SannacBannerMeludia co-founder Bastien Sannac using the Meludia web application, during a presentation last year in Malta. Photo credit: Alfredo D’Amato / Libération.With the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra’s latest outreach project, they’re giving away free online music lessons – to all Canadians, across the country.

In an announcement last Wednesday, the CPO revealed a new partnership with Paris-based music education platform Meludia. Available as a web and mobile application, Meludia uses the gamification of ear training to build a curriculum of over 600 musicianship games, ranging from beginner to expert skill levels. And in celebration of Canada 150, they’re allowing anyone with a Canadian IP address to sign up for a premium, 1-year-long Meludia account – free of charge.

For CPO music director Rune Bergmann, who officially started his tenure with the orchestra in fall 2017, widespread accessibility initiatives were an important part of the job. ‘When i first arrived in Calgary, I felt there were a lot of good things – but what was missing was that the things going on here were kind of a well-hidden secret,” he said at the press conference Wednesday. “The first thing I felt when I came here was that this should be an orchestra for the world.”

Like many other online learning resources, Meludia – which has previously supplied similar nationwide subscriptions in Malta and Estonia – claims to teach users by structuring lessons as short games and tests. In that sense, it’s not unlike a musical version of the popular language learning app Duolingo.

However, what sets Meludia apart from other programs – especially when it comes to classical music – is the philosophy behind these games. Unlike much conventional classical musical training, which tends to focus heavily on reading sheet music and musical terminology, Meludia is based on a body of research by French composer Vincent Chaintrier, which advocates a focus on developing sensory and emotional responses to sounds. There are four tiers of difficulty in the app: Discovery, Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert. While the Expert level is geared towards professional musicians, the first levels are meant to be highly intuitive, even for users with little to no knowledge of western classical music. And while technically, Meludia is in the business of music literacy, you don’t actually need to know how to read music at all to use it.

A game at the Discovery level in Meludia, where the user is asked to identify between “one note” and “many notes.”Here’s an example. In the Discovery level, there is a game called “Density.” There, the user is given a simple task: when they listen to the sound file, do they hear one note, or many notes? (The app also includes a description of how they would define the word ‘note’.) By the Intermediate level, you can play the same “Density” game, but are asked to be more specific: how many notes do you hear – one, two, three or four? By the Advanced and Expert levels, these same exercises have evolved into high-level classical music ear training: identifying complex chords and chord progressions. And it’s all done using highly intuitive visual graphics, with hardly any reference to conventional classical music notation.

The same game at a more advanced level: the user is now asked to identify the number of notes they hear.“When Rune first logged me into the Meludia platform, I was impressed at how intuitively interactive and fun it was,” explained Paul Dornian, president and CEO of the CPO, last week. “I am thrilled that we can make Meludia available to Canadians and visitors to Canada who want to boost their musical education or start from scratch.”

Another entry-level game on Meludia. The user is asked to identify between sounds that feel “tense and then stable” vs. sounds that feel “stable and then tense.” The game introduces the terminology of tension and resolution; eventually, these skills are used at more advanced levels to identify chord progressions and tonalities. It’s easy to feel skeptical about a program like this one. After all, the definition of music literacy – and the types of music implied by that term – mean that making music education universally accessible is hardly as simple as some may claim. However, by eliminating two of the major barriers that Canadians often face when pursuing musical education – the high cost and the emphasis on ‘insider’ classical music knowledge and jargon – this initiative is without a doubt a step in the right direction. And if you’re reading from Canada right now and have time to play a quick game or two, it’s absolutely worth a try.

As of last week, anyone with a Canadian IP address can log into meludia.com and use the program free of charge, until December 5, 2018.

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and music writer, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at editorial@thewholenote.com.

cassettes100BANNERThe original performance of Cassettes 100, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1971. Photo c/o Andrea Mapili.At a performance in Toronto’s Distillery District this Sunday, over a hundred people will come together to experience community, and community listening, in a monumental way.

Cassettes 100, a 30-minute music/movement piece taking place at the Distillery’s Young Centre on November 19, is, in some ways, exactly what it sounds like: a set of 100 pre-recorded cassette tracks, all played at once. However, it’s also more than that. The piece, first created and presented by late Filipino composer and ethnomusicologist José Maceda in 1971, requires 100 ‘musicians’ to weave their way through and around the audience – each of them carrying one of those 100 cassette players, playing recordings of indigenous Philippine instruments, voices and natural sounds. This performance will be its Canadian premiere.

