Left to right: Douglas Rice, Jennifer Chamandy, Dan Chamandy, Henry Ingram, Alan Gasser, Rita Ghent, Bill SilvaBlame WholeNote colleague M.J. Buell and this month’s edition of We Are All Music’s Children (p. 68) for sending me skittering down memory lane here, rather than sticking to the present. It’s occasionally an excellent adventure to go dipping back into our archive, as Buell’s column admirably illustrates.

In my case I went scooting back through the online archive all the way to our very first April issue, hoping for some words of 24-year-old editorial wisdom I could riff on this time round. Only to find that the issue in question had no editorial it, the Publisher’s Podium in question being taken up instead by two aggrieved letters to the editor: one by recording engineer Frank Lockwood; the other by the late Richard Truhlar (known to many for his work for the Canadian Music Centre’s Centrediscs). Both letters scolded a third reader (a certain Mr. Thomas Varese) for daring to suggest, in a previous letter, that “the performing of contemporary Canadian classical music is almost non-existent in Toronto compared to Montreal.” Truhlar pointed out that in fact he had “counted 28 concert performances in the March 1996 listings of Pulse [as WholeNote in its infancy was called] that included 20th century and contemporary Canadian music.”

So, no joy there, but instead an unexpected little ripple of pleasure at the issue in question’s cover story, titled “TaxiCabaret: Hope or Hoax?” – one of the few unabashedly silly pieces of writing I can recall in these pages. Specially lovely to see is the members of the music community who bought into the hoax – that a group of Toronto singers were setting up a company called TaxiCabaret, a singing cab service. “Everyone knows these are tough times,” comments TaxiCabaret spokesperson Alan Gasser. “We figured if we took government’s advice and got real jobs, there’d be that much more to go around for artists with less portable gifts. I mean you can’t play a viola while you’re driving – at least not very well.”

I found myself laughing out loud happily five or six times reading the piece, just at the fun of it all, realizing, with a start as I did so, how little I’ve been able to do of that in the wake of the past week’s particular horror of people being slaughtered at prayer in two mosques in a city called Christchurch.

Looking through the listings in this issue, I am also struck by how much music there is that refers to itself as music for Holy Week. And I find myself remembering a marvellous homily given by organist/composer Paul Halley at least 12 or 15 years ago at a Sunday service at St. John’s Church in Elora during the the Elora Festival. It was a talk filled with laughter and grace, the gist of it being how odd it is to encounter people who, caught in the act of attending a religious service, feel it necessary to explain that they “are only there for the music.”

“But of course,” one might reply.

Halley ended by quoting the visionary/mystic, Kabir. The passage he quoted was this:

Have you heard the music that no fingers enter into?
Far inside the house
entangled music –
What is the sense of leaving your house?
Suppose you scrub your ethical skin until it shines,
but inside there is no music –
then what?

We take it for granted that our celebration of music is a peaceful act.

publisher@thewholenote.com.

Raven Chacon bannerRaven ChaconBack in November 2018, I wrote about a conversation I had with David Schotzko, Arraymusic’s new artistic director. One of the things he told me about at the time was his plan to continue Arraymusic’s community-based focus through co-productions as well as the presenting of mini-festivals that highlight the music of specific composers. On the weekend of April 12 to 14, one such co-produced mini-festival will come to fruition, bringing together Arraymusic, the Music Gallery and Native Women in the Arts to present the music of Raven Chacon.

I had a chance to speak with Chacon about the music we’ll be hearing during the festival as well as acquaint myself with some of his other artistic projects and his thinking about music and composition. What I discovered was an intriguing body of work that was coming from a unique perspective: one that not so much pushed against established new music norms, but rather one that originated from a different place, a different mind.

Before we began our conversation, Chacon handed me a large-sized postcard with an image from Canyon de Chelly on the front, with recording grooves, playable on a turntable, imprinted upon the cardboard paper. It was a field recording he had made in 1999 from the Canyon de Chelly, located in the state of Arizona, east of the Grand Canyon – a visually stunning place close to the Navajo Nation home where he grew up. Later in our conversation he spoke about this recording: “It was made in a quiet place at a quiet time of day. In the studio, I turned the volume up to the max. It’s not about the pristine anthropological capturing or listening to this place. It’s about letting this place scream. Speak and scream,” he said.

Even though we were sitting in a Toronto café for our conversation, I felt the presence of this other space as we spoke about his chamber music compositions, noise-based pieces, score notations, installations, films and his various collaborations.

