One of the things that the following random clutch of upcoming event listings have in common is that each of them was picked up as noteworthy by one or another of our writers this month. In chronological order: Loose Tea Music Theatre’s “Singing Softly” evening of Anne Frank Diary-based opera (Nov 2) was picked up by yours truly (still subbing for globe-trotting Christopher Hoile) in On Opera; soprano Maureen Batt’s “Crossing Borders: Traversía Latinoamericana” (Nov 5), featuring Batt and tenor Fabián Arciniegas in an evening of contemporary Canadian and Colombian repertoire, is the main subject of Lydia Perović’s regular Art of Song column; Hedgehog Concerts’ Pamelia Stickney recital of theremin sonatas by Alexander Rapoport (Nov 16) is the subject of a somewhat-off-the-usual-beaten-track feature by regular “We Are All Music’s Children” writer MJ Buell; Confluence’sEvening with Marion Newman” (Nov 26 and 27) is our cover story; and Syrinx Concerts’ season-opening Schumann/Haydn/Mendelssohn piano trio recital (Dec 1) is the coda to Paul Ennis’ Classical and Beyond column. 

The other interesting thing these five wide-ranging presentations have in common is that they all take place in the same venue; for each of these five presenters – along with at least half a dozen others – Heliconian Hall (out of the more than 1,800 venues in The WholeNote listings database) was just the spot, this month, for a particular labour of artistic love.

The venue database: One of the many advantages of managing our concert listings through a database, as we have been doing for the past nine or ten years, is the resulting accretion of searchable data on the musical life of our region, just waiting to be mined by musicologists and consultants on this and that (so drop me a line if you’re interested). At a more practical level, it has resulted in a dramatic reduction of wear and tear on the wrists and fingers of our listings team (Santa Tecla be praised), not having to retype the names and addresses of concert venues every time, or re-search the postal codes that are an indispensable geocoding tool. 

As for the “more than 1,800” venues in our database that I just cited, the actual number, as of 3pm Oct 27 2019, was 2,133 places that have been used at least once, in our catchment area, for a public concert of one kind or another, over the years since we started the database. 

My 1,800 lowball estimate is because some of them are phantoms at this point  – crushed under the heel of condos, drowned in the tide of out-of-control land costs and taxes, or left high and dry by dwindling religious congregations in the host of faith-arts hybrid centres that are a crucial component of the performing arts infrastructure. Or they have simply changed names as they go, in the endless naming-rights quest for private sector sponsorships (from O’Keefe to Hummingbird to Sony to Meridian, for example). But it’s still a fine long list, reflective of how the human hunger to congregate counterbalances digital life’s invitations to physical isolation. 

Heliconian HallHeliconian Hall: Back in January 2011 (around the same time our data-driven listings system was kicking in),  we launched an occasional series of articles in this magazine, called Just the Spot, in which we invited community musicians whose work we feature in the magazine to write about some venue that was particularly resonant (literally or figuratively) for them.  

In March 2011, recorder and period flute virtuoso Alison Melville, co-founder of Baroque Music Beside the Grange contributed the following: “Part of rural Toronto when it was built in 1875, the Heliconian Hall is located near the south end of Hazelton Avenue, situated amongst galleries, upscale offices and private homes in what’s now known as Yorkville. It’s the home of the Heliconian Club, an organization founded in 1909 for professional women in the arts and one of the oldest associations of its kind in Canada.” (At the time, BMBG was in search of an occasional venue, after losing predictable access to their previous regular spot at the Church of St. George the Martyr, once the Music Gallery amped up its multifaceted activities there.) 

“For me, the Heliconian is a delightful and unpretentious little oasis in a surrounding sea of consumer excess, and an intimate concert hall which I have known since I was a kid,” she continued. “I played my first ‘non-compulsory’ solo recital there, blissfully free from the pressure of university grading, and have made music there many more times since  … But perhaps what makes the Heliconian most appealing to musicians is its stellar acoustic and its intimate feel. With every seat occupied there’s room for 120, and the stage rises just a foot above the main floor, so there’s little chance of establishing that ‘us versus them’ feeling that many performance venues still seem to evoke. It’s a great place for chamber music, and it’s easy to get to, ... available for anyone to rent, at a very reasonable rate.” 

They all sound like resonant reasons to me. How many other Heliconian Halls are out there, I wonder?

Back in 1999, the feeling of collective millennial fervour and/or impending doom, as the thousand-year clock ticked toward midnight, is something that any of our readers old enough to remember Y2K will be able to relate to. And literature and everyday discourse are rife with examples of phrases like “100th birthday” and “turn of the century” being used in ways which take for granted that the reader or listener will understand, without any need for any further explanation, why the odometer clicking from 99 to 100 always has special significance.

