“My apologies if you disagree with my viewpoint” began the distressed letter I received. “It’s not often that I send an email to everyone in my inbox, but I am angry and frightened at this most recent round of cuts made by the Federal Government to the Canada Coun-cil for the Arts…”

The letter included a link to an article by James Bradshaw in the September 24 Globe and Mail, as well as a link to a petition written by improvisational musician Nilan Perera. Nilan Perera’s petition already had 5,600 signatures at the time I clicked through: people in the wider music community are feeling crushed and betrayed.

“In a move to provide more money for Canadian artists to tour internationally and focus on commercially viable projects, the Tories have redirected funds that were used to help artists on the musical fringe record their work” Bradshaw wrote in his Globe piece. In effect, on July 31 this year, when the Conservative government renewed funding for the Canada Music Fund for five years, it “streamlined” the fund by eliminating two of seven categories, in order to beef up the funds for the remaining five. Gone entirely is the Canadian Musical Diversity category which provided grants of up to $20,000 for the recording and distribution of  music which “places creativity, self-expression or experimentation above the demands and format expectations of the mainstream recording industry,” and has “significance beyond being just entertainment.”

Fringe music? No. As Nilan Perera’s petition states:

“This is the music that commercial artists mine for new sounds and examples of new forms. Its existence is as critical to music culture as medical research programmes in the universities are to the well-being of the public.”

Canadian saxophonist, clarinetist and composer Quinsin Nachoff proposed a similar analogy:

“I sat on one of the Sound Recording juries and it is a very competitive process. Only the very best are awarded funding, and only with a realistic budget to match. This is an extremely important grant that might be considered akin to that of a scientific research grant. I am cer-tain that the removal of this particular program will slow the growth of the creative and original music sector in Canada. Musicians will be forced to work longer at commercial work, teaching or working a day job to gain the necessary capital to self-produce their creative works. This will make Canadians less competitive in a market competing with Europeans who are supported by their governments or Americans who have a much larger market to support their product.

“It seems ignorant to remove this particular program as it is a necessary element to access other types of support: touring presupposes a product to tour. A recording is the essential building block and business card of the musician. The recordings I have made all led directly to tours, commissions, collaborations, and certainly affect my commercial endeavours: I am hired to teach (U of T and Humber College) be-cause of my experience ... as documented on recordings.

“Without a chance for the best Canadian creative music to be documented the cultural landscape will be staid; imitations of European or American art or pop culture. It is imperative we foster creativity and the aim of documenting our identity or quest for it.”

Pianist and music educator Mark Eisenman grimly commented:

“As an educator at York University in the field of jazz, I see the elimination of The Specialized Recording Grants as another nail in the coffin of jazz in Canada. There seems to be no reason to be teaching this music to the next generation of students. The hope of them getting any support for what is essentially a non-commercial music is looking more grim than ever. There is more to the value of things than just money, and the study of jazz and the discipline it takes is well worth the effort to teach it….”

Eisenman finished with an admonition:

“Have you ever looked at how many CDs you have received from Canadian jazz musicians that have the Canada Council logo? Check your CD library.. Now …imagine that any recording with a Canada Council logo never existed. Because in the future that’s the reality.”

Not healthy.

Here are links to the petition and Globe article. And there’s an ad on p.46 of our magazine for an October 26 “Wake” to mourn the cut funds, and celebrate the music. PDF Version Here

Update on September’s column

 

Last month we spoke with violinist Wren Canzoneri who had recently started working with physiotherapist Ginette Hamel, who works with musicians. Here’s a follow-up visit!

50Wren_CanzoneriWren says that the summer was a good time to get started working on a regimen of healing exercises, and on teaching his muscles new ways to approach work he has done for years. The benefits are obvious to him. He feels as if his pain is 25% less, and his strength and flexibility 25% improved. He’s feeling better and playing better. Wren and Ginette have a pretty clear sense of what the causes have been, included some tears to his rotator cuff which were confirmed by ultrasound. While he feels it will be about six months before he feels “fixed,” he’s keenly aware of the extent to which learning to think like an athlete on an ongoing basis will protect him from further injury and allow him to continue playing for many years.

