After a long, dreary, weary winter, spring is finally deigning to show us some sun. Yet springtime signs are still meagre. In the midtown city park across the street the trees remain starkly bare. On the bright side, a few brave bird chirps can occasionally be heard. It’s surely a harbinger of kinder weather to come when we can venture out of doors to hear human as well as nature’s music.

Written while still firmly in the grip of winter, my column last month, World Music Goes to School explored the commitment of several Ontario universities to global music education. The focus was on world music ensemble courses as seen through the perspectives of several current teaching and performing practitioners.

James Kippen and Annette SangerPerforming Scholars: Annette Sanger and James Kippen

We did not hear however from Annette Sanger and James Kippen, veteran University of Toronto ethnomusicologists, musician-educators and partners in life. And that’s because I found out only recently that, by the time this issue is well and truly launched, the university’s Faculty of Music will have honoured them with a rare two-day symposium and concert on March 29 and 30, in celebration of their distinguished university careers.

An expert on tabla performance and the life and music of communities of hereditary drummers in North India, Kippen has authored several books and numerous articles on the subject. He began his career at the Faculty of Music in January 1990 where he has taught and mentored several generations of students. He’s also been active in several musical groups in our town.

Sanger received her PhD for her research on the music and dance in Balinese society. That background served the GTA well, as she is a pioneer of Balinese music performance here. Commencing teaching in 1990 at the university’s Scarborough Campus, within a few years she arranged to have the university purchase a complete Balinese gamelan, inaugurating the Semar pegulingan gamelan ensemble course in the fall of 1993. That launched the first Balinese ensemble and course in Canada west of Montreal, an ensemble she led for a remarkable 25 years. Later she formed the performing ensemble Seka Rat Nadi – more of which further on.

Outside academia, Sanger served Toronto’s larger music community in many roles. Just two examples: from 1990 to 2000 she was the director of the Music & Arts School at the University Settlement House, the first community-based social service centre in Toronto. For several years she also reviewed CDs for The WholeNote.

Titled “Constant Flame: A concert honoring the retirements of Professors Annette Sanger and James Kippen,” the March 29 event features a performance by Seka Rat Nadi with Sanger, Kippen plus Toronto musicians Albert Wong and John Carnes. Seka Rat Nadi is the name of the group consisting of four Balinese gendèr (metallophone instruments), a quartet traditionally called a gendèr wayang. In addition, several guest musicians will perform Hindustani classical and other musics.

The symposium is called “The Performing Scholar,” reflecting the interlocking twin aspects of Kippen and Sanger’s careers. (It also rather accurately describes the lifelong work of most of the musician-educators I interviewed for my March 2019 column.)

By the time most of you read this, the symposium honouring our two performing scholars will have probably already taken place. But I couldn’t leave you, dear reader, hanging like that. I asked them what they intend to do now that they’ve officially retired.

“We plan to return to Bali to learn more gendèr repertoire including more unusual regional styles that are fast becoming eclipsed by inevitable standardization,” replied Sanger. “As well, we will go to India where Jim will continue to work on his research into the history of the tabla. As always, we are open to doing occasional performances and demonstrations in and around Toronto.”

It’s clear they don’t intend to hang up their performing scholar hats anytime soon.

Small World Music Society’s Asian Music Series

Toronto’s oldest and largest presenter of culturally diverse music, Small World Music Society celebrates springtime with the 17th annual edition of its Asian Music Series. Marking Asian and South Asia Heritage Month, throughout April and May, 11 concerts, a film screening, plus a talk will be held at the intimate Small World Music Centre (SWMC) in downtown Toronto, as well as at grander venues across the GTA.

I asked SWM’s founding director Alan Davis about his longstanding relationships with his programming partners. “We’ve always embraced partnerships as a way to get Small World’s message out to as many people as possible,” he replied. “This is increasingly true in recent years, as more and more larger presenters embrace diversity and cross paths with artists who are part of our musical ecosystem.”

Davis is confident that with SWM’s hard-won reputation for community outreach and deep connections, they can bring value to their partners by connecting them to audiences that they may not otherwise intersect with. “This speaks to both audience taste and geography. [For example]… audiences going to the Markham Theatre will be aware of events at the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Koerner Hall and the Small World Centre downtown, and a wide variety of presentations from traditional to modern. Collectively, the hope is … audience-building and community intersection. ‘Cause that’s how we all succeed!”

Let’s explore a few of the concerts in this year’s Asian Music Series.

Mahmood Schricker – thoughtful sadness of the electric setar: April 4 the Series launches at the SWMC with the music of Mahmood Schricker, the Toronto musician-producer of electronic music for film and commercials. An electric setar (Persian long lute) performer, Schricker’s concert is a release of his new instrumental album El Muerte, inspired by the Persian dastgah (tonal modal system), the delicate strumming of the setar, international dub and techno, all supported by electronics and drum machine sounds. Nima Dehghani’s videos provide a backdrop for Schricker’s live music, reflecting moods of “thoughtful sadness…” onto the screen.

Bageshree Vaze – Global Bollywood: April 5 at 7pm, SWM in association with The Rose presents “Bageshree Vaze: Global Bollywood” at the Rose Theatre, Brampton. The show is a celebration of the widely popular music and dance featured in the globe’s biggest film industry. Starring Indo-Canadian GTA resident vocalist and dancer Bageshree Vaze, the concert is a tribute to the songs, instrumentals and extravagant dance numbers that have propelled Bollywood to international fame. Featuring a cast of Toronto musicians and dancers, Global Bollywood is also choreographed and directed by the multitalented Vaze.

