Oops. There was bit of a mistake in one of our photo captions last month. One of our photos showed the trumpet section of Resa’s Pieces band, but the caption stated that this was the trumpet section of the New Horizons Band. Actually, at the time of publication, the New Horizons Band did not yet have a trumpet section. The band had just had its first organizational meeting, and potential members were trying to decide which instrument they would like to embrace as their own. Now, one month after that organizational meeting, I am pleased to report that the New Horizons Band has 24 members signed up, with more anticipated in the wings.

p28Having heard of the very favourable response from that organizational meeting, I decided that a visit to one of their rehearsals might be in order. So, on a Wednesday morning at 9:30, I arrived at rehearsal number three. While the repertoire was still very rudimentary, there was a sense of a cohesive organization blossoming. It was not the group of strangers that arrived one month earlier. Members were chatting on a first name basis and generally helping each other. In one case, one member seemed a bit discouraged at slow progress in mastering the fingering of the instrument. Section members were sympathetic and helpful. Now, by the advent of the third rehearsal, they had formed ad hoc committees and there was an impressive array of refreshment goodies at the break.

They are still short of low brass players. Trombones, French horns and tubas would all be welcomed. Otherwise, there was good balance. After I took a few photographs, conductor Dan Kapp handed me a tuba and offered the opportunity to sit in and participate in a mixture of basic exercises and in playing a few simple melodies. By the end of the session The New Horizons Band had performed recognizable renditions of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and a somewhat simplified version of the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Now, after only three weeks, midtown Toronto has the makings of a new daytime rehearsal band.

Also in last months issue, there was a photo of Resa’s Pieces Strings at their inaugural rehearsal. At that time they were doing remarkably well, but were still out prospecting for their first viola player. Now, Resa Kochberg reports that the orchestra has a small viola section, and the general progress of the orchestra is exceeding expectations.

In both of these startup groups the social rewards of playing in some form of musical ensemble have quickly come to the fore. However, for the beginner, there is the question of what instrument would be preferable. What are the physical demands and the demands on one’s dexterity posed by the various instruments? It seems that there are significant numbers of people interested in learning to play an instrument who have no idea of the skills required for the many different instruments. Perhaps that could be the subject of a future column.

 

Our Readers Write

I’m pleased to report that I have just received an interesting “Short history of the Thorold Reed Concert Band” from their musical director, Brian Williams. Here’s what Brian sent to us.

“The band was formed back in 1851, when Thorold was a village, and has been active to the present day. The band has seen many conductors and instrumentalists over the years, and today boasts a membership of 45 musicians from the Niagara area. It has been an integral part of the Thorold community, and in the past it raised the money to build a bandstand and the present-day Cenotaph monument in Memorial Park. The bandshell in Battle of Beaverdams Park in the center of Thorold was sponsored jointly by the City of Thorold, the St. Lawrence Seaway and a Wintario grant.

“The band has competed in the Waterloo Music Festival and CNE competitions, and attained top honours. A highlight occurred when the Band led the two 1956 New Orleans Mardi Gras Parades. This was a first for Canadian bands. The band was presented with a gold medal and the keys to the city. In 2001 the band celebrated its 150th year of continuous operation with a grand concert on Canada Day. Nine free Wednesday evening “pops” concerts are still provided by the Band in Battle of Beaverdams Park. Concerts are also given at local retirement residences and nursing homes in Thorold and St. Catharines throughout the year, in addition to supporting special activities put on by the city of Thorold and the Royal Canadian Legion.

“To maintain the enthusiasm of audience and musicians alike, the band’s repertoire is kept up to date with selections of new music every year, alongside many of the old favourites. All of the musicians are volunteers and rehearse throughout the winter months. Today’s band is the best yet, and we look forward to starting our ‘pops’ concert season at the Bandshell in Battle of Beaverdams Park. The nine Wednesday evening concerts are sponsored by the City of Thorold. Some of our concerts feature massed bands with the City of Thorold Pipes and Drums. For more information about the band please call 905-227-0150 or email to gbwilliams@cogeco.ca.

Also in our mailbox this month was a notice about a competition. To commemorate the City of Pickering’s bicentennial celebrations in 2011, the Pickering Community Concert Band, together with the City of Pickering, have announced a music composition competition. The first-prize winning piece will be the City of Pickering’s 200th celebration commemorative piece, and the winner will be awarded $500. The second prize will become the Band’s 20th anniversary celebration commemorative piece and the prize winner will be awarded $300. Both winning compositions will be performed by the Pickering Community Concert Band during the planned 2011 celebrations. For more information, contact info@concertband.ca and use the subject line “composition query.” Budding composers, here’s your opportunity for fame.

On the brass band front, Toronto’s Hannaford Street Silver Band have announced the appointment of noted Canadian trombone virtuoso Alain Trudel as Principal Guest Conductor of the HSSB. Their first concert of the 2010-2011 season (November 7), aptly titled “Childs’ Play,” will feature internationally renowned euphonium soloist David Childs.

Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments, and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at bandstand@thewholenote.com.

"In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” So wrote Benjamin Franklin in a letter to French historian Jean-Baptiste Leroy, on November 13, 1789. Well, Ben, add another one: change. As a veteran of the Toronto jazz scene I’ve seen a lot of changes. I wish I could say they’ve been for the better, but the sad fact is that looking back is more enjoyable than looking ahead.

What has changed Toronto from being a leading city on the jazz club circuit to the sad state of today? For a start, there is no club circuit any more. Rising costs and declining, aging audiences put paid to that. Touring groups, except for the few that can fill a concert hall, have become a thing of the past. With the demise of the great jazz clubs in this city – the Colonial, Town Tavern, Bourbon Street, Cafe des Copains, Montreal Bistro, Top O’ The Senator, to name only some of them – I feel a sense of loss. The club circuit has its equivalent now in the festival roundabout, relying more and more on ticket sales, often at the expense of the music. And festivals come around once a year; clubs entertained us year round.p26b

Jazz has undergone huge changes since the 1930s when Louis Armstrong was not only a musical genius, he was a pop star. His music was accessible and entertaining. Even into the 1950s jazz was relatively popular, based on a melodic foundation. But it evolved into a complex musical form much of which was no longer easily accepted by the public at large. Audiences started to decline. It was becoming a sophisticated art form rather than an entertainment.

Last month I wrote about nicknames of some of the musicians who played with Duke Ellington. Why did they have nicknames? Because they were colourful characters and it was reflected in their music. In Canada, in his early years Oscar Peterson was “The brown bomber of boogie-woogie.” Trumpeter Jimmy Davidson was “Trump.” But today where are the characters, players who have a personal trademark sound, making them immediately recognizable?

