March’s Child Alex Pauk


Alex Pauk, composer, conductor, educator and entrepreneur, helped found Arraymusic, and in 1983 founded the 65-member Esprit Orchestra. Esprit performs and promotes music by Canadian composers, and introduces significant international new works through an annual concert series at Koerner Hall and through commissioning, recording, education and outreach initiatives.

Pauk has composed more than 60 works for a diverse range of performing ensembles, for theatre and dance companies, and many scores for film and television, some in collaboration with his wife composer Alexina Louie. He is a vigorous proponent of taking music to people in their communities (not always in concert halls) and an ongoing champion for music education. He was named Musician of the Year (1999) by peers at the Toronto Musicians’ Association.

About your childhood photo … ?

feb2012_mysterychildThe photo of me playing the accordion was taken in the school auditorium at Swansea Public School (just south of what is now Bloor West Village) where there was a fantastic music teacher named Mrs. Melvin. She ran a wonderful music program in which all students in the school were required to play recorder and sing.

She also took great care to encourage kids taking private music lessons outside the school to display their musical talent at school events. She was probably the first person to recognize my talent as a performer and therefore she thrust me onto the stage where the photo was taken. I recall, at this concert, being mesmerized, in a kind of automatic pilot and hoping my memory would hold out to get me to the end of the piece. In those days, accordion music (other than folkloric) consisted of many transcriptions of classical works as well as pieces like Sharpshooter’s March and Lady of Spain. The photo also reminds me of my experiences in the one hundred-piece Mundinger Accordion Orchestra (I played electric bass accordion – the only one) and the concerts the group gave at (a sold out) Massey Hall. This group played transcriptions of Beethoven symphonies, Romberg medlies etc.

This was the prelude to my starting various bands that involved me as leader and accordionist – polka bands playing at Ukrainian weddings, high school dance bands (playing standards when we should have been playing rock’n roll – bad move), and jazz bands for the sheer pleasure of it. Ultimately, even though I was fairly virtuosic, I switched to piano to pursue studies at the U of T faculty of music. The accordion pioneering and legitimization was then left to Joe Macerollo. (We used to play in an accordion quintet together when we were in short pants.)

Anything you would like to tell the young musician in that photo?

I used to like improvising and exploring the unusual sounds that could be made on the instrument – playing clusters with my ear to the bellows, using the air sounds from the bellows, playing flourishes on the keyboard and buttons using unusual register combinations.

I was at the early stages of my composing career without knowing it. My advice to that child would have been “Find a way to channel this into composing or self-expression beyond the practice room.”

Such sounds ultimately became standard fare in new music in the ensuing decades.

Suppose you're traveling and a friendly fellow traveler asks about your work?

Usually when this happens, I can explain what I do as an orchestral conductor but it becomes very difficult to describe the kind of music I specialize in – namely new, contemporary, of our time, today’s music, 20th and 21st Century music etc. It’s not part of most people’s experience or awareness. Contemporary usually means the latest pop music. The same goes for explaining my composing. What seems to be more understandable is when I begin speaking about the work Alexina and I do together as composers of film scores. This really provides a common ground for discussion, even for describing  the kind of sounds we make happen.

Just the basics? For someone who doesn’t know you?

I was born in  Toronto – on Yorkville Avenue at the Mount Sinai Hospital, which eventually became the seniors residence that was there for so long. It is now an upscale shop of some kind. Too bad – I often used to think it would be great to end up at the seniors’ residence - in the same building where I was born. We first lived at my grandmother’s house on historic Draper Street off Front, halfway between Spadina and Bathurst), then Starr Avenue (South Parkdale – the house was expropriated to build the Gardiner Expressway), then Swansea near Grenadier Pond.

I went to Humberside Collegiate Institute, and  after high school the University of Toronto Faculty of Music (Music Education) then University of Toronto Faculty of Education. Also Rochdale College (in its heyday). Further studies in conducting followed in Tokyo at the Toho Gakuen School of Music.

Your absolute earliest memory of music?

I remember hearing my father singing popular tunes of the the late forties and then I heard these same tunes played on my parents’ phonograph. Also, I have a strong impression in my memory of priests chanting at the Ukrainian church my grandmother took me to.

Other musicians in your childhood family?

No, although I’m told that my grandfather on my father’s side (who I never met – he died even before my father was born) was a violin maker and accomplished amateur musician in Winnipeg.

Where did hearing music, both formal and informal, fit into  your life as a child?

When I was around four or five years of age, my parents gave me and my sisters a record player on which we played children’s discs (cardboard discs coated with a thin vinyl layer containing the grooves) containing favourites like Big Rock Candy Mountain and Teddybear’s Picnic. Later I had my first experience of classical and light classical music listening to Starlight Serenade on the radio. School visits to the symphony were important to me as was my receiving a wonderful radio as a gift from my parents. It could receive shortwave so I could listen to broadcasts of music from places other than Toronto.

Your first memories of making music?

I remember making up short little melodic sing-song phrases that were easy to repeat and also imitating percussive sounds with my mouth – little inventions suggesting that creative music-making was in my DNA.

My first instrument was the aforementioned accordion. It was tricky figuring out how to deal with the left hand buttons.

First music teachers?

After studying at the Mundinger Accordion Academy I took up studies with Tony Mergel who got me interested in jazz (he used to organize an important stage band in Toronto) and introduced me to the theory and harmony books of Gordon Delamonte as well as the important skill of music copying (through which I earned money and eventually learned a lot about how others composed by copying for them). Mr. Styles in grade nine really got me going as a conductor and by my last two years in high school, I had formed a chamber orchestra that played Baroque music. This leadership development was transferred into my skill in starting and leading all kinds of bands, new music groups and eventually, the Esprit Orchestra. There is definitely a through line here.

What do you remember about making music with other people?

