Discussing early music is similar to discussing winter in Canada, particularly here in Toronto. We know where each is supposed to begin and end: early music covers everything from the Medieval era to the end of the Baroque, widely considered to be 1750 (the year of J.S. Bach’s death); winter begins with the winter solstice near the end of December and lasts until the spring equinox in March. This year, though, Toronto was treated to an intense April ice storm, causing almost 1,500 car accidents over a single weekend, wreaking havoc on property, and instilling regret in those who switched over their vehicle’s winter tires too soon. The Farmer’s Almanac may have told us one thing, but as we well know, real life scenarios rarely match our neat-and-tidy theoretical assumptions.

When attempting to categorize early music, we encounter many of the same practical and theoretical conflicts we face when discussing the weather. As time moves forward, formerly avant-garde composers such as Cage, Messiaen and Berio become part of music’s history, relics from the past century, while the greats of long ago, including Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, move even further into the distant past. When this happens, we realize that this inevitable progression of time pushes composers and their works further and further back in history, thereby blurring our outdated and neatly conceived 19th- and 20th-century categorizations of classical music’s epochs.

The continually expanding exploration and development of performance practice in music mirrors this passing of time. The Historically Informed Performance (HIP) movement, for example, was started 60-or-so years ago, when Leonhardt, Rilling and Harnoncourt began recording the complete Bach cantatas, and has since grown to encompass Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and even Mahler. As what we consider contemporary continues to move ahead and composers continue to utilize technology and digital media as compositional techniques to be included along with live performers, we look back at the music of the past through a constantly-changing lens.

Is this to say that we should consistently take the pruning shears to Western music, judiciously weeding out repertoire that no longer serves a purpose or that seems too old or outdated? Probably not – we wouldn’t want to cause a riot, after all, by acknowledging the inherent clunkiness of some of Beethoven’s compositions or the influence of Leopold Mozart on young Mozart’s symphonies and concerti, or echo Pierre Boulez’s critiques of Schoenberg’s structural schizophrenia. Instead, we should look at music as a whole, do away with our naïve categorizations and acknowledge the ancient nature of this music and its place in history.

By taking a large-scale look at individual repertoire in its historical context – as a progression of musical lineage and development that bridges the enormous gulf between the beginning of medieval staff notation and monophony to the monstrous complexity of Ferneyhough and Finnissy, ultimately ending up with the products of today’s composers – we see that everything is connected. If we acknowledge the innate interconnectedness between Schütz and Scelsi, Fasch and Ferneyhough, we can throw away the idea of narrow-minded specialization in music and increase our own awareness of the greatness of all musics, and then pass on this awareness to our audiences. As Robert Heinlein writes: “specialization is for insects.”

Toronto Bach Festival

The month of May provides many interesting opportunities to see presenters straddle the lines more frequently, offering concerts of music taken from different eras and showing the progression of musical history over time, whether in shorter segments or over large, epoch-spanning periods. The third annual Toronto Bach Festival, which takes place from May 11 to 13, explores Bach’s influences, the musical figures from the Renaissance and early Baroque that combined and incubated to result in one of classical music’s primary figures. Featuring three concerts and a lecture by professor Michael Marissen, this year’s Bach Festival, curated by artistic director (and Tafelmusik oboist) John Abberger, focuses on the music of Bach and Heinrich Schütz, regarded as the most important German composer before Bach and an influence on later composers such as Brahms and Webern. The opening concert includes Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos No.2 and 4, Concerto for Oboe d’amore and Orchestral Suite No.4, with Abberger (as oboist and director), Baroque violinist Julia Wedman, and natural horn player Scott Wevers among the orchestra’s 14 players.

Toronto Bach Festival artistic director John AbbergerBritish composer Brian Eno recently spoke of our contemporary cult of genius, stating that “although great new ideas are usually articulated by individuals, they’re nearly always generated by communities.” Through performances of Bach’s orchestral music, including two Brandenburg Concerti, Schütz’s stunning Johannes Passion and an organ recital by Rachel Mahon featuring works by Dieterich Buxtehude, this year’s Toronto Bach Festival will paint a large-scale picture of Bach in relation to his peers and predecessors, an engaging portrait that removes Bach from his isolated, elevated pedestal of genius and contextualizes his works within his musical community.

21C Music Festival

Continuing the theme of multi-era concerts, The Royal Conservatory’s 21C Music Festival presents pianist Simone Dinnerstein with chamber orchestra A Far Cry, in what looks to be a magnificent juxtaposition of the complex counterpoint of Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in G Minor with the deceptively simple minimalism of Philip Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3. While Bach uses counterpoint to create an overall effect greater than the sum of the parts, Glass’ counterpoint sounds less complex than it actually is, with characteristically repetitive themes and gradually evolving, large-scale processes combining to create works that bring to mind Michael Caine’s quote on the duck: calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.