As a profession, jazz is perhaps at its lowest ebb. Making a decent living in jazz has never been easy. Now it is just about impossible. The irony is that jazz has now become something that can be “taught.” In Toronto alone scores of graduates from jazz courses enter a market that hardly exists any more. They have been taught by some of the finest players in Canada – who teach to supplement their income because there isn’t enough work out there to pay the bills. (I know that I’m going to ruffle some feathers by saying such things, but I am echoing what I hear in a lot of opinions expressed when veteran players and aficionados get together.)

Certainly, students can learn to master the techniques and mechanics of playing in all the scales, coming out at the end of it all as superb musicians. But the thing that can’t be taught is the soul of the music. “The teaching of jazz is a very touchy point. It ends up where the jazz player, ultimately, if he’s going to be a serious jazz player, teaches himself.” Whose quotation is that? Pianist Bill Evans. A technically great musician doesn’t necessarily know how to make music.

Some musicians with relatively limited technique made great music: Muggsy Spanier, Pee Wee Russell, Art Hodes, Kid Ory. And – not that I recommend it – greats like Errol Garner and Buddy Rich didn’t even read music. I also believe that a well rounded musician should have a vocabulary which includes songs by the great songsmiths; as well, the great ballad players have also known what the lyric, if there is one, is about.

A well-known Toronto musician once told a story about being on an engagement which was a surprise birthday party. There were a couple of horn players on the gig who were recent graduates of one of the jazz courses. When the guest of honour (a well-known horn player) walked in he asked the band to play “Happy Birthday.” The horn players didn’t know it!

Now, it wasn’t the responsibility of their teachers on the course of studies to teach them that song – it was their job to have it in their musical vocabulary. Not that they would ever choose to play it on a jazz gig, but not all of their gigs are going to be opportunities to play their original compositions. Some gigs are “bread and butter” ones, no matter how well you play.

Here’s a suggestion. If you are a young player about to make your first CD, which nowadays is your calling card, don’t make every number an original composition. Swallow your pride and play at least one number by one of the great songwriters. It gives your listeners a point of reference and demonstrates how well you can interpret one of the numbers which, as I pointed out, should be in any well-rounded musical vocabulary.

p27Change is inevitable in any art form, and in many ways reflects the society of its time. And given that we live in a world full of doubt, insecurity and danger to a degree unequalled in this declining civilization, it’s no surprise that much of the joy has gone from the music. So I accept the fact that change is inescapable and indeed necessary. But maybe it’s time to find a word to replace “jazz” – Duke Ellington stopped using the term in 1940 – because much of today’s music simply does not meet the criteria of some of the music’s great players.

Here are a few things to consider. Miles Davis: “I don’t care if a dude is purple with green breath as long as he can swing.” Stan Getz: “The saxophone is actually a translation of the human voice, in my conception. All you can do is play melody. No matter how complicated it gets, it’s still a melody.” John Coltrane: “I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.”

Swing, melodic content and a knowledge of the roots –
I rest my case.

 

Postscript

I wrote this month’s piece just before leaving for an engagement at Jazzland in Vienna, one of the few remaining jazz venues which presents jazz six nights a week. I’m sitting looking at the photo collection on the walls of musicians who have played the club, among them many of the players who used to appear in Toronto clubs. I can’t stifle a certain feeling of nostalgia and, again, a sense of loss. But then, years from now I’m sure there will be another generation looking back at 2010 as “the good old days.” However, in my present mood, to paraphrase playwright John Osborne, it’s “Look Back In Sorrow.”

 

Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and the former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at jazznotes@thewholenote.com.

Choral singing is generally considered to be fun and pleasurable. But often an encounter with a modern choral work – in which fun and pleasure may not necessarily be the composer’s primary goal – can feel like a child’s encounter with a disagreeable vegetable. “Why do conductors give us weird music to struggle through when we’re supposed to be having a good time? I’m paying choir dues for this?” On this subject, I am always struck by the range in attitudes among conductors, composers, singers and choral audiences.

Composers must by their very nature be champions of new music, and their desire to connect with either audience or singers may well be secondary to their drive to define an individual musical identity. Conductors must when programming strike a balance between the popular an profitable, and the adventuresome but potentially alienating. If they are lucky, they will have an organization that allows them some artistic license. In general, whatever their personal musical preferences, conductors have a sense of responsibility to work in tandem with living composers to bring new works into being.

Singers are usually the first people to create the sounds that the composer has imagined, and their response is often a visceral one: “This is difficult – I don’t like it.” Or perhaps, “This speaks to me, although it is unfamiliar.” Often a singer’s judgment of the music stems from this very subjective first encounter, and may or may not render an unfair verdict on the actual quality of the music itself.

marjan-mozetichAudiences as a rule have made their feelings known regarding much new music, and the problem that choral groups encounter when debuting new works is the one that has in many ways defined musical life in the previous century: the disconnect between modern composers and modern audiences. Still, composers tend to write more conservatively for choirs than they might for chamber ensembles, soloists or orchestras. And the liturgical background of a great deal of choral music tends to foster an audience-friendly aesthetic. A new composition that connects with an audience is a wonderful thing, and a good premiere can be an exciting experience for both audiences and musicians alike. There are a number of premieres and concerts featuring living composers coming up in the next few weeks that we can certainly hope will fit this paradigm.

The Cantabile Choirs of Kingston have become a choral juggernaut in that region, with seven different choirs and 300 voices performing separately and in tandem throughout the season. Their November 6 concert, “Silk Road,” features the premiere of a new composition by Slovenian-Canadian Marjan Mozetich. (The Cantabile artistic director, Mark Sirett, has his own premiere of a piece for choir, brass and organ that will be presented by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir as part of their December 8 “Festival of Carols.”)

Cantabile Chorale of York Region’s November 14 concert features a setting of the Requiem mass by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. Jenkins comes at composition from a jazz background and, like many modern composers, is as likely to draw from world-music influences as from European compositional techniques. His music is tuneful and has some of the hard-won simplicity of the compositions of Carl Orff.

The Mississauga Festival Choir performs Jonathan Willcocks’s An English Christmas as part of their December 4 concert. Willcocks is the son of Sir David Willcocks, whose Carols for Choirs has been a mainstay of Christmas choral singing for decades. His son has carved out his own impressive career as a conductor and composer, as well. Hamilton’s John Laing also combines conducting and composing. His operetta St. George and the Dragon is performed by the John Laing singers November 6 in Guelph and November 7 in St. Catharines.

