A new report published by Orchestras Canada last month promises to shed new perspective on classical music in Canada – and on how the orchestra can do better for the communities it aims to serve.

Co-authored by Soraya Peerbaye and Dr. Parmela Attariwala, “Re-sounding the Orchestra: Relationships between Canadian orchestras, Indigenous peoples, and people of colour” serves as a preliminary investigative look into Canadian orchestral culture, with a specific focus on interrogating the orchestra as a colonial, political and educational entity. The product of over one year of research, interviews, and roundtable discussions with arts administrators, orchestral artistic directors, Indigenous musicians and musicians of colour, the report is an effort to consolidate research and recommendations for a more equitable framework for orchestral music – including discussion around gender and racial diversity, cultural appropriation, and decolonization.

The report was presented at an Orchestras Canada national conference in Ottawa on June 12, and is publicly available for download here on the Orchestras Canada website.

Organized into three main chapters, “Re-sounding the Orchestra” begins with a presentation of insights gathered from interviews and roundtable discussions on the relationship between an orchestra and its surrounding communities. The second chapter takes the Orchestras Canada 2017 IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility) initiative (of which this report is a part) as its basis, and presents an overview of issues related to equity, diversity and coloniality in Canadian orchestras. The third, titled “Re-visioning Western classical musical training for the 21st century”, discusses how issues of equity are connected with orchestral training, mentorship and collaborative processes, including potential new directions for classical music education. The report ends with recommendations by the authors for how Orchestras Canada as an organization might move forward in the pursuit of defining – and creating – a more equitable orchestral culture.

As co-author Attariwala details at the beginning of the report, this is an important opportunity to open up discussion around the often-problematic legacies of the country’s musical institutions. “Who belongs in the orchestra, and whose music belongs in the orchestra?” she asks. “What is the relationship between orchestras and other musical cultures? Can those relationships exist equitably and according to current definitions of cultural ownership and sovereignty?” 

They’re challenging questions to answer, but the current report is an encouraging start towards reconsidering and reinventing those orchestral relationships. It’s a valuable document, not only for orchestral personnel, but for anyone interested in the creation of more equitable futures in the arts – and hopefully, the beginning of more discussions to come.

Re-sounding the Orchestra: Relationships between Canadian orchestras, Indigenous peoples, and people of colour” was published in June 2019 by Orchestras Canada, and is available online on the Orchestras Canada website: https://oc.ca/en/resource/re-sounding-the-orchestra/.

Melissa Aldana. Photo credit: Harrison Weinstein.On Tuesday, June 25, the TD Toronto Jazz Festival hosted the Chilean-born, New York-based tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana. Aldana had a busy day: in addition to performing on the TD Mainstage in Yorkville with her eponymous quartet in the evening, she also made a guest appearance with a student ensemble from Berklee College of Music (her alma mater) in the afternoon, and participated in a masterclass in the morning. The masterclass, part of the TJF’s Jazz Musicians Intensive series, took place at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College Chapel, and was hosted by Mark Micklethwaite; though Aldana played two beautiful solo pieces to bookend the event, the masterclass primarily took the form of an interview.

Aldana has become something of a household name in the jazz community in recent years, but for those who may not have been familiar with her resumé, the masterclass was a good opportunity to learn. On paper, Aldana’s many accomplishments – full scholarship to Berklee to study with the likes of Joe Lovano and George Garzone; 2014 DownBeat Critics Poll Rising Star Tenor Saxophonist; winner, at age 24, of the 2013 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Saxophone Competition; and the recipient of a substantial prize and a record contract with Concord Jazz – constitute an enviable template for early-career success. When Aldana elaborated on these experiences, however, she was remarkably candid about the difficulties that her particular path had presented to her.

Many of these candid moments came near the end of the masterclass, in response to audience questions. When answering a query about whether she would consider moving out of New York (an emphatic “no,” as she hasn’t found another city that is as musically inspiring), she spoke openly about the difficulties that New York presents, including the cost of living, the low pay for creative gigs, and disparity between the high number of excellent players and the relatively low number of gigs. She also talked about the financial realities of her contract with Concord Jazz: though winning the Monk Competition was a boon for her career, she didn’t feel that Concord was really invested in her as a long-term artist, and that she saw maybe “a couple of cheques for $60” in royalty payments from Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio, her one Concord album. (Her newest release, Visions, is on the label Motéma, about which she spoke fondly.) Speaking freely about money is something that many young, successful jazz artists don’t always do, but Aldana reiterated what most in the room probably knew: that you make money as a musician from touring, which she will be doing with her band in North America and Europe for the majority of the summer. 