Lest one say that Glass’ music is “light” or “superficial,” it is helpful to remember that Glass received the same intensive training as many of his compositional contemporaries, even studying for two years with Nadia Boulanger, the legendary French pedagogue. Glass’ music, particularly his large-scale works, contains moments of distinct compositional ingenuity, thematic developments sharing similarities with the age-old fugue, and ideas that are combined, contrasted and displayed in virtuosic versatility. This ingenuity correlates perfectly with Bach’s own ideas on counterpoint, and this unexpected combination of old and new works not only provides a vehicle for virtuosity that spans the centuries, but also contains a consistent set of underlying principles, albeit within distinctly different soundscapes.

Tafelmusik plays Beethoven

Tafelmusik’s Beethoven collaborations with conductor Bruno Weil, culminating in a recently-released set of the complete symphonies, expand the repertoire conventionally assumed as suitable for a Baroque orchestra. This May, the Tafel/Weil duo reunites to perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral” and his magnificent Violin Concerto, with Jeanne Lamon as concertmaster and Elisa Citterio as soloist. Many are familiar with Romantic interpretations of this symphony – think Furtwängler and later – rife with pictorial depictions of rolling hills, birdsong and the inevitable storm. By performing this work on period instruments – thereby reducing the kaleidoscopic range of expression typically available on modern instruments – the characteristically caricatured interpretation we have come to expect may be tempered somewhat. It will be worthwhile to hear this work in the context of its time, rather than as a scene-painting predecessor to Wagnerian drama!

There are many other fantastic concerts happening in the early music world this month, too many to

mention here, and I hope that you’ll do some exploring, both in this magazine and in the Toronto arts scene as a whole. With the last blast of winter hopefully behind us, take some time this spring to get outside and take in some music. Not only will you be able to walk around in something other than a parka and boots, you will also have the opportunity to hear marvellous music from all eras performed by some of the city’s most talented artists.

I hope to see you at some of this month’s musical events. As always, feel free to get in touch at earlymusic@thewholenote.com

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

The spirit of an extended modal family is reflected in Labyrinth Musical Workshop Ontario’s inaugural season’s remarkably ambitious lineup featuring 11 masters of Greek, Turkish, Bulgarian, Iranian, Azerbaijani, Arabic, Kurdish and Afghani music traditions. Historically these musical cultures interacted for centuries in their ever-shifting places of origin. In 2018 Toronto it’s possible to see such fruitful musical interactions reflecting the demographic reality on the ground.

Each faculty member will conduct week-long workshops and then perform in four concerts in Toronto throughout May and into June.

Labyrinth Ontario is a made-in-Toronto modal music school founded by an Iranian-Canadian musician, but with roots in an unlikely place (a Mediterranean island), and perhaps an even more unlikely founding father (the English-born Ross Daly who boasts Irish ancestry). Let’s go explore.

Labyrinth Musical Workshop, Crete

Labyrinth Musical Workshop began in 1982 as the brainchild of the Cretan world musician and educator of Irish descent Ross Daly. His first series of Labyrinth workshops took place in 1997 in Athens, Greece.

Daly – a specialist on the music of the Cretan lyra (fiddle) and of the Ottoman court, a participant in intercultural composition before world music became a commercial term, and a composer – originally wanted to establish a space for a creative group of friends. His overall aim was to explore “various modal musical traditions from around the world, as well as of the potential for creative interaction between them.”

In 2002, a permanent base for Labyrinth was established in a restored manor house in the village of Houdetsi on the island of Crete, Greece. There Daly has fine-tuned his workshop model of concentrated weekly music lessons focusing “primarily on the modal musical traditions of the Balkans, Middle East, Central Asia, India, North Africa,” as well as presenting concerts by “outstanding teachers/musicians, the prime representatives of these traditions.”

While leading international musicians and students travel twice a year to Labyrinth’s Cretan village environment, in the last two years Daly’s notion of teaching global modal musical traditions has really caught fire. It has spread across Europe and now jumped the Atlantic to Canada. In 2016 Labyrinth Catalunya was established in Barcelona, and in 2017, Labyrinth Italia in Santa Sofia. This year Labyrinth Cyprus launched, with three modal music seminars which were held April 10 to 15, 2018 in Nicosia, capped with a concert.

