What are the odds of two concerts both involving recreations of Zimmermann’s Coffee House in Leipzig (circa 1725), both happening on Saturday May 21, 2016, one in Toronto and one in Bethlehem, and that I will get to go to both of them? Pretty good actually because they’re both happening on other nights as well, and it’s only a short-haul hop, skip and bus ride from Toronto’s Island Airport to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. But it’s a pretty neat coincidence, as Alison Mackay agrees. (All is revealed in my conversation with Alison Mackay, starting on page 16.) That story, by the way, is excerpted from a much longer conversation taped in what we refer to, rather grandly, as “our studio” in The WholeNote offices. The entire conversation is one of two (the other is with choral conductor Lydia Adams) recently made available as a podcast on our website at thewholenote.com.

Still on the topic of May 21, what are the odds that the other concert this month I really don’t want to miss (Ernie Watts, Brad Goode, Adrean Farrugia et al.) also takes place that very same night, at the George Weston Recital Hall in North York. Steve Wallace explains why it’s a concert not to miss (the story starts on page 13).

 Still on the subject of odds, it was a pretty safe bet that Toronto would be one of the venues as 37-year-old iconic a cappella group the Nylons kick off a yearlong farewell tour. Ori Dagan talks with sole remaining founding member Claude Morrison in a great little meander through the evolution of our a cappella scene from those beginnings to today (page 11).

Simple coincidence throws up all kinds of interesting patterns and synchronicities when one views things, that maybe just happened to have taken place at the same time, from a particular point of view. Face to face with the momentous, we can look back on some small moment as the one that started it all. Listening to Tanya Tagaq with the Kronos Quartet on the opening night of the upcoming 21C Music Festival (see Wendalyn Bartley’s cover story) for example, it will be hard for me not to wonder what would have happened had David Harrington not listened all the way through to track 18 of that particular CD on that particular plane on that particular night 13 years ago.

Odds are, I suppose, that if one compiles enough stories and facts about all the interesting musical stuff going on around us all the time, the resulting document  will always contain enough different threads for the individual reader, depending on your likes, to weave into pleasurable patterns of interesting connectedness. Maybe for you, somewhere down the line, you will look back on something you found in this issue of the magazine as having changed things for you in some interesting way – a piece of music that fell fresh on your ears, a new ensemble or performer or recording. Or, for that matter, a band or choir to join, so that making music became (again) an integral part of your  life.

Odds of the latter happening this month are somewhat higher than usual, because this is the month we publish our Canary Pages choral directory (you’ll find it following page 34, just ahead of the daily concert listings). This is our 14th annual Canary Pages, and if perusing it leaves you a step closer to thinking that maybe finding a choir that would suit you is a distinct possibility, it will have served its task.

Longtime readers will have to forgive me for telling those of you who haven’t heard this story how in the first heady year of compiling this directory, we called it our Choral Yellow Pages. That was before we received friendly legal advice to cease doing so before we were ordered to cease and desist. Canary seemed a clever alternative but drew an almost immediate reproach from a reader who pointed out that canaries were solitary songsters, charged with the grim responsibility of singing in cages in mines so as to warn miners, by falling deathly silent, of the impending threat of lethal gas in the mines. “So, not a very cheerful name,” our reader opined.

I see it a bit differently, still. Choirs have long been the bedrock of our thriving music scene and, especially while music sits sidelined in our school system, perhaps our greatest hope. As art, yes, but also as a social, communal force. Count the canaries! Take heart from the fact that they haven’t fallen silent! Better still, join the singing! Odds are good that where there’s this much musical life, there’s hope.


In the cracks between the stones, new soil gathers and waits, just as in the interstices between clearly defined genres of music and canons of taste, new collaborations arise; musical preferences and practices morph and change.

Between and around and beyond and outside of our temples of art, our cathedrals of culture, our venues custom-built for this or that, music creeps and seeps and sprouts and shouts in new and unexpected places.

As the clearly defined lines between the “this” and the “that” start to erode – this is a proper concert, that is not; this is classical, that is jazz; this is the performer, that is the audience; this is art, that is politics; this is music, that is noise – so too, opportunities for growth, new and hopeful, take root in the soil in the cracks between the stones.

And as those cracks widen and expand, the stones themselves, the hard chunks of convention, of dictum and dictate and decorum, begin to fragment under the relentless, battering, grass-root pressure of the fact that art will always just happen to exist.