The mini-festival begins on April 12 with a concert of Chacon’s chamber music performed by the Array Ensemble. One piece on the program will be his solo cello work Quiver, commissioned by Michelle Kesler in 2018 and one of a three-part series of pieces connected to hunting. This hunting series began with his piece Taa’go Deza [Three Points], three songs for singing cellist commissioned by Dawn Avery in 2007. During that piece, the performer sounds like an animal being chased while having to sing and play simultaneously. Invisible Arc for solo cello, written in 2017, is inspired by a traditional Navajo hunting song and reflects the process of waiting for the animal as a prayer for the life of the animal about to be killed.) Quiver, Chacon explains, is about conflicting actions, much like what happens when one tries to rub one’s stomach in a circular motion while patting the head. During the hunt, the conflict comes in the trading of one life for another, the need to hunt and kill an animal so one can survive. One instance of this occurs musically when the cellist is asked to perform circular bowing in one direction while drumming with their fingers on the bow.

Other works on Friday night’s concert include Lats’ aadah, for solo violin (2004), a word which means the number 11 in Navajo; Naakishchiin Ana’i, for flute and marimba (2004) which includes a lot of silence during the piece; and a newly commissioned work titled (Bury Me) Where The Lightning [Will] Never Find Me for violin, cello, clarinet and percussion. In this piece, he is experimenting with zigzag forms within melodies, rhythmic patterns, timbral shapes and tempo accelerations; it is a continuation of a previous work, Atsiniltlishiye, from 2003.

The Saturday concert will feature four works that are part of Chacon’s ongoing project For Zitkála-Šá. Each piece in this series is written for a specific performer, and during the festival, we will hear the pieces he created for Cheryl L’Hirondelle, a Toronto-based singer of Cree descent; Suzanne Kite, a Lakota composer and performer currently based in Montreal; Laura Ortman, a White Mountain Apache violinist and improvisor from New York City, and Carmina Escobar, a Mestiza experimental vocalist and composer living in Los Angeles. Chacon originally wanted to write a large symphonic-like work about Zitkála-Šá whom he discovered while researching to find out who might have been the first recognized native composer. Zitkála-Šá was a Dakota woman who was an activist and writer of fiction and non-fiction, including political op-eds and essays, Chacon told me. She was also a composer and violinist, co-composing The Sun Dance Opera in 1913 with William F. Hanson. It is hard to know precisely what her contributions were to the creative process, Chacon says, but he speculates that she played or sang melodies that Hanson transcribed. “The more I researched her life, the more I realized she was a polarizing and controversial figure, even today, with how she had to navigate herself as a Native woman in the early 20th century. I abandoned the idea of writing about her and instead decided to write a series of solo pieces using graphic scores for 13 contemporary Indigenous women composers.” Besides the four pieces we will hear on the April 13 concert, pieces for two other local composer/performers – Barbara Croall and Ange Loft – are part of the ongoing project, as well as plans for a lecture series and a book. During the second half of Saturday’s concert, Chacon will perform with the trio c_RL (Allison Cameron, Nicole Rampersaud and Germaine Liu), whom I also wrote about back in November.

Sunday’s concert will begin with an opening set by Anishinaabe-Irish (Nipissing First Nation) saxophonist Olivia Shortt, followed by Chacon performing an electronic noise set. The main instrument he will use is a pair of hyper-directional speakers that will beam sound on audience members. The sounds being played back are field recordings he made at Standing Rock during the Dakota Access [oil] Pipeline protests.

Chacon’s ideas about music and composition are intriguing and inspiring. “I’m always trying to think of what I’m defining as music. For me it shifts. Sometimes there is a clear difference between music and sound art. Music is something that doesn’t ever need to be explained or spoken about, it’s already doing that. It doesn’t need to be justified. The more I think about music, the less I’m confident that it requires sound.” That seems contradictory, so I asked him to elaborate, and he spoke about time, positions in time and about how the events that arise in time are more important than the actual sound. He painted a picture of how a performance could be likened to the situation of he and I sitting in the café, engaging in actions along a timeline.

Clockwise from top left: Carmina Escobar’s score of For Zitkála-Šá, Cheryl L’Hirondelle’s score of For Zitkála-Šá, Laura Ortman’s score of For Zitkála-Šá, Suzanne Kile’s score of For Zitkála-Šá“We are syncing up,” he said, “because we are consciously connecting, or placing ourselves in the context of this space together. I think what’s interesting is how the events that you do and the events that I do might align or not align. Within such a situation, artifacts will arise – artifacts such as sound or moving image, a meditation or prayer or some other experience we don’t know how to define. When I say artifacts I mean the leftovers of the real-time experience which might not be the main guts of the thing.” Most of the chamber works we will hear in the first concert on Friday night are pieces coming from this point of view, works “that are primarily written for the people who are playing them and nobody else. The audience just happens to be there,” he said. With the solo works, there is a feedback loop built into the piece. “In Quiver, for example, this happens a lot, with the performer interacting silently with the audience. Dynamics are written on the rests to show how the performer might interact, to indicate the intensity of the way they manage that feedback loop.”

