When is a trumpet like a motorcycle in a dressage ceremony?

Jack MacQuarrie has the answer in Bandstand.

And whose songs will Danika Lorèn be singing in Toronto’s inaugural songSLAM January 16 at Walter Hall – an event that threatens to singe the eyebrows off that often sober-sided venue?

Lydia Perović reveals all in Art of Song.

As of the date of writing this (November 26 2018) how many times has conductor Johannes Debus conducted Messiah?

Brian Chang has the handle on that in Choral Scene.

Pianists can be a handful. Which one is quoted in this month’s magazine as saying “If I were only to play Saint-Saëns for the rest of my life, I think I’ll stop playing the piano”? And how many pianists in a handful, anyway?

You can find out in Paul Ennis’ Classical and Beyond.

What instrument (or should that be implement?) will Marco Cera wield in addition to his usual oboe in Tafelmusik’s Harlequin Salon commencing January 16?

Matthew Whitfield explains in Early Music.

And what is it about the three CD sets from Mosaic Records that Steve Wallace is thinking of buying for himself for Christmas, if no-one else does, that makes them a bargain at $354 (U.S.)?

Read Jazz Notes if you dare.

You may well never have wondered what Bernice means to singer Robin Dann. And how many Danns can safely fit in one column anyway?

Colin Story answers that one in Mainly Clubs.

Come January, Rose is arose in Rose and Jenny Parr can hardly wait.

There’s pepper for the soul in Music Theatre, guaranteed.

How many Brünnhildes does it take to change an Elektra?

According to Chris Hoile in On Opera we are about to find out.

And what under the sun are a dizi, yangqin, zamba, chacarera and kamanche?

And which of them does Andrew Timar (World View) try to use in Scrabble?

From all of us at The WholeNote to all of our readers, our best wishes for this thing called the holiday season. Don’t look for a new issue in print at the beginning of January. In case you haven’t noticed, this is (for the 24th consecutive time, actually) a combined December/January issue.

You can however expect to hear from us in all our other media, digital and social, including HalfTones, our mid-month e-letter. And you’ll see us in print again at the end of January.


Living composers quite often get invited, singly or in clusters, to the front of a concert hall to talk about a piece of music they have composed that is on the program of the concert in question. More often than not, this “pre-concert chat” or “illuminating introduction,” or whatever it is called, takes place 45 minutes to an hour before the performance itself and is supposed to end ten or 15 minutes before the concert starts in order to give audience members who showed up early to be enlightened time to dash out for a quick something or other.

Whether or not, on balance, I end up enjoying these pre-concert chats depends on three or four things.

On the negative side of the ledger, the thing I like least is when the interviewer/host “by way of introduction” starts out by parroting word for word from the concert program the stuff I already took the time to read (while the houselights were still bright enough to read by). Almost as bad is when the host avoids that trap and asks an interesting question, and the composer responds, word for word with what they wrote for the concert program. I say “almost as bad” because, if you think about it, being asked to talk about music you probably wrote because there were no words for the thing you wanted to express is not an enviable task.

On the positive side of the ledger, when the dialogue works out, when there’s a genuine rapport between host and guest, the reward for coming 45 minutes early is getting to eavesdrop on what sounds like a spontaneous conversation between two people who care deeply (and know more than I do) about something I am genuinely interested in.

I say “sounds like” a spontaneous conversation because I know a little bit about how much preparation it takes on the part of the host/interviewer to have a chance of achieving that kind of flow, especially when your guest composer, as often as not, equates sitting on a chair looking into bright lights with being at the dentist.

I particularly enjoy the pre-concert chats that Alexina Louie has hosted over the years for Esprit Orchestra. A composer herself, Louie more often than not manages to put her guest or guests at ease and to actually listen to what they say and respond to it, rather than spending the time while the guest’s gums flap checking the question she asked off her list and asterisking the next one.

This past Wednesday, for example, I played hooky from WholeNote production to make it to Koerner Hall in time for the pre-concert chat ahead of the opening concert of Esprit’s 36th season, only to discover that none of the composers programmed were in attendance. Two of them, Charles Ives and Tristan Keuris, being dead, had a good excuse; the third, Unsuk Chin, South Korean-born and Berlin-based, was likely otherwise engaged, having just been awarded the Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music at the New York Philharmonic, a $200,000 commission. And (proof that lightning does strike twice) the fourth, US composer Missy Mazzoli, was also likely busy, having just been commissioned to write a full-length opera by the Met, based on George Saunders’ novel Lincoln in the Bardo.

