Workers removing plaque. Photo credit TWITTER @MCALLISTER_MARKSomewhere out there, in Hogtown, there’s a developer shitting bricks. 

Our lead story by Brian Chang about the Dominion Foundries at 153 Eastern Avenue goes into the details of the community response to our provincial government’s end run around the city’s usual planning procedures, so I won’t go into detail here. And I have no idea who the particular developer is who did this deal with the Ontario party in power. But I have a sneaking suspicion that by the time you read this, their names will be known and the aforementioned bricks will hit the fan.  

Even if I did know, mind you, I probably wouldn’t say, because here at The WholeNote we are not well equipped for the fast-moving “big scoop” newshound business. As I mentioned, with my other hat on, on page 2, these days we can’t even keep up, in print anyway, with the dizzying pace at which our formerly reliable monthly concert calendar, the backbone of what we have always existed to do, goes out of date before we’ve even hit the street. 

But for now let’s stick with the growing stink around the Dominion Foundries site.

The developers could turn out to be party-in-power cronies, about to benefit from a sleazy provincial end-run under cover of of COVID darkness.

Or at the other end of the spectrum they could be one of a rarer species: developers who understand that when they participate in building functional communities it costs more at first but makes what they build, in the longer term, a more valued place to be.

Or they could be somewhere in between – not particularly interested in the longer term because why should they care about the longer term when there’s always new ground to hog? 

I’m no Wiarton Willie or Punxsutawney Phil when it comes to prognostications, but if I have to guess, I am leaning more towards crony than community builder. I’d love to be wrong. 

Let’s just say, for sake of argument, that the community alliance (arts groups, existing residential associations and business districts, housing advocates) that has  temporarily prevented demolition of the heritage structures on the site wins a much bigger victory, and manages to persuade, compel or publicly shame the province and whomever they’re in cahoots with here into some form of meaningful negotiations, however long it takes to get there. 

That’s when things will get really interesting. Because one of the things that will immediately be put to the test will be the word community itself. And that will mean having to be specific about  what “the community” does want, rather than just agree on what it doesn’t. At which point things either cohere into something splendidly more than the sum of its parts, or disintegrate into clusters of competing visions, with epithets like “elitist” starting to fly. 

Let’s hope it’s the former, and we end up with something worth putting on the map. 

So what’s with all these groundhogs?

In the 1993 film Groundhog Day a jaded Pittsburgh weatherman reluctantly makes his way into the western Pennsylvania hinterland for the station’s obligatory coverage of the annual Groundhog Day hoopla as Punxsutawney Phil, for the 135th consecutive time, is prodded out of hibernation into the early morning cold, and either sees his shadow or doesn’t. If he does – sorry folks, six more weeks of winter, as decreed by Phil or Willie or Sam, for Punxsutawney; or, due north, for  Wiarton; or down east for Shubenacadie. 

In the film, our human weather forecaster (also called Phil), finds himself trapped in time, waking to the same song on the radio, going through the same day over and over again each time with variations, but with each episode ending and restarting the same way – trapped in the same day, with the same song on the radio, without hope of redemption, until ….

So here’s the really terrifying thought du jour: what would happen if each time Willie or Sam or Phil heads out of hibernation they have forgotten the previous excursus, and thinks it’s still February 2? Does that mean we get six weeks piled on another six weeks, and another... Just think what that would be like. 

At some point the whole Groundhog Day routine, designed as a fun and fine way of putting a small town on the map, would turn into a predictable moment of dread  –  a bit like the regular province-by-province COVID briefings, either announcing that because it’s gloomy out there things are about to get bright; or that, precisely because we have started behaving as though things are looking brighter, there’s now an even longer shadow of doubt as to when, or even whether,  they will. 

They will. And in the meanwhile, here are some stories to read.

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.

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!

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, 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.

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 (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.

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