Looking over my notes, there were a lot of things I thought this last “For Openers” of 2020 was going to be about.

Last week, for example, I had what I am tempted to call my “usual” chat with a cherished reader, who calls without fail after receiving the issue, but only after having had time to read it closely enough to make specific observations (occasionally trenchant), about its contents. But also always unfailingly encouraging, as well as (time after time over the years) offering suggestions (usually in the form of questions) for stories we should consider taking on. 

This time the question was “Have you considered doing a story for readers like me (who need for various reasons to get tax receipts for our donations) who are willing and able, especially at a time like this, to support musical organizations (particularly those with a sense of social justice)? A story like that would help us figure who to give our money to.” A good idea indeed, I agreed. 

Except that afterwards, I’m sorry to say, I found the idea irking me like a scratchy tag in a new shirt. Why? Because I am less sure than ever before that being able to issue tax receipts for donations is necessarily a reliable indicator of which organizations, in the music community and beyond, are the most at risk right now, or the most deserving of support. A bit like the way, back in March and April, when it came to deciding who should be eligible for governmental pandemic support, only T4 employment earnings were initially deemed proof of “real work” – no comfort to workers in the gig economy, or small businesses, where the dreamers usually pay themselves last anyway. 

So, there’s a story there, but definitely a more nuanced one than at first glance. And yes, we’ll probably tackle it – but, um, not right now. 

A few weeks before that, according to my notes, it was the “We’re all in this together” pep talks from our social, cultural and civic leaders that were seriously irking me to the point I was vowing to thunder about them here. What’s the “this” we’re supposedly all in? Not the “same boat,” that’s for sure, I scribbled. The same storm? Yes indeed, but in a whole range of craft, not all equally seaworthy and not all equally equipped to issue life jackets (or T4s) to those on board. But that one is not so simple either. After all, how do you define “seaworthy” when what is needed for the urgent task at hand is the alacrity to change course to avoid an iceberg? 

So, yes, there’s a story there too, but definitely a more nuanced one than at first glance. So … um, not right now. 

Instead, there’s this, from all of us at The WholeNote whose lives, like most of yours, are under (re)construction without benefit of blueprint: a crazy quilt of artistic initiative and endeavour and tenacity on the cusp between what was then and who knows what next? Still all doing the things we know how to do, but in ways we never needed to know till now; still figuring out ways to keep telling the stories we are driven to tell; hanging in until we can hang out. And maybe, just maybe, getting a teensy bit better, with each other’s help, at figuring out when to say “um, not right now” to the things we long for that just bloody well have to wait.

Right now “all in good time” is not the worst thing to wish on. Enjoy the read, and we’ll see you on the other side.

publisher@thewholenote.com

05 DRUM CLASSIFIEDS COLOUR SCANA couple of issues back (Vol 26, No 1) in this slot, I drew readers’ attention to the cheeky tagline “Priceless” on the top right hand corner of our front cover (where one would usually expect to find a newsstand price, or, failing that, the word “Free”). “But for how long? And what comes next?” was the question I asked. For what it’s worth, if you’ll be sad to see the Priceless tagline go, turn back to the cover and bid it a fond farewell. 

What will replace it? Perhaps nothing, immediately. The title of this Opener is maybe a good candidate. It captures the essence of what will need to change in our relationships with all the different constituencies within the music community who benefit in one way or another from the fact that we are around – in other words, you, our readership. We know how much you like us. But “what are we worth to you? is a different question to grapple with – now that most of us, having slammed into an economic and social brick wall, find ourselves having to re-examine the fundamentals of how we used to ply our various trades. 

“You Can’t Fake the Classifieds”

Reading Jenny Parr’s interview with Musical Stage Company’s Mitchell Marcus in this issue – especially the bit about Porchside Songs – brought to mind what I wrote here last month, after her recent death in Italy, about Kensington Market arts pioneer Ida Carnevali and her visceral understanding of how art is rooted in community. Which in turn got me thinking about another Kensington character from those days (thankfully still alive if not geographically among us), Buzz Burza. 

Buzz, as we all called him, had the same neighbourhood-rooted understanding of community publishing as Ida did of community theatre, finding his way into our lives in the 1980s (by way of such landmark controlled-circulation publications as the Toronto Clarion, The Skills Exchange, and Now magazine) when we were in the early stages of founding the Kensington Market Drum. While Perlman was ranting about how the Market needed our own voice to withstand the tides of cynical change, and the onslaughts of city hall, Burza was quietly signing up dozens of businesses or agencies in and around the Market who would agree to carry the newspaper if we ever got it off the ground. “You can fake-build everything else in a community newspaper but you can’t fake the classifieds” was a favourite bon mot of his, and we took it to heart – the DRUM’s classified (DRUM HUM community ads, we called them, took the form of a brick wall across the bottom of as many pages as required, with “DRUM Bricks, only $10 a throw” as our rallying cry.

