I can no longer remember whether I saw this particular Russian circus live at Maple Leaf Gardens or only on TV. I do not remember its name, or the name of its star clown. But I clearly remember his ginger cat.

It was the late 70s. And it was an unforgettable cat. It did back flips, jumping through hoops; it would balance on two paws, front or back, on the hand or head of the clown, and from that position launch itself into all kinds of spectacular tricks.

As I say, I cannot remember the name of the famous circus, or of its famous clown, or of the unforgettable ginger cat. But I can remember, as if it were yesterday, the sinking moment, during the act, at which I realized that the only “trick” the cat was actually performing was to make itself entirely rigid with paws stretched out front and back, like a furry baton with two forked handles, which the clown could then balance or toss in all kinds of ways.

I can’t say it was a life-changing moment. But it was a moment of insight. Namely this: that the only way to get a cat to do tricks, is to scare it rigid and then do most of the work yourself.

There is, of course another way of having it appear that a cat is doing tricks. (It also works with grandchildren.) It entails honing your ability to predict what the cat has decided to do anyway. Then, just before it does the thing it was going to do anyway, you make it sound as if it was your idea. “George, jump on the table! George, scratch the sofa!” That kind of thing.

People, like the circus clown, who acquire the skill of scaring other living things into rigid compliance tend to do very well in positions of power, at least until the rules change.

People who acquire the skill of predicting what was about to happen anyway and then make it sound as though they made it happen become revered authorities instead. At least until they start believing their own shtick, at which point they too become clowns.

So here’s the question du jour: When the announced trick is not making a cat jump backwards through a hoop, but rather “making our town into a real music city” which of these clowns would you rather trust?

Tracking change

Tracking change, if done right, is an unspectacular affair (whether it be in the realm of concert protocols or musical trends; or in social norms, governing where and what one may smoke; or in what constitutes cruelty to animals or consent). Before you can track change in something, you first have to spend time just tracking the thing, whether it is changing or not.

Perhaps the greatest value of our work here at The WholeNote over the past 23 years will turn out to be that we provided in our listings a consistent, factual, detailed account of the live musical performance within our watershed in our readers’ chosen areas of interest.

Once baseline factual data exists, it then becomes possible to see what changes are actually taking place, or even to predict with some reasonable chance of success, where the musical cat will jump next.

Not Jumping the Rails

In the lives of the musical organizations we keep track of, there come moments of danger and opportunity, requiring clarity of thought. The most predictably risky of these seem to relate to what arts councils call “succession planning” especially in cases where an ensemble or presenter’s identity has become, over time, interwoven with the vision and skills of its artistic leadership. The fascinating thing is how many different successful responses there can be to the challenge.

In this regard there was a memorable moment at the recent Tafelmusik “Safe Haven” concert. One of the company’s core violinists had injured a wrist, and former music director Jeanne Lamon had stepped in at the last moment, joyfully playing in the ranks while the ensemble tore into one of the finest programs in their history. I can only imagine what it felt like for her, during the standing ovation at the end of the show, to know that, in no small part because of her own foresight and consummate professionalism in managing her own exit, the ensemble is still well and truly on track.

It takes a different kind of resolve to say “This thing has had its time. Let’s just let it go.” Last season we saw the Talisker Players, under Mary McGeer’s leadership, decide, right at the beginning of that season to announce that it would be their last. Ahead of this season Toronto Masque Theatre’s Larry Beckwith made a similar announcement – TMT’s 15th and final season is now well under way, with much more celebration than gloom on display, it should be said.

(Beckwith was here at The WholeNote for a podcast interview recently, so you can look forward to much more on the topic of TMT shortly.)

After the final Talisker concert of their farewell season, a music lover who had never been to one of their concerts before, glared at me and said “That was fantastic. How come I never heard of them before?”

So here is a completely shameless plug for TMT’s upcoming show, which runs February 8 to 10 at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, one of the many intimate cabaret-style shows TMT has taken there over the years. Titled “The Peasant Cantata and All the Diamonds,” in typical TMT fashion this show features music all the way from J. S. Bach to contemporary cabaret.

The rest of their season is going to be a lovely long goodbye! Don’t miss it.


