2207-BeckwithFeature.jpg2207 Feat EncountersFirst encounters hold a special fascination for many of us. The name of our country for example – so familiar, yet revealing multiple rich layers of transcultural enigmas when you dig deeper – is no exception.

The word canada first appears in writing in Jacques Cartier’s 1535-36 travel journals. It’s a transcription of the word kanatha, likely meaning “village” in a now-extinct Laurentian language of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians. Cartier used it to describe the region he visited near the contemporary Quebec City. His tag caught on: within ten years Canada appears as a toponym printed on a French map.

Tracing the roots of that name back to a discussion between First Nation native and European explorer’s interpretive act of labelling some 482 years ago evokes some of the power of early encounters. It certainly places Canada’s 150th anniversary into a much larger historical frame.

It also serves as a suitable backstory to the celebrations this year of the career of the veteran Toronto composer, music educator and prolific writer John Beckwith, now in his 91st year. He was professionally associated with the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, from 1952, serving as dean 1970-77. Between 1985 and his early retirement in 1990 he served as the first director of its Institute for Canadian Music – and a number of his compositions mine Canadian themes and music performance practices.

He is being honoured this year with multiple retrospectives of his music, including a performance of his Wendake/Huronia (2015). Dubbed a “choral documentary” Wendake/Huronia is scored for alto, narrator, chorus, early-instrument ensemble and native drums, and is set primarily in 17th-century Canada. It was most recently performed by the Toronto Consort as the second half of the program “Kanatha/Canada: First Encounters” on February 4, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre’s Jeanne Lamon Hall.

Beckwith’s six-movement work employing voices and period instruments evokes the pre- and post-contact soundscape of the St. Lawrence Valley beginning with the sounds of snowshoe travel in the winter, and canoeing in the summer.

As for the French and Wendat lyrics, Beckwith partly adapted the words and poetry of Georges Sioui, Wendat Traditional Knowledge Keeper and Coordinator of Aboriginal Studies at the University of Ottawa. Sioui’s contributions appear in the angry Lamentation, 1642, as well as in the more optimistic final movement À l’avenir (To the Future) “reflecting today’s efforts towards reconciliation of aboriginal and settler cultures.”

It’s a remarkably ambitious, socially complex and sensitive work for any composer, let alone one in his tenth decade. Curious about the man, I spoke to broadcaster and composer David Jaeger, a former University of Toronto Beckwith student and later a colleague.

“I first encountered Beckwith’s name in the 1969 John Cage book Notations which included Beckwith’s Circle, with Tangents [for solo harpsichord and string orchestra]” recalled Jaeger. “The score looked orderly, neat, intellectually rigorous, meticulous and clear in its intentions. Then while a grad student at U of T I took a course on the music of Canada. Who better to teach it but John Beckwith? He was a very good teacher: well-prepared, methodical, well-organized and professional.”

After joining the CBC in 1973 as a radio music producer and creating the celebrated new music program Two New Hours, Jaeger enjoyed a number of professional interactions with Beckwith. “From time to time, John would receive commissions from various organizations. He always had surprises in store. His creative mind is so multifaceted and fertile. Peregrine, his 1989 viola concerto performed by the Esprit Orchestra, for example, was inspired by compass settings. If it was music, John was interested. This emerges clearly in his ‘Canadiana’ pieces, in his adaptations of folk songs and regional music like [his 1966] Sharon Fragments.”

Jaeger also commented on Beckwith’s place in Canadian music, education and culture. “His writing has greatly helped his own legacy through his published works. I’m thinking of his beautifully written autobiography. I feel that ‘setting the record’ takes active maintenance, and that it must be regularly presented to the public in order for it to survive into the next generation.”

Last month the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music honoured its former dean with “A 90th Celebration of John Beckwith. It was followed by a lecture by Beckwith tellingly titled CanMus Then and Now, “a comparison between musical life in the centennial year, 1967, and 50 years later in the sesquicentennial year 2017.” And who better to provide this insight into CanMus than John Beckwith?