Case in point #1: Is this a concert or a what?
I wrote a note to David Goldbloom the other day. His day job is psychiatry, at College and Spadina, within the walls of what in the neighbourhood we still collectively refer to as “The Clarke.”

He also plays the piano and for a while, many years ago, helped steer Off Centre Music Salons, pianists Inna Perkis and Boris Zarankin’s eclectic concert-cum-salon series, now entering its third decade. I last got in touch with Goldbloom in September 2005 in connection with a story I was writing  about Off Centre Music Salon for the October 2005 issue, at the time of their tenth anniversary. Just prior to that, Goldbloom had helped bring about, and spoken at, an Off Centre event built around the theme of composers and their doctors – Mozart and Mesmer; Brahms and Billroth; Rachmaninov and Dahl.

This time I wrote to him because I noticed he had just been announced as a speaker at this year’s “High Notes Gala for Mental Health” which takes place April 28 at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. It’s an event that’s hard to describe – a blend of speakers, professional and personal, and performers across a wide range of musical genres – think Luba Goy, Richard and Lauren Margison, Ron Korb and David Goldbloom and you start to get a sense of the range. And it’s not so much a fundraiser (although it is that) as part of the attempt to bring the conversation about creativity and mental illness out of the shadows. “What’s changed over the ten years since we last talked?” I asked.

“I would say that we have come a long way and we have not come far enough” he replied. “When I spoke [at Off Centre] a decade ago, it was about long-dead composers and their long-dead therapists, knowledge that was already in the public domain. ‘High Notes for Mental Health’ is not an historical exegesis as much as a bold statement about problems facing every Canadian family now. It’s a conversation about the present, not the past, about those people close to us, not distant admired musicians. Today I would aim for the kind of personal disclosure that requires both courage and candour, that illustrates that people with talent and success – as well as those without – can be vulnerable to the impact of mental health problems and illnesses, without it necessarily eroding their identity or their gifts. If any of the performers were to ask the audience to raise their hand if someone they know and care about has experienced some form of mental illness, every hand would be up in the air.”

Case in point #2: The “Garage” is not a garage, it’s Galloway’s:
I think it was six years ago that Jim Galloway and I, three times, took the freight elevator from just outsideThe WholeNote office on the fifth floor at 720 Bathurst Street down to the then-abandoned ground floor and surveyed the space, rife with potential, its high ceilings, exposed brick walls, old wooden pillars and beams. I remember how his eyes gleamed at the thought of what a jazz venue it might be, in the spirit of the Montreal Bistro and some of the other venues he loved and lamented in the 16 years he wrote his column for The WholeNote. The building at 720 Bathurst was between owners then, and for a few heady weeks, oh how we dreamed and schemed.

Almost miraculously, after five years of ownership by the Centre for Social Innovation, that ground floor space still exists, with room for dreams and schemes and for a “wee big band” to play in, right in front of that selfsame freight elevator. So that, dear friends, is what will be happening April 14 from 7pm to 10. For one shining moment the back half of the space, whimsically called “The Garage” because of its large rollup door, will become “Galloway’s” as the “Wee Big Band” under the direction of Martin Loomer makes the building ring with music in memory of Jim.

Join us! (Invite details are on page 18.)

Case in point #3: Salon West Meets the 18th Century
I found myself ever so slightly out of my comfort zone the other day, attending a gathering of something called Salon West, in a little rooftop solarium, with seating for around 25 people, on the fifth floor of the Spoke Club at Portland and King. Salon West bills itself as “a forum for much-needed dialogue on the arts and public policy in Toronto,” with the goal of “creating positive change through the arts” and inspiring “actionable solutions to the issues facing our great city.”

Guests on this particular day (March 23) were both from Tafelmusik - violinist Julia Wedman - and the orchestra’s recently appointed managing director, William Norris, described in the Salon West program note as  being “dedicated to pushing the boundaries of a traditionally conservative art form to attract new audiences.”

It was a fascinating encounter. As readers of last November’s magazine may recall, Norris, from his description of his previous role with London’s Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, is already firmly committed to finding new ways of taking this music that he is clearly passionate about to new audiences, on their own turf. And he has strong views too about how some of the more rigid aspects of concert etiquette impose on how we listen to music constraints that the composers of that music would themselves have been uncomfortable with. “The music tells you when to applaud and not to,” for example, is a tenet with interesting implications. Just think of the cracks in decorum that might result if it were applied without qualification to our town’s typical concert halls!

