The Scarborough Choral Society has been around for well over fifty years, with an unbroken run of annual shows stretching back to their G&S days in 1955. They are the only Toronto musical theatre group to limit their stage activity to a single production each year, but their annual Sounds of Christmas concert at Markham Theatre, first produced in 1986, has become so successful that the society now essentially runs two separate activities.


In recognition of this, the stage musical section was given the name Onstage Productions two years ago. Ron Turner, who was President of the Society from 2002 to 2006, explains that the new name is intended simply to emphasize that the group presents fully staged show productions, and not just concert versions as the name "Choral Society" apparently suggested. Members, he says, became tired of being asked such questions as “Are you going to have any scenery?”19_scarborough_MT_brigadoon


When Onstage Productions presents Crazy For You at Bayview Glen Upper School at the end of March, it will be their second year at a venue they hope will be their home for at least the next little while. The show, rather appropriately, centres on the problems of theatre management, and the trials and tribulations of mounting a show. But its storyline is tame compared to the recent theatrical adventures of the SCS, for whom Bayview Glen is the sixth show location in just ten years.


It’s truly been a “crazy” period for the SCS members. The songs from the show offer a whimsical guide to their search for a theatre – amply illustrating the problems that can befall community theatre groups, and the resourcefulness, resilience and commitment needed to overcome them.


I Can’t Be Bothered Now

For many years Scarborough Choral’s regular base for their annual stage show was the cavernous auditorium at Cedarbrae C.I., which, complete with balcony, could hold about 1,100 people. The huge stage was ideal for the large chorus, but the huge hall capacity made for a short single-weekend run; opening on a Thursday, the show was usually just getting settled in by the time it closed on Sunday. The deteriorating state of the facilities, however, together with increasing rental costs, finally convinced SCS to give up and leave after their 1999 show, Me and My Girl.


Slap That Bass!

The large recreation room in Bendale Acres, a Scarborough retirement home, was their first stop. And despite its having a small low platform instead of a real stage, limited lighting possibilities, restricted parking, a low capacity of about 150 and a cramped orchestra space where the players could hardly move without hitting each other (I know – I played the first show), the next three shows were presented there in dinner-theatre style.


Could You Use Me?

I guess not: 2003 saw another dinner-theatre presentation in the equally small and parking-lot challenged Latvian Cultural Centre, where a side wall consisting entirely of windows made black-outs in the matinees for Anything Goes! something of a challenge.


Bidin’ My Time

The 2004 show, Annie Get Your Gun, was almost cancelled. But SCS finally took another school - the expensive but last-choice, last-chance and last-minute option, Stephen Leacock C. I. - as a stop-gap measure to buy time for a more thorough search.


Things Are Looking Up

Well, they certainly were at first when SCS moved into the brand new recital theatre at the Armenian Youth Centre. Sure, there were some problems from the start, including insufficient power for full stage lighting and backstage facilities that could most charitably be described as minimal, and the improvised green-room space could only be accessed through the gymnasium. But the auditorium size, seats and sight-lines were excellent, and there were promises of light and sound upgrading as rental use increased.


But Not For Me

Ah, promises, promises, as another show puts it. Upgrades were slow to appear, and the management was clearly moving towards single-use rentals in preference to long-term runs; in addition, technical hitches became an issue, with a jammed scrim lift halting The Music Man for 30 minutes one evening, and a brief but disastrous building power-failure almost completely derailing the first act of Fiddler On The Roof. When the rental cost increased for the second time, up 50 percent in two years, SCS saw the writing on the wall – or at least, they would have done if the lighting had been good enough. The musical nomads were on the road again.


They Can’t Take That Away From Me

Determined to keep their fifty-three-year unbroken run of shows intact, SCS discovered Bayview Glen almost by accident. A society member who lived nearby simply walked in off the street on a whim one day and asked did they happen to have a theatre, did they ever rent it out, and if they didn’t would they be interested in discussing it? Well, yes they did, no they didn’t, and yes they would. Brigadoon found a home, and the rest, as they say, is history.


