With summer approaching, most community musical groups will have finished the last of their regular concerts. Some will close down for the summer, while others will embark on a mixture of park concerts, summer festival performances and various other less formal musical events. This slowdown in more structured activities could accord band and orchestra members opportunities for revitalization and musical exploration. In chats with our editor, a variety of pathways to explore came to mind. What about trying our hands at a different instrument, a different method of studying our instrument or exploring a different musical genre?
Beat Columns (Live Music)
This month I write of two singers who have little in common but are both well-worth seeing and hearing. The first is a resident musician of Toronto, the second a visitor from Turin, Italy.
Laura Hubert is an artist deserving of wider recognition, so it’s nice to see that she has three gigs at this year’s Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival. Formerly a founding member of Juno-winning rock act the Leslie Spit Treeo, Hubert’s powerful voice has a chameleonic quality. Her palette is rich with colours and shades: whether the song is sweet, bitter, saucy or dry, each interpretation is both artful and tasty. And then there are the songs themselves. Be it blues, western swing, torch song or novelty, Hubert fashions each with a style all her own. Supported by some of Toronto’s premium jazz musicians including musical director Peter Hill on piano, a night with the Laura Hubert Band is your best bet for entertainment. On June 22 the band celebrates Laura’s birthday and marks the end of a 10-year Monday night stand at Grossman’s Tavern, but will be moving to a new location for July. For gig listings visit www.laurahubert.com, song samples at www.myspace.com/thelaurahubertband.
Roberta Gambarini is one of the most celebrated jazz singers today. She sings in a manner reminiscent of late jazz royalty, particularly echoing the supple tone, flawless intonation and adventurous phrasing of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, respectively. Born in Turin, she started out as a clarinet player and switched over to voice at 17. She has released two highly acclaimed recordings: the Grammy-nominated Easy to Love (2006) and an endearing album of duets with living jazz legend Hank Jones on piano. Roberta Gambarini will be performing as part of Art of Jazz (June 5-7) at the Distillery District on Sunday June 7, at 9:00pm at the Fermenting Cellar Stage. She will also be providing a vocal clinic on the afternoon of Saturday June 6. For tickets and more information visit www.artofjazz.org.
by Jason van Eyk
By the time May rolls around, we can be sure that warmer and sunnier days are here to stay. So, it's no surprise that many of Toronto's new music performers and presenters are pursuing nature themes for this month's concerts.
Running throughout the month is New Adventure in Sound Art's Deep Wireless Festival of Radio and Transmission Art, which takes as its theme "Ecology: Water, Air, Sound." In this era of climate change and global warming, we're all alerted to environmental indicators of temperature, air and water quality, as well as light (UV index) and soil (waste disposal and brownfields). However, one environmental element to which we pay exceedingly little attention is sound. Most people would be surprised to know that we are affected by noise exposure more than any other environmental stressor. Yet, because the associated health effects of noise are not considered as immediately life-threatening as those for other environmental elements, it is regularly pushed to the bottom of the priority list.
“Embracing” is a word that can be used two ways. Interesting how either way it applies to making music, and particularly to choral singing.
Choral music is "embracing": like a hug that is big enough for as many as many need one. Simple folk melodies and great majestic scores all invite us to be "in the music" as choristers or as audience. This embrace can transcend all kinds potential barriers: age, gender, race, and other diverse but less visible socio-economic walls in our complicated lives.
We are "embracing music", when we sing with others. With our breathing unified, and often our hearts on our sleeves, we wrap a collective voice around a piece of music and hold it tight, and by extension, around one another. It's an act of love.
The Timothy Eaton Memorial Church Choir School "Sing Out!" (May 8)
Ramblin' Son, the sophomore release by blues songwriter, singer, guitarist and pianist Julian Fauth took home the Juno for Blues Recording of the Year. Fauth (www.julianfauth.com) plays every Tuesday night at Gate 403 along with James Thomson on bass, Tim Hamel on trumpet and, recently, guest drummer Paul Brennan. To quote Rambling Son's liner notes: "I now play 800 times a week, mostly for beer and tips, but I also do a lot of benefits, which don't include beer and tips." Please tip generously; this band deserves it.