When I watched Aldana’s quartet – which included the pianist Sam Harris, bassist Pablo Menares, and drummer Kush Abadey – perform later that day, I was struck by several qualities of the music: Aldana’s tone, phrasing, and far-reaching technical command of the saxophone; the interplay between Harris and Abadey, both of whom have the ability to fill space in creative, musical ways without being intrusive; and the depth and melodicism of Aldana’s compositions. Throughout the concert, however, I kept coming back to a moment that occurred near the end of the masterclass, when Aldana was asked about how she maintains her motivation to tour, to compose, to rehearse and practice and write emails and deal with the endless waves of complicated overlapping responsibilities that attend a career as a musician. Her answer was simple, delivered with the same good-natured equanimity with which she’d spoken throughout the masterclass: because “playing music makes [her] feel lighter.” It is the work, as she further explained, that helps to make her feel calm, to make sense of other parts of her life, and to feel that she’s making a positive contribution to the world. After spending the morning cheerfully de-mystifying various aspects of her professional life, she could easily have faltered when asked to discuss the experience of playing; instead, she spoke honestly about the ways in which the work of music is its own unique reward. 

The TD Toronto Jazz Festival presented Melissa Aldana in three events—“The Jazz Musician Intensive 2019: I’m out - now what?” (10:30am, Victoria College Chapel), Berklee Quintet feat. Melissa Aldana (2pm, TD Mainstage), and the Melissa Aldana Quartet (8:15pm, TD Mainstage)—on Tuesday, June 25, 2019, Toronto.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter.

Makaya McCravenOn Saturday, June 22, I attended drummer/producer/bandleader Makaya McCraven’s concert at Adelaide Hall as part of the 2019 TD Toronto Jazz Festival. It was the sole festival show taking place at Adelaide Hall, also known as RADIO (it’s listed as Adelaide Hall on the TJF brochure, as RADIO on Google Maps, and as both on the venue’s website, although apparently the name was officially changed last year).

Conveniently, I was able to chat with TJF artistic director Josh Grossman, who happened to be standing near me in the audience before the show started. Grossman – who, it should be noted, was sipping a Mill Street beverage, an appropriately on-brand gesture given that the brewery is an official TJF sponsor – informed me that the show was originally meant for the Horseshoe Tavern, but, due to some logistical issues, had to be moved to an alternative venue. A few nights after the McCraven show, the Horseshoe hosted a double bill with Ghost-Note and Rinsethealgorithm; as all three groups play within a certain groove-based tradition, it’s easy to see the spectral framework of a venue-specific series that didn’t quite materialize. Despite the fact that it wasn’t the festival’s first choice for venue, Adelaide Hall has good sound, a relatively open layout with good sightlines, and an atmosphere that lent itself well to McCraven’s music.

I first heard the Chicago-based McCraven relatively recently, on Marquis Hill’s 2017 standards album The Way We Play; I remember being struck by McCraven’s ability to play time with propulsive authority while still remaining open and communicative. (Listen to his brushwork on “My Foolish Heart” for evidence of this, as he brings intensity and weight to the arrangement’s 3/4 groove.) It wasn’t until I did a bit more research on him that I realized the extent of his creative output and the breadth of his artistic practice, which includes playing in more traditional jazz settings with artists such as Hill and guitarist Bobby Broom, performing DJ sets at Turntable Lab NYC, and playing with his own project for Boiler Room London

It was a version of the latter band that played in Toronto. In addition to McCraven on drums, the ensemble included Greg Ward, saxophone; Matt Gold, guitar; Junius Paul, bass; and Greg Spero, keyboards. McCraven and co. played funky, groove-oriented material – music that, though deeply rooted in jazz, had strong elements of hip-hop, rock and other genres. With the exception of some crisply-delivered lyrics, sung by Paul on the Tony Williams composition “There Comes a Time,” it was an instrumental show, with a setlist that seemed specifically organized to keep the energy high throughout the evening. All five band members have chops to spare, but it was in the intelligent, methodically-constructed arcs of tension and release that the group really shone, honouring the compositions by putting the emphasis on groove and group interplay rather than individual feats of musical athleticism. Not that there weren’t thrilling solos (there were!), but the show’s most rewarding moments had more to do with texture and groove.

