For this month's contest -  Who is June's Child? - please scroll down.

May's Child is Colin Ainsworth



I can’t wait for Versailles (May) and Glimmerglass (July/August))!

And I’m really excited to be joining London’s Nash Ensemble at the Toronto Summer Music Festival in August.


I’ve been involved with numerous recordings which are all on my website -

I think my favourite is the Aldeburgh Connection’s Our Own Songs which includes Derek Holman’s The Heart Mislaid which were written for me. I’m a huge fan of Derek’s songs and these songs speak to me more now than they ever did.

Tenor Colin Ainsworth is well-known to Southern Ontario audiences for his big warm voice and remarkable diction which bring beauty and clarity to operas, choral and symphonic works and song recitals. Disarmed by his frank grin and unpretentious manner, some will not know that beyond Opera Atelier and The Aldeburgh Connection he is in demand with opera companies and symphonies internationally, and made his Carnegie Hall debut on February 10, singing the role of Haroun in Bizet's Djamileh with Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra. The New York Times said that his “… bright, beautiful singing made Haroun instantly appealing …” Those who have followed his career will not be surprised.

Ainsworth’s website biography and schedule are quietly vertigo-inducing, and include a tour of Opera Atelier’s production of Armide to the Opéra Royal de Versailles, France, and the Glimmerglass Festival in upstate New York.

Ainsworth grew up in Holland Landing, Ontario, and attended Dr. Denison High School in Newmarket. Late in high school he took a drama/music theatre class for fun: the teacher said he should consider private singing lessons. He went to Irene Ilic on a recommendation from one of his mother’s friends, and subsequently met Darryl Edwards at the Toronto Kiwanis Music Competition. Ainsworth went to the University of Western Ontario to study with Edwards and later transferred to the University of Toronto to continue with him.

Ainsworth’s parents, who are both deaf, were a bit apprehensive about his becoming a singer since they couldn't hear if he was good or not. But people who had heard him sing helped to ease their fears …

Suppose you're travelling, and a friendly fellow traveller asks what work you do?

It usually does come up and people are fascinated that I sing classical music.

I guess it’s not the typical job that would come up in conversation nowadays.

The usual questions then ensue: Do you sing full-time? Can you make a living? Why aren’t you fat?

Can you sing something? Yes; yes; I run; and sure!

65_mysterychild_april2012_2032012_00001_1About your childhood photo … ?

I do remember that I was at a picnic or party with lots of relay races and games, probably for the Montessori school I was going to at the time. I apparently had just cut my own hair – thus the lack of hair at the front – and I remember being very proud of myself for doing so.

Anything you would like to tell little Colin?

I would tell him never to cut my/his own hair, something I didn’t grasp until I was at least 17.

Your earliest memories of music?

My earliest memory is going to hear my mother’s father, Jim Spark, conduct the Masonic Choral Group when I was about four. He too was a tenor but I don’t have any recollection of him singing that day. I also remember trying to do Highland dancing to his Scottish records in my grandparent’s living room and listening to their records of bagpipes. The sound of a bagpipe still brings back those memories for me.

Other family musicians?

My father’s father, Ivan Ainsworth, was a folk singer and played guitar. As a young child, I can vividly remember him singing to me “One day at a time, Lord Jesus.” Both my father’s parents played and sang in a folk band up in Sudbury. My mother’s siblings either sang or played piano. Bur since my parents were deaf, there wasn’t that kind of music in the house at the time that photo was taken.

First experiences of engaging with music?

Despite having deaf parents, music slowly became part of my life. I heard music at church and remember as a child trying to make up harmonies to hymns at church. I loved listening to the radio and would sneak a pocket cassette/radio player into my coat at school and listen to it at recess time. I loved to sing at school, and remember being asked to sing for the class with another friend in Grade 1.

What, if anything, was your first instrument, other than your own voice?

Singing didn’t really come into the picture until late in high school.

I took piano lessons for a couple years but, unfortunately, didn’t take it very seriously. I also started to play trombone in Grade 7 until about the middle of high school but I was hopeless at that. They made me play flute at university as a secondary instrument which I hated and rarely practised.

What were your first experiences of making music with other people?

