Q: What do choral canaries do when you open their cages?

A: Fly, of course!

Last month we asked people who are busy with choirs from September to June what they do to recharge their batteries during the summer months. Here's a cross section of responses!

Ryan Knowles, chorister

St. Michaels' Choir School

The first thing I intend to do is to hang out with my friends, now that I finally have a life that isn't completely consumed by choral duties. People may not realize this, but choristers are actually a pretty normal bunch of kids, despite our obvious musical talents. Even though we may seem at home on stage or by the piano, we are just as at home on the couch with a bag of chips and a bunch of friends.

All the time that is not spent chilling out with my friends will be occupied by writing. I enjoy writing poems, short stories, and the occasional piece of music. I'm no Beethoven, but I think that I am an accomplished composer, lyricist, and poet, and I'd like to maintain this reputation, if only to myself!

Most of the summer, however, will be spent in Switzerland with my family. We have spent lots of time touring around Ontario, Quebec, and some of the neighboring states, but we are finally going across the Atlantic, onto new lands and new adventures. Although I do enjoy singing and performing, I'm happy that I am, for the summer at least, off the hook.

Kathy Tyers, chorister

Milton Choristers


My choir the Milton Choristers, just had their final season concert in June. I also belong to the Milton Concert Band who are putting on summer concerts in the park on Thursday evenings until the end of July.

As if that weren't enough to keep me busy, I also signed up for the Choirs Ontario Adult Vocal camp that takes place in July in Aurora. Then I follow that up with a week at Lakefield with CAMMAC. I strongly recommend CAMMAC to anyone with a musical interest, be it vocal or instrumental. I am also participating as a member of the Brott Summer Festival choir which is performing Carmina Burana August 20.

Then I actually might take a week or two of vacation. (But maybe not - got to get ready for the next season you know). Oh, by the way, I also fit in practice sessions with a flute ensemble I started and just plain jamming with friends on an occasional basis. You can never get enough music!

Dallas Bergen, Artistic Director and Conductor

Univox Choir, Harbourfront Chorus


I'll have a healthy balance of work, play and work-related-play this summer. In July Univox will embark on our first tour, attending the Loto-Québec World Choral Festival and competition in Laval. Univox was one of 32 choirs selected to participate in this grand festival which takes place during alternate years of Podium (the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors' conference). We look forward to five days with others who share our love for choral music.

In early August I'll attend the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network conference in Portland, Oregon. Rodney Eichenberger will be the chorus master and will present conducting workshops. Some vacation time with my wife follows: a family reunion in BC and visiting my family in Saskatchewan before returning to Toronto. The rest of August will be full of meetings to plan the coming church year at First Unitarian and the choir season for Univox and the Harbourfront Chorus.

Ann Cooper Gay, Artistic Director

Canadian Children's Opera Company

After four operas for the Canadian Children's Opera Company (the CCOC's A Dickens of a Christmas, the COC's La Bohème and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Soundstreams / Luminato's The Children's Crusade), multiple concerts, and school visits, I am ready to head south to Texas for some R & R!

We'll visit with relatives and reconnect with family from Pennsylvania-Texas-California-British Columbia. I intend to unwind by listening to Kate Royal, reading a ton of books, eating my fill of Mexican food and basking in the sun along the Gulf Coast beaches. I'll also be doing some research on the next CCOC event: Winter Celebrations Across the Ages, involving singing, dancing, instrumental groups, poetry and drama. It's a pageant-like event that will include members of all five CCOC divisions, outreach-programme participants and some special guests.


Ron Greidanus, Artistic Director, Conductor.

Georgetown Bach Chorale


I lead a Baroque chamber choir and orchestra, and keep up a concerto repertoire of 30 piano concerti.

I live in downtown Georgetown on six acres filled with marvellous nature. It feels like the middle of the Rockies! In my house I host concerts through the year, including the summer: I have two harpsichords, a Baroque organ and two grand pianos. The idea of presenting house-concerts was fostered from my Amsterdam student days when I frequently attended salons. There's nothing comparable to sitting in a private home where audience-members feel like they are making the music!

In the summer I also work on farms throughout Halton Hills lifting hay bales to help keep me in shape for those athletic Rachmaninoff concerti! Born and raised on a cow farm I vowed at 22 I would never lift another bale again. Two years ago I decided that physical labour was good for the brain and the body, and so back to nature I went. Everybody asks me, "Is it not bad for your hands?" My response: "Hands are made to be used, so use them."


I love the colours of the summer. It's very inspiring to see the vibrant colours of yellow, blue and green while working on a hay wagon. I often have Scriabin Piano Sonatas sounding through my head as I throw these bales. My advice to the world, never say never!

by Jason van Eyk

June generally marks the end of the concert season, and the start of consistently warmer weather. This combination allows the city’s new music presenters to take their artistic ideas out of doors and into territories out of the ordinary, both physically and musically speaking.

