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.


Left to right: Douglas Rice, Jennifer Chamandy, Dan Chamandy, Henry Ingram, Alan Gasser, Rita Ghent, Bill SilvaBlame WholeNote colleague M.J. Buell and this month’s edition of We Are All Music’s Children (p. 68) for sending me skittering down memory lane here, rather than sticking to the present. It’s occasionally an excellent adventure to go dipping back into our archive, as Buell’s column admirably illustrates.

In my case I went scooting back through the online archive all the way to our very first April issue, hoping for some words of 24-year-old editorial wisdom I could riff on this time round. Only to find that the issue in question had no editorial it, the Publisher’s Podium in question being taken up instead by two aggrieved letters to the editor: one by recording engineer Frank Lockwood; the other by the late Richard Truhlar (known to many for his work for the Canadian Music Centre’s Centrediscs). Both letters scolded a third reader (a certain Mr. Thomas Varese) for daring to suggest, in a previous letter, that “the performing of contemporary Canadian classical music is almost non-existent in Toronto compared to Montreal.” Truhlar pointed out that in fact he had “counted 28 concert performances in the March 1996 listings of Pulse [as WholeNote in its infancy was called] that included 20th century and contemporary Canadian music.”

So, no joy there, but instead an unexpected little ripple of pleasure at the issue in question’s cover story, titled “TaxiCabaret: Hope or Hoax?” – one of the few unabashedly silly pieces of writing I can recall in these pages. Specially lovely to see is the members of the music community who bought into the hoax – that a group of Toronto singers were setting up a company called TaxiCabaret, a singing cab service. “Everyone knows these are tough times,” comments TaxiCabaret spokesperson Alan Gasser. “We figured if we took government’s advice and got real jobs, there’d be that much more to go around for artists with less portable gifts. I mean you can’t play a viola while you’re driving – at least not very well.”

I found myself laughing out loud happily five or six times reading the piece, just at the fun of it all, realizing, with a start as I did so, how little I’ve been able to do of that in the wake of the past week’s particular horror of people being slaughtered at prayer in two mosques in a city called Christchurch.

Looking through the listings in this issue, I am also struck by how much music there is that refers to itself as music for Holy Week. And I find myself remembering a marvellous homily given by organist/composer Paul Halley at least 12 or 15 years ago at a Sunday service at St. John’s Church in Elora during the the Elora Festival. It was a talk filled with laughter and grace, the gist of it being how odd it is to encounter people who, caught in the act of attending a religious service, feel it necessary to explain that they “are only there for the music.”

“But of course,” one might reply.

Halley ended by quoting the visionary/mystic, Kabir. The passage he quoted was this:

Have you heard the music that no fingers enter into?
Far inside the house
entangled music –
What is the sense of leaving your house?
Suppose you scrub your ethical skin until it shines,
but inside there is no music –
then what?

We take it for granted that our celebration of music is a peaceful act.


Back in the day, I remember a particular WholeNote cover, of maple leafs floating downstream – them autumn leaves of red and gold, you might say – and floating among them four or five standard black and white artist headshots of established and rising singers, Canadians all!

“Something in the Water?” the headline asked, as Jean Stilwell, Stephanie Piercey, Richard Margison, Russell Braun and Measha Brueggergosman sailed gently down the stream.

It was October 2000, and the cover story, by WholeNote founding publisher, Allan Pulker, was about the seemingly neverending stream of Canadian singers on the world stage. Among his prescient examples: Brueggergosman, Isabel Bayrakdarian, James Westman, Barbara Hannigan … “Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka,” he says at some moment, “recently made her La Scala debut, drawing not a ripple of attention here.”

“I could go on and on,” he concludes, “but the point is clear: this country has produced in recent years a significant number of singers who are among the best in the world. As someone said (from the Met and therefore definitely an expert, eh?) ‘Why are so many great singers coming from Canada these days? Is it something in the water?’”

That was then. This story is about something in the air!  

I sensed it at a Toronto Consort concert, “Love Remixed,” in early February listening to James Rolfe’s spellbinding 2011 composition Breathe which sets words by 12th-century composer Hildegard von Bingen and accomplished contemporary Canadian librettist Anna Chatterton to music for period instruments.

“Medieval music in the right hands,” Rolfe says in his program note, “comes alive, as fresh and relevant to our modern ears as the day it was created … with its clarity of expression and purity of line … a living and breathing organism.” He goes on to say that his “great fortune” in getting to work with ensembles such as Toronto Consort has been “to experience just how much early musicians love their music … they have access to many shades of just intonation, with its pure intervals which resonate in our bodies and souls.”

I sensed the same thing again a couple of nights ago, in the bizarrely appropriate setting of the atrium, at the Royal Ontario Museum, that links the ROM’s old and new buildings. Surrounded by dinosaur skeletons, Opera Atelier showcased the latest iteration, titled The Angel Speaks, of a work by violinist Edwin Huizinga and dancer Tyler Gledhill which marries the vocabulary of Baroque music and ballet with a compelling contemporary syntax and sensibility. Commissioned originally by the Royal Chapel at Versailles, where Opera Atelier is now a regular visitor, the work is evolving, literally and figuratively, by leaps and bounds. Let’s see, with fresh wind in its sails, where it travels next.

And, once again, the topic of old meeting new so that each can inform the other hung in the air when I sat recently to talk to Tafelmusik’s Elisa Citterio a couple of weeks ago about her vision for the ensemble, a season-and-a-half into her appointment as the orchestra’s artistic director. That story comes next in this issue (if you’re reading this in print, that is).