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale’s Indigo Christmas (December 15 and 18) features works by three African American composers: Glenn Burleigh, Adolphus Hailstorks and Margaret Allison Bonds. These are likely Canadian premieres, although the NDC website isn’t clear about this. The most intriguing-sounding work is Bonds’ The Ballad of the Brown King, with settings of poetry by the great American writer Langston Hughes.

Premieres and performances of unfamiliar works give concertgoers the chance to help define for future audiences which pieces will become part of a regular concert tradition. This is an ongoing process – and works that were once unfamiliar but are now well known include Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Ramirez’s Missa Criolla (York University Concert Choir, November 23), Fauré’s Requiem (Amadeus Choir, November 6) and Britten’s St. Nicholas (Orillia’s Cellar Singers, November 6).

We are also heading into Messiah season, with a plethora of choices to satisfy Handelian addictions. In The WholeNote’s listings, you’ll find dozens of performances: small-ensemble Messiahs, opulent thousand-voice Messiahs – just about everything but Justin Bieber’s Messiah, or Messiah as interpreted by competing Led Zeppelin tribute bands.

Benjamin Stein is a tenor and theorbist. He can be contacted at choralscene@thewholenote.com.

Emerging and early career composers are making their mark all over the November concert calendar. No less than half a dozen upcoming Toronto events feature fresh and fascinating works by new, international and increasingly noticeable local names – sometimes in showcase formats, but just as often tucked into more traditional programming.

p22bOne of those more noticeable locals is composer Kevin Lau, who will have his symphonic work Artemis performed by the Sneak Peek Orchestra on November 6 at the Calvin Presbyterian Church. Lau is a remarkably prolific young composer, gifted with a strong control of his craft and an easily approachable musical voice. As a result, he already holds to his credit commissions and premieres from the likes of the Esprit Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, the Toronto Philharmonia and the Cecilia String Quartet. He’s also co-founder with conductor Victor Cheng of Sneak Peek, one of Toronto’s fastest-rising symphonic ensembles, and one that specifically showcases the talents of this city’s emerging professionals.

Lau describes Artemis as “a musical portrait of the Greek goddess in the manner of Holst’s The Planets, whose seven movements are based on the Greek deities’ Roman counterparts. The movement “Mars, the Bringer of War” was particularly influential in the conception of this piece. At the same time, I sought to emphasize qualities which I thought would befit a more feminine warrior: speed and swiftness, lightness, agility.” Artemis will sit alongside Glenn Buhr’s slow and spacious symphonic miniature Akasha, and more classical fare from Brahms and Berlioz. For more info visit www.sneakpeekorchestra.com.

The following afternoon marks the beginning of Alain Trudel’s appointment as the Hannaford Street Silver Band’s principal guest conductor. Oddly enough, the programme will include a brass band arrangement of Holst’s The Planets and a new work from another of our local emerging talent, composer Rob Teehan. We heard a lot about Teehan last month during his residency at the Colours of Music Festival in Barrie, where he had no less than three world premieres, including two for major choral and orchestral forces.

When I asked him about his latest work, titled Wildfire, he explained “It’s very fast, very rhythmic, aggressive, somewhat dark, and it will push the players to their limit. I think I wrote it because I spent the summer writing beautiful, slow music and I needed a change of pace. It was nice to get back to brass writing, since that’s my original background, as a tuba player.” This is Teehan’s second time working with Trudel. The first was for his orchestral work Dream of Flying, which was premiered and recorded by the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, and subsequently nominated for a 2010 Juno. For more info about the concert and to get tickets, visit
www.hssb.ca.

p24aOn November 10 and 11, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra brings back the distinctive voice of early-career composer Krystof Maratka. We first heard of Maratka in 2004 with the world premiere of his Otisk, a TSO commission that came only two years after this Czech-born, Paris-based composer started making a significant mark in Europe. Now 38 years old – still an early age in any composer’s creative development cycle – Maratka has amassed commissions, premieres and residencies with some of the world’s leading cultural institutions, not to mention two CDs dedicated to his music. He returns to Toronto with his 2002 viola concerto Astrophonia, which has been described as a “poetic voyage on the origins of the cosmos.” The two-movement work is dedicated to his wife, violist Karine Lethiec, whose strong interest in the alliance between music and the universe has clearly inspired the concerto’s theme. At 23 minutes in length, it’s a substantial work around which Peter Oundjian has built this Slavic Celebration concert, including works by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Janáček. For more details and to purchase tickets, visit www.tso.ca.

The centerpiece of this month’s emerging composer theme falls on November 14, when New Music Concerts plays host to Ensemble contemporain de Montréal +, and their biennial “Generation” tour. Building on its mandate to encourage and support musical creativity, ECM+’s project offers a unique and extensive professional development platform for composers under the age of 35. Since 1994, it has been discovering and nurturing the next generation of Canadian music creators, most of whom go on to make significant marks on the national and international music scene. The only project of its kind in Canada, Generation encourages musical research through live experimentation. Over the course of two years, four carefully selected young composers explore their musical voices by developing new works in collaboration with the ECM+ ensemble and their remarkable director Véronique Lacroix. The results are then presented in a cross-Canada tour, which – in addition to creating major exposure – builds new professional networks for these emerging talents.

The 2010 Generation composers are Simon Martin (Montreal), Christopher Mayo (Toronto/London, UK), Cassandra Miller (Victoria) and Gordon Williamson (Toronto/Bloomington, Indiana). Despite their young age, all of them are Associate Composers of the Canadian Music Centre, and many carry a cache of international experience and high-level accolades. For example, Gordon Williamson was a finalist in the CBC’s recent “Evolution” Young Composers Competition and Simon Martin has been a finalist in the prestigious Jules Léger Prize for Chamber Music. Chris Mayo and Cassandra Miller both already have international careers, most notably in the UK and the Netherlands respectively. Consequently, the Generation tour is a rare chance to hear some of the absolute best up-and-coming Canadian voices. For more info about the Generation program visit www.ecm.qc.ca. To purchase tickets for the November 14 concert at the Music Gallery visit www.musicgallery.org.

p24bBut the discovery of new musical voices doesn’t stop there. Both York University and the University of Toronto showcase new music by their student composers on November 16 and 30 respectively. On November 18, 32-year-old Polish-American (and now Canadian) composer Norbert Palej – a recent addition to the U of T faculty – joins clarinetist Peter Stoll on stage at Walter Hall in a free lunchtime concert of his works for clarinet. That same evening, the Gryphon Trio performs selections from their Young Composers Program alongside core repertoire by Ives, Beethoven and Dvorak for the Music Toronto series. So be sure to get in with the new via The WholeNote’s concert listings here.

 

Jason van Eyk is the Ontario Regional Director of the Canadian Music Centre. He can be contacted at newmusic@thewholenote.com.