Ross DalyLabyrinth Musical Workshop Ontario: Backstory

That brings us to the most recent iteration of the concept, Labyrinth Ontario Musical Workshop in Toronto. And it may be the most ambitious of the Daly-inspired spinoffs, animated by a series of 11 workshops running over four weeks, plus four concerts.

Labyrinth Ontario was on my radar back in September 2017 when I offered a preview in my World Music column, observing that it “focuses on the education of a new generation of musicians – and also audiences.”

Two Toronto-based musicians are at the heart of the project. Virtuoso tar (Persian lute) player and teacher Araz Salek serves as its artistic director and keyboardist and sound designer Jonathan Adjemian as its admin director. Having begun his music career in Iran, Salek has been active as a tar player and leader in Toronto for over a decade in both Persian classical music ensembles as well as in eclectic music circles, such the Persian-flamenco fusion group Persamenco. He performs often in other settings too, in Toronto and on tour internationally, experimenting with new transcultural groupings and various crossroads of classical, experimental and improvised music, seeking out creative musicians in all those areas.

Starting an unorthodox music education and concert series is certainly a risky endeavour, but Salek’s street cred in this arena positions him strongly to kickstart Labyrinth’s presence in Toronto. For example, he has served as an instructor at Daly’s Labyrinth Musical Workshop in Crete and since 2012 has been a core member, with Daly, Pedram Khavarzamini and Kelly Thoma, of the Toronto-Crete quartet This Tale of Ours – a group continuing to be a source of inspiration for Salek. They are all workshop leaders in Labyrinth Ontario’s inaugural season.

I followed the story to the 918 Bathurst Centre. There, on the evening of September 15, 2017, Labyrinth Ontario held its launch and fundraising concert. The event had a warm, mixed-community feel, underscored by the ethnically diverse music and foods on offer covering Persian, Southeastern European, Turkish, Kurdish and Middle Eastern ground. That diversity was reflected in Labyrinth Ontario’s board of directors introduced at the event: Poorya Ferdowsi, Pouria Lotfi, Alia Hamdan O’Brien, Irene Markoff and Rob Simms.

Silk Road and the Spirit of the Extended Modal Family

Simms, associate professor of music at York University, recently posted an essay on Labyrinth Ontario’s website placing its project into a much larger frame. He begins by pointing out that while as recently as 40 years ago “Toronto was thoroughly white-bread, WASP dominated,” today it is “regularly cited as one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. While this is a wonderful fact and opportunity for those of us who live in the city, it is even more remarkable how recent this came to be.” He continues that while world history “features many previous hotbeds of cultural contact … none of these come close to the complete global integration we now inhabit and that forms the fabric of daily lives” in major global cosmopolitan centres.

Simms then invokes the example of the network of trade routes known as the Silk Road which provide us with “an incredible continuity of musical expression stretching from North Africa, Southern and Eastern Europe, clear across to Central Asia and Western China. This massively extended musical family shares similar social contexts for performance, aesthetics, philosophy, performance practice, instrumentation and musical structures – rhythmic cycles, forms and melodic modes (scales with particular behaviours or personalities).”

Among the various systems of melodic modes which grew up along the Silk Road, one of the most common is the maqam, literally “station, place” in Arabic. “While the underlying musical foundation was shared … a rich array of varying musical traditions flowered, cross-pollinated and withered through the centuries into our own time. Most of the musicians stayed in their particular sonic and social worlds … Until the late 20th century” – which is when Ross Daly enters Simms’ essay. Simms nominates Daly as one of the “early pioneers of exploring the larger maqam family.” Attracted to the lyra tradition of Crete where he has lived for over 40 years, Daly has “established a unique and highly successful series of workshops that brings together master teachers of myriad maqam traditions and keen students from around the world.”

One of the keys to the success of Daly’s Labyrinth Workshops is that they are at the same time informal and highly social yet also intensive and serious in musical focus. In this mix Simms sees the “spirit of the extended modal family tradition throughout history,” echoing Daly’s own ethos: “Labyrinth is more than a musical workshop, it is a way of life through music.”

Labyrinth Ontario’s First Season: Workshops, Concerts and Discussions

Labyrinth Ontario’s first season workshop faculty includes an international roster of leading instrumentalists, singers and composers in their respective genres. They are: Ross Daly (Greece) on modal music composition, Kelly Thoma (Greece) on Cretan lyra, Ali Akbar Moradi (Iran) on Kurdish tanbur, plus American-based Imamyar Hasanov on Azeri kamancha, Tzvetanka Varimezova on Bulgarian singing, and Quraishi on Afghan rabab.

