Directors-Stratford.jpgThe summer music festival can be a bit of a mystifying concept. At just the time of year when you would expect most concert performers to pack up their instrument cases and head to the cottage, there is, across the country, a sudden eruption of summer music-making branded as “festival season” – a phenomenon often put together by people who work throughout the year and around the clock to make it happen. And yet, despite all the similarities (weekend getaways, specially-themed concert series, multi-arts celebrations and educational initiatives), you’d be hard-pressed to find two festivals in any given summer that appear to be cut from the same cloth.

So what exactly is a summer music festival, and, apart from the fact that it’s in the summer, what are some of the factors that give each its unique fingerprint – keeping audiences and organizers alike coming back for more? Make no mistake – increasingly, music festivals are more than just blips on the regular musical calendar. These summer events have a particular capacity for going above and beyond the constraints of the average concert series, offering up an experience that is not only carefully curated but musically unique. And who better than some of the people who do that curating to talk about the unique characteristics of the festivals they shepherd into being?

Read more: Five Festival Fingerprints

Beckwith-Beckwith.jpgIn an article that will be featured in the forthcoming summer issue of the Canadian Music Centre’s digital magazine, Notations, composer John Beckwith writes about how, late in 2013, John French, director of the Brookside Music Association in Midland, invited him to compose a piece to be performed in July 2015, marking “the 400th anniversary of the voyage of Samuel de Champlain and a few fellow adventurers from France to the ‘Mer douce’ or ‘Fresh-water sea’—today’s Lake Huron. I said yes,” says Beckwith. The Ontario Arts Council approved the commission, and, effectively, that’s where the story of Wendake/Huronia, as the work is titled, begins.

Brookside’s John French first described the undertaking to me back in April: “The new work will be performed by a chamber choir, the Brookside Festival Chorus, comprised of members of regional choirs, a pair of First Nations drummers, Shirley Hay and Marilyn George, Laura Pudwell, alto, and Theodore Baerg, narrator, accompanied by the Toronto Consort under the direction of David Fallis. It’s a 30-minute work in six movements, reflecting on the Wendat culture from pre-European contact to the present day and ending with a prayer for reconciliation between the two cultures. It will be presented in a tour of Georgian Bay communities including Midland, Parry Sound (as part of the Festival of the Sound), Barrie and Meaford and potentially others.”

Read more: Wendake/Huronia - Beckwith at Brookside

It’s here, it’s here, the Toronto Jazz Festival is here! On the Old Mill Inn website, where they list the jazz concerts happening at the Home Smith Bar, they refer to their lineup as a “year-round jazz festival.” I like that. But I would object that the term describes not just that venue, but the whole city. The festival never stops. There’s jazz happening every day and night of the year, and it’s not too hard to find the really top-shelf players. So in terms of local talent, the week of the TJF isn’t much different from the rest of the year: Toronto heavies just being heavy in Toronto.

What is different is that the Jazz Festival brings us some of the best international talent.

Mainly-Ari.jpgAri Hoenig: Born in Philly but based in New York, Ari Hoenig, the monstrous, melody-playing, time-bending drummer, will be coming back to Toronto for more. Last time Hoenig was here in town, he brought his own ensemble (but not his own cymbals – he used mine, which is perhaps a story for another time and place), playing his original music, which is consistently both rhythmically intricate, as you would expect from a drummer, and harmonically sophisticated, which you might not. Hoenig’s original music is something else, and it must be heard. But if there’s one recording that I think captures the group at their best, it’s a rendition of a song by another composer: their take on Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’ from the album Lines of Oppression is pure gold. The recording begins with Hoenig demonstrating what he’s at least partially known for, which is his ability to play coherent, discernible, tonal melodies on the drums, capturing the notes of a given chord with the drums’ open tunings, and achieving in-between notes and bending pitches with his hands and elbows. He plays the melody, but the solos are done with all the instruments in their traditional roles. Over a dirty jazz shuffle that swings hard and pushes everything forward, his bandmates do Moanin’ justice, to say the least. Honourable mention goes to Tigran Hamasyan’s piano solo which is dripping with attitude on that track.

Hoenig will be coming to The Rex for two nights to play with Alex Goodman’s trio – Alex is a U of T alum who did his master’s degree in music at the Manhattan School and settled in the Big Apple. Rick Rosalo, the bassist in the trio, incidentally, is also a jazz musician of Canadian origin who was drawn to NYC like a moth to the flame. Sensing a pattern here?

Mainly-Snarky.jpgSnarky Puppy used to have a modest fan base in Toronto. A base of which I was a part. Around 2011 to 2013, I attended every single concert they played in Toronto. If they played two nights, more often than not, I went to both. I wasn’t alone in being such a dedicated fan – the band regularly sold out The Rex, leaving behind a handful of people who were naive enough to think they had a chance of getting in without coming early. I remember one snowy night in 2012; I was one of those naive kids. I waited 90 minutes outside in the freezing cold, but was eventually let in and caught a set and a half. It was worth it.