Major productions from the Canadian Opera Company and Opera Atelier continue into November. But there are also numerous productions from the smaller companies that give the Toronto opera scene so much diversity and vibrancy.

Opera by Request will present a concert revival of Genoveva (1850), Robert Schumann’s only opera. Schumann, most famous today for his piano music, four symphonies, and his amazing output of Lieder, always nourished the dream of a “German opera.” Genoveva is based on a medieval legend concerning Genevieve of Brabant. It tells of Genoveva, the chaste wife of Siegfried of Trier, falsely accused of adultery by his servant Golo in revenge for rejecting his advances. Siegfried eventually discovers Golo’s deception and restores his wife’s honour. Richard Wagner told Schumann the libretto was undramatic, and the negative criticism of the work at its premiere discouraged Schumann from ever writing another opera.

Nevertheless, various recent revivals have often been enthusiastically received. Conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt stated, “Genoveva is a work of art for which one should be prepared to go to the barricades,” and the DVD he recorded at the Zurich Opera House in 2008 has brought many over to the cause.

The Opera by Request presentation will feature artistic director William Shookhoff at the piano accompanying Doug MacNaughton as Siegfried, Lenard Whiting as Golo and Mila Iankova as Genoveva. This will be only the second time the work has been performed in Canada, the first presented by Opera in Concert, where Whiting and MacNaughton also sang their respective roles.

p21Asked why the work has remained a rarity, Shookhoff admits that it could be “dramatically stronger,” but says, “Perhaps because the initial productions were beset with problems, and because Schumann had no reputation as an opera composer, it was easy for the work to be ignored.” MacNaughton adds that “Schumann didn’t have the time nor the energy to be a relentless self promoter like Richard Wagner.” Both are convinced of the work’s importance. MacNaughton calls it “the missing link between Weber and Wagner.” Shookhoff notes that “The piece is musically very powerful, and Schumann’s unique orchestrations, often unfairly maligned, carry the day. It is a perfect quartet opera, where each of the four principals is given arias of exquisite beauty (Schumann’s gift as a composer of song comes through), as well as well-constructed ensembles that reach powerful climaxes. The choral writing is on a par with Schumann’s best choral works.”

Take this rare opportunity to judge for yourself and attend the November 17 performance at University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus or the November 20 performance at Trinity Presbyterian York Mills, 2737 Bayview Avenue, at Highway 401. For more information visit www.operabyrequest.ca.

Moving to the present, Urbanvessel follows its acclaimed sewing-machine opera Stitch, with the world premiere of Voice-Box. The piece was inspired by the unusual combination of talents of mezzo-soprano Vilma Vitols, known from her appearances with Opera Atelier, but who is also an accomplished boxer. Composer Juliet Palmer says, “The result is a kind of fight night where the voice and body are both challenged. The audience gets a great sense of the power of women and the power of the singing voice.” Librettist Anna Chatterton adds, “We were also inspired by the history of female boxing. Up until 1991 women were not allowed to box until the lawyer Jenny Reid who had been training as a boxer took it to court and won the right for women to legally fight in the ring.” Women boxers last fought in the Olympics in 1922 and will finally do so again in 2012.

Asked about the structure of the work, Chatterton explains, “Voice-Box is similar to Stitch in that it is variations on the theme of female boxers rather than a linear story. This time round dance plays a larger role in the piece as choreographer Julia Aplin was on board from the beginning as a creator. We are looking at all the aspects of being a female boxer – the experience of being in the ring, fighting, training, getting ready to fight, female aggression, the choice to punch and to get punched, society’s assumptions when they see a woman with a black eye, and the history of female boxing. The opera is structured in a series of six bouts, with a fight of sorts in each bout.”

Palmer says, “The music took me to some strange new places. The electronic music is inspired by the clichés of sports themes as well as the totally captivating and visceral sounds of the boxing gym (the sounds of bells, punching bags, squeaking ropes and the hisses and grunts of a good fight). The vocal performances range from operatic combat to throat singing with a tango along the way. I needed to be able to show both the strength and vulnerability of these four incredible women.” The four performers are Vitols herself, Neema Bickersteth, Savoy Howe and Christine Duncan. Performances runs from November 10 to 14 at the Brigantine Room in the York Quay Centre, 235 Queen’s Quay West. For tickets phone 416-973-400 or visit www.harbourfrontcentre.com.

 

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at: opera@thewholenote.com.

Being a university town, Kingston, Ontario, attracts interesting people. One such person is David Cameron who, after his early training in Toronto and the USA, has led a very busy musical life in Kingston for over four decades as organist, choir director, teacher and composer. He founded the Melos Choir in 1984 – a choir which, even then, had its sights on producing an authentic baroque style (Cameron’s graduate studies had involved early music and performance practice) in its execution of the major works of Bach, Handel and other composers of the era – but without the availability of period instruments or players to contribute to the authenticity to the sound.

Things are changing now, though, and Cameron’s vision of a part-time but professional baroque chamber orchestra in Kingston is much closer to realization. In his words: “In recent years the arrival in town of some early-music people, with replica instruments, and a broader selection of young players who had been exposed to early music work in their training, opened up new possibilities. So we began with a complete Messiah at A equals 415, with replica woodwinds and modern strings playing with baroque bows – and several further events have led to the present attempt to establish a continuing baroque chamber orchestra here. We can’t yet afford to buy replica strings, but are seeking grants for that purpose; we have players willing to master them when they become available. So it’s a work in progress.” The hope for the long term is to establish a presence in the city modelled after Toronto’s Tafelmusik.

This newly formed baroque orchestra gives its first performance this month, assuming the role of accompanist to the choir and the organ. On November 26 in Kingston, the Melos Choir and Chamber Orchestra and soloists present “In Praise of Music,” with Bach’s Cantata 148 Bringet dem Herrn, Purcell’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day (a timely piece incidentally, as November 22 is the feast day of St. Cecilia, patron saint of music), Handel’s Organ Concerto in B Flat Major, and, in recognition of Wesley’s 200th anniversary, his anthem Ascribe unto the Lord. (In January, a further development: the first solo performance by the orchestra, so stay tuned for more news of this event.)

Meanwhile in Toronto, the model for Kingston’s new venture is fully into its 2010-11 season. Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir presents (along with works by Rameau and Charpentier) Handel’s very spirited setting of Psalm 110, Dixit Dominus. This is Handel’s earliest surviving autograph, composed when he was just 22 and living in Rome. It demands extreme technical prowess from all the performers, suggesting that (to quote John Eliot Gardiner) “this young composer, newly arrived in the land of virtuoso singers and players, was daring his hosts to greater and greater feats of virtuosity.” Tafelmusik performs it four times, November 11 through 14.