Toronto-area expert practitioners George Sawa on Arabic music theory and qanun, Araz Salek on tar, Bassam Bishara on oud, Pedram Khavarzamini on tombak and Ahmet Ihvani on Turkish bağlama/saz complete this year’s teaching faculty. Interested readers can find bios of each instructor and the dates of instruction on Labyrinth Ontario’s informative website: www.labyrinthontario.com/labyrinth-2018-workshops.

In addition to the workshops, faculty will give a concert each week, and TBA-moderated panel discussions will be open to the public.

The first concert on May 12 features This Tale of Ours, a quartet with members hailing from Canada and Greece, though certainly not musically limited by those nationalities. (The group’s membership – Daly, Thoma, Khavarzamini and Salek – bridges the parent Labyrinth with its newly minted Toronto offspring.) Look to The WholeNote listings and the Labyrinth Ontario website for details on this and the other three concerts.

Each month in this column I chart a few of (what appear to me at the time as) the high points of master musicians from around the world appearing in Toronto and region in concerts, festivals and one-off workshops. From my vantage point it seems Labyrinth Ontario takes this situation to yet another level, focusing our attention intensively – and at an uncompromisingly high artistic level – on a few fascinating and related modal musical cultures.

Borrowing a phrase from Simms’ essay I’m prompted to ask whether Toronto is indeed the “perfect location to carry this amazing, vibrant Eurasian cultural treasure [offered by Labyrinth Ontario] to wherever it is heading in the 21st century.”

It’s too early to give a definitive answer: we’re still weeks away from the final workshop and concert. But the fact that this ambitious project was founded by a person who has emerged from outside Canada’s established cultural elite circles should be a source of pride in the direction we as a community are moving. I will continue to cover Labyrinth Ontario’s progress as it seeks to explore sites of our own Toronto brand of “post-global” music. clip_image001.png

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

Quite unexpectedly and after a long hiatus, I began teaching again in September of 2016. Mike Murley, director of the U of T Jazz Program, hired me to lead a small jazz ensemble with one unusual wrinkle: not only would I be coaching the group, I would also play bass in it. This two-headed function took some getting used to but has the advantage of being very hands-on: the students seem to benefit from playing with an experienced bassist and playing with them gives me a very palpable sense of their strengths and weaknesses, of what they need to learn.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being back at it, having the chance to pass on my knowledge and also to be involved with young people again – their energy, their enthusiasm and their curiosity – which has made me feel more connected and relevant. It’s also been inspiring to meet and teach some of the impressive young players we’ll be hearing from in the near future, even if this means they’ll be stealing gigs from me and my colleagues.

This column will profile two bassists – neither of whom I’ve taught – who are graduating from the U of T Jazz Program: Bernard Dionne, who has earned his master’s degree in jazz performance (double bass), and Irene Harrett, who has earned her bachelor’s degree in the same category.

Bernard DionneAt 60, Bernard Dionne is a late bloomer and hardly a typical graduate. I first met Bernard way back in the summer of 1991 when I taught him for a week at the Interprovincial Jazz Camp at Manitouwabing run by Phil Nimmons, and we have stayed in touch ever since. Even then, at 33, he stood out as a mature student amongst all the teenagers, which may have prepared him for his similar experience at U of T. Bernard hails from Quebec City and has been interested in jazz and playing the bass since his teens. He earned a bachelor of music education degree and spent 29 years teaching in the Ontario French School system, first in Ottawa and then in Toronto. All the while he continued to play and study jazz bass, doing whatever gigs his schedule would allow and becoming a regular at weekend jam sessions.

He was able to retire a few years ago and was determined to use his newfound spare time to get more involved with the bass fulltime and to study composition and arranging. The master’s program at U of T seemed ideal as it requires achievement in both playing and writing, so Bernard decided to apply. Realizing he needed to up his game for the audition, he took an intensive round of lessons from the superb Toronto bassist Neil Swainson while practising constantly. And it paid off; he was accepted. His enrollment coincided with my return to teaching and, knowing nothing of his master’s plan, I was surprised to see him in the hallway one evening and was delighted for him.