Volume 1, Issue 4 - December 1995 / January 1996Sometimes the way I can tell that things are going well around here is by noticing how small, in the overall scheme of things, the things I am fretting about actually are. Like two days ago when I found myself agonizing about whether it would be more accurate, on the cover, to describe this two-month issue as “combined” or “double.” “Double,” I told myself, is how I think we have usually done it. But with the concert scene being significantly put on hold in the latter part of December, for Festivus or whatever you choose to call it, and the first couple of weeks of January significantly dedicated to recovery, there isn’t double the amount of activity. “Combined” would be more accurate. I went searching for answers in our “rear view mirror” – the complete 23-year flip-through archive of this publication on our website – to see what we’ve done in the past, all the way back to Vol 1 No 4 in December 1995. (Click on Previous Issues under the “About” tab.)

The results: “double” takes the prize by a long way, with “nothing in particular” a respectable second (as in the cover of Vol 1 No 4 illustrated here). “Combined” is almost nowhere to be found, except this time last year. (Things must have been going well for even longer than I thought!)

There were three other things that I particularly noticed, as I flipped my way through the archive.

First was how often the subjects of the covers of past Dec/Jan issues, especially the early ones, still crop up in our current coverage: Tafelmusik’s Ivars Taurins in his “Herr Handel” Massey Hall “Sing-Along Messiah” outfit (Vol 2); Val Kuinka, who will be stage-directing Highlands Opera Studio’s production of Andrew Balfour’s new opera Mishaabooz’s Realm this December (Vol 3); the Toronto Children’s Chorus (Vol 5) and mezzo Krisztina Szabó (Vol 7) who will appear together in the TCC’s concert “The Fire Within” December 16 at Roy Thomson Hall; Barbara Hannigan (Vol 6), just here in November for a Koerner art song recital, who dropped into her hometown in December 1999, fresh off her Lincoln Center debut, to see in Y2K as the Merry Widow for Toronto Operetta Theatre, whose New Year’s Day-straddling productions of light opera and operettas are a time-honoured fixture of the holiday season … The list goes on. 

Second, amusingly, was noticing the different ways the cover copy on these various issues riffs on the contrast, performance-wise, between December and January: “The Holiday Season and Its (Not-So) Flip Side”; “December Glitter, January Gold”; “To the Holidays and Beyond!”; and (my favourite), “Mid-Season Blip.”

Third, and this is for you, whomever you may be: in analyzing the pattern of when we did and didn’t make an effort on the cover to call attention to the fact that it was a double issue, it seems that the years we made an extra effort (like the words DOUBLE ISSUE in 30-point type around a medallion of two-headed Janus) were right after years when we had made no effort at all. And that is because those were the years when you phoned me up to complain that it was already January 8 and your January WholeNote had still not arrived.

It won’t this year either!

The Rear View Mirror: The context for the headline on Vol 1 No 4, pictured here (still one of my favourites), is that it coincided with a time when funders of the arts (in particular the Ontario Arts Council) were reeling under the impact of the politics of the time. The “Common Sense Revolution” it was called. This year, for the first time in many years, we are seeing significant increases in funding to the OAC (increases that are being passed along). If it’s a sign that the value of the contribution that artists make to the wellbeing of Ontario, economically and in every other way, has been recognized, it’s a welcome sign indeed.


Sometimes it’s something in the water. Sometimes it’s something in the air. Sometimes you just scratch your head and say “weird, eh?”

The case of John Blow

Not exactly a household word in musical circles, John Blow (who it is reasonable to assume was born sometime not too long before his baptismal date of 23 February 1649, was an English Baroque composer and organist whose most enduring musical claim to fame was that he was a teacher of Henry Purcell, who was born on September 10, 1659. Purcell, in contrast to Blow was, right up until the beginning of the 20th century, if not a household name, the most widely recognized English-born composer. (Blow’s other claim to fame, I suppose, is that he outlived Purcell, who died in 1695, by 13 years.)

Purcell’s name has certainly featured regularly in this magazine over the 22 years and a bit we have been in business. But as of the end of January 2002, Blow’s name, to the best of my knowledge, had never appeared in our listings or anywhere else in the magazine.

And then all of a sudden, there he was! Twice. In both cases in the context of concerts featuring the music of Blow and Purcell. Two concerts titled, roughly, “Music of John Blow and Henry Purcell.” Same date (March 2, 2002), same time, and within one block of each other, on Bloor St. W., at Trinity-St.Paul’s and Church of the Redeemer respectively.

Weird, eh?