Other November Concerts

p19You never know how talent will manifest itself. Soprano and core member of I Furiosi Baroque Ensemble, Gabrielle McLaughlin, has just had a short story published in Pilot Project’s new Pilot Pocket Book 7: Baroque. You have to read it to get the flavour. (I couldn’t begin to describe it here!) But you can get a copy (which contains as an added bonus: an I Furiosi five-track mini-CD) at the launch party, complete with live performance and auction, on November 7 at Tequila Bookworm, 512 Queen Street West in Toronto. (See Announcements Etc., page 53) As well, the group’s first concert of the season, entitled “The Empire Strikes Baroque,” takes place on November 27.

Some of the loveliest Bach is found in his chamber music, sacred and secular. If you desire to spend an evening listening to the more intimate treasures of the master, go to the Academy Concert Series’ An Evening with Bach. You’ll hear a whole world unfolding in the first movement of Violin Sonata BWV 1014, tender joy woven by soprano and cello in the aria “Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze” (from Cantata BWV 61), and an engaging gigue with an easy swing in the Trio Sonata BWV 1040, as well as other gems for baroque oboe, recorder, soprano voice, baroque violin, harpsichord and baroque cello. This concert takes place on November 13 at Eastminster United Church.

p20Anyone who’s been to a Toronto Consort performance knows Laura Pudwell – her marvellously flexible, clear and expressive mezzo voice has long been a feature in their concerts and in performances (from early music to contemporary) in Southern Ontario and internationally. With some friends of hers (Julie Baumgartel, baroque violin, Margaret Gay, baroque cello and Lucas Harris, archlute), she’ll be presenting “Laura Pudwell and Friends.” This performance is a presentation of Classics at the Registry, and it takes place in Kitchener on November 14.

Scaramella’s mission (or one of its missions) is to bring together diverse expressions of art and in so doing, reveal much about the connections that lie between them. In “Old World/New World,” the first concert of the season, this takes the form of exploring the meeting of widely separate cultures and their influences on each other. High art-music of 16th and 17th century France and Spain is juxtaposed with folk music from Brazil and Canada, much of which has only survived in oral form, transmitted from one generation to the next. The concert takes place in Victoria College Chapel – a stunning place to hear combinations of baroque guitar, recorders, harpsichord, violas da gamba and voice – on November 20.

The Community Baroque Orchestra of Toronto is perhaps the only community orchestra in Canada that dedicates itself to playing baroque music on period instruments. (If anyone knows of other such groups, would you please be in touch?) CBOT performs twice this month, with violinist Patricia Ahern as soloist in the Bach Violin Concerto in A Minor, and also with music by Muffat and Lully. Their first performance takes place in the Beach on November 21 and their second in Bloor West Village on November 28.

A glance at early December reveals that two choral concerts occur (alas!) on the evening of December 4: Cantemus Singers’ “Welcome Yule” (Sweelinck, Praetorius, Byrd, Schütz, Renaissance and Medieval carols) in Toronto’s east end (repeated later in December in the west end), and Toronto Chamber Choir’s “O Magnum Mysterium” (Palestrina, Monteverdi, Vivaldi) at Christ Church Deer Park. Not an easy choice!

For details of all these, and a whole range of other concerts, consult The WholeNote’s concert listings.

 

Simone Desilets is a long-time contributor to The WholeNote in several capacities, who plays the viola da gamba. She can be contacted at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

My focus last month was Toronto as a cultural tourism destination, looking at the potential of several weekends for offering what I termed a festival experience – that is to say, more or less wall-to-wall concert going. Extraordinarily, November will begin with a whole week of just that, in the form of the new Chinese Cultural Centre’s Toronto International Piano Competition. This is a major development in the musical life of Toronto.

 

Lu Wang and Lang-Ning Liu

p14aThe minds behind the CCC International Piano Competition, November 1 to 8, are two young adopted (like so many of us) Torontonians, Lang-Ning Liu and Lu Wang. Concert pianists themselves, they perform all over the world as solo recitalists, concerto soloists and together as the Juilliard Duo.

p14bWhen they sat down with me to talk about their lives in music and the festival it was only two days before Lang-Ning was leaving for France to give two recitals and about a week before Lu was leaving for China, where (among other things) he was going to be meeting the conductor of the orchestra with which he’ll perform a concerto next year.

I asked why they had decided to make Toronto home, and what had motivated them to undertake such a major project as an international piano competition. For Lang-Ning, who had come here at the age of 17 to study at the Glenn Gould School, and then went to Juilliard, Toronto is an ideal place for an artist. “You can find quiet places here where you can work,” she told me. “In New York, no place is quiet.” Lu told me he had lived in New York most of his life, and would not have thought of settling in Toronto except that his parents told him they want to come here to retire. That was a good enough reason for him, and within seven months of applying for landed immigrant status he was here. His parents, however, haven’t yet arrived. “His mother runs a big music school in China,” explained Lang-Ning; “She’s not ready to give that up!”

Their reasons for putting their energy into a piano competition are related to their personal aspirations and goals. Lang-Ning feels strongly that music can be a force for good and for peace in the world. Lu, a child prodigy, has been immersed in music his whole life, and wishes to continue learning and to share his musical gift both as a performer and as a teacher. What motivated them was a wish to do something for the musical tradition.

“Each generation,” said Lu, “needs to find its own reasons for embracing, mastering and continuing the art music tradition; it’s as if each generation needs to re-invent it for themselves.” They see this competition as a way of doing this, by encouraging and supporting the next generation of pianists and giving audiences an opportunity to hear the great pianists of the future before they are considered stars. “Think how many people there must be who would love to have heard Marta Argerich when she was 17!” commented Lu.

Their original idea was a music festival that would feature the best young pianists in the world. The difficulty of bringing many artists together at the same time persuaded them that a competition would be more feasible. To make the event more like a festival for both audiences and competitors, in the first two rounds each of the 24 competitors will give a short recital, and the jury will select the six semi-finalists. For those of us fortunate enough to attend much or all of the first round, it will be a wonderful opportunity to develop a more discerning ear, by hearing a wide range of approaches to
the piano.

 

p17Christina Petrowska Quilico

To put this event into context I asked a few questions of Christina Petrowska Quilico, an international concert pianist who lives in Toronto.

 

Is there a hierarchy of piano competitions in the world? Where does the new Toronto competition fit in this hierarchy? In Canada the most prominent piano competitions are the extremely high profile Montreal International Piano Competition; the Honens, which is also becoming a Mecca for international pianists; and the Eckhardt-Grammate International Competition, which in addition to requiring classical and romantic repertoire has a contemporary music component. The competitions currently at the very top of the international hierarchy, however, are the Tchaikovsky, the Van Cliburn, the Queen Elisabeth and the Leeds.