Qais EssarQais Essar and Fazelyar Brothers – Afghani instrumental: April 11 at 8pm, SWM and the Tawoos Initiative co-present Qais Essar x Fazelyar Brothers at SWMC. Qais Essar is a GTA-based Afghan composer, instrumentalist and producer, a specialist on the rubab (a.k.a. rabab), a short-necked Afghani lute. He has toured extensively visiting international stages, releasing two LPs, five EPs plus a live album.

Essar contributed original music to feature films such as the Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated film The Breadwinner (2017) and earned a Canadian Screen Award for Best Original Song for his work The Crown Sleeps. He will be playing selections from his recently released EP I am Afghan, Afghani is a Currency, Vol. III. The concert also features the Afghani-Canadian duo Fazelyar Brothers, consisting of tabla player Haris Fazelyar and Wares Fazelyar a rubab student of Essar.

Dang Show – Iranian musical hybridity: Both April 12 and 13 concerts at the SWMC by the Dang Show sold out well in advance. Dang Show is a popular Iranian four-piece band which regularly sells out Tehran venues. The band has also composed and recorded soundtracks for over ten major Iranian movie releases. Its unusual name in Farsi evokes, in the words of the band, “mountainous vocals as well as velvety textures, jazz saxophone, medieval counterpoints, rock rhythms, [a sound which is] lush, rich and brassy like the best Balkan bands. Dang Show could be defined as a fusion of Persian classical and jazz.”

With an instrumentation of piano, saxophone, Persian vocals and percussion, Dang Show’s ambitious goal is to satisfy traditional Iranian classical music aficionados as well as those primarily interested in pop-flavoured music. In 2018 Dang Show was awarded Best Fusion Album for Mad O Nay in Iran. No wonder both their SWMC shows are sold out.

Amjad Ali Khan and sonsAmjad Ali Khan – sarod master: April 13 at 8pm, The Rose in association with SWMS present Amjad Ali Khan, with his sons Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash at the Rose Theatre, Brampton. The multiple award-winning veteran sarod (a.k.a. sarode) master and composer, Amjad Ali Khan, was born into a renowned Indian classical musical family and has toured internationally since the 1960s. Over the course of his distinguished career he has garnered numerous international accolades.

The sixth generation exponent of the Senia-Barash gharana (a North Indian music lineage), Khan is at heart a classicist with a populist’s need to “communicate with the listener who finds Indian classical music remote,” as he once put it. You can expect khayal (the Hindustani classical music genre) musicianship at its finest in his recital.

Anda UnionAnda Union – Mongolian fusion revival: April 17 at 8pm, SWM and Flato Markham Theatre explore Northern Asian culture in their presentation of the Mongolian fusion group Anda Union at the Flato Markham Theatre in Markham. Hailing from Hohhot, the capital of the Inner Mongolia in northern China, the versatile nine-piece band has deep cultural roots in the vast grasslands where many of their families still live. Its mission: to rework the region’s music, filled with ancestral stories of nomadic customs and beliefs.

The band brings together tribal and musical traditions from all over Inner Mongolia playing a wide variety of Indigenous instruments and vocal throat singing styles. Its 2018 set at the London UK Songlines Encounters Festival was dubbed “a rousing masterclass in folk revivalism,” by The Guardian.

Qawwali – demystified and performed: April 18 at 8pm, SWM’s executive director Umair Jaffar gives a free talk titled “Demystifying Qawwali” at the SWMC. He notes that “Qawwali is the most popular Sufi devotional music from South Asia and, in recent years, has gained increased attention from worldwide audiences. Despite its popularity, upbeat rhythm and emotional appeal, qawwali’s origins and lyrics are shrouded in mystery.” Jaffar explains the genre, exploring its history, and demystifies the hidden messages in its poetry.

April 19, the series moves to the Aga Khan Museum with “Hamza Akram Qawwal and Brothers.” The 26-year-old singer Hamza Akram’s music is deeply rooted in the Pakistani Sufi devotional tradition. The group is becoming known in the subcontinent, across Europe, Middle East and North America. Akram and his brothers are the 26th generation of their musical lineage, the Qawwal Bachon ka Delhi Gharana, and are dedicated to sharing qawwali with the world. Their performance is part of the Aga Khan Museum’s 2018/19 Performing Arts season titled “The Other Side of Fear,” featuring artists who seek to transcend fear through music, dance and spoken word.

Anoushka Shankar – continuing a legacy of transcultural collaborations: The Asian Music Series continues well into May, but the last concert we will look at in this column takes place early that month. May 2, the Royal Conservatory of Music and SWM co-host sitar virtuosa and composer Anoushka Shankar and party on the Koerner Hall stage. Being groomed by her illustrious father from an early age, she has developed into one of South Asia’s most celebrated instrumentalists. In March 2019, Shankar released her latest Deutsche Grammophone album, Reflections, a retrospective of her career so far, focusing on musical collabs.

I last saw her live at Koerner Hall almost ten years ago with her father Ravi, who was a still musically vibrant 89 at the time. She has, since his death in 2012, taken his musical legacy into several new territories, crossing classical and vernacular, South Asian and Euro-American. Audiences at her concert can expect more transcultural musical dialogues while she demonstrates the versatility of her sitar across musical genres. 

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

World music: a sometimes contentious term that entered the lexicon twice, 25 years and two continents apart.

Too few sources reflect that the term “world music” was first used around 1962 in US academia as an inclusive catchall for performance and lecture courses; they focus, rather, on its re-application as a new marketing tag by UK record producers, label owners and retailers in 1987.

