p25_jamie_howieson_and_john_swallow_black_creekThe Capital One BlackCreek Summer Music Festival is presenting a fantastic and diverse series of concerts, featuring stars from the worlds of classical music and opera, jazz, Broadway, gospel, country and mainstream pop. All concerts will be presented at the Rexall Centre at 1 Shoreham Drive on the York University Campus. Given that this facility was designed primarily for staging major tennis competitions, it’s not unreasonable to wonder just what the sound quality will be like for the average concert goer. It was with these questions in mind that I met with John Swallow, of Swallow Acoustic Consultants Ltd. (www.swallowacoustic.ca), and Jamie Howieson, Production and Technical Manager of the Rexall Centre.

John was quick to point out that the round, bowl shape of the venue, as well as its size, is very similar to the classical amphitheatres of Greek and Roman times – some of which are still used today for concerts with great success. The lack of a roof eliminates a major source of acoustic interference: the reflected sound from above which arrives after the direct sound from the stage, degrading the clarity and muddying the sound.

p25_rendering_of_blackcreek_venueThe process of optimizing the concert sound began with a simple test of a sound system set up by Jamie in the basic, untreated arena. Encouraged by what was heard, John went on to perform a full acoustic analysis to identify any specific problem areas requiring treatment. These turned out to be vertical wall surfaces reflecting sound which could be heard as an interfering echo by someone sitting in the house, easily managed with sound absorbing materials so that the only sound perceived by an audience member will be the sound emanating from the stage, free of any interference. The final step was to design the sound system to provide even coverage for every seat in the house.

The stage will be housed in a massive structure located at one end of the playing surface, with its front edge located roughly at the service line of the tennis court. Since the venue was designed to provide uninterrupted sight lines from all seats to the entire playing surface, it follows that every audience member will have an unobstructed view of the performers. Those sitting closest to the stage will be hearing the direct sound from the performers primarily. At greater distances, the sound reinforcement system will come into play so that every seat in the house will experience a comparable volume level so that everyone, wherever they are sitting, will hear clear, evenly balanced sound, that is not unreasonably loud.

The majority of seats are within 45 metres (150 feet) of the front of the stage and the distance to the furthest seat in the top bleachers, is 68 metres (223 feet). These dimensions are comparable with the typical “performer to audience” distances found in a Broadway theatre, so the concert experience is going to be very intimate. John goes on to say, “The idea of intimacy and thousands of people would seem to be at odds with one another … [however] it’s much more intimate than anyone would imagine and that’s because that tennis court surface is actually very small.” This is in a venue that can seat upwards of 12,000 people.

Jamie sums it up: “The combination of a sound design that’s designed for the venue, that isn’t going in and out every day (like every other touring show), is a huge benefit, and when you combine that with an acoustic design that is tailored for the venue – it’s going to give our listeners a seamless event. Close your eyes, no sound system.”

“I’m excited. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I think John and I have come up with a great solution … With a combination of the acoustic design AND the audio design, we’re really confident that this is going to be a great experience for people.”

The opening concert of the BlackCreek Summer Music Festival will feature Plácido Domingo with special guest soprano, Sondra Radvanovsky, Saturday, June 4 at 8:00pm.

Information about other concerts in the series can be
found in the pages of The WholeNote magazine as well as online at www.blackcreekfestival.com.

Frank Lockwood is an audio recording engineer and producer, specializing in classical and acoustic music for over twenty years.  In the 90s, he wrote a series of articles for The WholeNote detailing the acoustics of various concert venues throughout the Toronto area. More information can be found online at www.LockwoodARS.com.

PUB: Formal name: public house – a building with a bar and one or more public rooms licensed for the sale and consumption of alcoholic drink, often also providing light meals. (Source: dictionary.com)

56aThis is the essence of Opera Bob’s Public House: the two year brain child of two good friends and myself. Located in the town whose hockey team is first to the golf course, with a soccer team masquerading as a football club, a basketball team whose constant rebuilding makes the TTC’s Sheppard line look like the road to the promised land, and a baseball team that, at least, keeps us hoping for another “touch them all Joe”! A town, in other words, where sport fans could use a drink.