The biggest challenge right now is not the morning regimen of yoga, nerve gliding exercises, stretching, practicing, stretching and then icing that he has become accustomed to. The challenge is keeping it all up in a regular way, making it fit in as the music season ramps up and his schedule has also to accommodate the demands of his business, TorMusic Entertainment, such as organizing  the Concert Party at the Old Mill concert series, and playing with the Hamilton Philharmonic, and the Toronto Philharmonia.

Curtis, 61 years old, plays with the Hamilton Philharmonic, occasionally subs with the TSO. He also runs a business called TorMusic Entertainment – contracting musicians for corporate, private, and commercial performances.

I had a separated shoulder from a skiing accident in 1985. Looking back I’ve had problems with my back since my 20s, but when I was the Assistant Concertmaster for Showboat, a while ago, my back went totally out of whack, and I found myself in and out of  various kinds of physio. At the time it was probably yoga that helped the most… Recently all the shoulder problems cropped back up: a lot of pain, spasms in my shoulder, neck, and arm. Wendy Rose (Associate Principal Violinist in the TSO) said I should see Ginette Hamel, who works part-time out of the Artist’s Health Centre but also sees clients at her home.

Ginette thinks the problem is “bio-mechanical”: having to do with the way bones, muscles and nerves work (or not) together. There are 3 or 4 nerves needing to be freed in my neck, so I’m learning some exercises she calls “nerve gliding”, and learning about stretching and relaxation for the muscles needed to play the violin.

We’re also working on strengthening something called the multifidus muscles ( in your back): it’s what dancers use to stabilize the lower body: as a violinist you need them to be able to sit properly. What I’m hoping to achieve is not to have pain so that I can continue to do a lot of playing into my 70s.

Ginette  doesn’t give you a general programme. Her approach is  “Okay.. what precisely do you have to do, and what isn’t working,?” And then we work together…

45GinetteHamelGinette Hamel is a physiotherapist who has worked for more than two decades with elite and amateur athletes of all kinds. You will find her clients competing at international games,  but also at renowned ballet schools, in dance companies, and on stage and in the pits with Canada’s finest ballet, opera, and symphony orchestras.

“Dancers as athletes” isn’t a new concept: over time it has benefited both communities, affecting how dancers and athletes think of themselves in terms of  body awareness and self-care. The public has come to have an increasingly sophisticated appreciation for people who are able to push their bodies to achieve extraordinary things, but without the corresponding need to glorify the pain and injuries.

Ginette began working in sports physiotherapy but says  the leap to working with dancers, which began with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, “just made sense.” She was immediately struck by how much need there was for a similarly specialized approach.

There’s no point in saying to athletes or dancers “well if it hurts just don’t do it anymore”. They have too much at stake doing something they love, are driven to do. You have to find out how they can be more comfortable, and why something is not working…you teach them to be more aware of their bodies, to pay attention, so that they can be even better at what they do.

But musicians as athletes? This is a concept whose time has not only come but is long overdue. Ginette confirms that  a long-standing stigma has kept many working musicians from admitting even to themselves, that they were “working wounded”.

They used to be so afraid, if they told someone they were hurting, they would not be hired. That this made them look bad.

Working with dancers at the innovative

illtemperedclavier_450I've often thought: "How do I explain what the problem with pianos is – the neglect and abuse they suffer – to a non-pianist or even a non-musician? Here's my take on the problem...

If one thinks of a plumber, a carpenter, ophthalmologist, chef or any other skilled tradesperson or professional, we all understand that they are only as good as their tools allow. Surgeons keep their scalpels sharp (we hope).