The 1962 US world music ensemble course bug took a few years to infect schools north of the border. But after a rocky initial startup period, it slowly spread across Canada, mostly in the decades bracketing the new millennium. Although it should be said that York University was probably the site where world music ensemble credit courses were first launched in this country by its Music Department founding chair, R. Sterling Beckwith, as early as the 1969/1970 academic year.

Fifty years later, world music courses are no longer the exotic music school outliers they were initially seen to be by many. They have become mainstays at some of the largest Ontario universities and colleges, offering practising professional musicians teaching opportunities, while introducing thousands of students to a wide diversity of approaches to making music – far beyond what classical and jazz programs can offer. I would argue that they prepare students to open their minds via practical experience, potentially allowing them to meet the challenges of cultural diversity in our increasingly multicultural urban and internet spaces.

York U’s Department of Music’s pioneering commitment to global music doesn’t show signs of slowing down, with nine concerts alone in its March World Music Festival and an advertised “20-plus international cultures represented.” It’s followed closely by early April concerts by the University of Waterloo Balinese Gamelan and University of Toronto’s World Music Ensembles.

UW Balinese Gamelan directed by I Dewa Made Suparta (November 2018)So, What’s In a Name?

Judging from the liberal use of the term “world music” at these three universities, all appears to be well with this 20th-century term and learning approach. Looking deeper however the tag is facing increasingly frequent challenges from voices on all sides: academics, presenters, labels and performers.

So let’s take the pulse of three Ontario university world music ensembles today, and the direction they may be headed, by looking at what they are up to, and talking with some of the instructors.

York University’s World Music Festival, March 14 and 15: report from the front lines

Produced by Prof. Sherry Johnson, York U’s mid-March World Music Festival, according to the Music Department website “…[is a] global sonic tour … of York’s world music program.”

All the concerts are at the Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East Building, York U.

March 14 at 11am the festival launches with the Cuban Ensemble directed by Rick Lazar and Anthony Michelli. Lazar also directs the Escola de Samba later the same day. West African Drumming: Ghana directed by respected master drummer Kwasi Dunyo, West African Drumming: Mande directed by Anna Melnikoff, and Caribbean Music Ensemble directed by Lindy Burgess, all on March 14. Then on March 15, Charles Hong directs the Korean Drum Ensemble, Sherry Johnson the Celtic Ensemble, and Kim Chow-Morris conducts the Chinese Classical Orchestra. It then wraps, March 15, with an evening concert by the Balkan Music Ensemble directed by Irene Markoff. (Please refer to our listings for exact times for all concerts.)

Rick Lazar: Escola de Samba and Cuban Ensemble director

I contacted Lazar about his world music teaching practice. He emailed a very detailed report on his teaching approach and on the music his students are presenting.

Lazar has had extensive experience teaching various ensembles at Humber College (1995 to 2005) and since 2003 at York University. Make no mistake; he’s no ordinary sessional instructor. His knowledge of and passion for world drums makes him a first-call drummer for a diverse array of artists. Voted Percussionist of the Year five times by Jazz Report magazine for his work with many bands and headline singers, his popular Toronto groups Montuno Police and Samba Squad (celebrating its 20th anniversary this year) have both released multiple albums.

At York, “I teach two ensembles: Escola de Samba and Cuban Music, each divided into two classes,” he began. “My classes are mostly made of non-music majors. While most of the class time is devoted to getting these often untrained students to gel into a group, I also provide notes on the history of the music [giving students essential cultural context] – and test them on it too!“The Escola de Samba classes feature hands-on percussion: all the students have to play a standard samba instrument including the surdo (bass drum), caixa (snare drums), agogo (bells), tamborim and ganzas (metal shakers). These classes may have up to 30 participants. [As for genres in our repertoire] this year we’re covering samba, samba reggae, and axé another popular music genre from Bahia, Northeast Brazil.

“[My teaching strategy] is to simplify rhythmic patterns for the lead instruments as none of the students are drummers and can’t play the typical patterns up to speed. For example, while the students won’t be able to master the tamborim carreteiro (“ride” technique) in a single term they can learn idiomatic fanfares and rhythmic patterns.

“For the March 14 concert, one class is doing a samba reggae dance feature [since dance is integral to the genre]. Songs we’ll be doing this year are  (samba), Enquanto Gente Batuka in the pagoda genre, , and Embala Eu in samba de roda, an older Afro-Brazilian dance type.”

“In the Cuban Music ensembles I teach a section of first and second year undergrads plus a section of senior-level students. Both perform Cuban folkloric music with drums, dance and songs. Most of the rhythms only have six to eight drum parts, so the class must also learn the dances and the songs which go with them. The Cuban class is a little harder than the Escola de Samba as it takes time to get a decent sound out of the hand drums, while in the Samba class all the instruments are played with a stick or mallet so you can have many players on each part.

“I teach bell, kata (woodblock),  (gourd shaker) and tumbadora (conga drum) parts, one learner on a part. Class A is doing Palo, Guanguanco, and Bata Toque Yesa, all with songs and dance. They are also performing Comparsa, the Cuban carnival rhythm, with songs and dance.”

Lazar concludes: “In Class B we learn the makuta  along with dances and five different songs, including  and. We’re also performing [originally ceremonial music] from the santeria tradition along with several songs. Most of these songs are in the Yoruba language and students learn the lyrics phonetically.”

Irene Markoff, Balkan Music Ensemble director

I asked the ethnomusicologist, musician, conductor and veteran York U. lecturer and ensemble instructor about her geographically inclusive course:

“We cover music from the Balkans (Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania),” Markoff wrote, “as well as Azerbaijan and Turkey (a better part of the Balkans were a part of the Ottoman Empire for almost 500 years). We also perform Kurdish music from Iran, music of the Roma, and a little repertoire from Iran, as I often have Iranian students in my ensemble.