The choirs and recorder groups at Swansea School were important in showing that you could do musical things with others and that it was meaningful for those listening (parents!).

It also proved that you could get more attention and rewards if you got better at it.

The accordion orchestra days showed me how wonderful making or being part of a big sound could be. Working with dance and jazz bands was just a lot of fun.

The first time conducting, for an audience?

I began conducting in grade nine. My music teacher at Humberside C.I. was Frankish Styles and he got me to conduct the school orchestra playing Sibelius’ Valse Triste to accompany a solo performance by a talented grade nine ballet student. My first meaningful conducting performance before an audience was with the Humberside high school orchestra. After this it seemed like a normal thing for me to try and start groups so that I could lead and/or conduct.

When did you begin to think of yourself as a career musician?

I entered the U of T Faculty of Music to study music education – to become a high school music teacher. But before I had completed the four years of study I had become involved seriously with 20th century music through my friendship with John Fodi and through the new music ensemble at the faculty (directed by John Beckwith).

I started a late-night free-improvisation ensemble with friends that triggered a strong interest in me to write music graphically or otherwise, to try and capture some of the magnificent sounds that group was making. After that, a group of composers started meeting in my apartment to discuss philosophy, politics, prevailing trends in music etc. The group also realized that it was going to be difficult to get our music played unless we did something about it ourselves so we organized a concert of our music and through this launched a group called Array which has since had many incarnations. This was really the first professional event in which I took part as both conductor and composer.

Since that time, I formed Days, Months and Years to Come in Vancouver, a new music group based at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. This experience really prepared me in many ways for starting the much bigger Esprit Orchestra once I moved back to Toronto.

I lived in Vancouver from 1973 to 1980. It was there that I really evolved into being a composer/conductor.  I arrived in the last years of Trudeau’s LIP grants. A visionary councilor at City Hall arranged for me to be supported as a kind of composer-in-residence in Vancouver. I was free to meet all kinds of musicians, dancers, performance artists, actors, visual artists, broadcasters etc. and write music for them. I eventually also got a job conducting the Vancouver Youth Orchestra which allowed me to keep a strong hand in teaching and developing young musicians. I became very much involved with theatre while I was there too, conducting and writing for the Playhouse Theatre under Christopher Newton as well as various experimental theatre groups.

Do you remember a time when you thought you would do something else?

I have never thought of doing anything else but music although for several summers and one whole year while I was a student, I worked as a brakeman  for Canadian National Railways. This really paid well because I was on call, worked outlandish hours and got lots of overtime. But all the while, my passion was still to do musical things. I can say that those CNR schedules so changed my sense of time that the composer’s hours (all nighters) that I sometimes keep (especially writing for film) are a breeze for me to handle. There is no such thing as “odd hours” for me.

Suppose you were asked to talk informally with a very mixed group of children about what you do. First they ask  "What  do you do?"

I’m a composer and conductor who founded an orchestra, The Esprit Orchestra, almost 30 years ago so that I could ask composers to write music for it with the idea of giving their music excellent performances, making their music known to the public and recording it so that it would last into the future. I also write concert music for my orchestra as well as other groups. My wife is Alexina Louie, also a composer, and she and I are writing partners in composing music for film and television.

If they asked "Why did you decide to do that"?

I don’t think I made a conscious decision to work with music. It’s always been what I’ve been involved with since I was very young. It’s just a matter of my flowing from one kind of involvement with music to another over my whole lifetime. In fact, because of my work in film, I don’t just work with the kind of music that Esprit Orchestra specializes in. Writing and conducting for film involves many musical styles.

What advice could you offer to a young person who was already sure they wanted a life in music?

I would say to work and study hard the things you are most interested in but don’t neglect being open to and learning about related matters. For example, if you want to be a performer, also learn about composing and what’s going on in today’s music – not just the traditional classical music that most performance teaching traditions are based on. Remember that you will most likely be required to be involved with many kinds of music as a professional. Even rock musicians should know about classical music as well as new music.

Also, at least start to think about how you might learn about handling your money, savings etc. as well as what there is to the music business beyond being a musician. This might seem like a remote thing to do right now, but if you even just get a little idea about it when you’re young, it won’t hit you like a ton of bricks when you finish your formal training.

But most if all – love music!

Where does music fit into the lives of your own children?

Both of my kids had a terrific piano teacher in Marina Geringas so they developed wonderful understanding of music through her. They also experienced music through many years of training in dance. Both of them benefitted from being at Howard Public School during the years when the outstanding choral teacher Margaret Stanfield was there. Neither daughter continued studies in piano but Jade, my youngest attended the Etobicoke School for the Arts as a music theatre student. At Wilfrid Laurier University, she continues with her triple threat performing in school clubs. Jasmine has a strong interest in film so her knowledge of music is indispensable in this realm. Both girls have been attending opera, ballet and orchestra performances since they were four or five years of age and they know and appreciate a very wide range of repertoire, They are also completely with it as far as today’s pop music is concerned as well as the pop music of the last 60 years.


On March 3rd, a film that Alexina and I wrote the music for, Pearls of the Far East, will be screened at the Cine-Asie Film Festival in Montreal. Our music for this film recently received the Best Music Award at the California Independent Film Festival.

(Saturday March 3rd at 6 pm at the CinéRobothèque at the National Film Board of Canada, located at 1564 St. Denis Street, Montreal)

The final Esprit Orchestra concert of the season, it takes place on Thursday, March 29th at Koerner Hall. It features The Third Piano Concerto by Harry Somers. I commissioned this work and this will be Esprit’s third performance of it. I’m also conducting the premiere of a newly-commissioned work by Jimmie LeBlanc from Montreal as well as a work for very large orchestra by Xenakis – his Jonchaies. One of the great pleasures of the evening will be the announcement of Esprit’s plans for next season – our 30th Anniversary Season. There are some wonderful surprises in store for our audiences.

