ELLEN S. JAFFE: “CREATIVITY CAN OFTEN HELP US DEFINE THE NUANCES OF OUR LIVES, BOTH THE ORDINARY AND THE EXTREME” DECLARES THE POET, AUTHOR, PLAYWRIGHT, TEACHER, PSYCHOTHERAPIST, AND SHAMANIC HEALER – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

ELLEN S. JAFFE: I write poetry, fiction and other prose, and plays, some of it published, and am a teacher of children and adults, encouraging them to express themselves in language. I have participated in writing and arts communities in the places where I’ve lived; some of my poems were written with a political purpose.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

ESJ: The belief that we are all part of the human race, and can connect empathically. I also believe we have connections with the natural world (animals, plants, weather) and with science and the arts, and that writers and other artists can help make other people aware of this. I believe that writers can bear witness to other people’s experiences of suffering, injustice, and love, as well as to our own, and that creativity can – often – help us define the nuances of our lives, both the ordinary and the extreme.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

ESJ: 1) My great-grandmother, Mary Becker Axelrod, who came to New York from Lithuania at age 14, to join her parents and brothers already there, and who was a nurturing, loving figure in my family, especially for my mother and for me, as well as many cousins. She gave me a sense of my roots and a love for family (even though she did not speak much of her early life). I always felt welcome and a sense of belonging and unconditional love in her home (she died at about 91, when I was 18).
2)Margaret Laurence, Canadian writer, for her honest and moving writing, and her sense of Canadian writers as a supportive, connected group (I hesitate, now, to use her word “tribe.”). I appreciate that she actually wrote me a personal letter – 5 typed lines, in 1984 – after I wrote her a “fan letter” and sent her a photograph of my husband’s grandmother in the prairies who reminded me of Hagar Shipley in The Stone Angel. I was honoured to receive permission to adapt her children’s book Jason’s Quest into a play; I only found out about this book shortly after her death, but I wish she could have seen the play – and perhaps given me comments.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

ESJ: I have been writing and doing creative work since childhood, so it is hard to imagine life without this work. I know that I feel better when I do some writing during the day; it helps me focus and feel more centered. I also find that, as I become more daring and push for more honesty in my writing, I am more honest and have more of a voice in my personal and social life.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

ESJ: Time and money, and these are not as challenging for me as for many people. Time – using my time well and wisely; and balancing writing, personal, and other-work life. It’s not so much writer’s block as sometimes procrastination – which comes from not facing both the fears and the work that needs to be done. Money – earning/making enough money to have time to write (I try to live economically, and have been helped emotionally and financially by my parents and other relatives). Other challenges: ex-husband who did not support my writing; and now aging – wanting to get more work done while I still have health and time.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

ESJ: One major one was deciding to move to Canada, and also to leave the U.S. This actually happened in stages: first, I left the U.S. (where I was born and grew up) for political and personal reasons in 1972, going to study and live in England for a year, which turned into almost 7 years. I was enjoying my work and life there, but had not actually decided to live there. Then, in 1978, I met a Canadian; we decided to live together, then marry, and I came to live in Canada in 1979 (near London, Ontario); our son was born in 1980 (Having a child has been another major turning point, of course.) I then had two miscarriages, 1982 and 1983, and the marriage began unravelling for several reasons, including my husband’s anger. In 1987-88 I participated in a year-long writing workshop with bill bissett, which got me back into writing…and eventually this, with the support of friends, helped me separate permanently from my husband in 1989. I then made the decision to stay in Canada, partly for our son’s sake but mainly because I like living here, felt good about the social system and health care, and knew I did not want to return to the U.S. I was already a permanent resident and became a Canadian citizen in 1993. Interestingly, I also began getting more involved in the writing community, especially in Hamilton, at this time; I began going to more writing workshops, as well as publishing in anthologies and doing readings. I also began teaching workshops in schools and to women’s groups, which I found very meaningful. I moved to Hamilton in 2000, the same week I signed my first book contract (for Writing Your Way: Creating a Personal Journal), and also the week I met my current partner, another ex-pat American (the brother of a friend in a writing workshop I attended in New York State); he had been living in Canada since 1971. Since then, I have written and published several more books and had writing published in journals and anthologies, met many other writers and joined writers’ organizations (e.g. The Writers’ Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, CANSCAIP, TOPS, PEN), and done more teaching, especially in community organizations. I also feel better living in a country which, despite some faults (most notably, treatment of Indigenous people past and present) is more open-minded and caring, closer to “a just society.” My son has grown up well in Canada, attended university, worked as a social worker for several years, and recently joined the RCMP – now working in Nunavut!

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

ESJ: Why it matters. (Do you have a real job or are you just writing?) Where do you get your ideas? And realizing that it’s hard work, but can be done: You mean you wrote that whole book?

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

ESJ: As an only child, I began writing stories and poems and drawing pictures very early (around 4 or 5); I also learned to read early on, and loved reading. I realised recently that my family did not tell many stories about their own history (I treasured the ones I heard), and perhaps I wrote stories to fill that void – even though many were made up, about other people; also, there were secrets in my family, and perhaps I wanted to find out the truth. I also loved the sounds of words, playing with words and forms; I got a deep satisfaction from writing (even a school project). Another writer has said that she began writing because she could not talk to people easily, and even when she could talk more comfortably, she still enjoyed writing: this applies to me, too. I find that writing is a different process, as there are ways of saying things in poetry and fiction you can’t “tell” in a story. I think writing comes both from the outside world (what you see, hear, smell, taste, touch, experience) and from inner dreams, imagination, “what if’s” – and these merge like a moebius strip. One last thing: I think I really began to see myself as a “writer” – although I’d been writing for a long time – in the 1990s, through attending intensive residential writing groups with other women, and feeling part of a community.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

ESJ: I would like to do a sequel to my young/adult novel Feast of Lights. I have had this in mind for some years, and have made a few starts, but need concentrated time to work on it, and perhaps some travel for research. I would also like to do another book of poetry, stretching the boundaries of what I have done already. And I am working on a play about aging and relationships.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

ESJ: Some of the poems I’ve written, including “Water Children,” about loss of unborn children; the poems about my mother and father, and my great-grandmother; political poems, especially several I wrote about the Vietnam War, which were published and which also helped me see how the arts can influence the wider world; in prose, Feast of Lights, and a few short stories. And all the teaching I have done, both with young people – starting with The Voice of the Children, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn NY in the late 1960s and then in schools in Ontario – and also with people in community organizations, including Gilda’s Club for people living with cancer, and Among Friends for people living with mental health issues. I did not know I could “teach” writing – I think it is not teaching, but opening doors, creating that special space.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

ESJ: Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Today, the internet and social media give young people a very different way of communicating, so I am not sure how I would advise them about that. In work with students in schools (including elementary and high schools), I see that young people still like to actually write on paper – though in high school and later they are also using their phones to write, and combining visuals and music with words.

JS: Of what value are critics?

ESJ: Do you mean critics of finished work, or editors? I have had good experiences working with editors, who made helpful comments about poetry and, even more, about fiction and non-fiction; many of these comments and suggestions greatly improved the finished work, and made me see things from a new and valuable perspective. On the other hand, there have been a few comments by editors and writing friends that do not seem to understand what the work is about, so I can let those go. I have done some editing myself, and try to help the work embody the author’s intention and voice, and be more clear. I think critics/reviewers of finished books, plays, etc. can lead potential readers to work they would enjoy or find interesting, by both new and more well-known writers, and also point out difficulties in these works (of course, the reader of the review must remember she is reading one person’s opinion – reviews often vary in their appraisal).

