KimNocebannerA drawing of the March 28, 2020 Tuning Meditation session by Kim Noce. Image c/o Music on the Rebound.Contrast these two scenarios: the time is spring 1979, and I have gathered with several others at the Music Gallery’s original location on St. Patrick Street to hear a concert of music by Pauline Oliveros – or at least that’s what I was expecting. Instead, rather than sitting and listening to Oliveros perform solo, those who attended were invited as a group to create a performance of one of her Sonic Meditations entitled Tuning Meditation. Laying on the floor with our heads together, we listened intently for a tone inside us that wanted to be heard, and then sang it on the exhale of one breath. Next, we listened to the sounds around us and on the next exhalation, we repeated, or tuned ourselves to, a tone we could hear coming from someone else in the room. The Tuning Meditation unfolded in its own timing, with everyone alternating between these two ways of listening – first to ourselves internally and then externally in the space of the room, always sounding one tone on each exhalation. 

Now jump ahead 41 years to April 2020, when I along with almost everyone else in the world am facing a pandemic that requires many of us to self-isolate. I come to my computer with my earbuds in and click on a Zoom link for a video call that I’ve registered for, called “The World Wide Tuning Meditation.”

I am ushered into the waiting area of an online space where a recording of the previous week’s performance of the World Wide Tuning Meditation can be heard. Slides with different quotes from Oliveros’s writings can be seen, such as this one: “Listening is directing attention to what is heard, gathering meaning, interpreting and deciding on action. Call it listening out loud.” After opening remarks from two of the event organizers, Raquel Klein and Claire Chase, Ione, the spouse of the late Oliveros, appears on the screen and goes through the instructions for Oliveros’s Tuning Meditation – a process we are all about to participate in online.

After an inaugural online session on March 28, 2020, the World Wide Tuning Meditation – a video call version of Oliveros’s piece – ran weekly until April 25, 2020, with a cumulative total of over 4,600 participants coming from 30+ countries and all seven continents. I joined in a number of these meetings over the course of the month. 

Having participated in this Tuning Meditation myself innumerable times over the years, this online version had some unique qualities because of the medium. Visually – just as drawings that document the project illustrate – everyone appeared in squares. One could scroll through the various pages of the Zoom video call to see who was present, and of course the chat window was abuzz with comments and people saying hello. One week I had the unusual experience of having a close musician friend appear on my screen repeatedly and it felt like I was sounding directly with her, regardless of whether what I was hearing was actually her or not.

A screenshot of a World Wide Tuning Meditation session. Photo credit: Raquel Acevedo Klein. Photo c/o Music on the Rebound.The challenges of listening to a large digital field of hundreds of people via their computers were definitely unique. The sonic field contained various digital artifacts, and the airy background sounds picked up by all of our computers were interwoven with all of the vocal tones we produced. Listening for a sound to make that would be a new offering to this already-busy collective field required deep internal focus – and finding a sound to tune with was fleeting, as the technology made its own decisions as to what would be audible on my end. I would hear a tone, decide to tune with that sound, and then it would be cut off. However, this experience also created the sensation that my action of repetition enabled one person’s sound to have a more extended presence than perhaps it would have if we had been in a physical room together.

During one meeting on April 11, a simultaneous broadcast on YouTube was set up, which fed the live sound directly into a special cistern reverberation app that extended the collective sound into a beautiful resonant series of tones. The same reverb effect has been added to all of the recordings of the project, thanks to co-organizer Ross Karre. 

The idea to create such an experience originated with Raquel Klein, founder and producer of Music on the Rebound, an online festival designed to bring people together through musical exchanges and help performers affected by the COVID-19 crisis. To get the World Wide Tuning Meditation plan on its feet, Klein reached out to Claire Chase, flutist and member of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), who in turn connected with Ione to make everything happen. Other members of ICE have also been active in the project, hosting Zoom calls and sorting out other logistics. As co-organizer Bridgid Bergin stated in an email exchange with me: “These events have provided a space for healing during such an overwhelming and difficult time. For 30 minutes we have the chance to listen and resonate with our bodies, and connect with people from all around the world – technical glitches and all!”

During Claire Chase’s opening remarks for the final Tuning Meditation on April 25, she reminded us that for Pauline Oliveros, “hearing the spaces in which we listen are as important as the sounds we make. Oliveros once dreamed about the ability to sound and perceive the far reaches of the universe, much as whales sound and perceive the vastness of the oceans.” Added to that was Ione’s statement that “it was a vision of Pauline’s to have a tuning experience that moved around the world.” In a sense, that time has arrived – and although these weekly gatherings have ended for now, the organizers promise that more is yet to come. 

The World Wide Tuning Meditation (presented by Music on the Rebound in collaboration with Ione, Bridgid Bergin, Larry Blumenfeld, Claire Chase, Boo Froebel, Ross Karre, Erica Zielinksi, and the International Contemporary Ensemble) ran weekly from March 28, 2020 to April 25, 2020 via Zoom. More information about the project can be found here. A recording of the April 25 session is available on YouTube here.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

bannerWe are living in unprecedented times. With live performance banned until the current global COVID-19 pandemic is under control, artists of all genres are using their imaginations to find new ways to virtually connect with their colleagues and audiences. One of the earliest initiatives in Canada to fill these gaps was BIG GIRL & Friends, an hour-long livestreamed show on YouTube, created and hosted by Toronto Musical Concerts’ artistic producer Christopher Wilson, and associate director, Ryan Kelly.

The show is a casually formatted musical theatre chat show, with the hosts (who seem to know everyone in Canadian musical theatre) welcoming guests who sing several songs interspersed with fun conversations about the industry, their career journeys, and how they are coping with the realities of social distancing. They also entertain questions from people watching via comments on the YouTube site. Guests so far have included Alessandro Constantini, Charlotte Moore, Gabi Epstein, Jake Espstein, Michael de Rose, Thom Allison, Erica Peck, Sara Strange and Bruce Dow, among others.

