56_anton-kubalekANTONÍN KUBÁLEK WAS A GREAT AND GOOD MAN whom I had the honour of knowing for some 30 years. Always quick with a smile, a joke, and a drink, Anton reveled in the absurd. Life never failed to supply him with suitable material, even in his childhood. He attended a school for the blind following an accident with a post-war bazooka, though he eventually regained partial site in his remaining eye. As as a citizen of a Socialist paradise however he was required to wear a bag over his head in the classroom so that his comrades should not feel disadvantaged! Later, as a rising young pianist, he would be sent out on tours by the Czech concert bureau, arriving at back-water recital halls to wrestle with ill-tuned instruments with missing keys and even legs and, on one memorable occasion, finding an accordion laid out for him. He knew from experience to always have a packed bag ready, so that when Prague seethed in turmoil in 1968 he was well-prepared to flee to Vienna. There, at the Canadian Embassy, he was shown a map and chose a city called Toronto, because he was impressed by the size of its lake.

His arrival here soon caught the attention of Glenn Gould, who produced a unique album of his playing. Anton was incredulous that in the middle of July Gould still stuck with his trademark overcoat, cap and gloves in the sweltering Eaton Auditorium. The CBC also took note; producer David Jaeger in particular employed Anton to bring to life numerous new Canadian works, including several of my own. Among Anton’s finest recordings are those he recorded in Troy, N.Y. in the 1990s for the Dorian label, which he independently re-released this past summer on-line at CDbaby.com.

His last decade was blessed by the presence of two angels, his second wife Pat and daughter Karolina. They had travelled as a family to Prague this fall and planned to spend a year there so that Karolina could advance her piano studies. Cruel though it is to have lost him there so unexpectedly, I cannot imagine a happier end to a fruitful life, so thoroughly enjoyed and savoured, than to be surrounded by those he loved best.


56_ahmedhassan__photo111THERE ARE MUSICIANS AND COMPOSERS AMONG US who do not find their artistic legs in concert halls, churches or clubs. A brave few find a livelihood providing music for choreographers, exploring together the ancient marriage of dance and music. Ahmed Hassan, who died in Toronto on January 19 aged 55 did just that, moreover developing his passion into a successful career.

Born in New York City to Egyptian parents, Hassan’s family moved to Cairo, then settling in Halifax in 1969. While a student of biochemistry at Dalhousie University, his life’s path took a decisive turn toward music after encountering the charismatic drummer Ricardo Abreut of the Toronto Dance Theatre, another self-taught dance musician.

Starting in the late 1970s Hassan began playing for dance classes and collaborating with a long list of leading Canadian modern dance choreographers. Hassan moved to Toronto in the early 1980s to work with the Desrosiers Dance Theatre. With fellow composer John Lang, Hassan co-composed the music for Desrosiers’ acclaimed Blue Snake (1984/5) for The National Ballet of Canada. The National Film Board documentary film Inner Rhythm (1986) records the composers’ creative process. Hassan also played a role in the city’s emerging world music scene. For a time his home was the base for Arabic music classes where musicians such as his sister Maryem (Hassan Tollar), Debashis Sinha, Ernie Tollar, and other members of the future group Maza Meze congregated.

Sable/Sand (1995) for which Hassan composed the music won a Dora Mavor Moore Award for choreography for Serge Bennathan, Dancemakers’ Artistic Director. The moving film Sanctum (1996), the score by Hassan, explores the work of his life partner and colleague the renowned dancer-choreographer Peggy Baker. Hassan’s last creative project Fourteen Remembered, a requiem to commemorate the lives of the murdered women of Montréal’s École Polytechnique, was performed annually from 1998 to 2001 at various Toronto venues including Massey Hall.

Hassan had suffered from progressive MS since 1987; nevertheless he courageously continued to perform into the mid-1990s with Peggy Baker.

These should be exciting times to be a musician: after all, the internet has given us instant access to music of all genres and historical periods, all over the world; and locally a certain magazine, The WholeNote, has made it much easier to publicize performances. There are innumerable role models around town ­— ­­­­creative and hard-working Canadian musicians in the midst of successful, rewarding musical careers: soloists, chamber ensembles, orchestras.

