If you had found yourself at Stratford Summer Music this past July anytime between July 15 and July 20, you might well have spotted a sign or two pointing the way to something called “Tom Percussion Island.” Had you followed the signs, you’d have found yourself meandering among what The WholeNote’s new music columnist Wende Bartley described in our summer issue as “nine percussion-based instrumental exhibits on display for audiences to engage with, including a tongue drum made from a hollowed-out apple tree trunk, fire drums made from cut and tuned fire extinguishers, a piano dulcimer made from a 110-year-old piano flipped on its side and a Dream Gong Maze for you to get lost in.”

If you were lucky, you’d also have run into the percussion quartet TorQ there, “performing their own ‘pop-up concerts’ or joining with the public in exploring the sounds of these instruments in the outside environment.”

Read more: Milestones 2: TorQ at Ten

There’s a little “PRICELESS!” tag we wear proudly at the top right-hand corner of our cover. It used to say FREE. And that’s still true, in its literal sense, for more than 99 percent of the 30,000 copies we distribute each issue from London to Kingston, Ontario.

But in a year like this, as we tiptoe towards our 20th anniversary and start to delve into the treasure trove of musical facts and memories captured in our pages, “Priceless” begins to take on a greater resonance. Look for example at the little features on pages 63 and 67 in this issue, which capture some of the flavour of “How I Met My Teacher” and “Music’s Children” – two features that over the years have helped to show the human and personal face of our region’s extraordinary musical life.

We’ll be digging down regularly over the coming months (with more than a few contests and challenges and prizes along the way). Hope you’ll be along for the ride.

Nearly two decades of chatting like this every month or so with a readership as faithful as ours has its dangers. For one thing it leads to the assumption that every reader of the magazine will “get it” when I fly off on one of my little tangents. But with a lot of guests in town this month (hello TIFFers!) and getting into practice for next July’s Pan Am games, I’m going to try to tone things down a bit, here in the magazine’s ceremonial front office.

(For my more usual ranty style, I’m afraid you’ll have to turn all the way to “Dis-Concerting Stuff” on page 60, where I offer up some suggestions for them as thinks they have a monopoly on what constitutes “proper behaviour” in others at a concert, while remaining sand-blind to their own shortcomings.)

I can’t remember any issue (in the 19 years, two months, 14 days and 23 hours we’ve been doing this) that better reflects the variety and richness of musical life in this neck of the woods. From film to new opera to world music, live and recorded, to insights into what has to happen behind the musical scenes to make it all tick, this issue’s features are an extraordinary testament to the variety and resiliency of art in general and live music in particular, in a town and region that have their ups and downs in terms of wider political support for and understanding of the role that art and culture play in the health of individuals and the communities they inhabit.

(That being said, I made a little promise to myself not to get caught up in the cut and thrust of our fall municipal elections until after Labour Day, so you’ll have to wait until the next issue for any more about that here. Not that there isn’t a fair bit to say, but, as I mentioned, there’s company in town.)

Switching gears again, it’s our regular columnists as much as our feature writers who make the magazine the fine read it’s come to be over time. So hats off, ladies and gents, for hauling in your fishing tackle and hightailing it back to town. A special nod (by way of a placeholder) to horn player and Jazz Notes columnist of long standing, Jim Galloway, whose regular column is conspicuous by its absence this month as Jim battles a bit of a health setback. To say Jim’s missing a column is unusual is an understatement. This is, after all, the man who filed 2,400 typewritten words of an interview with Oscar Peterson by fax machine (miracle of modern technology at the time) from the purser’s office of a cruise ship, rather than miss a deadline. Good news is I can truthfully tell you he’s “on assignment” writing about the musical implications of an impending anniversary five times longer, and with much grimmer resonances, than our own. 

As our Mr. Galloway’s customary signoff in his column would put it: have a good month, and make at least some of your music listening live!

Every late spring Frog said to anyone who would listen “THIS is the summer I will do it. THIS is the year I will make pilgrimage to the musical shrines in the holy city that lies on the other side of the mountain. My work is done; my time is my own; my soul hungers for something other than this city’s unrelenting roar.” Every year Frog said these things to anyone who would listen; but for one reason or another (every year a slightly different reason) the words remained empty, the desire remained unfulfilled, the journey across the mountain to the shrine of music remained a wish for which our Frog had not the will.