My first real experiences making music with other people were in high school in the band and jazz choir, with a choral group in Newmarket and with the Ontario Youth Choir with Elmer Iseler conducting.

Do you remember when you first sang alone for an audience?

I think the first real time was for my first singing teacher Irene Ilic’s, studio class. Probably “Close every door” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

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

Not until I was well into university did I think that I was actually going to be a musician.

Do you remember thinking you would do something else?

At one point in my life, I thought I was going to go into dentistry. I’m so glad I didn’t!

Suppose an after-school club asked you to talk informally with  group of children, and they asked you  "What  do you do?" …

I would tell them that I get to pretend to be other people on stage and sing really loudly. I get to travel and see really wonderful places, sing amazing music, and meet amazing people.

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

I would say that I somewhat fell into it, found that I absolutely LOVE what I do, and that I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else!

What advice, if any, could you offer to a young person who was already sure they were going to have a life in music?

Work hard, practise a lot, and no matter what you end up doing, do it with passion.

Who is
June’s Child?

6_mysterychild_may_racerWho is June’s Child?

You’ll find May’s child in the driver’s seat for a diverse continuum of music, and occasionally on the frontline.

He may need a jazzy crash helmet in festive June, racing between Toronto’s lakefront and Koerner Hall, where he’s invited some sophisticated ladies to gather.

Know our mystery child’s name?

Send your best guess to musics­children@thewhole­

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

“Hey …  where’s my horn?”
Vancouver, 1980.


Orchestra Toronto’s The Choral Symphony (May 27, Toronto Centre for the Arts) is a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 in D minor for which they’re joined by the Toronto Choral Society, and Rachel Cleland, soprano, Erin Lawson, alto, Colin Ainsworth, tenor, and Orival Bento-Goncalves, bass. Sue Woo and Joy Gordon each won a pair of tickets!

The seventh annual Toronto Summer Music Festival has this treat in store: the Nash Ensemble with Colin Ainsworth performs Music of England (August 2, Koerner Hall) — works by Bridge, Vaughan Williams and Elgar. The Nash Ensemble is the first ensemble-in-residence at London’s legendary Wigmore Hall.  Mark your calendars, Warren Keyes, and Rahila Faziluddin, you each have a pair of tickets!

Our Own Songs is a recording of The Aldeburgh Connection’s own commissioned works by John Greer, Derek Holman and John Beckwith, inspired by a wide range of influences in art, history, and literature. Artistic directors and pianists Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata perform with Adrianne Pieczonka, Monica Whicher, Elizabeth Turnbull, Mark Pedrotti, and Colin Ainsworth. (MARQUIS 381) Ruth Comfort and Shelby Cook: a copy each!

April’s Child Lydia Adams

If you'd like to read the full-length version of this interview , please revisit this page on April 1


If a friendly fellow traveller asked about your work … ?

I would say that I have the privilege of conducting two great choirs, the Amadeus Choir and the Elmer Iseler Singers and have the great honour of presenting wonderful music with fantastic people. I'd say how much I love what I am doing and would invite them to a concert. I'd have a brochure for each choir on hand!

68_MYSTERY_enhanced_Lydia_Adams_age_10If you could travel back through time and talk with the young person in that photo is there anything you'd tell them?

Stay curious through life. Have confidence in yourself. Keep your sense of humour!

Do you remember that childhood photo being taken?

Absolutely. It was my tenth birthday. I had on my ‘Festival Dress’ (sent to me by my Aunt and Uncle in Chicago!) and I had just received my new full-sized violin from my parents as my birthday gift.

Up to that point, I had been playing on a three-quarter sized violin. My Dad was the photographer – he had his Brownie, and he snapped the shot. Though piano was my great love, I became the concertmaster of the Cape Breton Youth Orchestra. However, I did observe that there were many people fairly relieved to know that I was giving it up to focus more on piano. I was no threat to Jeanne Lamon!

When you look at the photo today, what does it make you think about?

So many memories – my mother, Florence Adams was an integral part of my musical life and it is so appropriate that she is in this picture with me and that Dad is also represented as the photographer and supporter, a role he took on his whole life.

This room, by the way, was actually the dining room – we used to eat here before the grand piano arrived!