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

ESJ: To listen to the work (or hear it in their mind as they read it on the page), to be moved, to feel some identification – even though they will bring their own experiences and points of view to the work, so their reactions may be different from what I felt/thought when I wrote the poem or story. In this sense, writing and reading/listening is always a dialogue, even a silent one. I enjoy hearing comments that expand my sense of the poems and stories I have written – and I can also see new things in them as I look at them again or read them aloud, months or years after writing.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

ESJ: This is such a vast question. Do you mean the world AND the arts, or the world OF the arts? – both, in fact, are huge. Obviously, in the world I would like there to be more peace, justice, equal distribution of wealth, and more concern with and empowering of human rights. I am encouraged by changes in the art world, with people from different communities having more of a voice – Indigenous (including restoration of languages), international, disabled, LGBTQ, women. It is easier to have access to arts through the internet and technology – but I think it is important not to lose the immediacy and intimacy of live performances (theatre, dance, poetry and prose readings, similar events), on a local as well as large scale. It is important to encourage art in the community (starting with schools) as well as in large, expensive centres in urban areas. I think it is also important to provide enough funding for artists to do their creative work, including education and mentoring, and to encourage artists to work together.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

ESJ: This is a difficult question, as it is really the current writing project or the next new project that interests me. I would like to go back to Moose Factory, Ontario, where I spent a week in 2008 as an Artist in Education, with a grant from the Ontario Arts Council; I liked working with the students and teachers, learning about the land and water and people, but a week was not nearly long enough. If I could relive my later childhood, I would talk to my great-grandmother more and see if she would tell me about her life as a child in Lithuania and immigration to the U.S. at age 14.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

ESJ: Although I am presented in the media (for publication, awards, giving talks, etc.), I am certainly not as well-known as many people. I feel more aware of my public presence when people remember me from a workshop I gave, even years before, or a poem they heard or that I wrote for them at an event (recently, a woman I happened to sit next to at a reading reminded me of a one-minute poem that I wrote for her baby daughter at a women’s fair in Hamilton; the daughter is now 17 and she still has the poem.) I actually have come to enjoy having a public presence at readings and sharing my work with an audience. And although I do not over-use “social media,” I sometimes like putting a poem or photo out there, and seeing the response, from people I know and also do not know. It is sometimes hard, especially if one writes personal poems, to draw the line between private and personal experience, but I also think writing helps people learn how to present aspects of personal experience in a way that lets others empathize and also deal with their own experiences.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

ESJ: a) New Mexico – I have been there before, and love the light, the land, the presence of Indigenous people, and the history (including the troubling history of the development of the atomic bomb); there are places in the state I would like to see again and new places I would like to explore.
b) I would like to go to Cape Dorset to visit my son and also to see that Northern part of Canada, its land and people and art, and also the long light days (I would go in spring/summer, not winter with the long nights – though that could be interesting, as well as challenging). I would like to see the north now, during this precarious period of climate change.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

ESJ: I am working on a play about a relationship between two people in an assisted living residence – their growing love and connection, and the inevitability of parting; what we lose in aging and what we still keep of our inner lives, emotions, needs (including sexuality), and courage. This matters to me as my friends and I are aging, and also as I saw my mother age and lose her health, spending her last years in assisted living – where she began writing poetry. As more and more Canadians age (the over-65 population is becoming a large percentage of our population), this is an important subject, for the people who are aging, their families (children, grandchildren), the people who care for them – and the people who make policy. It is interesting to be part of the baby-boomers’ generation, who also were part of the 60s, where we let go of many older traditions and inhibitions. Who are we now, in our 70s and 80s? (of course, earlier generations also felt they were the “modern,” liberated generation). Just as I wrote about babies and the experiences of childbirth and parenting earlier in my life (not so much because I “decided” to so, but because the poems came to me through my own and others’ lives), I find I am now writing more about aging, remembering and forgetting, and the experiences of illness and loss. However, I have written about lost and dying babies and children for a long time, as this was part of my mother’s experience and so mine as a child, and also became mine later as an adult, when I had two miscarriages after my son’s birth. So writing about loss has been part of my writing for a long time; “Water Children,” the title poem of my first book – published by Mini Mocho Press – dealt with loss of an unborn child, and the love between mother and child, even in grief.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

ESJ: I think I responded to this in question 14. I am hopeful at seeing younger artists and writers, and also people from many different communities un-silencing their voices. There is still a way to go, but things are progressing. The internet may help us get around censorship and intimidation, and also financial constraints; it can encourage individuality but also promote trends and sameness. I am glad to hear more spoken word poetry at actual events. Although it is getting harder to publish books in paper, and much is now accessible on line, I think many people still like the feel of physical books and words on paper; these may become rarer and more specialized, but I hope will not disappear altogether. I am depressed by censorship of any kind (including the recent cancelling of financial support by certain organizations for New York’s “Shakespeare in the Park” because of objections to their current production of Julius Caesar, in which Caesar is portrayed as having a resemblance to Donald Trump.) There were also recent physical protests to this play by one or more audience members – fortunately no one was hurt. As someone has said, “Theatre is a place where you know no person will be actually harmed, no matter what violence occurs onstage.” This is actually true of all the arts, and is good to keep in mind.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

ESJ: How do I answer this? When my son was young, he had a Sesame Street book called “Bert and Ernie Go to the Museum,” The pair look at all the exhibits – paintings, stamps, suits of armour, dinosaurs, etc. – and then come to a door marked “Everything Else.” Oh boy! They race through the door – and find themselves in the outside world! I hope I can continue to be surprised by life and people; to find new connections; to love, learn, and grow; to enjoy the daily-ness of each day and “cultivating my own garden” while still being involved in the adventures of the wider world – including the world of science and of the arts. I love being a mother, wish I were a grandmother – but that may be an unfulfilled wish. Also, people may not know I have also worked as a psychotherapist and studied/practiced Shamanic healing. These two professions involve healing, and I think they, like writing, also involve a sense of play in its deepest sense.

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JONATHAN CROW: “MUSIC IS A VERY DIFFICULT MIX BETWEEN STRIVING FOR PERFECTION AND ACCEPTING HUMAN WEAKNESS” STATES THE CONCERTMASTER OF THE TORONTO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE TORONTO SUMMER MUSIC FESTIVAL (JULY 13-AUGUST 5, 2017)

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

JONATHAN CROW: I would hope that my contribution to the arts inspires young musicians to find happiness in music; I’m lucky to have an incredible amount of variety in my career- solo performances, chamber music, orchestra, teaching, curating – and I’m happy to say that nothing has ever felt old or commonplace. How many words was that?

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

JC: Music is a very difficult mix between striving for perfection and accepting human weakness; in music, we are constantly striving to get better, but need to accept that nothing is ever perfect. If it were, there would be no need for any more performances! I think this is true about many things in life.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

JC: Yehudi Menuhin – he was such an inspiration both as a violinist and musician, but later in his life as a pedagogue and supporter of young talent. Yo-Yo Ma – his work in bringing classical music to a wider audience and making it “cool” to play the cello has inspired many generations of young artists to make and love music.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

JC: That’s hard to say – I started playing the violin at age 6, so it has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember!

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

JC: Finding the mix between creativity and perfection- it’s easy to lose the spontaneity in music by wanting to have everything perfectly worked out in advance, rather than accepting that live music by its very nature can never be the same twice.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

JC: Having kids! Practice time was suddenly more valuable and precious. And hopefully more efficient!

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

JC: I think it’s hard for non-musicians to understand the mix or love and hard work that goes into the profession; we all love music or we wouldn’t be doing it, but anyone that has had young kids play the violin will realize how difficult it is to get from picking up a violin to making a single beautiful sound. It takes years!

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

JC: I started the violin in the Suzuki program, which is a great music program that encourages the social aspects of playing an instrument. I didn’t like practicing, but I loved quartet, orchestra and group classes with my friends!

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

JC: Improvisation! I’m too nervous to do it in public…

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

JC: Besides my awesome family? I would say the success of my former students who have gone on to do wonderful things. And remain great people – I can’t take credit for that though…

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

JC: Make sure you love it! And then find your own path- careers are very flexible things, and jobs that exist right now might not be there in 20 years! Again- this holds true for all fields.

JS: Of what value are critics?

JC: Critics provide a valuable service for the music scene- the idea of having discussion points gives us a new way to think about music. The concept of good and bad is a little silly, but the idea of being able to have a discussion with your local critic over the morning papers is a wonderful thing- whether or not you might agree with the critic’s views is somewhat irrelevant.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

JC: Be open minded to what is going on during every performance, and be willing to learn and hear new things. Also- be supportive of all of your fellow audience members as everyone in the audience is at a different point in his or her musical life. If someone wants to clap between movements, don’t make him feel bad!