New Music Concerts is adding its seasoned voice to the celebration on April 28 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre with “John Beckwith at 90.” NMC artistic director Robert Aitken invited his longtime friend and colleague Beckwith to choose the repertoire for the concert. He selected two of his latest works, Calling (2016) and Quintet (2016). Both will receive their world premieres. And although Beckwith’s Avowals (1985) has been recorded by the tenor Benjamin Butterfield and pianist William Aide for Centrediscs, this will be their first concert performance of it.

In addition, Beckwith has picked compositions for the concert that have personal meaning: Stravinsky’s In Memoriam Dylan Thomas (1954) and String Quartet No. 3 (1962) by his teacher John Weinzweig. These two works reflect yet another kind of encounter: that with music and musicians early in a composer’s career, marking it forever.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

2207 Music and Health 1It’s Glee Club choir day at Toronto’s Baycrest Hospital. The grey-haired seniors, all diagnosed with dementia, are seated in a semi-circle in a room with colourful paintings and a big welcome sign. Most of them sit sedately. Some stare into space.

Dr. Amy Clements-Cortes, music therapist and assistant professor, University of Toronto, strides into the room and begins singing to the accompaniment of the keyboard.

Several clients join in and the group begins to awaken. Some tap their toes. Others clap their hands. A few bob their heads. Their eyes brighten as they focus on their conductor. Some don’t sing, but smile quietly. One man sits open-mouthed and lethargic for a while, but eventually grabs the hand of the staff person sitting next to him and pumps it up and down to the beat.

Clements-Cortes beams at the group. “You’re sounding nice,” she says.

Though she’s impressed with the quality of the singing, she’s also pleased by the ability of the music to temporarily revive her clients, many of whom suffer from Alzheimer’s.

Baycrest clients share the condition with about 376,000 Canadians, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada. The disorder is projected to afflict 625,000 lives by 2032.

The disease is caused by abnormal protein clusters that build up in the brain and clog the connections between individual nerve cells, says Lee Bartel, professor of music at the University of Toronto. Over time the presence of these gummy blobs disrupt the circuits in the brain, barring structures from communicating.

Loss of memory is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Autobiographical memory, the recall of life events, is one type of recollection degraded by the disorder, says Ashley Vanstone, PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Queen’s. When patients forget pivotal moments in their lives, they lose pieces of themselves and their very sense of identity is shattered. “You see people slipping away from who they are.”

In a Toronto nursing home, the Villa Colombo, resident Maria Mirabelli sits motionless in her wheelchair. Her eyes are glassy, and she’s chewing on air.

The sentimental Italian song, Mama, comes over the speakers, and Mirabelli focuses, smiling softly and clapping. She starts mouthing the words to the song.

Her son John Mirabelli has seen this transformation before, but never fails to be astonished. “It’s incredible – she doesn’t even know my name,” he says.

The music is also inspiring flashbacks from her past, says activity aide Teresa Cribari. It returns her to the days when she cooked in her kitchen on Sundays while listening to the radio. “I think the music soothes her,” says her son. “It’s great to see her like that.”

Music has the uncanny ability to momentarily reanimate clients by activating their fraying memories, says Vanstone. One famous case involved EN, an Alzheimer patient who spoke in garbled sentences but still recognized familiar songs. Researchers concluded that memory for speech and for music resided in different locations in the brain, and the latter was relatively spared even in advanced dementia.

2207 Music and Health 2Scientists have since pointed out several mechanisms accounting for the doggedness of musical memory. To pull a tune out of storage you first need to make sense of it, says Vanstone.  Compared to speech, music lends itself well to this task, as the grammar of music is internalized early in life. And, unlike in speech, the components of music are replicated – the melody is reinforced by accompanying chords, which are connected to regular rhythms. That means we’re not dependent on any one conveyor of musical meaning. “If your ability to perceive one mode is shaky, you’ve got lots of others.”