Alex Pauk lives in the High Park area of Toronto, with his  wife, the composer Alexina Louie, and their two daughters Jasmine and Jade Pauk. Jade spends the school year in residence at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo where she’s in first yea). Jasmine is in fourth year in film and literature studies at the University of Toronto.

The family had a most amazing experience together this past summer when they spent the month of August in Bali. The trip satisfied a long held desire of Alex and Alexina to visit that magical place and introduce their daughters to the culture of the island as well as its beautiful natural setting.


Who is April’s Child?

68_MYSTERY_enhanced_Lydia_Adams_age_10That trademark smile, but leading with a bow instead of a baton.

Out on the Mira on soft summer nights
The bonfires blaze to the children’s delight
They dance round the flames singing songs with their friends
And I wish I was with them again

So many songs, so many friends!

Know our mystery child’s name?

Send your best guess to

Provide your mailing address in case your name is drawn from correct replies received by midnight on March 20, 2012.

February’s Child Shannon Mercer

“… My father’s mother was left in a basket on the steps of an orphanage in June of 1913 in Gelligaer, Glamorgan, South Wales. My father immigrated to Montreal in 1967 along with my mother and my three eldest siblings. Later the family moved to Ottawa where two additional children were born the youngest was me. My father always showed a passion and love for music …” (liner notes: Wales – The Land of Song)

57Born in ottawa, soprano Shannon Mercer grew up in Manotick, Ontario, on the Rideau Canal. She attended Canterbury Arts High School in Ottawa, and graduated from McGill University: Vocal Performance, and Early Music Vocal Performance and History). Then, after one year in the Opera School Diploma program at the University of Toronto, she was accepted into the Ensemble Studio with the Canadian Opera Company.

Mercer’s busy schedule of opera, concert and recital engagements reflects in particular her appetites for both baroque and contemporary music. Featured last season by Queen of Puddings Music Theatre, in Ana Sokolovic’s one-woman opera Love Songs, Mercer returns to Queen of Pudding this month for Beckett: Feck-it! (see below). Recent appearances include: a role in Alexina Louie’s opera film Mulroney: The Opera, a series of concerts with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Bach’s St. John Passion with the Arion Baroque Orchestra and Les Voix Baroques (recorded by ATMA Classique and just released!), and performances with the Portland Baroque Orchestra, Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Mercury Baroque in Houston and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Recent touring includes her Wales – Land of Song programme with Skye Consort, and a programme devoted to Francesca Caccini, with Luc Beausejour.

Tell us about your Aldeburgh Connection, and their 30th Anniversary Gala on February 19. I first met Stephen Ralls when I was at Opera School at the University of Toronto in 1999 and he was the Head of the Opera Department. After leaving school to join the Ensemble Studio I was invited to sing with the Aldeburgh Connection series in one of their famous Schubertiades. Since then, I’ve sung with them many times — including a program of Purcell/Britten, an Elgar program and most recently a program of all Fauré.

I’ve also had the opportunity to sing at their Bayfield Festival as a guest soloist in recital which was a thrill!

Opportunities to sing song repertoire seem to be few and far between and the Aldeburgh Connection gives us opportunity. I have a large list of song repertoire thanks to these wonderful collaborations! Stephen and Bruce are such a class act and always come up with interesting themes and anecdotes about the composers, making each concert such an interesting and informative collaboration. It is my honour to be asked to sing at their 30th Anniversary amongst so many incredible Canadian singers.

72_mysterychild_shannon_contended-croppedAnything you would like to tell the little person in your childhood photo? People in the future will embrace your craziness and energy instead of try to bottle it up and calm you down!!! Be proud of all of your accomplishments and take time to be in the moment.

Your earliest musical memory? I would ask my sister to play Boogie Woogie Dancing Shoes, ad nauseum, which we owned as a 45 …

Do you remember that childhood photo being taken?
No, not at all!

When you look at it today, what do you remember, or think about?
I remember attending my Dad’s Christmas work parties and the Ottawa Welsh Society’s annual Christmas party. I remember being so excited to eat McDonald’s (which is what they served at my Dad’s work party for the kids) and I remember knowing that my Dad was playing Santa Claus. I know I was mostly hyped on sugar and pop which I didn’t get a lot of at home!!! I think “What a goof!”.

Suppose you're travelling, chatting with a friendly fellow traveller, and , they ask what work you do. How might you reply?
Honest? Well, after all the conflict in my head about what to say and whether to be honest or not and then wait for all the annoying questions I would say “I’m a musician. Period. How’s the soup?”

Other musicians in your childhood family?
My father (who passed in 1995) was the biggest musical influence of my family. He sang in a local choir and had a very pleasant tenor but it was his passion for the music that he passed on to me.

Where did hearing music, both formal and informal, fit into various aspects of your life around the time that photograph was taken?
I was heavily involved in the Ottawa Welsh Society from a very young age and my father was drawn there not only because of his roots (his mother was Welsh) but because of the close relationship the Welsh have with music. Singing in informal family talent nights (Nosen Lawen in Welsh) was a regular event where the children got to perform poetry, sing, dance or do whatever they fancied. I started singing folksongs in Welsh before I knew of Mozart!!! My parents enjoyed music but didn’t know a whole lot about it. As I found my passion for music and learned about it so did they. We all grew and learnt about classical music at the same time.

What, if anything, was your first (other) instrument ?

First experiences of making music with other people?
Well, the Welsh always sing hymns in four part harmony so growing up there was all that. I also sang in a regional youth choir as well as church choir. Singing in choirs is a vital part of a singer’s musical education in my opinion.  Often singers confuse blending with being soft of not using your own voice or changing your colour. But if you are confident and you know your voice well, you add your colour to the other layers of voices. Today, I still sing in a lot of top-level ensembles. Making incredible music with other people is one of the most rewarding experiences.