The show is free to watch and all the artists, and the hosts, are donating their performances, with donations to support the AFC (the Actors’ Fund of Canada) encouraged. Given the current lockdown, the AFC (founded and active since 1882) desperately needs funds to continue its support of arts workers who need financial and advocacy help — and that’s not just actors, but also directors and designers, stage managers and costume makers, musicians, writers, film crews and front-of-house workers. Anyone in the arts and entertainment industries who needs assistance can apply.

Impressed by Wilson and Kelly’s rapid deployment of their more-or-less daily fundraising show, and enjoying the fun of getting to know Canadian stars in such a personal format – despite each person being in their own living room – I reached out to Christopher Wilson to find out a bit more about how it all came about.

The following conversation has been condensed and edited.

Christopher Wilson L and Ryan Kelly RWN: What gave you the idea to start the YouTube BIG GIRL & Friends broadcasts, in this format?

CW: Our Canadian theatre industry ostensibly ground to a halt shortly after Friday, March 13 (ironically). With unprecedented cancellations and closures of both theatres and events nationwide, it became increasingly evident that we (the artistic community) were going to be adversely affected for some time with the swiftly shifting landscape of the coronavirus.

When the Broadway League announced that all Broadway theatres would close (initially until April 13), SiriusXM Broadway host Seth Rudetsky and his husband, producer James Wesley, began a daily online mini-show, entitled Stars In The House - featuring a "who's who" lineup of stage and screen stars, singing and performing live (from home on YouTube) to promote support for The Actors Fund (US).

I tuned into their first stream on March 16 (featuring Kelli O'Hara) and immediately knew that I had to facilitate a comparable initiative here in Canada, to benefit The AFC (Actors' Fund of Canada). Having worked in the Canadian professional musical theatre industry for nearly 30 years, I am fortunate to be connected with most of Canada's extraordinary musical theatre artists from coast to coast!

WN: Where does the name come from?

CW: During my only season performing at the Stratford Festival back in 1995, I was somewhat of a gregarious “Saint Bernard puppy” type of an emerging artist (you know, the type that inadvertently takes out small children and Christmas trees in their oblivious wake). One particular rehearsal day, during an overly-enthusiastic moment, I gently annoyed one of the company members (Canadian actor, writer and theatre director, Lee MacDougall – also an original Broadway cast member of Come from Away) who lovingly expressed, “You are such a BIG GIRL!” This was also a reference to my newly embraced self-identity as a gay man.

The nickname, Big Girl, became a term of endearment among company members at the Festival – and was officially coined a phrase when I was paged over the theatre intercom, “Big Girl to the stage, please!” Since that time, I have lovingly been referred to as the “tall, high-kicking, low singing BIG GIRL”. Several years ago, I self-produced two stage cabarets at the former Flying Beaver Pubaret under the name, “Big Girl & Friends”. Both cabaret events were fundraising initiatives for local charities including the AIDS Committee of Toronto and the Daily Bread Food Bank.

When I decided to embark upon this specific online fundraising initiative (under the auspices of Toronto Musical Concerts), the title seemed apt to return to [to] support The AFC!

WN: You and Ryan are based here in Toronto, and your first guests have been performers known here in the city. Will you be reaching out across the country to speak to artists based further afield, or to join forces with other fundraising teams based in other provinces?

CW: I am doing my best to remain aware of other fundraising initiatives across Canada to benefit both The AFC and the Canadian professional musical theatre industry. Most notable was last week's incredible Virtual 24-Hour Telethon to benefit the AFC, Places Please!, raising an impressive $41,000.

Most of our first week guests were well known in Toronto and southern Ontario, but this past week's guests included artists such as Tara Jackson from Calgary, and we will be hosting the Charlottetown Festival's artistic director, Adam Brasier in Prince Edward Island – and ideally, the Neptune Theatre's artistic director, Jeremy Webb in Halifax (among others).

My biggest concern lies in the fact that as long as we continue to remain in this state of social distancing and self-isolation, our artistic community will become increasingly vulnerable, both financially and more importantly, emotionally. As we settle into this “new normal,” it is my hope that we can share this online fundraising initiative on a much broader scale, to reach as wide an audience viewership across the country as possible.

BIG GIRL & Friends intends to stream daily Monday to Saturday at 7 PM ET / 4PM PT on Toronto Musical Concerts’ YouTube channel until regional theatres are open again. To access archived livestreams and find the daily viewer’s link, visit their website here. To make a tax-deductible donation to The AFC, please visit https://afchelps.ca/.

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.

Mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó and pianist Christopher Foley. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz.Editor’s note: Since the concert covered here, where a reduced team of Tapestry artists and production staff put together a livestream performance, more stringent physical distancing precautions have been recommended by community and government groups. We currently do not recommend in-person gatherings of any size with anyone outside of your household. (updated 26/03/2020).

As many performing arts organisations around the world have had to make the difficult decisions to cancel their activities amidst the escalation of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, Tapestry Opera cancelled both its emerging artists showcase, Songbook X, and its three-day emerging artist masterclass, New Opera 101. However, what could have been a sad footnote in the company’s year-end debrief, will instead possibly become a road map to navigate the challenging times ahead for artistic organisations. Tapestry Opera’s artistic and general director, Michael Hidetoshi Mori, was able to transform Songbook X into Tapestry’s first livestreamed concert.

On Saturday, March 21 at 8pm EST, over 200 listeners joined Tapestry on Youtube for a free virtual recital with mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó and collaborative pianist Christopher Foley. With a reduced production team inside the Tapestry studios, and with only one week of preparation time, the company treated its virtual audience to a night of carefully curated music, mostly Canadian, that ranged from art songs, oratorio and opera arias, “opera briefs” compositions, and solo piano works (for a complete list of works, click here).

