- Written by David Perlman
- Category: Editorial and Op-Ed
Wouldn’t it be nice if in the coming year…the phrase “making Toronto into a real music city” disappeared once and for all from the rhetorical toolkit of certain elected officials who, in the interests of not embarrassing any particular mayor, shall remain nameless?
Why? Because it is worse than meaningless drivel; it is actually poisonous. It sounds like a noble mission, well worth studying (top-down, of course). But it does way more harm than good. You see, in order to accept the premise that Toronto needs to be “made into a real music city,” one has to buy into the prior proposition that, right now, “a real music city” is something that Toronto is not. A position with which I very respectfully beg to differ.
Differing, of course, is not difficult to do, but is not in and of itself helpful unless one proposes a useful alternative to the counterproductive bafflegab to which one is objecting.
The challenge we are facing, Mr. Mayor, is not that of “making Toronto into a real music city.” Rather it’s the challenge of figuring out how to keep real the astonishing music city that we already are.
Problem is, to start doing that, you’d have to actually believe it.
So take a look at the level of musical activity represented daily, weekly, monthly in this one small publication alone, Mr. Mayor. And realize that we serve and reflect only one relatively small part of the overall music-making spectrum. Then ask yourself what the things are that keep this astonishing musical ecosystem alive. And once you’ve come closer to understanding that, ask yourself what the things are that are happening under your watch that pose the greatest threat to this ecosystem’s existence.
Starting with an out-of-the-box comparison might be useful, so here’s one: a city cannot really hope to be a safe city for all its citizens, when the majority of its police officers have, for more than the past two decades, decided they can no longer afford to live here and have moved themselves and their families outside our city’s borders.
Similarly, we are rapidly becoming a city where the working poor (and most musicians fall into that category) are daily confronted with policies and economic realities that force displacement from our downtown of renters, of our young people, of artists, idealists, dreamers…
The urban corners and cracks and crevices where these dreamers learn to ply their trades, fixing up their surroundings as they go, are disappearing, threatened by lack of affordable accommodation. High-rise development wherever two or three properties can be assembled; commercial tax policies that penalize rebuilding small, even when the same uses are proposed for the new spaces; commercial bank financing that penalizes developers who try to factor independent business into mortgage financing; tired rows of the same old franchises on the ground floors of every new development making a mockery of the planning department’s commitment to vibrant mixed-use main street development… There are dozens and dozens of examples like these which could be found and remedied, if they were understood as problematic.
What I am trying to say is that far more than any of these individual factors, the vibrant, street-level cultural fabric of our urban life is threatened when our highest officials dismiss it as “not “real” and decide to take a top-down social engineering approach to solving a problem you exacerbate by the way you define it. So no more “making it real,” please, Mr. Mayor. Try “Our Music City: Keeping It Real,” instead, with pride in your voice for good measure.
Go plant a tomato: Jim Galloway, longtime artistic director of the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival, and for 16 years the jazz columnist of The WholeNote, was as proud of being a Torontonian as he was of never losing his Scottish accent.
In the spring following his death on December 30, 2014, there was a gathering in his honour at Whistler’s Grille (Broadview and Mortimer), upstairs in the 4,000 sq ft McNeil Room. The place was packed. And as we were leaving, each of us was handed (Jim’s wish) a little box containing a tomato plant seedling to plant the same spring. How like him. Not “mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow” but a sense of cultural legacy as an aggregation of hundreds of small, nourishing, affectionate sustainably urban gestures.
Standing at the bus stop after, a few of us mused on how, poignant as the moment was, we’d likely miss him more with the passing of time. Wouldn’t it be grand, we said, if the Jim Galloway Wee Big Band could reconstitute itself, seasonally, from time to time to celebrate his memory through the music he loved to play.
Some things do come to pass: February 16 The WholeNote and The Ken Page Memorial Trust will host a third reunion of the Jim Galloway Wee Big Band under the direction of Martin Loomer, right here in the ground floor “Garage” performance space at 720 Bathurst. (There’s an ad with all the details on page 59.)
