PIANISTS FIGURE prominently in this issue of The WholeNote. Stewart Goodyear, on our cover, has been delving deeply into Beethoven: this summer he played all 32 Beethoven sonatas at the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. This month, he’ll grace the stage of the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall on November 28, with an all-Beethoven recital.

Allan Pulker’s column opens with a look at the Chinese Cultural Centre’s Toronto International Piano Competition, which has attracted contestants from 10 countries around the world, including Canada. One of the things that’s been curiously lacking in this city is a recurring event of this sort (there was an international Bach piano competiton here back in 1985, but it was not repeated), so we can only hope that this inaugural event will be the first of many. The competition runs from November 2-8.

As Pulker notes, many other pianists have found their way into this month’s listings. In addition to those mentioned in his column, I’ll point out that there are two “Art of the Piano” recitals at Gallery 345. Contemporary programmes will be given by Vlada Mars (November 12) and Vicki Chow (December 3). See our listings for full details.

Something else that leaps out of the 600-odd listings as particularly “Novemberesque” is the abundance of musical activity on university campuses throughout Southern Ontario. November is the month when music students take to the stage to present the programmes they’ve been working on since September – so in this month’s magazine, you’ll find extensive listings for the University of Toronto and York University in the “GTA” section. And in the “Beyond the GTA” listings, you’ll find concerts at the University of Western Ontario, the University of Waterloo, McMaster, Wilfrid Laurier, Guelph, Brock and Queen’s. Many of these concerts are free – and I’m sure the students would appreciate substantial and appreciative audiences for their efforts.

November can also be a dreary month. Fortunately, there’s a slew of musical-theatre productions by community groups out there: just the thing to chase away the pre-holiday blues. In the GTA, you’ll find such feel-good shows as Meet Me in St. Louis (opening November 4), Annie (also opening November 4), not one but two productions of Oliver! (opening November 13 and 18, respectively), and The Wizard of Oz (first performance on December 1). Further afield, look for My Fair Lady in Peterborough (opening November 5); White Christmas and A Christmas Carol in Cobourg (on November 11 and 27); and Alice in Wonderland in Barrie (November 19). It’s fast and easy to find them on our website, www.thewholenote.com, by searching for “music theatre.”

We come at last to Handel’s Messiah. There was a time when this perennial favourite was anchored securely in December, but these days it’s not uncommon to to hear the Hallelujah Chorus ring out in November. Check out our website on November 10 for a special feature on Messiah performances throughout the holiday season.

p54_overtones_sampler_page_01In July the Royal Conservatory of Music released its new flute examination syllabus and with it the new thirteen-volume “Overtones: A Comprehensive Flute Series.”  Both are, in my opinion, giant steps forward for students and teachers of the flute.

One of the most notable changes is the addition of four new grades: a preliminary (pre grade one level), grades three, five and seven. The preliminary level is particularly welcome as it provides an achievable goal for beginners, for whom the first year of study is arduous, as it involves learning to produce a sound (not so easy), sustaining the breath long enough to play whole phrases, and gaining a foothold without straining in the middle register of the instrument. Grades three, five and seven, not offered in the preceding syllabus, bridge the large gaps between the even numbered grades, which most of us felt were too great to be readily navigated in a year of study. Another enormous improvement is that, unlike its predecessor, the 2006 syllabus, which was part of a book containing the syllabi not only for the flute but also for oboe, clarinet, saxophone and bassoon, this one is for the flute only, which makes it much more reasonable to expect students to purchase one. No matter how much exam information a teacher writes in a student’s dictation book, doubt about exactly what is expected of him or her seems to persist. For each student to have his own copy will be a great help exam preparation.

The thirteen volumes of the series cover all the grades from the preliminary level to grade eight. There are no books yet for grades 9, 10 and ARCT. Each grade level has its own repertoire book, which includes a flute part as well as a piano accompaniment and two recordings, one of each piece in the book with accompaniment and one, for practice purposes, of just the accompaniment. The recordings will be helpful in two ways: 1) they will be invaluable in helping students decide which pieces to prepare for the exams; 2) they will be helpful in learning the pieces, as they can get to know what the pieces they are learning sound like before and as they are practising them, and will be able to play them with the recorded accompaniment. Although there are many more pieces specified in the syllabus than could possibly be included in each grade’s anthology, they certainly provide enough choice for most students to be content to choose pieces from the book for their grade level.