That the recital itself was an absolute success is no surprise; Szabó and Foley are consummate professionals who are both meticulous on details and generous on emotions. More pressing for me were the technical considerations related to the presentation of a virtual recital: Will there be a program with notes I can follow? What will the sound quality be like? Will the performers be able to engage with a virtual audience? How will I emotionally connect with the performance? Was there a mock recital to test all this out? Tuning in to the livestream recital answered most of those questions.

Each selection was briefly introduced by Michael Mori. To my delight, the Tapestry online moderator space was used as a tool to inform the audience and invite further research: the moderator not only uploaded links and repertoire information, but also answered repertoire questions from the virtual audience. As for the sound, although there was a momentary glitch, it was quickly rectified. The performers, perhaps not aware of the technical difficulty, or simply well trained in ‘the show must go on’ maxim, continued until they were interrupted and asked to start over.

Though I had initially envisioned a possible emotional challenge for performers and audience to connect, this did not occur. What did transpire, however, was an element typically not considered in live performances: the very obvious fact that the audience is not in the room. And by focusing my initial concerns on the individual audience member’s experience, I had missed a most vital component of the recital: the collective virtual audience. When the concert began and the sound did not work, the live chat section became overactive with a rapid succession of comments such as “no audio,” “no sound,” and “please start again” (the Tapestry Opera moderator was appropriately reassuring, although one wonders if there was not a certain amount of nervousness in the studio).

Pianist Christopher Foley. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz.For the audience to have such an impactful and immediate voice in the middle of a concert is unprecedented. On the one hand, and this was the case here, users were active, eager, complimentary, and engaged with one another (composers Dean Burry and John Estacio said hello). This particular situation is a positive one within a fairly tight-knit community. But what happens when that is not the case? And while the information shared by the moderator is valuable, is the constant flow too distracting? Does it take away from the performance? When audience members ‘converse’ during the performance or share their activities (dancing while listening, joking about unwrapping a candy, eating or drinking wine), does this compromise the quality of our experience? Are there new social boundaries or etiquettes that have to be developed to ensure the success of future livestreaming concerts?

At the end of the recital, Szabó and Foley, probably unaware of the enormous amount of praise they were receiving, emotionally addressed the audience to thank them. When Christopher Foley spoke of the uncertain times artists are facing, he suggested that companies throughout the world will most likely have to adapt and find new music models in order to survive. With the Songbook X Livestream, Tapestry has potentially tapped into one such model of digital musicking. As we rethink our current frameworks for musical performances and engage in collective experiences that are meant to bring communities together, it is nice to know that in one click, however isolated we may feel, we can momentarily be uplifted by truly inspiring performances.

Tapestry Opera presented a livestream recital edition of Songbook X on Saturday, March 21 at 8pm EST. The video is viewable here. To donate to Tapestry Opera, visit their website here.

Sophie Bisson is a PhD candidate in musicology at York University and an opera singer who is passionate about Canadian repertoire. Her doctoral research focuses on Canadian opera.

COVID-19 Artist Resources

This list has last been updated on Thursday, April 13, at 12:00EST. We will try to continue updating this article as new information becomes available; if you have suggestions of new resources to add to this list, or of other ways that The WholeNote editorial team can help support the local music community during this time, please feel free to direct them to editorial@thewholenote.com.

In light of recent cancellations, closures, and quarantines around the world due to the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many folks are facing suddenly precarious financial and social circumstances. Arts organizations, freelancers, arts workers and other gig/temporary workers constitute a particularly hard-hit group—one that our team is trying our best to support. 

There have been several resources circulating online and in the news about efforts to provide financial support to those who need it (including some incredible lists already compiled by other organizations and community groups). Our intent here is to amplify the work put in by those who created (and are creating) those resources and support systems, by sharing them directly with our readership—especially those resources that might particularly apply to musicians and other arts workers based in the area we serve.

Financial health in times of crisis is a multifaceted thing, and there are many ways in which this list falls short. Many of the ‘official’ resources provided here assume Canadian (or in some cases, United States) nationality or permanent residency. Others may not be applicable sources of support for all artists. And of course, at its best this list provides assistance with only a small sliver of the many things that contribute to personal well-being and security during uncertain times. Nonetheless, we hope it is helpful, and that you find it a useful source of information and support.

For official information on medical issues related to COVID-19 in Canada, please refer directly to official sources, such as the Government of Canada website.

Compilation Documents

These are large, compiled resource lists that provide an overview of resources for arts workers struggling with issues related to COVID-19.

*updated March 26, 2020: COVID-19 CANADA MEGA RESOURCE LIVING LIBRARY: Musicians & Music Industry Professionals

This ‘living library’ is a frequently-updated list of resources related to professional music-making in Canada and COVID-19.

COVID-19 & Freelance Artists

One of the largest and most comprehensive resource lists for arts workers, this website provides information about financial advocacy groups, social equity initiatives, online support platforms, and many other useful tools. Many of the resources here are US-specific, but others are widely-applicable.

COVID-19 & Freelance Artists and Writers, CANUCK EDITION / CBC Resource List

A Canada-specific version of the COVID-19 & Freelance Artists resource list, available both in its original Google Doc form, as well in an article written in collaboration with the CBC, available here

Opera.ca COVID-19 Resources for Artists

A resource list compiled by Opera.ca with a focus on financial support for Canada-based artists.

Financial/Advocacy Resources

These are organizations who routinely work to provide support and emergency funding for professional artists in Canada.

Unison Fund

The Actors Fund

Financial Resources: Information from Government and Granting Bodies

This is where you can find information related to government and grant support.

*updated April 17, 2020: Government of Canada: Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)

This program provides financial support to Canadians who have lost their job, are sick, quarantined, working reduced hours, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19, as well as working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children who are sick or at home because of school and daycare closures. It applies to wage earners, as well as contract workers and self-employed individuals who would not otherwise be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI). Individuals are eligible for CERB if they are 15 years of age or older, live in Canada, have had an income of at least $5,000 in the last year and who currently earn less than $1000 monthly as a result of COVID-19 disruptions.