Professional musicians are no different. String players tune their instruments, they service the various parts, and they are responsible for their sound. They have professional craftspeople service what they themselves cannot. Reed players go through boxes of reeds trying to find one they can live with. They are very motivated to do justice to their craft, in an effort to transcend the craft and make it art. If a pad on a flute is loose, it's repaired. Musicians know what they need to do to make themselves and the music sound its best. They are responsible. They keep their tools sharp. If they sound like crap it's their fault. Moreover, everyone knows it.

With all that in mind, let's consider the pianist and his chosen tool. The pianist is completely dependent on a highly trained craftsperson-artist to even tune his instrument.

This job alone takes at least an hour and a half, even if the piano is co-operating. Which they rarely do because: 1] The piano may not have been tuned for months or even years! 2] It's been sitting near a heat source! 3] It's been in a bay window with freezing windows and then the hot sun shining on it for years. 4] There's no climate control. 5] It's been treated like a piece of furniture, not a highly complex musical instrument. Drinks have been spilled on it, in it. etc.

Pianos are complex machines, with parts that wear out. Contrary to popular belief, they don't improve with age! They are kind of like people: after about 80 years, they are pretty much done, unless they are completely rebuilt. The action (the parts that make each hammer move) needs to be regulated. Want to see how complex this is? Go to http://community.middlebury.edu/~harris/piano.regulation.pdf.

It's enough to know that the level of adjustment we're talking about here is on the order of tolerances of thousandths of an inch. I won't even discuss voicing the hammers. Suffice to say, many books have been written about these technical matters.

At any rate, let's consider this. A piano is bought for a room in a hotel, or a restaurant. Who's responsible for it? Who knows?

The piano starts off sounding pretty good, but only the pianists who play it really know how it feels and have the ears to judge its tuning and tone. During the first decade the piano is played by many pianists, hundreds of them, good and bad. Some are children who pound on the thing. Probably dozens of piano technicians have tuned the thing. Likely not one of them has even suggested an action regulation or voicing; why bother, obviously nobody cares about this instrument. The owners wouldn't know the difference – they can't even tell if it's in tune it or not!

Professional pianists might say something about maintaining the piano to venue management, but they never know who the technician is and have never spoken to the technician/tuner about that one note that keeps sticking or a thousand other possible problems. Besides, the pianist is being paid by the venue, why make waves? It might cost him a gig. Oh, he's got to run to another gig anyway. Let the next piano player suffer through that little problem.

At some point the manager of the room changes. People move on, the piano players change.Generations of people have careers, live and die. But the piano is always there – ignored, except for being occasionally played and then cursed.

Decades later, the venue (for example the King Edward Hotel) renovates, installing new marble floors, new wallpaper, new plumbing, new bathroom fixtures, spending 50 million bucks. But it's a different story for that beaten down brown baby grand with the hundreds of drinks spilled over the pin block, and a soundboard that has never been cleaned, that they paid $500.00 for in 1940. That piece of furniture, they need to keep; without having spent a dollar more the obligatory yearly tuning. (Which is insufficient in this climate.)

For years pianists sit down at this thing, and the best of them figure out how to play around the problems. Their own professionalism smooths out the obvious problems, and to the layperson/causal listener they sound pretty good, and so does the piano. So when one of these concerned pianists (after sweating bullets for three hours trying to tame this beast) finally gets the gumption to say something to the management about the sorry state of the piano, his own skill has undermined his position.

Venue management says: "Sounds fine to me." Or "Sheesh, who does he think he is, Glenn Gould?" (As if one of these venue managers would even know who Glenn Gould was.)

Where was I?

It's obvious that the pianist and the tuner are the only people who can say anything about the state of the piano. But (and it's a big but) they are paid by management – and unlike the other musicians discussed above, don't own the instrument or its problems. No one is responsible to it, and for it. The only people who can speak to its condition have a great incentive to keep their respective mouths shut. After all, managers don’t want to hear about something that will just cost them money, especially when they can't hear the difference. Aural memory is one of our most ephemeral memories. That's why we listen to loudspeakers in the same room, one right after the other, when we comparison shop.)