The Toronto competition has an excellent jury, one of the factors that have enabled it to attract a good range of competitors from all over the world. I believe it will grow and develop into a major international event.

On what does the prestige of a competition depend? The winners and juries are what give these competitions prestige. Winners who make successful CDs and tours bring them notice. Pianists also feel that it is important to be judged by the top artist/performer/teachers from major schools. More important than prize money are the subsequent connections to the professional concert world: tours, bookings and media attention.

 

How does an aspiring concert pianist decide which of the many competitions available to enter? Aspiring concert pianists should have realistic expectations about their ability to perform under extreme pressure. They should select those competitions that require a repertoire that is comfortable and dependable under stress and suits their unique talents. You should have enough confidence in your ability to believe that you can win. Teachers are important in guiding the young pianists in repertoire selection and training. There are a lot of intermediate level competitions that would be a good training ground before attempting the big international ones.

 

What are the benefits to the competitors besides the prize money and the professional connections? The discussions about performances are invigorating, inspiring and educational for the performers. Feedback is crucial for competitors. That is how they learn to improve their performances. Competitions are about performing to your highest expectations. The satisfaction is not in the prize money but in being able to accept the challenge. For me the satisfaction in performing to the best of my ability is what I remember. I also loved bonding with the other pianists. We were extremely supportive of each other because we knew how difficult it is to be a concert pianist.

 

The first two rounds of the Toronto competition will be recitals by each competitor, which is somewhat unusual. What are your thoughts on that? I believe that the solo format is the way of the future. This gives the jury an opportunity to hear how the pianists construct a recital program and how they shape it musically.

 

What’s in it for the audience? Forget “reality TV” – get the real deal! At piano competitions you get the entire gamut of human emotions: fear, obsession, desire, triumph, happiness, living on the edge, love and hate. They bring out the best and worst in people – but what a ride! There is always excitement, debate and occasional controversy in the selection of the winners.  So everyone should definitely go and cheer on the pianists for Toronto’s new international competition.

 

Other Piano Events in November

Looking at other events featuring the piano in November I see that the month is particularly rich in piano concertos: Toronto pianist Peter Longworth performs Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Oakville Symphony Orchestra on November 6 and 7. Longworth appears again in the listings on November 27 playing Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra. On November 13 and 14 Natasha Paremski will be the soloist with the Toronto Symphony in Dvořák’s Piano Concerto in G Minor; and on November 17 Andreas Haeflinger will perform Chopin’s Concerto No. 2 with the Toronto Symphony. The Unionville Symphonia’s Remembrance Day Concert (actually on November 14) will include Mozart concertos performed by three youngsters: Frederick Kwan, Jerrick Lo and Bjon Li.

However, there seem to be fewer solo piano recitals than usual. Among them are Todd Yaniw performing Schumann’s Carnival at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on November 2, Olena Klyucharova and Andriy Tykhonov at the KWCMS Music Room on November 7, and at noon the same day at the Royal Ontario Museum a recital by Leonard Gilbert.

 

Allan Pulker is a flautist and a founder of The WholeNote who currently serves as Chairman of The WholeNote’s board of directors. He can be contacted at classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.

There’s no place like the Tranzac. Home to countless artists and audiences for nearly 40 years, it’s far more than a building rich with history. Initially intended to promote and foster Aussie and Kiwi cultures, with the passing decades the Toronto Australia New Zealand Club has become less focused on “Down Under” and more inclusive of “all over.” In other words, it has become a truly Canadian institution which values diversity, freedom and respect.

Read more: There’s No Place Like Home

By now, the concert season is well under way – and the world music scene has much to offer this month. Here are some highlights.

p30Virtuoso banjo player Jayme Stone launches a new CD with a cross-Canada tour that includes a concert October 13 at Hugh’s Room. Room of Wonders is a wonderful musical romp inspired by folk dances from around the world. I’ve had a sneak preview of the album, and this promises to be a lively evening of superb musicianship featuring banjo, fiddle, guitar, bass, nyckelharpa and other instruments in a kind of Appalachian “old-time-meets the rest of the world” scenario. Represented are dance tunes from Bulgaria, Ireland, Brazil, Norway and elsewhere. There’s even an arrangement of a Bach French suite.

Prior to this latest venture, Stone’s previous CD, Africa to Appalachia was a collaboration with Malian kora player and singer Mansa Sissoko, the result of a stay in Mali where Stone researched the banjo’s African roots. This Juno award-winning album led to a two-year tour of Canada, the US and the UK. I’ve been told Stone will soon launch a new website and a short documentary on the making of Room of Wonders, which will also include free lessons for aspiring banjoists! In the meantime, visit http://jaymestone.com.

After undergoing two years of extensive renovations, the Sony Centre re-opens this month with some exciting programming. Sure to be a spectacular event, “Dream of the Red Chamber” (October 12, 13) features the Beijing Friendship Dance Company in their interpretation of one of China’s most revered works of literature by the same name. Described as a “Chinese Romeo and Juliet love story,” the production blends classical ballet and traditional Chinese dance, with a score by Academy Award-winning composer Cong Su (best original score, The Last Emperor), 80 dancers and 800 costumes! The show is presented in celebration of 40 years of diplomatic relations between China and Canada.

Also, touted as “the Bob Dylan of Iran,” controversial musician Mohsen Namjoo fuses traditional Persian music with western blues and rock, October 16 at the Sony Centre, along with his band and a full live orchestra. Namjoo is a master vocalist, composer and setar player, who originally trained at and was later expelled from the Tehran University music programme for refusing to toe conventional lines. As difficult as it is to be an independent artist in Iran, Namjoo’s career took off due to internet exposure. Now based in California, he is free to create music that resonates with Iran’s youth, while appealing to audiences regardless of background.

Toronto based Yiddish singer Lenka Lichtenberg says, “after a little breather, to allow space for several members’ individual projects (namely CD releases), The Sisters of Sheynville are getting back into the groove and a regular rehearsal mode. The plan is to prepare a lot of new material this fall, and work towards a new CD in the spring.”

Upcoming gigs for this all-female Yiddish swing/klezmer band include Bread and Circus (299 Augusta Ave., Kensington Market) on October 7, and the Reservoir Lounge some time in November. Lenka had a well attended CD release concert of her own recently at last month’s Ashkenaz Festival, and you can read a review of Fray in the September WholeNote. She’s also been engaged in a unique synagogue project in Europe, doing recordings of traditional and new liturgical music that she says may be the most significant project of her life. She calls it “Songs for the Breathing Walls,” and hopes to continue with it for years to come. For more about Lichtenberg, visit www.lenkalichtenberg.com.