Not only can Alzheimer’s patients often recall melodies, they can also remember their lyrics long after they’ve forgotten where they live. The close association between the brain pathways for melody and lyrics accounts for this surprising feat, says Vanstone. “Melody and lyrics are like two parallel tracks joined by rungs – like a ladder. So the memory for melody can support the memory for lyrics.”

But music’s best stunt is its capacity to rekindle the milestones of our lives. These autobiographical memories include landmarks such as graduations and weddings, and are rich in sentiment. Music relies on these emotions to resurrect the recollections, says Vanstone. “Music is very good at conveying feelings – it builds up and lets go, giving a sense of tension and release,” he says. This ability to tap into our deepest passions helps us to draw out the experience that was laid down with the same fervent backdrop.

Music can also aid in recovering memories through its impact on our body’s physiology, says Ryerson PhD candidate Katlyn Peck. Music can stimulate areas of the brain responsible for releasing the chemical dopamine, which helps reconstruct memories. Retrieving a remembrance requires the brain to function at an optimal level of arousal – neither over-stimulated nor under-activated. Music can soothe anxious patients or activate depressed ones, creating the ideal environment for reminiscence.

While memory loss is hard enough for sufferers of Alzheimer’s, this problem can be compounded by depression. In the initial stages of the disease, clients are aware of their declining function. “They become frustrated with themselves when they recognize their problems,” says Clements-Cortes.

Fortunately, attending live concerts can partially reverse this complication, says Michael Thaut, professor of music at the University of Toronto. He led a study in which patients with Alzheimer’s attended nine monthly concerts along with their significant others. He noted striking changes in their moods over the course of the study. “They went from being frozen and inaccessible to smiling and singing along with the music.” 

Back at Baycrest, one man with piercing emerald eyes and matching green pants becomes increasingly animated as the hour progresses. He acts out the songs with dramatic facial expressions and theatrical gestures. His baritone voice belts out Love Me Tender, as he gazes wistfully at Clements-Cortes and points his index finger right at her.

“I enjoy expressing myself,” he says. “Today I was expressing love – I can feel what the songs were saying.”

Music bolsters the mood many different ways, says Clements-Cortes. For starters, it provides an alternative method of communication when words have become compromised. As well, music stirs the production of endorphins. “These are the chemicals causing the pleasurable runner’s high,” she says. Rapid music also ratchets up arousal, ramping up breathing and heart rate.

Music also gives us a high akin to the glow of good sex or the lure of gambling. MRI scans have shown that listening to music engages the reward centre of the brain and triggers the discharge of the feel-good chemical, dopamine, says Thaut.

Tunes also counteract the immobility of depression. When people listen to music, the part of the brain responsible for movement becomes activated. Even if they continue sitting, their minds are in flight, says Thaut.

Anxiety is another common consequence of Alzheimer’s, says Thaut. As the disease progresses, patients no longer recognize their surroundings, their loved ones, or even their own memories. These deficits leave them feeling disoriented and can lead to agitation – yelling, resisting a bath, or even hitting loved ones.

Gina Scenna wanders up and down the hallways of Villa Colombo. She appears angry and confused. “She’s trying to look for something but she can’t find it,” says behaviour specialist Anna Abrantes.

Abrantes puts on her iPod filled with her favourite Italian songs. Scenna’s expression softens. She grabs Abrantes’ hands and starts dancing, bopping up and down in time to the music. When she tires, she sits down calmly, eyes closed, rapt in reverie.

Inspired by the movie Alive Inside, about the benefits of music on dementia, the Alzheimer Society of Toronto supplies free iPods, loaded with individualized music, to clients with dementia.

Our bodies are soothed by music, says Clements-Cortes. We produce oxytocin when we hear pleasant songs. This substance, known as the “the cuddle hormone,” is normally released in the presence of our lovers. “It gives us a feeling of contentment.” Listening to familiar tunes is also comforting and dials down our stress hormone, cortisol.