You can see the problem. A piano in a public venue is an orphan. It's not just an orphan. It's a poor neglected, abused, fetal alcohol syndrome, crack baby that grows into one pathetic old beast that can break your heart.

So it’s no surprise when, after 60 or 70 years of this, the venue manager says to the whisper of complaint: "What's wrong with the piano? No one else has complained about it!"

Venue managers somehow think pianos (because they do last for decades) could last for who knows how long. It seems infinite. We're fast approaching the end of the lives of all the pianos that were made in the 50s 60s and 70s. But somehow the people who have these pianos think that they should, like Old Man River, "Just Keep Rollin' Along."

The irony is that these days, if a pianist has the intestinal fortitude to say anything, and is successful in convincing a venue manager that something must be done, the venue will probably not fix the piano, but get rid of it and not replace it. The venue will then expect to have all the piano players bring their keyboards, (poor imitations of a decent acoustic piano at best), and not pay any more for the fact that pianists have now let them off the hook for presenting music respectfully. The pianists will have absolved the venue of any responsibility to do justice to the music that they are presenting.

And in advance of the inevitable responses that electronic keyboards are the answer, I say not for me – not if you're serious about being a piano player! Ultimately, pianists would prefer to play the real deal if possible. However, to make a living, and play at all, many are forced to accept this option. Don't kid yourself; most piano players aren't thrilled with this "choice."

 

 

The Sir Ernest MacMillan Memorial Foundation was founded in 1984 by Sir Ernest MacMillan’s sons, Keith and Ross MacMillan, with a family donation. The foundation assists young musicians in their advanced education at the graduate level and commemorates the life of an extraordinary Canadian musician (Canada’s only musical knight, and a Companion of the Order of Canada,conductor and composer, but a vigorous champion of music education and young musicians. In addition to his directly musical activities, he was a capable administrator, and much in demand as a lecturer, adjudicator, writer, and humourist.

Reflecting MacMillan’s wide range of musical skills and interests, The Sir Ernest MacMillan Memorial Foundation Award provides a significant career development boost to a young Canadian musician or music scholar, chosen by a highly competitive national contest. The award, $12,000 in recent years, is offered annually or biennially and has been offered to many kinds of different musicians, including some in areas that are not always other)wise well funded.

This year, to celebrate the Foundation’s 25th anniversary, and in recognition of MacMillan’s 25 years conducting the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (1931-56), the award will support “the artistic development and career advancement of a young conductor; it may be used to assist with travel, a workshop or study programme, participation in a festival or competition, or other relevant purposes.”

The application deadline for this prestigious award is January 18, 2010. Young conductors across the country are preparing application materials, including a 15- to 30-minute DVD of themselves in rehearsal and performance with an audience, which will be adjudicated in two rounds by a jury of professional musicians from diverse regions of Canada. The selected finalists will participate in a final round, in person, at the MacMillan Theatre in the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto (March 29, 2010), with accommodation and travel costs provided for finalists who don’t live in the Toronto area. All finalists will rehearse the University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra for between 30 and 40 minutes in selections drawn from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, Op. 96, and Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14.

Previous awards have gone to young composers, conductors, instrumental and vocal performers, early musicians, chamber musicians, collaborative pianists and music educators. The 2008 award was offered in the area of research in Canadian music and benefited Meghan Forsyth of Toronto, a doctoral candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of Toronto, whose research was focused on traditional Acadian violin music in Prince Edward Island. Some of the other young Canadians who have benefited from this award are Bernard Labadie, for Choral and Orchestral Conducting; Jens Lindemann (tumpet) and James Sommerville (horn); soprano Meredith Hall, for Early Music; composer Chester Jankowski; conductor Rosemary Thompson, and the Tokai String Quartet of Toronto.

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