The Street Where I Live contains probably only five or six dozen buildings in total. They include a firehall, daycare (soon to become a little Montessori School), community centre/settlement house, heritage nursing home converted to assisted housing, and a mix of houses from the 1880s to the 1960s, in various states of decay and ambitious renovation, accommodating a wide range of “household types” from empty nesters to multi-generational immigrant families, to rooming houses, to student housing, to double-income-no-kid (yet) trendies young and old, waiting patiently or impatiently for the neighbourhood to also mobilize upward.
It also contains a park the size of a small city block, a “Green P” parking lot (three quarters the size of the park) and far and away the downtown’s finest willow tree, its branches stretching skyward, its puzzled roots wondering where Russell Creek, long buried, went.
On the street where I live there are probably only five or six dozen buildings, but they include two that are steeped in history: the Kiever Synagogue (furthest south) and St. Stephen in-the-Fields Anglican Church (furthest north).
My personal musical November started at the Kiever during Holocaust Education Week, and will draw to a close November 29 at St. Stephen in-the-Fields with a concert titled “Music for Autism,” organized by pianist Richard Herriott, and written about in a story by Rebecca Chua in the previous issue of The WholeNote.
It’s just a few short blocks and a few short weeks between the one event and the other, but in between I have already had a chance to observe how far the ripples from one concert can spread. The concert at the Kiever was titled “Letters from Bozena” which was the name of the major work, by musicologist/composer Charles Heller, on the second half of the program. Bozena was his grandmother’s name and the work, for soprano soloist (Stacie Carmona) and chamber ensemble, was built on letters Bozena had written from Czechoslovakia to her son (Heller’s father) who had taken refuge in England in the late 1930s as the storm clouds gathered.
It was “not your typical concert audience.” Members of the congregation rubbed shoulders with outsiders drawn by the event’s musical pedigree. The venue itself is rarely, if ever, used for concertizing; but great music making from performers such as violinist Barry Shiffman and pianist Bram Goldhammer, in repertoire ranging from Dvořák to Golijov hung beautifully in the air above the bimah. And the context, historical, personal and memorial, of the concert gave the music that edge that relevance brings; when the form and function of a work are reunited, as when a requiem is sung at an actual funeral, or one can take communion while one of the world’s great choirs sings.
As interesting to me has been observing how ripples can spread from one concert to another. A case in point: entering the Kiever that day I noticed inserted into the program a postcard for a November 23 event — Toronto Consort’s presentation of Ensemble Lucidarium, a Milan-based consort specializing in Jewish music of 15th century Italy. It was a canny bit of product placement, I thought at the time, but a bit of a long shot. I was wrong; the Saturday November 23 performance of Ensemble Lucidarium at Trinity-St. Paul’s had at least a dozen members of the audience from the Kiever two weeks previous, for music that leapt effortlessly across the centuries into an enthusiastic audience’s receptive ears.
Concert making will find its way back into the Kiever I found myself thinking; and Toronto Consort will have found new listeners as well.
Similarly it will be interesting to see what kind of ripple effect “Music for Autism” at St. Stephen’s will have had by the next time I’m back writing this column. Will there be people who find their way from that event to Walter Buczynski’s 80th anniversary concert at Walter Hall January 26, having noticed that Herriott will be one of the pianists assembling, along with Buczynski himself, for that event? Or will there be people there (with children, for example) who take heart from being at a concert where funeral-like decorum is not imposed, and who begin to realize that concert norms, like the music itself, are always evolving and changing? Or that their own assumptions about their children’s capacity for attention and appreciation are greater than they thought they might be?
I have no grand peroration to this little opener — just to say that it’s a season of change with glorious opportunities to revel in the familiar and to step just a little bit outside our usual comfort zones. Enjoy. Dare. And we’ll see you on the other side of the saelig season.
I checked The Wholenote’s snail-mail really late tonight — deep in the throes of putting the November issue to bed, and have to walk down four flights of stairs to get it. But I needed a break before diving into what has become a serious love/hate ritual for me over the nearly two decades of doing this: namely the task of closing the issue by writing this Opener.
There were a few cheques in the mail, a “thank-you” card from a printer rep I can’t remember talking to on the phone and — here’s the point — yet another reader survey, clipped from the September magazine, completed by hand, stamped and placed in a hand-addressed envelope and put into the mail. The flood of survey responses has dried to a trickle at this point, so as I opened it I found myself thinking “What if this were the last one? If so, what would the ‘last word’ from our readers be?”