Music can be particularly reassuring to agitated Alzheimer’s patients, says Thaut. Its ability to stir memories back to life reduces clients’ disorientation. “If a person feels more anchored to themselves and to their environments, that makes them more secure.”

Music benefits the caregivers too, says Vanstone. “It’s tremendously rewarding to see their loved ones spark up a little bit.” As well, significant others don’t need to fear the side effects, including falls, which are an inevitable consequence of antipsychotics used to treat agitation.

The choir sings its final song, Shalom Aleichem (Hebrew for “Peace be upon you”). As the last harmonies soar to the ceiling,  Clements-Cortes claps her hands. “Great job, excellent,” she says.

She is thrilled with the way music has temporarily turned back the clock on the singers’ lives. “Using music someone enjoys and has a connection to helps to revive their personality,” she says. “It’s like their old self is back for a little bit.”

The man in the green pants walks up to her at the end of the practice. He probably can’t articulate why he feels so stoked after an hour of singing. But he knows one thing. “I love you a bushel and a peck,” he tells his choir leader, referring to the lyrics of one of the golden oldies. Clements-Cortes is moved. “I’m honoured to work as a music therapist. I love seeing the benefits of music in their lives,” she says.

To obtain an iPod for your loved one, see alz.to/get-help/music-project.

Vivien Fellegi is a former family physician now working as a freelance medical journalist.

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2207 CBC 2 SomersThe explosion of Canadian artistic creativity that led up to and accompanied the Canadian centennial celebrations in 1967 spawned ripples that continued for years, if not decades. In addition to the more than 2000 artistic infrastructure projects that the federal Centennial Commission created, there were also dozens of original musical works commissioned, by various bodies including CBC Radio, to celebrate the milestone. Some of these have remained in the canon of Canadian classical repertoire, such as Norma Beecroft’s The Living Flame of Love, Harry Freedman’s Rose Latulippe, Jacque Hétu’s Woodwind Quintet, Barbara Pentland’s Suite Borealis, Murray Schafer’s Requiems for the Party Girl, and Harry Somers’ Evocations. In December 1967 the Canadian Music Centre (CMC) published a comprehensive catalogue of nearly 200 of these new works. RCA Victor collaborated with the CBC’s international service, Radio Canada International (RCI), to create a centennial edition LP series, Music and Musicians of Canada, which ran to 17 volumes. Other labels, such as Columbia, also released Canadian classical works, although less numerous than the RCA/RCI collaboration.

Harry Somers’ and Mavor Moore’s opera Louis Riel was arguably the crowning achievement among all this creative activity. The opera was produced by the Canadian Opera Company in 1967, with the support of the Floyd Chalmers Foundation, and remounted in 1968. In 1969 Riel was produced for national viewing by CBC Television and this version is now available on DVD through the CMC’s Centrediscs label. And of course, this year’s new production by the COC, premiering on April 20, stands tall among the many Canada 150 projects.

All that creative fury in 1967 was somewhat lost on me, as I was, at the time of the Canadian centennial, an undergraduate music student at the University of Wisconsin (UW) School of Music in Madison. But then, while prowling the UW music library, I discovered a shiny-new, complete collection of that very same Music and Musicians of Canada series, where I first heard the music of Somers, Freedman, Pentland, Schafer, John Weinzweig and other Canadian composers. When, in 1970, a Woodrow Wilson International Fellowship aided my choice of the University of Toronto Faculty of Music for graduate study, I realized I would almost certainly meet these, to me, already iconic composers.

The centennial euphoria had died down just a bit when I walked into the University of Toronto Electronic Music Studio (UTEMS) for the first time, in 1970. It wasn’t long before I met flutist/composer Robert Aitken, whose electronic composition, Noesis, was included in a famous Folkways LP, also released in 1967, showcasing UTEMS. This was also the studio in which Somers, together with engineer Lowell Cross, had created the electronic music episodes that appear at various dramatic climaxes in Louis Riel. Beecroft created her mixed media composition, Piece for Bob (commissioned by CBC Radio and composed for Bob Aitken,) at UTEMS as well. It was a facility that was literally dripping with history. Every major composer of the time who included electronic music in their musical language walked through those doors.