The last official song of the show – before the encore – was the McCraven original “This Place, That Place,”  a jittery, high-energy piece that features syncopated sixteenth-note shots over an odd-metre vamp. McCraven soloed over the vamp near the end of the tune, and even then, in a moment in which an audience might expect a band-leading drummer to let the notes fly, he played a measured, thoughtful, patient solo that ultimately proved to be one of the highlights of the evening.

An exciting show overall, in an unexpected venue that functioned well as a Toronto Jazz Festival showcase space for beat-driven music. 

The TD Toronto Jazz Festival presented Makaya McCraven on June 22, 2019, at Adelaide Hall, Toronto.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter.

Adanya Dunn, in the 2017 production of Charlotte. Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.On June 1, I had the opportunity to see Theaturtle's Charlotte: A Tri-Coloured Play with Music at Hart House Theatre. A three-way collaboration between Canadian librettist (and Theaturtle's artistic director) Alon Nashman, British scenographer Pamela Howard and Czech composer Ales Brezina, this was the only performance in Toronto before the company goes on a world tour. Two years ago, an earlier work-in-progress version of Charlotte was presented at the 2017 Luminato Festival before touring abroad for the first time, and I became fascinated by the show and the creative team's innovative approach.

Inspired by the autobiographical series of 700+ gouache painting/collages entitled “Life? Or Theatre?” created by the young German Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon in the two years before her death at Auschwitz in 1942, the design of the costumes and props are taken literally from Charlotte's art. They are stylized, colourful, and evocative of a slightly surreal version of Germany and southern France in the 1930s and 40s; surrounding the stage are thin plastic sheets daubed with splashes of paint, meant to evoke the tracing paper with which Charlotte covered her creations. The music and text notes she made as part of her collages inform the libretto and music as much as the drawings inform the physical design, the creators aiming for a complete synchronicity of word, image and music to immerse us in her world.

According to Nashman, the team approached the musical aspect of the project as a singspiel in the Brecht/Weill tradition. “It is neither opera nor musical, even it it contains elements of both,” he explained to me last month. “There are moments of bitterly ironic cabaret, classical music references turned on their heads, some intense vocal experiments and contemporary sound poems.”

The script follows the story depicted in Charlotte's art (although the approach has changed quite a lot since the first time I saw it – more on that shortly). At heart, as the creative team feel, it is a real story that still resonates today, particularly now when people around the world are suffering under a frightening upsurge of far-right politics. Yet it is not so much a story about the rise of Nazism, but a young girl's journey to selfhood and her struggle to understand what is right in a world full of horrors – a girl who chronicled this coming-of-age during the rise of fascism as if she somehow knew that her own time was short. She was only 26 when she died.

What caught me so strongly in the 2017 workshop performances was the depiction of this struggle not to let the horrors, or horrible decisions Charlotte herself has to make, destroy her soul or spirit. I felt that there was still work to be done tightening and strengthening certain parts of the storyline, but this central theme shone through at the end of the play, making it a satisfying, as well as fascinating (although sometimes rather uncomfortable), experience.

Given this reaction to the original work-in-progress, my expectations of the revised version I saw on June 1 were very high. Reaching out before the performance to ask about how much the production might have changed, I learned from Nashman that “the past two years (had) been devoted to a process of refining and deepening.”

Interestingly, my original expectations of where the revisions and changes would happen were very different from where they actually did. One of the things I had liked best in 2017 was the opening sequence: in real time, in the south of France, we meet the parents (father and stepmother) looking for any tangible trace of Charlotte left behind after the end of the war. They are handed a paper-wrapped package which turns out to be the series of over 700 paintings she had created while exiled in France. As her parents start to look through the artwork exclaiming at memories from their past life together, Charlotte herself comes onstage and starts to tell us about the paintings and the people in them. As I wrote in my notes at the time, this opening offered an easy entrance into Charlotte's story – “grabbing our interest in a gentle way then segueing into the storytelling itself. As the story jumped ahead, Charlotte would pop out of the frame now and again, anchoring us and connecting us to each time period and introducing us to anyone new who entered the story.

In the 2019 version this opening is gone, and is replaced by a new prologue for Charlotte alone with her paintings which then leads into the autobiographical story depicted in her artwork. In this new version, rather than occasionally “popping out of the frame,” Charlotte is very much the narrator from beginning to end.