But for every success story there are scores of musicians who are struggling. Perhaps they are content with their lives, as long as they get to play or sing or compose, but the financial rewards of their musical activities are small, and many rely on a day job or teaching to get by. Is it lack of potential or talent, or is it something else that stands in their way?

There is growing recognition of this problem; and the consensus seems to be that there are two main causes of artist poverty. The first is lack of knowledge of how to function in the world as a professional; the second has much more to do with the individual artist’s expectations and goals.

The knowledge problem is being addressed in various ways in various milieus. The National Youth Orchestra, for example, now includes career development in the curriculum of its summer programme; some universities now offer courses on developing a career; and there are various programmes to help opera school graduates make the transition from school to professional life.

55_ann_summers_dossena_-_2011_-_by_linda_lOne of these is the International Centre for Performing Artists (IRCPA) which has in the past limited itself to assisting singers get a start. This month, November 12 and 13, IRCPA is offering two seminars at which a number of well-known Canadian arts administrators, performers and music journalists will talk about the ingredients of a successful music career. I spoke to Ann Summers Dossena, the irrepressible founder and director of IRCPA, who has extended the invitation to these sessions not only to aspiring performers but also to artist managers, agents and presenters: “There are not enough managers here and the ones who are here tend to limit themselves to booking in Canada. Managers are badly needed. There are a lot of fulfilling jobs in the arts besides performing.”

“What,” I asked, “will those who attend these sessions come away with?”

“A whole lot of new ideas about how to apply themselves to get work in today’s world as well as insight into what keeps people back, which can be as simple as not knowing how to dress appropriately or as subtle as a bad attitude. You need to be a good colleague. You know what they say: ‘Be nice to people on your way up because you will meet them again on your way down!’ I’ll never forget, just before a concert I was presenting, one of the performers (a violinist and the nicest person you could imagine) … asking me which critics were in attendance [because] he wanted to know whom to hate during the performance! This is the sort of attitude which, in my opinion, holds people back.”

I observe that to be an artist in our time is more like being a self-employed entrepreneur. “Yes,” she replies. “I have for years been telling artists that they are the CEO of their own corporation … Years ago I gave up telling people, when they asked what I did, that I was in arts management and simply said that I was in the import/export business.”

The second of the two IRCPA seminars, Sunday, November 13, will feature the legendary New York artist manager Edna Landau, now retired, who writes the Musical America blog, “Ask Edna,” and will headline a question-and-answer session. Edna, Ann told me, with business partner, Charles Hamlin, got started in the 1960s in New York. Struggling to stay in business, they were bought by the sports management company, IMG. After that they never looked back. In arts management, Ann says, the commissions start to flow about two years after you start making bookings: it’s just the way it works, but it does make it difficult to get started.

“Career Moves” will help its participants fill many gaps, I am sure, in solving the “knowledge problem”of how to create and sustain a career as a performer or as a manager, agent or presenter.

What, though, of our second problem area – the management of one’s own goals and expectations? Joan Watson, horn player in the True North Brass, principal horn in the COC Orchestra, and “October’s Child” in this issue of The WholeNote, has been taking notes over the course of more than three decades as a professional musician and teacher. “Most musicians are not clear about what they want, don’t know how to get what they want even if they do know, and lose enthusiasm daily for making music,” she says. This has led to her developing a course, “Goal Setting for Musicians,” to help musicians clarify what they want to create, and to help them go step by step toward those goals, including a mentoring support system. Success, she says, becomes inevitable once you know how to move towards it.

At the root of what she attempts to convey is the belief that how you do anything is how you do everything. “To learn to be a great musician” she told me, “you need to learn to be all around great. You bring to your playing who you are.” The key to moving in the direction of all around greatness is clarifying goals and then working towards them. “I have a passion for clarifying goals five years from now that encompass every area of my life.”