It was a very intensive two years for Bernard – studying bass with Jim Vivian, composition and arranging with Terry Promane, and improvisation with Mike Murley, while playing in ensembles and completing numerous written assignments on jazz history and the like. He worked very hard and it showed in his master’s recital in early April, which I attended. He led a group which ranged from a piano-bass duo to a trio to a sextet with three horns, playing a varied program which included some of his original compositions and his arrangements of standards and jazz tunes by others. I hadn’t heard him play in some time and was immediately struck by how much he’d improved in all areas: a big, meaty sound, a confident rhythmic attack with a strong beat and incisive bass lines, gutsy and melodic solos with good range and an engaging way with the sizeable crowd on hand. His writing was also impressive: his originals included a very Quebecois-tinged folk song A La Legrand which showed his Scott LaFaro side; La Vida, a Chick Corea-inspired samba which demonstrated his admiration for Eddie Gomez; and For D.H., a modal-Latin composition in 7/4 written for Dave Holland. His more bluesy side came out in his arrangement of Christian McBride’s funky In a Hurry for sextet. It was an impressive and well-received recital; a satisfying culmination for an individual who has worked so hard to come full circle.

With much the same group, Bernard staged a concert billed as “100 Years of Jazz Bass” on April 21 at Alliance Française de Toronto. Along with some of the works discussed above, the evolution of jazz bass was fleshed out with compositions by (or associated with) Wellman Braud, Jimmie Blanton, Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Charles Mingus and Paul Chambers. I very much wanted to attend and perhaps review this concert but couldn’t as my own band, Lesterdays, was playing a concert the same night. The concert occurred after the deadline for this article but judging by Bernard’s recital it was a great success, aided by the intimate and good-sounding venue which has become one of Toronto’s best.

Very much a Francophone, Bernard plans on moving to Quebec City and becoming involved fulltime in the jazz scene there, where he is sure to have an impact.

Irene HarrettIrene Harrett is 22 and has just finished the four-year Jazz Program at U of T, earning her degree with flying colours. Mature beyond her years, she has become something of a linchpin in the program both because of her musical skills and her active involvement in organizing jams and gigs and also by playing in the U of T big band, one of the school’s focal ensembles, for the last two years.

She was born in Etobicoke, not far from the Humber College campus, which held some early musical advantages. Bassist Corky Monahan, formerly of the TSO and for many years married to the late Tom Monahan – principal bassist of the orchestra and the dean of Canadian bass teachers – lived in the neighbourhood and she was able to study bass with her at the local high school. This gave her a thorough grounding in bass technique – bowing, correct fingering and hand positioning, tone production and so on; fundamentally, she’s a very sound bassist. When her interests turned to playing jazz she was able to study with Neil Swainson, who had begun teaching at Humber. At U of T she has studied with Dave Young, Jim Vivian and Andrew Downing. As she put it to me: “There’s no such thing as a bad bass teacher in Toronto.” (Obviously, she hasn’t studied with me.)

Recognizing how talented and hardworking she is, Monahan and Swainson arranged a deal for her to acquire a fine old German bass from Heinl’s which bears the nickname “Frank,” after the younger son of founder George Heinl. A large instrument, it is what is known in bass parlance as “a cannon.”

I first heard Harrett play at The Rex in a trio led by pianist/singer Hanna Barstow with her brother Keith playing drums, and later on the same stage in a seven-piece U of T ensemble. I was immediately impressed by the authority of her playing: a big deep sound with a percussive edge, a powerful attack, good pitch, notes and a general bull-dog attitude of playing the bass like a bass – someone who can be heard and felt from the back of the room. The U of T ensemble was particularly powerful and after hearing her with it I complimented her, saying that her attack and the length of her notes – long but clearly defined and slightly bright – reminded me of the old bebop and Latin-jazz master Al McKibbon. This was met with something of a blank stare but I assured her it was a compliment. From that moment I resolved to write about her at some point.

That she’s been in very high demand to play for other students’ year-end recitals both at U of T and at Humber is an indication of how highly she is regarded among her peers, as these performances come with considerable pressure and carry a lot of weight. She told me that last year she did 11 of them, including four back-to-back in one day, leaving her ill with exhaustion. This year she’s holding it down to five or six, though three of them came on April 14. I adjudicated the first of these, a recital by a wonderful trio led by third-year-piano student Josh Sinclair, which only increased my admiration of her playing. Along with the strengths described earlier she showed an open-minded, adventurous inventiveness and fine all-around musicianship in sight-reading and negotiating complex ensemble parts.

I asked her about her plans after graduating and she replied that she wants to take a year off school to let the dust settle, to practise and digest the many musical concepts that have been coming at her fast and furious. Also to investigate creating more gig opportunities and networking with students at other schools and with fellow bassists, a fraternity she has found to be welcoming and supportive. After that, she plans on returning to earn her master’s degree at U of T, an essential as she wants to teach at the university level in the future. She also feels that the process of pursuing a master’s degree puts you in touch with so many others in the jazz world – students and teachers alike – all of whom can be learned from. She’s very community-minded and is always seeking to learn and improve, and to help others do so.