Jim loved the ground floor space here with its wooden beams and pillars, high ceilings and exposed brick. In the year or so before the Centre for Social Innovation bought the building, while it was mostly locked and empty, teetering between possibly being sold for condo redevelopment or else being turned into high-end offices, we’d ride the freight elevator down from the fifth floor WholeNote office and turn the lights on and talk about how it was opportunities like these, taken or missed, that would over time define the future of our music city. Little sustaining cultural acts, seeding hope, one tomato plant at a time.
- Written by David Perlman
- Category: Editorial and Op-Ed
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).
As I wrote in this spot, back in May 2006, the various projects of KCAS 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 discovery the story.
As I wrote back then, “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.”
In the KCAS Festival of Lights solstice drama, during the Ida years, there were great battles in the streets between giant puppets representing forces of darkness and light, sometimes Hannukah scenes, always on a Market rooftop a Nativity (which annoyed the hell out of the solstice purists). Always there were real people, bystanders, simply going about the ordinary, stumbling across the ordinary, being amazed, and by their amazed presence becoming, in turn, part of the spectacle.
Most especially, always at the end, and usually in some empty wading pool in one or another local park, surrounded by hundreds and sometimes thousands of young and old, there was a giant fire sculpture representing the old year, which after a period of frantic drumming and dancing was set ablaze, sending the sparks flying upward.
(I remember one year, sometime before global warming, we made snowballs, shivering round the wading pool as the sculpture burned, and on impulse threw them into the fire. “Why are you doing that?” someone asked. “It’s making a wish for the new year,” we answered. “It’s for luck.” So the person who had asked the question made a snowball and threw it into the fire. And someone asked them “Why are you doing that?” and they answered “It’s making a wish for the new year. It’s for luck.”)
And after that it snowballed effortlessly into a tradition which rekindles without discussion every time there is snow at the solstice.
It’s interesting to read what I wrote ten years ago about urban art and the need for accidental discovery, and about artists being willing to go beyond the ordinary. Much more than I felt back then, it seems as though these are things that willy-nilly are under way, and somehow they make more easily described sense this time round. Take the World View column in this issue (page 24), as an example, with its description of secret concerts, and how they have the potential to breathe life into ordinary space. “Ida knew that,” I say.
But I have to confess that what got me thinking about Ida on this particular day was a gloomier thought – that sometimes a year deserves to go out without any fanfare, especially a year as loud and globally destabilizing and politically topsy-turvy as 2016 has been. Maybe instead it should be sent slinking into the night with neither a wish nor a prayer, nor even a snowball hurled after it.
“Not with a bang but a whimper,” as T.S. Eliot said?
Well, maybe. But then again, maybe not. If I look around this room, change goes on here at The WholeNote, in lots of quietly methodical and interesting ways.
One example: last month you could have accessed a flip-through edition of this print magazine three days before the print edition hit the street, and within a couple of days of the print magazine hitting the street you could have gone to the online listings on our website and used the Ask Ludwig search engine there for listings in any genre, geographic zone and date range we cover.
(Ten years ago, by contrast, if you wanted to look at our live concert listings you would have waited for a copy of the magazine to arrive at one of the hundreds of places to which it was distributed in the thousands, by a dedicated crew of drivers and hoppers, most of them music lovers themselves. Just for you, dear reader, to pick up, free of charge.)
We still do that, so you still can. (And a quiet thank you to all the drivers and hoppers who make that fact possible, month in and month out.)
But this month if you’d known about it, you could have accessed the searchable online listings for December/January a full week before we went to press. And, all going as planned, if you go back to the website to Ask Ludwig for help at the beginning of January, you will find hundreds of listings already on line, clear through to the end of the season. More than ever, when the world feels dauntingly big, everything that adds to the potential for accidental discovery of art and music on a human scale is a victory of sorts.
Throw a snowball in a fire and make a wish.
- Written by David Perlman
- Category: Editorial and Op-Ed
I reckon 150 to 200 relevant emails a day show up in my inbox, so it’s hard to say what the particular attributes are that make one stand particularly tall in the crowd. But this one did.