Jessye Norman’s Visit Revisited

Highlight of the gala concert, Wednesday February 20 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, to celebrate Jessye Norman’s acceptance of the 12th Glenn Gould Prize was when Norman herself, at the close of it all, supported vocally by her chosen protégé, jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, sang the Bernstein/Sondheim song “Somewhere” from West Side Story, with a quiet flame, even more so in contrast to the star-studded operatic highlight reel that preceded it. The words “There’s a place for us” as hard-won manifesto took on a meaning richer and deeper than the song’s creators could ever have imagined. As to whether there was a dry eye in the house, I couldn’t really see at that moment, for some reason.

It was, however, Norman’s presence at an exhausting range of other activities during the ten-day visit that will resonate most deeply; none more so than the three-hour masterclass she gave to young singers at the U of T’s Walter Hall, in front of a packed audience. (You can read Paul Ennis’ blog account of the event on our website.) And the moment that summed it up, for WholeNote reader Carol Ann Davidson was when Norman, “in response to a question about singers being vocally categorized, swiftly responded: ‘Do not allow someone else to place your voice. Know your voice and where it is most comfortable. You are a singer, not a category.’”  

Even “singer,” as a category, does not do justice to Norman’s life and work.

Unpicking the “seamstress” story

Speaking of categorization, I must thank another reader, Peter Feldman, for calling me to account in regard to something I wrote last issue in my Jessye Norman story where I described Norman’s participation in the White House ceremony awarding “Alabama seamstress
Rosa Parks” the Congressional Medal of Honor.

“Re: Rosa Parks,” Feldman wrote, “ I think you’ll find that Rosa Parks was much, much more than just a ‘seamstress’.  [She] was a seasoned freedom fighter who had grown up in a family that supported Marcus Garvey, and who married an activist for the Scottsboro boys. She joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943, becoming branch secretary. She spent the next decade pushing for voter registration, seeking justice for black victims of white brutality and sexual violence, supporting wrongfully accused black men, and pressing for desegregation of schools and public spaces. Committed to both the power of organized nonviolent direct action and the moral right of self defence, she called Malcolm X her personal hero.”

A healthy reminder.


There’s a great little anecdote in Paul Ennis’ Classical and Beyond column this issue. The composer Robert Schumann is pleading with a conductor, by name of Wilhelm Taubert, to try to get his charges to buy into the spirit of Schumann’s Symphony No.1 Spring” in their playing. “If only you could breathe into your orchestra, when it plays, that longing for spring!” Schumann laments, and then goes into a long and detailed programmatic explanation of all the vernal twists and turns and nuances of the piece (which was written in the dead of winter). There’s an additional twist to the story, but I won’t spoil it.

All this is by way of preamble to the following: if you do as I say, not as I do, you should consider starting to plan right now for what you are going to do in the way of musical self-improvement this coming summer. That way you at least stand a chance of not finding yourself, as I chronically do, every September, wondering where the hell the summer went in terms of any kind of musical growth.

Opportunities for summer music education are not an automatic hot topic, if you’ll excuse the expression, while you are shovelling snow. Reality is, though, that lots of places have application deadlines, or a finite number of spots for applicants. So chances are if you wait till the weather feels summery as your cue, you might miss out on something. We’ve traditionally waited till our March issue to supply readers with information about summer music educational opportunities, but even March is too late for some. So this year we’ve made a spot in the February issue for camps and programs with early deadlines (there are four such profiles in this issue of the magazine, all with imminent deadlines). Better still, we’ve started posting camp and program profiles as we receive them – there were ten at the moment of writing this with more coming in all the time – so you don’t even have to wait till March. Just go to thewholenote.com/resources and start feeling warm and tingly all over.

And a happy new year to you too!

One of the great advantages of publishing a combined December/January issue, as we have always done, is not having to deal with the mandatory end of year stuff in the heat of the moment (if you’ll pardon the expression). You know, looking grimly back at the (good riddance) old year out of one side of my face, and determinedly cheerfully forward, out of the other side, at a year that has to be better than last year was.

This way, I get an extra month to warm to the task. So belatedly, dear reader, I wish you a musically fruitful 2019. If February’s calendar is any indication, there’s plenty out there for the picking.

Lydia Perović and David Jaeger will return

Two absentees, this month, from our usual writing corps. David Jaeger is fulfilling the commitment he made in the December issue – to head off to Winnipeg for a late January new music getaway, the 2019 Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra New Music Festival (WNMF). “The late Larry Lake, host of the CBC Radio 2 network new music series, Two New Hours, (1978–2007) called the WSO’s festival, ‘The greatest new music party in the Universe!’” Jaeger wrote. “What else is there to do when it’s -18C with windchill making it feel like -30C?” Toronto cynics might ask. Oh, wait. That’s today’s Toronto weather, as we dipsy-doodle in the polar vortex. So what are you waiting for, people? It’s time to party!

Lydia Perović’s Art of Song column will also return, in the spring (there’s that word again!). Places to go, books to write! That kind of thing. Meanwhile I said I’d look out for breaking news on her beat so, to break the ice, how about the news that internationally acclaimed Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka has been appointed Vocal Chair and head of the vocal department of the Glenn Gould School (GGS) at the Royal Conservatory, the first such appointment in the school’s history?

And for those of you missing Perović’s pointers as to concerts of art song interest this issue, a friendly reminder that the “Just Ask” feature in our online listings enables you to select “solo voice” to filter the listings.

From GGS to GGF

Closer to 40 than 30 years after his death, Glenn Gould’s name is a permanent fixture in this magazine, as witness the passing reference to the GGS in the previous paragraph, and to the GGF, in our cover story starting on the next page. There’s another passing, but pointed, reference to Gould that I want to call your attention to though, in this issue: in Robert Harris’s Rear View Mirror on page 86. Genius, as Harris explains, comes in different forms.


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