(For her account of how she herself puts into practice what she preaches, please read the longer version of this story online under “Musical Life” at www.thewholenote.com. And a full description of the course can be found at www.creativepeoplecoaching.com.)

If you are a musician ready to take a step into a more rewarding career and a more fulfilling life, there is help. Give both these offers of assistance serious consideration.

p63Anyone who thinks nostalgia ain’t what it used to be should just take a look at Vol. 1 #4, our fourth issue, fifteen Decembers ago!

Burning issue

To begin with, the issue’s ever so clever, if somewhat opaque, main headline was a reference to the impact that the preceding June 1995 Ontario provincial elections was already having on the music community. Remember that election? No? Well does the phrase “common sense revolution” help ring a bell? Thought it might. One of the newly elected Tory Harris government’s biggest casualties had been the Ontario Arts Council. It had its budget slashed 28.6%, had to lay off close to half its staff (41 people), and slash grants all over the place. So our “don’t just burn while Rome (i.e. the Harris govt) fiddles” headline was directed to our readers, exhorting them to write fuming letters to their MPPs, but, while waiting for a reply, to “pick one new event or ensemble you didn’t know, from the 200 listed here, and add it to your regular diet.”

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad New Year’s resolution any time.

Handel, Disney and the RCMP

But wait! For nostalgia buffs, Vol 1 #4 has more! How about this formula? RCMP + Disney=Trouble.  I can’t remember too many “cultural” stories that pushed more angry buttons than when the Feds, also in mid-1995, awarded Disney a five year exclusive licence on the marketing of images of that most quintessentially Canadian of all icons – the red coated Mountie. By December the roiling and boiling was still going on, so we chipped in.  Under the heading Handel’s turn we opined:

“Want to persuade Walt Disney Co. to relinquish marketing rights to the RCMP (and throw in Pluto and Goofy to sweeten the pot)? The only card you’d need would be the rights to Handel’s Messiah (for ever and ever and ever ...). ... This season alone you can hit the Hallelujah Trail no fewer than 9 times.”

Nine sure sounded like a lot back then! How many performances of Messiah are there this year? Even after a good little flurry of them in late November, there are still close to thirty left. You can find a handy list of them, titled “The Trumpet Shall Sound” in The WholeNote blog.

A promise kept

For those of you who caught the previous installment of this little series, the fact that at the top of the cover page it says “Comprehensive Concert Listings” rather than “Complete Concert Listings” may draw a bit of a smile. The “Complete” boast, as pointed out last time, was both brash and rash. But, undeterred, in Vol 1 #4 we were back to the business of making promises. Under the heading “Pulse’s Pledge – Getting the Word Out” we offered the following:

Pulse’s philosophy is to print as many copies as we can distribute effectively! We’re up to 8000 this time, but we’re willing to go a lot higher. So how about it? If you know a place that we should leave Pulse or can put out copies yourself, let us know.”

You could say that what we learned between the two issue was that if you’re going to make promises, promise things you can deliver on. So that’s what we did, literally. That little pledge has, over the years yielded literally hundreds of good distribution points. So even though we have now capped print circulation at 30,000 copies, the pledge remains: Come up with a good distribution location (your own or some place you know that wants us) and we will find copies for that location from our existing press run. E-mail circulation@thewholenote.com to inquire.

Who’da thunk it?!

Far and away the greatest pleasure I’m getting flipping though old issues like this is looking at the ads and concert listings from fifteen years ago side by side with those in the current issue, finding reverbs and resonances. A pleasurable frisson, you might say.

An example: fifteen years ago the Music Gallery, then at 179 Richmond, ran an ad for a two week event, titled “80 Flowers” based on the “last completed work of American poet Louis Zukofsky.” Who’da thunk that 13 years later in 2008 composer Elliott Carter, still active in his hundredth year, would compose a work (for soprano and clarinet) based on the same source. Or that, in his 103rd year, Carter would be contemplating another  visit to Toronto December 10 for a New Music Concerts concert featuring this 2008 “Poems of Louis Zukofsky” along with even more recent work.