Sometimes coincidences like these can be easily explained by significant anniversary dates. Take the case of Glenn Gould, for example, who was born in September 25, 1932; all years ending in a two or a seven tend to become an occasion for heightened remembrance of Gould’s contribution to music and art. This month, for instance, Gould would have turned 85. Two of our writers this issue, David Jaeger and Paul Ennis, both take note of occurrences relating to this anniversary – one well worth commemorating, in my humble opinion, especially when (according to a recent (and admittedly entirely random and unscientific) survey, an alarming number of students currently enrolled in the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory cannot name the musical instrument that Glenn Gould played.

Miller’s Tales

Nowhere near as seismically weird as the case of John Blow, but interesting nonetheless, is the following:

A month ago I received an enthusiastic message from Stuart Broomer, a longtime regular reviewer of jazz recordings for this magazine, asking if we had seen a copy of Mark Miller’s latest book. (With at least a dozen books to his name and countless articles, Miller is very likely Canada’s leading jazz writer, photographer and journalist. Safe to say, he is at this moment in time probably better known than drummer Claude Ranger, the subject of this latest book (although I am sure Miller would be only too happy if his book helped to redress that fact.) Broomer’s cogent review of Miller’s book appears in this issue.

Meanwhile, independent of the above development, contributor Ori Dagan submitted a story for the issue on the second annual Kensington Market Jazz Festival, headed up with a short quote from, you guessed it, none other than Mark Miller, taken not from one of Miller’s books but, this being the century we live in, from a recent Facebook post by Miller, musing on the implications, mostly positive, of this year’s TD Toronto Jazz Festival’s decision to refocus its operations on a single neighbourhood, in this case the once-and-(perhaps)-future Village of Yorkville.

At risk of stealing Dagan’s thunder, the Miller quote seized on for the KMJF story bears repeating. Musing on how festivals, driven by commercial imperatives, find themselves drifting further and further away, musically, from why they started in the first place, Miller says “I’ve always thought that if the “jazz festival” model no longer works the way it once did, then change the model — not the music.”

Changing the Model

In the arts, it’s not only festivals that find themselves driven by commercial imperatives further and further from their roots, philosophically and geographically. As people with means flee the suburbs for gentrified city cores, property values and rents skyrocket and the working urban poor (most musicians and cultural workers I know among them) find ourselves struggling to hang on in the neighbourhoods where up till now we have managed to both live and work. Sadly, vibrant urban culture is, almost by definition, a noisy messy thing, requiring constant negotiation between those who need to make noise and those who expect the same right to peace and quiet in the downtown as they enjoyed in the suburbs they have forsaken.

Readers have seen me railing in this space against those seeking or inhabiting public office indulging in the rhetoric of phrases like “making Toronto into a real music city.” As I have said before, and will doubtless say again, the problem is that if one buys into that formula one is rejecting the idea that we already are a real music city. We do not need more mega-sized venues and spectacles, all driven by what Mark Miller calls “commercial imperatives” and all taking place in ring-fenced isolation from our neighbourhoods.

So, as you get back into the post-summer humdrum of urban living, do your bit! Scour our listings for the small stuff as well as the large. Support your local small-scale nodes of music and culture and art, as well as the large. Make music where you live, and continue to fight for the right to live where you make music.

To the betterment of all.


The Sombrero Galaxy wikipedia025xA short while ago, relatively speaking, I dreamed I was a scientist having a sleepless night: tossing and turning while endlessly trying to calculate exactly how fast I would have to drive towards a red traffic light in order for the Doppler effect to make it appear green. 

For solace in his sleepless state, the scientist I was dreaming I was got out of bed and went to his telescope to observe the night sky with all its twinklingly verifiable pinpricks of fact. Instead he observed, in an indescribable rush of mingled horror and delight that the Sombrero Galaxy (M104) was no longer receding from our solar system at its usual rate of approximately 1020 km/sec but instead appeared to be standing still.

After what seemed like an eternity (and probably was), it became clear to the scientist I was dreaming I was, that in defiance of all the known laws of physics and mechanics, Galaxy M104 (aka Sombrero) was making like a “bad hombre” and blue-shifting back towards us at a considerable rate of knots.

After another eternity, and at precisely the right moment, not too far but not too close, Sombrero stopped blue-streaking and tipped its hat towards us in the sky, revealing the black hole, right at the crown of its hat, that was its source of motive power. And from that source of power Sombrero spoke:

“Good evening,” Sombrero said. The scientist I was dreaming I was politely said “Good evening” in reply. But frankly, I wasn’t so sure about that.

