Gustavo Dudamel (left) and Gael García BernalThese days, stories about classical music are almost completely absent from television programming – which is why it’s all the more astonishing that an American series with protagonists who are musicians, and plots revolving around their work as musicians, has been, since its modest debut in 2014, gaining prominence. By Season 3,’s online-only TV series Mozart in the Jungle has accumulated several awards, a growing following – and critical acclaim nearing consensus.

New charismatic music director takes over the reins at a large New York City orchestra. Board of directors gears up for a rebranding but the mandate is at stake. Young musician joins a music section full of veterans set in their ways. The old music director is not quite ready to disappear into the background. He is, in fact, about to get into a messy affair with the orchestra’s CEO. Meanwhile, opening nights. Fundraising events. Tour. Lock-out. Drugs, prescription and other. Sex. Rivalry and comradeship. Big chances and hard blows. And music: a lot of it, in almost every scene.

I am of course talking about an Amazon Original series Mozart in the Jungle, a Golden Globe-winning show which shines the light on the lives of professional musicians as no other TV show has.

Classical music and television – still the most powerful of all media – have completely parted ways in Canada and the US over the last decade. For Ontarians, the only chance of coming across any opera and classical music on TV is the public francophone TFO channel, which occasionally interviews artists and transmits recorded performances. The effects of the total withdrawal of the national public broadcaster CBC TV from covering art music, literature, visual arts and dance is for the sociologists of the future to measure and for us to bear. (Papers are not doing much better: our largest dailies’ coverage of classical music is occasional at best.)

Classical musicians are permanently absent from TV fiction as well. Could the Looney Tunes cartoons have been the last time that classical music was present in broad TV mainstream? Which is why it’s all the more astonishing that an American series with protagonists who are musicians and plots revolving around their work as musicians has been, since its modest debut in 2014, gaining prominence, awards, a growing following, and, by Season 3, critical acclaim nearing consensus.

Real-life musicians who’ve appeared in cameos include Joshua Bell, Emanuel Ax, Gustavo Dudamel, Lang Lang and Alan Gilbert. With season 4 in the works, the list is likely to grow. It’s hard to believe that the series has not come out of the traditional TV: it’s an production (the online retailer is also a TV production company) and, like shows on Netflix, can be watched online only – by episode, or entire seasons. It’s a new and fast-growing model of TV financing and consumption; and yet the old – classical music – seems to have found a place in it.

The show’s creators – Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Will Graham and Paul Weitz – originally based it on oboist Blaire Tindall’s 2005 memoir, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music, but the show, centred on a charismatic young conductor, an established older conductor, an administrator of a large NYC orchestra and a handful of musicians, quickly acquired a life – and wacky plots – of its own. After a bumpy first season that was no stranger to stereotypes, implausible plotting, iffy gender politics (men are the creators, women are administrators or young artists in need of mentoring), a sitcom-like take on the working life and even a ghost of Mozart speaking in a posh British accent, the show proceeded to improve at a steady pace. Season 3 has persuaded its most obdurate critics. The principals are now complex individuals, stories are well-researched, careers take more than one miraculous performance, women too are creators. So, if you still don’t have the habit of looking for TV online and have missed the first three seasons entirely, now is a good time to catch up before Season 4 is released early this December.

Season 3, its best so far, is also when the only Canadian in the show’s permanent writer-producer pool joined in.

Multi-talented screenwriter and actor Susan Coyne is probably best known across North America as the co-creator of the 2003-06 Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows, a dramedy about theatre artists working at a Shakespearean festival much like Stratford and, should you poll the local TV critics, one of the best things ever to appear on TV. Slings accomplished what few TV creations dare try: it took a piece of highbrow culture – Shakespeare’s plays – and turned it into compelling television without dumbing any of it down. A corner of high culture, often accessible only to those who’d studied it and who tended to belong to the leisured classes, became the setting for a TV story about personal and professional intrigues of the working men and women who happen to be artists. Sounds familiar? Mozart in the Jungle is aiming exactly in that direction.

The producers called Coyne before the work on the third season had begun, “out of the blue, but the next thing I knew I was flying to LA,” she explains when we meet to talk about her work on the show. Slings and Arrows is well known in TV and performing arts circles, and somebody must have connected the dots between it and MITJ. She had never been to LA before. “I found a very creative, slightly chaotic but wonderfully free-flowing kind of situation that I liked a lot; it’s not what I expected of LA television industry; it was more like working in the theatre.” She started as a writer but became a producer on the season – which is also a writing job. “Producers write all the time, work on all episodes, shaping stories, rewriting, tweaking scenes, and we’re to some extent involved in conversations about creative problems: you’re sometimes consulted about casting, for example,” she says.