In the course of our conversation, we also spoke about a work composed for the Kronos Quartet as part of their Fifty for the Future project (something Toronto audiences were introduced to in 2016 when Kronos performed during the 21C Festival). In Chacon’s Kronos piece, The Journey of the Horizontal People (2016), he worked with the idea of a future creation story, “an alternate universe creation story” with people dispersing from a place to find other people like them in order to survive. “This could be related to the need to create diversity in philosophy, world view, or genetics,” he explained. “The music is written in such a way that the players will get lost, even the virtuosic players of Kronos. For example, at one point, the first violinist is asked to speed up, the cellist to slow down, the second violinist to stay at the original tempo, and the viola to speed up immensely.” Another aspect of the piece, he says, is that it stipulates that a woman must be in the quartet, as she is the one called upon to realign the other performers when they get lost. “And if no woman is in the quartet?” I asked. “Two options are possible: the eldest person in the quartet takes on that role, but more preferable would be for the man who most identifies as a woman. If more than one woman is in the quartet, the oldest one is chosen.” In this way, the matriarchal worldview found in many native traditions becomes an integral aspect of the piece, but as Chacon adds, “This should reflect everyone’s worldview.”

Another significant aspect of Chacon’s creative work has been his involvement in Postcommodity, a collective of Native American artists that began in 2007 and with whom he worked from 2009 to 2018. Much of Postcommodity’s work is installation-based with sound being one of the main mediums used. One of Chacon’s favourite pieces with the collective, he says, is the four-act opera The Ears Between Worlds Are Always Speaking, from 2017, a site-specific work using LRADs (Long Range Acoustic Devices) to project hyper-directional sound upon the ruins of Aristotle’s Lyceum in Greece. Each day, the installation performed music from Greece and the Southwestern United States, with a libretto both spoken and sung that told stories of long-walk migrations. Another collaboration is a performance art film created with Postcommodity member Cristóbal Martínez that tells the story of two characters searching for the mythological cities of gold which the conquistadors believed were in New Mexico. The piece has been showing this past winter at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston as part of an exhibition titled Soundings that explores the question of how a score can be a call, and tool, for decolonization.

Postcommodity’s From SmokeCurrently, Chacon is feeling the pull back to composing chamber music, finishing pieces already started or developing ideas he has been working on for a while. One major project due to be performed this November is Sweet Land, an opera with American composer Du Yun. They will be working with Yuval Sharon, the artistic director of The Industry, a company dedicated to new and experimental opera located in Los Angeles. The opera is an alternate history of the United States focusing on encounters such as ships arriving on a shore, railroads cutting through the country, and feasts or welcomings that turned out one way or the other. The opera will be telling of these encounters and contacts between Indigenous people and others coming to visit.

Overall, the weekend of April 12 to 14 provides an excellent opportunity to hear a body of work that combines many refreshing ideas and creative strategies from someone relatively new to local audiences. I for one look forward to having a unique experience of engagement with the musical imaginings of Raven Chacon.

Raven Chacon: Mini-Festival takes place at 918 Bathurst Street, Friday to Sunday April 12 to 14.

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

In with the new Quick Picks

APR 5, 7PM: Esprit Orchestra presents “New Wave Reprise” with world premieres by five emerging composers. The evening includes a keynote address by Montreal composer John Rea.

APR 6, 8PM: Spectrum Music presents “Jests in Time!” with compositions inspired by the Jester archetype and a pre-concert monologue by an emerging Toronto comedian. New pieces by Spectrum composers Chelsea McBride, Mason Victoria, Jackson Welchner, Graham Campbell, Tiffany Hanus and Noah Franche-Nolan will be presented by performers Simone Baron, accordion, the Odin String Quartet and Alex Pollard, dancer.

APR 28, 3PM: The Music Gallery presents “Sounding Difference,” another in their Deep Listening experiences with Anne Bourne performing the text scores of Pauline Oliveros. Free.

APR 28, 8PM: New Music Concerts. Their “Luminaries” concert remembers the music of two friends of NMC over the years: Gilles Tremblay and Pierre Boulez. The evening includes the performance of Tremblay’s work Envoi for solo piano and ensemble, and Boulez’s iconic masterpiece Le Marteau sans maître poems by René Char for voice and six instruments.

MAY 3, 8PM: The Music Gallery. In this final Emergents concert of the season, the experimental music theatre group Din of Shadows will present their newest project Material Mythology with a team of performers, composers, dancers and visual artists. The piece speculates about the hidden meanings and mythologies behind everyday actions, objects and spaces.