“This year there’s a Greek student in the class who helps with Greek pronunciation and also two Iranian students who help with Farsi pronunciation. I transcribe and arrange music for the ensemble according to the instruments the students play and sometimes teach vocal music by rote as that is the way the repertoire would be taught in the village context.

we will perform repertoire from all the countries I mentioned including Ederlezi by Goran Bregovic, based on a .”

Markoff sees the debate about terminology this way: “I don’t have a problem with the term as it has been used and accepted by ethnomusicologists and universities for many years now. In a general sense world music means music of the world’s cultures.

“Also, there is a lot of hybridity happening in countries such as Turkey these days. Folk music ensembles seen on national TV and elsewhere include Western instruments such as acoustic/electric guitars and electric bass guitars, adding harmony to a music that was essentially monophonic [and modal]. … What do we call that music then?

As for other candidates for an accepted term, Markoff notes: “Finding a general cover term is problematic … You may be aware that in the past other terms used were ‘primitive,’ ‘non-Western,’ ‘ethnic’ and ‘folk.’ Some have suggested ‘roots’ and ‘local.’ I don’t believe that any of those are appropriate overall terms.”

University Of Waterloo Balinese Gamelan Ensemble

April 3, the UW Balinese Gamelan and the Grebel Community Gamelan perform at the Humanities Theatre, University of Waterloo. Ethnomusicologist Maisie Sum introduced world music ensembles at UW in Waterloo ON in 2013 with a Balinese gamelan semaradana course.

Directed by Sum and featuring Grebel artist-in-residence I Dewa Made Suparta, the Balinese gamelan will perform a mix of contemporary and traditional Balinese repertoire. As they did last year, they may include Balinese dance in the concert, a near-essential performative ingredient in Bali. After the free concert the audience is invited to try their hand playing the instruments.

University of Toronto’s World Music Ensembles Concert

April 6 at 2:30pm, University of Toronto Faculty of Music presents its World Music Ensembles at Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto. Directing their groups are Ghanaian master drummer Kwasi Dunyo, Steel Pan Ensemble director Joe Cullen, and Alan Hetherington directing the Latin American Ensemble.

While I was unable to reach these instructors before press time, this time round, I was able to connect with percussionist and composer Mark Duggan. Active on Toronto’s world music, jazz and classical concert music scenes for decades, he’s taught ensembles at Humber College as well as at U of T, with a specialty in Brazilian musics. He’s taking a sabbatical from U of T this year, but generously weighed in on the topic.

“Unfortunately, the term ‘world music’ does serve to hegemonize all music traditions outside the Western mainstream,” he said, “so these days I choose to not use it. My students do use world music freely to refer to a plethora of different styles of traditional and/or hybrid musics, including pop and jazz. [But I believe] the term has outlived its usefulness.”

 Judith R. CohenJudith Cohen, World Music Performer

Ethnomusicologist, musician and long-time York University faculty Judith R. Cohen is also very active as a world music performer. March 16, Alliance Française Toronto presents “Judith Cohen & her guests: Women of the World” at the AFT’s Spadina Theatre with Kelly Lefaive (vocals, violin, mandolin, guitar), Naghmeh Farahmand (Persian percussion), Veronica Johnny (Indigenous hand drummer, vocals) and other surprise guests.

I emailed Cohen about my topic of the month, and she wryly replied, “Haven’t noticed anyone making music who is not part of the world. And what are the alternatives? ‘Global’? And the difference between the world and the globe is…?”

She was just returning from the February ethnomusicology summit at the Folk Alliance International Conference (FAI) in Montreal. The FAI held a panel critiquing “world music.” However, “We did not end up condemning the term, even though FAI dropped it some years ago,” Cohen noted.

Moreover, she doesn’t see the benefit of yet another moniker. “Commercial showcases such as FAI and WOMEX are going to market, brand and sell no matter what term people come up with. Is ‘culturally diverse’ a candidate for replacing that increasingly (and needlessly, I think) shamed term ‘world music’? It sure doesn’t have the marketing zip of ‘world,”’ Cohen concludes.

So what’s the future of culturally diverse music teaching and performance in Ontario music education? 

Irene Markoff is encouraged: “York U [Department of Music] is now trying to find ways to draw more music majors to the world music ensembles, which is a good sign. … I believe that any Ontario music university student who has a desire to teach at the public or high school level should be required to take a few world music ensemble classes when offered. That would prepare them to meet the challenges of cultural diversity in the classroom.”

Rick Lazar adds: Mark Duggan gets the last word among these contributors in our discussion: “The reality is that we have to start referring to specific styles of music or specific regions with their proper names, the names that the creators and purveyors of those traditions use. I think the next step is to stop exoticizing non-Western musics and put them on equal footing with privileged traditions. Like integration in a multicultural society, that means giving them equal space in music schools, or perhaps creating schools that specialize in one or more non-Western traditions without including any European classical perspectives.”

At the same time as we reach toward increasing diversity, entrenched attitudes remain in music education – as in other reaches of our society – which marginalize certain musics, particularly non-Eurocentric ones, such as Indigenous voices. What music is “ours”? And what place should so-called “other” musics have in our music education today?

These are bracing, far-reaching questions.