I am, however, starting to think that any time the calendar threatens to click over from nine to ten, people are suddenly galvanized into getting something important done “before it’s too late.” How else do we explain the rash of earth-shakingly important events in years, like this one, when the moving finger of fate is pointing to a nine? And this in turn leads to subsequent rashes of anniversary celebrations, every ten years after that. Like this year’s 50th anniversary of the first moon landing in 1969; or the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989; or … drum roll please! ... the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the WholeNote Blue Pages directory!

That last example is of course entirely flippant; the other two are not, although I must confess that while I listened in 1969, with half the world, over a crackling transistor radio, to Neil Armstrong flub his big line, and forgave him, I couldn’t care less at this point what Buzz Aldrin thinks about Armstrong, 50 years later. More than anything else I find it depressing that, 50 years later, the same old loony theories about the moon landing being a hoax still refuse to go away.

As for the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, I still think that one is worth celebrating (as, I notice, Orchestra Toronto will do in their upcoming October 27 concert).

There’s another 30th anniversary concert in our listings this month also worth celebrating, and since it hasn’t been picked up by any of our writers, I am going to do a shout-out for it here, for three reasons.

Titled “Freedom Reborn,” it takes place at 5pm on Sunday, October 27 at St. Andrew’s Church at King and Simcoe, across the road from Roy Thomson Hall. As the organizers explain, the freedom it celebrates is “the 30th anniversary of the return of democracy and freedom to Central Europe” – namely the rollback of Soviet political domination, throughout 1989, in Hungary, Poland, and what was then Czechoslovakia. I won’t pretend to have either a deep historical

understanding of the ebb and flow of that year, or the visceral memory of what it meant for citizens of the countries in question, many of whom experienced it from places like Canada where they had taken refuge, or sought firm ground on which to take a stand.

I do remember, though, the phrase “The Velvet Revolution” to describe the astonishing, largely nonviolent series of events in Czechoslovakia between the middle of November and the last days of December 1989, culminating in the swearing in of Vaclav Havel – an artist for crying out loud! – as president on December 29, just before the clock ticked over. I also understand a little bit better now than I did then, the extent to which, in the absence of the momentum building through all the other Warsaw Pact countries over the course of that year, that astonishing outcome would have been entirely impossible.

One of the things I like most about this particular concert is that it is a joint venture among the Consulates General of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in Toronto along with the Embassy of the Slovak Republic in Canada – the four member nations in the so-named Visegrad Group of Central European countries. Cooperation to make happy noise is almost invariably a good thing.

The second thing I like about it is that the artists involved reflect all the countries concerned: Alicja Wysocka, soprano; John Holland, baritone; Jan Vaculik, baritone; Sophia Szokolay, violin; Daniel Wnukowski, piano; Imre Olah, organ; Novi Singers Toronto; the St. Elizabeth of Hungary Scola Cantorum; the Dvořák Piano Quartet; and Toronto Sinfonietta, under Matthew Jaskiewicz, music director.

And the third thing I like is that the repertoire chosen (again representative of the four countries involved) is for the most part beautiful – joyful and familiar, stirring and celebratory, so that the people attending (and it’s free, so expect a crowd!) have a good chance of coming away without the kind of ambivalence that dogs us all every day, in the fishbowl of awareness of the negative consequences of our own actions and inactions, intended or not.

Moments of hard-won escapism. Maybe that’s the message. Let’s hope the organizers don’t feel like they have to wait another ten years to wade in our town’s musical waters. Our Blue Pages directory is full of examples of people working collectively on an ongoing basis for art’s sake. In the mean times we live in, beauty needs all the help it can get.

The Ludwig of the title above is not a reference to Wittgenstein or van Beethoven. (Nor is it a reference to Ludwig Van Toronto, the online blog, once called Musical Toronto, that is an indispensable and entertaining part of the fabric of media and social media support for classical music in this town.)

When our listings editor John Sharpe came over to my desk a few days ago to say LUDWIG had reached the 40,000 mark, he was referring to the fact that he had just approved for publication the 40,000th entry to be processed in the listings database, code name LUDWIG, that has been, for nine years, the engine room of one of the key services that the The WholeNote provides for the music community in these parts. That’s not to say 40,000 is some kind of magic number in terms of the total number of listings we’ve published, in print and online, in our 24 seasons of documenting live music in our town – something around double that would probably be closer to the mark. But it ain’t nothin’ neither.