Esme Allen-Creighton (left; photo by Christopher Descano) and Anyssa Neumann (right, photo by Corey Hayes)It was a simple invitation on the surface but highly unusual and intriguing at the same time:

Violist Esme Allen-Creighton and pianist Anyssa Neumann invite you to an evening of music and poetry featuring works by Robert Schumann, Dmitri Shostakovich and Paul Hindemith. Poetry will reflect on each musical selection, applying a natural lens to ask “If this song were a forest, what would it be like?” Tickets are $10. All proceeds will go to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The concert will take place in the Heliconian Hall (under their generous sponsorship) on April 25, three days after Earth Day. A series of emails with Allen-Creighton illuminated the commitment behind the unique endeavour and shed light on the duo’s unique views:

“Both Anyssa and I have focused much of our careers on the intersection between music and other art forms.  I’ve produced concerts combining music with poetry, theatre scripts, oral history recordings and original narrative. Anyssa, for her part, has taken a scholarly interest in music and film, and has presented this fall at TIFF on Ingmar Bergman’s use of classical music in film.”  

When the UN’s IPCC report on climate change was released last year, Allen-Creighton says, they began envisioning a collaboration “that would integrate music and poetry to illuminate the perils facing our planet.” Forest Bathing was born as a result.

Allen-Creighton has written poems to introduce each of the seven movements they will perform. The poems, she explains, illustrate the dramatic content of the music which follows: each poem is conceived as a different “forest” – framing the emotional content of the music that follows.

Three movements of Schumann’s Marchenbilder (Fairy Tale Pictures) form the Romantic Forest, a forest of memory, of longing. “It verges on the unreal dreamscape. In the second piece [Schumann’s third movement], stormy, wild sections reflect the turbulence of nature and how it might react to pressure. The final movement explores the fragility of nature.”

The accompanying poem reads:

The forest shivers as I whistle through
Her lonesome chambers
Last grasp sticks harder
Sap and bark grit strong
Woodpecker heart
Throbbing faster

Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata, his final composition, inspires the Urban Forest, a dystopian possible future. “Here [Moderato] nature has been ravaged by industry and war. Ghosts and refugees roam bleak landscapes. The centre [Allegretto] satirizes the political system that allowed this catastrophe. A final piece [Adagio] forms a lament.”

Hindemith’s Viola Sonata, written in 1919, is, as Allen-Creighton describes it, “the Forest of Possibility, on the brink. It contrasts our most uplifting experiences in nature with grotesque deterioration. Emotionally it cycles through hope and fear, ultimately landing on resolve and generosity.” (The Hindemith is played with no break between its movements so there will only be one poem to introduce it.)

Raised in Sacramento and based in London UK, American pianist Anyssa Neumann has been praised for the “clarity, charm, and equipoise” of her performances, which span solo and collaborative repertoire from the Baroque to the 21st century. She has released two recordings, with a third scheduled for release in spring 2019. Her solo debut album of works by Bach, Beethoven, Messiaen and Prokofiev was featured on David Dubal’s radio program The Piano Matters.

Praised for her “unbridled lyricism, robust sound and free-flowing legato” violist Esme Allen-Creighton is passionately committed to reaching audiences through interdisciplinary productions. During her four years in Philadelphia with the Serafin Quartet she wrote numerous dramatic scripts interwoven with classical repertoire for series in non-traditional venues such as cafés, bars and comedy clubs. She has published and presented on how to engage audiences through these non-traditional means. Her doctoral thesis for the Université de Montréal explored the idea of interactive, non-traditional concert programming for string quartets.

How did the fledgling duo meet?

“Anyssa and I were introduced in 2014 by my partner at the time who had studied musicology with Anyssa at Oxford. We had both been accepted to the Prussia Cove music festival and thought it might be fun to perform together, however ended up attending at different times.  We struck up a musical/philosophical pen-pal relationship though, admiring each other’s musical work, but also each other’s writing. I used some of Anyssa’s research in my history classes while teaching at the University of Delaware. Anyssa was especially moved by my writing on Schumann in a Schmopera article about giving up a precious instrument on loan to me through a quartet position. Most importantly, we connected through shared political beliefs, advocacy and protest around women’s rights, the environment, poverty and education. We both believe music and art play a vital role in these discussions. We’ve been in touch ever since, but not until this past fall did we manage to organize a concert together. This will be our first duo performance.”

And a world premiere to boot!

Esme Allen-Creighton (viola) and Anyssa Neumann (piano) perform Forest Bathing on April 25 at 7:30pm in Heliconian Hall. All proceeds to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Community-orchestrasEvery year for almost two decades, the surest sign of spring at The WholeNote has been the steady stream of canaries, with early birds starting to arrive at our office just before March break, to latecomers, just under the wire, straggling in just before our mid-April deadline for the May issue. (Somewhere between 140 and 150 of them by the time it’s done.)

