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.

Cathy ElliottI first met Cathy Elliott back in the early summer of 2004 when I stage managed her in an experimental musical production at the Toronto Fringe Festival. The days were long and intense, yet Cathy’s spirit shone through all of the stress with her laughter-infused genuine warmth and caring for everyone in the company.

More recently, when I started to adapt and direct Shakespeare plays for the DAREArts Foundation’s summer camps our paths crossed again, as Cathy wore many hats for DA in marketing and publicity as well as her now almost legendary work with the foundation in First Nations communities in Northern Ontario. One memorable summer she came to our rescue when the artist in charge of teaching our campers about set design was called away at the last minute. Cathy was there, ideas and plans ready to implement, energy to burn and to spare, to make everything work out well.

In mid-October of this year I heard with delight that she had just completed a very successful first workshop of the new musical Starlight Tours at Sheridan College, and Facebook was full of glowing posts from the participants about the inspiration of working with her. Created by Cathy with Leslie Arden, this musical, like a lot of her most recent work, combined two central themes in her life – her brilliant talent as a musical theatre creator and her desire to honour and share her heritage as an Indigenous artist and proud member of the Mi’kmaq nation.

The next day, October 16, I was shocked to hear that she was gone, killed the night before by a car while walking near her home in Alliston, Ontario. This was even more of a shock since her career was just beginning to soar, with her acclaimed performance this year in Corey Payette’s new musical about the residential schools, Children of God, at Urban Ink in Vancouver and at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. There was also the successful workshopping of Starlight Tours, her recent one-woman musical Moving Day, and another new musical very close to her heart, Lonecloud, about to begin its public journey at Native Earth Performing Arts’ Weesageechak Festival this week.

This past Sunday, November 19, there was a beautiful celebration of Cathy organized by her partner, Leslie Arden, and Native Earth, at their performance space at Daniel’s Spectrum in Regent Park. It was an amazing evening, not only moving but joyous, full of love and laughter, many stories from her friends and family, and performances from her musicals.

It was also a showcase of her work over the years: several songs from The Talking Stick commissioned by the Charlottetown Festival in 2011, the first all-Indigenous musical performed there; a sweet and moving solo from Silas Marner sung by the ageless Glynis Ranney; scenes from Lonecloud featuring Herbie Barnes in the title role of the Mi’kmaq medicine man who performed in Wild West shows; and excerpts from Fireweeds: Women of the Yukon from 1993, the musical she researched while performing as Diamond Tooth Gertie in the Yukon. The songs from this musical were feminist and galvanizing – why isn’t this a more widely known classic of Canadian musical theatre? The evening wrapped up with a magical rendition of “Stories Have Souls” from the in-progress Lonecloud sung by Arden, and then Cathy herself in a recorded version of From the Heart from The Talking Stick, to a final video photo montage (created by Michael Morey).

These last two songs can be seen as theme songs for Cathy, combining as they do the use of music to tell stories, the content of those stories being rooted in her Indigenous heritage and her desire to explore and share that heritage with the world – and, even if those stories begin in darkness like Starlight Tours, always looking for messages of love and hope.

These goals seem to have really begun when Cathy was the first Indigenous artist invited to join the charitable foundation DAREarts, as they headed up north to Webequie for their first time working with Indigenous youth, using arts, story and song to give confidence and inspire leadership. This was a partnership with Cathy that continued for ten years, only stopped by her passing, and would include her directing a documentary film about the experience, Fill My Hollow Bones, narrated by Graham Greene.

Marilyn Field, founder and director of DAREArts, has spoken about how that first trip for Cathy “was the beginning of her embracing and finding her Indigenous self,” that she seemed to find “her voice coming from deep inside herself.” Laura Mackinnon, lead teacher for DAREArts, who worked with Cathy for five years travelling all over the remote areas of the North (even to Tuktoyaktuk in the Arctic), put into words what many are feeling: “She taught me so much about Indigenous culture, about artistic generosity, storytelling and the power of a limitless imagination.”

Cathy leaves an immense legacy that we are lucky to have.

Sheridan College has established a Cathy Elliott Memorial Scholarship for Indigenous students: Sheridancollege.ca/giving-to-sheridan/ways-to-give/memorial-or-tribute-giving/cathy-elliott-memorial-scholarship.aspx; and DAREArts has created the Cathy Elliott Fund to Empower Indigenous Youth – darearts.com.