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

JC: I would take away the labeling of genres of music. Calling one form “Pop” and another “Classical” creates needless distinctions that give people pre-conceived notions about what they like or dislike.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

JC: I think the life of a performing artist means that we never relive a concert- for better or for worse every concert is a new moment, and a chance to do something better!

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

JC: It’s nice that my kids can Google my name and see pictures of me- they’re pretty proud…

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why

JC: I’ve never been to the Canadian North- I would love to go there and experience the culture and landscape before they are both lost. Last summer I went to Italy and had two days in Rome- I’d like to go back for a month! Even that probably wouldn’t be enough to feel like I’d seen it all…

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

JC: I just recently finished a recording of three modern Canadian works with the New Orford String Quartet. We are passionate about presenting new Canadian music- not because we feel we have an obligation or because we are trying to “help” Canadian composers, but because we feel that there is amazing music out there that deserves to be heard and can stand alongside works of the old masters.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

JC: It’s hard to be depressed about the state of the arts when you live in a city like Toronto! Every day there are dozens of presentations of music and visual art- opera, ballet, chamber music, symphonic music- and thousands of people come out to hear/see it! Art and culture is an integral part of our city, and seeing so many young people at concerts and exhibitions makes me realize that it isn’t going away anytime soon!

JS: 20 Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

JC: That I’m really not good at basketball, and never played it in school…

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CLAUDIA MOORE: AN INFLUENTIAL PILLAR OF MODERN DANCE DECLARES “I TRY NOT TO EXPRESS, BUT RATHER TO EXPOSE THE MYSTERY OF MY LIFE ON EARTH THAT LIVES IN MY BONES, MUSCLES AND SKIN”. A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS


Photo by David Hou

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

CLAUDIA MOORE: Dance X 50! I dance. From my first ballet class at age 11 to now, in my 60’s, dance has been my way of connecting to others, contemplating life’s mysteries and celebrating my existence on earth. I aim to share this gift of dance with as many as possible through performing, teaching, curating and mentoring.

JS: what important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

CM: I try not to express, but rather to expose the mystery of my life on earth that lives in my bones, muscles and skin.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

CM: My mother- for passing on to me a love for art and the importance of connecting to others. My father- for passing on to me a passion for physical challenge.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

CM: I have danced all my life. Growing from an independent performer to leading a company has magnified the importance of connection and increased my passion for dance. As a dancer, I learned to “serve” and as an artistic director that has helped me tend to the tasks at hand…though I’d rather be dancing!

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

CM: Finding the awkward dance in knowing when to listen to myself and when to get myself out of the way, going beyond what comes naturally and staying hungry for new ways, facing fears that come with risk.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

CM: When I had my hips replaced- with time to contemplate- I realized I had to pursue performance and leave choreography behind, a good decision for me. No regrets.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

CM: I cannot say?

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

CM: My mom took me to ballet class- I fell in love with dancing from the first class. I had a very special teacher and was instantly taken by the movement.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

CM: My creature dance- it’s coming, but I am still finding the courage

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

CM: My children- they are both extraordinary beings who give me hope for humanity

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

CM: Don’t, unless you have a great desire to pursue a life in the arts and the ability to do the hard work of following your dreams.

JS: Of what value are critics?

CM: One person’s view is not to be taken too seriously, but I appreciate a well-spoken, well-informed critic who can enlighten on the art form and infuse the public with an appetite.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

CM: I ask nothing. I hope they open their senses and enjoy the experience.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

CM: More light, more listening, more love

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

CM: None- people see what they see and impressions created by media may not have anything to do with who I am.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

CM: Japan – I am curious about the culture and would like to know more about where butoh was born. Germany- my grandparents left Germany in the 20’s and I am inspired by the work of Pina Bausch.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

CM: Cloud 9 and Older & Reckless are both platforms for the senior dance artist. Both celebrate longevity in dance, shining a light on those who continue to grow the artform. It is not so much an attempt to achieve mastery as a constant hunger for new challenge and a curiosity for the undiscovered. Aging artists are part of the aging population. They champion an attitude of defiance towards the norms of aging by pushing their limits, deepening their knowledge and looking for ways to deal with whatever comes along.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

CM: The young artists I see give me hope for the future. They are creative, resourceful, passionate, bright and tenacious

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

CM: I am not surprised by myself. I am who I am. I seek to surprise myself in dance

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TOM PARKER OF COLONEL TOM & THE AMERICAN POUR DECLARES “SO MUCH OF CONTEMPORARY POP CULTURE IS MEDIOCRE AND BASED ON MARKET RESEARCH RATHER THAN ART. DOESN’T SEEM LIKE IT HAS A VERY DEEP SOUL TO ME – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

TOM PARKER: Tom Parker is a Toronto-based traditional country music singer, songwriter, educator and instrumentalist. He has led a number of bands, recorded 5 albums of old-time and “classic” country music, both acoustic and electric, and currently leads the honky tonk group Colonel Tom & the American Pour.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

TP: I think that traditional country music, as opposed to “new country” or “big country”, deserves to be heard and celebrated today. To my mind the songs of traditional country music are to the genre as American standards are to jazz music.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

TP: Hank Williams: with an economy of words and melody he could create timeless songs that get right to the heart of humanity. Love, loss, longing, loneliness. Universal feelings, and to my ear universal songs.

Alex Pangman: (full disclosure…she’s my wife!) a woman who has against all odds not only survived CF and two double-lung transplants but has excelled in her field of classic jazz. She lives, eats and breathes music. It startles me every day!

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

TP: I’ve always been what you’d call a “creative”. I can’t remember a time (other than when in a slump) where I am not working on some sort of idea. I think if anything I’ve had to change to be less reliant on being creative and be more practical over the years (see below).

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

TP: Monetizing my creativity. It is very difficult to make a decent living as a traditional country musician at this time. I am also very bourgeois (!) and have never been willing to take a vow of poverty for my art. This is why I have been teaching music for the last 26 years.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

TP: When my wife Alex had to go through her surgeries I really had to step up and make sure that I was there for her all through the processes. I think it goes without saying that she and I both have a keen appreciation of life, and all that it has to offer.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

TP: I think that some people have a hard time getting their heads around the fact that I am both a teacher and a musician. It seems like they want to categorize me as either one or the other, when I am in fact both.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

TP: I grew up in a musical family, and I’ve always been attracted to playing music. It just became natural. I was also lucky to meet up with a great bunch of people in Toronto and get involved in different musical groups over the years. Toronto is also a great place (in that it’s sort of the cultural capital of Canada) to make connections in the music industry and advance my career.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

TP: I have never attempted an international tour with any of my bands, largely because many of us in the bands I’ve played with maintained day jobs. We were able to play many festivals across Canada in the summer season, and into the states, but I have yet to play a tour of Europe.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

TP: I played in a band called the Backstabbers Country Stringband back around the year 2000 that garnered a national reputation in the old-time acoustic music scene. Our music was getting played on the radio and we got a great deal of attention and print media, as well as getting placed in television and film. We also got to play the biggest stages in the Canadian folk festival circuit. It was fun to be treated like rock stars!

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

TP: I would say the phrase “Don’t give up your day job” is not necessarily a bad saying. Particularly now that some of my purely music-playing colleagues are getting into their 50s and 60s and finding it difficult to get by.

JS: Of what value are critics?

TP: In my case, extremely valuable. A music critic from Toronto’s NOW magazine named Tim Perlich had our band as a cover story and suddenly our shows went from being very well attended to completely packed in the period of a couple of months. We also had some attention from the national press just after that which made a big difference in terms of people recognizing who we were.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

TP: I don’t really ask anything. Sometimes I ask if anyone will buy me a drink when my glass is empty! Otherwise, I just hope people have a good time, laugh at the funny songs and cry with the sad ones.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

TP: I don’t know if I would change anything, but I get sort of put off by the fact that everyone seems to obsess over pop culture. So much of contemporary pop culture is mediocre and based on market research rather than art. Doesn’t seem like it has a very deep soul to me.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

TP: I really enjoyed when one of my bands was at the height of its popularity and we could reach a lot of people. We got to play on stage to thousands of people at a time. Part of working as an educator is the fact that I have not been able to pursue my music career to the most of my ability. I made personal decisions or sacrifices, and this has come to affect my fan base, as it were. Let’s just say that I’m getting used to playing smaller crowds now.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

TP: I’ve always enjoyed, and never taken for granted, everything that the media has done for me. I think that when you are presented this way to people, it gives you something that you need to live up to.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why

TP: I would like to travel to Japan someday. The culture intrigues me, is very different from my own, and I think it would be fantastic to play music there.