Wedman’s contribution was to interweave brief moments of music and musical treatise (Telemann, Mattheson) with detailed information about the unique characteristics of her baroque-style bow and instrument, before concluding with two movements from Bach’s Sei Solo Sonatas and Partitas. It was an object lesson in everything, from technical and intellectual skill to visceral and emotional commitment, that  this music demands of its practitioners.

I left with a spring in my step – with the image in my mind of a solution already well under way, rather than some burdensome problem to be gnawed over; 25 to 30 people sat and stood, listening as one to unamplified Bach in a rooftop room at twilight, oblivious to the noise of the building’s mechanical plant and the dull roar from dining and meeting rooms below.

Happy reading! There are many more musical moments inside! 


Intersection 1: Esprit and the Iselers.

2106-Editors_Opener-2002_Cover.pngThere’s a slight pause at the other end of the line and then, “Put it this way, I could not have written this earlier,” he says. The speaker is composer Alex Pauk, founding artistic director and conductor of the Esprit Orchestra. The “this” he is referring to is his Soul and Psyche, a 30-minute, five-movement  “devotional” work for choir and orchestra that will be performed March 31 at Koerner Hall, by the combined forces of Esprit and the Elmer Iseler Singers, under Pauk’s baton. It will be the final work in the final concert of Esprit’s 33rd season. For the Iselers, in this, their 37th year, there are two concerts to go after this. But this is one that they are approaching with a particular gusto. “We do all kinds of music,” Iseler conductor Lydia Adams says. “But this choir absolutely relishes the opportunity to take on a new work. They are completely dedicated to their craft, absolutely open to whatever a new work brings.”

And new this work certainly will be! With a month to go, the proverbial ink is not yet dry on the fifth movement, and Pauk confesses on the phone to tinkering with the text of the first movement, which is based on “Taoist writings on the life force of the universe,” sneaking in a topical reference to gravitational waves. Pauk agrees with Adams’ assessment of the Iselers’ readiness, referencing their “full virtuosic capabilities” and comparing their spirited open-mindedness to that of his own orchestra. “Ready to give it the full go” is how he describes it; “always singing the music not the notes.”

As to what to call the work, genre-wise, Pauk is understandably reluctant to be too categorical. At one point in the literature about the piece, it’s referred to as “contemporary mass in five movements.” At another, it’s referred to as “spiritual and uplifting in nature without being strictly religious,” a description borne out by the inclusion of texts ranging from Inuit poetry to ancient Chinese poetry, a fragment from Goethe’s Faust, a Balinese prayer for departing souls, Biblical passages and the composer’s own words.

Had Pauk written the piece when the idea was first presented to him, he tells me, it would have been a mass by name and nature. “It was Niki Goldschmidt who suggested I write a mass,” he says “right after the very first Toronto International Choral Festival in 1989” (a festival that included repertoire as diverse as The Death of a Buddha by R. Murray Schafer, commissioned by the BBC for the BBC Singers, Songs of Creation by Srul Irving Glick, commissioned for the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and a performance of Verdi’s Requiem at Roy Thomson Hall.) But it didn’t happen at that time, or at any time since (although Pauk and Jessie Iseler talked about it often enough over the years, he says, at the level of “we really should do that mass we keep talking about.”)

Simply put, it was something that Pauk had to be ready to do. “Ready technically, ... musically, ... spiritually?” I ask. And then comes that pause on the line. “Put it this way,” he says. “I could not have written this earlier.”

I am looking forward to this particular concert, not just for the premiere of Pauk’s piece, but for the pleasure of watching these two pioneering musical organizations intersect and interact.

Intersection 2: Winter’s Summer

This is the time in the year when  thoughts of summer are either a scourge or a solace: scourge, if all they bring are pangs of longing for the unattainable; solace, if used as an opportunity to put plans in place for what to do during that other season that seems, amid the slush, unattainably far away. You will find our annual summer music education resource guide tucked away on pages 54 to 59. It is, as usual, an extraordinarily suggestive compilation of 32 summer music educational opportunity, for all ages and levels  and ability. It makes no grand claims to comprehensiveness (although, as in previous years, it will likely continue to grow online at thewholenote.com/resources, as the summer draws nearer.)  So seize the day! Take action now to make 2016 a musical summer worth spending the winter looking forward to.