These “canaries,” as faithful WholeNote readers know, are not the avian kind, but rather the individual short profiles (120 words or so) submitted by Ontario choirs for inclusion in our annual Canary Pages – the name we give to our annual directory of Ontario choirs.

The directory, now in its 18th year, always appears in print in our May magazine and remains online as a resource, year round, on our website. It’s an extraordinarily eclectic read, because any choir active in our region can join, amateur or professional or a mix of both, auditioned or not, geared to the social or spiritual pleasures of regular meeting to sing, or to the focused pursuit of excellence in public performance. Its main purpose is to talk about the opportunities for singing that exist in our region, at all ages and levels of skill.

For me this directory affirms the way music making contributes to a sense of community and how it affirms the human need (stronger than all the digital isolationism society tempts us with), to come together for the purpose of participating in the making and sharing of live music.

Every spring, without fail, the canaries flock to The WholeNote, and every spring, without fail, as the canaries arrive, someone on our team (usually me) says “One of these years we should try to do the same thing for orchestras, because orchestras fulfil the same role as choirs do.”

And every spring, because by then it’s too late to get organized to do it properly, we say “Yes we should, so maybe next year.”

This year, at that moment, I decide instead to reach out to Katherine Carleton, executive director of Orchestras Canada. The last time we talked must have been even longer ago than I thought, because at that time their offices were on College Street, just west of Bathurst, ten minutes’ walk from The WholeNote office. This time, by contrast, we find ourselves chatting by phone, two area codes apart: Orchestras Canada, she tells me, relocated its headquarters to Peterborough in 2014!

“Was the 2014 move from downtown Toronto to Peterborough a case of Orchestras Canada following you there, or you following it?” I ask. “It followed me,” she says. “One of those cases of family members reaching a time of life where they needed one of us closer to home.”

Katherine Carleton. Photo by Esther VincentCarleton, who has been executive director of Orchestras Canada since 2005, grew up in Peterborough, and made her way to Orchestras Canada via, among other things, a stint as a granting officer in the music section of the Ontario Arts Council in the early 1990s, “a time when there was adequate funding and a strong feeling that the health of orchestras was vital to healthy cultural life. Large or small, they were all of interest to us,” she says.

“So, has the change in location from College and Bathurst to Peterborough also changed your perception of the role of the organization?” I ask. “I mean, is it possible for a national arts service organization to thrive outside of the 18 blocks of downtown Toronto that we all know the world pivots around?” (Her laugh, in response, has at least a couple of my co-workers turning their heads, wondering what I could have said, on the topic of arts service organizations, funny enough to elicit that response.)

“No, and for a couple of reasons,” she says. “First is that the organization, and this includes my predecessors, as well as in my time here, has always thought nationally, which means being equally available to all our members. OC has 130 member orchestras, none in the territories, but member orchestras in every Canadian province. These days we should be able to operate from anywhere where there’s high-speed internet. Is my life as a concertgoer more challenging now, from a mindset of ‘gosh it’s easy to get to Roy Thomson Hall or Jeanne Lamon, or Koerner because it’s on my way home’? Sure. But in terms of OC as an organization, no. As I said, the focus has always been on orchestras nationally, reinforced by a board of directors that is recruited from across the country. Especially for all the conversations we’re engaging in these days, everything we do is carefully curated so we have representation from orchestras of all sizes and types, and from all parts of the country.”

Of Orchestras Canada’s current 130 members, 65 are in Ontario, with 39 of those being outside of the GTA. And of those 39, two, the Peterborough Symphony and the Kawartha Youth Orchestra, are right in Carleton’s back yard. “Does being up close and personal with their particular challenges as smal-town orchestras put a different slant on things?” I ask.

“No, and I’ll tell you why,” she says. “But before I do, I need to out myself, as a performing member of the Peterborough Symphony (clarinet and bass clarinet). ‘When asked to serve, I do so.’ That kind of thing. And I also teach a number of the members of both the Kawartha Youth Orchestra and their Junior Youth Orchestra, privately. So my sense of them is definitely up close and personal. But as for how being here impacts on my slant on things, it really truly doesn’t. As I mentioned, my insights and attitudes go right back to my Arts Council days, at a time when there was a strong feeling that orchestras were vital to community health right across the province, whether small budget or major institutions. And Orchestras Canada has always cared and understood the same thing. These are things I have pursued right through my own life, so it’s hard to separate where the organization stands from where I do in regard to them – whether the organization is responding to me as executive director or where it’s simply that in taking this job I found exactly the right work for me. The Venn diagram in this case is truly a circle.”

“I did some digging into your website before calling you,” I say, “and a couple of things really jumped out at me. One was the information on the site the upcoming OC conference in Ottawa, June 12 to 14, which I’d like to come back to, because the title of the conference dovetails with my main reason for getting in touch. The other is the changes I noticed to the way the member orchestra directory on the OC site is organized.”