Government of Canada: COVID-19 Economic Response Plan

Government of Canada: COVID-19 Updates - Employment and Social Development Canada

Government of Canada: EI Support for Self-Employed Workers

 

*updated March 26, 2020: Toronto Arts Council TOArtist COVID-19 Response Fund

Small grants of up to $1000 for Toronto-based artists who have lost work due to COVID-19.

COVID-19 Updates from the Toronto Arts Council

COVID-19 Updates from the Ontario Arts Council

COVID-19 Updates from the Canada Council for the Arts

*updated April 23, 2020: Canada Council for the Arts - “Digital Originals” micro innovation grants for creating digital work or adapting work to a digital platform

Community-led Initiatives

These are initiatives for support led by individuals, organizations, and community groups.

I Lost My Gig (Canada)

A Facebook support/resource group for arts and freelance/gig workers in Canada.

Caremongering-TO: TO Community Response to COVID-19

A Facebook group for local/grassroots resources and support actions in Toronto.

For musicians to record lost income

A downloadable Google spreadsheet template for musicians to keep track of lost income due to COVID-19-related issues.

Glad Day Emergency Survival Fund for LGBTQ2S artists, performers & tip-based workers

Toronto-based Glad Day Bookshop has set up an emergency fund to help LGBTQ2S artists, performers & tip-based workers. This fund is not meant to help people recover lost income, but is an emergency resource for urgent aid in paying for necessities.

COVID-19 Black Emergency Support Fund

Black Lives Matter - Toronto has launched a fundraising campaign to create a GTA Black Community Emergency Support Fund for Black folks in the GTA who require support due to COVID-19-related concerns. 

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For those readers who do not require assistance, but would like to support arts workers and folks in otherwise precarious circumstances, please consider donating to one or more of the funds listed above. In addition, consider supporting the artists whose work you admire: now is a great time to donate to local arts organizations, buy artists’ merchandise, and tune in to (and financially support) musicians’ livestreams.

More locally: consider joining a community support effort. Offer help to those in your community or your neighbourhood, especially those who can’t leave the house or are in otherwise precarious situations. Advocate for those facing more challenging circumstances than yourself. And be kind to one another. We will be trying to do the same.

Geronimo Inutiq, a presenter at the CNMN 2020 Forum. Photo credit: Photo: Pedro Ruiz, Le Devoir, 2016.In November 2005, the non-profit Canadian New Music Network (CNMN) / Réseau canadien pour les musiques nouvelles (RCMN) was founded with a mandate to foster community-building, networking and to broaden awareness of new music activity. It’s an organization that is designed to support those involved in the pursuit of creative art music and sound art within Canada, including creators, performers, presenters, music educators, musicologists, and others. One of their activities is to present a bilingual and biennial CNMN Forum, held this year in Regina, Saskatchewan from May 21-24, 2020, on Treaty 4 Territory, the traditional territory of the nêhiyawak (Cree), Anihšināpēk (Saulteaux), Dakota, Lakota, and Nakoda, and the homeland of the Métis/Michif Nation. Titled “Listen up / Tendez l’oreille,” this year’s Forum will be focused on five streams: Accessibility, Community, Indigenous Resurgence, Land, and Technology-Innovation. 

As I read the details on each of these topics, I was encouraged to see that conversations of this nature are now being considered within the new music community. The various presentations this year will address such issues as how we incorporate our listening and presencing skills as well as ecological activism into music-making, how the music community can respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, the celebration of the ways music can be experienced beyond the concert hall, and how more inclusive audiences can be built in the dissemination of experimental music and sound art forms.

I spoke with CNMN executive director Terri Hron to find out more about the nature of this year’s Forum. In previous years there have been conversations around issues of diversity, environmental sustainability and the social impacts of a musical practice, she told me. When Hron was hired a few years ago, her goal was to continue those conversations and expand them to include larger cultural issues, including taking concrete steps towards responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She stated that questions such as “what does having right relations with Indigenous communities mean in the context of music-making?” and “how can we create more events that are Indigenous-led and work in good ways as allies with Indigenous artists?” will be part of the conversation at the Forum, with a goal to design an action policy regarding these issues.

Most of the presenters were selected by the Forum’s advisory committee members as well as by a jury that selected from an open call. Olivia Shortt, a Tkarón:to-based artist and currently involved at Toronto’s Music Gallery as an Artistic Associate, was one of three jury members that helped select from the submissions. I asked Shortt about some of the proposals that stood out for her.

The Vancouver-based Astrolabe Musik Theatre was one of her mentions; they will be presenting their documentary film entitled The Lake / n’-ha-a-itk, made in collaboration with artists from Westbank First Nation. The film integrates an opera composed by the late BC composer Barbara Pentland with syilx/Okanagan culture, music, language and dance. A presentation by Kayla McGee, the current executive director of the Music Gallery (and a leader in the Music Gallery’s partnership with The Dandelion Initiative, an organization committed to creating safe and inclusive spaces, including performance venues) was another of Shortt’s picks. McGee’s topic is entitled “Beyond EDI,” and tackles how we can expand our understanding of the principles of equity, diversity and inclusivity.

Shortt also spoke about a performance entitled Aspects of Trees, a collaboration between Newfoundland-based composer/technologist Teresa Connors and New Zealand filmmaker Andrew Denton that gives attention to the escalating pine beetle epidemic that has decimated forests on the west coast of North America. The work includes video footage of the forests and audio captured from the tree bark and inside the trees. The performance will be an improvisation between Connors using her laptop-based tree instrument and Ellen Waterman (Ottawa) on flute, who will also be presenting as part of the accessibility session. During this panel, Waterman will discuss her involvement with the Adaptive Use Musical Instrument (AUMI), a project founded by the late Pauline Oliveros, and the recent developments of a vocal version to explore issues of accessibility in choral music. Geronimo Inutiq, originally from Iqaluit and now Montreal-based, will be discussing his process and approach to electronic music production and performance, highlighting his ideas around interconnectivity and independent music production in a post-internet age.