This isn’t Coyne’s first time writing about an orchestra: some years ago, she was asked to develop a Canadian show about a fledgling orchestra, but it didn’t make the production stage. “What we came up with was really good, but times being what they were, we couldn’t take it forward in Canada, and then both of us writers got busy with other projects. So, I have done some research into orchestras and I know how difficult it is to tell the story of an entire ensemble, plus the people backstage running the show. I think that telling a story through a small family of musicians, all of whom have their own issues, is the way to go about it. MITJ really honoured what’s unique about musicians, the physicality of the job, the fact that it’s like being an athlete.” And just like Slings, MITJ doesn’t make fun of people for doing what they do – they see being an oboist or a conductor or a composer as an absolutely worthwhile thing to do. “The show makes fun of them for their egos, and their neuroses. But they take it for granted that what they do matters.”

Lola KirkeWriting the show is a collective process, not unlike playing in an orchestra. The producers get together to sketch out the whole season before each individual episode is written. Any newly introduced narrative thread needs to be resolved by the last episode. “If there is an orchestra strike at the beginning of the season, it would have to be resolved by the end. We knew Rodrigo would be starting a youth orchestra, and that Gloria and Thomas’ relationship would become important. We knew that they were all going to Venice and that Rodrigo was going to conduct a recluse opera singer. Then you figure out, in broad detail, what is going to happen in each episode. Then, you make sure that every main character has enough to do in each episode, and break it all down into finer and finer detail before you start to write an outline. Then you go and write it. And rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it. Some bits get taken from one episode to another episode. It’s a strange, organic process. There are bits of scenes that I’ve written in every episode, and a lot of the writers can say the same. Then you get rewritten yourself. You get your name on one of the episodes, but it’s probably a mishmash of your stuff and other people’s stuff. Finally, the showrunner looks at each episode and makes sure that it all feels like the same show and not like something written in different voices.”

Coyne’s name appears in the credits of the “Creative Solutions for Creative Lives” episode, in which the former music director of the orchestra turned composer (Malcolm McDowell) discovers electronic music, and “Avventura Romantica,” in which the young protagonist Hailey (Lola Kirke) assembles a small orchestra and tries conducting herself – a piece composed for the show by NYC-based composer Missy Mazzoli. The storyline with Hailey stumbling into conducting then realizing that she really wants to do it, Coyne says, was an important one to tell, and will continue in Season 4. “In theatre, everybody has their own voice and everybody is their own artist, but what’s fascinating about the orchestras [is that] everyone there is highly trained as a soloist whose job upon joining the orchestra is to blend in. And I can see how that can be stressful; I can also see how making something bigger than yourself can be wonderful.” It’s additionally interesting, she says, if the musician grappling with these questions is a young woman, since the external and internal obstacles to the conducting profession in that case multiply.

A repository of charisma and artistic madness in Season 1, the new music director Rodrigo (played by Gael García Bernal) has by now grown into a conflicted human being. Coyne says it’s a natural process: finding new layers to characters and surprising yourself is part of the job. The fun of it is to put the characters in challenging situations and see what they’re made of. “It’s true that the Rodrigo character is magical in some way, but we’re discovering that he has his own disappointments and yearnings, and is wondering what his true destiny is, and whether it’s enough just to be an artist. Some of this came from Gael who said at one point, ‘It’s time for this guy to grow up.’”

Coyne played the piano as a child and while her university degrees are in history and theatre, music was always part of her life. Now, thanks to the show, she listens to classical music even more. “And I think there comes a time in your life when you need to be listening to more complex music and having more interesting conversations about it,” she says. She is most likely to be found listening to Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and choral music of all kinds. “My kids sang in a church choir and I loved all the masses they sang in – those things really thrill me.” She’d like to introduce more Romantics and modern music to her listening habits. Opera is always around. In How Are You?, a short film about an end of a marriage that she made with Martha Burns in 2008, an aria from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino is sung in an Annex living room by the protagonist’s operatic alter ego (look for the film, 18 minutes of hilarity, sadness and opera, on “Only opera can express certain things,” says Coyne.

Why has classical music disappeared from the TV medium, and what are her thoughts? “I was going back looking at those Leonard Bernstein intro-to-music shows the other day…He was amazing. Shows like that don’t exist anymore,” she agrees. While a number of conductors have embraced different causes and are active in their societies – Dudamel, on whom the MITJ’s Rodrigo was loosely based, is one of them; Daniel Barenboim is another – the lucky connection of the Bernstein kind (between a public broadcaster and a great communicator whose goal is to make music education more widely accessible) doesn’t come easily. “The idea of art music being popular – somehow we’ve lost that thread. It’s perceived to be elitist, despite what every orchestra in the world is trying to do to fight that,” says Coyne. She likes the music segments that Robert Harris occasionally makes for CBC Radio One’s The Sunday Edition: “He does a great job of talking about music in a lively and approachable way,” she says. “That’s the goal with MITJ too. It tries to demystify classical music and take it into the world.”