This fits with what Nashman had told me about the revision process. “Watching the video and reflecting on the 2017 productions at Luminato and the World Stage Design Festival, I came to realize that Charlotte had to be kept in the centre of the frame, that her voice needed to be even more present,” he explained. “I worked with dramaturge Ellie Moon, and found ways to bring Charlotte, both as creator and subject of the paintings, into sharper focus.” This he has done – but in moving away from the more naturalistic original opening and the more subtle introduction of Charlotte, something has been lost, and she has become a much less sympathetic character.

I felt the same way about the new ending. In the 2017 version, we realized in theatrical real time along with Charlotte the true horror of her family's history of suicide, and were caught up with her (as I wrote in my notes then) as she is torn apart by the need to decide whether she should  kill her predatory grandfather ‘as one kills an evil rat with poison,’ and as her memories of her lover lead her to choose life and creation instead of death.

In the new version, Charlotte talks about the decision she made, but without sharing the process with us in real time, and so it becomes a less personal moment, and to me felt less uplifting as a consequence.

The tone of the play is altered further by a change in the direction. There is now a more stylized physical acting approach for all the characters, a broader and sometimes over-the-top attack on character creation, particularly when actors are playing secondary parts (there is a lot of doubling), an approach that not all the company seem comfortable with. Thinking about this now, I wonder if the creative team is wanting to move toward a more thoroughly Brechtian approach to telling Charlotte's story: an approach that would use Brecht's famous “alienation effect” to present the story in a less personal or naturalistic style, using instead broader dramatic strokes and shocking juxtapositions to awaken in audiences, as Nashman said he hoped the new version would do, “a greater sense of amazement and loss as the story unfolds.”

The character of Charlotte is presented in a brasher, more modern way, with little vulnerability (though this may be partly due to changes in casting). This could be taken even further. For example, in the new version there is no indication that Charlotte is dead or that she died soon  after completing her series of paintings. Looking back at the opening scene, I would have liked her to say to us, straight out, something like: “I died in Auschwitz when I was 26. Somehow I knew that I had to record my life and hope in my art as quickly as I could.” A clearer differentiation between the narrative bridges and the story sequences throughout would have made both more effective.

Before seeing the new version, I had asked Nashman if he thought that the show was in its final form. His reply: “From everything I have experienced, music theatre demands a much longer development period than a play. There are so many creators, so many moving parts. I suspect that we will continue to tinker, but I would say that we are getting close to the final form.”

I am very curious to see how Charlotte: A Tri-Coloured Play With Music will continue to evolve as the production visits festivals around Europe and is experienced by different audiences. Will the company go 'all out' in the direction of a very stylized physical presentational performance, or go back and reincorporate some of the best bits of the earlier, more naturalistic storytelling?  Whichever direction they take, this is an important story – and a fascinating theatrical production to experience.

Theaturtle presented Charlotte: A Tri-Coloured Play with Music, at 2pm on June 1, 2019, at Hart House Theatre, Toronto.

Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare and new Canadian plays.

Alex Fournier. Photo credit: Paul Hillier.Alex Fournier – bassist, composer, bandleader, concert curator – has established, steadily and surely, an important presence in the Toronto creative music scene. You can find him at clubs like The Rex, at which he played, in March of this year, with trumpeter Jim Lewis, drummer Nick Fraser, and famed American saxophonist Tony Malaby; in a variety of groups, both as a co-leader (Money House, Gardening Club, Quartzite Jongleur) and as a sideperson (Colour and Noise, Lake Affect, Bearrah Fawcett, the Dan Pitt Trio, Pineapple); and programming and running his own concert series, Furniture Music, which, as the name implies, began as a series of house concerts (Furniture Music events now tend to take place at The Tranzac, Toronto’s de facto home base for free and improvised music, and Wenona Craft Beer Lodge, a relatively new venue which, in an improbable but happy turn of events, has been hosting a number of creative, musician-curated series). The Rex is also where Fournier will be releasing his sextet’s eponymous debut album, Triio, on June 2. Triio is Fournier’s longest-running project, and has grown organically from a standards ensemble into its current iteration, which, in addition to Fournier’s bass playing and compositions, features Bea Labikova on woodwinds, Aiden Sibley on trombone, Tom Fleming on guitar, Ashley Urquhart on piano and Mark Ballyk on drums. 