José Maceda was a leader in the field of ethnomusicology, renowned for his field recordings of the Indigenous music of the Philippines. His granddaughter, artist, movement and awareness coach Andrea Mapili, and theatre artist Byron Abalos, are behind this Toronto performance of Maceda’s work.

José Maceda with field recording equipment. Photo c/o Andrea Mapili.“I’ve always been curious about my grandfather’s work,” explains Mapili. “This January, [Byron and I] were both in the Philippines for the kickoff of Maceda 100, the yearlong celebration of his life and work in honour of [what would have been his 100th birthday]. We were a part of a Cassettes 100 performance there, and we were blown away – and we just thought, ‘we really need to bring this to Canada.’”

The Toronto performance will be a collaborative effort between the University of the Philippines’ Center for Ethnomusicology and Soulpepper Theatre Company’s 2017 Shen Development Festival – a free one-day event dedicated to celebrating theatre, dance and musical works by artists of Asian heritage.

The team needs 100 volunteers to make the project happen; so far, they’re at 70, and counting. “We have more people signing up every day,” says Abalos. “We really tried our best to reach out to many different communities: the academic community, the theatre community, the dance community, the Filipino community in Toronto, and the new music community as well.”

The volunteers will be coached on how to move throughout the space in a rehearsal the morning of the show, have lunch, and then start the performance. They’ll be separated into teams, each with its own distinct choreography, and move through the theatre lobby, stairwells and balconies – creating shifting sonic textures as they go.

“We’re building a soundscape – a moving soundscape,” Mapili says. “That’s really what the piece allows us to do.”

For Mapili and Abalos, Cassettes 100 sits at the juncture of several monumental moments in time – the Maceda 100 centenary celebrations, Canada 150, and the development of Soulpepper’s Shen series. And for both of them, reimagining this piece in a way that makes it transnational, integrative and inclusive has been crucial.

“My grandfather was really interested in technology as a tool for humanism and humanitarianism,” says Mapili. “So it was very important to him to use as low-tech equipment as possible. That’s why we’re actually using .mp3 players for this performance, as opposed to cell phones or even cassettes [like those used in the premiere]. It’s the most low-tech, accessible, cheap-as-possible technology within the current, modern context.”

“And I think it’s important for us to have this moment where we can gather a lot of people to celebrate the launch of this festival,” adds Abalos. “It’s a way to call in people from other communities, so that we’re not so siloed. So that it’s not like, “here’s an Asian Canadian festival; it’s for Asian Canadians’. No – this is a festival for everyone. And it will be a chance for people from Soulpepper’s [audience base], who are used to coming to that space, to be a part of something that is from a different tradition other than the Western, European tradition of theatre, dance and art.”

“We’re trying to highlight difference in people,” says Mapili. “We’re trying to unite through diversity. And I think that that’s a huge hope for Canada right [now]. We hope that even though everybody’s different, we can still come together as a community. And I hope that by seeing the size and the scope of this project – 100 people, almost like a microcosm of Toronto – that people will leave with the knowledge that connection through difference is possible.”

Cassettes 100 will be performed at the launch of Soulpepper’s 2017 Shen Development Festival on Sunday, November 19 at 1pm, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. For event details or information about volunteering, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1185305688237509/.

Soulpepper’s Shen Development Festival is a free day-long event on November 19 featuring the work of Asian and Asian-Canadian performers and artists. For details, visit https://www.soulpepper.ca/performances/shen-festival.

Ivar Taurins as “Herr Handel,” at a Tafelmusik Messiah performance. Photo credit: Gary Beechey.Ivar Taurins as “Herr Handel,” at a Tafelmusik Messiah performance. Photo credit: Gary Beechey.A palpable change takes place in the atmosphere the day after Halloween. Creeping ahead in our calendars with ever greater urgency while we nurse our M&M-induced sugar hangovers, grim reapers are suddenly replaced with gingerbread lattes, skulls with seasonal spices, and the tricks and treats cleared out to make way for trees and tinsel. Commercial segments are suddenly comprised of barely palatable (and occasionally downright awful) adaptations of carols, jingles and other seasonal songs, which have already made me buy three unnecessary pairs of pants and a shirt…Fa la la la la, la la la la!

And at the same time as all this takes place around us, our mailboxes are inundated with invitations to holiday parties and weddings. The beauty and romanticism of a winter wedding, freshly-fallen snow draping evergreens and wood-burning chalet fireplaces, makes jingle-bell time a swell time to get married in a one-horse sleigh.