I say they used to have a modest fan base, because that base has since exploded and become anything but modest. It may have been simply word of mouth, but more likely it had something to do with that Grammy they won. Since then, The Rex has become way too small for the gigantic audience they would inevitably draw – they started playing bigger venues, like Lee’s Palace and Adelaide Hall. Sometimes, they’d do a surprise late night set at The Rex, which, despite the short notice, would still end up packed. Snarky Puppy’s studio recordings and videos show their music being represented by a gigantic ensemble, practically an orchestra, including a string section, too many keyboards, and just enough grandeur. But when they play live, at least in Toronto, they bring a condensed version of the ensemble which sounds not worse, not better, but different. There’s a certain rawness and aggression present in their live shows that is softened in their studio recordings. To say the least, it’s worth checking out, if only once.

For a survey of what this group is all about, listen to three songs: Skate U, Binky and Lingus. All appear on different albums and all can be found online. Snarky Puppy will be crowding the Toronto Star stage at Nathan Phillips Square for the festival on June 26. As someone who’s seen them live at least 12 times and never got tired of it, I can confidently say you’ll have fun.

Other out-of-towners gracing Toronto stages for the TJF include: Branford Marsalis, Dan Weiss Trio, Phil Dwyer Trio, Robert Glasper, Tower of Power, Kurt Elling and a supergroup featuring Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke and Eric Harland. A lot of these groups (and others not mentioned!) are appearing on the main stages, which haven’t been listed in the Clubs section, so make sure to go to
torontojazz.com for all the details you need to plan your festival week, and pick up paper guides at any of the main stages.

Are you ready? Let’s do this thing. 

Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at jazz@thewholenote.com.

It would appear that, after a few false starts, summer may have arrived. As we view the news of band activities for the next few months, there are all manner of concerts planned by bands throughout Southern Ontario, but they are almost without exception by individual bands.

This is in stark contrast to when I first started in boys’ bands. Our summer was filled with parades and many local multiple-band tattoos in surrounding communities. Outdoor band festivals are now few and far between in this part of the world. The most recent such event that I can recall in this part of the country was the Great Canadian Town Band Festival which was held for a number of years, ten years ago or more, in the small town of Orono. Throughout its existence, I was active in this festival. Its demise was not due to lack of interest on the part of participants or audiences. Rather, after a few years the organization and operation became too much for the small cadre of volunteers. Although there was consideration given to moving the festival to another larger community, this never materialized. Whether they are called band tattoos or band festivals, these kinds of outdoor events involving a number of community bands haven’t even been relegated to history books. They just seem to have passed into oblivion.

Not only were there tattoos in former days, but there was a wide variety of other outdoor band events, both amateur and professional. I can still remember the fascination of a circus band with a diverse array of performers parading down a city’s main street. In fact, for a time, one of my boyhood ambitions was to play in a circus band. It seems that the only large outdoor events with bands to be seen now are those overwhelming halftime shows of American football games with all of the extra non-musical hoopla.

NABBSS: You may recall that at this time last year our household was gearing up for a trip to Halifax and participation in the very first North American Brass Band Summer School (NABBSS). As part of this summer school we were also participants in the 35th Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. With many hundreds of professional-level participants from Canada, the United States and several European countries performing for ten days in a packed arena, this event is a far cry from the local amateur tattoos referred to earlier. Even these large-scale events are increasingly few and far between. I have not heard of single such event in Ontario for some years. While we are not able to participate in this year’s NABBSS, I am sure that it will be as rewarding as last year’s was. The school will run from June 26 to July 8. When I last checked, there were still openings. Inquiries should be addressed to bandsummerschool@gmail.com.

Further Reminiscences: For years a major attraction at the CNE was the featured guest band at the main bandshell. For a few summers I had the pleasure of operating the sound system on that main bandshell. In particular, I had the privilege of working for two weeks with Major F. Vivian Dunn, later Sir Vivian Dunn. Prior to every concert of the Band of the Royal Marines Plymouth Division, he would discuss all of the music to be performed and just which instruments were to be given proper microphone pickup.

By a somewhat strangely routed train of thought (but bear with me), this reminds me of a famous but rarely seen ceremony, called Beat the Retreat, the origins of which date back to the reign of James II of England (James VII of Scotland) in the late 1600s, a time when drums were a major means of communicating with troops. It was a time when wars were mostly carried out in daylight hours, and the beating of drums was the signal to retreat at the end of a day’s fighting. Over time, beating the retreat became a more elaborate ceremony, where the Captain of the Main Guard would have his drummers beat the signal which would then be repeated by drummers of each regiment. Many years later, of course, armies obtained more sophisticated means of communicating, but by then Beating the Retreat had been established as an important ceremonial event.