Footnote:

Regular readers of this column over the years will know that this is not the first time I have delved into aspects of these topics. My September 2018 column Rebooting the Beat: Thoughts on the “World Music” Tag explored the implications of the 1962 and 1987 disparate points of entry for the “world music” tag. For more on the spread of world music as a discipline in Canada, see my March 2016 column, York Music’s World Class Role. And for more insights into the Waterloo Balinese Gamelan Ensemble, see my April 2014 conversation with ethnomusicologist Maisie Sum in Smartphone Serendipity Not The Only Way.

This column has been revised (March 12) to accurately reflect Judith R. Cohen's current teaching status at York University.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

Welcome to the first WholeNote World View column of 2019.

Calendar years are human constructs, as is time itself. Yet as we all learned in Music 101, and as Leonard Bernstein repeated in his 1955 Art of Conducting TV lecture, “music exists in the medium of time.”

As we all know, the familiar Gregorian calendar, in use since 1582, and itself a correction of the earlier Julian calendar – both based on the Earth’s revolution around the Sun – pins January 1 as the very beginning of the year. The more ancient lunar calendar on the other hand is built on the monthly cycles of lunar phases.

Chinese culture has observed both a lunar and a solar calendar for millennia, complex computations resulting in a blended lunisolar calendar which reckons years, months and days according to astronomical phenomena, in 12-yearly cycles. The Chinese lunisolar New Year falls this year on February 5, initiating the Year of the Pig, which in some related Asian zodiacs is represented by its wild cousin the boar. Widely called chunjie (Spring Festival), it technically lasts 15 days in mainland China.

Participants mark the ritual start of a new year by planting crops, feasting, gifting, praying to the gods and the ancestors, and seeking to attract good fortune. Bright red auspicious decorations and lanterns are hung, negative forces are purged, fireworks fill the sky, and much more.

Lunisolar New Years are celebrated not only in mainland China and Taiwan but also widely in East and Southeast Asia and by Chinese and other communities around the world. One estimate pegs the number of participants at a quarter of the world’s population.

In modern China, workers travel home to enjoy reunion dinners and family visits at this time of year. Called chunyun, this roughly 40-day period has been tagged as the world’s largest annual migration. The numbers are truly mindboggling, like many things in China. Over 2.9 billion individual passenger journeys are projected during chunyun this year, well over twice the actual population of the country.

Chinese New Year in the Greater Toronto Area

The Chinese Spring Festival is undoubtedly the most significant community-wide celebration in China and the diaspora. In the GTA it already began in January.

I discussed how the Spring Festival season impacts GTA Chinese musicians, their repertoire and community patronage, in a series of late January messages with Canadian Chinese Orchestra artistic director and conductor Amely Zhou. (She was too busy for a sit-down due to her intensive rehearsal schedule.)

What is the New Year season like for Chinese musicians? Does it result in performing opportunities? “Very much yes… it’s a busy time for all Chinese musicians,” replied Zhou. “Private individuals, businesses and mass entertainment providers like TV stations want live Chinese music to demonstrate their allegiance to their culture of origin at this auspicious time of year.” It’s a significant form of community support for Chinese musicians in the diaspora, as well as for their Chinese instruments and repertoire.

The patronage of Chinese music and affiliated performing arts such as dance and opera are closely tied to GTA and international commercial interests. “These are ultimately linked to the economic strength of today’s China,” added Zhou. It reflects a complex and ever-evolving economic, cultural – and even at times political – dynamic between Canada and China, one which has very recently become significantly more tense.

Canadian Chinese Orchestra

Fête Chinoise at the AGO

A good example of this patronage at work was the Canadian Chinese Orchestra’s first Chinese New Year gig at an event organized by Fête Chinoise, the Markham, Ontario magazine and lifestyle event programming company. Held at the Art Gallery of Ontario on January 26, the event, also called Fête Chinoise, seeks to “empower individuals to deepen the connection between their [Chinese] identity and culture,” through a “curated lens and critical thinking.”

CCO’s repertoire for this event included Festive Overture for Chinese orchestra by veteran Chinese composer Jiping Zhao and the pop instrumental Summer by Japanese film ccomposer Joe Hisaishi, arranged by Malaysian composer Junyi Chow. CCO’s set was, however, only one among many experiences that night. They included fashion, art and design as well as food, drink and stationery that reflected motifs of abundance, opulence, wealth and philanthropy, all significant themes in Chinese New Year celebrations. The sold-out event presented aspirational products and experiences which put a curated, contemporary and urbane spin on ancient Chinese cultural customs.

Chinese New Year Gala 2019 at the Sony Centre

February 4, on the eve of the Year of the Pig, The 6th Chinese New Year Gala 2019 takes over the substantial stage of the Sony Centre, Toronto, produced by Canada National TV, a Chinese-Canadian television station.

The Sony Centre event page describes the event as follows: “Chinese and Western artists will sing and dance, and we will drum the bell to welcome the arrival of 2019. It will be Canada’s largest Chinese Spring Festival Evening by far! … The largest overseas Chinese New Year celebration, [the show] connects millions of viewers at home and abroad… through live television.”

A portion of the ticket sales will benefit a local hospital and the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care. It’s part of a long Chinese tradition of giving back to the community and taking careful care of elders.

The CCO performs a set at the New Year Gala 2019 including Dance of the Golden Snake (1934), a fast-paced orchestral composition by Nie Er, popular during New Year celebrations, drawing on Shanghai region folk melodies and featuring lively percussion. the CCO plays an arrangement of this work by Hong Kong composer and conductor Ng Chiu Shing.

“We’ll also be playing my Chinese orchestra arrangement of Billie Jean, Michael Jackson’s hit 1982 song…just for fun,” added Zhou (with smile emoticon attached).

Why choose to cover a 1982 American pop song on Chinese instruments?