These are just a few of the presenters; listings of the full CNMN Forum program can be found on the CNMN website, and profiles of many presenters on the CNMN’s Facebook page.

The good news is that if you are interested in attending, for the first time, the CNMN is offering financial assistance for travel for select attendees. Terri Hron emphasized during our conversation that the application process is very simple and is open to anyone who wishes to attend. The deadline is coming up on April 1; you can find application information on the CNMN website. This Forum promises to bring the conversation around music and sound-based artistic practices to a new level.

At the time of publication, the CNMN has released this statement on their website regarding the future scheduling of the conference given the current global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic: “CNMN is monitoring the development of and response to COVID-19 and will be updating here if there are any changes to the Forum. Registration will open April 1.”

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

Catrinel Marlon as Gilda in The Whistlers. Photo credit: Vlad Cioplea. Courtesy of Mongrel Media.The Whistlers, the new film by Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest; Police, Adjective), is a lighter-than-air pastiche, a diversion filled with film noir tropes and other cinematic homages, all buoyed by a soundtrack that ranges from Iggy Pop, Ute Lemper and Anna Netrebko to Johann Strauss father and son, punctuated by the likes of Diomedes Diaz & Nafer Duran, Lola Beltrán and Jeanne Balibar.

The well-chosen music begins with Iggy Pop’s jaunty tune, The Passenger, as soon as police detective Cristi (subtly played by Porumboiu regular Vlad Ivanov) arrives at La Gomera in the Canary Islands for a ride inland. He’s there to learn the whistling language, a coded method of communication native to the island of La Gomera that sounds like birds singing, which will enable Cristi to work around any surveillance in the layered, opaque goings on to come. He’s also re-introduced to Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), a bona fide “femme fatale” (a shout-out to Rita Hayworth’s iconic character in Gilda).

As Porumboiu said in an interview with Marcus Rothe: “She’s the archetype of a woman who plays the femme fatale: she betrays the men, turning against them. Catrinel Marlon plays this lure very well, as an ambiguous and unsettling character who manages to manipulate others without them realizing it.”

Cristi is a compromised cop in the pocket of gangsters and known to his fellow detectives who follow his every move in what sometimes resembles an intricately plotted police procedural. He checks into the Opera Motel, its lobby permeated with the sound of an LP of Anna Netrebko singing Casta Diva from Bellini’s Norma. (The hotel clerk tells him that “we are trying to educate” the clientele.) The operatic spirit continues with Netrebko and Elīna Garanča filling the soundtrack with the Barcarolle and its “nuit d’amour” from Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann as Cristi drives to a small house where he leaves a package. Later the hotel clerk sings along with it before slitting the throat of a policeman who had asked him to turn off the music. The lovely foreboding and air of mystery of Mozart’s cavatina, L’ho perduta me meschina, from The Marriage of Figaro (sung by Patricia Petibon) accompanies more Cristi subterfuge while later, Ute Lemper’s sublime rendition of Kurt Weill’s Moritat der Mackie Messer (Mack the Knife) is cleverly introduced by its familiar tune being whistled.

As Porumboiu put it: “Music has a strong and important presence in this film with rapid shot or scene changes, since it permeates short scenes and quickly denotes a character’s world. I also like to create interesting shifts using unexpected musical tracks. For instance, by playing classical music in violent scenes or action sequences. This is another way I play with the conventions of the genre film while subverting them.”

The action, which cuts between the rainy gloom of Bucharest and the streams of sunlight beneath the clouds of La Gomera, ends in the neon explosion of Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, with a greatest-hits medley of waltzes by the Strausses (On the Beautiful Blue Danube, Du und Du and Radetsky) and Tchaikovsky (Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker) climaxing in the “Galop infernal” (better known as the French can-can) from Offenbach’s Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld. All of which is introduced by a portion of Orff’s Carmina Burana.

It’s the art of artifice writ large.

The Whistlers is currently playing at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Women From SpaceFor the second year in the row, a group of committed exploratory musicians are celebrating during the weekend around International Women’s Day, March 5 to 8, with Women From Space: a four-day festival at two Toronto venues, Burdock and 918 Bathurst. This year, Women From Space is geographically even wider in scope than previously, with musicians arriving from Halifax, Vancouver, New York and Baltimore to play alongside committed performers from the GTA. The mostly women-centred 16 sets will feature free improvisation, contemporary notated music, dance, intercultural projects and even some pop grooves. “Our goal is to create a festival that is majority women performers, but not exclusively women,” explains alto saxophonist Bea Labikova, one of Women From Space’s two organizers. “We do our best to present the festival as a celebration of International Women’s Day, which anyone and everyone can and should celebrate.”

The Women From Space name was initially used for a series curated at the Tranzac Club by festival co-organizer, soprano saxophonist Kayla Milmine. “I drew inspiration from Sun Ra, especially the film Space is the Place,” she remembers. “I like the idea of ‘women from space’ exploring the universe for new musical sounds and ideas and featuring them in this festival.”

The majority of the Women From Space performers this year are women, with efforts to feature queer, transgender and non-binary artists; men will be playing as well, largely in supportive roles to the women improvisers, composers, and bandleaders. While the number of participants has increased over the 2019 festival, showing the depth of Toronto’s musical scene, only a few individual performers are returning this year. Furthermore, these returnees’ 2020 Women From Space projects are completely different than the ones they were involved with in 2019. Notes Labikova: “We are consciously trying to expand our scene as well as audiences, by presenting new performers each year.”

Pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn.Another change from 2019 is that financial resources were made available to Women From Space from various funding bodies, allowing the festival to host sets featuring international players. For instance, Baltimore-based pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn will play a solo set at Burdock on March 5, sharing a bill with solo sets by Halifax-based guitarist Amy Brandon, Vancouver harpist Elisa Thorn, and Toronto-based keyboardist Claire Yunjin Lee. At that same venue two days later on March 7, New York soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome will improvise alongside Milmine. On March 8, the official International Women’s Day, the festival moves to 918 Bathurst for closing night celebrations. Among the features will be the duo of New York-based German tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and Canadian-in-Brooklyn pianist Kris Davis. That same night, New York double bassist William Parker will be part of a trio with locals, percussionist Germaine Liu and Labikova. 

Although the American guests are known for their jazz and improvisational skills, composition will also be emphasized at the 2020 festival, including new works commissioned by the festival organizers. Toronto-based Dutch composer and vocalist Lieke van der Voort and Toronto saxophonist/clarinetist Naomi McCarroll-Butler are each composing works for a special festival ensemble of double bass, baritone saxophone and bass clarinet, which will give premiere performances at Burdock on March 6. McCarroll-Butler will also perform as part of a trio with bassist Lauren Falls and saxophonist Olivia Shortt, at the club that same evening.

Meanwhile, West Grey Township-based trombonist Heather Saumer has composed special pieces that will be premiered at 918 Bathurst on March 8 by Felicity Williams, Robin Dann, Thomas Gill and Alex Samaras, who are singers as well as instrumentalists. Also that evening, former Montrealer, now Toronto-based Elizabeth Lima will perform a solo set based around vocals, clarinet and electronics, interacting with visuals by Meghan Cheng which were specially commissioned for the performance.

Pantayo. Photo credit: Sarah Bo.Other sets will emphasize still other music. On March 6 at Burdock, for example JUNO-nominated vocalist/trumpeter Tara Kannangara and her band will perform electric pop tinged with jazz. That same night, Teiya Kasahara, who specializes in contemporary opera and whose practice often incorporates opera, theatre, and taiko, will offer a solo set. At the same place the next night on March 7, all-women group Pantayo will preview selections from its upcoming album, which mixes percussive metallophones and drums from Kulintang traditions of the Southern Philippines with synthesizer-based electro grooves. On the final evening at 918 Bathurst, local independent dance artist Sahara Morimoto will perform with percussionist Raphael Roter.

These are just a few of the 40-odd performers who will be featured during the four days of this year’s festival. “Ambitious, fresh and diverse programming helps us increase our audience base,” states Labikova. “It also contributes to increasing Toronto’s reputation abroad and draws attention and recognition to women in music.” Plans for next year’s festival are already being germinated, she adds, maintaining the four-day schedule and likely inviting more international players.

The second annual Women From Space festival takes place in Toronto at Burdock, 1184 Bloor St. West (March 5-7, 2020) and 918 Bathurst (March 8, 2020). For more information about the complete lineup, as well as details about tickets and festival passes, visit www.womenfromspace.com.

Ken Waxman is a Toronto-based journalist who has written about improvised and other musics for many years. Many of his articles can be found at www.jazzword.com.

The company of Hamilton - National Tour. Photo credit: Joan Marcus, c/o Mirvish.

"I'm just like my country, I’m young scrappy and hungry, and I'm not throwing away my shot."

On February 12, I finally had the chance to see the musical Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda's famously hip hop biography of America's lesser-known founding father, and first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. It has been a long five-year wait for Hamilton fans in Toronto since the show debuted at New York's Public Theater in February 2015 to immense popular and critical acclaim, moving to Broadway just months later and almost sweeping the Tony Awards, as well as being awarded that year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The show has continued to be showered with accolades, nearly unanimous raves, and a Grammy Award for the already six-time platinum-selling original cast album – which many fans have learned by heart, but hasn’t been seen in Toronto until now.

How does a touring production making the show's Canadian debut live up to that sort of reputation?

My fingers were crossed as I took my seat, my expectations so high that I didn't think they could be met. By intermission, however, I was a full convert, dazzled by the immediacy and urgency of the storytelling, the layered detailed brilliance of the libretto, the perfectly matching music – a heady mix of hip hop and R&B ballads with bits of Brit pop and traditional Broadway mixed in – and the superb staging of Thomas Kail melded with the idiosyncratic choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler.

The opening is almost subversive in its subtlety. There is no overture, just a lone figure entering the stage to quietly ask, “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore/and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a/forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence/impoverished in squalor/grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” It almost slipped by without everyone being aware that something magical was beginning. Meanwhile, the golden, space-filling, multi-level set began to fill with figures in 18th-century dress, and we were swept into the thrilling, intoxicating ride of Alexander Hamilton's unlikely rise from his obscure birth on a Caribbean island to a life in New York, urgently wanting to make his mark, to play a leading role in the American Revolution and the creation of the new nation.

"I'm just like my country/I'm young scrappy and hungry/and I'm not throwing away my shot!"

Joseph Morales (who led the Chicago company) is a magnetic Hamilton with a clear, strong voice and a vibrant sympathetic presence, making us feel every emotion on his journey. Equally strong and a great foil as Hamilton's friend and later enemy Aaron Burr, is Jared Dixon. Part of the brilliance of the book is this pairing of opposites. Hamilton is fiercely passionate, his emotions on his sleeve, while Burr, much more opaque about his own motives, cautions him to “talk less, smile more,” to “wait and see” rather than jumping into revolution or innovation.

Part of the thrill of the show's storytelling is also that all these “dead white men” (and women) are played by Black, Latin, and Asian performers, even – and there has been some questioning of this – slave owners such as Washington and Jefferson. This isn't “blind casting” but, as Miranda has expressed it, this is “the story of America then told by Americans now.” The lone white actor (other than some members of the ensemble) is Neil Haskell, who has a lovely time portraying England's King George III, the one character who is mostly seen alone onstage, and who sings in a vaudevillian Brit Pop style, with clever tongue-in-cheek lyrics highlighting a disbelief in his “revolting” colonial subjects' actions.