IAMA: Part One
“Given the scope of issues and ideas you explore across The WholeNote’s various platforms,” the writer said, “I wanted to let you know about an event taking place in November (10-12) - the International Artist Managers’ Association (IAMA) is holding its annual conference in Toronto.”
This event, the writer went on to say, is usually held in Europe (this is only the second time it has been held in Canada), and attracts an impressive group of classical music industry leaders to tackle issues facing the industry. This year’s focus is “Diversity and Changing Societies,” and there are to be five main sessions: a keynote interview with Peter Oundjian, music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra; a session on the unique role of conservatories; a discussion of how artistic directors are programming their seasons given the changing demographics of their communities; a session on “creating and cultivating relationships, overcoming challenges to engage with communities”; and finally a session on “reaching people and engaging them on a more meaningful level through digital media.”
Hmm. Given the scope of issues we regularly explore across The WholeNote’s various platforms, it does all sound interesting. But I’ll have to get back to it. I have a couple of items of “usual business” and a thank you or two to deal with first.
If you’re a regular reader, print or otherwise, take special note. We’re counting on the fact that one way or another you will become increasingly aware, over the coming months, of the Patreon campaign we have just launched to enlist the ongoing support of readers who believe in, and benefit from, what we do. It’s all explained (rather succinctly, if I say so myself) in the little video on our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/thewholenote, so I won’t repeat it here, except to say this is not a “keep the lights burning” crisis campaign. If anything it’s a “keep the lights burning later and longer” kind of campaign, so that we can accelerate the pace at which we are exploring and expanding the media we deliver our message in, and keep up with our readers’ ever-changing information-gathering preferences. And so that we can continue to expand both the geographic base of the community we serve, as well as, in our digital media, an ever-widening range of musical practices and practitioners, reflective of our continually changing society.
Slip of the tongue
I do have to own up to one little slip of the tongue in that otherwise elegant-if-I-do-say-so-myself little video on the Patreon page. At some point in it, I talk about our “more than half a million free copies printed and distributed,” over the course of our 21 seasons. Make that 5.6 million, actually! Definitely more than half a million. Just thought I would point it out myself before some eagle-eyed reader sees the Patreon ad on p.12, and scolds me roundly.
Errors in Print
Speaking of eagle-eyed readers, we have our share. And believe it or not, the agonies of having our errors pointed out to us are always outweighed by the pleasure of being made aware that people read our stuff carefully enough to notice.
So, thank you, John Beckwith, for pointing out three in the October issue!
First, in David Jaeger’s ongoing series of articles “CBC Radio Two: The Living Legacy” (see page 86 this issue, for the second installment), Murray Schafer’s 1974 North/White is described as being scored for full orchestra and snowblower, whereas, as our reader states, “the non-instrument in question was in fact a much louder one, a snowmobile.”
Second, he points out that Marshall Pynkoski (Opera Atelier co-artistic director) is quoted in “On Opera” on p.22 as claiming that Opera Atelier’s inaugural production, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, was “Canada’s first staged production” of this opera. “Staged productions of Dido took place in Toronto in 1974 (under the internationally known director Colin Graham) and before that in 1929 at Hart House Theatre.”
And finally (mea culpa) Mr. Beckwith points out that, in my own choral feature on Mendelssohn’s Elijah, on p.14, the conductor of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Noel Edison, is quoted as saying that his predecessor Elmer Iseler had programmed the work “several times.” “In fact he never did it as far as I can find out,” Beckwith writes. “I can recall, in the 80s when I worked with Iseler in the summer Music at Sharon series, I asked why as head of the Mendelssohn Choir he hadn’t performed any of the major Mendelssohn choral works. At Sharon, he conducted, at my suggestion and with my reduction of the orchestral score, half a program of excerpts from Mendelssohn’s other oratorio, St. Paul, and went on to present this piece in its entirety with the Mendelssohn Choir.”
“But Elijah? Several times?”
