Rory McLeod and Emily Rho. Photo credit: Alice Hong.Once upon a time (the spring of 2021, actually) I made contact with some colleagues and friends known collectively as Pocket Concerts, and individually as Emily Rho and Rory McLeod, interested in knowing how their particular brand, based on house concerts, was holding up in response to the new paradigms of pandemic performance. 

Their biggest news back then was a book in progress, expanding on what they’d learned in developing Pocket Concerts, explaining how other artistic entrepreneurs might get their own ideas off the ground. Envisioned as an online publication, the book was at that point already more than 75% complete. 

Life, however, intervened, as it will, and the book has been sidelined. The two remain committed to it, but have each found they have too many other irons in the fire to give it their complete attention. The goals they originally had for it haven’t shifted but life has. As Rho says: “It will take a different shape in the future, I believe, because everything is changing around us so fast, all the time; it’s one thing to put pen to paper, another to find time for the ink to dry… [when] the dust settles … then I think we’ll have more clarity on how to continue.”

Read more: Pocket Concerts’ evolving paradigms

A Turkish music trio, recording  for Labyrinth’s Modal Music series, in collaboration with Arts in the Park: Begum Boyanci, Agah Ecevit, and Burak Ekmekçi – August 2020, in Toronto’s Monarch Park. Photo by TRENZA DEL SUR MEDIAAt uneasy moments, I often look to nature and the human imprint in it, in a search for equanimity. In 11 years with The WholeNote, I have repeatedly begun my musings with a description of the view from my window of the busy midtown Toronto park across the street. 

As I sipped my coffee this sunny morning, a coach’s shrill whistle and shouts grabbed my attention. It gladdened my heart to see the little league taking over the baseball diamond for the first time in a year. The sand infield was prepped well over a month ago, but today is as early as the provincial pandemic “Three Steps to Reopening” rules allow for organized activity. The groomed green outfield highlights the kids’ yellow jerseys and white knickers as they warm up. And just beyond, behind the tall chain link fence, the community tennis courts are full once more with bouncing singles and doubles. 

I’ve been dragging my heels all week trying to get my head around a story about what the Ontario live public music scene for the balance of this summer might look like. I’ve done my research. But stepping back from the data I’ve gathered, one unanswered question keeps getting in the way: despite what has been planned, what will actually get to happen? It’s an uneasy feeling.

Read more: Existential dread as the music threatens to go public again

The Emmet RayTo say that these past sixteen months have been exceptional is, at this point, a cliché. Even calling it a cliché has become a cliché! And yet, it’s hard not to feel as though this summer represents a major turning point – and, hopefully, a bookend – in the experience of the pandemic, at least in Toronto. 

Case rates are down, vaccine rates are up, and businesses are reopening, albeit at reduced capacity. Live music is still not back, though it is slowly reappearing; as of the writing of this article, there is a pilot project in development that allows musicians to play on the ad hoc CaféTO patios in three wards (Davenport, Beaches-East York, and Toronto-Danforth). 

It is only a matter of time, however, before we see the return of live music, both outdoors and in; by September, I expect to be back to the normal format of my column, looking ahead to club offerings for each coming month. Thus, in the spirit of celebrating the beginning of the end of lockdown life, it seems like a propitious time to revisit and reflect upon some of the issues, movements, and community responses that have informed the Southern Ontario jazz (and jazz-adjacent) scene throughout the pandemic. 

Read more: Looking back at a not-so-sweet sixteen months

Stratford Summer Music’s floating bargeSo here we are again, on the cusp of summer, with what has to be the most eccentric collection of listings information ever assembled for the festivals section of our summer print issue. 


In other years, we’d have painstakingly separated out summer festival/series listings from one-off concerts. And we’d have had separate sections for GTA and Beyond GTA listings. And for concerts, music theatre, clubs, workshops, etc. This year? Gone.   

Gone too is our most fundamental principle: that we only list events that have a live musical component. 

What you get instead is a reflection of the ways our musical community is coming up with to stay in touch with you, their audiences.   

So, for the time being anyway, it means that, rather than our print listings being the wheelhouse of what we do, it’s our online weekly listings updates that give you the best chance of keeping up.  Sign up for our weekly listings updates, and every weekend we send you updated listings covering the following six weeks or so, reflecting everything we found out since the Tuesday before (including changes and cancellations). Good news.

It’s good news for musicians and presenters too. If a musical event fits our niche (and our range is getting wider), it qualifies. As long as it is a public event, with a specific date and start time attached to it, it can be live, livestreamed, on-demand … or any combination of these. 

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Read more: Worth the (virtual) drive…? That’s the big question

BC folk fusion duo Qristina & Quinn Bachand. Photo by Tamara BernsteinAnyone who witnessed the first concert in June 2001 – a miserable rainy evening with only a handful of people in the audience – might have been forgiven for thinking the Summer Music in the Garden series was doomed to failure. But that first concert didn’t daunt Tamara Bernstein, the founding artistic director of the series. Nor were the audiences deterred. In its 20-year history, the free concert series grew to become one of the most popular on the Toronto summer festival roster. 

By its name, you would think that a venue called the Toronto Music Garden was made for live music, but that wasn’t the case. Perched on the inner harbour of Lake Ontario near the foot of Spadina Avenue, and designed in consultation with famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the Toronto Music Garden interprets, through the landscape of its six different garden sections, the six movements of J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major for Solo Cello

It’s an idyllic natural setting with the breezes off the lake and the rustling of the trees, or so it seems, but for some of the performers it could be both a blessing and a curse. Flamenco dancer Esmeralda Enrique, who has been a regular performer there from the early days of Summer Music in the Garden, remembers how challenging those first performances were. 

Read more: Summer Music in the Garden Bids Farewell to Founding Artistic Director Tamara Bernstein
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