Of course, the city that we go back to again and again is New Orleans. The rich culture and resilient people make it different every time we return.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

TP: My band Colonel Tom and the American Pour is a very steadfast and traditional country music act. I like to think that we are doing our part to keep this music vibrant and alive for contemporary listeners. I write songs in the style, and hope that we can make it modern sounding and attract new fans to the genre.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

TP: Well, one great thing about playing in a honky-tonk band is that you can get your music out into the bars, where there is a lively audience. I really enjoy playing our music for kids in their 20s who just want to come out and party their asses off, blow off some steam at the end of the work week. One of the sad things recently is that more and more people think that music should be free and that musicians should just give their music away. So, while it is relatively easy to get one’s music to peoples’ ears, it is getting more and more difficult for me to pay my musicians properly!

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

TO: I am intrigued by the fact that, despite me being very urban, postmodern, relatively well educated, somewhat snobby about art and food & etc. I continue to absolutely love simple, straightforward, and very old-fashioned country music.

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LORI YATES: SINGER-SONGWRITER NOTES THAT “MUSICIANS THESE DAYS MUST BE THEIR OWN AGENT, MANAGER, RECORD COMPANY, PUBLICIST, WEB SITE DESIGNER, POSTER DESIGNER” – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

LORI YATES: Singer, songwriter, creative spirit, writer, photographer, promoter.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

LY: I think my work expresses: hope, determination, triumph over fear.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

LY: Patti Smith the poet/musician for the connection with both the words & music. Frida Kahlo because of her sheer desire to create. Both strong women mentors.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

LY: I’m not sure how I’ve changed since I’ve been doing creative work since I was a young gal of 11 years old, when I started writing poetry daily. I began songwriting at age of 14, and went into music professionally at 18.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

LY: Probably time management! I have tons of ideas and often there’s not enough hours in the day to complete them all. I battle with the depression of rejection, so I just try to keep my head down and do the work, not look for results.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

LY: A major turning point was when I decided to quit my job at the community centre and use the ticket that Sony had sent me to fly to New York to meet with them about a recording contract. It was the first time I was on a plane.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

LY: Maybe the hardest thing to understand is how many different things I do; music gigs, run songwriting workshops, private mentoring lessons, photography,

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

LY: I had a burning desire to create that just wouldn’t go away. It started with writing, morphed into singing and songwriting.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

LY: I started writing short stories, poems when I was a wee kid but when I got older music really took over and I mostly wrote in the form of songwriting. Lately I’m drawn back to the beauty of words alone. I’m really fascinated by memoirs so I might try to pursue that style of writing.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

LY: Having my lyrics immortalized in steel in Gore Park, being given a City of Hamilton Arts Award, Juno awards.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

LY: My advice would be very corny; follow your heart, find your own voice and never give up.

JS: Of what value are critics?

LY: I love a good review and bad ones hurt but in the end its just one person’s opinion.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

LY: That they have a good time, listen a little but not religiously lol

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

LY: I’d like to see artists be able to have more of a living wage, have street artists have more respect here in Canada.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

LY: It may be the first time I heard my song on commercial radio. I dropped to my knees, shrieking, the bacon burning in the pan. My boyfriend thought someone had died.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

LY: Years ago I was a guest on the Tommy Hunter show. I had a room on Indian Rd, in a “dirty mansion”. My old landlord saw the broadcast, and immediately tried to raise my rent, the assumption being; you’re on TV, you must be rich riding around in limos. Social media is definitely a false reality.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

LY: Definitely Mexico…would go back there in a second. I feel a big connection. And I guess my ancestral homeland of Ireland where I haven’t been yet but hope to soon.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us.

LY: I’m putting together some of my black & white iphoneography photos for a show “Chasing Shadow & Light” which will take place at Hotel Hamilton boardroom 195 James St. North during May art crawl…Friday May 12, 7pm

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

LY: Well the whole middle class has fallen out of music, the days of 5 night gigs are long gone, as are most of the record companies. Musicians these days must be their own; agent, manager, record company, publicist, web site designer, poster designer. I find all this extra work tiring and depressing, but at the same time liberating. At least when something is working, you know why because you’re doing it yourself!

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

LY: Ok, this may be the most difficult question; I’m not sure there’s anything intriguing about me! But what might be a tad surprising is that I’m a bit of a book nerd who, as much as I come off as an extravert, I usually need to spend at least half the day alone to feel balanced. An introverted extrovert, my friend wisely called me.

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DAVID LEE: BASS PLAYER, PUBLISHER, AUTHOR, JAZZ WRITER, RECORDING ARTIST, AND MUCH MORE: A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

DAVID LEE: Born in Mission, B.C., after studies at UBC, in Toronto David Lee became known in the Canadian arts community as an editor, publisher, writer, and player (double bass and cello). His books such as Commander Zero (novel) and Chainsaws: a History reflect a highly personalized perspective of Canadian culture.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

DL: The need to create systems to which everyone can equally contribute and have their contributions acknowledged, and in which there is no one who does most of the taking and least of the giving. This is above all important on the level of the planet itself, where so much of the population has been conditioned to think of “success” as a state where one can take as much as possible, and give little or nothing back.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

DL: Duke Ellington. A great musician who conceived of nothing in isolation: his compositions, for example, were very much about how the score and the improvising players can work together. He saw his music as being closely connected to the culture and politics of African American people, and he could fit that culture, in turn, into a broad global vision of humanity.

Gary Barwin. Talented both as a musician and writer, with a generous and inclusive attitude towards the work of others, whether they be beginning students or experienced professionals. He maintains a great deal of integrity in working across a range of disciplines.
Both Ellington and Barwin were, and are, very hard workers.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

DL:I think I gradually have acquired a clearer picture of who I am.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

DL : Probably the biggest challenge is the discipline of taking the time to do the work. There are so many distractions, chief among them the need to make money.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

DL: When I was 24, my mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. I had been procrastinating about following my interest in the double bass, but very soon after her death, I found a bass advertised in the Buy and Sell and bought it, and have played it ever since.

In 1989, my wife Maureen and I were running Nightwood Editions on a shoestring, and our first child was born. I found that all my nurturing interest went into Malcolm (joined a few years later by his brother Simon), and into raising children in general, and I lost all interest in being a small publisher.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

DL:I think the most difficult thing for most people to understand, and the most difficult thing for me to explain to them, would be where one finds the courage, the cunning, and the craftiness to manage to follow one’s interests, and still survive. I think a lot of people put a tremendous amount of energy into suppressing their interests, and never make the leap of faith (or more accurately, one leap of faith after another) into following their own interests, and trying to build those interests, and their accompanying tactics-for-survival, into a lifestyle.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

DL: I wrote a few stories and so on as a child, because I liked reading and so I wanted to be an author. I think that’s why many people begin writing: they want to be writers. The test is whether they develop a similar affinity for actually doing the work. Later in my teens, as I developed an interest in music, I decided to develop that – partly because I wanted to have some sort of social life in the arts, and I was afraid that writing was a terribly solitary pursuit.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

DL: I would like to write a novel set on the Canadian prairies.
I would like to write something about the Northwest Rebellion.
I would like to write some kind of critical work about the three 1950s Quatermass serials by Nigel Kneale, and even write a screenplay for a new adaptation for one or more of them.
I would like to compose musical settings for improvising groups of various sizes.
I would like to devote serious study time to the double bass.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

DL: Successfully raising two children to adulthood and especially being able to enjoy raising a young family as much as I did, especially in the serious financial straits in which my wife Maureen and I often found ourselves. Sustaining a working marriage for over thirty years. Writing books that people have actually read and enjoyed, books that have been important to at least some of the people who read them. Given my patchy musical background, and the fact that I started late, being able to play and record and associate with some really excellent musicians. Contributing to a number of very different cultural groups in a wide range of communities. After a couple of decades working in publishing, taking on blue-collar jobs in the resource-based businesses of a small west community, and finding I could actually do them well.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

DL: Go after what you really want to do in life and try to do it. If you’re lucky, you will fail. Then you will need to fall back on a plan B. It is the plan Bs that really make a career.