This is an uphill battle with so much else vying for our attention. “Once we do give over to something, we can pay attention, but there’s always the barrier – am I willing to give up anything for this. And those great works of art require you to give over. They are going to enlarge you, and they’ll ask for something in return. It’s the most rewarding kind of ‘giving over’.” Art, she would like to remind us, isn’t something over there; it’s next to you and it relates to every aspect of your life.

Funding cuts in arts education in schools also aren’t helping the cause. “The only sports I can watch are the ones I’ve played: hockey and basketball. (My hockey team in high school was never in any danger of winning so there was never any pressure and we enjoyed it.) I will watch hockey because I’ve played it,” says Coyne. “I can imagine what it’s like to be in a game of hockey, and I get some of the fun of it. I think if you get kids the exposure to music at a young age, they’ll have a taste for it for life.”

Coyne herself was introduced to Shakespeare (and Shelley and Keats) at the age of five by a kindly cottage neighbour who also happened to be a masterful pedagogue, the story of which she tells in her 2001 childhood memoir Kingfisher Days. “Music is enriching for all the reasons that the scientists and educators give us, of course, but primarily for the pleasure it gives.”

Rapid Fire: Susan Coyne, writer (Mozart in the Jungle)

Susan CoyneWN: Mozart or Wagner?

SC: Mozart.

Pinter or Stoppard?

I want to say Pinter but I’ll say Stoppard.

Caryl Churchill or Stoppard?


Shaw or Coward?

Coward is underrated!

Shakespeare’s tragedies or Shakespeare’s comedies?

Impossible. And great playwrights intermingle comedy and drama. Ibsen, Chekhov and Shakespeare all knew a thing or two about dramedy.

Female roles in Shakespeare vs. female roles in Restoration plays?

Hmm…Rosalind and Portia are pretty good roles. Sometimes the women are on a par with men in Shakespeare, there just aren’t enough of them. Restoration roles are wonderful to play, but those plays are not as ambitious as Shakespeare’s plays. It’s really hard to do Restoration comedy – harder than Shakespeare. They can be arch, like Wilde.

Three Sisters or The Seagull?

Three Sisters.

Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky?


La Traviata or Rigoletto?

La Traviata.

Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul?


Girls or Sex and the City?


Broad City or Girls?

Broad City. The last season of Girls was good.

British TV or American TV?

I’d say British TV…I just love the casting in British TV, which usually has an interesting range of real people, not glossy versions of people. Also, on British TV, the rest of the world exists.

Mozart in the Jungle returns on on December 8, 2017, and can be watched online at

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. She can be reached at

Elisa CitterioOn October 11, 2017 at 8pm (or shortly thereafter), on the stage of the hall named after her distinguished predecessor, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra’s new music director will take that sharply drawn-in breath characteristic of leading a period ensemble from the first violin. And with the downbeat that follows, as the first notes of Giuseppe Battista Fontana’s Sonata XIV for two violins, dulcian and continuo float out into Jeanne Lamon Hall, it will be safe to say that Brescia-born Elisa Citterio, only the second music director in Tafelmusik’s illustrious 33-year history, will be well and truly at home.

It won’t be Citterio’s first appearance with Tafelmusik. That took place, in the selfsame hall, from November 5 to November 8, 2015, in a program titled “Baroque Masters” and featuring works by Corelli, Fasch, J.S. Bach, Locatelli and Vivaldi (his Concerto for two violins and two oboes in F).

It won’t even be her first official appearance as the orchestra’s anointed music director. That will have taken place three weeks previously, from September 21 to 24 at Koerner Hall and September 26 at the George Weston Hall. But for Tafelmusik as an organization, October 11, 2017 will be the culmination of a five-year process that started in the orchestra room in the basement at Trinity-St. Paul’s in October 2012, when Jeanne Lamon  advised her orchestral colleagues of her intention to step down as music director. And for Citterio it will be a defining moment – her first opportunity to present herself to Tafelmusik’s audiences in all her musical capacities: who she is (virtuosic soloist, orchestral leader, team player and imaginative curator) and, both literally and metaphorically, where she is coming from.

In a blog post still available for reading on Tafelmusik’s website, violinist Jula Wedman wryly recalls Lamon’s October 2012 announcement of her intention to retire from the position she had held for 33 years: “For the first time ever in an orchestra meeting,” Wedman says, “the room was completely silent.” Tears and prosecco flowed. And then the search was on, with Wedman as one of two musicians on an 11-person search committee spearheaded by veteran arts headhunters Margaret Genovese and Dory Vanderhoof.