The acronym, by the way, stands for “Listings Utility Database (for) WholeNote Information Gathering” and we even, for a little while ran cute ads in the magazine (featuring grumpy pictures of Beethoven, of course) informing readers that if they wanted to access music by a specific genre or geographic zone they were interested in, or by keyword for that matter, they could go online and ASK LUDWIG. You can still do those things, of course, but on the website, if that’s what you’re trying to do, it now simply says JUST ASK.

“So what is that momentous 40,000th listing for?” I hear the regular followers of this Opener both asking. Well, it just happens to be a performance at 1pm on Sunday October 6, at Mazzoleni Concert Hall in the Royal Conservatory,titled “There’s a Lady on Stage”; hosted by pianist/vocalist David Ramsden accompanying not one but three accomplished “ladies” – namely vocalists Lori Yates, Tabby Johnson and Theresa Tova, with free tickets available starting Monday September 30. (The original Quiet Please! There’s a Lady on Stage, some may remember, was a project Ramsden launched in the 80s at the Cameron House (where the title of the show definitely made sense) with some of Canada’s most talented female vocalists.)

“Why are you telling us this?” my loyal readers both ask. No good reason except that it feels good to me that this milestone listing happens to be for a grassroots, free concert, in one of our more intimate halls, reflecting a commitment on behalf of that particular presenter to program creatively, and on our part, faithfully to record what’s actually happening in a live music scene where the work of people for whom music is serious fun is a more important criterion for inclusion in what we list than the “seriousness” by whatever criteria we define it, of the music itself.

Robert Harris, in his Rearview Mirror column in this issue, on page 76, is perhaps talking about something similar when he muses, hopefully, on a world of classical music “augmented by new consciousnesses, expanded to include elements of styles that already have their audiences, thereby liberating classical music from its depleting dependence on repertoire that, every year, departs further and further from the concerns of the modern world…”

May the next 40,000 listings in this magazine continue to evolve to reflect that change!

So another season (our 25th!) is off and running, so here’s wishing us all luck, and it’s great to have you back. And speaking of running, I should mention that Brian Chang our regular choral columnist and passionate advocate for community arts is doing some running of a different kind, as a parliamentary candidate for the federal riding of Toronto Centre. (Thank you Menaka Swaminathan for stepping into the breach in his absence.)

The question of support for funding for the arts is always a topic around election time at all levels of government, but too often as a kind of siloed separate thing, with support for culture and support for community concerns running the risk of becoming polarized opposites, and candidates or party score points for their support of one by pooh-poohing concerns for the other.

More to the point this time round, in my opinion, might be to support individuals running for office who recognize that most arts workers in our society are no less marginalized than many other workers – dealing with the same issues, especially in our cities – housing insecurity; a healthcare system with too many rotten planks in areas of greatest vulnerability. (Read Lydia Perović’s “Mysterious Barricades and Systemic Barriers” on page 40 in this issue for more on this.) Many of us are becoming increasingly unable to afford to participate as consumers in the industries, cultural and otherwise, that by our labours we help to build and maintain, or to dwell within the towns and cities where we ply our trades.

Maybe this time round, we should keep score of how many times our candidates (of all political stripes) talk about “the middle class”, and take away a point every time they do, for automatically assuming that that includes you and me. In each and every riding may the best mensch win.

Once On A TimeOnce On A Time, Wikipedia tells us, is the title of a fairy tale created by A. A. Milne, written in 1917. I remember being baffled by it as a child, feeling as though it wasn’t really for me. But the title stuck, and I was searching for one for this opener, so I thought what the heck, and the table of contents already having gone to the printer, now I am stuck with it.

Milne’s own introduction to the book begins with the words “‘This is an odd book” by the way, and I suppose the same thing could be said of this, and indeed every, summer issue of The WholeNote, covering, as it does a full three months rather than our more usual monthly cycle.

Once on a time we used to do a June issue like the others and then follow it with a combined July/August only. But as global warping has steadily played havoc with when the regular season ends and the lazy, hazy days of summer start, it has become increasingly difficult to neatly define where one stops and the other starts. Add to all this the explosion of summer events, large and small, and the task of laying it all out in orderly fashion for you, the reader becomes well-nigh impossible; and giving editorial credit where it is due, to the explosion of creative and communal summer music becomes a depressingly arbitrary exercise.

All is not lost though: our annual green pages guide to summer music (page 45 and following) offers tantalizing glimpses into dozens of musical events, province-wide and beyond, and ways to access detailed information for those that strike your fancy.

As for our editorial coverage, think of our writers as slightly tipsy Virgils to you, the reader’s Dante: more than happy to be your guide, but more likely to guide you down their chosen path than yours. In other words, enjoy their passion (and occasionally even humour), but take their recommendations with a healthy grain of salt, a slice of lemon and a shot of your favourite tequila.