JS: Of what value are critics?

DL: Critics are of immense value for their ability to infuse some degree of cultural importance to works of art. There is a shortage of critical outlets both for writing, and for alternative musics these days, and that is a disaster for the artists. The success of a book, for example, can often depend on a handful of reviews. Without those reviews, a book can, in some ways, effectively not exist. Similarly, if a musician issues a recording, one or two reviews can make a huge difference.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

DL: When I look at or listen to a work of art, I try to judge it on its own terms. What were the creators trying to do? Once that question is answered, the next question is, how well did they do it? Speaking for my own work, I find it hard to say who the audience might be. It is best to make music that will work with, and for, the other musicians. As for books, as far as fiction goes, I feel like my imagined readers for each book are the characters who are in that book … I supposed because I feel like I am trying to tell the story in their terms.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

DL: In Canadian writing, a few more periodicals are needed that would critique literature from across the country on its own terms. In general, Canadian literary media are dominated by a relatively small number of writers and publishers (often big multinationals) who have entered the CanLit canon.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

DL: I remember the publication of my first book as being exhilarating. It was a guidebook to the back roads of southern Vancouver Island, so it wasn’t a literary milestone, but still, it was a book with my name on it. I had met pianist Les Fowler and percussionist Jim McGillveray and trumpet Monty Rolston at the Pender Harbour Legion, where I think we were meeting to discuss the Pender Harbour Jazz Festival, but I brought the book and it dominated the conversation for some time. I have a book out! The great thing is, if one continues to write books and have them published, one can relive such an experience a number of times.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

DL: Once a book has given me a presence in the news media, every time afterwards that I look at news media and I am not presented there, it seems like an absence, as if either the people at the media have screwed up, or I have somehow fallen short. This is one reason that writers keep producing books!
JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why

DL: I would like to spend a few months in some Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking place, where I would be forced to learn the local language. I have never really travelled to such a place.

My wife and I went to Paris a couple of years ago and I would like to return there – again, for a residency of some kind where I would really have to exercise my French. It would be great to get some sort of artistic or teaching residency – I am not much of a tourist and prefer working trips. I also would like to visit Batoche in Saskatchewan.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us.

DL: I have just had the 300-page draft of my PhD dissertation scheduled for defence. It is an account of improvised music in Toronto from founding of the Artists’ Jazz Band in 1962 until the years that I was active with the Bill Smith Ensemble and other Toronto groups, ending in 1985. Because I was active as a musician and writer in that scene, it is a very personal work for me. It is also a scene that has been largely undocumented.

This summer I hope to write a decent first draft of a sequel to my 2015 YA novel, The Midnight Games. Writing this book was very enjoyable, since it enabled me to launch a fictional premise in which H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos comes to life in Hamilton’s east end. I believe it opened up new possibilities for the publisher, Wolsak and Wynn, as well as for myself as a writer. Most inspiringly, I have met several young people who enjoyed the book and want to know how it continues. The idea that a book of mine might be, to these young people, one of those Big Important Books like the ones that I read as a kid is touching and exhilarating, and motivating.

I play double bass in a trio with guitarist Chris Palmer and saxophonist Connor Bennett, and we’ve recently released a CD called The Phantom Hunter. I would very much like to continue working, and expanding a repertoire, with this band.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

DL: I began working in avant-garde jazz/ improvised music in the late seventies and the community was tiny – maybe a couple of dozen people across Canada. Now the community has grown and improvisation’s expanded musical language has spread into a wealth of different musical forms.

I have also just published a novel in the Young Adult category, a genre that is being encouraged by the publishing and education industry, as it is so important to get young people into the extended realms of thought that one can enter by reading books.

The rise of the internet and digital media is at once exhilarating since we all, particularly artists, love information, and now we have all we want. It is also depressing because, economically, it seems to work to reinforce the “”one percent” rule that is becoming so prevalent, where a tiny number of people make a huge amount of money, and everyone else makes little or nothing.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

DL: I am always stunned and embarrassed when someone says they like or respect my work.

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DENISE GRANT: A PHOTOGRAPHER WITH THIS CONVICTION: “PHOTOGRAPHING THE ESSENCE OF A PERSON IS SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN TAKING A PICTURE OF A BEAUTIFUL FACE” – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

James Strecker: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

Denise Grant: I have recorded the arts with photography for 40 years; from garage bands to Celine Dion, I’ve worked with artists of all stature and level of creativity. I’ve been fortunate enough to shoot the nominees for the Toronto Arts Foundation for the last few years and learned about other areas of the arts that I was unfamiliar with. I’ve also been lucky enough to be a Juno judge and be allowed to assess other artists’ album cover design—-all of it an education and an honour.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

DG: Important beliefs? That passion is beautiful. That creativity is admirable and should be documented. That photographing the essence of a person is so much more important than taking a picture of a beautiful face. That money means nothing. That having time to do what you want is power.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

DG: I admire my father who died in 1998. He was a cinematographer who was a prisoner of war in the British army in WW11, captured in Tobruk; he spent 3 years in POW camps and after the war had to support a family which meant developing award winning photographs in my mum’s mixing bowls because there was no money for real equipment. He just got every job done at any cost.

I also admire Amy Dauphinee. She was my grade 5 teacher. I came from a very tough childhood with alcoholic parents; Mrs. Dauphinee seemed to intuit it and began taking me home to “work on a fudge recipe for the bake sale” or “to help with her workload” and she ‘accidentally’ brought two apples or two sandwiches a day to class so shared with me. I was the kid whose mum didn’t get around to making lunches. When I was 60 years old, I tried to find her son to thank him. Instead, I was put in touch with her. She answered the phone and I said “Hello, Mrs. Dauphinee, you might not remember me but my name is Denise”…I got no further. She replied “Denny? About time you called.” It had been about 50 years. I went through my whole story of how she’d affected my family life and given me hope and she replied “just today I asked God why he let me live so long and now I know. I had to wait for this call.”

This was a woman who didn’t only adopt hurt children, but also adopted two children in a 3rd world country and had her class do fund raising every single year so that those kids could go to school and have productive and happy lives.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

DG: How have I changed? I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin (as happens to anyone who gets older) but also much less judgmental. I don’t have to like someone else’s art to value it; I don’t have to agree with another person’s opinion to give it credit. Taste and opinion are subjective. Some of what I feel are my strongest shots have gotten very little response from the public, but I recognize that taste is subjective. It’s a liberating epiphany.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

DG: Biggest challenges? A 70 hour work week. I have no idea how anybody else does it, but I work a 70 hour week. And before you tell me I’m a workaholic, ask yourself this: if someone said you could be paid to do your hobby for 70 hours a week, would you do it?

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

DG: Major turning point. Having children. I had to decide whether I was going to give up photography or put my children into daycare and continue. I did neither. I started by shooting clients in my dining room while standing on a couch in my living room and having the baby on the floor. In time, I rented space and we cashed in pop bottles and took the subway to the studio every day; my kids played and grew up there while I worked. Aside from my daughter, Hayley, discovering the “your account is overdue, please remit payment” rubber stamp and then stamping all my papers, books and photos with it, the whole situation worked out beautifully.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

DG: I don’t think outsiders see past pictures of beautiful people. If I had a nickel for everyone who looked at a gorgeous guy or girl in my shots and said “Boy, I wish I had your job,” I’d be driving a Ferrari. They simply don’t understand the work behind the scenes.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

DG: I began as a photographer when I failed at everything else. True story. I dropped out of school 3 months into grade 11, hitch-hiked across Canada and ended up living the hippie life in Vancouver in the 60s which was THE BEST. By the time I was 21, I’d held 23 jobs. I finally decided I’d have to teach myself a craft, so I bought a used set of the Time Life Photography books and taught myself photography. No looking back.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

DG: I’d like to write a humorous book about my life; I’ve been fortunate enough to have many adventures before and after having children—and have been able to see the humour in all of them.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

DG: Most meaningful achievements? Hmmm…I’m going to assume you mean other than motherhood, which has been the highest peak I’ve ever reached. I think having my dad read Kim Campbell’s biography when she became Prime Minister, and him reading the part where she mentioned me by name…my dad faxed me a letter that I treasure to this day. He said I was his proudest accomplishment – and this was a man who’d never said “I love you.” (mind you, he might have sent the same fax to my brothers…)

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

DG: Advice to a young person: if you’re not willing to put your personal life second, don’t even attempt this leap. Working as an artist means sacrificing your personal life and compromising on familial commitments—- the idea of having a social life is alien to me.