In Hog’s Hipsterville, OB’s attempts to maintain the tradition of its name: a public place. A place where the neighbourhood Dad can take a break and catch the game of puck on the reality box, men of the letters of the law can toss back a half dozen after a long day of negotiations, the co-ed softball team can celebrate their shellacking, and the 905ers can see how the real spend their Friday nights; not standing in line for a sweaty basement bash.

As we spend every free moment posting on our walls, reading tweety’s latest squeak, waiting for our next message on our I-phone, I-pad, I-have no life, let us not forget the simpler and slower days of yore when human communication was done with the voice, the glaze, the shake of a head and the tap on the shoulder. Traditions are entrenched in our human condition for good reason. Just as opera was the rock music of its time (not the tuxedo wearing, champagne sipping we attribute to it), a bar is a solid wood counter, a bar man and taps of beer. Not a granite landing, with Hollywood star-in-waiting pouring you a martini from your choice of sixteen vodkas.

If opera is the highest form of human expression, combining all forms of art,  the pub must be the culmination of human disentanglement: the perfect place to vent, relax, let loose, argue, sit in solitary observance of our social machinations, or a place to drink the fruits of monkish labour.

Come down to the Public House; just off the Ossington strip on the road leading to the sleeper town of the steel Hammer. A place to be you, it’s a place where all are welcome (even plaid-shirt, tight jean, silly hat wearing, and match.com date varieties). Toss back a microbrew as Neil sings the line “Old man take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you were,” or a live group of ragtag culprits blasts through their songs much like the fat soprano busted through an aria of Joe Green’s at La Scala. Ponder deep questions: should a ball park dog only be consumed in the friendly confines or may it be done watching the great pastime on tv? How do you condimate yours while watching our boys in baby blue? The profundity persists…

Toronto-born operatic bass Robert Pomakov is currently working at the Metropolitan Opera on Rigoletto and Il Trovatore and makes his next local appearance in the COC’s new production of Rigoletto in the fall.

58__justthe_spot_heliconian_photo_andrew_fare58_justthespot_alisonmelville__by_menglin_gaoPart of rural Toronto when it was built in 1875, the Heliconian Hall is located near the south end of Hazelton Avenue, situated amongst galleries, upscale offices and private homes in what’s now known as Yorkville. It’s the home of the Heliconian Club, an organization founded in 1909 for professional women in the arts and one of the oldest associations of its kind in Canada.

For me, it’s a delightful and unpretentious little oasis in a surrounding sea of consumer excess, and an intimate concert hall which I have known since I was a kid. I played my first “non-compulsory” solo recital there, blissfully free from the pressure of university grading, and have made music there many more times since. I also recently became a member of the Heliconian Club and appreciate the opportunity it provides to connect and interact with women artists of various disciplines, backgrounds, ages, and perspectives on the creative life.

The current building opened in 1876 as the Olivet Congregational Church, and became the church hall and Sunday school in 1890 when a larger adjacent building was erected. In 1921, it was sold to the Painters Union and renamed Hazelton Hall when acquired by the Heliconian Club in 1923. Original elements of the Carpenter Gothic board-and-batten church have been restored to their former glory, including a Victorian rose window above the entrance, a majestic oak and brick wood-burning fireplace, vaulted ceiling and wooden rafters. The Hall has been appointed a National Historical Site, and the Lonely Planet website lists it as #213 of 540 places to visit in Toronto!

The current building also has a modest but well-appointed kitchen, a small bar and a patio at the rear, which is a convivial touch for summertime events. But perhaps what makes the Heliconian most appealing to musicians is its stellar acoustic and its intimate feel. With every seat occupied there’s room for 120, and the stage rises just a foot above the main floor, so there’s little chance of establishing that “us versus them” feeling that many performance venues still seem to evoke. It’s a great place for chamber music, and it’s easy to get to – two reasons why the revivified Baroque Music beside the Grange’s occasional concerts take place there. The hall is available for anyone to rent, at a very reasonable rate. An added bonus is that there’s almost always an art exhibit on display in the main space for concertgoers to explore.