The Old Mill is an upscale, touristy landmark that romantically doubles as a picturesque inn and spa. At its intimate Home Smith Bar, indulge in lively live jazz every Friday and Saturday 8-11pm for a $12 cover charge. Ron Davis books both instrumental and vocal resident artists. Brand new: a permanent residency for the Russ Little Trio, Thursdays from 7-10pm. A $20 food/drink minimum applies per person.
Vocalist Terra Hazelton releases her anticipated sophomore album, Gimme Whatcha Got, at The Rex, May 30. This magical singer (www.terrahazelton.com) is perhaps best known for shining with the late Jeff Healey's Jazz Wizards. Today she sings and plays snare in the wildly entertaining Hogtown Syncopators every Friday from 4-6pm. Hogtown is rounded up by Drew Jureka on violin, alto sax and vocals, Jay Danley on guitar and vocals, Richard Whiteman on piano and James Thomson on bass.
Unconventional vocalist Tova Kardonne is a brave composer and astute arranger. The Thing Is, her Balkan-Jazz-Funk Fusion 8-piece band, is devoted to odd time signatures and raised elevenths; it's challenging, refreshing and highly rewarding in a real listening room (www.myspace.com/thethingismusic). The Thing Is performs at the Trane Studio May 31 at 8pm. (Note that The WholeNote's very own Jim Galloway gigs at The Rex at 9:30pm the same night.)
Tallis Choir. Peter Mahon is front left.
The name Peter Mahon will be familiar to many concert-goers in Toronto, especially if, as I do, you have a love of both choral music and early music. The affable Mahon has had a dual musical career: as a conductor over the last two decades he has worked with St. James Cathedral, Tafelmusik, the Hart House Singers, and Grace Church on-the-Hill, as well as being the founder and director of the William Byrd Singers. As a countertenor, over an even longer time, he has appeared with Tafelmusik, Toronto Consort, Aradia Ensemble, Montreal Chamber Music Festival, Pax Christi Chorale, Arbor Oak Concerts, The Bach-Elgar Choir, The Tallis Choir, The Toronto Chamber Choir and The St. James Cathedral Choral Society... .
The human voice is the oldest form of musical expression, and in its earliest use was untexted: think of throat-singing and Celtic mouth music, for example.When one considers some of the current pop-music trends, thinking of the voice as a musical instrument might be a challenge, but even the spoken word can be like music to one's ears. Actor James Earl Jones, for example, has a beautiful voice, although he had to overcome a severe stuttering problem and into his teens he had to communicate with teachers and classmates by handwritten notes! From an earlier generation Ronald Colman had a wonderful, resonant voice that made music just by speaking.
This being the choral issue of The WholeNote, I thought I would give voice to my thoughts on vocal jazz groups. The beginnings of the music go back to ceremonial chants, work songs, field hollers and chain gangs, giving us the origins of the blues, which, in turn became an integral part of jazz. In other words, the roots of jazz were very much vocal, although early jazz bands used singers only intermittently.
The undoubted operatic highlight of May is the world premiere of the "The Shadow" by Omar Daniel to a libretto by Alex Poch-Goldin. The work is presented by Tapestry New Opera Works and features baritone Theodore Baerg, counter-tenor Scott Belluz, soprano Carla Huhtanen, tenor Keith Klassen and baritone Peter McGillivray.
Alex Poch-Goldin (above) & Omar Daniel
With the myriad of spring concerts behind most community musical groups, it seemed like an opportune time to express some personal opinions which have been festering in my head for some time. Over the past two weekends, during which I have attended three concerts and one play, and played in one performance, a few pet peeves have boiled to the surface of my consciousness. This seemed like a good time to pontificate on my aversion to the many distractions to which concert goers and performers are subjected. Let's just lump these all under the heading of distractions.
Before mounting my high horse about audience decorum, I feel compelled to recall two incidents years apart that evoke laughter for me. The first happened many years ago when I attended my first symphony concert after my arrival in Toronto. It was at a time when there were regular "Prom Concerts" at Varsity Arena. These were promoted as less formal than the winter concerts at Massey Hall. Unfortunately, the interpretation of the term informality by the two elderly ladies seated directly behind me, went too far for my liking. Throughout the entire concert I was "treated" to the incessant rhythm of clicking knitting needles.