So now, as promised, let us cycle back to the first item in this “Opener,” the release about the upcoming IAMA conference in Toronto. The publicist who sent the heads-up about the conference certainly got it right in suggesting that the conference agenda would be of interest given “the scope of issues and ideas [we] explore across The WholeNote’s various platforms.”
You don’t have to look very much further than this month’s issue for evidence of that.
Starting with the Keynote interview with the TSO’s outgoing music director, Peter Oundjian, it will be fascinating to hear how he filters the items on the conference agenda through the lens of his ten year tenure here as the TSO’s music director. As music director he has not, as some of his predecessors have done, taken a top-of-the-cultural-pyramid approach to the TSO’s place in the artistic life of the town. In terms of lessons learned and hoped-for legacy, what might he say?
“The unique role of conservatories” could also be an interesting topic. Ivars Taurins (Conversations <at> TheWholeNote podcast, October 11) had some quite trenchant things to say about an academic environment hyper-focused on preparing people for solo performance careers. And the series launched in this issue on Music and Health (“Musician, Heal Thyself!” p.65) promises a searching look, over time, at issues relating to musicians’ health and wellbeing that currently receive as little attention at some music faculties and conservatories as courses on business ethics do in all too many MBA programs.
As for the other sessions: programming for changing demographics, engaging with communities and “reaching people on a more meaningful level through digital media” are the nitty-gritty issues facing us too. So it will be interesting to hear what a gathering of “classical music industry leaders” has to say on the subject. And just as interesting to observe who they are interested in listening to.
- Written by David Perlman
- Category: Editorial and Op-Ed
With summer chilling down, and with the Toronto International Film Festival safely caged in its Lightbox again, we hardcore live-music lovers can get down to the serious, year-round business of enjoying ourselves!
Well, almost. For myself, I’ll only be able to start doing that once this October issue is safely to bed. Which means I have to get this last little bit of writing done as usefully as possible in the next two hours. So that I can decide which of the Blue Jays/Yankees game or the first of the U.S. presidential debates to watch, and which to record. (It’s not a question of which will be more enjoyable live. It’s a matter of which will be unendurable without the ability to fast-forward.)
To be quite honest, I’d likely have finished this yesterday (Sunday), if I hadn’t decided to play hooky from the office in the afternoon in order to slip downstairs for a couple of hours to listen to a highly entertaining concert (if concert’s the right word) in “The Garage.”
The Garage, as my legions of faithful readers both know, is the back end of the endlessly malleable ground-floor amenity space in the Centre for Social Innovation, here at 720 Bathurst St. (The WholeNote offices are on the fifth floor.)
Yesterday afternoon’s little concert was by an as-yet lesser known Baroque ensemble in town called Rezonance. (If the name rings a bell, it’s likely because our early music columnist regularly notes his affiliation to the group, as their harpsichordist, at the end of his column.
I’m very glad I went. First half consisted of the Bach Coffee Cantata, second half, a Brandenburg. Both were played to an audience of what looked like well over a hundred people, most of whom looked as though they were there because they were already familiar with the group, and found their way, via the ensemble’s instructions, to an unfamiliar (and somewhat unorthodox) venue.
But there were others there, I am sure: people who work in the building and heard something musical but unfamiliar drifting up the freight elevator shaft. And some who just happened to be on the street, passing by, and felt entitled to come in.
It was a comfortable setting to just walk into. Straight back chairs were arranged higgledy piggledy in rough concert hall formation about halfway down the room. Most were occupied. Other people stood, or lounged elsewhere in the large room, as close to or far removed from the music as they chose to be. Footsteps could be heard creaking on the second floor above. Sporadically, the city sang like a siren choir outside, as emergency vehicles passed on Bathurst St. Every so often a streetcar driver, who cared a bit more than some others do, blared an indignant horn at a motorist failing to stop behind the rear doors for passengers alighting from the northbound car at the Leonard St. stop just north of the building.
People at the far edges of the room talked quietly but comfortably (no hissy stage whispers!). Conversely, the closer one moved toward the music, the more one became aware of a certain something in the air. I am not sure I have the words for it, but at some level it represents the best hope for live music of the kinds I care most about, so I’ll give it a try.