“Thank you for printing WholeNote” she wrote. “It has introduced me to so many venues in Toronto. Toronto is such a vibrant musical city but I did not know it until I found your magazine about 7 years ago and I lived in Toronto most of my life. Please continue this magazine, I get it every month. It would be such a loss to me if I didn’t get it.”
Aside from the fact that it’s always nice to brag, the profound point I get from this lovely affirmation is that we had nothing to do with creating the vibrancy — it’s the city that has that. All we did was open someone’s ears to the pulse of what is already going on.
Stretching the point still further, it seems to me that what The WholeNote has done for that individual’s sense of the vibrancy of our city’s musical life, so music itself does to tune us, individually and collectively, to the inextinguishable roaring vibrancy of life.
Increasingly, looking around, people have taken music and commoditized it, made it entirely personal — shoving little earbuds in their ears, bopping to their own individualized rhythms in a helter of other people, all slightly out of sync in their aloneness.
I happen to think the tide is turning, though. Precisely because the digitized world gives us the capacity to be completely alone, the messy meat monkey that is the human self gets hungry to escape a world that is suddenly, alarmingly, back to front. And seeks out a world of community, of congregation. It may not be to concert halls as we know them, but it will be rooms full of people engaged in listening to the same live roaring hum of music in the ears.
“Teach me to listen, teach me to sing, teach me to play, teach me how to learn” comes the gathering cry. And music says: “I can do that.”
Here are some interesting snippets of all this from the writings you will find in this issue:
Hans de Groot in Art of Song: “Last summer my daughter Saskia turned twelve [and] chose ... to move to the Downtown Vocal Music Academy on Denison Avenue, ... the brainchild of Mark Bell, a man known in musical circles for his leadership of Canada Sings, a community Sing-along that meets every second Tuesday of the month somewhere in East Toronto.”
Jack MacQuarrie, our Bandstand columnist, digging into studies supporting the benefits of music and quoting the lead scientist on one such study: “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 ... across the lifespan into older adulthood.”
Richard Herriott, interviewed by Rebecca Chua, talking movingly about the music series he and Winona Zelenka will launch at St Stephen in-the-Fields Anglican Church this month, not only to raise awareness of and funds for autism spectrum research, but just as importantly to create a context for people with autism spectrum disorders to attend live music and have the particularities of their individualism embraced as part of the concert experience.
Ben Stein, in Choral Scene, describing a concert by the Orpheus Choir of Toronto which will feature Benjamin Britten’s 1938 cantata World of the Spirit: “Britten was a life-long pacifist who lived briefly in America during the beginning of WWII, in part because his pacifist leanings were not well received in pre-war Britain.” A concert like this requires more than passive spectatorship — it combines “choral music and visual imagery, in the kind of multimedia presentation that has become an Orpheus Choir specialty.” and demands engagement of head and heart.
And here’s Allan Pulker in Seeing Orange our ongoing commitment to the cause of music education, usually nestled deep in the magazine but brought by occasions such as this from the back to the front.“In March this year we published our first Orange Pages directory” he writes, “a collection of profiles written by private music teachers, community music schools and summer music programs of various kinds. Their goals and ours were, and remain the same — to put music teachers with something to offer in touch with prospective students wanting to learn.” Namely with you, “the reader who is looking for opportunities to deepen the place of music in your life or the life of someone close to you.”
As the nights lengthen may the gathering dark find you, vibrantly, among the friends you find through music. That’s what we’re here for.
Sick of doing surveys? Well tough! We’ve got another one for you. But this one’s real short. It’s not about what you think of The WholeNote either, or asking sneaky questions about where you fit in the overall demographic scheme of things. It’s for those of you who have a hankering to learn more about music — whether that be to appreciate it better or to to make use of that old instrument gathering dust, or to take what you already know to be one of life’s imperatives to the next level. What are you looking for in a music teacher? is the basic question. Help us help you find one. There’s an explanation of all this on page 61 in the magazine; the survey itself is at thewholenote.com/orangesurvey.
Blessings on your head for giving freely of your time!
People who have watched this magazine grow and change over the decades have seen us add other strands to our core commitment: to paint as a comprehensive picture as we can of live local music as it happens. Our BLUE PAGES came first — this month’s is the 14th iteration. A couple of years later we added our CANARY PAGES every May — an attempt to give choirs and prospective choristers an opportunity to find each other and new audiences. (Bit of trivia, we started out calling it the Choral YELLOW pages but a kindly lawyer advised us not to play with fire.) Our GREEN PAGES came next — not so much a commitment to things ecological as a nod to the verdant fact of summer music making.