This very room is where my mother hosted her legions of students for their piano lessons. It's also where the piano examiner, Carleton Elliott from Mount Allison University, would come for the yearly exams.

My mother created a musical hub in this room. There was always music here.

We had great music making with so many friends including soprano Lorna MacDonald (Lois Marshall Chair in Voice, University of Toronto) and soprano Valerie Kinslow (Head of Voice at McGill University) plus many, many others. Many of these musicians went on to a career in music and many others went on to other careers and have kept music as a central part of their lives. There were many parties in this room, usually centred around music and it always reminds me of great friends and the collegiality we shared.

The house is literally a block from the Atlantic Ocean, and I could look out on the ocean as I practised, through the window you can see in the picture. My father built this house and he would bicycle over after work each day and build day by day his family’s home. In order to build it, he took night classes in Glace Bay for his Draftsman's papers, etc., all the while working for the Coal Company. I couldn’t have had two more wonderful parents who led by example with a true sense of the Cape Breton spirit

It is actually a wonder that we children lived. I would go down to the ocean as a young child with my best friend, Mary Clare MacKinnon, (a pianist and singer who also practises law) and jump the ice floes (a very dangerous practice called ‘Squishing’.) We also engaged in many other dangerous practices at the ocean – wandering out far on the reef and we also created situations where the fire department had to be called – what a great time we had! The ocean and all around it was our playground!

We only stopped to make music.

What is your absolute earliest memory of hearing music?

Apparently, as the story goes, my mother brought me home from the hospital, handed me to my brother, and immediately taught a piano lesson to a waiting student (there was an important exam coming up!), so I guess that will have been the very first time I heard music after birth. I can’t really remember a time in our house without music. There were piano lessons before school, at lunchtime and after school.

My mother was one of the two piano teachers in our town of Glace Bay, N.S.

She also was a registered nurse. She gained her teaching diploma during WW2. Imagine, she was the night nursing superintendent at the Glace Bay General Hospital and also taking her piano and organ lessons and sending her Theory and History of Music to Trinity College, London, England, by ship during the war, for corrections.

Are there (or were there) other musicians in your childhood family?

My father had a beautiful natural singing voice and my father’s mother used to sing songs in Gaelic, her native tongue.

My childhood was filled with music from family members. My maternal grandmother had been a church organist until she was crippled with severe arthritis. She had a sister (Sue) who was one of the first graduates in voice from Acadia University - Sue was a contralto. My maternal grandmother also had a brother (Grover) who had a fine tenor voice. I am still using one of his Elijah scores today. They all read music and my grandfather owned a store where he sold pianos and organs.

My mother, of course, was a musical whirlwind. Her siblings were also musical. She would sing duets with her sister, Ivy. Family members still remark on how musical they were. My mother started choirs specifically so that I would have a choir to sing in. She saw the need for our young teenagers’ group to continue singing beyond junior choir and so founded The Glace Bay Teenaires. She took them on tour to Kitchener/Waterloo, Niagara Falls, Montreal (Expo 67) and to Aberdeen, Scotland for the International Gaelic Mod. (It had been the National Mod to this time and our appearance made it international.) All this happened in a town where there really was no money at all.

Poverty was rampant, but the miners made sure that their children had music. Mom certainly gave many, many lessons, played for many, many services and taught in the Glace Bay schools for no payment. She was passionate as a “Music Warrior.” My brother, Robert, played piano as well, but gave it up for a career in broadcasting at the CBC and later in computers.

Where did hearing music fit into your life as a child?

CBC was a musical lifeline to us in Cape Breton, as well as in most parts of the country, I suspect. We listened to everything: Elmer Iseler conducting Handel’s Messiah each Christmas; the Christmas Eve service from King’s College, Cambridge, with David Willcocks conducting; the marvellous voices of Lois Marshall and Maureen Forrester, people I later knew and worked with. It’s amazing that I also realized my dream of working with both those conductors as well.

My parents also took me to hear the Atlantic Symphony and Community Concerts series, and one such concert proved to be a life changing experience. It was held in Baddeck at the High School gym, a two hour drive for us. I was five or six years old and remember vividly hearing a young Maureen Forrester sing. I placed myself in the front row and almost clapped my hands off, I was so excited. On the way home, I declared to my parents that I wanted to be a musician.