For “out of the ordinary,” R. Murray Schafer is our master craftsman. His Patria series has taken audiences out into the woods at the break of daylight, has required musicians to play on stages suspended over lakes and for singers to greet the dawn with song while standing in floating canoes. This month, we have the unique treat of experiencing Schafer’s latest creation, The Children’s Crusade. This world premiere, a co-production of Soundstreams Canada and the Luminato Festival, opens June 5 in a repurposed factory at 153 Dufferin Street.

Warehouse at 151 Dufferin (photo Victor Thom)

Read more: Outdoors and Out of the Ordinary

The highlights of June are the world premieres of two ambitious Canadian operas: the first a huge production by one of the grand masters of Canadian music, the second by a recent University of Toronto graduate. As the latest expressions of Canadian contemporary opera, both demand to be seen.

Tim Albery, director: “Murray’s written a dream story - the journey of a child that he calls the holy child, who meets a strange dark man, in the night in the middle of a storm, who gives him a letter for the king of France asking permission to travel. ... Like many dreams it takes strange byways and highways. There are temptations, characters who appear out of nowhere. And the audience follows the child through the multiple rooms of this old 1930s warehouse never knowing quite what’s coming next in the same way as the crusading children never knows what’s coming next. They are all poor, all desperate, on a ridiculous journey to conquer Jerusalem with love, not weapons. ... From a production point of view, the logistics are just as scary: How on earth do we get from place to place?”

Read more: The Children’s Crusade Leads the Summer Parade

Toronto Concert June 30 2009
Gala Concert brings master organist Gillian Weir full circle

Royal Canadian College of Organists Celebrates 100th anniversary with major international organ festival

On Friday May 1 this year, I listened to Dame Gillian Weir, master organist, give a breathtaking recital, jet-lag be damned, to open the fourth annual ORGANIX festival, on Casavant Organ Opus 3095, newly installed in Holy Trinity Church, in the shadow of the Eaton Centre. The following morning I caught up with her for a whirlwind interview, a few blocks east, at the console of Metropolitan United Church's mighty Casavant Opus 1367, en route to the airport on her way back home to England.

Between those two organs hangs this particular tale.

gillian weir 002

Read more: Dame Gillian Weir, master organist

Legendary Canadian jazz drummer Norman Marshall Villeneuve has been in the music business for over 50 years. The consummate entertainer can be found playing all over our city. In addition to being the house drummer for Lisa Particelli’s Girls Night Out vocalist-friendly jazz jam (www.girlsnightoutjazz.com) on Wednesday nights at Chalkers Pub, the veteran now hosts a special jazz brunch on the Chalkers patio every Sunday from 12-3pm featuring a different trio each week. “I only hire them if they can play,” he likes to say, always followed by ringing laughter.

Back in the mid-1990s, Villeneuve initiated a patio jazz music policy at Whistler’s, located at 995 Broadview Avenue. It started with Sundays, then Thursday were added, and by 2000 he was playing at the corner of Broadview and Mortimer three times a week.

“I am always happy to be working, but to tell you the truth, working on that corner was difficult. You’ve got the cars and the buses with their stinkin’ motors, somebody plays a nice bass solo and – ta-da! – here comes the fire truck! But I’m very excited about this new patio gig up at Chalkers Pub. It’s a great place for jazz in this city. We should be on the patio by the first week of June.” The great news for Villeneuve, his fellow musicians and the general public is that at Chalkers Pub the music is moved inside in case of rain.

Find Norman Marshall Villeneuve at Chalkers every Sunday 12-3pm and every Wednesday 8:30-midnight with Lisa Particelli’s GNO; special GNO showcases as part of Art of Jazz on June 6 and 7 from 2:30-4pm. (photo Ori Dagan)

Three-time Juno award winning composer and multi-instrumentalist Jane Bunnett is one of the country’s most revered jazz artists. This summer she’s also one of the busiest, touring with 18 musicians (“Madness!”) that includes Cuban vocal group Desandann, the core of last year’s triumphant Embracing Voices. Bunnett is also the artistic director of Art of Jazz (www.artofjazz.org), an inspired interdisciplinary festival in its fourth year that takes over the Distillery District June 5-7. (photo Ori Dagan)

“Weather really does make all the difference," she says, reflecting on the perils of putting together a predominantly outdoor festival. "It’s not fun as a performer to play in crappy weather, and of course the audience don’t come out as much. Plus of course you have to deal with all the issues with soundboards and so on. But when the weather is good, it just puts a smile on everybody’s face. So we pray for the good weather, that’s for sure.”