“I have come to tell you,” Sombrero said, “that it’s come to the point where, to use the current lingo, your galaxy either needs to ship up or to shape out.”

I ask what’s that supposed to mean. “Well either there is something in your galaxy that is uniquely of value to the universe, or there isn’t. And the good news is that, based on our investigations so far, you do have that something. But the bad news is that it is starting to look as though we might just be able to extract that something without having to haul all your viral baggage along with it. In which case, as the saying goes, it’s lights out for you.” 

“What is that something?” our scientist asked, on behalf of all known living things, and held his breath.

“It’s called Bach,” Sombrero said.

 And right at that moment (or as it is sometimes translated, just in time) all the birds started to sing and we awoke.

And it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day.

The Thing about Bucket Lists

The thing I am realizing about bucket lists is that if you forget to take the list out of the bucket before the winter sets in, it gets frozen in the bucket, and you have to wait for the spring to start crossing things off it (assuming it hasn’t become so soggy that it’s completely unreadable).

My musical bucket list has on it taking in another complete Beethoven string quartet cycle, as I explain in the story Total Immersion a little further into this issue.

It also has on it a visit to the Aga Khan Museum in North York, maybe timed to coincide with World Fiddle Day. See On Our Cover for what that’s about.

The list also has on it in big letters the word SING! (although I can’t remember if that’s about taking in the Sing! A Vocal Arts Festival or about actually using this year’s Canary Pages to find a choir that will have me.)

It also has on it arranging a one-off performance night for myself, titled David Perlman and Friends at which I sell my as-yet-unrecorded CD to both of my friends. (But that one may take a while.)

And Some Housekeeping

Performers and presenters take note: after this May issue, we suspend our monthly cycle for the summer. The next issue covers June, July and August. For presenters with summer listings, that means getting your summer listings in to us as fast as possible, if you want to see them in print. (And making sure you send them anyway if you miss the print deadline because we are committed to updating them online right through the summer.)

For performers and presenters not active during the summer make sure you get your 2017/18 listings in before you go incommunicado while you are crossing a year’s worth of things off your bucket list! 

We’re planning exciting things in terms of expanded listings coverage online for the coming season. And we’ll be working with the listings we have before we go chasing the ones we don’t.

Back in our naïve youth as a magazine we used to handcuff ourselves by proclaiming one or another month of the year as [some particular genre] month. As in “April is Opera Month”; or “March is New Music Month.”

One problem was, of course, that we failed to inform the hundreds of presenters putting on concerts every month far enough in advance so that they could change their plans to fit with our executive orders.

Another was that, with every passing year, our tidy little rolodex of genres has eroded as rapidly as the memories of those among us who still know what a rolodex is.

But of all the “this month is” edicts and proclamations, the one that still feels intuitively right to me is the next one coming up after this one: thanks to the presence in our upcoming May edition of our 15th annual Choral Canary Pages, there is still an argument to be made for saying that “May is Choral Month” in The WholeNote.

It’s not because all our stories in the May issue will have choral themes. It’s because our Canary Pages are not primarily designed to give audiences information about what choral performances are coming up, but to give you and me as much information as possible about what choirs are out there to join, so that we can give ourselves an opportunity to breathe in loud and joyful unison, voicing common hopes and feelings with other people on a regular basis. In a world that conspires in every imaginable way to have us twittering away in querulous, frightened or acrimonious solitude, more than ever, making music together affirms our common humanity.

More than a decade ago I explained in this very spot that the reason we had called it the Canary Pages was drawn from the dark days of coal mining, where caged canaries were strategically deployed in the tunnels to alert miners to the presence of poisonous gases. “As long as the canary is singing, you’re O.K.,” the theory went. “But if the canary croaks, metaphorically anyway, hold your breath and run.”

Aside from some surly Hamiltonian (since moved to Sarnia, I believe) who blasted us for holding up cruelty to animals as something laudable, it’s an image that stands up rather well I think. We can, to a significant extent, gauge the extent to which our arts environment is becoming toxic by whether community-based, collective music-making remain stable because those participating in them are able to remain within those communities.

The erosion from the urban landscape of local venues to listen to live music is getting some attention these days, which is good. But the displacement of the people who work in those spaces, musicians and non-musicians alike, because they can no longer afford to live in the communities they work in, tells us even more about the fragile musical health of our cities.


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