What could, therefore, have turned into the kind of 35-minute recitation from the concert program notes that is the pre-concert format I dread most, turned instead into a delightful variation on the usual theme, with Esprit concertmaster Steven Sitarski, violin in hand, stepping in for a conversation (with his violin doing much of the talking), about the nuances and challenges, piece by piece, of the music we were about to hear.

It was eye- and ear-opening. And from it, entirely by chance, I came by the title for this month’s opener.

A warning: those of you expecting this editorial to turn erudite will be disappointed. I am no more equipped to use music to describe my word-driven brain than your typical composer is to use words to talk about their music. What the discussion of harmonics in that pre-concert chat gave me is a way to describe my greatest pleasure as editor of this magazine: reading through all the various bits and pieces it contains, most of them written, without knowledge on the part of the writers, of what else was being written for the issue, I find myself delighting in the way, over and over again, one thing happens to chime with another.

What to make, for example, of the fact that in two unrelated stories in the issue (I won’t tell you which two) a composer is asked how they compose? Mahler answers the question with a question: “How do you make a trumpet? Hammer brass around a hole.” And American world-music pioneer Adam Rudolph is quoted as saying “Shoot the arrow and then paint a bullseye around it.” I will dine out on those two for years!

Or what to make of the fact that, having scurried out to the Esprit concert this past Wednesday having just sent this month’s cover to the printer, I should discover (from the program I could still read because the houselights were up), that Kris Maddigan, subject of this month’s cover story, was toiling (almost invisibly) as third percussionist in the orchestra for the concert. Such is the life of the working musician.

The great joy of a magazine like this, anchored as it is in the life of a functioning musical community, is that you can paint bullseyes around almost any topic of your choosing and find resonances. Four different stories about the role of music in community-building and the ways in which community, once built enables music and art to morph and change. Stories about reaching audiences – “60 million streams” or “thousands of gamers” – and bringing those audiences to music they might otherwise not have found. Stories about artists in different disciplines reaching out and finding each other and making living works of art that alone they could not have.

Best of all, these are just the words about the music. This is just the pre-concert chat, and it’s over in time for you to dash out for a quick something or other. Let the music begin!


Speaking as an editor, sometimes it’s coming up with a title for a story that’s the biggest problem. Interestingly, it’s sometimes even more of a problem when the story is a good one, because there’s all the extra pressure of doing justice to a great piece of writing. Or feeling guilty about reducing something nuanced to a clever phrase.

Speaking as a writer, sometimes coming up with a clever title for a story (especially before it’s written, when the pressure of deadlines is mounting) is just what the doctor ordered in order to get the drought-stricken creative juices flowing again. And here I know, from bitter experience, what I’m talking about.

And then there’s that other situation, like today, when having lulled myself into the false sense of security of having a great title, I realize that it’s gone, already used for something else in this issue of the magazine. And right on the cover, which went to press yesterday, so I can’t even pull rank and change the title of the other story instead.

Seeking Synergies

That’s what I wanted to call this Opener. The phrase must have snuck into my writer’s mind while I was editing Andrew Timar’s feature story in this issue on this year’s FAMA (Festival of Arabian Music and Art). In that story it is used to discuss the process whereby the Canadian Arabic Orchestra is going about building awareness of the festival’s cultural scope in the musical community at large.

But, as a phrase, it could apply equally well to the issue’s cover story. Or to librettist Daniel MacIvor’s account (in Chris Hoile’s On Opera column) of figuring out a working relationship with Rufus Wainwright, composer of the COC-commissioned Hadrian, soon to be unveiled.

It’s all a bit like talking to people discovering The WholeNote for the first time, after walking by it for years, or even decades. “Now that I’ve noticed it,” they say “I see it everywhere.” Same with the “Synergies” thing.

Look for it as a thread in the conversation (in Lydia Perović’s Art of Song column) when mezzo Simone McIntosh describes the circuitous route she took en route to getting a first opportunity to perform Messiaen’s “black pearl” Harawi song cycle. Or in Wende Bartley’s In with the New column this month, first in the description of how the Music Gallery’s David Dacks invited Bear Witness from A Tribe Called Red to curate this year’s X Avant festival and then, beyond that, in the energy that Bear Witness applied to the curatorial process itself.