BMBG’s previous home was the Church of St. George the Martyr, another historic building which predates the Heliconian Hall by about 40 years. These days, though, the multifaceted activities of the Music Gallery mean that the concert dates we’d like are often not available there. So we needed to find another venue for our concerts. The solution was truly a no-brainer: the historic and cozy atmosphere of the Heliconian Hall is perfect for our purposes, and the sound is fabulous. It’s a pleasure to play there. It feels very much like home.

BMBG’s upcoming Heliconian Hall concert The Coffeehouse Collective: Sociable music, Baroque-style is Friday March 4 at 8pm.

knox_college_-_clsWHEN I FURIOSI WAS in its toddler years, it staggered around the city looking for a place to set up its playpen. With a small but growing audience, this was a tricky search. Large venues seemed empty with our crowd, and tiny places made our somewhat unrestrained baroque ensemble feel like we were invading the audience’s personal space. Yes, chamber music is meant to be intimate, but no one wants to feel like the performers or audience can smell sweat.

After trying a few spots around town, we landed on Knox College Chapel. Tucked away in King’s College Circle, Knox College is the Presbyterian theology school of the University of Toronto. It boasts an address on St George Street, making it very easy to find and access, but the chapel itself is on the King’s end of the building.

It seats (tightly) about 150 people, and is a treat to the eye and ear. The intimate acoustic allows for chamber music to be performed with ease, but the chancel is distant enough from the pews to circumvent any odour problems. We always found the Knox staff friendly and there are enough toilets in the building to make for a short intermission.

The décor is spectacular – high vaulted ceilings with gothic wood, stone and glass panels. The passageway leading from St George to the chapel also leaves the traveler with a Hogwarts-esque feeling. Aside from the beauty and communion of the setting, Knox College Chapel contains two organs of note. The organ in the chancel is a modified Cassavant built in 1915, and the gallery organ is a Wolff tuned to a 5th comma meantone. All this is hidden in one of the best-kept secret concert venues in the city.

I Furiosi lasted happily in this space until early adolescence, at which point it had to seek larger accommodations. The glass doors at the entrance to the chapel still reverberate with the “BRAVO” yelled by one memorably drunken audience member, who stormed out, apparently overcome.

Although we are now in our adult digs and we do our own laundry and remember to have showers, we sometimes miss the early days with our friends at Knox. This is still the perfect spot for an up-and-coming chamber group. The acoustic is particularly beautiful for early music. Highly recommended for ensembles with impeccable personal hygiene.

Photo by Tannis TooheyErrol was an elegant battler of ALS – possibly the worst affliction a human being can have. The brain stays sharp while gradually losing control over the body. It’s a cautionary tale that, toward the end of life with everything else stripped away, we become more like our true nature than ever before. Errol loved music and he cherished friendship, and those who volunteered at the benefit concert for ALS research in St. Andrew’s church earlier this year [June 13, 2019] witnessed this firsthand. ~ Gary Corrin (principal librarian, TSO).

Ad for “Let’s Make a Fuss”Composer, educator, conductor, music librarian, studio and orchestra trombonist, pianist, Errol Gay was a consummate musician. In the course of his rich life he held positions at several universities, was a conductor and chorus master with the Canadian Opera Company, assistant musical director at the Charlottetown Festival, music advisor/conductor for the Hart House Orchestra (U of T), music director of Orchestra Toronto, co-conductor of the High Park Choirs of Toronto, co-conductor of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company Youth Chorus and a frequent guest conductor with leading orchestras in the USA and Canada, including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. He was the TSO’s associate music librarian for 24 years.

Gay as a child from May 2015 editionProfiled in The WholeNote’s We Are All Music’s Children in May 2015, Errol Gay shared a generous first-person account of his youth in British Columbia, with parents who loved music, actively supported it in their community, and encouraged it in their son.