So far, things are working out well. The stage is not huge, but over the past few years many of the SCS members have decided to choose either the Sounds of Christmas or the annual show as their focus for the year, with a good number of the older members in particular opting for the Christmas concert over the more time-consuming demands of the stage production. This in turn has given the Society a new freedom to choose from a wider range of shows that do not feature a large chorus, and this should also help them to continue to attract the new performers that are essential to the long-term health of a musical group.


Nice Work If You Can Get It

The other main community-theatre venues, meanwhile – Scarborough Village, Fairview Library, and Burnhamthorpe Auditorium – may not be completely problem-free, but their users all enjoy a dedicated theatrical facility and an established and secure home base. And if they don’t appreciate just how lucky they are then they should try giving Ron Turner a call.


You Can Catch SCS in Their New Venue

Onstage Productions presents Crazy For You at Bayview Glen Upper School, 85 Moatfield Drive; March 27, 28, April 3, 4 at 8pm; March 28, April 4 & 5 at 2pm. $25; Youths 16 & Under $10; (905)717-5808 (VISA & MC); (416)293-3981 (Cash or cheque)

www.scarboroughchoral.org


You can also check out the other theatre facilities with the following Spring shows:


Fairview Library Theatre, 35 Fairview Mall Drive

Civic Light Opera Company: final week of Cole Porter’s Silk Stockings; March 4-7; $20-$25; www.civiclightoperacompany.com

Curtain Call Players: Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods; April 2-5, 9-11; $22; (416)703-6181 or curtaincalltickets@hotmail.com


Burnhamthorpe Auditorium, 500 The East Mall

Etobicoke Musical Productions: Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!; April 17-19, 24-26, May 1, 2; $23; Youths $17; (416)248-0410.


Scarborough Village Theatre, 3600 Kingston Road

Scarborough Music Theatre: Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along; April 30, May 1-2, 7-10, 14-16; $24; Students/Seniors $20; (416)396-4049

Two disparate recent events prompt these ruminations. The first is the massive downturn of the global economy with its inevitable adverse effect on disposable income. The second was the receipt in the mail of an excellent biography. The book, In The Firing Line by Toronto author Wallace L. Court, is a biography with a difference. It chronicles the life of noted Salvation Army composer, Colonel Bramwell Coles.


Recession woes led us to wondering what effect this financial situation might have on the health of community musical groups. In the tough times projected for the foreseeable future, will band and orchestra members curtail their participation to save money, or will they turn more to this form of recreation.

Read more: On the state of Community music groups

Gonna rise, gonna rise up singing

Gonna raise the bucket from down in the well

And I feel like I’m just beginning

Cause I made that choice, to raise that voice

And that bucket’s gonna rise, rise up singing

(Quaker, traditional)


Reasons for singing are probably as many as all the colours in all the windows of every windowed place of worship in the world, real or imagined. 16_watoto_choir_ colour

And at the same time, maybe there is after all, only one fundamental reason: to express a passion that cannot be conveyed so well in any other way. Shared passion is one of those things that keeps us feel fully alive, and fully human.

From start to finish the March listings illustrate this diversity within a unified purpose – to “rise up singing” as a way of sharing fear, hope, despair and joy. As the days begin to get a little longer perhaps you will feel more like going out to hear some inspiring choral music, so remember to be”alive” in the month which precedes traditional celebrations of rebirth and harbingers of spring in the natural world.

Read more: The Passionate Voice

More often than not these days I can hear the sounds of new musical ideas coming through my walls, coaxed from the keys of my next-door neighbour’s grand piano. Living next to a composer is one of those curious joys of living in a big city like Toronto. If I’m patient, eventually I can hear those kernels of melody and harmony form into exciting new works that open brand new musical perspectives. But it’s not only my neighbour who’s been busy this winter, as March seems to be packed full with world premieres from local composers.