As for gigs, Harrett has been asked to lead a series of jam sessions this spring and summer at the 120 Diner. The evenings will start with her trio, followed by opening the stage for sitting in; the first of these was April 3 and the next one will be May 16. She is quite excited by this opportunity and has also been doing some playing at the Tranzac and The Rex, as well as some concerts and private gigging. I will be adjudicating Irene’s recital on April 27 – well after the deadline of this article – and I look forward to hearing not only her playing, but some of her compositions too. She feels positive about the future and I feel optimistic about a jazz future with players like Irene Harrett in it; we’ll be hearing a lot from her.

Toronto bassist Steve Wallace writes a blog called “Steve Wallace jazz, baseball, life and other ephemera” which can be accessed at wallacebass.com. Aside from the topics mentioned, he sometimes writes about movies and food.

Last month’s column began with some comments about the fact that spring had officially arrived, but that Mother Nature was not agreeing. Now, one month later, what do I see when I look out the window? I see my neighbour, large shovel in hand, trying to remove large quantities of some white material from his driveway. At the side of the house I see a delightful, but unusual sight. Yes, there was a beautiful bright purple crocus surrounded by glistening white crystals. The snow is still here. So it is with this month’s column that we stay with the same theme. Last month we were talking about bands in transition evolving one way or another. Here we are with more stories.

Uxbridge Community Concert Band

The Uxbridge Community Concert Band (UCCB) is another band in transition. This time, rather than some gradual change, we have a one-year interruption. Founded by Steffan Brunette in 1992, the UCCB has been silent for a year. Brunette, a high school music teacher, took a year off from his teaching to study composition and do some travelling.

Steffan BrunetteSince its founding in 1992, the Uxbridge Community Concert Band has been a volunteer organization from its director down to its youngest player. Its original intention was to allow school musicians to bridge the gap between their spring concert ending the school year and their first rehearsal at school in September. Over the years the UCCB became a band where adult musicians could rediscover their love of playing music as a member of an ensemble.

For most of the first 25 years of its existence, the UCCB was run solely through Brunette’s leadership. To encourage new growth and new directions, the band is rebuilding itself with the assistance of a new executive committee. Since the band only rehearses during the months of May through August, committee members are currently planning the recruitment drive, promotional strategies and laying out the performance plans for the coming summer season, all the while learning the processes which were normally overseen by only one. Brunette is no longer jack of all trades. He is now artistic director.

It is hoped that by bringing in additional people, the range of talents and skills for running a musical organization will also grow and allow the UCCB to grow as well. Committee members are taking over publicity, membership, logistics, venue booking, transportation, music folder preparation, uniform distribution and concert planning.

The UCCB is currently recruiting members for its 26th summer season, set to begin on Wednesday May 23 at 7pm in the music room of Uxbridge Secondary School. Rehearsals will continue every Wednesday until the end of August. The band performs two major concerts in Port Perry and Uxbridge at the end of the summer. The ensemble is non-auditioned and welcomes players who have had at least two years’ of playing experience, so students as young as Grade 9 and adults as old as 90-plus are encouraged to come out and join. For those interested, the band now has a Facebook page; it is simply Uxbridge Community Concert Band. For more information, contact Terry Christiansen at uccb@powergate.ca.

Resa’s Pieces Band

Resa’s Pieces first came together in the year 2000. The creation of what has evolved into a very special group was a dream born out of Resa Kochberg’s life experiences, and it was many years in the making. When she was growing, up there was nothing else that she ever wanted to do but study music. As a little girl she would watch her eldest brother wave his arms around as if he were a virtuoso conductor. She says that she could feel the music radiate and come alive visually through his passionate motions. Her very first album of recorded music was Peter and the Wolf. She says that she loved listening to the different instruments mimicking the sound of animals, Peter, the grandfather and the hunters. 

Resa Kochberg. Photo by Atira Frankel.At an early age her mother gave her some choices for after-school activities. She chose piano lessons. As it turned out, that decision determined her career. After studying piano and playing flute during her high school years, She knew that the only thing she wanted was to study music at university. After graduation with a bachelor of music degree from U of T, she taught music for the Scarborough Board of Education until she put her school teaching on hold to raise three children.

As a stay-at-home mom, after so many years of playing music and being surrounded by music every day, the only music she listened to was on the radio. For 23 years her flute never came out of its case. One day she realized that she missed the camaraderie and the excitement of playing music with other people, and the joy of musical expression. She knew that somehow she had to get music back into her life. So in 1998 she returned to teaching, and after that 23-year hiatus, she finally took her flute out of its case and joined the North York Concert Band.