It’s a Watershed Moment – Ask LUDWIG! 

2106-Editors_Opener-AskLudwig.pngLUDWIG, for the uninitiated, is an acronym for Listings Utility Database for WholeNote Information Gathering.  It was Colin Eatock, during his time here as Managing Editor/Listings Coordinator who coined the phrase to describe our painstaking multi-year project to reinvent the way we gather and repurpose the live musical listings that are the backbone of what we are and what we do. Much of the work that has gone into LUDWIG to this point has been invisible to readers, revolving around the way we process listings, rather than how we supply them to you. Simply put, we used to word-process everything; now our listings gathering is based on data entry. It’s been a challenge and a big change; but over time, LUDWIG has made the task of listings generation a lot easier.

But you have still had no easy way of hunting down the particular listings you’re interested in, short of searching through the listings day by day; no way easily to search the listings by keyword, by artist or presenter, by genre, by date or date range, by geographic zone ... . 

BIG NEWS is that very soon you will!  In fact, you already can, if you are willing to help us! You can participate in public testing of Ask LUDWIG by going to thewholenote.com. Find the listings tab, then  scroll down to Ask LUDWIG and click.

Watershed moment? You tell us what, for you, would make it so.


My early pleasure at our playfully shiny December/January cover was, sad to say, more than slightly diluted by receiving a gentle note from Against the Grain artistic director Joel Ivany shortly after we sent him a link to the online flip-through edition of the magazine inquiring as to whether we might be able to change the title on the cover “because the people in the photo were in fact Meher Pavri and Joshua Wales, not, as we had stated, Miriam Khalil and Stephen Hegedus.”

To clarify: Meher, Joshua, Stephen and Miriam were all four involved in the Against the Grain production of the Messiah to which the cover, admittedly obliquely, referred. But unless they were all switched at birth (in which case we missed a GREAT story), Joshua Wales is NOT Stephen Hegedus; and Meher Pavri is NOT Miriam Khalil.

To clarify even further: Hegedus and Khalil were two of the the four soloists (bass-baritone and soprano, respectively) in the rollicking AtG Messiah which once again sold out its Harbourfront run; Wales and Pavri (tenor and soprano, respectively) were members of the chorus in the same show. (All are rising presences on our increasingly adventurous home-grown opera scene.)

One might be tempted to theorize that, given the number of projectiles flying around in the cover photo, the soloists demanded stunt doubles for the shoot, and that the nostrils of tenors are less susceptible to injury from flying french fries than those of bass-baritones!

But a simple apology to all concerned is probably the wiser course, and will leave me some room to talk about this issue’s cover! So, sorry again, Joshua, Meher, Stephen and Miriam – and on we go!

This issue’s cover: It would be interesting to count the references to the subject of this issue’s cover photograph, violist Teng Li.

MJ Buell takes up Li’s story on page 8 (and continues it in Music’s Children on page 49.) But I also counted passing references in at least three other places in the issue (four if you include this one!). First of these references, as a matter of fact, is in the other story commencing on page 8, Paul Ennis’ in-depth interview with Art of Time artistic director Andrew Burashko, in whose series Li will appear, for the first time this coming April. (Burashko is also referenced on this month’s cover.)

Our third cover reference is to “Legacies”: those of two musical masters, both of whom died early in this new year – both remembered in this issue. Modern jazz piano master Paul Bley is celebrated by columnist Ken Waxman on page 68. Waxman’s own regular CD column in the issue is in many ways testimony to Bley’s influence. David Jaeger weaves his encomium to Boulez into his ongoing memoir of the golden years of CBC Radio that now occupies the inside back pages of the magazine (this month on page 70).

And a roundabout elegy to a third “B” also finds its way into our pages – perhaps for the first time. David Olds, in his Editor’s Corner on page 50, finds himself engaging with David Bowie’s death.

Tributes to, and gatherings for, Boulez and Bley are coming together, slowly. Bowie’s passing generated a firestorm. A Choir! Choir! Choir! singalong/gathering at the AGO drew over 500 people within 25 minutes of being announced – an astounding range of people – all ages shapes and sizes – the all-ages children of Faceborough seeking out live music to mourn life lost. Now there’s a message of hope. 