This casting strategy works, along with the music and verbal style, to make the urgency of the story feel as if it were happening today. Ironically, of course, Hamilton debuted when Barack Obama was president of the United States, and it did feel as if that country was entering an optimistic new era, whereas now not only the US but other places around the world are facing new forces of oppression, and there are new – or should I say old? – battles to be fought.

Perhaps this change in our social context is partly why the second half of the show felt less inspiring. The headiness of the success of the revolution gives way to the building of the new nation. It isn't as easy to keep the urgency and energy high onstage as politics and factionalism get in the way of accomplishment, though the Cabinet debates – played as rap battles – are fun, and the dueling scenes pulse with tension.

Part of the issue with this particular production is that Warren Egypt Franklin as Thomas Jefferson, while full of energy, is rather over-the-top in his portrayal of the brilliant but eccentric statesman, and his diction is so unclear that it is hard to follow and become engaged with the details of the political situation. The personal side of Hamilton's story also bogs down a bit here, as Stephanie Jae Park as his wife Eliza is not a terribly nuanced actor, though Darilyn Castillo as his fatal love interest Maria Reynolds is very effective, and Ta'rea Campbell as Eliza's sister Angelica (Hamilton's “intellectual soulmate”) makes a welcome brief return after her strong presence in Act One.

It feels a bit as though Miranda is trying to cram too much into too short a time, and it would be nice if there was a more rousing, inspiring finish, to send us out still as full of hope in the future as at intermission. A flawed second act notwithstanding, this is a “must-see” production for its passion, ambition, and innovation. It plays in Toronto until May 17.

The Canadian premiere of Hamilton runs until May 17, 2020, at the Ed Mirvish 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.

Eugene von Guerard’s oil painting Ferntree Gully in the Dandenong Ranges (1857), featuring two lyrebirds in the foreground.As a venue, Toronto’s Heliconian Club sets a charming tone for an afternoon concert. On February 2 at 3pm, the intimate space was dimly lit, with a screen projecting the images of three types of birds, in preparation for “Where Song Began,” a chamber music project by violinist Simone Slattery and cellist Anthony Albrecht based on the theme of Australia’s songbirds.

The program starts on a chilling tone, low and singular. Slattery is on one side of the stage, vocalising to the notes played by Albrecht, who is on the opposite side. Sounds of nature and birdsong swell, while projected on the screen is a quote: “…the majority of the world’s songbirds have ancestors from Australia” – Tim Low. This introduces the performance, which, as Slattery later explains, was inspired by Australian ornithologist Tim Low’s book Where Song Began on Australia’s history of songbirds and their global impact.

The audience is transfixed in absolute silence. The only thing that disturbs this silence is a thud of my neighbour’s phone as it hits the floor. We are briefly snapped out of our trance.

Slattery makes her way to the centre of the stage, standing in front of the screen which now exhibits a bare expanse of land. She begins Arvo Pärt’s Fratres for solo violin. It is eerie, yet enchanting. Though perhaps not intentional in their choice of pieces, the bariolage of her violin bow gives Slattery a bird-like quality. She is mesmerizing to watch, her arm flapping, akin to wings; at one point, the video projection displays a flock of birds, swooping across her body.

Before Slattery ends, Albrecht is ready to take over with the next piece. He mimics bird sounds by sliding his finger down the cello strings, blending perfectly with the chirping that continues in the background. The performance transitions are tastefully thought out, with recordings of birdsong, gorgeous visuals, and the sounds from the artists flawlessly combined.

Another projected quote by Tim Low: “Songbirds make up 47% of the world’s bird species. If the comparisons are valid they may tell of birdsong influencing the evolution of human acoustic perception, and in particular our sense of what sounds pleasing.” The selected quotes are very thought-provoking, especially in light of recent news coverage of devastating bushfires across Australia. While much of the news coverage of Australia’s bushfires has focused on mammals and devastation of trees, it has not typically covered the massive loss of birds that these fires have caused.

We are about 20 minutes into the program, and we see a new projection—a group of birds singing and soaring without inhibition. There is no depiction of tragedy in the videos and images presented. During the Question and Answer session following the performance, Slattery explains that this was in fact done on purpose. She reasons that we have seen the tragic images of birds and animals in distress, the extensive number of trees destroyed in Australia’s recent fires. Slattery and Albrecht, therefore, chose to show the birds in their natural state amid beautiful landscapes. The program takes a lighter tone with the next piece, Ross Edwards’ violin/cello duo Ecstatic Dance No.2.

The audience’s attention is brought to the cuckoo bird, as Slattery and Albrecht together play the Cucu Sonata by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. The playful quality of cuckoos is demonstrated beautifully with this piece, Slattery smiling throughout the performance. The literature onscreen informs us that the musicality of the cuckoo inspired works from composers such as Vivaldi, Mozart, and Beethoven.

Next onscreen is a quotation from Charles Hartshorne: “…bird song is recognisably musical by all basic human standards. It has nice bits of melody, charming rhythms, even bits of harmony (for birds, unlike us, can sing contrasting notes simultaneously)…”

The lyrebird, characterized as “…a Shakespeare among birds,” is the next focus. Albrecht begins Prelude from Cello Suite No.1 by J.S. Bach. There is a collective sigh from the audience, and smiles are exchanged as we hear the easily-recognizable work of Bach.

We are then introduced to the honeyeaters, a family of birds that, we learn, are “crucial to the Australian landscape and habitat” and are known for their harsh calls. Fittingly, the next piece, Anthochaera carunculata, by David Lang, was a bit uncomfortable to listen to, laden with firm accents and dissonant chords. Slattery straightens our backs with a powerful stroke of the bow. At moments, her bow ricochets on the fingerboard and she looks at all of us in an amused manner, gathering our reactions to it. I, for one, am confused.

