all the enjoyment of a kid with a brand new toy.
And what of the endangered few?
That’s what I found myself wondering leaving RTH that particular frosty morning. And by “the few” I don’t mean the pigeons or the loiterers, but us. The arts media. When in all the time I have been doing this, I found myself wondering, have I ever felt more mainstream leaving a TSO launch? In other words, when has the main stream of arts coverage in the city’s media been so dried up and shrunken that The WholeNote’s presence or absence at an event like this would even be noticed or commented upon?
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having one’s contribution to the cause noted. But it’s unnerving to realize that one is standing out in a crowd because the crowd is dwindling.
Among the biggest talking points at the TSO launch that day was that one of the city’s best and truest voices on the musical arts scene might be thinking of winding up his blog, leaving us all with a far less musical Toronto.
Nah, I say, if Grieg and the hawks can keep the pigeons and loiterers hanging around to listen at Bathurst Station, there’s hope for reinvention yet.
More readers each month are starting to notice (and comment on the fact) that where we used to say FREE on our cover we now say PRICELESS.
It’s a bit of an in-joke, but it’s also a clear-eyed warning that, to paraphrase the Rhodes scholar, “nothing ain’t worth nothing if it’s free.” Thirty thousand copies a month to make and distribute are just that, and not covered by the four percent in revenue that we derive from arts councils grants!
We’d love to keep things that way forever, and for now we aren’t asking you our readers to do anything different: find us, pick us up each month, use us with joy, and support the endeavours of all the musically alive entities whose endeavours we catalogue, among them the advertisers who pay our bills!
Viva la musica!