The situation is a bit different for the study repertoire, of which there is an ever growing abundance for the flute. There are only two volumes – up to grade 4 and from grade 5 to 8. The compilers have done very well to include a representative selection, but that selection for each grade is necessarily small and needs, I think, to be supplemented by books of traditional and contemporary studies. The syllabus is so constructed that each additional book of studies that a student purchases should be good for at least two grades.

The series also includes a volume of graded orchestral excerpts, a really excellent addition, since the syllabus includes orchestral excerpts beginning at the grade 2 level! To be able to find all the orchestral requirements in one book up to grade 8 level is an enormous help to students.

For most students one of the most vexatious parts of exam preparation is learning scales. I’ve tried everything, from working on the notes of scales in pairs, groups of three and five as well as playing the opening phrase of “Joy to the World” (a descending major scale) as a way of learning scales. However, no matter what I try, it always seems hard! Sure, I’ll write each scale out, or get the student to write it, in the dictation book, but a month later, it seems to be irretrievably lost in the forest of verbiage that accumulates over the weeks and months! The “Overtones” technique book has a section for each grade in which all the scales, arpeggios and other scale-related materials are written out in full, just as they are to be played at the exam. This will be a great help to all my students and I expect to those of my colleagues.

An innovative change in the exam requirements for scales should be very helpful to students: the range of a scale, not the number of sharps or flats in its key signature, is now what determines what scales are to be played at any given grade level. Up to the grade 6 level, students are required to know a group of anywhere from six to ten scales per grade, so that over the course of grades 1 to 6, they learn all the scales but are not expected to be able to play them all at one exam until grade seven. This is a good idea, I think, in that with fewer scales to learn per grade, students should be able to learn them more thoroughly

Kudos to the RCM and to co-authors Diane Aitken and Jamie Thompson for a job well done. I expect a lot of good vibes will be going your way from flute teachers and students over many years to come!

By now, the concert season is well under way – and the world music scene has much to offer this month. Here are some highlights.

p30Virtuoso banjo player Jayme Stone launches a new CD with a cross-Canada tour that includes a concert October 13 at Hugh’s Room. Room of Wonders is a wonderful musical romp inspired by folk dances from around the world. I’ve had a sneak preview of the album, and this promises to be a lively evening of superb musicianship featuring banjo, fiddle, guitar, bass, nyckelharpa and other instruments in a kind of Appalachian “old-time-meets the rest of the world” scenario. Represented are dance tunes from Bulgaria, Ireland, Brazil, Norway and elsewhere. There’s even an arrangement of a Bach French suite.

Prior to this latest venture, Stone’s previous CD, Africa to Appalachia was a collaboration with Malian kora player and singer Mansa Sissoko, the result of a stay in Mali where Stone researched the banjo’s African roots. This Juno award-winning album led to a two-year tour of Canada, the US and the UK. I’ve been told Stone will soon launch a new website and a short documentary on the making of Room of Wonders, which will also include free lessons for aspiring banjoists! In the meantime, visit http://jaymestone.com.

After undergoing two years of extensive renovations, the Sony Centre re-opens this month with some exciting programming. Sure to be a spectacular event, “Dream of the Red Chamber” (October 12, 13) features the Beijing Friendship Dance Company in their interpretation of one of China’s most revered works of literature by the same name. Described as a “Chinese Romeo and Juliet love story,” the production blends classical ballet and traditional Chinese dance, with a score by Academy Award-winning composer Cong Su (best original score, The Last Emperor), 80 dancers and 800 costumes! The show is presented in celebration of 40 years of diplomatic relations between China and Canada.

Also, touted as “the Bob Dylan of Iran,” controversial musician Mohsen Namjoo fuses traditional Persian music with western blues and rock, October 16 at the Sony Centre, along with his band and a full live orchestra. Namjoo is a master vocalist, composer and setar player, who originally trained at and was later expelled from the Tehran University music programme for refusing to toe conventional lines. As difficult as it is to be an independent artist in Iran, Namjoo’s career took off due to internet exposure. Now based in California, he is free to create music that resonates with Iran’s youth, while appealing to audiences regardless of background.

Toronto based Yiddish singer Lenka Lichtenberg says, “after a little breather, to allow space for several members’ individual projects (namely CD releases), The Sisters of Sheynville are getting back into the groove and a regular rehearsal mode. The plan is to prepare a lot of new material this fall, and work towards a new CD in the spring.”