TheWholeNote 06 05 Feb2001 OCR RFS Page 1Sometimes a detail from one of the stories or columns in the magazine leaps off the page, grabs my heart, and makes my job of penning this Opener much easier. This time it was a a tiny detail – the caption to a joyous photograph at the top of Paul Ennis’ Classical and Beyond column. Dang Thai Son and Yike (Tony) Yang at the end of the 2015 Chopin Competition it reads.

What grabbed me wasn’t the name of 16-year-old Toronto high school student Yike (Tony) Yang who came seemingly out of nowhere to take fifth place in the world’s most prestigious Chopin competition in Warsaw. It was the joy on the face of the man hugging him – Dang Thai Son, described in the column as “one of Yang’s teachers.”

Dang Thai Son, you see, was on the cover of The WholeNote in February 2000, in the context of what he called “my real Toronto debut” at Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. That February 2000 Toronto recital was 20 years after he had “burst seemingly out of nowhere, onto the world stage in 1980, when he was awarded the First Prize Gold Medal at the tenth Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw.”

Lots of the details of that story are still clear in my mind, but I hunted out the issue and re-read it. (You can follow his 30-year journey from Saigon to Hanoi, then Moscow, Tokyo and Montreal yourself, by the way. If you go to thewholenote.com/previous you will discover a complete digitized flip-through archive of every magazine in our 20-year history, handily shelved.)

But one crucial detail in the story I had completely forgotten, from the time Dang Thai Son was still a youth in Hanoi: “In 1974 a visiting Russian pianist Isaac Katz heard the 16-year old play, and made it his business to get him to Moscow – to the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory.”

There is such a huge arc of time captured in that photograph: from Isaac Katz in 1974 making the musicianship he saw in 16-year old Dang Thai Son “his business”; to Dang the teacher’s joy at Yike (Tony) Yang’s 2015 triumph.

It’s nice to think that without the “sheer plod” of documenting, month in and month out, the simple heartbeat of our musical neighbourhoods, such sweet coincidences, with their capacity to make our hearts soar and sing, might well simply be lost in the mists of time.

Do we repeat ourselves? Very well, then, we repeat ourselves. The way we work around here, our individual columnists usually function pretty autonomously within their beats. They seldom have access, in deciding what to cover, to information about what other writers have also decided to cover. Editorially we attempt to avoid complete train-wrecks (i.e. such as when writers’ individual trains of thought go barrelling down exactly the same track from opposite directions).

But more often than not, our reasoning is that if two writers covering different beats find themselves interested in the same story, that’s something of value for our readers to know, because it suggests that the musical item in question has escaped the pigeonhole one might normally consign it to.

Andrew Timar in his World View column this month, for example, talks about something he calls “hybridity” – which I understand to be a rigorous and ethical alternative to cultural appropriation.

David Dacks, artistic director of the Music Gallery  explains the distinction succinctly in Timar’s column: “If one is attempting to join culture A to culture B in a coherent musical statement, one must be really attuned to power relationships, comparative structures/forms/tuning/language, your own personal experience and other points of connection or difference between musical ingredients one is working with.”

Is something of the same force at work when beat writers, normally overlapping very little in their interests, find themselves drawn from different directions, like moths, to the same musical candle?

Watch for the tendency as you read. Chances are, something special’s going on! Examples? Watch how David Virelles’ Gnosis shows up in Timar’s column and in Wende Bartley’s In with the New. And how Timar’s reference to Jane Bunnett in the context of discussing Bunnett’s role in Virelles’ musical lif resonates with Ori Dagan’s story “Jane’s Day, Jane’s Way,” which charts some of the reasons that Bunnett is this year’s worthy winner of the Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Congratulations, Jane.

Masterpiece means what? As a Facebook RRRR (relatively recent regular reader) it still intrigues me to see which posted topics push people’s buttons enough to get them to comment.

One such recent thread came from a musician/teacher I have a particular interest in, wondering out loud how to explain to her students what a “masterpiece” is.

It elicited a large volume of responses, most of which took the form of naming particular works which, in the opinion of the commenter, were worthy of the designation. 

In my way of thinking that is analogous to responding to the question “what is a forest?” by rhyming off the names, or even individual locations of a whole bunch of trees.

My own response was along the lines that a masterpiece is a work where if you don’t get it, the problem is more likely to be with you than with it.

What do you think? I can be disgreed with, or enlightened, at publisher@thewholenote.com

Back to top