It was at this time in the early 1970s that Aitken and Beecroft were working to launch New Music Concerts, an organization that remains one of the leading contemporary music presenters in Canada. And it was through New Music Concerts that I first worked directly with Harry Somers. In 1975, the same year that Louis Riel was revived by the COC, New Music Concerts presented the premiere performance of a work they had commissioned, Somers’ Zen, Yeats and Emily Dickinson. This is a major work of theatrical music (as opposed to music theatre), in which musicians interact with stage actors who, in turn, deliver passages of text compiled from Zen writings, and poetry by William Butler Yeats and Emily Dickinson. In the course of making the recording of the work, and then preparing its presentation on the CBC network Radio program, Music of Today, Harry and I discovered we had affinities in our respective approaches to music and broadcasting. We agreed that we should meet again in the near future and discuss some innovative programming ideas.

In fact, it took more than a year for the meeting to take place, and rather than a meeting, it turned out to be a production. Harry called and asked if I could book a studio and engineer for the “meeting.” He arrived with a large binder filled with sheets containing what appeared to be some sort of graphic notation. Without much conversation, we made our way to the studio. Harry went in to the microphone, as if he meant to record a statement. But instead of speaking, he began with long, drawn-out breaths, repeating several times with contrasting shape and inflection. He gradually transformed these to more voiced sounds, with occasional bursts of pops, shouts, growls and a wide range of vocal effects. Nearly 20 minutes later he returned to the breathing sounds and eventually fell silent. Harry possessed a marvellous, sonorous voice, and he made very effective use of it.

2207 CBC 2 Riel CoverHarry had just given a performance of a work that he had composed for the American vocalist, Cathy Berberian (1925-1983), titled Voiceplay. It had been commissioned by John Peter Lee Roberts, the head of CBC Radio Music for the CBC Toronto Festival in 1971. Harry felt that Berberian had not taken the work seriously and had not delivered the full contents of the score. By the time our “meeting” was finished, we found we were in possession of an ideal performance of Voiceplay, delivered in the composer’s voice and his own authentic interpretation. When, on January 1, 1978, the new music network series I created, Two New Hours, began its nearly 30-year run on CBC Radio Two, the featured work of our first broadcast was this very production of Voiceplay by Harry Somers.

In fact, notwithstanding his symphonies, concertos, string quartets, sonatas and other instrumental works, Somers’ feeling for the voice was one of his greatest gifts, and it’s only natural that he would grow to be a superb and prolific composer of art song, choral music and opera. While in France in 1960, he had taken time to stay at the Abbey of Solesmes where he studied the practice of Gregorian chant. When he and I undertook to prepare the recording that CBC producer Digby Peers and engineer Brian Wood had made of the 1975 revival of Louis Riel at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC for release on a 3-LP Centrediscs release, Harry handed me an extra tape, right at the beginning of the first editing session. It was the opening song of Act 1, in which an unseen “Folksinger” (as the libretto has it) intones the lines, “Riel sits in his chamber o’ state/Wi’ his stolen silver forks and his stolen silver plate...,” and so on, in a simple, unadorned style. It was beautifully sung and it was clearly Harry’s own voice. He asked me to replace the version from the performance with this preferred interpretation, which he had re-recorded in some unidentified studio. The song was edited into the assembly, and after several months of further editing and sonic enhancement the recording was mastered and released on Centrediscs. The launch of the recording took place at the University of Guelph during an academic conference, “The Image of Riel in Canadian Culture,” in 1985, the centennial of the death of Louis Riel.