As best as I can describe it, it was like moving, layer by layer, into a consensual circle of active listening – a bubble within which, by some unspoken agreement, everyone there was simply attending on the music being offered. No-one shushing or tutting anyone else. Active listening rather than demanded or orchestrated silence; something biostatic (like a good old-fashioned wooden cutting board, rather than antiseptic steeling quiet, where the slightest sound infects the whole room.
The point? Simply this. We tend to think of the word “concert,” in musical terms, as the thing itself - an event that music makers or presenters arrange for audiences that dutifully arrive at the appointed time, occupy some designated spot for the appointed duration, and respond in ways time-honoured, or prescribed, or enforced with a glare or a sidelong glance.
But what if “in concert” routinely meant something more like the thing I’ve been describing for the past eight or nine paragraphs? Not so much the name of an event, but rather more a description of how people are, together, when they actively choose to listen to what they came there to hear?
Blue Pages: I’d be remiss not to do a shout-out here for the 17th Annual WholeNote Blue Pages, tidily tucked inside this issue of the printed magazine (and maintained online, year-round). In an odd way, the 155 presenter and venue profiles in this annual directory amount to something a bit like the “In Concert” moment I’ve just finished describing.
For one thing, they’re certainly not “everyone in the room” when it comes to the ever-changing map of presenters and venues in our catchment area. Every year brings new presenters to the scene, with dreams, plans, new energy, new ideas how best to get the word out as to what they do.
But these 155, whose profiles you can read, do represent a kind of heightened engagement with what we do. They tend to get us their free listings more systematically, to buy advertising when they can, to keep us in the loop about what they are doing.
They are certainly not the only music makers we write about! But they are proof that there is a living musical community out there, worthy of our, and your attention.
As always, in its scope and variety, it’s a compendium well worth dipping into. May it lead you into a season of concerted listening, some of it entirely unexpected!
- Written by David Perlman
- Category: Editorial and Op-Ed
“I’ve lasted. I guess I’m sort of successful now, but I worked for nothing for years, and I cried for ten years straight! (laughs). Nobody helped me. They’d say, too bad, so sorry! I used to want to quit every day, then it was every week, then monthly and now it’s maybe once a year.”
To know who’s being quoted in the lines above, you’re going to have to turn to Ori Dagan’s “Free Times Thirty Five” (on page 52 in the September print edition). Safe to say, though, if we had ten bucks for every musician, idealistic publisher or arts dreamer in town who can relate to the quote, we’d have had way less trouble raising the dollars to pay this month’s print bill!
The title “Ten Years Straight,” coincidentally, would also work just fine as a reference to now-nonagenarian columnist Jack MacQuarrie’s remarkable ten year tenure as our Bandstand columnist (page 36). In this month’s column, MacQuarrie points out the fact that composer/arranger Howard Cable was featured in the very first column he wrote for us, and is featured again in this one, albeit for poignantly different reasons.
Composer/arranger Howard Cable, a towering figure on the Canadian musical landscape, is also affectionately and entertainingly remembered in this issue by guest writer Michele Jacot (“The Unstoppable Howard Cable,” page 52). Although their professional association was relatively brief, it was also, as you will read, unforgettable.
Interestingly, another Cable collaborator, Martin Loomer (who worked with Cable as his copyist for decades, literally until the day before Cable died) also features, if somewhat indirectly, in this issue. Loomer, you see, is now music director of the Jim Galloway Wee Big Band. For Toronto jazz lovers, Galloway’s name is synonymous with the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival, of which he was the longtime artistic director. WholeNote readers in particular will also remember Galloway as our 14-year “Jazz Notes” columnist, and a tireless advocate for live musical performance.
All this to say, on September 15, the Wee Big Band, under Loomer’s direction, will reconvene, for the second time in the Garage - the performance space at 720 Bathurst Street, home-base of The WholeNote. Presented by the Ken Page Memorial Trust in support of the Trust’s educational scholarship fund, it promises to be a rousing musical evening in celebration of Galloway’s life. (Details can be found in a little ad on page 37 of this magazine.)