If you find yourself needing a festive boost at the end of all this running around, be sure to catch another holiday tradition: one of the Greater Toronto Area’s plethora of performances of Handel’s Messiah. Here are six Messiah performances that we’re looking forward to this year – arranged in an appropriately matrimonial manner.

Something Old

Messiah is a classic work, and each year it receives numerous top-notch interpretations. Here are two ensembles that will undoubtedly bring the audience to its feet with rousing performances of that legendary ‘Hallelujah!’ chorus.

Who: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
When: December 18 to 20, 22 to 23; see www.tso.ca for concert times.
What to bring: Kleenex – I challenge you to make it through an entire Messiah without tearing up at least once.

Who: Grand Philharmonic Choir
When: December 9, 7:30pm
What to bring: See above.

Something New

Handel wrote Messiah for a traditional ensemble of orchestra and chorus, but not everyone wants to hear that style of classically-performed classical music. For those who like their mulled wine old and their bottles new, here’s the Messiah for you.

Who: Soundstreams
When: December 4 to 6, 8pm
What to bring: An open mind. Nominated for the Classical:NEXT 2017 Innovation Award, Electric Messiah promises to revamp Handel’s holiday classic through a plugged-in and completely immersive musical experience.

Something Borrowed

For those whose attention spans and renal systems can’t Handel (ha!) a full-length performance of Messiah, here are two groups that provide concerts of selections and excerpts, hand-picked from the score to provide a satisfying concert experience without the extended duration of Handel’s original tome.

Who: Pax Christi Chorale
When: December 2, 4pm
What to bring: A festive sweater, the brighter and uglier the better.

Who: Porgiamor Chamber Concerts
When: November 22, 7:30pm
What to bring: An affinity for art song. This interesting concert removes the orchestral and choral parts from Handel’s score, presenting all the solo recitatives, arias, and duets with piano accompaniment.

Something Blue

For diehard singers and do-it-yourselfers, participating in a sing-along Messiah is as much of an annual tradition as baking cookies, stuffing a turkey and decorating the tree. With a national study recently finding there are more choral singers in Canada than hockey players, perhaps we’ll soon find sing-along Messiahs on TSN 15, receiving coverage alongside a curling tournament or two!

Who: Tafelmusik
When: December 17, 2pm
What to bring: Your favourite dog-eared Messiah score. Bonus points if you have the Bärenreiter edition – it’s blue!

Stay informed about these and dozens of other local performances of Handel’s Messiah by checking our listings online and in the upcoming December issue of the magazine.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Tapestry moves its new instrument into its Distillery District studio space.This month, Toronto’s Tapestry Opera received its largest-ever donation—in the form of a piano.

When Ottawa-based couple Clarence Byrd and Ida Chen started thinking about downsizing earlier this fall, they decided to give up one of their pianos—a 9.5-foot, $225,000 Imperial Bösendorfer concert grand, one of the most highly-regarded concert piano models in the world. They approached Robert Lowrey (of Robert Lowrey Piano Experts), from whom they originally purchased the instrument, for advice.

“They floated the idea that it might be a beautiful thing to donate the piano to a worthy cause or organization,” says Michael Mori, Tapestry Opera’s artistic director. “Robert thought of Tapestry Opera and our Ernest Balmer Studio as a place where the performing arts community could access this wonderful instrument, and where its legacy would be ensured. As Tapestry regularly commissions and develops new works and composers, this would become the instrument upon which many of our composers would be composing new Canadian operas.”

The piano was transported this month from Byrd and Chen’s Ottawa-area home to Tapestry’s studio space in the Distillery District—no small feat. “Once it arrived in Toronto, a crane truck drove into the Distillery, just around the corner from Balzac’s Coffee and extended an impressive extending crane arm into the air, picked up the enormous piano, and then lifted it 40 feet horizontally and three stories vertically to bring it through a window that the Distillery had removed for this express purpose,” says Mori. “The process was slow but efficient—and thank God there was no wind!”

The Bösendorfer piano.Tapestry’s first gig with the Bösendorfer will take place this October 25, in an impromptu benefit concert designed to honour Byrd and Chen’s generosity.