In 1988, Somers was commissioned by the COC to write another opera, together with librettist Rod Anderson, Mario and the Magician. It became a a larger work than Riel, and it took four years to complete. In the midst of the writing, Somers told me that being an opera composer was a surefire way to bankruptcy, since the work would be so completely all-consuming, there would be no possibility to accept other commissions. To the best of my knowledge, financial disaster was avoided and soon, after the opera was completed, Somers was once again accepting commissions. One of the first works he completed in 1992 was commissioned by CBC Radio, Of Memory and Desire, for Ottawa’s Thirteen Strings. The work was subsequently performed by Esprit Orchestra and recorded for broadcast on Two New Hours. In his introduction to the broadcast of the work, Somers revealed that the source of the title was from the first stanza of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land: “April is the cruellest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain.”

Harry Somers died in 1999 at the age of 73. Shortly after his death, a group of us, under the leadership of Barbara Chilcott Somers and Robert Cram, began recording his music for Centrediscs. This 13-CD/DVD series is called A Window on Somers. Needless to say, most of these recordings were broadcast first on CBC Radio’s Two New Hours. And as it turned out, in a moment of intended symmetry, the very last work heard on the final broadcast of Two New Hours, ten years ago, in March 2007, was a rebroadcast of Somers’ Voiceplay.

David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto.

Bernard Turgeon (centre) as Louis Riel, in the 1967 premiere of Louis Riel.The opera Louis Riel is maybe one of the most unabashedly ‘Canadian’-branded works to ever hit our classical music scene. But it also sheds light on a systemic, nationwide problem: just how little many Canadians know about our own national history. With Louis Riel coming to the COC next month, there’s an opportunity to change that.

Written in 1967 and revisited this year by the COC, Harry Somers’ Louis Riel draws on so many parts of national(ist) history—especially in light of the sesquicentennial—that it’s only natural for side projects about the meaning behind the work to pop up in the city. The opera’s huge cast of Confederation-era characters and conflicts can make it a difficult one to understand—and like any modern nation, Canada’s history gets complicated and messy pretty quickly, if you look at it closely enough. For many music educators in Toronto, Louis Riel serves as an apt moment for concert-goers to take that complex, closer look.

Réa Beaumont: One of those educators is Dr. Réa Beaumont, a pianist, researcher and writer specializing in Canadian music. Beaumont is teaching a course at the Royal Conservatory later this month as part of its Music Appreciation series, titled “Canadian Composers: Harry Somers' Louis Riel”. It’s the second time this course has run at the RCM, but with the opera starting its run at the COC in just over a month, the timing now is perfect.

“The course will be an in-depth look at the music, characters, and historical events that inspired the opera, and it will feature special guests who were involved in the original 1967 production,” says Beaumont. “The course also includes a free ticket to the Canadian Opera Company’s dress rehearsal, which is a terrific opportunity to see how things work 'behind the scenes.’“

Beaumont adds that the course will also delve deeper into the study of Somers himself, and his place in the history of Canadian music. “A lot of people know the Louis Riel opera and not that much about Harry Somers,” she says. “He was a prolific composer, he studied with John Weinzweig, he was an Order of Canada recipient—and he was a core member of that group of composers that was writing in the 1950s: Pentland, Weinzweig, Coulthard, Archer. They were a force to be reckoned with in Canadian music.

“That generation of mid-twentieth century composers, they really had such a battle to move forward and take music into the twentieth century in Canada. They formed the Canadian Music Centre, and the Canadian League of Composers...Really, they’re the founders of Canadian music as we know it today.”

Ultimately, Beaumont hopes that audiences will be able to listen to this opera in 2017 and take away an interest in Canadian history, and an understanding of how the national tensions Riel and Sir John A. MacDonald faced in the nineteenth century are still at play today.

“I hope also that people are inspired to do their own research into the history and keep an open mind,” she says. “It would a tremendous achievement if people could see the opera and learn about this—for their takeaway to be that Canada has a history that we should all know about and keep discussing, so that we can move forward.”

The course “Canadian Composers: Harry Somers' Louis Riel” runs Thursday nights at the RCM from March 23 to April 13. Beaumont will also be giving a free introductory lecture about the opera on March 20 at 7pm, at the Toronto Reference Library. For details on both of these programs, visit https://learning.rcmusic.ca/music-appreciation and http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/, respectively.