Do you remember when you first sang alone for an audience?
No, I had an early start with voice lessons at age 7. So, I can’t remember that far back. But, I do remember singing “O Perfect Love” for my brother’s wedding in front of all my family and extended family and I was petrified. I would have much rather sung for a hall of strangers at the Kiwanis Music Festival!!!

Do you remember the point at which you began to think of yourself as a musician?
I enjoy this question because YES, I AM a musician not just a SINGER!!! Well, that’s a loaded question. I feel like that’s an adult question! A musician to me is not just someone who plays an instrument or sings. It’s someone who has an opinion about the music and a confidence in what they have to say about it. As I get older, I get more and more confident and my experience acts as a sort of support. The nature of the work that I do currently allows me to play and come off the page (as I say) with ornaments and interpretation. Which is something I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing when I was younger.

Do you remember thinking you would do something else?
No, never, I suppose I was naïve!

Suppose an after-school club asked you to talk informally with a very mixed group of children 9 to12 years old, as part of a series exploring "what people do".
  • If they asked you "What do you do?", how might you reply?
I sing really beautiful music from specific eras of time. Each era has different rules that apply and so every concert I sing might involve a different group of singers or instruments and sometimes even a whole orchestra. Sometimes, I wear costumes and get to act up a storm sometimes I wear fancy dresses but the best part is the music I get to sing!!! I also sing in lots of different languages and I get to travel all over the world!!!
  • If they asked you "Why did you decide to do that"?
I'd tell them that the career chose me. I was blessed with a talent to sing and so I took all the steps and worked really hard to nurture my voice so that I could have a future doing what came so naturally, so easily. Classical music didn’t seem abnormal it seemed normal, like breathing. I understood it from a deep place within me.
  • What advice, if any, could you offer to a young person who was already sure they were going to have a life in music?
It’s hard. BUT (and that’s a big BUT), if you work really hard and find you still love it as much as you did when you started, then give it a go. Life as a musician is full of challenges but the rewards are far greater!  Everyday, I’m thankful that I get to do something I love so much! How lucky am I?

Please mention what excites you about engagements coming up in Southern Ontario over the next few months, and/or any new recordings you are involved in.
There are two very different recordings of Bach’s St. John Passion that have just been released. One is with Les Voix Baroques on the ATMA label and one is with Portland Baroque. On both I sing chorus and solos, which was demanding but it’s extremely satisfying to know a work that thoroughly! After gigs in Montreal, New York and Boston, I return in February to Toronto to sing in a co-pro with Canadian Stage Company and Queen of Puddings Music Theatre in Beckett Feck-it! I will be singing some contemporary Irish music with only solo trumpet as accompaniment, and another Irish folk song in Gaelic. I will also get to flex my acting muscles!!!

In the same month I’ll be singing in an all-star line up for the 30th Anniversary Gala of the Aldeburgh Connection at Koerner Hall. I’m really excited to sing alongside some of my own idols and with my colleagues who are very dear friends as well!!! At the same venue, I’ll be singing some Villa-Lobos for The Art of Time Ensemble on March 1 at the same venue.

In April, I can be seen singing at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts with Toronto Opera in Concert in Schubert’s Die Freund vom Salamanka. In May, I’ll be singing with Pax Christi Chorale at Koerner Hall in Elgar’s lesser known Oratorio The Kingdom and later in that same month in Poulenc’s Gloria with the Mendelssohn Choir.

I’m excited about all the variety in my work coming up over the next few months and about all the exciting collaborations! It’s the variety in my work that keeps it challenging and interesting and that’s why I still love it!

Who is March’s Child?

feb2012_mysterychildAlready so composed! With five senses explore the array of possibility a musical life affords. While music stirs, strikes, grips and turns us on, you’ll find that esprit is what connects us all. Say Farewell to Heaven as you ride this new wave into concert halls, galleries, movie theatres, schools and the occasional hanging garden.

Think you know who our mystery child is? Send your best guess to Please provide your mailing address just in case your name is drawn! Winners will be selected by random draw among correct replies received by Monday, February 20, 2012.



At the Aldeburgh Connection’s 30th Anniversary Gala, at Koerner Hall (Feb 19), co-artistic directors Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata will preside at two pianos for a glorious programme of classical song. Gerald Finley, Nathalie Paulin, Gillian Keith, Michael Colvin and Brett Polegato will be joined by Colin Ainsworth, Benjamin Butterfield, Tyler Duncan, Shannon Mercer, Susan Platts, Lauren Segal, Krisztina Szabó, Giles Tomkins, Monica Whicher and Lawrence Wiliford. Hosts: Catherine Robbin and Christopher Newton. Dave Linfoot will be there too!    Queen of Puddings Music Theatre’s Beckett: Feck-it! Samuel Beckett’s shorter plays with contemporary classical Irish music. Actors Laura Condlln, Michal Grzejszczak, Tom Rooney, and Sofia Tomic, with soprano Shannon Mercer and trumpet player Michael Fedyshyn. Directed by Jennifer Tarver, with Dáirine Ní Mheadhra & John Hess (music direction), in association with Canadian Stage (Feb 17–25). A pair of Feb 20 tickets each for Katie Larson and Vanessa Goymour!    Francesca Caccini: O Viva Rosa: Shannon Mercer, with Sylvain Bergeron (theorbo, baroque guitar), Luc Beauséjour (harpsichord, organ) and Amanda Keesmaat (cello) illuminate the music of Florence-born, baroque composer Francesca Caccini. (AN 2 9966). This prize goes to Frances Giles.   Wales – The Land of Song: Shannon Mercer says “This is the culture that shaped my path in life and fills me with so much love for music and song …” A recording of traditional Welsh folk songs and classical music, with the Skye Consort. (AN 2 9965) This prize goes to Anna Marsh.