“I wanted to challenge old misconceptions of traditional Chinese music being sad and quiet.” And also, “because everyone [in China] knows Billie Jean … I made the arrangement for the CCO Youth Orchestra tour to China last summer and it was very well received, with audiences clapping and dancing. My drummer was particularly popular with the girls!”

Toronto Chinese Orchestra director Patty Chan.Toronto Chinese Orchestra

City Hall, Pacific Mall

The Toronto Chinese Orchestra (TCO) is the region’s oldest such orchestra. Under music director Patty Chan on the morning of February 4 – the eve of the Year of the Pig – it plays festive music at Toronto City Hall, our region’s civic hub and usually its political epicentre. Then at 10pm the same day the TCO reconvenes at the Pacific Mall playing a late-night set just before New Year. Located on the City of Markham side of Steeles Ave., the three-level Pacific Mall has reigned as the largest Chinese shopping mall in North America since opening its doors in 1997, a popular hub of an explicitly commercial kind. Both free concerts are open to the public.

COC’s World Music Free Noon-Hour Series

February 5 at 12 noon the TCO’s Chamber Players celebrate Chinese New Year in the Canadian Opera Company’s free World Music Series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Led by its erhu player Patty Chan, the Chamber Players form the professional core of the TCO, including Kenny Kwan, percussion; Dora Wang, dizi and Wendy Zhou, pipa. Boosting the lower end of the sound spectrum is cellist Jaimie Chan who was recently added to the TCOCP roster.

Their varied program celebrates the Year of the Pig with a mix of traditional and contemporary Chinese music. It continues with Colourful Clouds Chasing the Moon composed by Ren Guang, the traditional Purple Bamboo Tune, Jiang Xianwei’s Journey to Gusu, Lu Wencheng’s Rising Higher Step by Step, and Romance on the Grasslands by Wang Luobin/Patty Chan. The program then concludes with Dance of Yi Tribe by Wang Huiren, Hand in Hand by Su Shi/Patty Chan, and the popular Racing Horses composed by Huang Haihuai.

ROM Gods in My Home: Chinese New Year

The TCO remains active during the New Year season playing public and private events. For example on February 16, 17 and 18, mornings and afternoons at the Royal Ontario Museum, its youth and small ensembles perform ensemble pieces and instrumental solos. They will also offer demonstrations and opportunities for the audiences to try playing selected instruments.

These interactive performances are part of the ROM’s current exhibition Gods in My Home: Chinese New Year. Drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition features a selection of ancestral portrait paintings and deity prints that were an integral part of Lunar New Year observances in Chinese households. Gods in My Home “explores the connections between the domestic, material and spiritual life of Chinese society…during the late Imperial period to the early 20th-century Republic era.”

Fo Guang Temple of TorontoPlenty of other events

I’ve focused attention on just two Chinese Orchestras in this account of Chinese New Year music in the GTA. Of course there are plenty of other events taking place in Chinese communities throughout the GTA. For example the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto holds its signature Year of the Pig Banquet on February 8 at its sprawling Scarborough facility, featuring an evening of community entertainment, many including Chinese music.

Finally, for those seeking musical experiences with a spiritual aim, the Fo Guang Shan Temple of Toronto marks the Chinese New Year with several activities in its Mississauga Mahayana Buddhist temple. In a message from the Venerable Master Hsing Yun, the founder of Fo Guang Shan, the Year of the Pig both symbolizes endings and brand new beginnings. “One homophone for pig is ‘all’ or ‘everything,’ which also represents a good wish for everyone to have a well-rounded and auspicious year.”

From January 26 to February 10, the Temple hosts Chinese New Year Festival activities such as lighting lamps to the Buddhas, sounding the bell of peace, and participating in Dharma services to welcome the New Year.

The Chinese New Year’s Eve Chanting Service is on February 4 starting at 8pm, while the New Year Chanting Service is on February 5 and 10 at 10am. The Temple invites everyone to visit during Chinese New Year. Please see their website for more details.

Perhaps, as the temple suggests, you will be among those fortunate enough to “bring home auspicious blessings and wisdom.”

In this KonMari-fuelled “tidying and purging” era, those are two possessions I wouldn’t mind more of. 

WORLD VIEW QUICK PICKS

FEB 2, 8PM: Lemon Bucket Orkestra and Aline Morales at Koerner Hall, Royal Conservatory of Music. Toronto’s guerilla-punk-Balkan-folk-brass band shares the stage with Aline Morales, the Brazilian-Toronto singer, percussionist and member of KUNÉ – Canada’s Global Orchestra.

FEB 7, 12:30pm: York University Department of Music presents music professor Rob Simms playing a rare concert of tanbur and setar solos in its Faculty Spotlight Series in Room 235, Accolade East Building, York University.

FEB 9, 7:30PM: The “Queen of Klezmer” Alicia Svigals, a founder of the Grammy Award-winning Klezmatics and “the world’s foremost klezmer violinist” takes the stage of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, with her band.

FEB 9, 8PM: The Royal Conservatory of Music presents Cuban-Canadian piano giant Hilario Durán and his Latin Jazz Big Band with Horacio “El Negro” Hernández and Sarita Levya’s Rumberos; at Koerner Hall.

FEB 21, 22, 23 AND 24: Tafelmusik restages its moving transcultural Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House at Koerner Hall. Maryem Tollar serves as the gracious narrator and vocalist while Tafelmusik guests, Persian percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand and oud specialist Demetri Petsalakis, musically illustrate the Damascus end of the tale. Elisa Citterio conducts from the violin.

