February sits in the musical calendar like a trailhead parking lot in a fine provincial park. From it you can set out on any one of a number of paths, depending on whether you are interested in explorations of the short, medium or long-term kind.
The most immediate of the outlooks February offers is what’s going on within the month itself. But be warned. For the shortest month of the year, this issue’s listings pack quite a punch! This may be because, as Jack MacQuarrie speculates in Bandstand on page 27, “all the behind-the-scenes efforts of winter rehearsals ... spring into a variety of programs well before Mother Nature takes her own leap into spring.” Or it may be that we, the audience, hardwired for frivolity during the silly season, have shown ourselves over the years to be good and ready for something more sustaining once the days begin to lengthen. Or that resigned to a month of daily grind, only music (and lots of it) will do to keep the February blues away.
Another interesting way to view this month is that it is the launchpad for the whole second half of the concert season – so if, fuelled by your own resolve, you set out this month to make some new musical acquaintance, it’s early enough in the new year that you will have other opportunities to seek out that artist or presenter or composer or venue again, before the end of the regular season.
Beyond these two paths of inquiry, February is also the starting point for two other longer-term inquiries: first, it’s never too early, it seems, to begin planning for summer; second, right now is when we start getting tantalizing glimpses of what the next full season (2015/16) will have to offer. In both cases, these early whispers will crescendo to a dull roar over the course of the spring, but even now they threaten to distract us from the task of living, mindfully, in the present musical moment.
Regarding thoughts of summer, as Sara Constant points out in her introduction to On The Road (page 53), planning for summer music education tends to fall into place the earliest, for educators and students alike. So we are starting On the Road a full month earlier this year, with a couple of early educator interviews to get the ball rolling.
Even more distracting than thoughts of summer in terms of staying in the musical moment, this is also the time when the town’s musical biggies make with their 2015/16 season announcements, an act akin to waving a Dufflet dessert menu in the face of diners still rewardingly ruminating over their mains.
The Canadian Opera Company was, as usual, the first out of the blocks with a mid-January launch. (Chris Hoile summarizes the essentials in On Opera on page 19.) Incidentally, this year’s COC launch set the bar very high for events of this kind; a 90-minute hosted event in the FSCPA main hall, with full orchestra and soloists onstage, providing musical emphasis for each reveal. (The audience was not your usual sprinkling of scribblers, corporate sponsors and board members either – more like 800 to 1000 subscribers and donors packed the lowers rings of the hall, many of whom were lining up close to an hour before the building opened.
The next big formal launch event, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on January 29, will have come and gone in the very moment that this issue hits the street. But thanks to Wende Bartley’s extraordinary cover story interview with Barbara Hannigan (page 8) a few magic beans have already been spilled! The TSO has confirmed that Hannigan will be back in the fall not just to sing but to conduct! (Details in Bartley’s story.)
All potentially very distracting, but I should tell you I’ve particularly enjoyed just browsing the listings this month for all the quirky and random juxtapositions they throw up on the beach of the mind! What were the odds, for example, that two ensembles with names as eerily similar as Scaramella and Swamperella would show up side by side at the very end of the very last day in this month’s listings? (See March 7, GTA). And only two subway stops apart. Think of it: an early evening in Telemann’s Paris (bass viol, baroque violin and flute, harpsichord) followed by a short stroll to rock the Mardi Gras night away to the strains of Cajun and Zydeco dance music, as deeply rooted in the history of swampy Louisiana (named for Louis XVI) as Telemann’s Paris Quartets were in the Paris of Louis XV.
And if it’s history that we are speaking of, not least among February’s shape-shifting attributes is that, since 1979 in Toronto, and 1995 in Canada as a whole, February has been officially designated Black History Month.
Official Canadian recognition of Black History Month came, coincidentally I suspect, in the same year as the founding of this magazine, and it’s fair to say it’s been a bit of a headscratcher for us ever since. The easiest rationale is to resort to “colour-blindness”: “We write about the people involved in the music we cover – race doesn’t come into it.” Next would be to quote someone like Morgan Freeman (who after all has played Nelson Mandela in the movies and therefore must be right): “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history ... There’s no White History Month.”
But, truth be told we go through paroxysms here each year, not knowing whether it honours or dishonours the intent of Black History Month to call attention to it any more than the circumstances of any particular February dictate.
Colour bind vs colour blind? I went to a Toronto Rock lacrosse game at the Air Canada Centre a couple of nights ago. It had about the same racial mix among spectators as a typical night at the Canadian Opera Company. But these days it’s the Toronto Raptors’ fans, not the Rock or the Maple Leafs, who get to roar with conviction “We The North.”
Sometimes the most proactive thing one can do about an issue is simply and accurately to reflect the way things actually are.
So that is what we do, and if you flip the pages of this issue, rather than hyperfocussing on the cover, I think you will see that things are moving along.
As should you, if you are going to partake of February’s riches, in all their glorious shades of grey.