December’s Child Aisslinn Nosky

72_aisslinn_bymatthewmarigold1Violinist Aisslinn Nosky, from Nanaimo BC,  was a student of Heilwig von Königslöw  at the Nanaimo Conservatory when she played her solo debut with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra at the age of eight. It's possible she has not stopped for breath since.

Nosky moved to Toronto by herself, at the age of 15, to study with Lorand Fenyves for 5 years, later enrolled at the Glenn Gould Professional School, (Toronto) with summers at the Banff Centre, and the Steans Institute (Ravinia Festival).

Today, along with solo, chamber and orchestral commitments across North America, Europe and Asia , she is increasingly in demand as a leader and concertmaster.

Since 2005, Nosky has been an active member of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra as an ensemble member and soloist. Prior to Tafelmusik, she was Assistant Principal Second Violin of the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, and a frequent guest concertmaster with Symphony Nova Scotia. Nosky was recently been named concertmaster of the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston, a post she took up in September 2011.

As Co-Artistic Director of I FURIOSI Baroque Ensemble for over a decade (with Julia Wedman, Felix Deak, and Gabrielle McLaughlin) Nosky has helped to bring an increasingly wider audience to baroque music, with an extraordinarily creative concert series. Her other regular chamber commitments include the Eybler Quartet,  the Kirby String Quartet, and The Knights’ Chamber Orchestra.

Nosky's astonishing energy and all-embracing musical appetite result in after-hours consorting with bands such as The Hidden Cameras, Hunter Valentine, and Rock Plaza Central.

59bDo you remember that childhood photo being taken?

I don’t remember this specific photo being taken, but I think it must have been taken in our living room before heading out to a recital at the community music school where I took lessons in Nanaimo, B.C.

When you look at the photo today, what does it cause you to think or remember?

Looking at the photo today and seeing the expression on my face, I am reminded that I have always loved to perform. Those recitals were always the most exciting days of my year. I also remember that I had quite an amazing repertoire of performing gowns for one so young.

If you could meet the little person in that childhood photo…

I would like to tell her that the quality of the time she will spend practising violin is more important than the sheer volume of hours;

I would ask her to remember to stop and smell the roses every once in a while;

I would also want to warn her that puberty is going to be a little rough but not to worry too much about it because the people around her in her life who care for her will really be there for her.

Your absolute earliest musical memory?

I don’t remember ever not having music around. My mother tells me that from the time I was a tiny baby I would get quiet when she put certain records on. Apparently my favourite was an LP of Jascha Heifetz playing the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Chicago Symphony conducted by Fritz Reiner. The record literally wore out by the time I was about 8.

Other musicians in your childhood family?

My family is filled with music lovers, and my mother is a voice teacher in Nanaimo. Every memory of a family gathering in my childhood  has singing in it. My grandparents, uncle, aunt and cousins all loved to sing so after dinner out would come the sheet music and off we would go! I wasn’t much of a singer so I learned to play the piano well enough that I could get away with accompanist duties.

Where did hearing music, both formal and informal, fit into  your life as a child?

When I was not practising violin or at school I was always listening to music: my parents records, my own cassettes, the radio…whatever I could find. Whenever there was a concert performance in Nanaimo, my mother was sure to take me to it and when I got a little older my violin teacher, Heilwig von Königslöw would take me along to all the freelance gigs she played in Vancouver. She would sneak me into dress or tech rehearsals for opera whenever she could. She also played in the fabulous CBC Radio Orchestra and I went to many of their concerts as a child.

When did you first play the violin?

I started violin lessons sometime between the ages of 3 and 4.

One day I saw a segment on Sesame Street where Itzhak Perlman played the violin. I informed my mother, ‘I am going to do that when I grow up.’

She asked me if I thought I would like to give it a try before I was totally grown up and I said ‘Sure!’ So…off we went to the big city of Victoria to pick out a bright shiny new violin.

What do you remember about your first violin teacher?

My very first teacher was an extremely kind lady named Vivian Pritchard who taught through our community music school. We only had a little while together before she ended up taking a year off of teaching. My second violin teacher, Heilwig von Königslöw took over Ms. Pritchard’s studio of students. I studied with Heilwig for almost ten years and today she remains one of my closest friends. All you music teachers out there reading this please know what a positive difference you are making in the lives of young people!

Your first experiences of making music with other people?

My teacher insisted that all of her students play in her student string orchestra and take group technique classes. She would also arrange chamber music groups and coachings for the really keen students. I loved orchestra and was bitten by the chamber music bug very early on…I think my first attempt at forming a professional  string quartet was somewhere around the age of nine

Do you remember when you first performed for an audience?

I don’t remember ever not having music school recitals to attend and play at.

My earliest solid memory of a solo performance is playing the first movement of Vivaldi’s a minor violin concerto (of Suzuki book fame) at the local music festival. I know that I must have played solo before this but I really loved that piece and have a vivid memory of getting up and going to it with gusto.

Do you remember the point at which you began to think of yourself as a career musician?

By the time people were asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up it seemed natural for me to answer that I wanted to be a musician….either that or pitch for the Yankees – depending on what day you asked!

Suppose a  local after-school club asked you to talk informally about your work with a very mixed group of children…

I'd say I’m a professional violinist. I perform classical music for people in Toronto and all over the world, and that  making music with people makes me really happy.

When I play concerts I try to share that feeling of happiness with the people in the audience.


Tafelmusik -   Baroque Splendour: Thurs Dec 1, Fri Dec 2, Sat Dec 3 at 8pm; Sun Dec 4 at 3:30pm; Trinity-St. Paul's Centre.  With  Alfredo Bernardini, guest director and oboe soloist.

Baroque Dresden’s remarkable court orchestra attracted Europe’s best instrumentalists and composers, resulting in flashy, stunning and technically demanding music. Join Tafelmusik, directed by the dynamic and entertaining Italian oboe virtuoso Alfredo Bernardini, for music by Fasch, Pisendel, Telemann and Vivaldi.

