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

Michael Sankey and Linda Manzer. Photos by Margo Sankey and Norm BettsWhile the focus in this magazine is typically on the musicians, venues, and institutions that comprise our shared musical community, it seemed like the time was ripe to focus on something a bit different: master builders who create exceptional instruments, beloved by players and audiences alike.

This month, I interviewed two notable Ontario guitar luthiers: Michael Sankey and Linda Manzer. Sankey – whose business, Sankey Guitars, is based in Ottawa – builds forward-thinking instruments, with an emphasis on ergonomic shapes, unique wood, and cutting-edge design. Manzer, based in Toronto, has long been a world-renowned guitar maker; her instruments can be heard in the hands of luminaries such as Pat Metheny, Julian Lage and Bruce Cockburn

In my interview with Manzer and Sankey below, we discuss the effects of the pandemic on their practices, their exciting upcoming projects (including a new Manzer guitar for Metheny), and their hopes for the post-pandemic future. 

Read more: Michael Sankey and Linda Manzer: Master Builders

The Music Box Village, New Orleans. Photo by  TODD SEELIEThis global health pandemic has certainly illustrated the old Italian proverb, “tutto il mondo è un paese” – indeed, all the world is a village, and every village needs a playground. 

In my capacity as the executive director of the Regent Park School of Music, I have noticed us, of necessity, growing closer with other community music schools across North America since COVID hit. We have met periodically to discuss the multitude of challenges we have collectively faced, from online learning policies to uses of new technology – a sharing of knowledge between us that has remained open and collaborative, with the greater good of our students in the fore. Many of us in community music seem to be facing the same challenges, so in this article, I will unpack some of these immediate challenges, and also look forward, as best as any of us can, to a post-pandemic landscape that enfolds both music education and community development.

At time of writing this, I had just submitted my PhD dissertation to the University of Toronto, as part of which I ran an instrumental case study of the Music Box Village in New Orleans. Similar to the Reggio Emilia educational movement that developed in Italy the aftermath of World War Two, the Music Box Village was born out of Hurricane Katrina as a response to the social impacts and trauma of its community. This alternative music space wore many hats, functioning partly as a music venue, a learning space, a playground, and much more. 

Read more: Inside out as the best way forward: Musical playgrounds, virtual and real

Morgan-Paige Melbourne. Photo by Ian ChangWhen pianist and composer Morgan-Paige Melbourne recorded her first album, it was during the March 2020 lockdown. She did it on her own, with one podium microphone and an iPad. She placed her mic underneath the piano to capture the gritty sound of the keys working. She recorded the ambient sounds of the city. Sometimes she sang. The resulting EP, Dear Dysphoria, is beyond genre: it is an emotional soundscape, an artful negotiation through our challenging times via formal compositions, improvised music and songs.

With some assistance from her sibling, Genia, with mastering and violin (and with the addition of a new microphone and a two-channel mixer), Melbourne produced a second album titled Dear Serenity. She then went on to create videos for some of the pieces, filming and editing them all on her iPad. Did I mention that she does everything on the first take? The more I talk with this extraordinary and multifaceted artist, the more I am astounded.

Read more: Take One: Morgan-Paige Melbourne’s multidimensional practice

Sophia, in Toronto, leads an after-school ukulele-based music lesson with Amelia and Celeste (with Kaya, the lab, supervising), in Hornepayne, Ontario. Photography by Luca Perlman (L) and Leslie Kennedy“You know, we’ve still never seen each other in person.”

So said one of my favourite guitar students, a man in his early 40s whom I teach on Wednesday evenings. I’ve been teaching him for nearly a year, since spring of 2020, when baking bread and Zoom cocktail hour still seemed novel and rewarding. We’ve covered a lot of ground: scales and arpeggios, theory, phrasing, cultivating a sense of personal style. We’ve become acquainted on a more personal level, and have shared jokes, memes and YouTube videos of compelling musical performances. We have not met in person.

“We’ll probably never do this in real life.”

Another student of mine, a young professional drummer who lives in Milton, who has been playing guitar casually for years. He’s been taking lessons from me in order to improve his skills, to better be able to play with his wife (a professional singer), and to be able to teach beginner and intermediate guitar students in his own teaching practice. We have not met in person.

“Honestly? It feels pretty normal at this point.”

Yet another student, when I apologized for any feelings of discomfort that he might be experiencing performing a full song for me through his phone. As you must expect, at this point: we have not met in person.


In the immediate aftermath of the March 2020 quarantine, I experienced an immense wave of anxiety about my ability to work. Nearly all of my professional activities are linked to in-person interaction, in one way or another. It was immediately obvious that live performances were off the table. Writing about music, for this magazine and for other clients, seemed uncertain. Private teaching, however, was the biggest question of all. 

Read more: Up Close and Impersonal? A New Kind of Educational Intimacy
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