Brick by Brick

It was the same brick-by-brick approach to controlled circulation and community listings with which we built The WholeNote, from modest beginnings as a column in the Kensington Market Drum into what it was as recently as half a year ago. And, in principle, it’s the same approach – one brick at a time – that will see us (and I suspect many of you) through this next while. But we will only be as real as you help us be. 

There are four brick walls (five if you count the one on this page) in this issue, each representing an aspect of what we do that can’t be faked. Check them out. They are as fundamental to what makes The WholeNote hum as unfakeable classifieds were to the Kensington Market Drum. “I’ll buy that!” is the response we’d love to hear. And they are not all monetary asks either. But they are all crucial as we rebuild our usefulness (see page 2). 

Mind you, come to think of it, if you have thought about taking a subscription, for yourself or someone else, this might just be the time to consider doing so! And if you have immediate paid work to offer for musicians and other arts workers, see page 28. Till February those “bricks” are free!

publisher@thewholenote.com

Photo by Sharon LovettMy father would have instantly recognized this For Openers title as a line from Flanders and Swann’s song “Misalliance” (a cautionary tale about the dangers of potential cross-breeding among vines that turn in different directions as they climb). It is on the comedy duo’s live album, At the Drop of a Hat, recorded in glorious mono on February 21 1957 at the Fortune Theatre in London’s West End. It was perhaps the one of their songs, not all of which have stood the scrutinies of time, in which my father took the greatest delight, singing along with the last stanza and watching, in the faces of anyone who happened to be listening along with him, for some mirroring of the glee the lines gave him every time: 

Poor little sucker, how will it learn
Which way it’s climbing, which way to turn.
Right? Left? What a disgrace.
Or it may go straight up and fall flat on its face.

It’s a cautionary tale we would be well advised to apply to this fall’s socially distanced dance of choice – the pivot. It’s not just about changing direction, it’s about what direction you turn.

Take the transparent mask I am wearing in this photograph, for example. I got the mask a few months back from Laura Mather who runs a small company called powhearing.com, providing services and products which allow businesses to be accessible for persons who need hearing support during customer interactions, at live events, and in workplaces. It is, incidentally, the very same one that is hanging around my neck in the photograph on page E7 of the Toronto Star on Saturday August 29. (That photo was by René Johnston; this one photo is by Sharon Lovett in the newly grassed backyard of the home she shares with WholeNote recordings editor David Olds.) 

I get asked about the mask dozens of times a week – we none of us realized quite so clearly before how much we rely on being able to read other people’s lips and for other people to be able to read ours. (Think about this observation, for example, when you read, in Choral Scene in this issue, Brian Chang’s comments about trying to rehearse pronunciations and languages while wearing a mask; or when you are planning a visit to the relative who, these days, finds it hard to hear what you’re saying, even at the best of times.)

 As much of a difference-maker as the mask itself is, is Mather’s fight now under way – not, as you might think, to stop people from stealing “her idea”, but to stop anyone from trying to patent it in order to corner the market on something so clearly in the common good. 

A turning point in thinking? Yes I think so. As soprano Measha Brueggergosman says elsewhere in this issue (in the sprawling conversation I had with her and violinist/composer Edwin Huizinga from her Halifax kitchen): “If we circle our wagons together, kind of in the same direction, we might just not only come through it, but come through it on the right side of history.” 

Ida CarnevaliRemembering Ida Carnevali 

I have written over the years in this spot, about how, at some times of the year (and in some years more than others), I find myself thinking about my dear former neighbour, Ida Carnevali, founder of the Kensington Carnival Arts Society (KCAS). Never more so than now, hearing of her recent death, in Italy, at age 82.

What I wrote back in May 2006 seems particularly resonant right now, so I offer it again: 

“[Her] projects over the decades were a living example in the art of throwing some transforming activity into the path of the ordinary, nowhere more dramatically and effectively than in the annual Kensington Festival of Lights which to this day takes the form, at sunset every winter solstice, of a hand-made lantern-lit Market-wide march, from scenario to scenario, re-enacting all the world’s yearning for light.”