I FURIOSI BAROQUE ENSEMBLE: Hell Hath No Fury Sat, Dec 10th,  at 8pm; Calvin Presbyterian Church. Hell hath no fury like I FURIOSI scorned.  Not your average Christmas concert. Guest: James Johnstone, harpsichord

Tafelmusik MESSIAH: Wed Dec 14, Thurs Dec 15, Fri Dec 16, Sat Dec 17 at 7:30pm;   at Koerner Hall, directed by Ivars Taurins.

Tafelmusik Sing-Along Messiah Sun Dec 18, 2pm at Massey Hall

Handel and Haydn Society (Boston), January 20 & 22, 2012, Symphony Hall, Boston.

Concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky makes her H&H solo debut in Vivaldi’s virtuosic The Four Seasons.  Audiences will tour Italy and experience the richness of the Italian culture from Handel's operas, written while he lived there, to J.C. Bach's dramatic symphony, composed shortly after a visit to the country.

Tafelmusik House of Dreams, Wed Feb 8 at 7pm, Thurs Feb 9, Fri Feb 10, Sat Feb 11 at 8pm, Sun Feb 12 at 3:30pm Trinity-St. Paul's Centre. An imaginative concert designed by Alison Mackay, creator of Metamorphosis, Chariots of Fire, The Galileo Project

The Eybler String Quartet will be making a recording of Haydn Opus 33 string quartets this January for future release on Analekta

Who is February’s Child?

72_mysterychildWith roots in The Land of Song, and a dragon tatoo on her right ankle, this soprano is a match for

… the subtlety of a Palej or Berlioz song-cycle (Group of 27);

… the ecstasy of Vivaldi’s Juditha (Ensemble Caprice);

… the stamina and humour for a TSO outreach tour (arias, semi-staged with props);

… the heat of an all-female a cappella ensemble in Svabda – Wedding (Queen of Puddings Music Theatre, June 2011);

… four characters and their puppets in Crazy to Kill (Toronto Masque Theatre, November 2011).

Think you know who our mystery child is? Send your best guess to Please provide your mailing address just in case your name is drawn! Winners will be selected by random draw among correct replies received by January 22, 2012.



The Sing-Along MESSIAH at Massey Hall is a fine warm-up for seasonal merry-making (Dec 18, 2pm). Maestro Handel conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Choir and guests: Karina Gauvin, Robin Blaze, Rufus Müller, and Brett Polegato. WholeNote readers Mary McColl and Joan Sayer each win a pair of tickets, and a copy of Tafelmusik’s BEETHOVEN Symphonies Nos. 7 & 8. Nosky says: “I think we bring a roughness to our interpretation of the Beethoven symphonies which helps highlight how revolutionary they were — colours and textures that were almost beyond the capability of the instruments of the time. It sounds very on the edge to me!” (AN2 9947)  Hell Hath No Fury: I FURIOSI Baroque Ensemble’s second concert of the season (Dec10, 8pm), with guest James Johnstone, harpsichord. Bach, Handel and Corelli, but “Not your average Christmas concert!” Dare to find out why, along with Robert Lescoe, Phoebe Cleverley and their guests!  Crazy: I FURIOSI’s CD on the Dorian Sono-luminus label. The 16th–18th century repertoire diversely reflects the theme of insanity. Liner notes about the composers’ twisted lives and times are fascinating. Crazy includes a haunting encore: Suzanne by Leonard Cohen. With guests James Johnstone, Stephanie Martin, Lucas Harris. (DSL-90802. A copy each for Diane Harvey and Nancy Martin Backofen and Mozart: an Eybler Quartet recording — quintets by virtuoso clarinetist and composer Backofen (contemporary of Mozart), and a Mozart quintet. Nosky: “I really like this recording because it features the brilliant playing of one of my favourite musicians, English clarinetist Jane Booth.” AN29949. A copy each for Myrna Foley and Julie Goldstein NEW FOR 2012! Aisslinn Nosky’s brand new, self-titled, independently produced recording of works for solo violin by Bach, Ysaye and Oesterle, will be available in January. Among the first to receive one of a limited number of CDs, Ed Boucher!

November’s Child Joan Watson


photo_joan-adult_true-north-brassJoan Watson — horn soloist, principal horn, chamber musician, lecturer and educator — was born in Dauphin, Manitoba. Presently first horn of the Canadian Opera Comany Orchestra and a founding member of True North Brass, she was associate principal horn of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for 14 seasons, and has been principal horn with the Esprit Orchestra, New Music Concerts, and the Victoria, Pacific Opera and Vancouver Opera Orchestras.

You’ve probably heard Watson on the CBC as a chamber musician, and certainly (without knowing who you were hearing) in numerous commercials, television shows and movie scores.

A member of the University of Toronto’s faculty of music, Watson joined The Boston Conservatory faculty this fall. She also teaches a course called “Goal Setting for Musicians” (see Allan Pulker’s column in this issue, or her website

When you look at the childhood photo today? Apparently I’ve had an oral fixation for years! I moved from soprano sax to violin at age 5, played trumpet in grades 3–5 and switched to horn in Grade 6 for very self-serving reasons. I wanted to win the Best Musician trophy in Grade 12 and realized early on that I needed to be on a different instrument from the band director’s son who played trumpet. He would likely win the trophy one year ahead of me and they did not give the trophy to the same instrument two years in a row. Horn was my only chance I thought the horn couldn’t possibly be as difficult as everyone said it was. I did win the trophy!

My dad took an annual Christmas photo of the whole family with instruments. Music was his passion until art took over. He was a wonderful watercolourist by the end of his life. He always ran a stage band and my brothers and myself were the sax section, except for one on piano.