And now, as we chase some rainbow ideal of full spectrum usefulness, it is music education, in all its forms, that has us choosing ORANGE as a colour to symbolize this brave new quest.
First installment of our ORANGE PAGES came in March, second comes next issue. Whereas in the first we tried to get a bit of a feel for who’s out there in the world of continuing education — private teachers, studios, community music schools — this time round we’re planning to start looking at the topic of full-time music-centred education at the secondary and post-secondary level.
Here’s the twist: this is a quest like no other before it. Because its starting point will be not what schools choose to say about themselves, but rather the questions that you, the prospective student, should have the confidence to ask.
All a bit cryptic? Never mind. All will be revealed.
And meanwhile, speaking of chasing rainbows, this is an issue of The WholeNote that sparkles like a prism in the autumn sun. Great writing, lots of candour, much as always to do and hear. We are happy to have you along for the great musical ride!
And sometimes a little bit of the latter helps to keep the place of the former front and centre in circumstances where society’s attention has every excuse to wander.
There’s a great little example of this noise/music mutual aid society in “Seeing Orange,” our education watch (page 57), where concerned and concerted muttering helped keep music alive in the region’s largest public school board for another year.
There’s also probably a complex variation on the theme that could be braided out, by learnedly contrasting the issue’s three strikingly different “takes” on new music: Ben Stein’s “Choral Scene”(page 26), Wendalyn Bartley’s “In With The New” (page 31) and Austin Clarkson’s reflections on the tightrope between music and noise walked by some of the past century’s seminal composers (page 12).
More straightforward, as the community we serve teeters on the edge of another new season of music making, is the simple observation that they (our region’s music presenters) are in the business of making music, and we are in the business of making a whole bunch of cheerful noise about their music, so that you, dear readers, have one fewer reason for your attentions to wander from the front-and-centre place that the conspicuous bravery of making live music warrants in a civilized society. They’ll do their bit, we’ll do ours, and you, we have no doubt, will continue to do yours.
Mind you, this isn’t the easiest month in Toronto for making noise in the arts media about anything other than film, as TIFF once more takes the town by the scruff of its cultural neck. Happily, our Paul Ennis, with one foot planted squarely in his love of film and the other in musical delight, has found a way for conflicted music lovers to rationalize an annual September movie binge (“Music Lover’s TIFF,” page 10).
So, let the woofing and tweeting begin! And we’ll see you on the other side.
Long-time loyal readers will know that the title of this issue’s Opener is the title of one of our longest-running features/contests, compiled and edited by mJ Buell and usually found in the Musical Life section of the magazine. The feature asks you to guess the identity of a musician based on a childhood photo. Lucky winners get recordings or tickets to upcoming concerts featuring that individual.
This version of “Music’s Child” departs from that formula in a couple of ways: for one thing the photo on our cover is not that of a child, and for another, we are not going to ask you to guess who he is (Rufus Wainwright). But we will still offer you the opportunity to answer a question for the opportunity to win prizes. So, read on!
In her 1971 song River, Joni Mitchell longed for a river she could skate away on, “a river so long it would teach my feet to fly ... ” Well, summer music in Ontario, and beyond, is a bit like a river that flows both ways, with home-grown musicians on the road heading out of town, and as many from afar heading in. Two Luminato concerts at Massey Hall on June 18 and 19, titled “Joni: A Portrait in Song,” will celebrate Mitchell’s upcoming 70th birthday and Rufus Wainwright will be one of the performers helping to make the event an occasion to remember.
Like Mitchell, Wainwright is a Canadian singer-songwriter with an extraordinary range of musical appetites — seven albums of original songs, film soundtracks, song settings of Shakespearean sonnets and a full length opera, Prima Donna, which received its North American premiere at Luminato in 2011. Child of two musicians, Loudon Wainwright III and the late Kate McGarrigle, Wainwright is on a bit of a magical musical carpet ride right now. At last count there were 22 concert venues listed on his ever-changing website, just between now and the end of July, in Europe, the US and the UK. Somehow he also has three Ontario appearances wedged into what is left of 2013, including one with the TSO in October!
We don’t yet know if Wainwright will choose to sing Mitchell’s River June 18 and 19 at Massey. So “What did Rufus sing?” is the question you’ll have to answer for a chance to win this month’s contest. Send answers as usual to firstname.lastname@example.org.