My parents also had a rich body of recordings available for me to hear, and these were very important to me. One was of Wanda Landowska playing the Bach Well-Tempered Clavier on the harpsichord. I was transfixed. I recall when I was around10 years old wearing out the recording of the 1954 Vienna Choir Boys recording of Schubert’s Ständchen (D920).

My father, Robert Adams, was a blacksmith working in the Forge making parts for the mines for the Dominion Coal Company. When he arose to go to work I would rush down and join him at breakfast. Once he left for work, because it was still dark, I could see my reflection in our front window and I would play that recording over and over while trying to conduct it. It must have been something for the neighbours to see this small child waving her arms in the window as they passed by on the way to work. (My mother took the whole Junior Choir, and all the neighbourhood children, to see the Vienna Choir Boys movie Almost Angels).

What is your first memory of  yourself making music?

If you look at the top of the Heintzman piano Mom is playing in my child picture, you will see a small wooden piano (like Linus plays!). My very first memory of music making was playing that piano, a gift from my Aunt and Uncle “from away,”’  in piano duets with my mother. I would sit on the floor to play.

What was your first instrument, and when did you first conduct?

My first instrument is and always will be the piano. I just love it, love the sound, love “making friends” with pianos and love the repertoire. My real joy is playing Bach.

Aside from my “front room conducting,” my first actual conducting happened after a major service at St. Paul’s Church (the church where I grew up,) and where my Mom was the organist and music director. She would have these enormous services which absolutely packed the church of 1,000 people. Her choirs were large and shone especially at Christmas and Easter. The week after those services, she would usually be in bed with a migraine headache, and would send me down, even as a young child, to take the organ and the choir for the day. I loved this, even though I didn’t play the organ. I pretended I did, and just blew the roof off the church with that magnificent Cassavant. I am sure the church people and the choirs were really happy to have Mom back the next week.

What do you remember about your first music teacher?

My first teacher was my mother. She was a brilliant teacher and inspired thousands of students young and old throughout her career. I think my Mom and Dad made an excellent decision, however,  to send me to the other piano teacher in town, Marguerite MacDougall, when I was 4 or 5. Before that, my mother was wise – she didn’t push me – but she did leave beginner books out on the piano and I was forever going to her with “What’s this, Mommie?” questions all the time. These beginner books got more difficult as I grew older:  I started to find Messiah, Elijah’ and other scores on the piano. I would love to go through those scores from top to bottom, singing all the solos and choruses as I went. Mom told me that she would always be my “pretend teacher” if I ever had any questions. That situation was perfect, because I did go to her often, of course.

I loved Marguerite (Mrs. MacDougall) completely. She was a wonderful pianist and was the very first  graduate from Mount St. Vincent in Halifax with a performance degree in piano.

Marguerite was raising a large family and played for every major concert or musical in Cape Breton, from the staged musicals sponsored by the Rotary Club to a 14 year old Itzhak Perlman in concert (really!) to Lassie. She played from the Bach Well Tempered Clavier for world champion figure skater Barbara Ann Scott in the Glace Bay Forum and she loved working with Victor Braun (Russell’s father) in the musical, The Song of Norway, which ended with the first movement of the Grieg concerto. Victor was the “star” they brought in “from away” (a term of reference for those not born on the Island.)

Marguerite was a brilliant pianist and our piano lessons were filled with laughter and positivity. She hated asking people to play their “technique” and we usually blew right through the scales and arpeggios to the music. She would dismiss them and say “You can play those,” and we would move on to the wonderful world of Chopin or Brahms. I can hear her play in my mind’s ear even now.

Every now and then, you would hear the yowling of her cat as it made its way down the chimney from the roof, landing at the bottom with a thump. It then would shake itself off and walk with great dignity into the living room (and the lesson would go on!). Her home, like my parent’s, was always full of energy and wonderful hospitality. These were homes where friends and strangers were always welcome and the rooms were filled with stories, laughter and music.

In my final year of high school, it was decided that I would go to Mrs. Dorothy Sutherland, a British concert pianist who lived in Sydney. She was elegant and gracious: an elderly woman who had come to Canada when her husband’s business brought them here. Her home was one of quiet civility and, playing at her home, I experienced the magic of a Steinway piano for the first time.