A new “kid” on the musical block, the Vesuvius Ensemble, has its inaugural concert on October 29 at the Edward Day Gallery, 952 Queen St. W. Dedicated to performing and preserving the folk music of Naples and southern Italy, the group is led by Italian tenor Francesco Pellegrino, who now teaches at the University of Toronto. He’ll be joined by Marco Cera (oboist with Tafelmusik who also plays baroque guitar, chitarra battente, and ciaramella – a type of Italian shawm), Lucas Harris (baroque guitar, and chitarrone – a large bass lute), and guest percussionist Kate Robson. And they’ve got a website up and running too: check out www.vesuviusensemble.com.

Looking ahead to November, Toronto’s own Nagata Shachu Japanese taiko drumming ensemble presents a new programme titled “Iroha” (colour), November 5 and 6 at Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queen’s Quay West. The production is directed by long-time member Aki Takahashi, with lighting by Arun Srinivasan. Each piece has been influenced by a colour, and in addition to drumming there will be more choreography.

“Colour can be expressed in countless ways,” says Takahashi; “people might describe the same colour differently depending on their mental and emotional associations with it. In Japan, where the four seasons are distinct, people experience each time of year through colours in nature. I hope people will discover the illuminating nature of our music reflected in the interplay of iroha.” Nagata Shachu (formerly known as the Kiyoshi Nagata Ensemble) has a number of CDs to its name; primarily it’s a drumming group, but they perform on a host of other traditional Japanese instruments as well, creating a variety of sonic textures. It will be interesting to see how they illustrate the notion of colour!

Thursdays 7:00 to 8:30pm, October 14 to November 18, at the Miles Nadal JCC. Call Harriet Wichin at 416-924-6211 x133 or music@mnjcc.org.

 

Karen Ages can be reached at worldmusic@thewholenote.com

In last month’s Bandstand column I focused on a few new ensembles which had graced the local scene over the past two or three years, and mentioned some new ones scheduled to begin this fall. It seemed appropriate then to see how some of these proposed new startups were doing. Two in particular, with very different aims, attracted my attention. Resa’s Pieces Strings was billed as a beginners string orchestra. The New Horizons Seniors Band sponsored by Long and McQuade was to be a beginners band for people 50-plus who wanted to take up music for the first time or get back to it after a prolonged absence. How better to have my questions answered than to attend their inaugural sessions?

p29bFirst up was the rehearsal of the string group Resa’s Pieces Strings (RPS). This is the brain child of Resa Kochberg, founder and conductor of the very successful Resa’s Pieces Band. The strings group included a wide spectrum of ages from high-school students to white-haired seniors. All had enough experience to know how to hold their instruments and play basic scales. For those neophytes in the group who were less than familiar with some of the adjustments required by their instruments, a technician from George Heinl Co. was on hand to assist.

After a few opening remarks outlining the aims and objectives for the months ahead, and getting the instruments tuned, director Ric Giorgi started the group right off playing simple melodies interspersed with exercises on such matters as bowing techniques. By the time the break came along, this new ensemble was playing simple melodies in harmony with better tuning that might nave been expected. At the break, this new group was invited across the hall, where Resa’s Pieces Band had been practising. There they were welcomed into the fold with the cutting and sharing of a cake for their “birthday.”

The RPS will be following the same philosophy that Resa Kochberg has established from day one in leading Resa’s Pieces Concert Band. It is “to provide an opportunity for people to return to playing instruments that they have not touched for years.” Doing your best, but also having fun is what is expected, and everyone grows musically together with each “piece” completing the whole! As of that evening, 24 people had signed up and about 18 got to the first rehearsal.

Were there any shortcomings noted? Yes. As I anticipated, viola players are in short supply. In fact, one acquaintance of mine has been suggesting to me that I might be an ideal candidate to fill a coveted spot in the viola section. Here’s your chance, wannabe string players: get a viola and join the fun on Monday evenings. Even if your leanings are towards some other string instrument, check it out at their website www.resaspieces.org, or email strings@resaspieces.org.

Two days later, at 9:30am, I joined a group attending a get acquainted session at Long and McQuade’s downtown Toronto store to learn about their New Horizons Seniors Band. After a brief introduction by director Dan Kapp, the goals of this group were outlined. This is a band for retirees who either have not played for years, or have sung or played other instruments and would now like to play in an organized group. The majority of these people did not own instruments, and were curious about which instrument might be right for them. Over the next two hours most tried one or more instruments and decided. One woman initially considered trombone, learned how to hold it, blew a few notes and then decided to try an oboe. Her first attempt startled us. It was not the sound of a wounded duck that emanated. Rather, it was quite a pleasant musical tone. I immediately suggested that she and the oboe were meant for each other. Whether she will stick with oboe or sample other instruments before her final decision remains to be seen.

As with the string orchestra, there are initial shortages. Low brass wannabes were in short supply. It seems that, amongst grandmothers and grandfathers, flutes, clarinets or trumpets have more appeal that tubas and euphoniums.

The goal for this group has already been established, and it’s ambitious. The CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio has already been booked for their spring concert. If you are available Wednesday mornings and would like to try your hand at making this kind of music, experience is not necessary. Group instruction is part of the package. Contact them at www.newhorizonsbloor.ca or call 416-588-7886.

Both groups stressed that playing in such ensembles was also very much a social activity. Members were encouraged to get to know their fellow members and consider forming trios and quartets to practise together outside of regular rehearsal times and hone their skills with the challenges of playing these more intimate forms.

As for other new groups for more experienced players, we have just received word that the new Richmond Hill Concert Band had its first rehearsal as this goes to press. They reported about 30 interested members already with a good distribution of instruments. Their rehearsals are on Thursdays at 7:30pm at Roselawn Public School, 422 Carrville Rd., Richmond Hill.

The Canadian Band Association (Ontario) is celebrating its 9th Annual Community Band Weekend from October 15 through 17. These annual weekends provide an opportunity for musicians from bands across Ontario to join together for music-making with friends, both old and new, under the leadership of expert conductors. As part of their 15th anniversary celebration, Etobicoke Community Concert Band will be acting as hosts this year. Check-in starts at 7:30pm Friday and is followed by a social gathering. Saturday will be devoted to rehearsals under the batons of no fewer than six conductors.

The massed band will perform the concert on Sunday afternoon. The rehearsal and concert take place at Etobicoke Collegiate Institute, 86 Montgomery Rd., Etobicoke. The nearest major intersection is Dundas and Islington, and the school is a manageable walk from both Royal York and Islington subway stations. For full details contact Bill Harris, Acting President, Canadian Band Association (Ontario) at president@cba-ontario.ca, or 416-693-3980.