“Walk like a man, talk like a man,” or so the song goes. When people think of a man with a high voice, they often think of Frankie Valli, Neil Sedaka, Smokey Robinson, or Art Garfunkel. Michael Maniaci, a male soprano, is a 32-year old singer whose voice is being compared to that of many female sopranos. What’s the difference? Female sopranos are from Venus, and the male sopranos, from Mars, right? I’m afraid to ask.
Singing as a boy, Maniaci discovered a love for music and singing. Then, reaching puberty, his voice didn’t change, or at least, not much. To this day, as far as we know, he remains to be the only natural male soprano on the operatic stage today. I ask if his vocal range is the same as a female soprano.
“More or less,” Maniaci replies, “I mean, my voice most naturally rests in sort of a high lyric mezzo tessitura. I call myself a soprano because I’m not a countertenor and the roles that I sing are substantially higher that what traditional countertenors can do.” He adds, “If people are expecting to hear a countertenor, then I will be far from what they expect.”
Sometimes I feel like I'm wearing too many hats..... as advertising coordinator for this publication, as a freelance oboist... and then there's this column, dear to my heart, but not always given the time and depth it deserves. But there are too many things coming up this month and a “highlights in brief” summary is better than nothing!
April 3, Roy Thomson Hall presents Scotland the Brave, an extravaganza featuring over 100 performers including full orchestra, highland dancers, choir, pipe-band, drum corps, Celtic fiddlers, and young tenor Greg Moore among the soloists.
Small World Music presents Bajofondo, an 8-piece electronica-infused tango rock band whose members hail from Argentina and Uruguay, April 5 at the Mod Club; Small World also presents Alireza Ghorbani, one of Iran's top vocalists, and Shiraz (classical Persian music ensemble), part of the Sounds of Persia series, April 9 at Harbourfront's Enwave Theatre. Cape Verdean singer Carmen Souza performs at the Lula Lounge, April 22 (see www.myspace.com/carmensouza).
Toronto's Ensemble Polaris, so named because it performs music inspired by and features instruments from northern countries, presents a program titled Viking Vacation Destinations, April 24 at the Edward Day Gallery. Scandinavian and Mediterranean influenced music is brought to you on guitar, violin, bagpipes, cello, hurdy-gurdy, nyckelharpa, recorders, seljefløyte, etc. I've heard this ensemble and they're pretty unique! York University's Department of Music presents its World Music Festival featuring its student ensembles. The Cuban, Klezmer, Mande drumming, Ghanaian drum and dance, and Brazilian Samba groups perform on April 30, and the Caribbean Ensemble, African American Piano Players, Chinese Orchestra, Korean Drum Ensemble, and Japanese Ensemble perform May 1. The Canadian Opera Company's noon hour series of free concerts presents an Introduction to South Indian Violin, with Subhadra Vijaykumar, May 7 at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.
Beyond the GTA: the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Orchid Ensemble in contemporary arrangements of Chinese music as well as works by Vancouver area composers, April 4, 57 Young St. West in Waterloo. And last but not least, Kitchener's Open Ears Festival of Music and Sound (April 24-May 3) presents a number of world music ensembles this year: The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band performs April 25 at the King St. Theatre Centre; Safa, comprised of Sal Ferraras (percussion), Francois Houle (clarinet), and Amir Koushakni (Setar, Tar, vocals), perform both improvised and composed works, influenced by Turkish and Judeo-Arabic traditions, but mostly based on Persian repertoire, April 30 at Zion United Church; Red Chamber, a quartet performing on traditional asian instruments has a repertoire from 917 AD to the present, spanning many world cultures. They're at Church of the Good Shepherd on May 1; Nagata Shachu Japanese Taiko Ensemble performs May 2 at Your Kitchener Market; and The Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan is featured in Gamelan (and on): The Enduring Legacy of Lou Harrison, May 2 at the King St. Theatre Centre. They'll perform both contemporary and traditional works.