What were your first experiences of making music with other people?

My Mom conducted the choirs in our church and I was a member of the Junior Choir before I had even started school. I also had great friends in the neighbourhood who were hooked on music. The greatest thing we could think of doing after school or on weekends was getting together to play pianos duets and (after the second and then the third piano moved into our fairly small house) – piano duos were the rage! We would run through a whole book of Mozart works – or operas written for piano and piano duo – or Fauré works – whatever we had on hand – not stopping! We would test out sight-reading doing this – just kept going, no matter what, full speed! - dragging the other person through if they stumbled. We also thought that “perfect pitch” was the norm. Everyone seemed to have it.

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

This will be rather convoluted.

I had finished university and left to study further at the Royal College of Music in London, England, with Kendall Taylor, the great Beethoven specialist. I really had very little confidence at the time and decided to study in England to work with some of the best musicians and find out if I belonged at a professional level.

But studying piano was all a ruse, as the real reason I was going to England was to study with David Willcocks, the great choral conductor who had done such incredible work and made such sublime recordings with the King’s College Choir in Cambridge, and who was then coming to the RCM as its director. I was in awe of him. The College didn’t offer a course with David and he knew nothing of my plan of coming to work with him.

I guess I should tell the story here of how I met him.

I arrived in London in 1976 knowing no one – not one person – and had arranged a place to stay in Chelsea, a short distance away from Prince Consort Road, where the Royal College of Music sprawled across the street from the Royal Albert Hall. I decided to walk up and find out just how long it would take to get there in the morning, when the Director’s address would take place at 9:00 a.m. the next day. As I was walking up, I knew the rain was about to start and was rounding the corner of Prince Consort Road when it began coming down hard.

I got into the College completely soaked and there was no let-up of the rain in sight.

It was 5 minutes to 5. The College closed at 5:00 p.m.

The very lovely commissionaire who was on the desk informed me that I would have to leave the building in the next 5 minutes UNLESS I was auditioning for the choir. I had no idea what the choir was, who the conductor was, but in a split second decided that whatever it was, I was going to do that audition.

It turned out to be the audition call for the 300 voice Bach Choir, which David Willcocks conducted. Fifteen minutes later, in a strange twist of fate, I was face to face with my idol. I did the audition completely in awe – I could hardly sing – no breath. He took pity on me and I became a member of that wonderful choir with 300 new friends. He was very gracious to allow me to conduct this incredible group from time to time, as well as accompany the RCM Chorus.

One notable time with the RCM Chorus was when we were rehearsing a new work by Dr. Herbert Howells. Dr. Howells came into the room. Immediately after welcoming Dr. Howells to the rehearsal and seating him on the stage in front of the choir, David dragged me from the piano and he went to the piano and I had this incredible experience of conducting the choir in a work by Herbert Howells with the composer about a foot from my right arm. Daunting but thrilling!

My very first performance in England with Sir David conducting was as part of the RCM choir singing St. Nicolas, with Peter Pears singing the main role for Benjamin Britten’s Memorial Service. My final performance there with Sir David was as part of the Bach Choir singing the wedding of Charles and Diana. Sir David Willcocks gave me countless and wonderful opportunities as a student – and it is from him that I gained my confidence as a professional musician. I will be forever grateful.

My great influence here in Canada was Elmer Iseler. I was absolutely dumb-struck when he and the Festival Singers of Canada arrived at Mount Allison for a concert and I heard R. Murray Schafer’s Epitaph for Moonlight for the first time.

I absolutely knew that I would be working with Elmer in the future and was thrilled to play for the Elmer Iseler Singers for 17 years. I am now so honoured  to conduct the choir of professional singers which bears his name. As you may know, I arrived at the position of Conductor/Artistic Director of the EIS because of the illness and passing of Elmer, so it was a tough time for us all.

It is also rare that a named choir survives its founder, and we had to all convince ourselves, starting with the Iseler family, myself, the board of directors, the Singers, the arts councils and our audiences, both in Toronto and throughout Canada, that the choir should go forward. I had some doubt suggested to me by one arts council member as to whether I could “'handle” a second choir but aside from that person, I received overwhelming support.