The month launches off with the TSO’s fifth New Creations Festival, which is focusing on music for string instruments and Far East influences (an odd connection, perhaps, but one that seems to work). This year’s special guest is Tan Dun, one of the world’s most accomplished living composers and perhaps most known for his Grammy Award-winning film score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The first two dates of this three-concert festival (March 5, 7 and 12) will feature several of Tan’s concerti and large ensemble works, which marry together music of Eastern and Western heritage with avant-garde techniques to explore cultural and spiritual themes. While more concerti from Toru Takemitsu and Toronto-based Gary Kulesha will add to the overall experience, I’m most keen to hear the results of Alexina Louie’s latest commission, a concerto for string quartet and orchestra.

Read more: East, West, and the Big Bang

Pick of the month:

The Silk Road was a series of trade routes linking ancient China to the Mediterranean and Europe. Not only were silks transported along these roads, but also ideas, technologies and cultures, linking East and West. The Silk Road Ensemble, a pet roject of world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, seeks to do the same, in music.

17_wu man colour
Wu Man, pipa

Made up of around sixty or so musicians, composers, artists and storytellers from around the world, the ensemble, now celebrating its tenth anniversary, performs in various configurations, transcending musical genres. The ensemble’s mission is “to connect the world’s neighborhoods by bringing together artists and audiences around the globe”. “Every time I open a newspaper” writes Yo-Yo Ma, “I am reminded that we live in a world where we can no longer afford not to know our neighbours.”

Among the Silk Road Ensemble’s instruments is the Chinese pipa, a 2000-year-old pear shaped lute, played by virtuoso Wu Man. She has performed as soloist with many of the world’s great orchestras, and has an extensive discography, including several recordings with the Kronos Quartet. In addition to performing with Silk Road at their Roy Thomson Hall concerts on March 19 and 20 (they’re presenting two different programs), she’ll also be the soloist in the Canadian premiere of Tan Dun’s Pipa Concerto with the Toronto Symphony, as part of the New Creations Festival, March 7.

Read more: Silk Road Stops in Toronto

I’ll start off this month with mention of a few upcoming events which caught my eye and should catch your ears.

Mavis Staples with special guest James Hunter will be onstage at Massey Hall on March 21. Both artists have appeared here in recent years at the TD Canada Trust Jazz Festival and both were knock-out successes. From her early days with the family group, The Staples Singers, to her present day solo performances, Mavis Staples has been steeped in her gospel traditions. She has a great voice and she’s also a pretty neat lady. By contrast, English born James Hunter’s background is classic R & B. In the 80s he borrowed the name of classic blues performer, Howlin’ Wolf and in the 90s sang back-up for Van Morrison, who later described him as one of the best voices in British Soul music. Massey Hall will rock.

Read more: March Hears

This March, the emphasis is clearly on contemporary Canadian opera. There are five on offer: four as part of Tapestry New Opera Work’s annual Opera to Go, plus the world premiere of Charles Wilson’s Kamouraska.

Tapestry’s Opera to Go has a special “Press Opening and Community Night” on March 26 at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, followed by its regular run March 27-29 at the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront. All four works are conducted by Wayne Strongman and directed by Tom Diamond, and all involve a troupe of five well-known singers in various groupings. This year the troupe consists of soprano Sally Dibblee, countertenor Scott Belluz, tenor Keith Klassen, mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó and baritone Peter McGillivray.
20_opera_to_go

The first half of the evening is devoted to three short operas. The first is The Virgin Charlie by William Rowson to a libretto by Taylor Graham. Labelled “a dark comedy in retro musical theatre form,” the opera concerns the drag performer Charlie, who has an unexpected visitation from Virgin Mary. The second work, One Lump or Two, by Glenn James and librettist Sandy Pool, concerns four ladies who want to poison their husbands and meet over tea to plan the deed. The third short opera is My Mother’s Ring, by Stephen Andrew Taylor to a libretto by Marcia Johnson. Here, the central character is convinced that two strangers are posing as his parents.
Read more: On Opera: March 09

What would we do without conductors? Would we be wandering aimlessly around the musical streets, searching for direction signs? Conductors offer ideas, projects, sense of purpose, interpretations, and guidance, not to mention encouragement and inspiration.