Seek and you shall find synergy-seeking everywhere! Composer Linda Bouchard’s pilgrimage to Bennington, Vermont to study with the formidable Henry Brant; Soundstreams’ invitation to the Shanghai New Music Week; Nurhan Arman’s description of acquiring and adapting repertoire to the string orchestra format Sinfonia Toronto has made uniquely their own over nearly two decades on the local musical front; TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow’s response to the announcement of the hiring of Gustavo Gimeno as the TSO’s new music director (in Classical and Beyond)… the list goes on.

Much like the word “tragic,” so tragically debased in its usage that it has entirely lost its particularity, “synergy,” loosely used, is not worth much. In the sense of an interaction producing a combined effect greater than the sum of the effects that could be separately achieved by the interacting agents, it’s a useful idea. And it’s a great thing to read about, or to witness, or to be part of when it happens.

It can happen in music-making at any time.

Enjoy the issue. It’s a real labour of love at this time of year, given the extra work of pulling together the performer and presenter profiles in the Blue Pages at the centre of this magazine without compromising on our coverage of all the other stuff. And speaking of the Blue Pages, I highly recommend giving it at least a fast read, cover to cover. You will stumble across old musical friends. You’ll for sure have things catch your eye that you never knew about. And besides, what is more satisfying than reading something where the combined effect – the sense of community you’ll get – is greater than the sum of its constituent parts?

There’s got to be a word for that.


It’s fascinating to watch the extremes of tone and temper that can be conveyed by social media, where sober second thought has about as much of a place as kombucha does while watching the Maple Leafs at Toby’s on St. Patrick’s Day.

On Facebook, for example, one gets the occasional reasoned utterance. Yesterday, for instance, there was this one, shared with me (and 50 others) by an individual who has provided the quiet administrative continuity to a mid-sized chamber orchestra in town for the past 22 years:

39992233 2148767548670563 8235779525871403008 nParticipation in musical activities helps EVERY other part of children’s development, and also promotes habits that enable a more civil society. Funding after-school music programs saves tax dollars that would otherwise have to be spent later, in health care, mental health care, the justice system and other social services. De-funding such programs is a HUGE mistake. Write to your MPP and object!

Unless, like me you are a shrinking violet who still reads CAPS as SHOUTING, the post might just pass you by, especially if the south-of-the border twitterings of Agent Orange have become as obsessively compulsive a daily focus of attention for you as they have for me.

Fortunately, Facebook allows for pictures as well. So one also gets to post louder, blunter versions of the same idea, like this one.

Taken together the two versions of the same message got me thinking, in a way that neither on its own would have. As follows:

Here at The WholeNote, we started following the fortunes of Sistema Toronto, almost from its inception, right after El Sistema’s Venezuelan founder José Antonio Abreu was awarded the eighth Glenn Gould Prize in 2008. El Sistema, as I learned then, thanks to the consciousness-raising power of prizes and awards, is a publicly financed, voluntary sector, music-education program, founded in Venezuela in 1975 and providing “free classical music education that promotes human opportunity and development for impoverished children.” (Over 700,000 of them, by 2015, in Venezuela alone). After school. Four hours a day. Four days a week.

Impressed as I was at the time, I confess to having been cynical about the likelihood of transplanting it from a country with a government that has the power to simply set up a program like that at the stroke of a pen. Here, you don’t get to build things that way. Only, apparently, the power (also at the stroke of a pen) to tear them down.

Visits to Toronto Sistema over the years, seeing children willingly and joyfully, commit to an after-school regime of work and play not much less rigorous than the Venezuelan model, made me change my mind about its viability. Yes, Margaret. I will definitely write to my MPP and object.

But first I have one more thought to offer. I think we make a mistake to argue a case for the redemptive powers of things like Toronto Sistema if we tie our outrage only to the fact that it is a music program that is under attack here. Or to the fact that it is specifically targeted to so-called “at risk” neighbourhoods.

The way our society is structured, the four hours of the day between the time most children get out of school and the time most home-based supervision or mentoring kicks in is when all of our children are most at risk. Make no mistake, their appetite for learning, their hunger to belong will not be any the less during those hours when deprived of such opportunities as these to exercise joyously and cooperatively the social muscles that enable a civil society. If we do not put instruments of peace in their hands, what will they take up instead? And from whom?