Although quite rusty, after putting her daily routine behind, she would concentrate on the music. As she says, she was once again surrounded by like-minded people, all of whom wanted to create music together. She soon loved the challenge, the frustration and the sense of accomplishment, as she continued to improve with practice and support from new music friends.

With the resurfacing of her “musical urge” she thought of the many others in similar situations. In her words: “I realized that there were so many others who had also temporarily abandoned their instruments due to life circumstances, and I saw this as an opportunity to create a fun-filled, social atmosphere where people could return [as she had] to playing music. I hoped that by creating such an environment it would also give others the same joy and pleasure while also providing the opportunity for them to learn and then share their accomplishments with each other. My ultimate goal, which has been realized, was to have members of the band learn repertoire, perform to audiences and share their expression of music within the community.”

That’s how Resa’s Pieces was born. Then, as Resa put it, “one magical day” in late 1998, it actually began. Resa says that one day, she was talking to the music director at the Koffler Centre of the Arts about her idea for a band. The response that she received couldn’t have been more encouraging. “Resa,” she said, “I don’t like your idea – I love it!” Then and there Resa knew that it would happen. “When would you like to start?” the director asked. “How about next September?” That would give her enough time to spread the word and recruit. How many people would join? She was hoping for 18 as it’s a symbolic number for life, and music is so much part of everyone’s life. A few weeks later, while at a party, she took advantage of this great opportunity to announce her idea, and it became the buzz of the evening. Surprisingly, those interested didn’t want to wait until September. 

Shortly afterwards, with the 18 names gathered, and long before September, they held their first rehearsal at the Jewish Community Centre on Bathurst Street. They began with a basic review of the names and values of the notes. Then all of the fundamentals were reviewed, such simple facts as how to hold the instrument and make the first sound. Everyone left excited and eager to practise. In June 2000 they held their first concert. The band could now play eight notes and seven songs. Seventy-five people sat in the audience, the concert was 25 minutes long and the band got a rousing standing ovation at the end.

In Resa’s words: “Members are guided by the mantra, do your best and have FUN.” As for the band’s name, it was chosen by the band members.

Resa’s Pieces is now an active diverse group of amateur musicians who range in age from their 20s to their 90s, and who come from all over the GTA with the common goal: “Reawaken that Talent – Rediscover making Music.”

Then what? The birth of Resa’s Pieces Strings began. After one band concert a violinist approached her and asked to join the band. She felt terrible having to say “no” because stringed instruments require a different approach and, other than a double bass, there is simply no place for them in a concert band. As more and more string players approached, and walked away disappointed, she decided to start a string group. Thus, Resa’s Pieces Strings began in September 2010, not coincidentally also with 18 members.

A few years later Resa began wondering about all of those people who’ve never played an instrument but who love to sing? Is it fair that they should be left out of the FUN? No! She knew in her heart that a vocal group had to come next! So, after a successful trial run in the spring of 2013, Resa’s Pieces Singers began. Under the direction of Robert Graham, the ensemble is now in its third season of weekly rehearsals with growing membership and more smiling faces.

As is not uncommon for community bands, as they prepared for their “Spring Concert Band Gala,” they found themselves short of people in a couple of spots. Suddenly, I found myself joining Dan Kapp, of New Horizons renown, to play euphonium. If that wasn’t coincidental enough, as we looked over our shoulders, we saw our two spouses. (Or should that be spice?) There they were, two accomplished flute players, playing percussion.

So, on Sunday, May 27 at 7:30pm they will present their Concert Band Gala, featuring a wide range of music from rock ‘n’ roll, classical, jazz standards and marches. That’s at the Flato Markham Theatre, 171 Town Centre Blvd. in Markham. As for the String Ensemble Gala, it will take place on Sunday, June 3; the Singers Gala will be on Monday, June 11.

Strings Attached

After not hearing from him for some time, we just received information from Ricardo Giorgi, conductor of the Strings Attached Orchestra, about their final concert of the year, scheduled for Sunday, June 3 at 7pm, again at Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre. With an impressive and varied program planned, they intend to show how they have grown bigger and better over the past year. With that, of course, they are anticipating that they will attract a larger audience. They may have sprung up as a small fish in a very big pond, but it’s time to support them and attend this concert. It’s not possible to list their complete program here, but it varies from Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba and Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5 to The Best of ABBA and Pirates of the Caribbean. For more information go to www.stringsattachedorchestra.com

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

For once, I had this Opener figured out days in advance, thanks to a snippet of news that came my way relating to Estonian Music Week, which kicks off May 24 and will offer concerts and workshops in a bunch of different musical genres and eight different Toronto venues, from Lee’s Palace to Koerner Hall, all timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Estonia’s independence. But that’s May’s news. The detail that caught my eye right now, and much more in keeping with this month’s topic, was an initiative to the tune of around two million Canadian dollars, titled “An Instrument for Every Child,” designed to put a musical instrument in the hands of every Estonian child who wants to play one, with no limitations in terms of musical styles.