This year no one would listen; they had heard it all before. So, for that very reason, this year Frog, early one morning and without saying anything to anyone, found the little road that led to the little path that led towards and up and over the mountain, on the other side of which, Frog had read, untold musical wonders awaited.

If truth be told, the ascent was not particularly arduous. The path, as I have already said, had many twists and turns, and the steepness of a path is almost invariably inversely proportional to the number of its twists and turns. But Frog found it heavy going, nevertheless. Mainly this was because Frog was built low to the ground, so every hopeful rise ahead brought with it the illusion that the top of the mountain was close at hand, only to have the hope thwarted by each next gentle rise, each next illusion. But Frog pressed on. “THIS is the summer I will do it. This is the summer I will do it … ” Frog kept repeating, though there was no-one there to hear.

The moment arrived. No rise lay ahead. This was it. The top of the mountain. “I will stand tall on my hind legs and contemplate all the wonders of what lies ahead in the musical shrines of the holy city beyond,” Frog said, though there was no-one there to hear. And Frog did, stretching out tall and straight as anatomy allowed.

Here’s the thing: because of the curious (to some) placement of Frog’s eyes, the city Frog saw in standing tall this way was the one that lay behind, not the one that lay ahead. “Astonishing” Frog said. “Here I have followed the twists and turns of this path half the day in hope, only to find that what lies on the other side of the mountain is exactly the same as what I left behind. I might just as well head back home”

So Frog turned around and, a second time, stretched up as tall as anatomy allowed just to get a bit of an overview of the twists and turns of the journey home. And in that instant, Frog was transfixed with wonder; for the home town Frog had left that morning was utterly transformed — a place of wonder with music shimmering from all its shrines.

“I can scarcely believe my eyes” Frog said. And hopped happily home.

Follow the Frog!

As you wend your way through all the musical twists and turns of the summer, we hope that this edition of The WholeNote is a useful companion, whether you venture further afield or find musical pleasures in your own back yard.  During the 19 years we have been publishing, the extent of summer music has grown so much that no guide to it can claim to be anything more than anecdotal. Trying to sort through which listings belong where is even more than the usual monumental task for us. There are summer presenters in traditional year-round venues, year-round presenters in all kinds of seasonal and unexpected places. There are unfamiliar performers coming to town, and musicians well known to our readership venturing out “On the Road,” as our annual summer feature describes it. You could start there. Or you could start with the 45 presenters listed in our Green  Pages. However you approach it, be as patient as you can with us, as you follow the twists and turns of our logic in choosing which listings section (our regular four and special summer fifth) to place particular events in. When in doubt “Follow the Frog!” as the notes throughout the listings section advise. 

HalfTones is The WholeNote’s e-letter, designed to pick up the slack mid-month during the regular season. It takes on an even greater utility during these summer months. With our next print magazine not till the beginning of September, there will be dozens and dozens of additional listings and updates rolling in. (Along with notifications of all kinds of contests, prizes and special offers to sweeten the deal. So if you haven’t already, put yourself on the HalfTones list. Instructions on how to do so are at the foot of page 84.)

All that being said, I’ve got to go. THIS is the summer, you know, I promised myself I would make my way to Ottawa and Midland and Westben and Port Milford and Parry Sound and Stratford and Chautauqua and …

ForOpeners-TheKinseySicksEarly on in the development of this magazine we decided on a genre-based approach to our regular beat columns to guide our readers through the vast range of “musics,” as columnist Andrew Timar likes to call them, regularly encompassed in these pages.

In many ways it makes sense to do so – if you are on a forest walk and mycology or ornithology are your particular thing, you’re going to gravitate towards the guide with a mushroom or bird pin on their lapel. Similarly columns with names that include “New” or “Opera” or Early” or “Jazz” in them offer readers who already know what they like the comfort of a regular “go to” guide.

But it is an organizational device that even now allows interesting content to fall through the cracks, and probably needs a bit of a rethink as the sharply delineated features of the musical and social landscape continue to erode and change.