‘Scenario ambulante,’ she called it, organizing various scenes to be performed along the route of the march, enlisting everyone she could round up to participate and then leading the audience on a journey to discover the story.

“It is that potential for accidental discovery that I yearn for in the urban context. Urban art, it seems to me, should be judged by the extent to which it can be ‘come across’ by people engaged in the ordinary. And even more so by the extent to which the artists themselves are willing to go beyond ‘business as usual’ by availing themselves of the opportunities for chance encounters and spontaneous collaboration.”

So here’s to Ida Carnevali. And here’s to accidental discovery, chance encounters and spontaneous collaboration. And to figuring out, all of us, the right directions to turn. 

publisher@thewholenote.com

Eagle-eyed readers will have already noticed that the word PRICELESS! is back in its time-honoured spot at the top right of our front cover, where a price would usually be.

It was supplanted this time last year in favour of a year-long 25th Season! shoutout. Before that it graced every cover for six seasons, commencing September 2013.

Before that, FREE was the word, all the way back to Vol 1 No 1 in September 1995. Although it must be said that in the first year we were somewhat inconsistent about including it. Everyone understood that, along with such timeless institutions as NOW magazine that’s what controlled circulation publications were.

So from “free”, to “priceless”, to a year of celebrating silver linings, and now back to priceless again. But for how long? And what comes next? Those are the questions.

Looking back, at kiosk.thewholenote.com (come on you can do it!) at the very first “priceless” cover in September 2013 makes me smile, not completely wryly. It’s a gorgeous cover photo of Tafelmusik’s Jeanne Lamon, hard hat in hand, standing in the under-reconstruction balcony at Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church and Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts, Tafelmusik’s home from day one. She is smiling too. 

WORK IN PROGRESS! the story title shouts from that cover. Which, from today’s vantage point – an entire world of faith, justice and the arts stood on its head – might just as well be taken as a sign of better things to come. 

As to why we chose to go from “free” to “priceless” at that very moment in 2013, let’s just say, it was waving a flag: cocky, jaunty, danger ahead. Take your pick.

For now the priceless flag is back. But, as the signs say, “Watch This Space”. Because whatever it’s going to be, it won’t say “Free” again.

At what price The WholeNote? And who should pay? The answers to that are also a work in progress. No instant answers needed, but please, dear readers, give it some thought, and drop me a line. 

In the meanwhile, please enjoy our “While you’re waiting” stroll through 25 years of WholeNote covers. And a bumper crop of stories bursting with ideas. 

And look at “FOUR OF A KIND” on page 59. You could help keep the PRICELESS flag waving a little longer than it otherwise might.

publisher@thewholenote.com

“Basically how it works is that each participant records material while only partially knowing what other participants have made. The full musical piece is revealed without knowing how all the parts will intersect.” – Ben Finley

Exquisite Corpse, Wikipedia says, comes to us from the French Surrealists in the 1920s. As Surrealism founder Andre Bréton put it, “It started in fun, became playful and eventually enriching.” 

As a game or technique it is similar to the game Consequences, where players in turn write something, folding the page to hide part of what they have written before passing it on. The sometimes enriching fun comes when the whole thing is presented, with the missing parts in place. The name itself came from a sentence co-created during an early Surrealist round of the game: “Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau” (The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine).

As a technique for collaborative creation, it continues to show up all over the arts spectrum: in the 1940s, composers John Cage, Virgil Thomson, Henry Cowell, and Lou Harrison, composed a set of pieces this way, each writing a measure of music plus an extra note or notes, then folding it on the bar line and passing it on to the next person. (Party Pieces is what the published end result was eventually called.) From post-punk English goth rock, to comic book frame-by-frame co-creation, to music theatre, parody novels, film, tv, art and architecture.

The key to the game is that the full piece is revealed without any of the participants having had prior knowledge of how the parts would intersect.

Exquisite COVID?

Come to think of it, if one substitutes “it started as no fun at all” for Breton’s “it started in fun” life feels a whole lot like le cadavre exquis right now, including not having the foggiest idea what, or when, the “big reveal” will be. 

As Kevin King writes in “On Our Cover” (page 5), “to everyone things seem to be ‘buffering’ in one way or another now, … waiting for the next Zoom meeting or Facebook live stream to start, waiting for your favourite venue to re-open, waiting for someone to invent a face mask you can play an instrument through, waiting for the curve to flatten, or for a vaccine, or for social reform.”