The Royal Marines in particular have retained the ceremony, along with saluting their ceremonial head who is bestowed with the title of Captain General. Most recently that has been His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. Every three years the Massed Bands of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, with some 200 musicians on parade, perform their Beat the Retreat ceremony at London’s Horse Guards Parade in celebration of the birthday of their Captain General.

That is where Major Dunn comes in again! The year after he and his band performed at the CNE bandshell, he wrote The Captain General march to honour then Captain General, His Majesty King George VI. Three years ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Saeculum Aureum, a 2CD set, performed by The Band of The Royal Regiment of Canada. The Captain General, a stirring march with amazing counter-melodies, was one of the finest selections on that recording.

Bandstand-Mario.jpgMario Canonico: The community band world has lost another of its most dedicated members. Mario Canonico, a longtime member of the Newmarket Citizens Band, passed away May 16. Born in the Aosta Valley in the northwestern part of Italy, Mario started his musical adventure on violin at the age of nine. He began playing saxophone in his early 20s and soon added the clarinet. From Italy the family moved to Ecuador for a few years before coming to Canada in 1967. Settling in Montreal, he worked as a barber during the week and spent his weekends as a jobbing musician playing a wide variety of events including weddings and bar mitzvahs. Moving to Newmarket in 2000, he soon had a regular spot in the clarinet section of the Newmarket band. Until about three months ago he was playing regularly in three other musical groups besides the Newmarket band, including a small ensemble called North of Dixie. In addition to music and family he had a passion for cycling, averaging 50km per day. His last bicycle ride was on a warm sunny day last October at age 82. Just a few weeks ago the members of North of Dixie went to his house to entertain him. Although gravely ill, Mario danced up a storm with his wife, Delfina, and with his daughter and granddaughter. This photograph was taken on that day by John De Fusco.

Coming Concerts:

June 4 at noon the Encore Symphonic Concert Band will present “In Concert: Classics and Jazz” at the Wilmar Heights Centre, 963 Pharmacy Ave., Scarborough.

June 6 at 7:30 the Barrie Concert Band will present “Let’s Celebrate Barrie!” a multimedia concert celebrating Barrie’s history at Hi-Way Pentecostal Church, 50 Anne St. N., Barrie.

June 12: A few months ago I had the pleasure of attending the premiere concert of the Toronto Concert Band. To wind up their inaugural season they will be returning to the excellent performance venue of the Glenn Gould Studio on Friday, June 12, at 7:30pm. Since their very first rehearsal less than nine months ago, founding conductors Ken Hazlett and Les Dobbin have set a high standard. This season-ending concert will feature an eclectic mix, from Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals to Warren Barker’s Selections from Les Miserables with many challenging numbers filling out the program. The band’s tag line “We Love to Play!” should be spelled out musically at this concert.

June 14 at 7pm the Strings Attached Orchestra will be presenting their year-end concert at the George Ignatieff Theatre, 15 Devonshire Place (just southwest of Koerner Hall). Among other things, they will be performing the orchestral premiere of Montreal a short work by former OECD head and Pierre Trudeau-era cabinet minister Donald Johnston. Also on the program will be Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso Op. 3 No.11 with soloists from within the group.

These are a few community ensemble events where we received some program details. There are too many more than can be mentioned here. Please see the listings section for the times and locations of these many other events.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is: rubato: a cross between a rhubarb and a tomato. We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions. 

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

MusicLivedHere-Past.jpgPeople who witness one of the three performances of Luminato’s 2015 revival of Murray Schafer’s Apocalypsis this June may read in the program book that the work was commissioned by CBC Radio in 1975. This new production of the piece may have a fresh look and presentation, but the score is the same bold Schafer composition, first produced during what John Peter Lee Roberts, then head of CBC Radio Music and the work’s commissioner, called “The Golden Age of Achievement” at CBC Radio.

The period of time Roberts refers to is 1950 to 1980, 30 years that correspond closely to the span of time that Glenn Gould had his own professional career, one that was intertwined with the development of music at CBC Radio. Glenn’s very first recital for CBC Radio was in December of 1950 and despite his enormous labours for an American record company between 1955 and 1982, the year of his death, he retained a close working relationship with those of us who produced music programs at CBC. Of course Glenn was one of thousands of Canadian artists who made programming for CBC, enabled by the Broadcasting Act, a cornerstone piece of Canadian legislation that remains in force to this day.

Read more: Music Lived Here - Canadian Broadcasting between 1974 and 1982
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