The recent funeral service for Marion Aitken (1935 - 2015), the late wife of New Music Concerts’ artistic director Robert Aitken, brought back sharply into my mind the world premiere performance of Harry Somers’ Dickinson, which I recorded with New Music Concerts in 1975 for broadcast on the CBC Radio program Music of Today (1966–1977).Zen, Yeats and Emily Dickinson was one of the earliest works commissioned by New Music Concerts and the new work featured Marion, as a member of the Lyric Arts Trio, together with husband Robert and soprano Mary Morrison. The Aitken family chose to play Marion’s extended piano solo from this work among the many pieces shared at her funeral service, and hearing her brought back a flood of memories from the 1970s and 1980s.
The historic trade routes collectively referred to as the Silk Road, an interconnected web of maritime and overland pathways, have, for centuries, served as sites for cultural, economic, educational, religious – and purely musical – exchanges. In that light, “silk roads” can be seen as a significant factor in the development of the ever-evolving hybridities that have shaped the face of the modern musical world.
In 1998 the Grammy Award-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma proposed “Silkroad” as the name of his new non-profit organisation. That project, inspired by his global curiosity and eagerness to forge connections across cultures, disciplines and generations, has grown several branches, the first of which was the successful music performing group, Silk Road Ensemble (SRE). It has played to sold-out houses at Roy Thomson Hall in 2003 and 2009 and will return to perform at Massey Hall on September 15. (Serendipitously, Toronto audiences will have another opportunity to see the SRE up close this September. Morgan Neville’s feature-length documentary The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble graces TIFF’s red carpet, enjoying its world premiere.)
Wu Man’s view from the pipa. Chinese-born Grammy Award nominee Wu Man, widely hailed as the world’s premier pipa (Chinese lute) virtuoso, has a unique perspective on the SRE’s career. An educator, composer and an ambassador of Chinese music, she has a prolific discography of 40 albums and counting. She was among the first musicians to get the call from Yo-Yo Ma to help in founding SRE.
June of this year brought a rash of deaths which rocked the jazz community – locally, bassist Lenny Boyd and drummer Archie Alleyne – and internationally, jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman and third-stream-composer Gunther Schuller. I wrote memorial blogs about Coleman, Schuller and Boyd, who was my bass teacher. These can be read by accessing my site at wallacebass.com. I wasn’t going to write about Archie Alleyne’s yet: I just didn’t have another obituary piece about such a good friend in me. And then David Perlman – the editor of this publication – asked me to write about Archie in this issue of The WholeNote.
Oddly, it was while attending the early spring memorial celebration of Jim Galloway – who used to write in these very pages – that I first learned that Archie was seriously ill. I hadn’t seen Archie in some time and while looking about for him at Jim’s event I was told that he wasn’t expected to live through the summer, a body blow. He didn’t even make it that far, dying on June 8 of prostate cancer. Perhaps it’s just as well he went this quickly, as he was suffering, but the speed of it was still shocking. Archie was such a zestful man, so integral a part of Toronto’s musical scene in so many ways and for so long that it’s hard to believe he’s gone. The palpable gap of his absence from Galloway’s event was a strange kind of rehearsal for missing him, something we’ll all have to get used to.
The WholeNote is having a 20th anniversary concert and party for their readers and supporters on Friday September 25. And last spring I was asked by publisher David Perlman if I would co-host the grand occasion with him.
“Sure, that sounds like fun. Where will it be?”
“Of course,” said I. “Perfect.”
Practically everyone in town knows TSP at 427 Bloor St. W. (or Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church and Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts to give it its full name). It is the home stage of the internationally known baroque orchestra, Tafelmusik and of the stellar early music ensemble, Toronto Consort. The building is also home to a vibrant United Church Congregation with a strong community history since 1875 and impressive social justice bona fides. The 120-strong Viva! Youth Singers rehearse and present their concert season there.
To The WholeNote magazine, ..
How I met my teacher
As I sat thinking what I had accomplished on my clarinet, I realized I was just spinning my wheels – not going anywhere. I was playing in my comfort zone and in my tempo zone. I was 81 years of age and wanted to improve. But how? I had no idea”
One day as I was reading The WholeNote magazine – the best source of what’s happening in the local music scene - I spotted an advertisement for music lessons on clarinet, saxophone and flute. The teacher’s name is Michele Jacot. “Well,” I said to myself, “why not - let’s talk” and we did. I have had other teachers over the many years, but none – and I mean none – were more knowledgeable than Michele Jacot.