For example, take the Classical Music Consort, conducted by the new kid on the block, Ashiq Aziz. If it’s Haydn that you’re seekin’, take a look at his extraordinary concert series dedicated to Franz Joseph Haydn, marking the 200th anniversary of his death. Highlights of the CMC series include Haydn’s twelve London Symphonies, Nos. 93 to 104, in four concerts, in the order they were first performed, to allow the listener to hear the progression of compositional refinement.12_ashiq Aziz

Aziz clearly reveres this classical master and notes that interpretive clues are in the score. “I hope,” he says, “that we are somehow able to bring out the wonderful humour that is so inherent in his music. Often the cleverness and wit of his ideas are expressed through the manipulation of form, harmony and structure.” Aziz continues: “For example, the element of surprise in Haydn’s music is one that I feel is quite important to recognize in order to ensure a successful performance.”

Read more: Haydn, Handel, et al.

In December 2006 Cynthia Steljes, co-founder of Quartetto Gelato, died after a short but intense battle with an asbestos-related form of lung cancer. After a two-year period of reconstruction, now with two new members, and with the next two seasons planned, including an autumn 2009 Asian tour, the ensemble has been re-incarnated. Its other co-founder, violinist, tenor and Cynthia’s widower, Peter DeSotto, brings continuity; and management is provided by entrepreneur and graphic designer Darlene Kulig. The group celebrates its rebirth with CD launch concerts at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa on March 19 and at Toronto’s Glenn Gould Studio on March 21.

Allan Pulker talked to Peter in mid February about the ensemble, its meteoric ascent, the tragic loss of Cynthia, its members, way of working and the new CD and concert.


Allan: How did you find the strength and the will to keep going after Cynthia’s death? It was a devastating loss, for you as her husband, of course, but also for the other members of the quartet as well.


Peter: I have a lot of trouble talking about it. Cynthia was a real sweetie. But I made a commitment to her that I would keep the group going; and it’s also a commitment to myself as an artist. This is what makes life worthwhile.

Read more: Peter DeSotto: Reinventing Quartetto Gelato

“SO MUCH JAZZ, SO LITTLE TIME”

10 RECOMMENDED ARTISTS & VENUES

(1) Don Thompson - Reg Schwager Nonet delights every first monthly Monday 7-10pm at Chalkers. Don Thompson (vbs) Reg Schwager (g) Luis Deniz (ss) David French (ts/bc) John de Simini (bs/fl) Jon Challoner (tp) Darren Sigesmund (tb) Jon Maharaj (b) Ethan Ardelli (d).

 

(2) Pat LaBarbera will dazzle with the Canadian Jazz Quartet as part of ‘Fridays at Five’ March 13 from 5-8pm at Quotes, with Frank Wright (vbs) Gary Benson (g) Duncan Hopkins (b) Don Vickery (d).

 

3) Laura Hubert is a jazz/blues vocal artist with a style all her own. Grossman’s Tavern every Monday 9:30-1:30pm with band led by dependable Peter Hill (p).

 

(4) Ron Davis launches Ron Davis & Friends: a monthly playing, weekly hosting gig at The Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar Friday and Saturday March 6 & 7 from 8-11pm with Mike Downes (b) and Ted Warren (d).

 

(5) Julie Michels (voice) and Kevin Barrett (guitar) are two of Toronto’s most beloved resident musicians. Statlers every Wednesday at 9pm.

 

(6) Rita di Ghent is a vocalist/composer known for her unique sound and sophisticated phrasing. Ten Feet Tall on Sunday March 8 from 3:30 to 6:30pm.