Upcoming gigs for this all-female Yiddish swing/klezmer band include Bread and Circus (299 Augusta Ave., Kensington Market) on October 7, and the Reservoir Lounge some time in November. Lenka had a well attended CD release concert of her own recently at last month’s Ashkenaz Festival, and you can read a review of Fray in the September WholeNote. She’s also been engaged in a unique synagogue project in Europe, doing recordings of traditional and new liturgical music that she says may be the most significant project of her life. She calls it “Songs for the Breathing Walls,” and hopes to continue with it for years to come. For more about Lichtenberg, visit www.lenkalichtenberg.com.

A new “kid” on the musical block, the Vesuvius Ensemble, has its inaugural concert on October 29 at the Edward Day Gallery, 952 Queen St. W. Dedicated to performing and preserving the folk music of Naples and southern Italy, the group is led by Italian tenor Francesco Pellegrino, who now teaches at the University of Toronto. He’ll be joined by Marco Cera (oboist with Tafelmusik who also plays baroque guitar, chitarra battente, and ciaramella – a type of Italian shawm), Lucas Harris (baroque guitar, and chitarrone – a large bass lute), and guest percussionist Kate Robson. And they’ve got a website up and running too: check out www.vesuviusensemble.com.

Looking ahead to November, Toronto’s own Nagata Shachu Japanese taiko drumming ensemble presents a new programme titled “Iroha” (colour), November 5 and 6 at Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queen’s Quay West. The production is directed by long-time member Aki Takahashi, with lighting by Arun Srinivasan. Each piece has been influenced by a colour, and in addition to drumming there will be more choreography.

“Colour can be expressed in countless ways,” says Takahashi; “people might describe the same colour differently depending on their mental and emotional associations with it. In Japan, where the four seasons are distinct, people experience each time of year through colours in nature. I hope people will discover the illuminating nature of our music reflected in the interplay of iroha.” Nagata Shachu (formerly known as the Kiyoshi Nagata Ensemble) has a number of CDs to its name; primarily it’s a drumming group, but they perform on a host of other traditional Japanese instruments as well, creating a variety of sonic textures. It will be interesting to see how they illustrate the notion of colour!

Thursdays 7:00 to 8:30pm, October 14 to November 18, at the Miles Nadal JCC. Call Harriet Wichin at 416-924-6211 x133 or music@mnjcc.org.

 

Karen Ages can be reached at worldmusic@thewholenote.com

In last month’s Bandstand column I focused on a few new ensembles which had graced the local scene over the past two or three years, and mentioned some new ones scheduled to begin this fall. It seemed appropriate then to see how some of these proposed new startups were doing. Two in particular, with very different aims, attracted my attention. Resa’s Pieces Strings was billed as a beginners string orchestra. The New Horizons Seniors Band sponsored by Long and McQuade was to be a beginners band for people 50-plus who wanted to take up music for the first time or get back to it after a prolonged absence. How better to have my questions answered than to attend their inaugural sessions?

p29bFirst up was the rehearsal of the string group Resa’s Pieces Strings (RPS). This is the brain child of Resa Kochberg, founder and conductor of the very successful Resa’s Pieces Band. The strings group included a wide spectrum of ages from high-school students to white-haired seniors. All had enough experience to know how to hold their instruments and play basic scales. For those neophytes in the group who were less than familiar with some of the adjustments required by their instruments, a technician from George Heinl Co. was on hand to assist.

After a few opening remarks outlining the aims and objectives for the months ahead, and getting the instruments tuned, director Ric Giorgi started the group right off playing simple melodies interspersed with exercises on such matters as bowing techniques. By the time the break came along, this new ensemble was playing simple melodies in harmony with better tuning that might nave been expected. At the break, this new group was invited across the hall, where Resa’s Pieces Band had been practising. There they were welcomed into the fold with the cutting and sharing of a cake for their “birthday.”

The RPS will be following the same philosophy that Resa Kochberg has established from day one in leading Resa’s Pieces Concert Band. It is “to provide an opportunity for people to return to playing instruments that they have not touched for years.” Doing your best, but also having fun is what is expected, and everyone grows musically together with each “piece” completing the whole! As of that evening, 24 people had signed up and about 18 got to the first rehearsal.

Were there any shortcomings noted? Yes. As I anticipated, viola players are in short supply. In fact, one acquaintance of mine has been suggesting to me that I might be an ideal candidate to fill a coveted spot in the viola section. Here’s your chance, wannabe string players: get a viola and join the fun on Monday evenings. Even if your leanings are towards some other string instrument, check it out at their website www.resaspieces.org, or email strings@resaspieces.org.