 

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is fermoota: a note of dubious value held for indefinite length. We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.

 

Coming Events

• October 17, 8:00pm: The Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra.
Norman Reintamm and Friends Recital. St. Timothy’s Anglican          Church, 4125 Sheppard Ave. E.

• October 18, 7:30pm: Orillia Wind Ensemble. Joint Effort. Orillia               Opera House, 20 Mississaga St. W., Orillia.

• October 23, 8:00pm: Greater Toronto Philharmonic Orchestra.
Autumn Classics. Calvin Presbyterian Church, 26 Delisle Ave.

• October 23, 8:00pm: City of Brampton Concert Band. Rose Theatre             in Brampton.

Down the Road

• November 13, 8:00pm: Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra.
Subscription Concert No.1. P.C. Ho Theatre, 5183 Sheppard Ave. E.

 

Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments, and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at: bandstand@thewholenote.com.

Last month I gave a talk to the Toronto Chapter of the Duke Ellington Society, a group of enthusiasts that gets together on the second Tuesday of every month, except for July and August.

p27The Society was founded in 1959 as the Duke Ellington Jazz Society through the efforts of one Bill Ross, a Canadian working in Hollywood who placed an ad in Downbeat magazine in late 1958, announcing that a Duke Ellington Jazz Society had been formed in Hollywood. Simply put, it consists of people who are interested in Duke Ellington: fans, musicians, researchers, scholars and writers, the common bond being a love of the music of Ellington – and, of course, his alter ego Billy Strayhorn. (It’s interesting to note that in 1968, at the Duke’s request, the word jazz was dropped from the name and all the Chapters became known as the Duke Ellington Society.)

The Toronto chapter’s origins make an interesting story, thanks to the Anger family. Rhea Anger, a champion of the music of Ellington, in response to a letter of January 29 from Ross, organized the first meeting of the Toronto Chapter, which was held on May 4, 1959. Anger was elected as the first president, and the Toronto Chapter has been meeting regularly ever since. There’s no doubt that she was a suitable choice. She was the widow of Justice Harry Anger of the Ontario Supreme Court, who had established a warm friendship with the Duke many years before. After his death, Rhea and her son, Ron, also a lawyer, maintained the relationship. Over a period of time, whenever the Ellington band came to Toronto they would be invited to the Anger home after the engagement to enjoy some home comfort. And Duke Ellington played this town many times from 1931 on. I came up with a list of 16 different venues where they performed.

Robert Fulford, in the Toronto Star, January of 1987, wrote the following: “In the early 1970s, when the Duke Ellington band was playing the O’Keefe Centre, tenor saxophone soloist Paul Gonsalves came down from the stage and stood before a middle-aged woman in the audience, affectionately serenading her as the band accompanied him. While Gonsalves played and the woman shyly smiled, Ellington dedicated the number ‘for Mrs. Anger, our dear friend.’” For years Rhea and her son Ron were familiar faces at jazz events in Toronto and their love and enthusiasm for the music never diminished.

In his book, Music Is My Mistress, Ellington wrote: “Mrs. Anger and her son, Ron, are also among our most loyal friends and supporters. They never miss our appearances in Toronto, and the city’s chapter of the Duke Ellington Society has always owed a great deal of its health to them. Canada has a character and a spirit of its own, which we should recognize and never take for granted.”

In 1987 Toronto hosted the fifth annual Ellington conference at The Inn on the Park. It was a three day event, and the musicians included two Ellington alumni: trombonist Booty Wood and bassist Aaron Bell, along with Doc Cheatham, George Kelly, Ray Bryant, Gus Johnson and from Canada, Oliver Jones, Neil Swainson, Fraser MacPherson and myself. In addition, there was a rare performance of Ellington’s extended work, The Tatooed Bride by my big band. Alice Babs, who had a long collaboration with the Duke, was present. She’s perhaps best remembered for her singing in the second and third Sacred Concerts, which Ellington wrote for her voice. It had a range of more than three octaves and was so remarkable that Ellington said that when she did not sing the parts that he wrote for her, he had to use three different singers!

In the early days of the society, meetings were held in members’ homes – but nowadays Montgomery’s Inn, at the junction of Dundas Street West and Islington, is the home of the Society. And each year the Toronto Chapter presents a fundraising concert at a date close to Ellington’s birthday, April 29. In 2011, on Saturday April 30, a group led by Dave Young and Terry Promane will be the featured ensemble. More about that closer to the date.

As a result of their fundraising activities, seven $1,000 scholarships are awarded to emerging Toronto musicians, a remarkable achievement for what is a relatively small group of enthusiasts. Speaking of which, they would welcome additional members – especially some younger blood – so if you’re interested please call Chris McEvilly at 416-234-0653 and help the spirit of Duke Ellington to live on in one of his favourite cities.

 

What’s in a Name?

When I spoke to the Toronto Duke Ellington Society the topic was nicknames given to some of the musicians who worked with him. Here are a few of them.

Trombonist Joe Nanton was one of the great pioneers of the plunger mute. He joined Ellington in 1926 and his growl and plunger sounds were a major ingredient in the band’s jungle sound that evolved in the 20s. He earned his nickname “Tricky Sam” during his first years with Ellington. There are a couple of conflicting stories about the origin of his nickname, neither having to do with his trombone technique – a common misconception.

One story is that he consistently won when he played poker with bandmates, so much so that he became known as tricky with a deck of cards. But saxophonist Toby Hardwick claimed that he was capable of “doing with one hand what someone else would do with two – he was tricky that way.” Nanton had perfected a technique of drinking on-stage without anyone noticing!

Another trombonist, Lawrence Brown, joined the band in 1932. Somewhat straight-laced, he kept away from the drinking and high-life enjoyed by the rest of the band, a rather puritan behavior that earned him the nickname “The Deacon.”

p28Tenor sax player Paul Gonsalves joined the band in 1950 and stayed for the rest of his life. His nickname was “Mex,” because people thought he was Hispanic, when in fact he was from the Cape Verde Islands. But Ellington bestowed on him another sobriquet. Because he sometimes walked around in the audience while soloing, the Duke dubbed him “Strolling Violins.”

Here’s one for punsters. In the 1950s Britt Woodman was in the trombone section. So was Quentin Jackson, whose nickname was “Butter,” thus giving rise to “Britt and Butter.” So you see, some of us don’t only play on instruments – and words seldom fail us.

Happy listening.

 

Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and the former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at: jazz@thewholenote.com.

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