In her blog post, Wedman reflects on the positive aspects of the ensuing two-year process for the musicians themselves: “I saw how the orchestra grew and changed as we worked with each wonderful guest director,” she wrote. “I saw how our feelings of despair over the news of Jeanne’s retirement changed to acceptance and support for her new lifestyle and our new relationship with her. It was wonderful to have such a long process. We needed it. We became more flexible as a group, we became more open to new ideas, we became less reliant on Jeanne and more self-sufficient as a group.”

Remarkably, given the thoroughness of the process, Citterio only emerged as a contender in November 2015, and, even at that late date, as much a matter of luck as good management. “We had a concert in November 2015 with no director,” Wedman explains. “We also happened to have just hired a new violist from Italy, Stefano Marcocchi. I remember talking to him one day backstage before a performance at Koerner Hall, describing all of the things I thought Tafelmusik was looking for in a new music director. The name that came first and foremost to his mind was a name we hadn’t heard before – Elisa Citterio.” Wedman recalls being struck by Citterio’s virtuosity as a soloist, her “super-efficient rehearsal style, and her high level of attention to detail,” and “the way the music grew and changed every day, coming to life in different ways in each concert. ... The moment I will never forget that week was about three minutes into the first concert. The orchestra was feeling stressed (first-concert jitters) and I looked up at Elisa – she had a big beautiful smile on her face that said to me, ‘This is exactly the place I am supposed to be right now. I love this!’”

Tafelmusik on the steps of Trinity-St. Paul’s, 1981: Back Row (L-R): Marc Destrubé, Jeanne Lamon, Christina Mahler, Deborah Paul, Anthony St. Pierre, Jack Liivoja-Lorius. Front Row (L-R): Susan Graves (seated), Kenneth Solway, Ivars Taurins, Charlotte Nediger, Alison Mackay.Plans to have her back at Trinity-St. Paul’s in February 2016 for an all-Mozart program didn’t come to fruition, so it wasn’t until September 2016 in last season’s season-opening concert series at Koerner Hall that what turned out to be the decisive second date took place. “This time she and her partner Mirko brought their two-month-old daughter Olivia,” Wedman writes. “Elisa was playing the very first concerts after her first child was born! We were stunned that in the face of utter exhaustion, [she] still brought the same boundless energy and joy for the music with her. The rehearsals were organized and efficient, her ideas and cues were clear, creative and easy to follow, and I don’t think I heard one out-of-tune note from her during the entire rehearsal period and concerts! … Many of us remarked how fresh Handel’s Water Music (a piece we have played many times) felt under her direction.”

Sitting in the balcony for that September 22, 2016 season opener, and of course with benefit of hindsight, I can distinctly recall the feeling that what was happening between conductor and orchestra on the stage that night might be more than a one-night stand. In fact, if there was anything to criticize from an audience member’s point of view, it was that the musical conversation unfolding on the stage was all about them, rather than directed at us – like overhearing an intensely intimate conversation from the next booth over!

From that point on things moved quickly, as these things go. An offer was made by phone call to Italy, around the turn of the year.

“I was home, nursing Olivia, four months old by then, ” Citterio recalls, in a hastily arranged interview in The WholeNote offices back in May 2017. “Sometimes life-changing news comes at such normal moments. I remember thinking, just ten minutes ago I had a walk in the village, went to the supermarket! For me it was a feeling that this was taking on something huge at a time when things have just changed anyway. But maybe it’s a chance for things to be more busy but less crazy. I think the biggest change and really different is the responsibility for things not only on stage.”

How long did it actually take her to decide to come? “I waited one month to give news to my family,” she says with a smile. But clearly the opportunity to take on a role that will enable her to express and explore a fully rounded musicality beyond that of virtuoso and orchestral violinist had enormous appeal.

And so it is that October 11 to 14, audiences will have the first opportunity to witness Citterio’s multifaceted musicianship, close up and personal, in a program that is entirely of her choosing. “I didn’t plan the whole season,” she says, “because planning started before my appointment; mostly just some suggestions for the first program and the second one and the fourth.”

Of the three programs she mentions, this is clearly the one she is most invested in. “I want to give something of my background, so including Fontana and Marini, both from that background, is very natural. Landscapes around Brescia have changed over the years, but relatively not so much. There are lots of places with historical ruins that were already ruins in Marini and Fontana’s time. And we have caves with prehistoric art which could have been familiar to them… I can’t explain in words what I feel playing this music. It is somehow so familiar to me, and not because I have played it so often or heard it.”

And this sense of connection extends beyond the music itself. “My violin, for example,” she says. “It is a Marcello Villa instrument made in 2005; but it is inspired by Gio Paolo Maggini’s instruments – a 16th-century luthier from Brescia, and contemporary of Fontana. In fact, they even died in the same plague in 1630.  So when I play this music with this instrument I imagine I can create the same sound the composer heard. It is not logical but it is how I imagine it. I would like to give this to the Toronto audience.”