On playing on outdoor stages, she shares the following wisdom: I think you have to change your material a little bit. When you’re playing to a really large audience, you’ve got to pick music that makes a strong statement – often an outdoor stage is going to entail a non-paying audience, so you’re going to get a lot of people that are not totally familiar with the jazz idiom. There will be a lot of people that might be new to the music. So you want to play music that makes bolder strokes than, say, something very intricate.”

Bunnett’s Embracing Voices tour moves across Canada, stopping for a free noon-hour performance at Nathan Philips Square as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival on June 30.

Also on Bunnett’s current tour is dynamic vocalist-pianist-composer Elizabeth Shepherd. “I find playing outdoors is the best scenario – the artist-audience dynamic is really different. The crowd tends to be more laid back, which I guess kind of goes along with the season.”

“Summer is my favourite time to play jazz,” reveals Juno-winning bassist and composer Brandi Disterheft. “Playing outdoors at the festivals has a special kind of magic, especially when you are playing ballads or really swingin’ tunes. The audience gets into it in a different way. It’s challenging because you’re already sweating even before you start to play.” Brandi Disterheft’s sextet will be touring Canada in late June and opens for Dave Brubeck on July 1 at 8pm as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival. (photo Ori Dagan)

Guitarist, pedagogue, journalist and jazz ambassador Andrew Scott points out: “What’s interesting about playing outdoors is that you can reach people that you wouldn’t find at a jazz club – and that’s truly unique to the experience of playing this music live. As for the summertime, personally I find it to be a rewarding time in terms of recording music because I’m too busy with teaching to do so during the academic year. Also I have much more time to practice. Andrew Scott’s quartet will celebrate his most recent CD, Nostalgia, at Chalkers Pub on June 13 from 6-9pm.

“For those of us who make our living teaching during the rest of the year, summer can be ‘feast or famine,’” says imaginative jazz pianist Adrean Farrugia, who teaches at York University in Toronto and Mohawk College in Hamilton. Summer for me is a good time to take a break from it all. I love to check out live music, relax, and go camping. To answer your question, if I can be perfectly honest, I hate playing outdoor gigs – bad acoustics, wind, sheet music flying everywhere. It can be a bit of a nightmare.Dreamy-voiced singer Sophia Perlman unites with Adrean Farrugia at the Commensal Vegetarian Restaurant on July 3 from 6-9pm as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival.

Enchanting vocalist Julie Michels disagrees. “Love the outdoor gigs. You take away the four walls and people listen in a completely different way. Unless of course it gets rained out. It always irks me when festivals don’t have a rainout contingency plan.” Julie Michels plays Statlers Piano Lounge every Sunday from 6-9pm and collaborates with bassist George Koller at Ten Feet Tall Sunday July 5 from 3:30-6:30pm as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival.

Latin jazz singer and songwriter Amanda Martinez cannot help but connect her music to the summer. “I spent my first few years as a singer getting my gigs in the summertime. I had a regular Thursday/Friday/Saturday evening at Sassafraz – used to stand right outside the window, watching the people do their rounds around Yorkville. People would hear the music and come in, which was really nice.”

Amanda Martinez will open for Al Di Meola as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival on July 2 at 8pm.

One of Canada’s most acclaimed and one of this city’s most in-demand jazz players, Dave Restivo enjoys being busy. “After surviving the Canadian winter, everyone seems to be more receptive. And creatively it can be a very rewarding time, with so many festivals and tours happening.”

To name but two of numerous imminent gigs, Dave Restivo will be playing a free noon-hour concert at The Boiler House on June 5 as part of Art of Jazz with Ashley Summer on bass and Alyssa Falk on drums; he’ll also be playing with Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass, a free noon-hour concert at Nathan Philips Square on Canada Day.

On playing jazz in the summertime, The WholeNote’s own Jim Galloway laments: There was a time at the CNE when there was a lot of work for musicians in the summer, quite a bit of it jazz, and that’s all long gone. So when things come along, I’m happy to play.” On the challenges of playing outdoors: “If it’s a small group in an outdoor venue, it can be difficult to get the audience to focus on you. If it’s a big band, you don’t have that problem. And while I like to play acoustically, in an outdoor venue you’ve got to have some sort of reinforcement, and that can make it or break it.”

Galloway has been the Artistic Director of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival since its inception. On this year’s hot tickets, he says, "It’s great to have the opening concert with Sonny Rollins, because he is one of the very few saxophone giants we have left. It’s always a pleasure to hear him, and he’s a really nice man. I’m also excited about welcoming back Dave Brubeck to the festival. He’s not only a jazz giant but also a household name. He’s still playing very well, still inventive. Overall, I guess I’m excited that it’s coming close, because once it starts, there’s nothing you can do to stop it – let's hope!”

Jim Galloway guests with the Canadian Jazz Quartet at Quotes June 25 at 5pm and hosts a free noon-hour concert with friends on July 4 at Nathan Phillips Square.

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