Jane Bunnett and MaquequeFEB 23, 8PM: The powerful Cuban female bolero, canción and son vocalist Yaima Sáez and her group splits the night with Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, her band of deep-groove, early-career Cuban women musicians, at the RBC Theatre, Living Arts Centre, Mississauga.

Padideh AhrarnejadMAR 3, 1PM: The Royal Conservatory of Music presents Padideh Ahrarnejad, Iranian tar player and member of KUNÉ, performing a free concert (ticket required) with her sextet Partow at Mazzoleni Concert Hall, RCM.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

At times in this column I have gone deep into a particular world music theme, presenter, musician, ensemble, audience or school. For example, last month in this column I explored in some detail, the 150-year lineage of Chinese music performance in Canada, then pulled a tighter focus on the world of Chinese Orchestras active in the GTA today. Concerts by two of those ensembles bookend the two-month-plus period I’m covering here.

At other times I’ve painted our region’s worldly music pulse with a broad brush. For this December-January-early February column I’ve chosen the latter approach, surveying the seasonal tapestry of our region’s astonishingly diverse music scenes. So, consider this column the tip of the GTA winter season’s live music iceberg.

Toronto Chinese Orchestra “Scenic Sojourn: A Night of Chinese Music”

December 1: The Toronto Chinese Orchestra is the oldest such continually operating regional orchestra. It’s presenting a concert on December 1 at North York’s Yorkminster Citadel titled “Scenic Sojourn: A Night of Chinese Music” with Matthew Poon conducting. Angela Xu is the yangqin (Chinese hammered dulcimer) soloist, while Charlotte Liu is featured on the dizi (Chinese transverse flute).

On the program is music by both Chinese and Canadian composers chosen to underscore the concert’s geographic and seasonal themes. They paint portraits of village life in Jiangsu, scenic views of mountain ranges in Taiwan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as evoking the prototypical Canadian winter chill.

Works include Whiteout by Matthew van Driel and Reincarnation Suite by Marko Koumoulas, both early-career Toronto composers. IMHO the performance of these works signals a healthy active engagement with the broader non-Chinese Canadian music community. Composers Hua Wu (Taiwan Folk Song Rhapsody), Xianyu Jiang, arr. Chunmin Zhang (Touring Gusu), and He Huang (Tian Shan Poetry) present Chinese approaches to orchestral writing. Rounding out the evening, a performance by the TCO’s Toronto Youth Chinese Orchestra ensures essential interpretive orchestral skills are passed on to the younger generation.

Payadora: “Tango and Argentine Folk Music”

Payadora Tango EnsembleDecember 2: The warm and intimate Gallery 345 hosts the tango-centric Toronto quartet Payadora in concert. “Tango and Argentine Folk Music” is the aptly concise title of its committed tribute to the tango repertoire and ethos. Payadora regulars, violinist Rebekah Wolkstein, Drew Jurecka, bandoneon, pianist Robert Horvath and bassist Joseph Phillips are joined by guest vocalist Elbio Fernandez in a program drawn partly from the roots of the Buenos Aires’ early 20th-century tango heyday.

The group typically plays scores which favour instrumental tangos designed for listening in a concert setting rather than those intended for couple dancing. The evening continues with Astor Piazzolla’s well-known, trend-setting nuevo tango compositions of the second half of the 20th century.

In my May 1, 2017 review of a Payadora concert in The WholeNote, I wrote that in addition to tango they “also performed two Argentinian vernacular dance music genres. The zamba is set in a slow 3/4 meter – or is it in 6/8? – while yet another couples’ dance, the chacarera, also plays on similar hemiola syncopation.”

Audiences at the December 2 concert can certainly expect similar rhythmically compelling folkloric renditions. Founded in 2013, with its playful and virtuoso approach to the musically accessible tango repertoire, we can see why Payadora has, in a few years, garnered a healthy regional fan base.

Christmas musical themes

Every year at this time I look at music traditions of those who celebrate Christmas in its many guises. For those who don’t, it may be time for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice or just simply “The Holidays.” This year is no exception.

I’ve assembled a few picks from the many seasonal musical offerings that highlight diversities in our region.

December 5: The Toronto Choral Society, Geoffrey Butler conductor, presents “Navidad Nuestra (Our Christmas)” at Koerner Hall. The concert features two of the best-known works of popular Argentine composer Ariel Ramírez (b. 1921). The 150-voice TCS choir is joined by the Latin ensemble (and past collaborator) Cassava, led by Rodrigo Chavez, with tenor soloist Ernesto Cárdenas.

Ramírez’s Navidad Nuestra for choir and Andean instruments is a “folk drama of the Nativity” based on Hispanic-American traditions. His earlier Misa Criolla (1964), a Creole Catholic mass in a South American hybrid mixture of Iberian and Indigenous musical genres, swiftly became a big hit among international choirs and on LP. A pioneering mass written in a regional Indigenous dialect, Misa Criolla’s bright, optimistic sound exuded an unpretentious spirituality, in tune with the changing times in which it was produced.

Founded in 1845, the TCS is the city’s oldest and largest community choir and it is impressive to see them tackle these Ramírez scores again. Feliz navidad!

December 8: Celtic-themed music appears alive and well, particularly during the holiday season. Here’s just one concert example at the eastern end of our own “fertile crescent.”, the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts presents “The Kingston Connection: A Celtic Christmas with Kelli Trottier” at its beautiful Kingston Ontario hall.

A member of the North America Fiddlers’ Hall of Fame, Kingston fiddler, step dancer and vocalist Trottier’s musical vocabulary is steeped in her deep Scottish and French roots, reflected in her ten albums. Trottier and her backup musicians present an album of Canadian and Celtic Christmas songs and fiddle music.