Looking beyond Citterio the curator/programmer to Citterio the orchestral leader and team player, it’s worth noting the care with which the October 11 program as designed brings individual focus to different players and sections within the ensemble: from bassoonist Dominic Teresi, whose passion for the Fontana dulcian sonatas predates Citterio’s arrival on the Tafelmusik scene; to the sharing out of the violin solos among the ensemble; to the Vivaldi C Major Concerto for two oboes which gives an opportunity for the ensemble’s oboists, John Abberger and Marco Cera, to shine.

And as violin soloist, Citterio’s own moment in the spotlight will be “Autumn” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (she will be playing “Summer” in the opening concert in September, and each of the other two movements at concerts in January and February 2018). It’s a deft touch, especially in a year when the complete box set of Tafelmusik’s recordings has been released, featuring Jeanne Lamon in the same work, making for fascinating comparisons as the season unfolds.

Deep emotional through-line of the October concert notwithstanding, it would be a mistake to see Citterio as a die-hard Baroque traditionalist wedded to a hundred years of repertoire no matter how obscure. “I am not planning this repertoire all the time – we are strings, two oboes, a bassoon and continuo so there are limits to the repertoire available; also our audiences expect the great works (and can enjoy new takes on great works as much as new works). Myself, I can’t pretend to play well all music from Monteverdi to contemporary but for an orchestra like Tafelmusik it is important to touch dfferent periods. We also have to educate the ear. Period playing can lead to illuminating performances of a much wider range of music –  Haydn, Schumann, Brahms, Verdi.”

“Nineteenth-century orchestral sound is so opulent and dense,” she continues. “Strip away the huge sound and you can listen for different things. With gut strings and period instruments there is a defined sound for each string and each instrument. In Italian we call this huge sound minestrone Wagneriana. How would you say that in English?” We settle on “Wagnerian pea soup” as a culinary alternative. “It does not have to be like that,” she says.

This October 11, almost exactly five years from the day Jeanne Lamon announced to her shaken orchestra that she was stepping down, her successor comes home to the hall that has been the company’s home base for its whole history. It would be folly in these fluid musical times to predict for any new music director a 33-year sojourn. But the stars do seem to be auspicious for Citterio’s stay here to be a fruitful new chapter for both her and Tafelmusik.

David Perlman can be reached at

keyboard instrument 436488 1920The pipe organ, labelled the “King of Instruments” by none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is an instrument that flies under the radar of many classical music lovers. Despite its apparent obscurity, the organ has a devoted group of followers and aficionados who regularly present concerts highlighting some of Toronto’s best instruments.

One such presenter is Organix, run by Gordon Mansell, who is also organist and director of music at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Toronto’s West End. A longtime supporter of the organ and its finest players, Organix will receive the National Award of Excellence from the Royal Canadian College of Organists at a special gala recital on September 22 at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. This commemorative performance will feature Italian organist Mario Ciferri and will be followed by a masterclass the next morning, featuring three young players and a variety of repertoire.

In anticipation of these events, we asked Organix’s Gordon Mansell, TEMC principal organist Stephen Boda and director of music Elaine Choi for their thoughts on the organ, its status in Toronto’s contemporary musical topography and its possible role in the future of classical music.

Gordon Mansell, president and artistic director of Organix Concerts

Gordon MansellWN: Your concert on September 22 is a significant one, with Organix Concerts receiving the National Award of Excellence from the RCCO. Why this performer on this instrument for this occasion?

GM: Yes, it is quite an honour for me to be recognized by my colleagues and peers for having attempted to widen the general audience for organ music. I have placed a priority in producing concerts with a high entertainment factor.

The difference between the organ and many other instruments is that an organist must very quickly adapt to each concert venue, the instrument and the uniqueness of the acoustics. Pianists enjoy a standard of 88 keys and, for the most part, size of the instrument. There is predictability inherent to the piano and almost all other instruments, the personal instrument the performer owns and plays all the time. With the organ, there is a critical factor of matching the organist with the appropriate instrument, based on repertoire expected.

As for Mario Ciferri, I know him to perform grand Romantic music as well as Baroque, ideal for showcasing to the world the newly refurbished and expanded organ at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. Happily, TEMC agreed to collaborate with me to help make this happen.

WN: The second day of events with Mario Ciferri features a masterclass with three students, each playing a range of repertoire. How does this fit with some people’s perception that the pipe organ is an instrument in rapid decline?

GM: I would say that the apparent decline may be somewhat localized to parts of our own continent. Here in Toronto we have many young students who are pursuing careers as organists and educators, and several have gone on to gain professional standing and significant church positions. Coupled with studies privately and at the university level, Organix is a vital part in ensuring the future as each becomes an alumnus of the festival and is an ambassador of it and of the industry itself. I expect that these same emerging artists will take on an important role as advocates for the promotion of the organ in many different ways, some of which we cannot fully appreciate at this time.