 

(7) Richard Whiteman’s one of the country’s hardest-swinging piano players. The Pilot on Saturday March 7 from 3:30-6:30. Trent Reschny (ts) Richard Whiteman (p) Rob McBride (b) Sly Juhas (d)

 

(8) Eli Bennett is a tremendous tenor player destined for greatness. Tequila Bookworm, Thursday March 12th at 9pm with Darcy Myronuk (p) Devon Henderson (b) Fabio Ragnelli (d); also with Ragnelli at The Rex Wednesdays March 4th & 18th at 6:30.

 

(9) Drew Austin hosts a happenin’ jam every first monthly Friday 8pm-12am at Dave’s Gourmet Pizza.

 

(10) Whitney Ross-Barris sings beautiful jazz framed by a convincing theatrical approach. She debuts at Gate 403 on Sunday March 29th from 5-8pm.

 

Ori Dagan, jazz@thewholenote.com



Jazz In The Clubs: February 08

By: Ori Dagan



In 2005, fans of Canadian jazz singer-songwriter Georgia Ambros were saddened to learn that she was battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma and held a benefit in her honour, “Georgia on My Mind”. After chemotherapy and two invasive throat operations, Georgia has made a remarkable recovery and last month played her first gig in four years at the intimate Upstairs Cabaret at Statlers. Singing an elegant cocktail-themed 90-minute set with venerable gentlemen Gary Williamson at the piano and Steve Wallace on bass, her voice was in pretty good shape and as always, every word was sincere. The lady’s talents as a clever songwriter were proven when fans ended up singing along to “The Limousine Song”. Congratulations to sweet Georgia on coming back in style! To learn more about the artist visit: www.agerecords.com


February concludes with two extremely promising shows at Hugh’s Room. The first: Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana with Voices featuring Elizabeth Shepherd and Telmary Diaz on Friday, February 27. Bunnett is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist internationally recognized as one of Canada’s most significant jazz artists. The latest album, “Embracing Voices”, is a large-scale collaborative effort of epic proportions, remarkable depth and haunting beauty. Tickets are selling fast!

Betty Richardson comes to Hugh’s Room
Betty Richardson comes to Hugh’s Room

On Saturday February 28, Hugh’s Room presents a tremendously talented singer: Betty Richardson. Born to a supremely gifted musical family that includes sister/actress Jackie, Betty started singing professionally at fifteen with Dr. Music’s Doug Riley and the Silhouettes. Most of her career has been spent as a background vocalist, but fans insist that powerhouse Betty belongs in the foreground. Her soulful performances are so heavenly that they border on religious experiences. Reservations are strongly recommended.


PLEASE NOTE: as of February 18, Lisa Particelli’s Girls Night Out vocalist-friendly jazz jam moves to WEDNESDAY nights at Chalkers Pub. For more information visit www.girlsnightoutjazz.com


And there’s more. See our CLUB LISTINGS


Alan DavisSince 1997, Alan Davis, curator of Small World Music, has been introducing Toronto audiences to some of the finest non-Western musicians from around the world. We missed acknowledging Small World’s tenth anniversary season, but there’s no time like the present to have a chat with Alan about what’s been, and what’s coming up.
How did Small World Music come into being?

Small World grew out of my love of forms of music from outside the culture I grew up with. Rock and jazz had always been my ‘world’ and remain very important to me, but somewhere around the early 80’s my ears were opened, largely by some very influential ‘mainstream’ artists - Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno. Without a doubt, Gabriel’s creation of WOMAD, the festival which still takes place in various locations around the globe each year, was a sea change in music for many people. The festival’s presence in Toronto for several years at Harbourfront was a huge revelation to me and many others, who discovered a world of sounds that, while sung in languages we didn’t understand, touched a spiritual place that resonated deeply.
Read more: Small World, Big Difference
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