The program ends as it started—on a sombre note, with Slattery singing an Indigenous hymn, Ngarra Burra Ferra. Slattery and Albrecht succeed in educating the audience on birdlife in Australia and keeping us captivated throughout the 50-minute benefit performance.

Simone Slattery and Anthony Albrecht presented their Toronto performance of When Song Began on February 2, 2020 at 3pm, at Heliconian Hall. For details, visit their website www.wheresongbegan.com. To learn more about birdlife in Australia or donate to efforts to support birdlife in light of Australia’s recent bushfires, one online resource is https://birdlife.org.au/.

Menaka Swaminathan is a writer and chorister, currently based in Toronto.

Laurie Anderson. Photo credit: Ebru Yildiz.Trying to capture in words my experience of Laurie Anderson’s performance at Koerner Hall on January 18 is almost an impossibility. There was music of course, along with Anderson’s distinctive approach to storytelling, but the entire evening flowed like a dream, from one scene or emotional tone to another. Hopefully some of that can be communicated through the printed page or screen, but I highly recommend listening to her most recent album release, entitled Songs from the Bardo, to fill in some of the sonic gaps. 

When I interviewed Anderson for the story that appeared in The WholeNote’s December/January edition, I asked her to tell me about her new work The Art of Falling that we would hear in her 21C Festival performance. Her response aroused my curiosity: “I don’t know to what extent it will be a brand-new work or to what extent it will be a collection of things.” She described her work as looking back and forward at the same time, and that “it might be something like that, or it might go another direction too.” She did know, however, that it would be a collaborative improvisation with cellist Rubin Kodheli in which she wanted to leave lots of room for things to evolve and “go off the track a little.” My interest was sparked and I couldn’t wait to hear what she would bring to the stage.

As soon as the pair walked onto the stage on January 18, they entered into a musical duo full of pulsating rhythms and repetitive musical gestures, opening up the space for what was to come. Anderson then walked over to the opposite side of the stage to begin telling the first story sequence of the evening, describing various scenes of environmental degradation: burning forests and melting ice. “Am I just dreaming or is this real?” she asked. Moving in a seamless progression, she began to talk about politics in the United States, describing how we end up voting for the person whose story we like the most or feel is the most true. She described the quiet on the streets of New York the night after Trump was elected, and Yoko Ono’s response: tweeting a 19-second long scream. From there she invited the audience to join together and create a collective scream. We were encouraged to imagine similar scenes of environmental destruction and then scream. “Give it your all,” she encouraged. And we did. It was a harrowing moment, but also finally a relief – that collectively we could hear ourselves expressing something that too often we keep below the surface. Later on in the performance, she pointed out that we are the first humans to have to tell the story of possible human extinction and that this is a story nobody wants to hear. The group scream was followed by an instrumental improvisation characterized by aggressive and dense textures created from her technical setup of loops and pre-recorded tracks.

During the storytelling sequences, Anderson alternated between accompanying herself at the keyboard, sometimes using her vocoder to transpose her voice into a low register, and delivering the text standing or sitting at a microphone in other stage locations. The stories were always told floating on top of a drone-like musical texture made up of repetitive sequences, often alongside musical commentary and interjections from Kodheli’s exquisite cello playing. This enabled the performance to move without interruption and created the sense that we were floating along deeper and deeper into a more timeless state of awareness, like birds flying in endless circles in the sky. It was a perfect environment that eventually brought us into Andrson’s presentation of an ancient Greek comedy entitled The Birds (written by the playwright Aristophanes). And in her characteristic humorous style, Anderson set it all up by referencing the dream of the building of a wall by a certain current American politician. In the Greek play, the character Pisthetaerus convinces the birds to create a city in the sky so that they could regain their original god-like status and keep out those they didn’t want to enter. The contemporary parallels were stunningly obvious. As the music shifted into a lament, Anderson began listing the loss of various species, ending with the potential loss of humanity. What would John Cage say? “Listen,” was her response.

She then took the audience into one of the more remarkable experiences I’ve had in a concert:  a guided hypnotic journey designed to create a deep inner state of consciousness. She used various devices, such as imagining the central core of our brain or feeling the similarity between the temperature in the room and our skin. We were to enter each new image on vocal instruction: “I say ONE”. The music grew in intensity and density during this experience, and I can’t quite recall when things shifted again and we were back into a different sea of images:  how Jackie Kennedy faked smiling, Anderson’s personal loss of valuable archives and artworks during Hurricane Sandy. She listed various things that we can lose: looks, reputation, Facebook friends, civility, democracy. Her biggest loss, she then told us, was the loss of husband Lou Reed, a person who understood energy more than anyone else she knew. As the music shifted here into a lush stringed orchestra sound that could have been sampled sounds of the Japanese koto or the Chinese Guzheng, Anderson moved to centre stage and performed a stunning sequence of Tai Chi movements.

As the work grew to a close, we were taken once again into readings from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, no doubt drawn from her album Songs From The Bardo (as she hinted at during our earlier interview). The Bardo is that place after death where our consciousness travels to and where we experience a change in the state of our energy.  As the musical textures soared, all I can say is that I felt a glimmer of that place – the immensity, grandeur and power that resides there.

The following evening on January 19, there was a screening at the Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema of her film Heart of a Dog, which also referenced themes of death, loss and transition.  During the Q&A afterwards, Anderson was asked about these transitions we go through in the Bardo. She replied: “Everything is a transition. Music is always moving in a state of flux. We are in the Bardo now. We are the ones asleep. The dead are awake.”

Anderson’s more recent explorations into approaching performance as an improvisation – as we experienced it in The Art of Falling – have created a more expansive and visceral atmosphere in her work, a way of being “open and free rather than carving out what will happen,” as she expressed during the January 19 Q&A. She summarized her approach in this way – that she is attempting to “push things together and use the opportunity to bring teachings from my teacher.” From such a simple stance, holy elegance was the result.

Laurie Anderson presented The Art of Falling at the RCM’s 21C Festival, on January 18, 2020.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

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