More biographical details are included in First the Child, Then the Music – Paula Citron’s April 2015 feature about his wife, Ann Cooper Gay. Here’s a sample:Cooper Gay met him when he was assistant conductor on a COC North American tour of Cosí fan tutte (she sang 100 Despinas in two years). Cooper Gay was elected by the cast to get Errol Gay to slow down the tempi of his conducting. The singers secretly taped a performance, then Cooper Gay was to invite Errol Gay to a room party where he would hear the tape from the hallway. As they passed the door, he stopped and said, “That’s too fast!” The tempi problem was solved and a 40-year relationship began. …”

Errol Gay as a young conductorMarried to Ann Cooper Gay – opera singer, educator, conductor, and former artistic director (now retired) of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company – Errol Gay also leaves behind two daughters, four grandchildren, and a grieving music community that keenly shares this loss.

The back issues referenced can be found by visiting kiosk.thewholenote.com.


Mention Errol Gay’s name in a random roomful of music-loving people and affectionate smiles will erupt all around you – an echo of his own infectious grin and warm, generous nature, and a reflection of the way he valued friendship. The excerpts below are from a flood of memories – some from social media, some shared by Ann Cooper Gay and many offered directly to The WholeNote.

 

... My memories of Errol will be with me always. His passion for music and clarity and insight in pursuing it, wearing whichever of his countless hats, has left an irreplaceable impact on the musical life of Canada and beyond. Some people in our wonderful world take librarians for granted. I have never been of their number! As I conjure him now I see the quizzically raised eyebrows and hear his laugh! ...

~ Sir Andrew Davis, interim artistic director of the TSO, served as their music director from 1975 to 1988, when he was named conductor laureate. [In a letter to Ann Cooper Gay]

I think I knew Errol Gay longer than any other musician I've known in Toronto. We first met in 1968, in the claustrophobic pit of the Royal Alex, Errol playing trombone and me playing bassoon in the band for Anne of Green Gables, conducted by the late Fen Watkin. It was my first major gig in Toronto, and Errol was the best mentor I could imagine in negotiating the requirements of a union contract and the expectations and requirements of a pit band.

I saw less of Errol during my 20 years in the Toronto Consort, though we sometimes showed up on the same gig, including occasional concerts with the Hart House Orchestra, which Errol was conducting. I particularly remember a fine Mahler 4, with Errol conducting and Ann singing the solo in the last movement. I frequently loaned early instruments to Errol and Ann in their expanding work with children, especially the Canadian Opera Children's Chorus.

I retired from the Consort in 1992 and picked up my bassoon again, a few years later joining Orchestra Toronto. I was delighted when, in 2002, my old friend and mentor Errol Gay was appointed conductor, and we had the joy of playing together for the next eight years. Errol's tenure with Orchestra Toronto included performances of the full range of symphonic repertoire, spiced with some major rarities: Amy Beach's Symphony, the Khatchaturian violin concerto with Catherine Manoukian, the Miaskov bandura concerto, and Elizabeth Raum's Legend of Heimdall. I have particularly fond memories of playing the Richard Strauss first horn concerto with Errol's daughter Erin as soloist. Errol was also responsible for the transition of the orchestra from a local ensemble, the East York Symphony, to a major GTA group. This change also saw Orchestra Toronto installed as the resident orchestra of the (then) Toronto Centre for the Arts, in its superb George Weston Recital Hall. Errol was the driving force behind the establishment of Orchestra Toronto as the orchestra it is today; not a concert goes by without our feeling his influence.

~ David Klausner, professor emeritus of English and Medieval Studies, U of T; principal bassoon of Orchestra Toronto since 1998.