The directory in question has gone through some really interesting changes since I last looked at it as carefully as I did while preparing for this interview. It’s deceptively simple: a five-column spreadsheet: name of member; province; membership type; annual revenues; and, last, a column headed simply “Go to Website.”

“I remember, back in the day, that the column called ‘annual revenues’ used to be something way more complex” I say. “As I recall, you used to classify orchestras by type – regional, community, large, middle-sized, small – things like that. And I remember trying to persuade you that you should partner with us on a directory something like the ones we do, where the members submit short profiles about who they are and what they do.”

“Yes” she says, “I remember that, and thinking long and hard about it. But we went a different direction, putting the onus on members to keep their own information up to date on their websites.” As for the change from describing orchestras as ‘community’ or ‘regional’ to grouping them by annual revenues, she explains, the beginning of that shift goes back to project funding they got from the Ontario Arts Council. (“I’m not going to even try to put a year on it,” she says.) The money was given, in the terminology of the day, to study “the situation, interests and needs of smaller budget orchestras” in Ontario. “We started out, perhaps naively in retrospect, calling them community orchestras, and put together a research plan that involved travelling around to five or six parts of the province – and having regional meetings with folks from these orchestras.”

It was an extraordinarily rich series of conversations, she says: What became abundantly clear was that there were more differences among orchestras with “small budgets” (revenues from $0 to $600,000 a year), than there were among orchestras with “large budgets” (revenues from $650,000 to $33 million). “There was every shade of music making in that $0 to $600,000 range” she says, “from orchestras where only the conductor gets an honorarium through to fully professional ensembles with very short seasons, but all fitting within that so-called ‘small budget’ space we had preemptively defined as ‘community orchestras.’”

Orchestras Canada (home page)It became clear, from this exercise, that trying to define the concept of a “community orchestra” based on budget ran the risk of making the designation so amorphous as not to be useful, or else trying to refine it further, to those groups with very little professional participation, with the danger that “community orchestra” would become almost a pejorative term – “taken as symptomatic of volunteer bumbling rather than ‘we are darned proud of being called that’.”

The new way of designating orchestras in the directory, purely by annual revenue, removes a layer of artistic value judgment from the equation.

Viewed in this light, the Orchestras Canada member directory in its current form becomes a much more nuanced resource, amenable to searching and sorting in all kinds of ways; and with orchestras rising to the challenge of keeping their own websites up to date, (something that, from my perusal of the 65 Ontario orchestras in the directory, the vast majority are managing to do) it makes for fascinating reading.

Removal of “community orchestra” as a loaded label from the Orchestras Canada member directory is an improvement there, but the word community itself remains fundamental to what Orchestras Canada is about, as one digs through the resources and information on the website. The word may have ceased to be useful in describing what orchestras are, but that creates, if anything, an even greater responsibility for OC and the constituency it serves to dig even more deeply into what the term “community” is useful for in talking about the always uncertain future of our orchestras. And that’s where the upcoming June 12 to 14 Orchestras Canada conference at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, titled Designing the 21st Century Orchestra: Embedding Canadian Orchestras in Canadian Communities, promises to be rather useful.

The notion of “embedding orchestras in communities” is catchy, but not if it becomes a lazy catch-all. It is ultimately only useful as a starting point for minutely specific exploration of what the two-way chemistry that needs to exist between communities and their orchestras actually consists of. Carleton thrives on this kind of detailed delving, fascinated by what it can uncover.

“I’ll give you an example,” she says. “One of the fascinating conversations we have been involved with lately – quite amazing to me actually – led to becoming aware, among smaller groups with volunteer musicians, of the competition among these orchestras for the finest volunteer musicians. The clear sense from these players is that if the orchestra is not giving them the opportunity to play the repertoire that they want to in a setting that is congenial for their artistic goals and standards, musicians will go orchestra shopping; so when orchestras like that are asking the question What is our definition of the community we serve? the musicians themselves are going to be very high on that list, because if the entire trombone section walks, and we can’t attract trombones, then what do we do?”

“So what are some of the other good questions, like that one, then?” I ask.

“The question of where excellence fits in,” she says, “that’s a good one. Poor old Beethoven, you know. He often comes in for a bit of a beating in conversations like this. A bit ironic, really. We’ll be sitting around a table and someone will sometimes say, ‘Is our purpose to play Beethoven better every time that the group has the honour of engaging with that music?’ And sometimes it may simply be fine to say YES. That is our job, that is our role, that is our goal as an organization. But maybe there are times where it needs to be a ‘Yes, ... and’ as the improvisers say. Or maybe a ‘Yes … until’ as in ‘’Yes, until it becomes so highly prioritized, in some cases, that volunteer musicians are no longer welcome.’”