And please, stay tuned over the coming months via our electronic media. We’ll be posting regularly to our website, updating listings as the summer goes, and publishing our between-print-cycle e-letter, HalfTones, usually only once a month, on an accelerated basis. So if you haven’t already, do consider signing on.

Back to A.A. Milne for a moment, though: I may have opened a bit of a Pandora’s box by so glibly snitching its title, because as I write this I find myself once again with the queasy feeling the book gave me as a child. The Wiki entry perhaps offers some clues: “Milne created the story to contain believable, three-dimensional characters, rather than the stereotypes which will satisfy children” it opines. “Hence it introduces us to a princess who is far from helpless; a prince who, whilst handsome, is also pompous and vain; an enchantment which is almost entirely humorous; a villain who is not entirely villainous and receives no real comeuppance; a good king who is not always good; an evil king who is not always evil, and so on.”

I thought it was supposed to be fantasy. Reads more, from this description, like the daily news.

Oh well. Take your musical comfort where you can. And we’ll see you on the other side.

From where I sat, in row D of the first balcony at Koerner Hall, this past April 10, 2019, jazz definitely lives.

Just like the program in my hand said it did. “Jazz Lives 2019: a Tribute to Jazz.FM91 past, present and future” was the event’s full title. It was the 15th such consecutive event giving faithful followers of the listener-supported radio station a chance to show that indeed they still do support it, in spite of recent upheavals as painful as any in the station’s storied history since its birth as CJRT-FM at the Ryerson Institute of Technology (now Ryerson University) in 1949 (that’s 70 years ago, people!). How long ago was that? Well, the JRT in CJRT’s call sign stood for Journalism, Radio, and Technology, which were three of Ryerson’s cutting edge educational mandates.

By all accounts it’s been a rough spell, and most of the people in the audience had a pretty good idea of what’s been going on. With a new board of directors in place, and a boatload of station personalities bouncing on and off the stage (some of them after being notably absent during the past half year) what was particularly encouraging was a classy absence of gloating – a sense of quiet determination to get on with things. And a really strange sense of intimacy between the audience in the hall and the people on stage – strange, that is, until one realizes that radio is still probably the most intimate of media. For all I know the guy next to me shouting “we love you Brad” to the host of “Afternoon Drive with Brad Barker” was listening to Barker with his shirt on for the very first time.

That’s because radio doesn’t require you to put on a face to meet it, and it meets you, exactly halfway no matter where you are.

A fine time was had by all, not least because the musicians who came to the party treated us to two very swinging sets. Come to think of it, from the youngest members of the JazzFM91 youth band who kicked things off to the oldest of the household names on stage, we were probably looking at an age range pretty damn close to the entire duration of the station’s storied history.

May the beat go on.

Where I sat, in row D of the first balcony at Koerner Hall, this past April 10, 2019, I was definitely a supported listener.

At some moment during the proceedings I looked down at the little silver-coloured plaque on the arm of my seat. It informed me that my particular bum-in-seat was being supported in thanks to a donation in honour of “George Ullmann, music lover and music entrepreneur, on his 80th birthday.”

Once back home, I googled the aforementioned Mr. Ullmann and found that, after graduating with a B.MUS (Toronto) in 1967 and an MA (Toronto) two years later, he had gone on to head up Boosey & Hawkes’ Canadian operations from the late 1970s till they closed their operations at the end of 1994 (with scores by such notable composers as Talivaldis Kenins, Violet Archer, John Weinzweig, Healey Willan and many others among their holdings). At which point the entrepreneurial Mr. Ullmann established Counterpoint Musical Service, which helped bridge the gap left by Boosey & Hawkes’ exit, and who went on to serve on the boards of various music industry and service organizations, SOCAN among them.

One could do worse than to have “music lover and musical entrepreneur” as an epitaph.

From where I sit right now, thumbing through the page proofs of this issue, finally ready to go to press, the music lovers around me give reason for hope:

–the hundreds in our cover photograph joining Choir!Choir!Choir! to sing Here Comes the Sun into the drizzle and mist (see On Our Cover, page 5);

–the more-than-hundred choirs taking the time to announce their presence to prospective choristers in this year’s 17th Annual Canary Pages Choral Directory, inside this issue;

–the writers of the astonishing range of stories in the issue, all so different and yet all reflective, one way or another, of how much music matters;

–the astonishing people we are lucky enough to get to write about, to whom music matters as much as it does to us;

–and, of course, you.

We are lucky.

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