Errol came to the Toronto Symphony in 1982 as associate principal librarian and was the other finalist when I got my job here. I never felt a moment of resentment from him – he was a real gentleman that way. Rather, for 12 years I was the direct beneficiary of his considerable and varied musical abilities. Errol began as a trombonist and learned to play passable double bass from which he developed an uncanny knack for bowings. He was an accomplished pianist who could play jazz and could also reduce open scores at sight. He was a composer and arranger whose works were performed by the TSO and by the Canadian Children’s Opera Company Chorus. He knew voice types and opera roles inside out. He served as a conductor for the Canadian Opera Touring Company as well as for this orchestra, once stepping in at the last minute to conduct a Pops concert with the Chieftains. Errol also served as extra percussionist with the TSO – famously chastised by a concert reviewer for ‘reading a book’ during a performance. He was following the score.

~ Gary Corrin, principal librarian, Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Errol had so many musical gifts – conductor, composer, musician – but I also know he was passionate about words, their meaning and usage, and proper grammar, as am I. I remember phone conversations with you [Ann] while Errol commented in the background about various aspects of our English language. He was always very complimentary to me about my writing and I always breathed a little sigh of relief when we agreed about a certain grammatical ‘rule’ because I knew that he was a stickler. I also remember one phone conversation, can't remember what we were discussing, but I could hear him ask, "Is that Suzie?" and then, as you moved closer to him with phone in hand he began to play a beautiful piece on the piano, undoubtedly his own composition, just for me. What an honour! I will never forget that. Another memory I have is after a great performance of one of his children's operas, Laura's Cow, a title that always makes me smile. The audience and choristers had stepped outside of the darkened theatre into the sunlight of a radiant spring day. When you and Errol arrived you were immediately surrounded by children and adults alike, and there was such a lovely feeling of shared community and the simple love of music. I also remember the way you both looked at each other with that same shared love. A very special moment. I am so glad he is no longer suffering and I know his spirit lives on through the wonderful music he gifted to us as well as through his incredibly strong and loving family.

~ Suzanne Vanstone, senior communications manager, editorial at the Canadian Opera Company, now retired. [From a letter to Ann Cooper Gay]

36 years ago I had that absolute pleasure performing Howard Blake’s The Snowman with the Toronto Symphony. The conductor was maestro Errol Gay. This was my TSO debut at 12 years of age and Errol treated me like a son. He is no longer with us and we must all pay homage to the incredibly gifted musician he was … Errol – thanks for trusting a redneck treble to create with!

~ James Westman, baritone [from Facebook]

Errol taught me to listen.

I was lucky enough to serve as concertmaster in the early 90s with the Hart House Orchestra. Thanks to Errol, I learned how to hold a section together, how to tamp down ego, how to fall back into an ensemble and really let music emerge. His ferocious passion for everything we played was infectious. And it was ferocious. You could never lose focus, or you'd have Errol looming over you, just screaming at you for playing forte in a piano section. The beautiful thing was that all of us knew his ferocity came from love, and after rehearsal, we'd go for too many beers together, laughing about the hysterics of the rehearsal. His care for his students was absolute – and all of us were certainly his students, even if the orchestra wasn't technically a U of T class. I don't teach music now, but Errol's death has made me reflect upon how I steer my classes; being a professor maybe isn't that different from conducting. I'm not afraid to let unreserved passion for what matters lead the way. Errol blasted away any doubt about that. He was so important to my upbringing. I miss him terribly.

~ Levi McLaughlin, associate professor, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, North Carolina State University.

Errol Gay conducts Hart House OrchestraErrol was a talented and passionate musician, a great teacher, and a wonderful person. It was great to play for him in the Hart House Orchestra – he gave his all at every rehearsal and concert. He challenged and inspired us to rehearse and perform well together, conducting the orchestra in so many memorable and moving concerts over the years.

In addition to the concerts, a rehearsal that took place shortly after Pierre Elliott Trudeau had passed away stands out in memory. As the orchestra trickled into the Great Hall at Hart House, we saw Errol placing a single sheet of music on each stand. After we had settled into our chairs, Errol, silent until this point, raised his baton and said only this: "O Canada". What followed was the most passionately led and performed rendition of our national anthem that I have experienced.

Errol wasn't afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. His passion for music and the strength he drew from it was palpable – I am so glad to have had the privilege of knowing him.