I took up the horn in 1963 and we took a family photo that Christmas. It was taken just a few days before my mother passed away. I was holding a violin, at age 10. I really treasure that photo.

Early musical memories? Dauphin did not have a school music program. We had a town band and it was comprised of kids and adults. The stage band was a mix of people who just loved to play. The local chiropractor was the guitarist, our band director played lead trumpet, the lead trombonist ran a construction company. They were wonderful passionate musicians.

We did play LPs and there was always music around the house of some sort. Lessons, rehearsals, chamber music, orchestra rehearsals, etc. Our home was the hub of Dauphin music making. My step mother started the Dauphin String Orchestra and a school music program. She was a concert violinist and had been in the Winnipeg Symphony before coming to Dauphin. She was also the founder of the Winnipeg Schools Orchestra, still thriving today …

Read the full interview, coming soon to

Who is December’s Child?
Never one to take things sitting down, she moved to Toronto by herself, as a young teenager. Today she tours internationally and commutes routinely to Boston, while furiously juggling chamber collaborations in Southern Ontario.
You’ll find her face no less than three times, elsewhere in this issue of The WholeNote.
Think you know who our mystery child is? Send your best guess to Please provide your mailing address just in case your name is drawn! Winners will be selected by random draw among correct replies received by November 22, 2011.
Red is best for recitals, and for everyday! Sporting the full Nanaimo, circa 1982.

59bWho is December’s Child?Never one to take things sitting down, she moved to Toronto by herself, as a young teenager. Today she tours internationally and commutes routinely to Boston, while furiously juggling chamber collaborations in Southern Ontario. You’ll find her face no less than three times, elsewhere in this issue of The WholeNote.
Think you know who our mystery child is? Send your best guess to Please provide your mailing address just in case your name is drawn! Winners will be selected by random draw among correct replies received by November 22, 2011.

The Call of Christmas: An unforgettable afternoon of Christmas music presented by All Saints Kingsway Anglican Church  (Dec. 18, 4pm). The concert features The True North Brass with a massed choir, organist Simon Walker and mezzo-soprano Margaret Bárdos, and includes carol-singing. Shawn Grenke, conductor. Joan Sayer wins a pair of tickets.   Moussourgsky: Picture at an Exhibition: [TNB Records 2011] J. Scott Irvine’s version for brass quintet and organ, recorded by True North Brass with Eric Robertson at All Saints Kingsway Anglican Church, was released November 1, 2011! John Brooker is the lucky winner of this CD.

The Call of Christmas [TNB Records, 2008]: a collection of 16 Christmas favourites, in arrangements by some of Canada’s top musicians, for solo horn, strings, harp and percussion: The winner of this CD is Phoebe Lenez.   Songs my Mother Taught Me [2007 Phoenix Records] is a collection of favourite tunes in soothing arrangements (including a couple by TNB’s Al Kay): a musical tribute to Joan’s mother: musical memories of love, serenity and safety. This CD goes out to Myrna Foley.

Music’s Children gratefully acknowledges Shawn, Ray, Andrea, Michael, All Saint’s Kingsway Anglican Church, and True North Brass.

October ’s Child James Parker


Pianist James Parker, ("Jamie" to many) lives in Toronto "with my wife Mim, our boys Dylan and Max, and our dog Mabel. I've got a Kawaii KG-2C baby grand piano, and a junky upright in the basement.

I love hockey. Music is a very close second in my life. You cannot know how disappointed I was with the Canucks Stanley Cup loss. June 15, 2011 ranks as one of the darkest days in my life. I'm only getting over it now. Belgian beer and chocolate might be third passion in my life.

Everyone should work on their wrist-shot accuracy. It'll help your octaves."

Born in Burnaby British Columbia, James Parker delights audiences at  solo, chamber, and orchestral concerts across Canada, and internationally. He has a huge discography which includes 3 Juno award winning records. Parker's musical roots are at the Vancouver Academy of Music and University of British Columbia where he studied with Kum Sing Lee. and received his Bachelor of Music degree. For over a decade,  Parker attended the Banff Centre, studying piano with Marek Jablonski, and chamber music with Lorand Fenyves  and then went on to complete his Masters and Doctoral with Adele Marcus at The Juilliard School.  Parker was an Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and now teaches on the music faculty at the University of Toronto as the Rupert E. Edwards Chair in Piano Performance.

Liz Parker had this to say about their mother:

The Matriarch grew up in Japan during the war - she learned to jump under her desk as a child during the air raids. She learned English in Japan and was pen-pals with my dad for 6 yrs - that's how they first knew each other. When she was sent a ring and proposal – she said yes and came to Canada - that's when they met. They received stares in public back then ... this was in the late 1950's.

Mom studied piano with my dad's brother, Edward Parker, and subsequently became a piano teacher but renowned as a music theory teacher. She was so strict, she taught on Halloween night: too bad! But you could show up to class in costume and then  trick-or-treat in her 'hood if you wanted to.

A strict Tiger Mother with a sense of humour at least:  she would come home and touch the TV screen (hot) and piano lamp (cold) to see if we REALLY practiced in her absence, and was upset with dad when he brought home the second TV (= less practice).

She "forgot" to pass on any social phone calls or messages (= less practice) but took us to McDonald's after every competition as a treat (even if we didn't place 1st).

Our mom is the epitome of class and ZEN


James Parker is  also a member of the Gryphon Trio, one of Canada’s best chamber music ensembles. Well known to CBC listeners, the trio has toured many parts of the world, maintained a residency at Music Toronto from 1998-2008, and regularly commission works from Canadian and international composers. The Gryphon Trio's extraordinary schedule also includes major commitments to a wide range of initiatives working with student performers and composers.

Suppose you were with a child who is right now about the same age as you were in your childhood photo  – perhaps the child of a friend who is NOT a musical colleague. If they asked you  "What  do you do?", how might you reply?

I play piano. I also listen to other people play piano and help them get better at it.