And who’da thunk where one of the “Stars of Tomorrow” at a Jan 14 1996 Mooredale concert, Isabel Bayrakdarian, would be today?

Whatsisname, in his new book, watchamacallit, says that as the short term memory goes out with the tide, the flotsam of memory is left in plain view. Indeed.

Next time: Volume 1 #5: farewell to the forward fold.

for_uno_page_58_da_capoRight: Our remaining eight copies of Vol 1 No 3.

“40 fingers (David Mott, Chiyoko Szlavnics, Nick Gotham and Peter Lutek) at the Music Gallery ... Just one of 150 concerts in our listings this month (of which 38 are free)” the cover proclaimed.

Looking back, no single word we have published has ever evoked as profound and sustained a reaction as the word “Complete” at the top left corner of this cover.

Read on.

Complete Live Concert Listings!? Who knows how long we would have persisted with that impossible claim? But we didn’t get the chance to enjoy our blissful ignorance. At our door within days was a list from a then unknown but already loyal reader. “You can’t call them complete,” he said. “Here are just some of the things you missed.” And he handed us a long list in small handwriting, with every entry substantiated with flyers, brochures and clippings from other publications.

Today we routinely list four times as many concerts and musical events every month as we did back then. But our longtime faithful correspondent’s monthly summaries of our sins of omission, still painstakingly handwritten, are longer than ever, and the accompanying troves of flyers, brochures and clippings as often as not require several rubber bands.

Faced with the evidence, we beat a hasty retreat from “Complete” to “Comprehensive” in the very next issue! But even the notion of comprehensiveness is more of an ideal than an achievable goal. Performers come and go, ensembles configure and re-configure. Venues arise, thrive, decline, disappear. The definition of a “concert,” our geographic catchment area, even the nature of the music we should cover are all in a state of constant flux. Overall, like healthy skin, our marvellous musical scene is constantly sloughing off and renewing itself.

The foursome on our November 1995 cover is an interesting example of this. “40 fingers” is no longer an ongoing ensemble (has not been since 1998), but do some research on any of the four players and you will get a glimpse of how one thing leads to another in this process of growth and renewal.

Chiyoko Szlavnics, for example, has added a strong visual art component to her compositional and instrumental palette, as anyone venturing to the Canadian Music Centre for Nuit Blanche would have noticed. And Nic Gotham’s opera Nigredo Hotel, written with Ann-Marie MacDonald in 1992 – you mean there was a music scene before the WholeNote? – can now lay claim, less than two decades later, to being Canada’s most often presented opera. (And Gotham now cites David Mott, his erstwhile linemate in 40 fingers as one of his two most influential teachers.)

Not everyone represented in that issue is with us. The Elmer Iseler Singers, Friday November 10 1995, were conducted by Elmer Iseler, for example, in a programme including works by Harry Freedman.

And several of the the listings inspire the question “Gee, I wonder where X is these days?” A good example? Two of the month’s 38 free listings (November 2 and 3) were lectures at Walter Hall, by none other than Jon Vickers – on “Singing Schumann’s Dichterliebe” and on “Wagner’s Operatic Roles,” respectively. Is there anyone out there who remembers those lectures?

We weren’t above a bit of editorial thundering either, back then. Take this little bit on the subject of the COC’s production of Ariadne auf Naxos at the O’Keefe:

In our September issue we wondered aloud how the Canadian Opera Company was going to manage to render the O’Keefe intimate for their production of Richard Strauss’s chamber opera ... The answer visually they did very well by clever use of big costumes, shadow puppet effects, and a combination of compelling stillness and overdrawn buffoonery ... But all the stage magic in the world could not compensate for the big-barn’s life sucking acoustics.

It’s reassuring to see that clever creative people can come so close to making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. A better way, though, would be to start with a silk sow.

It’s interesting how things come around. Free now of its crippling acoustic obligations to the COC or anyone else, the Sony Centre can flex its muscles as a venue with no real parallel, home to spectacles that someone out there is already dreaming of.

Back to top