I’ll hope to see you there! In fact, if you tell me you found out about the event by reading this column, I’ll even let you buy me a drink!
Fools rush in: For those in the know, September 15 (date of the aforementioned Galloway gig) is a pretty brave time to be scheduling a live musical event in Toronto. In fact any day between September 8 and 18 this year runs the risk of falling into the media shadow of TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), one of the largest festivals of any description on the Canadian landscape.
As WholeNote managing editor Paul Ennis can attest, TIFF precipitates an annual loyalty crisis for any WholeNote reader with a passion for film. Fortunately, Ennis comes to the rescue with “Music Lovers’ TIFF” (page 12), his fifth annual guide to films of musical significance at the festival.
Kensington Jazz: Also daring to tiptoe into the TIFF lion’s den this year is a brash 2016 festival upstart, the first annual Kensington Market Jazz Festival (KMJF), scheduled to run September 16 to 18, TIFF’s final weekend. Far from being daunted, Molly Johnson, the KMJF’s artistic director actually relishes the challenge. She has somehow roped in nearly 100 musicians who read like a Who’s Who of Canadian jazz. (See Bob Ben’s “A Kensington Jazz Story” on page 15.)
The WholeNote traces our earliest roots, in the early 1990s, to a column called “Pulse” in a little independent community newspaper called The Kensington Market DRUM. This new arrival on the festival scene brings our own history full circle, in a rather fine and dandy way.
So, I’ll hope to see you there too. In fact, if you tell me you found out about the event in this column, I’ll even let you buy me a drink!
Not ready for fall: Blame it on climate change, if you will, but this September issue it’s been even harder than usual to let go of writing about what we all did with our summer vacations, and to settle into the serious business of the musical seasons ahead.
A case in point is guest writer Peter Goddard’s “Aix Marks the Spot” on page 8, which deals with an important summer opera festival in the south of France. It’s not all hindsight, though; as Goddard explains, there’s an interesting explanation for how and why what shows up at Aix in the summer may well show up at the Canadian Opera Company in the fall (and a serious object lesson, based on Brexit as a case study, as to what can happen to the cultural community as a whole, when individual entities within that community decide to go it alone.)
And if all this isn’t enough on the festival front, Wende Bartley (“In with the New,” page 26) and Andrew Timar (“World View,” page 35) both zero in (albeit for refreshingly different reasons), on yet another festival that is a new kid on the block – “in/future” at Ontario Place from September 15 to 25.
Reading between the lines, “in/future” looks to me like a profoundly important attempt to establish artistic squatters’ rights to a profoundly important social and cultural public space otherwise ripe for the wrecker’s ball. So check it out!
(If I see you there, I’ll buy you a drink.)
The inside view: One of the things that make this magazine a bit different from many is that a number of of our regular writers are players (literally) in the music scene they write about here. Bartley, for example, is an active participant in in/future, the festival her column revolves around this issue. And harpsichordist David Podgorski, whose ““Early Music” column (page 34) is, in the main, an entertaining discourse on the renaissance of the fortepiano, wraps up by referencing a concert by his own period ensemble, Rezonance, that like the aforementioned Wee Big Band gig takes place here in the Garage at 720 Bathurst Street, on September 25. (Mention to him that you found out about the concert in this column, and I’m sure he will let you buy him a drink.)
Speaking of the inside view, this issue also includes the 12th installment of former CBC Radio Producer David Jaeger’s ongoing series on the Golden Years of CBC Radio (page 78), over the course of which he has taken us from the early years of Glenn Gould’s association with CBC Radio through to the apparent end, in 2008, of the CBC’s commitment to the nurturing of the music that fills these pages.
Now that the overall terrain of the story has been surveyed, it will be interesting to discover, in this next go round, where he chooses to drill down!
Welcome (and welcome back): With the upcoming October issue, “the season” gets off and running in earnest. Both on stage and behind the scenes, we’ll hope to be your companion through its twists and turns, highs and lows.
Start your engines.