“And more?” I ask.

“Perhaps most important, because orchestras are complex contraptions, with lots of people with strong opinions, who are the people involved in these conversations about which way forward? What are the differing perspectives that are coming to the table? The musicians, highly trained and with very specific skills: how are they involved? Board and staff. Volunteers? Is there a living conversation at the place?”

A pause … and then, “This is not dull work,” she says.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com.

Judy Loman at Crow’s Theatre. Photo by Trevor HaldenbyA harp can sing: this we’ve learned from Judy Loman and her extraordinary career. The now-retired principal harp with the TSO has several harp-centric world premieres to her name by the composers like R. Murray Schafer, Kelly-Marie Murphy, Glenn Buhr and John Weinzweig, and has often accompanied voice in art song recital, notably on records with Lois Marshall in Folk Songs from the British Isles, Eleanor James in Schafer’s Tanzlied and Monica Whicher in Lullabies and Carols for Christmas. On April 14, she will be reuniting with Whicher in song and trying something entirely different: a selection of Mahler and Strauss arranged by Loman for the harp.

There’s going to be much else on the program, ranging from the Elizabethan era to Britten and spanning multiple countries, but the Mahler and Strauss songs re-tailored for the harp are the most exciting challenge, explains the 82-year-old harp virtuoso when I meet her at her midtown west-end home. I take a peek at the program that they are preparing, and much of the Strauss set is one lavish melancholy hit after another. The languid, soft “Ruhe, meine Seele” (Rest, My Soul) opens the set, followed by the bright melancholy of “Allerseelen” (All Souls’ Day) and sombre “Morgen!” (Tomorrow). Then, a change of mood for the finale. The playful “Heimliche Aufforderung” (The Lover’s Pledge) and the altogether brighter and vast “Zueignung” (Devotion) complete the Strauss set.

The upbeat “Frühlingsmorgen” (Spring Morning) with its fluttery ornaments opens the Mahler set, which proceeds to the deceptively simple and short, but devastating in effect, “Phantasie” and finishes with the highly dramatic song of farewell “Nicht wiedersehen!” from the cycle Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

That, in addition to the Ravel and Britten sets, three Italian songs from the Baroque and classical periods, and the Elizabethan-era sequence that includes the gloriously melismatic “Chloris Sigh’d” and a song attributed to Anne Boleyn. The harp will also sing on its own in a nocturne by Marcel Tournier (d. 1951).

Monica WhicherThe two women have decided to name this Mazzoleni Songmasters program at the RCM simply Monica & Judy. They’ve known each other for a long time, says Loman; they originally met through a common acquaintance who was a member of a group advocating for better care of autistic children that Loman, parent of a now-adult son on the autism spectrum, used to belong to. Some of the paintings on the living room wall behind me, she later tells me, are her son’s.

The harp naturally occupies a prominent spot in her living room. On the coffee table, a monograph on the work of the visual and media artist and Guggenheim Fellow, Penelope Umbrico, Loman’s oldest daughter, who was born in the US, shortly before the young Curtis Institute of Music alumni Loman and her husband, trumpeter Joseph Umbrico, moved to Canada for good. The small family moved to Toronto in 1957 so Umbrico could take up the principal trumpet position with the TSO, and as luck would have it, two years later the orchestra needed a principal harpist. When she joined the TSO, Loman was by no means the only woman, she tells me; while some of the internationally prominent orchestras to this day struggle with the issue of too few women in the ranks, she wasn’t an oddity in the TSO of the 1960s. Though she did help set a positive precedent that eventually changed a particular bit of orchestral culture that will sound unusual to us today. “Well, a funny story. If a female player got pregnant,” Loman says, “she was expected to stop playing in the orchestra as soon as the pregnancy was beginning to show. But what happened with me is that I stayed for as long as I could comfortably embrace the instrument, because there weren’t many harpists that the TSO could hire while I’m away on maternity leave for months. So I played through pregnancy, and after that, other women in the orchestra could too.”

What is her theory; why is the harp now an almost exclusively female instrument? “I wonder as well … Perhaps a lot of girls do as I did – see a beautiful harp at the music school and decide, wow, this is the instrument for me.” Loman’s parents both had great affinity for music – her father was a gifted jazz pianist, her mother had keen interest in dance – but neither ended up going the professional route. When they went to register their five-year-old for piano lessons, the child spotted a small golden harp on the premises and decided there and then that was the instrument for her. (Piano came much later in life.) Orchestral brass, on the other hand, remains largely a male purview. “My husband too used to be a little chauvinistic on that topic,” says Loman mischievously, “but he changed his mind later in life, once women brass players started coming through the ranks in greater numbers.”