Two days later, at 9:30am, I joined a group attending a get acquainted session at Long and McQuade’s downtown Toronto store to learn about their New Horizons Seniors Band. After a brief introduction by director Dan Kapp, the goals of this group were outlined. This is a band for retirees who either have not played for years, or have sung or played other instruments and would now like to play in an organized group. The majority of these people did not own instruments, and were curious about which instrument might be right for them. Over the next two hours most tried one or more instruments and decided. One woman initially considered trombone, learned how to hold it, blew a few notes and then decided to try an oboe. Her first attempt startled us. It was not the sound of a wounded duck that emanated. Rather, it was quite a pleasant musical tone. I immediately suggested that she and the oboe were meant for each other. Whether she will stick with oboe or sample other instruments before her final decision remains to be seen.

As with the string orchestra, there are initial shortages. Low brass wannabes were in short supply. It seems that, amongst grandmothers and grandfathers, flutes, clarinets or trumpets have more appeal that tubas and euphoniums.

The goal for this group has already been established, and it’s ambitious. The CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio has already been booked for their spring concert. If you are available Wednesday mornings and would like to try your hand at making this kind of music, experience is not necessary. Group instruction is part of the package. Contact them at www.newhorizonsbloor.ca or call 416-588-7886.

Both groups stressed that playing in such ensembles was also very much a social activity. Members were encouraged to get to know their fellow members and consider forming trios and quartets to practise together outside of regular rehearsal times and hone their skills with the challenges of playing these more intimate forms.

As for other new groups for more experienced players, we have just received word that the new Richmond Hill Concert Band had its first rehearsal as this goes to press. They reported about 30 interested members already with a good distribution of instruments. Their rehearsals are on Thursdays at 7:30pm at Roselawn Public School, 422 Carrville Rd., Richmond Hill.

The Canadian Band Association (Ontario) is celebrating its 9th Annual Community Band Weekend from October 15 through 17. These annual weekends provide an opportunity for musicians from bands across Ontario to join together for music-making with friends, both old and new, under the leadership of expert conductors. As part of their 15th anniversary celebration, Etobicoke Community Concert Band will be acting as hosts this year. Check-in starts at 7:30pm Friday and is followed by a social gathering. Saturday will be devoted to rehearsals under the batons of no fewer than six conductors.

The massed band will perform the concert on Sunday afternoon. The rehearsal and concert take place at Etobicoke Collegiate Institute, 86 Montgomery Rd., Etobicoke. The nearest major intersection is Dundas and Islington, and the school is a manageable walk from both Royal York and Islington subway stations. For full details contact Bill Harris, Acting President, Canadian Band Association (Ontario) at president@cba-ontario.ca, or 416-693-3980.

 

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is fermoota: a note of dubious value held for indefinite length. We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.

 

Coming Events

• October 17, 8:00pm: The Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra.
Norman Reintamm and Friends Recital. St. Timothy’s Anglican          Church, 4125 Sheppard Ave. E.

• October 18, 7:30pm: Orillia Wind Ensemble. Joint Effort. Orillia               Opera House, 20 Mississaga St. W., Orillia.

• October 23, 8:00pm: Greater Toronto Philharmonic Orchestra.
Autumn Classics. Calvin Presbyterian Church, 26 Delisle Ave.

• October 23, 8:00pm: City of Brampton Concert Band. Rose Theatre             in Brampton.

Down the Road

• November 13, 8:00pm: Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra.
Subscription Concert No.1. P.C. Ho Theatre, 5183 Sheppard Ave. E.

 

Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments, and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at: bandstand@thewholenote.com.

Last month I gave a talk to the Toronto Chapter of the Duke Ellington Society, a group of enthusiasts that gets together on the second Tuesday of every month, except for July and August.

p27The Society was founded in 1959 as the Duke Ellington Jazz Society through the efforts of one Bill Ross, a Canadian working in Hollywood who placed an ad in Downbeat magazine in late 1958, announcing that a Duke Ellington Jazz Society had been formed in Hollywood. Simply put, it consists of people who are interested in Duke Ellington: fans, musicians, researchers, scholars and writers, the common bond being a love of the music of Ellington – and, of course, his alter ego Billy Strayhorn. (It’s interesting to note that in 1968, at the Duke’s request, the word jazz was dropped from the name and all the Chapters became known as the Duke Ellington Society.)