In conversation with Tina Pearson

Pauline OliverosNovember 24 2017 will mark one year since the passing of Pauline Oliveros, a beautiful soul who brought to the world the practice of what she called Deep Listening.

To mark this occasion, there will be an event on November 28 at Array Space titled “Gratitude Listening for Pauline Oliveros” for people to gather to listen and sound in gratitude for what Pauline offered.

I spoke recently with Tina Pearson who has had a personal connection with Pauline since the late 1970s, and whose inspiration it was to have this event. Pearson was active in the new music community in Toronto during the 1970s and 80s, as a performer with the New Music Cooperative, a collaborator with TIDE (Toronto Independent Dance Enterprise) among others, and as the editor of Musicworks. Currently living in Victoria, Pearson was here this past summer as composer in residence with Contact Contemporary Music, offering an intensive workshop on Deep Listening at the Canadian Music Centre as well as a community-based Deep Listening workshop that I organized. She also facilitated the creation of a new work titled Root, Blood, Fractal, Breath for the Contact Ensemble performed at Allan Gardens. Pearson is a Deep Listening Certificate holder.

I began by asking about her first encounter with Pauline Oliveros and the impact Pauline had on her as a composer and performer

I first heard of Pauline through Jim Tenney (who taught composition at York University from 1976 to 2000), but met her in person when she came to the Music Gallery in November of 1979, where she was invited to present her Sonic Meditations. Experiencing her practice was quite powerful and validating. Suddenly the world opened up. Pauline seemed untethered from the masculine contexts of contemporary Western European art music and jazz-based free improvisation. She was a brilliant, strong, compassionate and attentive woman presenting an opportunity to everyone to listen in a complete and deep way. a

One of the remarkable things about Pauline was that she could be in the same moment so absolutely connecting personally as well as globally.

During her visit, I recorded and transcribed the interview that Andrew Timar conducted with Pauline for Musicworks. In those days [when I transcribed] I transcribed everything – every pause, nuance and emphasis. Listening so deeply to her voice and her expression while transcribing that interview was quite significant and I think some resonance of that stayed with me.

Afterwards, I kept in touch with her. Pauline was incredibly encouraging and generous with her time and support, especially of women. I started working with her Sonic Meditations, and incorporated her ideas about listening and attention in collaborations with the New Music Cooperative, with TIDE and in a project with David Mott titled Oxygen Tonic. I also started teaching Sound Studies at OCAD in 1983, and used the Sonic Meditations in those classes each year. Looking back now, I’m aware that there was an opening up in the thinking that many of us had about our approach to music which were in part influenced by Pauline’s ideas of embodied listening as performers and creators.

I was already considering the separation between audience and performer in concert music, for example, so one of the welcome revelations, among many, about Pauline’s approach was her absolute commitment to taking into account the experience of everyone: the witnesses, the audience, the participants, and the performers.”

Tina PearsonI then asked Tina to relate these earlier experiences to her recent experiences in Toronto this past summer facilitating Deep Listening Workshops:

Facilitating the Deep Listening intensives this summer was heartening. The participants were very open and able to quickly understand and take in this practice. The capacity for listening was there, and as Pauline believed would happen it is continually growing and deepening: The more listening there is, the more listening there will be.

I then asked her to say more about the focus and intention for the upcoming “Gratitude Listening for Pauline Oliveros” event happening on November 28 at Array Space:

The idea for this free event is to acknowledge the one-year anniversary of Pauline’s passing and to give gratitude to her. The quality, depth and acuity of Pauline’s sensibility about listening is rare. There’s nobody else who has embodied a listening practice like she has. Her courageous approach to listening and attention, and letting that guide where one goes and how one approaches life and one’s work, is something that’s so essential, and quite a beacon. The deep compassion that comes when one is attending to listening is important right now – the notion that listening can be a response to anything.

There will be a performance by several local performers of Pauline Oliveros’ work Arctic Air, which includes the text The Earth Worm Also Sings, written originally for the 1992 Glenn Gould Technology and Music Symposium held in Toronto. In addition, everyone will be able to participate in two of her Sonic Meditations, and there will be an opportunity for people to speak about their memories and Pauline’s impact. And of course, everyone is welcome.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

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