JS: Of what value are critics?

DG: Critics are invaluable. Aside from making you aware of your weak points, they also serve as a way to reinforce your own feelings about your work. If I love something I’ve done and someone criticizes it, I simply assume they have different taste and I don’t take it personally. I was unable to detach ego when I was young, but as you get older, you recognize that critics can be a force that help you find your own line in the sand.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

DG: I ask people to keep an open mind.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

DG: There are a lot of things I’d change about what goes on in the world and the arts, but primarily..? I think we should stop judging people who make a living commercially as not being artists. It makes be crazy when people assume that you’re not an artist if you’re making a decent living. I would have thought that artists, of all people, would be less likely to judge—but that’s not necessarily true.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

DG: Relive one experience from my creative life? The first time I spoke to 400 high school students when I was lecturing for Kodak, I was so nervous that I didn’t focus. I’d like to redo that and really look at their faces and read their responses. I was told afterwards not to say that I’d dropped out in grade 11 because it was sending the wrong message, so in further lectures, I dropped that. I regret that decision. It’s important for kids to know that not everyone functions well in a structured educational system and you’re not a loser if you drop out. Some people dance to a different drummer.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

DG: I’ve been on various panels and had my work featured in the press, and people assume I must be sociable and they want me to embrace that world. But I’m a total recluse.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

DG: I would like to visit Scotland again because my people came from there centuries ago and it resonates with me. I would love to visit the Arctic, not only to photograph it but to talk to people who live there. I send food packages to a family in the Arctic and their priorities are so wonderfully simple and admirable to me.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

DG: I was working on a “nightmare series” which wasn’t embraced the way I’d hoped—people are repelled by scary images, but I love them. Something else I want to work on is a series based on literature. My first shoot will be Miss Havisham, from Great Expectations, by Dickens.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

DG: I think things are in a good place in Canada; several agencies funding grants, social media being a place to promote art at no cost. So, what do I find depressing? Nothing. I’m a Pollyanna. There’s always a glad thought if you look hard enough.

20. Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

20.) Most interesting or surprising thing about me? I think the fact that I lived in a dysfunctional household, led a (very) wild youth and then settled down to raise 3 children and maintain a happy 37 year marriage is surprising. I have implemented all the traditions that my family never had. I’ve raised children in a gender unbiased household and have nurtured all of them. I’ve taught them all to be readers, have wonderful table manners and respect people from any and all walks of life. Who would’ve thought it? Not me.

http://www.denisegrantphotography.com

http://www.instagram.com/denisegrant1

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Denise-Grant-Photography/101029689957595

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RECONNECTING WITH MUSIC AFTER A FIRE – PART 1

After the fire of December 1, I didn’t listen to music, or do much of anything for that matter really, until just recently, almost five months later. I had lost a huge collection of recorded music on CD, LP, 45 rpm, 78 rpm, and audio cassette, all collected over decades and in many genres. Our neighbour, Steve, loaned me one of his guitars, since all my instruments had been too damaged in the fire and smoke to repair, and although my fingers at the moment feel heavy, stiff and clumsy as lead pipe, I do find delight in slowly trying out things I used to do. This will take time.

In the meantime, I am pleased at how much music I am starting to listen to music from all over the creative map, music that awakens me from a numbed-out condition of fatigue and sadness, music that feeds every part of me and, even at its gentlest, thrills me. Often there’s a personal connection of some kind to the music I’m playing, memories begin to take shape, and I smile. So, allow me to talk now and then about just some of this music.

Okay, of course I never met the conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler. But once, in Toronto, soprano Emma Kirkby declared after our interview that she would arrange for my interview with her friend David Watkin, the Oscar winning cinematographer, who was currently filming in town. In turn, after our ensuing interview – thank you, Emma – David asked, “What do you think of Furtwangler?” and before I could answer, he said, “You have to hear this.” “This” turned out to be the last movement of Brahms Symphony No. I, recorded in Berlin on January 23, 1945.

I have rarely been consumed as much by a recording, and for almost twenty minutes sat motionless and silent and gradually emptied out of anything that was not this performance. So I came to understand why some call Furtwangler the greatest conductor who ever lived. He was a master of musical development, proportion and timing in a work, aware like a theatrical director of all its architectural nuances, able with uncanny insight to build suspense in what always seemed an organically-realized metaphysical narrative.

One experiences, deeply, in a Furtwangler performance, an almost ineffable sense of meaning being born in one’s consciousness, as if music and metaphysics speak their minds as one. I’ve been listening to Furtwangler’s Beethoven and Brahms symphonies of late and, each time, hold my breath at what this master’s dedication achieves.

With Anton Kuerti’s Beethoven Sonatas arrived in the mail, it was first, of course, opus 31, especially No. 2. Again, as with Furtwangler, I felt an artist completely present to all the dimensions and implications of a musical work at hand. And what an unyielding pianistic presence, one with a confident percussive quality that still shows both delicacy of emotion and nuance in concept in each meticulously realized lyrical passage! What a blend of passion and mind, when Beethoven would have it so!

How many years ago was it that, Anton, performing in Hamilton that night, called up and suggested we go have a vegan lunch, which turned out to be bagel sandwiches as we sat outdoors on Locke Street. I was humbled by the range in his conversation as we later drove through the city. His recitals are always thrilling, much as his conversation is challenging.

Now here are some of my favorite recordings of songs: ‘The Banks of the Nile,’ ‘Famous Flower of Serving Men,’ The Bold Poachers,’ ‘Jim Jones on Botany Bay,’ ‘Prince Heathen,’ ‘Rigs of the Time,’ ‘The Death of Young Andrew,’ ‘The Bonnie Lass of Anglesey.’ Yes, they’re all by Martin Carthy, called by many the most influential of folk singers, an artist from whom Bob Dylan and Paul Simon borrowed or stole, your pick, an OBE, and a master of imagination in how he puts songs together with his instrument. I love the way Martin holds the beat back on the guitar, as if resisting the tempo, even as he provides a solid foundation for a tune.

I first met Martin when long ago, by happy chance, he sang for a class of my college students. Another time, over an Indian supper in London, he explained how he came to write most of ‘Famous Flower.’ Once, I gave a depth psychology workshop in Ottawa, flew to Pearson, drove to Toronto, parked on Spadina, ran to U of T’s Con Hall, and just as I entered the auditorium, Martin and the Watersons, his in-laws, began singing another fave, ‘The Good Old Way.’ Thank you again, fate, for that one. Norma Waterson, his wife, is celebrated for an exquisite earth-rooted voice in traditional music. She has smiled the times I called her my favorite jazz singer.

The music of sarod master Ali Akbar Khan, whom Yehudi Menuhin called the greatest musician in the world, is also essential to me. It’s music that inspires, yes, an immediate connection, but more than that, an actual state of being, one of rhythmic spirit, one that takes over the listener’s body. I first heard him at -memory time, folks – the Eaton Auditorium in Toronto in the late sixties. It was love at first Alap.

Several decades later I found myself interviewing Ali Akbar Khan in someone’s bedroom in suburban Mississauga. All the while, during talk of music’s potent effect on one’s spirit and the possibility that, if he hadn’t finished what he was here to do, he might be reincarnated to continue, we smoked cigarettes and his were – appropriately- king size. I guess all important music feels like home, in a way, to the listener, and the ragas of Ali Akbar Khan always do that for me. The man found peace in his music and he gave it too. I have gone to his music often.

In Hymns of Heaven and Earth, composer Peter Togni proves himself most expert in creating and sequencing musical effects. Each one takes form through his instinctive, it seems, sense of balance and proportion in composition. Each one makes great emotional impact through his restraint and understatement. Here simplicity, in the use of one’s many creative resources for creation, gives birth to a work full of implication, tension, ambiguous resolution, and a challenge to the listener to fill in where the composer has shown restraint.