But just a couple of hours before going to press with this issue of TheWholeNote, word came through to us from the Glenn Gould Foundation, of the death of Venezuelan visionary educator, Dr. José Antonio Abreu, founder of El Sistema, a transformative program of intensive free music education and orchestral training, starting in early childhood. “Abreu was a visionary figure, who recognized the power of music to transform the lives of children suffering the ravages of poverty and the host of social ills that goes with it” reads the statement posted on the Glenn Gould Foundation website. “From that realization, and by sheer force of will, he built the movement that came to be known as El Sistema, beginning with a mere 11 young people in 1975, but ultimately [spreading] to more than 25 countries worldwide, adapting and accommodating itself to the social and economic context of each.”

I’d already been planning, cleverly, to link this new Estonian initiative to the topic of Abreu, El Sistema and the GGF because April is, as it happens, announcement time for the Glenn Gould Prize for the arts. This year’s distinguished jury is heading to town shortly (unless of course they already live here) and, on April 13 at 12:30pm in the galleria at Koerner Hall the jury will announce this year’s prize winner, following which, as surely as pigeons have wings, feathers will ruffle and/or fly in all directions. After dust and dander settle, the public, and the jury, can take in an astounding 8pm Koerner concert by a likely future winner of this and/or many other prizes, 13-year old British composer, pianist, violinist and improviser Alma Deutscher.

A bit of history: The Glenn Gould Prize started out in 1987 as a strictly musical one, awarded every three years; R. Murray Schafer was its first recipient; then Yehudi Menuhin in 1990, Oscar Peterson in 1993, and Toru Takemitsu, Yo-Yo Ma, Pierre Boulez and André Previn, in 1996, 1999, 2002 and 2005 respectively. Abreu was the 2008 honoree, followed by Leonard Cohen in 2011, Robert Lepage in 2013 and Philip Glass in 2015.

Somewhere along the way, I think either just before or just after the award to Leonard Cohen, it was announced that henceforth the prize would be known as the Glenn Gould Prize for the arts, rather than strictly for music. And around the same time as the change to “Prize for the Arts” was announced, it was also announced that the Prize would be awarded every two years instead of every three.

One more little piece of history: since 1993, the year Oscar Peterson won, there has been a second award, called the City of Toronto Protégé Prize, awarded to some person, or in one case organization, of the Laureate’s own choosing, generally announced at the prize-giving ceremony sometime during the year after the announcement of the main award. Abreu selected Gustavo Dudamel as protégé in his year. Yo-Yo Ma selected a true protégé, future fellow Silk Road Project core company member, pipa player Wu Man for his. She remains to this point the only woman among the 20 honorees to date.

Growing up: Of all the laureates so far, Abreu was for me the one that best reflected what prizes like this should really be for, and the direction that I hope this year’s jury will take in their deliberations. I understand why for the first couple of decades of its existence a prize like this is as much intent on building its own pedigree via the credentials of its chosen laureates as the other way round. The Prize had to prove its importance by choosing widely know laureates, who then, usually, return the favour by the graciousness and alacrity with which they acknowledge the importance of the award.

But how much better when the Prize is bestowed on someone of towering importance to art and life whom we don’t already know. Abreu was one such person for me; I will always be grateful that the Prize brought his life-changing work to my attention. Going further, it is highly unlikely that El Sistema would have found fertile soil in Toronto and elsewhere in Canada were it not for the prominence given the movement here in 2008.

The April 13 announcement will take the Prize to a whole new level if it brings into the limelight a person (of any gender) who stands to benefit more from having their work brought into focus by the Prize, than the Prize merely basking in the laureate’s reflected glory. Now that would truly be a feather in the Glenn Gould Foundation cap.

As for the matter of the gender of the laureates, it’s an issue that gets thornier with every passing cycle. Each time a man is chosen, the cumulative imbalance becomes more improbable. Just as problematic, though, in my view, will be the backlash as and when this changes – the huffing and puffing of small-hearted people who will immediately assume that this award, unlike the other 19, was gender-based. So, to the jury, good luck. To those who are waiting to question the jury’s integrity, look into your own hearts. To José Antonio Abreu, you will not be forgotten.

publisher@thewholenote.com

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