Chris McKhool brings his Holidays of the Global Village with Chris McKhool and Friends to the Kingston Road United Church, December 9. Then he puts on his Sultans of String hat for a whirlwind six-city Beyond the GTA tour from December 12 to 18 with a stop in Markham on December 13 in between. Photo Jake JacobsonDecember 9 at 2pm: “Holidays of the Global Village with Chris McKhool and Friends” plays at the Kingston Road United Church. Kid-friendly Canadian violinist, guitarist and singer-songwriter McKhool is bringing two armloads of world music friends to help him fete the “multicultural mosaic of our country.” Inclusive songs about “Bodhi Day (Buddhist), Carnival (Quebec), Chanukah, Chinese New Year, Christmas, Diwali, Halloween, Kwanzaa (Pan-African), Native Traditions, Ramadan and Winter Solstice” will ring out in the church. Assisting McKhool with his ecumenical vision are Toronto-based musicians Aviva Chernick, Shannon Thunderbird, Maryem and Ernie Tollar, Kevin Laliberté and Drew Birston.

December 20: in keeping with the Celtic theme – and at the southern end of our fertile crescent – The Gallery Players of Niagara present “Glissandi & Guy Bannerman: A Celtic Solstice” at Silver Spire United Church, St. Catharines. Guy Bannerman provides the Celtic-themed narration with the Glissandi trio playing the soulful music of Ireland, Wales and the Scottish Highlands. The program is repeated December 21 even further south at Grace United Church, Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Congratulations! We’ve made it to the New Year

KamancelloJanuary 8, 12pm: Kamancello plays on the Canadian Opera Company’s World Music Series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Kamancello is an innovative bowed string duo with Shahriyar Jamshidi on kamanche (Persian spike-fiddle) and Raphael Weinroth-Browne on cello. Theirs is an East-meets-West artistic partnership that “blurs musical genre conventions and cultural boundaries with their highly evocative improvised performances,” ranging in tone from soulful to incendiary.

January 20, 4pm: Folk Under the Clock presents Harry Manx at the Market Hall Performing Arts Centre, Peterborough. Manx is a veteran of the Canadian music fusion scene who has released 11 albums and garnered multiple industry awards by successfully merging Hindustani classical music with acoustic blues. It’s all propelled by the hybrid sitar-guitar he plays: the mohan veena. His ability to gracefully wed the blues with the classical Indian ragas is unparalleled. It’s an unusual musical mix that has led him to be labelled the “Mysticssippi Blues Man.” Manx and Steve Marriner (vocals, harmonica, guitar) will play tracks from their new album Hell Bound for Heaven.

January 24, 12pm: The Canadian Opera Company presents “Volando: Tango Takes Flight” as part of its World Music Series. The Payadora Tango Ensemble takes over the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre space in a noon-hour master class on contemporary tango listening music, performing from their latest album Volando, inspired by a “beautiful sunset in the clouds as seen from a flight home by violinist Rebekah Wolkstein.”

February 2: Lemon Bucket Orkestra and Aline Morales perform at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Koerner Hall. I’ve written appreciatively about both the Orkestra and Morales numerous times in this column. The quotes, “Adventurous, multicultural and amazing!” (The Wall Street Journal), and “Toronto’s guerilla-punk-Balkan-folk-brass band that started on the streets of Toronto” (their website) about sum up the Orkestra. And we know Morales as the Toronto-based Brazilian singer, percussionist, bandleader and member of KUNÉ: Canada’s Global Orchestra. It’s bound to be a good time.

Also on February 2: Alliance Française Toronto and Batuki Music Society present Les Frères Cissoko Bannaya Family from Senegal, part of their Musique du monde series at 9pm. Les Frères Cissoko’s illustrious Malinke (aka Mandika) musical lineage stretches back several centuries in West Africa, along with their primary instrument, the kora. The kora (21-string long-necked harp lute) was traditionally played by a griot (a.k.a. jali, or jeli) who combines the bardic roles of a historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet and musician. As a main repository of regional oral tradition the griot therefore has often been an influential advisor to the West African ruling classes.

Malinke oral tradition recounts that Jali Mady Fouling Cissoko, one of the three Cissoko brothers’ ancestors, a griot in the Kaabu Empire (1537–1867), was responsible for the development of the kora, launching a family tradition still in force today.

Senior brother Noumoucounda has taken his family’s practice considerably further afield however, embracing international vernacular music genres. Formerly with Positive Black Soul, among the first hip-hop groups based in Dakar, Senegal (founded in 1989), he has played with Youssou N’Dour, Ki-Mani Marley (son of Bob Marley) and others, earning him the colourful sobriquets “the hip-hop griot,” and “the Jimi Hendrix of the kora.”

Finally, welcome the Year of the Pig (Boar)!

February 5, 12pm: The Canadian Opera Company celebrates the Chinese New Year featuring the Toronto Chinese Orchestra Chamber Players (TCO-CP) at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

Led by erhu virtuosa Patty Chan, TCO-CP forms the professional core of the Toronto Chinese Orchestra. Marking the Chinese New Year they perform a mix of Chinese music plus contemporary works by Canadian and international composers.

TCO-CP members are established Toronto musicians and music teachers. Their repertoire embraces not only demanding Chinese works, but also contemporary scores by Canadian and international composers. This demonstration of transcultural musical solidarity is a marvellous way to bring in the year of the – carefree, honest, trusting, sincere, brave and wealthy – boar (aka pig). clip_image001.png

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com

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