And while we wait, we chip away, each of us, at coming up with strategies and approaches that work for the part of the picture that each of us has to deal with, wondering how (or even if), as Ben Finley says in the quote at the top of this piece, “all the parts will intersect” and what kind of whole they will make when they do. 

One of the contributors to our Community Voices feature in our previous issue (Tricia Baldwin from the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston) made an astute remark: that COVID-19 “has brought forward the tipping point, [and is] hastening the creation of new structures to support the creation and production of the arts in a different way.” 

It’s happening everywhere I look, although “structures” is perhaps too solid a word to describe some of the improvised storm shelters and advance bases springing up: for people wishing for a “new normal” that sounds and behaves more like the old one; and for those of us hoping that the built-in inequities of the old normal never return.

For example, I chatted briefly with Mervon Mehta, executive director, performing arts at the Royal Conservatory in late June. It was right after the RCM made the brave (or foolhardy, depending how the winds blow) announcement of a full season commencing at the beginning of October. Much of what was on his mind had to do with really nitty gritty concerns: How many can we accommodate in our three halls at one-third capacity? How do we get them in and out? Who among our visiting artists will agree to do a 70-minute performance without an intermission at 3pm and repeat it at 8, instead of the one performance they were contracted to do? Things like that. But at the same time he freely admits that the new plan, detailed as it is, may have to go right out of the window if the same dispensations being offered to places of worship, for example, are not extended to the performing arts. Or if the hoped-for stages of recovery don’t pan out and even places of worship are locked down again. 

Another example: the Show One Productions/Starvox staging of the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit now under way at the former Toronto Star building at One Yonge Street. It started first as a “drive through”, thereby capturing the attention of media that would likely not have given the exhibit a second thought. And now it enters a second stage with agreed start time walk-through admission where you must stay within a projected moving circle of space as you move through it. What parts of this, I wonder, have applicability beyond this particular exhibit? Even if only in helping control bottleneck ingress and egress at the larger venues that are Show One’s more usual stomping grounds, and which are themselves in peril if they do not solve these very problems. 

Meanwhile for smaller venues without organized “arts” credentials, like our city’s jazz clubs, it’s a different matter. In Mainly Clubs, Mostly Jazz, Colin Story interviews owner/management at three music venues (The Rex, Burdock, and The Emmet Ray), which, unlike major institutions do not have the benefit of time, major financial resources, and systemic endorsement to stay afloat. Paradoxically, in the longer haul “it is small venues, rather than large, that will have the greater capacity to provide space to diverse programming.”

Full Circle

What a difference a year makes! Westben Performer-Composer Residency, 2019, Campbellford. Photo credit Westben

Back to the conversation with Ben Finley that sparked this train of thought. Finley is a double bassist, improviser, composer and educator, with deep roots in Campellford’s Westben Festival, where 2020 was to be the third iteration of Westben’s Performer-Composer Residency (P-CR), with Finley at the helm. In previous years, 11 successful applicants travelled to Westben, some from far afield,
for a face-to-face residency, timed to coincide with the performance/audience/showcase opportunities afforded by the festival itself.

This year? No festival. No international travel. So, logically, one would think, no composer residency? Wrong.

Instead of whittling the applicants down to the usual dozen or so, Finley invited all 90 applicants to this year’s program to join a month-long digital residency (all of June) instead. More than 60 accepted and were assigned to 13 ensembles based on intersecting, rather than similar interests. 

“So here we are all of a sudden,” Finley says, “having to cross multi-geographical and communication borders, with groups of participants, covering seven different time zones, having to develop innovative and satisfying collaborative strategies for distanced music making.” Crucially, he says, these approaches and strategies didn’t just try to replicate the in-person musical experience but rather to dive into what web-grounded meaningful connections would look like. “It has afforded diverse intergenerational musical practitioners a place to create,” he says. “It’s as though they have been enabled instead to come up with their own temporary musical institution – an exciting new development and something that may not have been possible in person. 

This unexpected adventure comes to its close July 5 to July 11, with 13 premiere performances, in Westben’s new digital venue
(www.westben.ca), of 15-minute multimedia pieces. All the creative intersections this first Westben digital P-CR has actually provoked in participants will be on display. But that’s just one step on the way. 

“We are not in an ordinary time,” Finley says. “COVID has rippled a tremendous impact. And now that ripple is intersecting with a tide – of people coming together to imagine, organize, and participate in an anti-racist and decolonized world. And we need creative and adaptive musical institutions to do this. This global residency has been an (imperfect) experiment in that.” 

publisher@thewholenote.com

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