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

If so, what were those things?

No. However, as a child, I did entertain being a truck driver for a (very short) while, or a Mountie (love the uniform!).


We are excited to be  working with Canada’s first female astronaut and neurologist in space, Dr. Roberta Bondar. The Amadeus Choir and the Elmer Iseler Singers, will present a wonderful joint concert in collaboration with the Ontario Science Centre and the Dr. Roberta Bondar Foundation on April 21, 8pm at the Ontario Science Centre. This concert will honour Dr. Bondar’s 20th anniversary into space. Within the program, there are two World Premieres to honour the occasion and Dr. Bondar will be there and will speak.

Recent recordings

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s in-house record label tsoLIVE released Gustav Holst: The Planets, the TSO's  fifth in a series of self-produced recordings. It was recorded live at Roy Thomson Hall, and features TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the women of the Elmer Iseler Singers and the Amadeus Choir.

The Elmer Iseler Singers’ own two most recent CDs are both special. We recorded a Christmas CD with Eleanor McCain in the fall and the one before that was a CD of Peter Togni’s ‘Lamentations of Jeremiah’ with bass clarinettist Jeff Reilly.

Both choirs are planning new CDs  for the coming year.

Looking towards the future, Lydia Adams offers some additional comments from another recent interview:

I don't think that Canadian Choral Music has ever been stronger in Canada - the choirs are magnificent throughout the country. So many young and terrific choral conductors are taking on positions and making the choral art incredibly strong here.

Another wonderful thing happening is the rise of great Canadian choral composers who are gaining international reputations for their writing. It is a fantastic and crucial three-way partnership - composer, conductor and choir - we all need the others for everyone to flourish.

What we need now is to continue being proactive to our governments and arts councils to make more money available for choirs. We know the importance of choral music for the human heart and soul and we need to continue being vocal about it.

We all can be activists - audience members - singers - conductors - everyone - to encourage and keep encouraging our governments to put money into the arts.

They need to know that music generally, the arts, and choral music specifically are all so important to our society and to the development and creation of great citizens of our nation.



Who is May’s Child?

65_mysterychild_april2012_2032012_00001_1Discovered by music only at the end of high school, he has two special reasons to sing expressively, with impeccable diction.

In “high” demand internationally, he’s made two Aldeburgh connections this season, joins Orchestra Toronto for Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 in May, and in all his spare time he’s training for that “someday” half-marathon.

Know our mystery child’s name?

Send your best guess to musics­children@thewhole­

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

This spring and summer, I think I’ll be a Christian knight, impervious to feminine allure!

Starting in Toronto, I’ll travel to the Opéra Royal de Versailles, France, and The Glimmerglass Festival in New York State!



65_prize_1-amadeuslogo65_prize_1-eis_logo_large_1Music of the Spheres (April 21, 8pm). The Amadeus Choir and the Elmer Iseler Singers, conducted by Lydia Adams, join forces at the Ontario Science Centre for two world premieres. Beyond Earth by Lydia Adams, text by Roberta Bondar, with images from Dr. Roberta Bondar’s photographic explorations, along with And Yet It Moves, by Jason Jestadt. Meet guest speaker Dr. Bondar and enjoy some special star-gazing afterwards! Andrew Kellogg and Helen Spiers each win a pair of tickets.

65_cd-prize_3_elmeriselers_1167_rwhSing all ye joyful: Music of Ruth Watson Henderson. This Elmer Iseler Singers’ recording, conducted by Lydia Adams, is devoted entirely to the choral music of Ruth Watson Henderson. Recipient of several awards, perhaps the greatest honour paid to her is that choirs from all over the world, and at home in Canada, sing her music and sing it often. (CBC Records MVCD 1167) A copy goes to Dale Sorensen.

65_songsof_thespirit_1Songs of the Spirit features the Amadeus Choir performing Eleanor Daley’s Requiem, works by Srul Irving Glick and Barry Peters, and the world premiere recording of Missa 4 Vocum by Andrea Gabrieli. Lydia Adams, conductor. (AMA9900) A copy goes to Lilli Killian.

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!

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