Triio begins with ESD, an urgent, pulsing song that functions as an effective example both of Fournier’s compositional style and of his band-leading philosophy. A lengthy solo piano introduction gives way to a snaky melody, which sits atop jittery drums and a doubled bass line; in time, this dissolves into a free improvised section, which ultimately morphs back into the melody at the song’s end.

It is common, in this style of playing, for bandleaders to bring in fairly simple melodies, and to treat the compositions as seasoned jazz musicians would treat a leadsheet in a straightahead setting; that is, as a melodic and harmonic sketch, which they collectively fill in. This is not the approach that Fournier has taken. One of the most striking features of Triio songs like ESD, Noisemaker, and Permanently Hiccups is the specificity that Fournier employs to realize his musical vision; more striking still is that the shifts from composed to improvised material never feel unnatural, but rather like the inevitable consequences of the proceedings. The notable elements of Fournier’s tunes – through-composed forms, textural shifts, tightly orchestrated (and highly technical) melodies – don’t seem to hamper the creativity of the rest of the band as much as inspire it, by providing clear parameters in which a certain kind of musical play can happen. That this all seems to happen readily and unselfconsciously is a testament to Fournier’s musical leadership qualities; it’s easy to imagine that he would be good at teaching someone how to play a board game, or cribbage, or any activity in which the purest expression of play comes from a solid understanding of the rules, and the paradoxical freedom of being bound by those rules. 

Fournier’s developmental path has been somewhat different than that of some of his peers. After graduating from the University of Toronto’s jazz studies program, he did what most young jazz musicians do: established a freelancing career, taught privately, and attended workshops, including the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music, and the School for Improvisational Music (SIM), which takes place in New York at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. It was at SIM that Fournier first worked with the American bassist Michael Formanek, whose 2010 ECM album The Rub and Spare Change had been pivotal in Fournier’s compositional and improvisational outlook. As Fournier describes, it was the first time that he saw how all of the musical elements that he loved could fit together: “you can play this composed thing, you can do whatever you want with it, you can continue the momentum, you can abandon it, you can change it, and then the tune comes back in, but it’s not even the same tune that you started, but you can just end it there.”

Fournier got along well with Formanek at SIM, which led to a grad school application to the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University, where Formanek was a faculty member. While most Toronto jazz musicians look to New York for their grad school experience and are more focused on being part of an inspiring scene and an elite cohort, Fournier opted for Baltimore, a smaller city, and Peabody, which is better known for its classical program than for jazz.

The trade-off – working with Formanek – was worth it. Fournier’s experience with Formanek at Peabody was much closer to an intimate mentor/mentee relationship than one commonly finds in jazz programs, even at the graduate level. Beyond productive private lessons, Fournier had the opportunity to guest-lead some of Formanek’s classes, including a big band, small ensemble, and a global improvisation class, which focused on what Fournier describes as “empirical ideas that you can apply to different aspects of your improv.” For Fournier, it was a rare experience: a relationship in which, as he puts it, “you go in as student/mentor, and you come out as friends.” 

Upon returning to Toronto, Fournier jumped back into the scene, working in other people’s bands, helming his own projects, and organizing the aforementioned Furniture Music series. When I suggest that he is becoming a bit of a leader in a particular corner of the local music-making community, however, he’s quick to shift focus onto the musicians who inspire him, “fantastic luminaries” such as “Lina Allemano, Nick Fraser, Andrew Downing, Rob Clutton,” and others who are “able to have their feet in both worlds” – the worlds of free improvised music and more straightahead jazz. (Like many musicians in the field, Fournier doesn’t love using the term “free jazz” to describe certain aspects of what he does; “modular music,” his preferred way of describing his process, is more formally accurate, while still as generically vague as terms like “improvised music,” “creative music,” or, on the classical side, “new music.” Nomenclature is particularly tricky for music focused on exploring the porous boundaries between ideas and styles.)

Triio.Fournier’s curatorial efforts, his respect for the formal and informal mentorship process, and his band-leading all share one key component: a willingness and enthusiasm to make room for others, and to facilitate unique collaborative work. With the release of Triio, Fournier’s work has come full circle: by embracing a generous musical model, he has created a band, album, and performance practice that showcases a wide range of his abilities, all the while honouring his band members and the work of those who have come before him. 

Alex Fournier’s group Triio releases its eponymous debut album at 9:20pm on June 2, at The Rex, Toronto.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter.

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