Billed as a “Disaster Relief” concert, the October 25 show will feature the Bösendorfer piano in two sets. The first, at 7pm, features several singers connected to the Tapestry community, performing selections of arias and opera and music theatre scenes, including soprano Simone Osborne, mezzo Erica Iris Huang, tenors Asitha Tennekoon and Keith Klassen, and baritone Alexander Hajek. The second, presented at 10pm by Yamaha Canada, features local piano virtuosos Robi Botos (jazz) and Younggun Kim (classical). Tickets are $30 per set, and all proceeds will be donated to Medecins sans Frontieres and Global Medic, to assist with disaster relief from recent extreme weather events in Puerto Rico, Dominica, Mexico and India.

The artists for the evening were all sourced through Facebook, explains Mori. “We were overwhelmed when our single Facebook post to solicit participation generated such an incredible response from artists willing to donate their time and talent,” he says. “It’s...a fitting way to introduce our wonderful new instrument to the community.”

After the event, the Bösendorfer will continue to be put to use in the studio, both for rehearsal purposes and for other small performances in the space. According to Mori, the new instrument—in addition to allowing for the use of the Tapestry studio as a small music venue—will be an invaluable resource for the company’s composers and artists in the years to come. “It is an instrument that will continue to inspire composers writing new opera and experimental chamber music for Canada, and in turn the audiences who come to attend exciting new works in the studio,” he says. “I can hardly wait.”

Tapestry Opera’s Disaster Relief Benefit Concert takes place at the company’s Ernest Balmer Studio in Toronto’s Distillery District, on October 25, 2017. For details, visit https://tapestryopera.com/disaster-relief-benefit-concert/

Lord Byron, in a portrait by Richard Westall.George Gordon Byron—best known simply as ‘Lord Byron’—is often considered one of the Romantic Era’s greatest poets. But a number of Byron’s most famous works, among them his celebrated short poem She Walks in Beauty, have a lesser-known musical and spiritual connection. In a rare concert this month at the Kiever Shul in Toronto, a group of local musicians will shed light on the origins and legacy of some of Byron’s best-loved works.

Several of what now are among Byron’s most famous short poems were originally published in 1815 as a collection of music and lyrics titled Hebrew Melodies. The lyrics were meant to be sung to traditional synagogue melodies, supplied for the book by Byron’s friend, cantor Isaac Nathan. The book was an instant hit—but while Byron’s lyrics remained famous for years to come, Nathan’s musical settings did not.

In a concert on October 29 at the Kiever Shul, violist Barry Shiffman, soprano Stacie Carmona, clarinetist Ori Carmona, and musicians from the Royal Conservatory will come together to perform a selection of traditional and new Jewish music. The centrepiece of the concert will be brand-new settings of Byron's Hebrew Melodies, inspired by the tunes Isaac Nathan wrote for them over 200 years ago.

Toronto composer Charles Heller is the person behind the project. Heller, who has been involved in synagogue music for over 50 years, has composed new setting of Byron’s collection that use Nathan’s music as a starting point. “The project will be of great interest to lovers of Jewish Music and Byron,” he says. “Byron’s poems are remarkable for their sympathy with Jewish suffering and longing for a restoration of Jewish national independence.”

Heller isn’t new to the task, either. In 2015, Heller composed, performed and recorded a song cycle titled Tramvay Lider (Streetcar Songs)—a setting of Yiddish poems by acclaimed Toronto poet Shimen Nepom, who worked as a College St. streetcar conductor until his death in 1939, and who wrote the poems as a description of life on the streetcar. This earlier cycle was also featured in a concert at the Kiever, a venue Heller describes as “having a reputation for a charming and restful atmosphere, as well as good acoustics and an intimate feel, very conducive to concerts.”

For Heller, though the two projects present totally different musical and poetic worlds, it’s easy to hear the cantorial influence in both—as is the case with much classical music. “Always at the back of my mind, cantorial chant is a form of melismatic chant very influenced by the meaning of the words,” he says. “Ernest Newman heard it in Bloch, and Schoenberg heard it in Mahler, in the Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde.

Heller himself intends to traverse musical styles and centuries in the same way—and while he’s committed to honouring the work of Byron and Nathan, he’s also bringing to this performance something local and new. “I used a few of the traditional synagogue melodies as arranged by Nathan in 1815, but also there is much completely original music,” he says. “So my piece is a collaboration: between me, Byron, traditional synagogue melodies and Isaac Nathan’s 19th-century cantorial style.”

“Hebrew Melodies” takes place at the Kiever Shul at 25 Bellevue Ave., Toronto, on October 29 at 2pm; visit our listings for details.

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