Riel Opera Talk: Another similar initiative is a new podcast out of the University of Toronto, called Riel Opera Talk. Hosted by U of T musicology grad students Sarah Koval and Taryn Jackson, the podcast is a weekly series exploring different facets of the opera, with industry experts, musicians and scholars. Hosted on Soundcloud and via U of T’s Institute for Canadian Music (www.uoftmusicicm.ca), the show rides the rising popularity of podcasts to take an in-depth look at some of Louis Riel’s more complicated aspects, in an online, serial format.

“I have been interested in this opera for a long time, and when I found out that U of T was funding student initiatives for research around Canada's 150 celebrations, I jumped at the chance to learn more about this opera,” says Jackson, whose work at U of T includes teaching a tutorial for a course on the music of North America. “I proposed the podcast as a project, and now here we are.” Koval, whose own research focuses in part on opera, immediately got on board.

So far, they’ve done three episodes (with the most recent released this morning on Wednesday, March 15), covering conversations with Métis scholar Adam Gaudry, as well as members of the cast and crew of the original Louis Riel production from 1967. Next up in their series will be an exploration of Louis Riel’s position within Canadian music history, as well as a discussion around the COC’s take on what Koval and Jackson are calling “Canada’s nationalizing opera”.

“This is one of the few operas on a Canadian historical topic that has received many performances,” Jackson and Koval explain. “We call it ‘nationalizing’ because it contributes to the nationalist agenda of Canadian historical milestones, such as the centennial celebrations of 1967 and the upcoming sesquicentennial celebrations this year—[though] the opera itself neither strikes us as nationalizing or nationalist because it is quite complex and dark, definitely not celebratory. This is one of the things that makes its use in these national events so interesting.”

The podcast, like Beaumont’s course, contributes to an emerging body of local scholarship around Louis Riel—one that promises that when audiences do see the opera next month, they’ll be listening closely.

“We hope [our listeners] get even more excited to see the opera than they already are, and that they embrace the changes to the production that are underway,” say Jackson and Koval. “We hope people listen to our podcast as a way of understanding the challenges this opera posed in 1967 and continues to pose today. Finally, we think this podcast provides a great behind-the-scenes adventure into the making of an opera, especially a work that is not part of the operatic canon.”

The podcast Riel Opera Talk is available online on Soundcloud, via Twitter at @RielOperaTalk, and at www.uoftmusicicm.ca, with new episodes released weekly. For details on the COC production of Louis Riel, visit www.coc.ca.

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and musicologist, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at editorial@thewholenote.com.

NOW’s panel talk on Monday. Photo credit: Tanja Tiziana.The Silver Dollar Room on Spadina, set to close this May.The atrium at 192 Spadina is filled to capacity. There are 200 of us, and we’re about to hear a panel talk hosted by NOW Magazine called “Vanishing Venues”, on the slew of recent music venue closures in Toronto. Following their cover story of the same name earlier this month, NOW organized the talk on Monday, March 13, as a community discussion on the future of Toronto’s music venues—and for an event like this, I’ve never seen a space so full.

Maybe so many people turned up because it’s a topic that hits home. Since the beginning of 2017 alone, seven music venues in Toronto (Hugh’s Room, Soybomb, the Hoxton, the Central, the Silver Dollar, Holy Oak and Harlem) have announced their closure—and this week’s announcement from the Hard Rock Cafe now brings that total up to eight. As the NOW article states, it’s a trend that is quickly being labelled as a crisis.

“It is a crisis, absolutely,” said Spencer Sutherland, in Carla Gillis’ original NOW article. Sutherland is owner of Nocturne, chairman of the Queen St. West BIA and member of the Toronto Music Advisory Council, and a member of Monday’s panel. “In London, UK, they declared it a crisis when they found out that 35 venues had closed over a period of eight years. We’re a city one-fifth the size and we’ve had three times that many close.”