That much said about Togni also describes his ideal collaborator in Stacie Dunlop, a soprano with a voice that is at once crystalline and gutsy, ethereal and sensual, vulnerable and defiant, very theatrical and very musical at once. Where Togni’s writing demands technical versatility, Dunlop delivers also a spot-on emotional precision. Where Togni sets up a musical framework, Dunlop inhabits, with graceful passion and ease, the endless subtle shifts of the composer’s musical language. Hers is a very engaging performance of Pablo Neruda’s esteemed verse.

Backstage at a St Patrick’s Day concert one time, fiddler Martin Fay walked up to me and, as he declared, “You should have this!” slapped a shamrock with adhesive onto my left shoulder. Alas, I had only the week before broken that same collar bone while somersaulting unintentionally down a hill in Pennsylvania -don’t ask. But what the hell, these were The Chieftains who, any time they perform, on stage or on disc, they and we are made of lyrical yearning and undeniable toe-tapping that shows us to be alive in music.

Mind you, a recorded interview you’ve have with band leader Paddy Moloney, a man thick of accent, is not easy at all to decipher for weeks afterwards, but the man burns with enthusiasm for his music and the warmth is infectious. So, it means a lot to have found again copies of Irish Heartbeat: Van Morrison & The Chieftains and The Chieftains Live from 1988. On the latter you hear Martin Fay, a most lyrically soulful fiddler, and harpist Derek Bell who, backstage elsewhere, told me a delicious tale that he later repeated for me in a letter. It was written as it should be, in a bold and impish hand, one that took on the whole tight-assed world and mocked it as it should be mocked. I miss Martin and Derek.

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HANNA SHYBAYEVA: BELARUSSIAN-BORN DUTCH PIANIST DECLARES, “I WOULD ERASE MUSIC COMPETITIONS FROM THIS PLANET, BECAUSE THEY GIVE VERY WRONG IDEAS TO YOUNG MUSICIANS ABOUT WHAT’S IMPORTANT IN ART:” A REVIEWER INTERVIEWS PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

HANNA SHYBAYEVA: Classical pianist by education who is strongly influenced and inspired by other genres of music such as electronic, contemporary, jazz, rock and more. Equally active in every musical setting form from solo to a large ensemble performance.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

HS: I believe music can heal, educate and change people, and I hope I play my little part in bringing this belief over to them.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

HS: Admiring people for me is easy, since there is so much talent around and I always admire people who did or do the best with their gifts and talents and let them flourish to the maximum for the benefit of all of us and the world. But there are too many of them to mention here.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

HS: Life experiences made me more daring and less insecure about what I do and I guess this brings more colour, form and depth into my playing. I also at some point realized that I have to do what I believe in and like and not do what others think is right for me. That realization opened a totally new level of ways and forms to be creative in classical music.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

HS: To be a business lady. To be a good sales/PR agent and sometimes my own accountant. Next to what I do, these are for me extremely hard to combine.
Also, to be social and be at my best when I am not. People who paid money to hear me play shouldn’t care if I haven’t slept for two days or have a 39 degree fever.

Also, to somehow still have a ‘normal’ life sometimes which includes cleaning, buying food, going to see parents and friends.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

HS: Leaving my home town and country for good at the age of 18 made an impression. Though I travelled a lot through Europe since very young age, it was one of the major turning points in my life, a point that lasted for 1.5 years since I couldn’t find a place where I felt I wanted to stay and study further. At that stage I questioned everything I had done with my life before and didn’t know how I wanted to go further and even if I still wanted to go on playing piano.

Meeting my teacher and therefore moving to The Hague was the second big turning point, since it gave me a second musical life, a strong wish to live with music again and that was the start of what I am today.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

HS: This after the concert question: ‘Your piano playing is great, but what do you actually do for living?’

Some people think we just do this for fun, as a hobby, because we’ve got a good job aside that pays the bills and they don’t realize that this 1.5 hours’ program I just played for them is a full-time job with months of preparation.

A lot of people don’t realize how physically and mentally demanding what we are doing is. Physiotherapists compare piano playing (and not only piano, of course) with a heavy sport training and sometimes I know for sure I lose a kilo or two after a solo recital.

Another point which is hard to realize for an outsider is that we basically don’t have weekends and ‘evenings off after work’ since that is when most concerts take place. That being a musician is not a job, but an existence, and that we don’t have working hours, we work on music and live music all the time.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

HS: My mom is a conductor and there was always music in the house. We also had an upright piano which my mother played for me regularly, so naturally I started touching the piano keys early enough and apparently was learning very fast< which brought me to the special music school soon after. So, you can say that my parents decided for me to be a musician, but I am glad now that they did.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

HS: I have to learn how to really improvise and I want to be able to play real jazz…It fascinates me how different jazz musicians’ brains work and I believe it would do a lot of good to my creativity as a classical musician. Maybe in my next life….

I want to open a music centre with practice rooms and a recording studio with a small concert hall for musicians to gather and meld ideas, where all genres of music are going to be equally welcome. I know a place, but have no money to buy it, so if somebody wants to donate, please let me know.

I also want to attempt to learn how to dance flamenco I have always danced a lot and it’s an amazingly liberating feeling.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

HS: I don’t know how meaningful it is for the rest of the world, but I think my last recording production was the most important and made the most sense to me. I made my first LP production which was recorded live with an analog ‘direct-to-2-track’ system, and this meant no edits and corrections were possible, what you hear is what you get. I believe it is important to stay real in what we do and don’t agree with the nowadays fashion of recording in classical music where everything has to be perfect, with no possible wrong note or a pedal squeak allowed. In the end, we end up with a lot of recordings that are so perfect they all start sounding the same. I believe we should take a step back, relax about our imperfections, and let the public hear real music which is played once and once only.

I also for the first time used a recording technique with the microphones very close to the instrument and almost without reverb. My sound concept is the opposite of what is common in classical piano recording where the piano often sounds loud but far away and an ambiance of a big concert hall is being created. I believe in a close and more intimate sound where the listener should feel like I am playing in his living room. Basically, I think I am reaching out to the old recordings’ sound and this was my first attempt, and I know there will be more experiments in this field for me and can’t wait to try again!

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

HS: First of all, ask yourself if you really love music or is it that you love yourself in music. The difference is crucial and can make you either happy or a very frustrated person for the rest of your life.

JS: Of what value are critics?

HS: You mean people who write bad things about others and get paid for it? Just joking.

They can be of a great value if they know the subject and are able to remain objective. In this case, you read really interesting meaningful reviews and it doesn’t matter if it’s positive or negative. However, too many of them are using the motto ‘I don’t like it and therefore it’s not good’ or they just praise whatever is in fashion at that moment.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

HS: I love my public and I hope they like me back. I don’t ask much of them, because it’s my choice to play for them and I am happy to see them when I come out on stage. I ask of them to forgive me if I have a bad day.

Maybe sometimes I want to ask of them to be a little more understanding right after the concert when I am still trying to catch my breath and not to be invasive or only want to talk about how their far away family member also plays piano and want to know how many hours I practice per day.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

HS: What goes on in the world and the arts is unfortunately the same: egoism, vanity and greed.

To change these things I guess is impossible, since it’s never been different in history, or has it?

Hypothetically, I would force the whole world to start its day with one obligatory hour of dancing and singing together on the streets where presidents would be forced to dance as a couple with a cleaning lady and a Muslim person together with a Christian!

If I could change something really in arts, I would erase music competitions from this planet, because they give very wrong ideas to young musicians about what’s important in art and why we choose to do what we do. In music, it’s not about being better, faster, stronger, greater, or prettier.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

HS: No, I don’t think I want to relive any, I only want to make and live new ones.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

HS: None whatsoever. I am not that much in the focus light that it would start to become disturbing. In my case, it actually helped me a little since I was always very shy and introverted. Having to deal with media taught me to be more present and express myself better also in words and not only through playing piano.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

HS: I have to go to Iceland one day, I find everything about that country extremely intriguing.