You're travelling, and chatting with a friendly fellow traveller. After they have told you all about their career in pest control or medical imaging, they ask about your work. How might you reply? I’m a musician. I play piano concerts by myself and with friends. I’ve got a group, the Gryphon Trio, and we’ve been playing concerts together for almost 20 years all over the world. We’re also in residence at the University of Toronto, where I’m the Head of Keyboard Studies, so teaching is also a very big part of my life. I also record a lot of CDs, so spending hours on end in a studio is something that I do once or twice a year.


When you look at the childhood photo today, what do you think about?

Jackie [Jon Kimura Parker] and I didn’t do too much playing together as kids, since he was a prodigy and way ahead of me. It’s been really great that every two or three years we get to do a two-piano concert.

Your absolute earliest musical memory?

There was always piano music in the house as far back as I can remember – my brother practicing, my mother teaching, my father listening to records

Other musicians in your childhood family? Older brother and younger sister are pianists. My mother is a retired music teacher, my father was an avid listener. My uncle is still teaching, with two sons – one who did his ARCT, and the other who performs. Ian and I will be doing a two-piano concert next season.

Where did hearing music, both formal and informal, fit into  your life as a child?

CBC radio was on all the time, and there was lots of practicing, lessons, and listening going on. I played clarinet in high school band which was a lot of fun (well, the band trips were fun!)

Why the piano?

Why? Genetics. If you’re a Parker, you play piano. End of story. (Although, my little guys just started Suzuki violin, but they’ll get piano lessons for sure.)

Do you sing? What is your first memory of  yourself singing?

Every pianist goes through this – you’re playing for some famous guest artist master class during your studies, and they yell at you, “JUST SING THAT LINE …RIGHT NOW!.” It’s usually a bad memory! Now I’ll sing passages for students during lessons and coachings, and occasionally threaten them to sing in front of the class.

What do you remember about your first piano teacher? Jessie Morrison taught the Kelly Kirby method, so I have vague memories of learning about Doggie D, Bumble B and so forth.

What were your first experiences of making music with other people? I was very late to chamber music – it’s a classic pianist thing – we’re always so busy practicing so many things. I did a couple of chamber pieces at the end of high school at the VAM.

Do you remember when you first performed alone for an audience? No, I seem to have successfully blotted that out! I played all sorts of festivals as a kid, and did all the RCM exams.

Do you remember the point at which you began to think of yourself as a career musician?

I didn’t decide to go into music until the end of Grade XII, so it wasn’t until my university years that I really focused on becoming a professional musician.

Do you remember ever thinking you would do anything else? I was planning on doing Pre-Med at UBC, and I still have a strong interest in alternative healing of all sorts, especially Energy Medicine.

If you could travel back through time and meet  young Jamie that childhood photo is there anything you'd like to say?

Not really. I have very few regrets in life. I may tell him to practice a little more each day, but then I may not have developed the kind of friendships in school that I have to this day.


Sat, Oct 1: Gryphon Trio and many UofT Faculty and students playing a benefit concert for Japan --  Walter Hall at 3pm

Sun, Oct 2: Gryphon Trio and Patricia O’Callaghan –- CD launch at the Lula Lounge at 8pm

Wed, Oct 5: Gryphon Trio various school concerts in Hamilton

Sat, Oct 15: Rachmaninov Paganini Variations with Mathew Kraemer and the Mississauga Symphony – Living Arts Centre at 8pm

Sat, Oct 29: inaugural recital on the St. Andrews' Bosendorfer – St. Andrew’s Church at 7:30 or 8pm


Naxos: Jeffrey Ryan “Fugitive Colours” (Gryphon Trio performs his “Equilateral” Triple Concerto with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra under Bramwell Tovey)

Naxos: Gryphon Trio CD anthology – 9 discs with the great trios by Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Shostakovich

Analekta: Patricia O’Callaghan and the Gryphon Trio “Broken Hearts and Madmen”

Who is November’s Child?


Today she juggles several orchestral, operatic and chamber collaborations, and combines these with teaching and mentoring all over the True North strong and free.

(This coming month you’ll find her MassBrassing October 30.)

Think you know who our mystery child is? Send your best guess to Please provide your mailing address just in case your name is drawn! Winners will be selected by random draw among correct replies received by October 20, 2011.


The Sorcerer’s Apprentice on Oct 15, at the Living Arts Centre, Mississauga: Jamie Parker plays the Rachmaninov Paganini Variations with the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra, guest conductor is Matthew Kraemer. Noreen Chong and Annie Odom each win a pair of tickets to hear the MSO’s first concert of the season which also includes Dukas and Stravinsky.

The Gryphon Trio on Nov 17, at the Janet Mallet Theatre, Toronto: Jamie Parker, Annalee Patipatanakoon, and Roman Borys are Music Toronto regulars, this time treating the audience to a programme of Beethoven, Jordans, and Arensky. Daisy Leung and Laura Brocklebank each win a pair of tickets.

Broken Hearts and Madmen: just released! This collaboration between The Gryphon Trio and vocalist Patricia O’Callaghan features songs by Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Lhasa de Sela and Laurie Anderson alongside traditional melodies from Chile, Argentina and Mexico. (AN 2 9870). A copy each for Linda Devore and Paulette Popp.

Beethoven: Piano Trios Op. 70 No. 1 “Ghost” & No. 2; Op. 11: this Gryphon Trio recording won a 2011 JUNO award for “Classical Album of the Year — Solo or Chamber Ensemble”. It’s their 13th recording on the Analekta label and the last in their series of Beethoven piano trio recordings. (AN 2 9860). A copy each for Myrna Foley and Otto Rath.

Music’s Children gratefully acknowledges Andrew, Eileen, Jennifer, Keiko, Liz, Sébastien, Orchestras Mississauga, Music Toronto and Analekta.

Back to top