The panel on Monday night, hosted by NOW assistant entertainment editor Kevin Ritchie at the Centre for Social Innovation on Spadina, included Sutherland alongside TiKA Simone (musician and founder of #BAREGYAL party series and The Known Unknown), Shaun Bowring (owner of the Garrison, the Baby G and Transmit Presents), Anthony Greenberg (a senior planner at SvN Architects + Planners), and Erin Benjamin, executive director of Music Canada Live.

NOW’s panel talk on Monday. Photo credit: Tanja Tiziana.Clear from the beginning was a sense of frustration with the city decision-makers, and an awareness of a disconnect between how we like to think of Toronto, and how we have actually managed its growth. Whatever happened to the hype at city hall about making Toronto a ‘Music City’? And what does it mean when all of a city’s music-makers can no longer afford to live and work there? As one panelist said, “music has been one of our greatest cultural exports to the world, and it has been for a long time—and yet we treat it like disposable tissue.”

Some of the stories brought up in the conversation were shocking. According to Sutherland on Monday, there is no licensing class for live music venues in Toronto, with all clubs and concert venues registered under restaurant licenses; noise bylaws put live music in the same category as public noise like loud construction and leaf blowers; and city hall has no official registry of where in the city live music is taking place. It all sets up an infrastructure where it’s easy to delegitimize venue owners and musicians as rightful members of the city economy—and it means that, when conflicts between music venues and other neighbourhood bodies arise, the musicians legally have no legs to stand on.

In other cases, the stories—at least for some—were not so surprising. In conversation, TiKA focused the discussion on the accessibility of the city’s music spaces and decision-making bodies, and the lack of access granted to underprivileged groups—among them women, young people, people from lower-income neighbourhoods, and people of colour. “We’re supposed to be a cultural hub,” she said, “but a lot of the people who are in these spaces are old, tired, unwilling, and afraid of diversity. I’m not surprised by what's happening.”

TiKA pointed out specifics: a lack of education in low-income neighbourhoods on how to access government assistance; an acceptance by the city of gentrification processes that push entire communities out of the downtown core; and a lack of knowledge among the city’s decision-making officials about the current moment in music, and the state of things on the ground floor.

“Toronto is supposed to be known for cultural diversity,” she added. “It should look like that.”

The conversation kept coming back to these questions of access—and indeed, access seems to lie at the root of this problem. How can artists and concertgoers reach city hall, and advocate for what they do in ways that don’t fall on deaf ears? How can music venues access government protection from the types of urban growth that make it difficult to sustain cultural spaces? How can music professionals make the industry a welcoming one for communities that are regularly marginalized and disregarded? And how to do all of that within a system that makes it all so difficult?

As Erin Benjamin said on Monday, “When we [people who are passionate about music in Toronto] really start to dig into the numbers and really tell our story, I think we’ll see things start to change.”

TiKA put it even more succinctly: “We can’t keep doing this dance.”

They’re right. It’s getting harder and harder to afford living in this city as an arts worker, as a young person, or as a member of a marginalized community. It’s also tiring to be told to mobilize and speak up, when many have already been doing that—and when in the face of big business and slow city hall progress, those things don’t seem to be working. As one audience member said on Monday, “it’s about privileged and underprivileged people”—and overwhelmingly, musicians and the people whose work supports them seem to fall on the latter end of that spectrum.

But while the situation may seem dire, Monday night did offer one glimmer of optimism: that people in Toronto, and many different kinds of people at that, are talking about this and getting frustrated. They’re tackling difficult subjects, and trying to find new ways to do this challenging work.

A city like Toronto needs physical meeting-places and cultural workspaces to thrive, and to continue being the type of city where people actually want to live. So perhaps the struggle is not so much about “keeping our venues from disappearing”, but rather, how to make Toronto into the kind of city where many different types of artists—and many different kinds of people, not just the residentially-minded and the rich—feel welcome. Frustrating conversations like this one are just one of the ways to start.

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and musicologist, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at editorial@thewholenote.com.

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