WN: Organix recently diversified, presenting weekly afternoon recitals in addition to your Festival series. Why do you see the organ as something worth investing in? And where do electronic organs fit into Organix’s future?

GM: It is important to invest in the organ, because there is such a significant catalogue of music written for it as a solo instrument and as a collaborator for ensembles and orchestras. With continued interest, particularly from young musicians and enthusiasts, there is a market that should be generously nurtured and supported.

Most of Toronto’s pipe organs are in the downtown core, and there is a large population beyond that has yet to hear a great concert of organ music. Digital organs become a viable alternative and the preferred instrument beyond downtown. The benefits of digital organs are many, but in particular, the repertoire for the instrument continues to live and thrive on the best digital examples. With this added exposure outside of the downtown core, Organix will continue to promote professional organists, organs and organ repertoire to many first-time concert goers. It is not an either/or situation between digital and pipe – it is a collaboration that will keep our industry alive.

Elaine Choi, director of music and Stephen Boda, principal organist at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church

Elaine ChoiWN: I notice that in addition to partnering with Organix TEMC has recently partnered with other churches “on-the-Hill” for various performances such as the Duruflé Requiem.

EC: TEMC’s music team enjoys collaborating with other ensembles and organizations. These collaborations enable us to broaden our repertoire and reach out to a bigger audience.

SB: We’re really looking forward to hosting Mario Ciferri this year as part of the Organix series. We have an organ-loving congregation and look for every opportunity to feature the instrument in concert. We are grateful to Gordon Mansell for organizing this event and also the masterclass, which features young organists from Toronto.

Stephen BodaWN: At a time when many see the pipe organ (and churches themselves) in rapid decline, what is the importance of fostering young talent and interest through events such as this masterclass?

SB: I think it’s very important to continue introducing young people to the organ; it is such a fascinating instrument and deserves to be shared and cherished. International artists such as Mario Ciferri coming to town give young artists new perspectives, and we are looking forward to it.

WN: A new antiphonal division was recently added to your already significantly sized pipe organ. With a music program already featuring a variety of instruments and ensembles, what role do you see the refurbished and enhanced organ taking in the future of your music program?

SB: The organ already has a fantastic sound and adding more pipes (we added 1000 new pipes, which brings us to a total of 7000) makes the instrument even more grand and musical. It also greatly widens the musical possibilities. Since the new pipes are located in the back of the church, it gives a surround-sound feel when the organ is played all together and the possibility to alternate or create solo/accompaniment textures from across the room. As a musician, it is incredible that we are able to add to our instrument and we are very thankful for the donations that made this possible!

EC: We are already seeing a change in our Sunday services. The antiphonal division certainly helps with supporting congregation and their hymn singing. We are finding more opportunities to explore and utilize the new division – the potential is endless!

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Stage Fright BannerSix years ago, famed soprano Ambur Braid was lying on her back on the dressing room floor at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre. She was already made up and attired in her regal black costume for her Canadian Opera Company public debut as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. She was trying to ground herself on the hard surface, but was failing miserably. Her stomach was queasy, her heart was racing, and her mouth was bone dry. Worse than the physical symptoms was the terrifying thought that she’d forget her lines. “I can’t do this,” she told herself. “I’d rather get hit by a bus.”

Braid has no memory of how she survived that performance. But she knows it went well. “Thank goodness it always works out in the end,” she says.

Ambur Braid - photo by Jennifer TooleStage fright is nothing new for the Canadian singing sensation. She’s grappled with performance anxiety all her life. It’s worse prior to opening nights, and when her mentors are in the audience. “I get anxious because I don’t want to disappoint anyone – meeting their expectations matters a lot to me.” And even though her performances have earned rave reviews from critics, her fears have exacted a steep price. At times they’ve caused insomnia, weight loss, and even infections like bronchitis. “I get into a tizzy and that morphs into illness,” she says.

I spoke with three experts on stage fright about the subject: Toronto psychologist Kate Hays, who specializes in performance anxiety; Lisa Chisholm, preparation and performance coach at Master Performing; and Chase McMurren, MD, medical director and psychotherapist at the Al and Malka Green Artists’ Health Centre at the Toronto Western Hospital. If there’s one thing they all agree on, it’s that Braid is not alone.

Estimates of stage fright prevalence vary, says Hays, from 16% to 75%. Part of the difficulty of narrowing down these numbers comes from the fact that not everyone with stage fright chooses to speak up about it. According to Chisholm, artists are expected to be tough – which means that many people afflicted with stage fright suffer silently. “If you feel nervous you think you either haven’t practised enough or your character is weak,” says Hays.