The couple raised three daughters and a son and remained together until Umbrico’s death in 2007. Both Loman and Umbrico frequently played pieces by living Canadian composers, and over the decades Loman built up a remarkable recorded legacy in harp repertoire with the emphasis on the 20th century. The first harp concerto written specifically for her was the 1967 Concerto for Harp and Chamber Orchestra by John Weinzweig, a piece which she now describes as “perhaps a little dry.” (Readers of CanLit and chroniclers of Canadian literary modernism will have noticed the recent and well-deserved surge of interest in the novels of Helen Weinzweig, the composer’s wife, due in large part to the NYRB Classics reissue of Basic Black with Pearls in 2018). Loman’s encounter with Murray Schafer was more fortuitous. She approached him after the TSO performed a piece by Schafer inside U of T’s Convocation Hall and suggested he consider creating something for the harp. “I mentioned to him that I’ve been talking with Toru Takemitsu about a possible harp piece for which the harpist would wear bracelets with bells, and I think this was what fired up his imagination,” remembers Loman. Soon after, Schafer dropped by her house with the score for The Crown of Ariadne, the now legendary six-movement segment of Schafer’s opera cycle Patria, which he set for the harp with an assortment of percussive instruments and prepared tape. Loman premiered it, recorded it, won a JUNO for it and most recently awed in it in an all-Schafer Soundstream production appropriately called Odditorium. In the darkened Crow’s Theatre, Loman alone on stage performed Ariadne Awakens and the dances. When I tell her that her performance created a religious experience for this atheist, she laughs and offers a more-down-to-earth comment: “It’s a very difficult piece, and I sometimes make the odd mistake, but I was so well prepared for that, I don’t think I made any during that run.”

Following Ariadne, Schafer went on to compose six other works for the harp, all of which were finally gathered on the same disc in 2016, Ariadne’s Legacy. Loman plays in five of the seven in addition to The Crown of Ariadne (1979), the 1986 Theseus for harp and string quartet, the 1987 Harp Concerto with the TSO under Andrew Davis, the 1997 Wild Bird with Jacques Israelievitch on violin and the 2004 Tanzlied with Schafer’s wife, mezzo Eleanor James.

Even with such a career behind her, the national treasure that is Judy Loman is not anywhere near the end of her bucket list. Her hearing is not 100 percent today but when did a little reduced hearing ever prevent great musicians from doing anything? “I’m 82 and not sure how long I’ll be able to play, so I’m busy getting into pieces that I haven’t yet done and really want to do,” she says.

More religious experiences brought to us by Loman at the harp to look forward to then.

ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS

APR 5 AND 6, 8PM: Confluence Concerts presents an all-Purcell program at Heliconian Hall, “Tis Nature’s Voice: Henry Purcell Reimagined.” Larry Beckwith, Anna Atkinson, Andrew Downing, Patricia O’Callaghan, Drew Jurecka and Suba Sankaran, among others. $20-$30, with the pre-concert chat on each night starting at 7:15pm.

Allison AngeloAPR 14, 3PM: The new edition of the Off-Centre Music Salon (which takes place not at all in a salon but at Trinity-St Paul’s Centre on Bloor West) presents “To the Letter: An Epistolary Celebration,” a showcase of composers who have been known for their prolific and skillful letter writing. Soprano Allison Angelo, mezzo Andrea Ludwig, tenor Ernesto Ramirez, baritone Giles Tomkins and Kathryn Tremills at the piano appear in a program of Chopin, Brahms, Debussy and Mozart. Tickets not cheap at $40-$50, though there are deep discounts for young adults.

MAY 1, 6:30PM: Tongue in Cheek Productions’ latest is titled “Democracy in Action” and I’m told will involve “integrated online polls available to the audience throughout the concert”. My guess is as good as yours. Pianist Trevor Chartrand will accompany a solid lineup: mezzos Krisztina Szabó and Julie Nesrallah; sopranos Natalya Gennadi and Teiya Kasahara; tenors Asitha Tennekoon and Romulo Delgado; baritones Alexander Hajek and Stephen Hegedus. Lula Lounge, $35 ($25 arts workers); seating is a mix of dinner tables and theatre seating.

Finally some folk and pop content in the picks this month. Gordon Lightfoot is touring Ontario in April, including, among others, Richmond Hill (APR 3), Barrie (APR 8), St Catharines (APR 11 AND 12) and Mississauga (APR 15 AND 16). Ticket prices vary.

And on APR 27, 7:30PM: Music at Metropolitan presents” L’Aigle noir: The Music of Barbara,” the songs of the late French singer-songwriter in a cabaret-style tribute by Charles Davidson (singer-actor) and Jesse Corrigan (accordion). Metropolitan United Church, 56 Queen St. E. $20.

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. Send her your art-of-song news to artofsong@thewholenote.com.

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