I want to go back to that place in the middle of nowhere in the countryside somewhere between Berlin and the sea where a little pretty house stands, hear and feel again that strong wind and warm sun on my face, and experience that peace of mind I haven’t had in years.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

HS: I am always busy with ideas inside me, they have to grow and take shape and sometimes it takes time. Every solo program I come up with is a project for me, to think it, cherish it and make it blossom in the end. The important thing for me is to always have a surprise element in every program I make, and let’s say even if I have a quite conventional program there always will be a piece that nobody knows or expects. In every program I make I try to bring in a little educational aspect, to not only let my public hear what they already know, but always integrate an element of the new and unexpected, maybe then it becomes more meaningful for all of us.

Recently I am also preparing a contemporary tango project which might turn into a recording as well. I love dancing, as I told you before, and tango is one of my passions too. I found a lot of contemporary composers who apparently felt the same way and I think it’s interesting and also entertaining to bring this out as one project.

Another exciting project to come is a theatre piece I and my colleagues are working on, based on improvisation in music and also in acting. We are trying to expand our boundaries and show our public totally different sides of us as musicians.

I am always busy with my two-piano duo, Pianologues, with an amazing jazz musician Gianluca di Ienno who taught me so much about jazz. Based on improvisation and mutual feeling of the moment on stage, this project is growing into something that I cannot tell you yet.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

HS: I have the feeling that the arts, including my field, somehow are coming to standstill at the moment.

We are pressed by promoters, concert halls and all other mighty parties to come up with new ideas and exciting projects to make the arts move further, but I feel that under a lot of pressure, and especially time pressure, those ideas don’t have time to form themselves into something real.

On the other hand, the same promoters are quite scared to see something new or something they personally don’t know in our programs and the phrase ‘Our public will not understand this’ or ‘This is too difficult for our public’ is what I hear so often. How do they know if they never tried??

We end up repeating the known repertoire over and over again because today things have to sell and preferably sell easy and fast, but there is so much interesting and exciting music still to find out and perform! I have nothing against the great repertoire of the past and will never stop playing it, but I also feel it is almost the duty of my generation of the younger players to not forget to look around and embrace the repertoire that is being created for us right now.

Also, what always sells is sex appeal, I find it dangerous for young artists when a label or a powerful promoter gets them to dress up and behave in a certain way just to sell a lot of tickets and CDs. There should be no place for that in what we do, in my humble opinion.

The hope is that there are enough young greatly talented musicians who don’t go with this philosophy and stubbornly go on creating new interesting things, music and projects, at all costs, without thinking only about how to make a fast and glamorous career.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

HS: I am surprised myself that I am breaking a lot of barriers for myself and am not afraid to go out of the framed image of ‘a classical musician,’ something I never thought I would be doing.

The intriguing and the exciting thing is that I don’t know where else this will bring me.

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BOOK REVIEW: CLOUD MESSENGER: LOVE AND LOSS IN THE INDIAN HIMALAYAS BY KAREN TROLLOPE-KUMAR

Cloud Messenger, a memoir by Karen Trollope-Kumar about “Love and Loss in the Indian Himalayas” resonates, in understated yet evocative prose, with many passages that cling to the reader. Try this: “……I could see that flowers had burst into bloom. But something strange had happened. The world around me was like a black and white photograph – the colour had disappeared, leaving nothing but shades of gray…. Weeks passed and I remained lost in my shadow world……. The long hours of daylight dragged on, until I was desperate for night to come.” If you’ve known depression, or maybe if you’ve avoided the blunt fact that you are depressed, or could be, you may shiver in recognition and awaken to new unsettling depths in yourself.

But Trollope-Kumar’s subtly seductive narrative is many things –including a firm yet humane account of her many realizations during her spiritual development. This is shown as by no means an easy journey: “I had come to Garhwal filled with naïve enthusiasm and I had created naïve expectations for myself about building a medical program with specific outcomes and goals. The failure of these expectations had perhaps been inevitable…. Yet my outer life had always been intimately related to an inner movement of mysterious dimensions……That inner journey had led me to ever-deepening layers of understanding: how people of a different culture live and work, how they experience their bodies in health and illness, how they create meaning within their lives. At another level I had experienced the meaning of love – for Pradeep and my Indian family, for my children, and for the people of Garhwal.”

At a profound level, the author “felt a sense of unity or oneness with the natural world” and “deep” connection “with others.” She sums up, “My spirituality lay in the mystery of pattern, within nature and within human lives.” And later “I offered a prayer to remember the attitude of the true pilgrim – to be open, aware, humble, and mindful.” This she concludes after eleven years as a Canadian who, with her Indian husband, works as a medical doctor in remote regions of the Himalayas. Here she gradually grows into the culture, becomes more at one with it, as it were, and both the country and the author develop in complexity before the reader’s eyes.

The reader, however, does not remain a neutral observer, since both the country’s revelations and the author’s awakening require a thoughtful reader to share Trollope-Kumar’s probing attitude and to question so much that is taken for granted by a Westerner. Try this passage, one that I reread several times to let its implications start to settle in: “My brain swirled in confusion. I’d never seen a condition like this in my medical work in Canada and the symptoms just didn’t make sense to me.” Her husband, Pradeep, a doctor raised in the pulsations of Indian culture, comments in response: “This problem of safed panni is very common in India…. In Lucknow, we were seeing many women like her.”

To which Trollope-Kumar responds: “But a condition like that doesn’t even exist in Canada…. It’s as if people’s cultural background affects the way they experience their bodies – even someone’s symptoms can be different depending on the culture they grew up in. Isn’t that amazing?” To which Pradeep replies: “Maybe it’s because we people in India never used to think of the body like a machine with lots of parts. We think of the body as having flows of energy – something that is always changing. It’s a different idea completely.” Trollope-Kumar becomes “lost in thought: “Perhaps to become an effective doctor in India, I’ll need to decipher the language of the body……I suspect that this is a skill far more subtle than simply learning to speak Hindi.”

One beauty of Cloud Messenger is the frequent and clear articulation of nearly ineffable spiritual wisdom and of potent personal realizations. Friend Bill observes: “The problem with you is that you are still attached to the idea of ‘I’ as the doer. You need to pray to understand the movement of Divine will in your life. In that moment of surrender, you will find the peace your heart is seeking.”

Trollope-Kumar then reflects: “God, pray, Divine will, surrender, these are all words that arise in a faith tradition in which the Divine is perceived in the most intimate terms in an ‘I-thou relationship…. Yet what do these words mean for a Buddhist, a Daoist, or for an agnostic? What do these words mean for someone like me, who has so many questions? ……If we think about the universe as a dynamic dance, can we transcend the need for words like God and Divine will? The dance of the universe is revealed in the richness of the world, in the myriad names and forms that surround us. Suppose the seeker strives to attune herself to that cosmic dance, to move in its rhythm – will she then find the peace her heart is seeking?”

Meanwhile, Pradeep’s determined spiritual search has led to one realization that he should move with his depressed wife to Canada – “You’ll feel better in your own country”- and also this: “I am no more interested in NGO work. In fact, I am no more interested in the practice of medicine at all. It is time for me to take a new direction in life.” Before, when his wife teased him that he could have been a well-known guru, his response was: “Having disciples is the last thing I want…Too much power comes with being a guru, and most people can’t handle it.” Meanwhile, Trollope Kumar worries that “all that work” the two have done will “go to waste.” And she reflects, “Perhaps I was drawn to India in pursuit of that adventure. Perhaps Pradeep was just part of that romantic fantasy…”

In Cloud Messenger, we learn much, say, about India’s culture, everything from daily diet to the ways of childbirth and the treatment of women. Also about the perils of trying to deliver health programs, with limited resources and undertrained staff, to rural India. Also about a westerner’s unending adjustment to an intensely complex and elusive way of life that India is. Also about ideals confronted by a hostile world – a swami does get murdered, after all. Also about the fibre of love and friendship in their many manifestations. Also about human need and denial and the impact of each one.

Like the country she describes, the author’s intensely personal memoir draws one in and doesn’t sit still for passivity to be one’s response. It’s a fascinating and very readable tale, often rich with subtle humour and insightful lightness of being, that begins: “’Expect the unexpected,” I had been told when I left Canada for two months of medical studies in India.” Cloud Messenger shows itself to be a wise and gentle life shared. It’s a life that – by trying to move beyond intention and expectation and denial of one’s truer self- indeed earns its wisdom.

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