For one thing, increasingly, we find that musicians, no matter how specialized their training,  are choosing not to be pinned down in terms of their practices – seeking partnerships and collaborations all over the musical landscape.

Read more: Through The Cracks

I went last week (March 17 and 19)  to two musical events which neatly (and entirely coincidentally) balanced events 100 years apart around a central pivotal point of reference.

The first was a panel discussion/chamber concert  involving players from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra organized by the Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership at Glenn Gould Studio. Bruce Surtees briefly describes the event on page 14 of the current issue of the magazine.

The second was the appearance of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Roy Thomson Hall on Wednesday March 19, which is described in some detail by Paul Ennis in his Classical & Beyond column which commences on page 17. 

In the case of the Glenn Gould Studio Chumir-sponsored event, the 100-year interval was that between the start of the so-called “War to End All Wars” in 1914 and today. 1914 and 2014 stand like two grim pillars on either side of the event that was the main reason for the Chumir event taking place, namely the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s efforts, since 1998, to begin coming to terms with an inglorious chapter in its storied 156 year history, between 1938 and 1945. That a majority of Austrians  (57 percent) today accept that Austria was at least as complicit in the Anschluss as a victim of it is a welcome development. That in the same poll only 24 percent agree with mosques being built in Austria is a grim reminder that memory and selective amnesia are partners in a very grim dance.

We will have lots more to say about that event in the coming weeks, as Surtees explains.

In the case of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra’s Roy Thomson Hall appearance, the 100-year interval is a much more benign one, simply between the dates of composition of the two symphonies that made up the two halves of the program: John Corigliano’s Symphony No.1 composed in 1988, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5, composed exactly 100 years earlier. And in this case the link between the two is not a moment of monumental infamy, but an entirely happy one, namely the triumphant return to Toronto of Gustavo Dudamel, last here in October 2009 with Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, as it was then known, on the occasion of Jose Antonio Abreu being awarded the Glenn Gould Prize.

About this event I have a little more to say right now, because of the little affirmations that the concert sent ringing to the rafters of my mind as resoundingly as the LA Phil under Dudamel sent the music singing through the not always forgiving whole of RTH.

For me the event was not just about the music;  rather it was not just about the sounds of the music but also about music’s power to bring things into being.

How many people in RTH that evening knew, for example, that in the near-capacity crowd were a couple of hundred students of Sistema Toronto, which traces its origins to Abreu’s visit in 2009. Sistema Toronto, as some of you may recall was chosen by Glenn Gould prize laureate Leonard Cohen for the City of Toronto Protégé prize, two years after Abreu’s award. Now here they were, full of hope and music, bringing their own passion for music to a gala  banquet before the concert, affirming the fact that Abreu’s vision, powered by the state in his native Venezuela, could take root and flower in the soil of Ontario, where culture tends to be privatized and parcelled out as grimly territorially as the shores of most lakes in cottage country.

And I wonder how many people at RTH felt the same little bump of pleasure as I did, reading in the program that the Los Angeles Philharmonic is now the driving force behind something called YOLA (Youth Orchestras of Los Angeles), bringing music’s motive power to over 600 youth in underserved L.A. neighbourhoods. Yet another sign of Sistema’s spread, one can say, having taken root since Dudamel arrived.

Change for the better all sounds so simple when it’s spelled out that way. There’s another example in the issue – the “Hamilton Plan” that Chuck Daellenbach described to me in our interview (page 14), that brought music to the schools of Hamilton and its surrounds in the late 60s and early 70s with what sounds in the telling like astonishing ease.

 It’s tempting to think of the nascent power for usefulness of The WholeNote’s “Orange Pages” initiative as Allan Pulker describes it on page 61 as spreading with the same ease. Just think how easily it would all come to pass if “I told two friends, and they told two friends and they told two friends,” the way it did in the shampoo commercials back in the same wonderful 70s that Daellenbach talks about in our interview.

Enjoy this issue in all its diversity, dear readers. Music might not have had the power to dispel this winter’s polar vortex, but it continues to offer the hope of spring.

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