The Toronto chapter’s origins make an interesting story, thanks to the Anger family. Rhea Anger, a champion of the music of Ellington, in response to a letter of January 29 from Ross, organized the first meeting of the Toronto Chapter, which was held on May 4, 1959. Anger was elected as the first president, and the Toronto Chapter has been meeting regularly ever since. There’s no doubt that she was a suitable choice. She was the widow of Justice Harry Anger of the Ontario Supreme Court, who had established a warm friendship with the Duke many years before. After his death, Rhea and her son, Ron, also a lawyer, maintained the relationship. Over a period of time, whenever the Ellington band came to Toronto they would be invited to the Anger home after the engagement to enjoy some home comfort. And Duke Ellington played this town many times from 1931 on. I came up with a list of 16 different venues where they performed.

Robert Fulford, in the Toronto Star, January of 1987, wrote the following: “In the early 1970s, when the Duke Ellington band was playing the O’Keefe Centre, tenor saxophone soloist Paul Gonsalves came down from the stage and stood before a middle-aged woman in the audience, affectionately serenading her as the band accompanied him. While Gonsalves played and the woman shyly smiled, Ellington dedicated the number ‘for Mrs. Anger, our dear friend.’” For years Rhea and her son Ron were familiar faces at jazz events in Toronto and their love and enthusiasm for the music never diminished.

In his book, Music Is My Mistress, Ellington wrote: “Mrs. Anger and her son, Ron, are also among our most loyal friends and supporters. They never miss our appearances in Toronto, and the city’s chapter of the Duke Ellington Society has always owed a great deal of its health to them. Canada has a character and a spirit of its own, which we should recognize and never take for granted.”

In 1987 Toronto hosted the fifth annual Ellington conference at The Inn on the Park. It was a three day event, and the musicians included two Ellington alumni: trombonist Booty Wood and bassist Aaron Bell, along with Doc Cheatham, George Kelly, Ray Bryant, Gus Johnson and from Canada, Oliver Jones, Neil Swainson, Fraser MacPherson and myself. In addition, there was a rare performance of Ellington’s extended work, The Tatooed Bride by my big band. Alice Babs, who had a long collaboration with the Duke, was present. She’s perhaps best remembered for her singing in the second and third Sacred Concerts, which Ellington wrote for her voice. It had a range of more than three octaves and was so remarkable that Ellington said that when she did not sing the parts that he wrote for her, he had to use three different singers!

In the early days of the society, meetings were held in members’ homes – but nowadays Montgomery’s Inn, at the junction of Dundas Street West and Islington, is the home of the Society. And each year the Toronto Chapter presents a fundraising concert at a date close to Ellington’s birthday, April 29. In 2011, on Saturday April 30, a group led by Dave Young and Terry Promane will be the featured ensemble. More about that closer to the date.

As a result of their fundraising activities, seven $1,000 scholarships are awarded to emerging Toronto musicians, a remarkable achievement for what is a relatively small group of enthusiasts. Speaking of which, they would welcome additional members – especially some younger blood – so if you’re interested please call Chris McEvilly at 416-234-0653 and help the spirit of Duke Ellington to live on in one of his favourite cities.

 

What’s in a Name?

When I spoke to the Toronto Duke Ellington Society the topic was nicknames given to some of the musicians who worked with him. Here are a few of them.

Trombonist Joe Nanton was one of the great pioneers of the plunger mute. He joined Ellington in 1926 and his growl and plunger sounds were a major ingredient in the band’s jungle sound that evolved in the 20s. He earned his nickname “Tricky Sam” during his first years with Ellington. There are a couple of conflicting stories about the origin of his nickname, neither having to do with his trombone technique – a common misconception.

One story is that he consistently won when he played poker with bandmates, so much so that he became known as tricky with a deck of cards. But saxophonist Toby Hardwick claimed that he was capable of “doing with one hand what someone else would do with two – he was tricky that way.” Nanton had perfected a technique of drinking on-stage without anyone noticing!

Another trombonist, Lawrence Brown, joined the band in 1932. Somewhat straight-laced, he kept away from the drinking and high-life enjoyed by the rest of the band, a rather puritan behavior that earned him the nickname “The Deacon.”

p28Tenor sax player Paul Gonsalves joined the band in 1950 and stayed for the rest of his life. His nickname was “Mex,” because people thought he was Hispanic, when in fact he was from the Cape Verde Islands. But Ellington bestowed on him another sobriquet. Because he sometimes walked around in the audience while soloing, the Duke dubbed him “Strolling Violins.”

Here’s one for punsters. In the 1950s Britt Woodman was in the trombone section. So was Quentin Jackson, whose nickname was “Butter,” thus giving rise to “Britt and Butter.” So you see, some of us don’t only play on instruments – and words seldom fail us.

Happy listening.

 

Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and the former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at: jazz@thewholenote.com.

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