And who will be most at risk then, crying into our beer-for-a-buck about how “kids got no respect for the law today”?


For the 10 or 12 remaining people on the face of the planet who haven’t yet heard the news, this past May 16 The WholeNote received the Toronto Arts Foundation biennial Roy Thomson Hall Award of Recognition for our “role in promoting current music, emerging artists, and for being vital to the entire music community.”

We were one of three finalists in our category. Musicworks magazine and Mitchell Marcus of the Musical Stage Company (formerly known as Acting Up) were the others.

Our category was one of five. The Arts for Youth Award went to RISE Edutainment – a youth-led grassroots performance arts and storytelling movement “in recognition of its role in creating a healthy and inspiring space for youth, and for challenging systemic barriers through innovative partnerships.”

The Celebration of Cultural Life Award went to Ruth Howard – founding artistic director of Jumblies Theatre “in recognition of the impact, sustainability and legacy of her community-engaged arts practice.”

The Emerging Artist Award went to Jivesh Parasram – multidisciplinary artist, researcher and facilitator “in recognition of his ability to create excellent work that is honest, diverse and collaborative.

And the Toronto Arts and Business Award was shared this year by Active Green + Ross – Complete Tire and Auto Centre “in recognition of its first-time contribution to the arts through its sponsorship of the HopeWorks Connection, covering transportation costs for performers and offering discounted and VIP services,” and to RBC “in recognition of its sustained contributions to the arts through its Emerging Artist Program, making RBC a vital contributor to the arts ecosystem.”

The awards were announced and presented at the 13th Annual Mayor’s Arts Lunch (this year held at the King Edward Hotel) and actually attended by Mayor John Tory (not something one could count on with his predecessor!), along with a broad cross section of arts and business leaders, elected politicians and a hearteningly strong representation from the arts community itself.

All finalists were instructed to prepare acceptance speeches around two minutes in length (300 words maximum), and I am pleased to say that, as befits my inky stained status in life, I complied to within a dozen words of the letter of the instruction.

I’m equally pleased to say that the majority of the other recipients blithely ignored the stated limitations, leading to some of the event’s most heartfelt, inspirational, moving, hope-filled and, yes, constructively political moments.

(I also found myself wishing I had a chance to see what the other finalists wrote down. I would wager there was no set of words among them that would have been less inspiring than the ones we heard.)

In my two minutes and 15 seconds and 314 words, this is what I said:

I want to acknowledge, by name, Allan Pulker, co-founder of The WholeNote (or Pulse as it was originally known) 23 years ago. His unshakeable belief in the richness and variety of Toronto’s grass-roots music scene is the reason The WholeNote exists. I also want to thank Sharna Searle who nominated us for this award. It took her three years to persuade us, mind you. We are more comfortable telling stories than being in them.

I can’t name everyone else – our eight-member core team; 30 to 40 writers every issue; a five-member listings team who come up with 400 to 500 live performance listings each month; the 20 to 25-person distribution team regularly carrying 30,000 free copies per issue to 800+ locations where a deeply loyal readership snatches them up.  

To the finalists and other artists in this room, flag-bearers for countless others for whom the arts are necessary to feel fully alive, thank you for being passionate contributors to all our city’s villages – street by street, block by block. Thank you for giving us something to write about. And to the Toronto Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Foundation, the knowledge that you share our belief in a grass-roots music city makes this award very special.

Make no mistake, though: the grassroots music city is at risk. Housing/land cost is displacing artists, along with the rest of the working poor, from our overheated downtown; small-scale live performance venues are disappearing one by one. Outside the downtown, the nurturing of block-by-block cultural life across our metropolis is a mighty challenge – painfully slow because it is a process of planting not paving.

It’s astonishing, thinking back, that the breakthrough technology that helped launch this magazine was … the fax machine! Now we must all adjust, almost daily, to the ongoing challenge of dizzying change with all its dangers and opportunities. What a story it promises to be.”

Two weeks on, there’s not much I would want to add to those words, except this: the bit about a “deeply loyal readership” means you. Without your use of what we harvest, there would be no point to our labours.

May your summer be filled with the music you find in these pages! And may much of it be live! We’ll see you on the other side.


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