~ Andrew Ogilvie, Hart House Orchestra violinist (1995-present)

My first meeting with Errol Gay occurred at Roy Thomson Hall when I was directing a project for the TSO. I remember Errol explaining (in his role then as TSO librarian) the mechanism of orchestral rentals; in opera if one used only a single selection, one was obligated to rent the entire score. I mention this anecdote because it set a pattern. From that time on, I never had an encounter with Errol where I didn’t learn something. His storehouse of knowledge and the generosity with which he shared it astounded me. Encouraged by his wife, the dynamic Ann Cooper Gay, Errol and I were commissioned to write an opera for the Canadian Children’s Opera Company: A Dickens of a Christmas (December 2005), and we went on to co-create Laura’s Cow: the Legend of Laura Secord (June 2012) and Alice in Wonderland (May 2015). In our working sessions (Errol composing at the piano, me fine-tuning the libretto at the dining room table), we often talked of non-musical subjects. His understanding of the world and his compassion for those who struggled in it were uplifting. Without effort or even consciousness, our working relationship bloomed into one of the most meaningful friendships of my life.

~ Michael Patrick Albano, librettist; associate professor and resident stage director at UofT Opera

The world has lost an incredible musician, composer, and a beautiful heart. Errol, along with Ann Cooper Gay, believed in me when I was an 11-year-old kid who liked playing the clarinet and singing. Actually, I didn't even know I liked singing until I met Ann (Mrs. Gay) in Grade 7 at Winona Drive Senior Public School. I had taken some piano lessons, but I had had no other musical training, apart from my elementary school band (itinerant) program...until one day when Ann told me (yes, told me) that I would be joining the High Park Girls' Choir, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I can't begin to imagine how my life would be now if it hadn't been for Ann and Errol's relentless encouragement, guidance and second-to-none musical education. Errol was an incredible composer and his beautiful melodies will never leave my mind.

~ Michele Jacot plays clarinet, flute and saxophone. A conductor and teacher, she is the artistic director of Toronto’s Wychwood Clarinet Choir [from Facebook].

As a conductor Errol was colourful, dramatic and passionate. His love of jazz and creative music would trickle into our warmups. I distinctly remember a game he would play where we would start on a major chord, and then he would voice lead with each part to create rich jazz harmonies. He didn’t treat us like children – he treated us like musicians. This changed my life; I realized at an early age that this was what I wanted to do.

When I work with groups of singers today, I do not aim for a perfect performance. It is more important that we feel something together as we sing. This feeling is not created by the conductor, but by the belief that everyone is truly involved in that moment, creating something. I learned this from Errol Gay, and a generation of musicians he taught did too.

~ Alex Samaras is a singer and educator in Toronto. At age ten he joined the High Park Boys’ Choir in its inaugural season and followed Ann and Errol to sing for the CCOC Youth Chorus through his high school years.

Errol Gay was a melting pot of knowledge and art, each element inextricable from the other. He was kind, caring and witty. He was the kind of person you could make nerdy jokes with and not only would he understand them, but he would answer with a pun. He displayed the same intellect in his music, writing beautiful pieces full of allusions that you would only notice if you had the same encyclopedic musical knowledge as he did – this was his way of winking at his listeners. You could trust him ‘not to write crap’ (inside joke).

I am so grateful to have known Errol from a very young age, and I could write a book about my memories and experiences with him. He very much helped form the person and musician I am today, and I will always cherish and pass on what I learned from him.

~ Kristina Bijelic is a singer and violinist who met Errol when she was a child in the High Park Choirs, and was later in the CCOC.

I'm both happy and very sad that Errol Gay died on Friday. I'm happy because his long battle with ALS is over. I'm sad because we have lost another local musical hero and a lovely person. … He always valued the music and the enjoyment of making it more than personal ambition or honours. He was as loving and supportive with his family as he was with colleagues, students, little choristers and friends. And he knew how to laugh.

Our loss is Heaven's gain.

~ John Terauds founder of the blog Musical Toronto (now Ludwig van Toronto); music critic for the Toronto Star (2005-2012); organist, choir director and music teacher.

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