The wide range could also stem from differences in definition. It’s normal for a musician to fear an audience’s judgment. The body’s fight-or-flight system gets ramped up in response to the anxiety, causing hearts to thump, irregular breathing, sweaty palms, and trembling. But while a bit of excitement can give an edge to a performance, an exaggerated response can be debilitating.

“It’s hard to play the cello with sweaty fingers or sing when you’re so tense you can’t breathe properly,” says Chisholm.

While anyone can get stage fright, perfectionists (people with unrealistically high standards) are especially prone to the condition, says McMurren. Many artists believe that self-criticism is beneficial. “They think they’ll get lazy if they’re kind to themselves.”

Braid herself identifies as a perfectionist. “I dwell on mistakes that last an eighth of a second,” she says. She feels this self-castigation is necessary to improve. “You need to never be satisfied – there’s always something more you have to know.”

But far from being helpful, this negative self-talk can be harmful, says McMurren. Many artists are so hard on themselves that they procrastinate, putting off practising indefinitely. Even if the piece is near-flawless, perfectionists berate themselves for a single error. In extreme cases, their unattainable expectations can lead to anxiety or depression.

Kira May - photo by Olga LipnitskyLuckily, there is help for those afflicted with stage fright. Pop vocalist Kira May, who sings in the project Kira May, has grappled with social anxiety (fearing judgments from others). Stage fright was one its manifestations. She began writing songs at age 12, but would only sing when she was alone in her bedroom. As she grew up, she continued singing on her own, turning to the technique of looping, (layering her own voice on top of itself) to avoid collaboration. Jamming with musicians would trigger her worst symptoms – a racing heart, restricted breathing, and shakiness. She worried about disappointing them. “What if I hit a wrong note and they never want to play with me again?” She was so afraid of failing that she put off getting gigs. But after meeting her partner, who thrived on playing publicly, she decided it was time to face her fears.

According to Chisholm, there are three broad areas underlying performance anxiety that can be targeted.  Some revved up performers need to reign in their runaway physiology so they can regain their focus. They also need to hone their craft to feel adequately prepared. Finally, mental preparation can help performers handle whatever happens.

For Chisholm’s clients, boosting self-confidence is an important aspect of combatting stage fright – for which techniques for things like efficient practice are crucial. Instead of playing an entire piece over and over for hours, drilling in the mistakes, Chisholm encourages musicians to try concentrating on the troublesome sections, figuring out where they mess up and why. “Am I sloppy? Are my two fingers going down at the same time at bar 3, making the A-sharp unclean?” Once you identify the problem, it’s easier to resolve it.

Varying the practice conditions also helps performers cope with the unknown, says McMurren. “The performance will likely be in a different context from the practice – if you don’t adapt you could be caught off guard,” he says. Rehearse on a new chair, perform standing up, or begin the score at a different place each time.

McMurren adds that it’s useful to rehearse performances mentally. “Imagine playing in front of an audience and them loving it,” he says. MRI scans have shown that practising positive guided imagery regularly boosts the growth of the hippocampus (an area associated with well-being). But musicians should visualize troubles as well as triumphs, says Hays. Imagine goofing up bar 156 and recovering from it at bar 157, she says. “It’s a way of handling the ‘what ifs’ that we all get into.”

First we have to dismantle the negative messages which weigh us down, McMurren explains. Cognitive behavior therapy, which debunks distorted thinking, can help replace punitive ideas with more compassionate ones. “Performers think if they’re not jerks to themselves they won’t make it,” he says. But in fact, a more accepting attitude towards oneself reduces anxiety. Recognizing that our worth extends beyond our art is also crucial, says McMurren. When artists find meaning in other areas of their lives, there’s less at stake during any given show.

Some musicians also take substances to cope with anxiety, McMurren continues. Alcohol can manage worry, while pot settles the nerves for some. But there are healthy alternatives. Deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation calm the body. Beta-blockers, which slow down the heart, can also help, he says, but sometimes cause decreased libido and fatigue.

May benefitted from many of these techniques. She joined a cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)-based group at CAMH for clients with social anxiety. One of her assignments was to sing a cappella in front of the group. “It was horrifying,” she recalls. “I thought I did a terrible job.” But she was wrong. The group loved it. From this exercise May learned that her misgivings weren’t always correct. After completing the course, May began performing, but realized she still needed to lower her stress level. She became McMurren’s client.

May continued to challenge her dismal predictions with CBT. She planned coping strategies for disastrous situations. “It was comforting just to have a plan,” she says. She imagined crying in front of a producer, and realized that it wouldn’t be the end of the world. “I would just take a moment and recover.”

While May found these techniques effective, she felt frustrated at her slow progress. McMurren suggested an antidepressant to supplement the talk therapy. It changed her life. “Before it felt like I was walking around in the rain and every droplet felt like a bullet – now I have a raincoat on so the water bounces off me.”

Feeling more resilient, May was able to find meaning in other areas of life besides singing. “I had put so much weight on music that it was impossible not to fear failing,” she says. But McMurren pointed out that ‘Kira May the musician’ was only part of her identity. “He helped me see myself as a well-rounded person – I’m way more than just an artist,” she says. That realization lessened her dread of failure. Becoming whole had benefits beyond performance. “I’ve replaced a fear of people with a strong desire to connect with them,” she says. “I feel much happier overall.”

So does Braid. Over the years she has figured out how to manage her stage fright. A naturopath helped her eat the right foods, maintain an exercise routine, and get enough sleep. She’s also become less dependent on the opinions of others. “I used to get wrapped up in what other people thought – that was exhausting,” she says. Now she’s less fazed when she slips up. “I can laugh at things and not do them again.”

Today, Braid knows how to cope on performance days. She works off nervous energy with squats and push-ups and by dancing to the overture. “It gets my breath moving and puts me into a positive headspace,” she says. Her pooch, Walter, comes to her performances now and distracts her from worry. “Having to focus on something else is nice.”

But while her Queen of the Night role will always be nerve-wracking, most of her work these days is enjoyable. “The show I’m in right now is a riot,” she says. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had onstage.”

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

Mark Miller - Claude Ranger: Canadian Jazz LegendMark Miller
Claude Ranger: Canadian Jazz Legend
Toronto, self-published 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-77302-559-9
Available at
e-book: $ 6.99; paperback: $20.96;
hardcover: $36.50

Mark Miller has a well-earned reputation as Canada’s foremost writer on jazz, whether as the Globe & Mail’s critic for a quarter century before his retirement from journalism or for the ten books he’s previously published on the music, many of them specifically devoted to its Canadian dimension. With his biography of drummer Claude Ranger, however, he’s done something quite new, a full-length biography of a Canadian musician that gives us a more intimate glimpse into jazz in this country than has previously been revealed.

Ranger might seem like an unlikely choice: he certainly never achieved celebrity like Diana Krall or Oscar Peterson, or international status as a significant innovator like Paul Bley or Kenny Wheeler. However, while he largely laboured in the trenches, Ranger responded singularly to the allure of jazz.

Miller’s familiarity with each of Canada’s distinctive jazz centres (and several generations of their musicians) gives rare immediacy and authenticity to the westward path of Ranger’s career. Born in Montreal in 1941, he followed a trail from beating on pots and pans to playing in Montreal showbars, then on to the city’s jazz scene, then Toronto, eventually ending up in Vancouver where, in 2000, he disappeared. And not in the sense of retired from the scene, preferring sunny days on the beach or playing with the grandkids: No, Ranger literally disappeared: an RCMP investigation launched in 2001 is still open.

Photo by Mark Miller - taken at Basin St., Toronto, in 1938.Ranger was a romantic figure, a man devoted — both selflessly and selfishly, it would seem — to jazz as art and necessary self-expression. From the mid-60s on he was devoted to the fresh possibilities of a changing music, fuelled by the examples of John Coltrane and Miles Davis and their respective drummers, Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. Working whatever Montreal gigs that might come along, Ranger first cultivated associations with like-minded musicians, initially bassist Michel Donato and saxophonist Brian Barley, eventually becoming the mentor for some 25 years to younger musicians who felt the same irresistible pull toward jazz in its more liberating forms. Despite that, he stayed in the limiting world of Canadian jazz, held back by what Miller calls his “demons and dependencies,” as much his creative insecurity about being a white Canadian who finds himself in black American music as, say, alcohol. I only saw Ranger once when he was playing in the kind of company to which he might have aspired — with Sonny Rollins and Donato at a Toronto benefit in 1974 — and he was clearly a drummer of rare skill, energy, invention and intensity.

Part of the effectiveness of Miller’s chronicle comes out in his sense of the telling detail, whether it’s the semiotics of the perpetual smoking cigarette with hanging ash drooping from the left corner of Ranger’s mouth, or another kind of detail, the resume writer’s, recounting musicians’ memories of rigorous rehearsals and the scant and sparsely attended performances that followed. Those lists are lifeblood for many who play jazz in Canada: they make illuminating reading for anyone interested in the music, and a cautionary tale for anyone contemplating a career in it.

In Miller’s larger tale, Ranger hasn’t disappeared at all. He’s alive not just in the memories of the young musicians whose lives he touched, but in their music, whether it’s rooted in the rehearsals, the charts he laboured over, the lessons he gave for a pack of smokes and a sixpack, the exercises he wrote out, the drums he rebuilt, or, above all, that fierce, unbending loyalty to the music. As Miller notes, Ranger inspired and assisted Dylan van der Schyff and Nick Fraser, today the finest Canadian drummers of a generation that benefits from a far more internationalized scene.

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