JEANNE LAMON: BAROQUE VIOLINIST, CONCERTMASTER, CHAMBER MUSICIAN, TEACHER, AND MUSIC DIRECTOR EMERITA WHOSE LEADERSHIP TOOK TAFELMUSIK TO INTERNATIONAL STATURE AS ONE OF THE BEST ENSEMBLES IN ITS FIELD, EXPLAINS “CREATIVE WORK IS EXTREMELY PERSONAL AND EVERYONE HAS THEIR OWN WAY OF DOING IT. SO, YOU CAN’T REALLY POLICE MUSIC MAKING. EVERY MUSICIAN WORTH HIS OR HER SALT HAS A LOT INVESTED IN THEIR CREATIVE WORK. OTHERWISE WE’D ALL BE BANKERS!” A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

Photo credit Sian Richards.

Music Director Emerita Jeanne Lamon joins Tafelmusik as concertmaster for the final all-Beethoven program of the 2017/18 season featuring Bruno Weil as conductor, and Music Director Elisa Citterio as violin soloist. May 3 to 6, 2018 at Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning details at Tafelmusik.org.

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?

JEANNE LAMON: Jeanne Lamon was largely responsible for the artistic development of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, bringing it from its embryonic stage in 1981 to its maturity as one of the world’s preeminent baroque orchestras today. Her leadership style is a collaborative one. She has put a strong individual mark on the Tafelmusik sound, which some describe as robust and energetic.

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

JL: I hope that I express the joy that I feel in my music making. The act of making great music come alive with like-minded musicians has been extremely powerful for me. It brings me great joy which I hope I convey.

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

JL: Malala Yousafzai is the most courageous young woman I can imagine! The very fact that she survived the attack on her life, and dares go back to Pakistan to help other young girls get educated is amazing to me.

Barack Obama was truly a great leader and I have found few great leaders to emulate in my life. One of the most important parts of good leadership is being a good listener, which he is. Once one has assimilated the information, one can make a wise decision, convincing people along the way that they helped make that choice. Much like leading a Tafelmusik rehearsal!

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

JL: 4. Since I began to do creative work, I have become a lot more reasonable in my dealings with others! I understand now what I didn’t understand well enough before. Creative work is extremely personal and everyone has their own way of doing it. So, you can’t really police music making. Every musician worth his or her salt has a lot invested in their creative work. Otherwise we’d all be bankers! Balancing that knowledge with the need to create a coherent whole is the ultimate challenge of the music director.

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

JL: My biggest challenge as a creative person has been to constantly find new challenges; to push boundaries, try new approaches, and tackle new repertoire. Also, it can be hard to incorporate all the ideas of my colleagues in the performance on the occasions when I really don’t agree with their creative suggestions. The latter is a leadership challenge.

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

JL: Hearing a concert with Leonhardt and his ensemble in Amsterdam as a student. That convinced me to be a baroque musician.

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

JL: That it’s hard work and there are no “days off”.

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

JL: Music is fun. I’ve always enjoyed it, so I guess I’ve been doing it all my life, starting with singing songs as a young child.

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

JL: I haven’t yet made arrangements of Rameau dances for a pop ensemble. I know they could be a big hit.

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

JL: Don’t do it unless you can’t NOT do it. It’s hard work. But it’s very gratifying too. Good luck and have fun!

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

JL: I ask of the audience that they be open with a “Do it to me” sort of vulnerability. That they put aside their day and just go along for the ride.

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

JL: All heads of government should sing songs together at the start of every meeting.

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

JL: I’m happy to have many wonderful memories. I don’t need to relive anything. Let the past be the past.

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?

JL: When there is a lot of media about me, or when they name a concert hall after me, that’s “someone else”.

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

JL: I want to go back to Venice because it’s a 17th and 18th century city with no cars, so it’s quite well preserved and feels like you’re back in the time.

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?

JL: I have been working on performing Mozart violin sonatas with a wonderful fortepiainst named David Breitman. These pieces are too seldom heard. I’d love to do them all in the next few years!

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?

JL: The young upcoming generation of performers gives me great hope for the future of period performance. I find the general lack of respect for the relevance and importance of the arts in our society depressing.

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CATHERINE THOMPSON: CANADIAN LONG RIDER, INSTRUMENT MAKER, MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, PERFORMER, VISUAL AND MATERIAL ARTIST, NOW IN THE MOUNTAINS OF NORTHERN THAILAND, DECLARES “IT’S IMPORTANT TO NOT GET TOO TOO COMFORTABLE AND, IN THAT, WHENEVER POSSIBLE, IT IS VALUABLE TO REMEMBER WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE DIMINISHED, TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE, TO BE IN DANGER.” … 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?

CATHERINE THOMPSON: Catherine Thompson was a Canadian long rider, instrument maker, musician, composer, performer, visual and material artist. Her work was devoted to connection with nature. After many years in Canada, her final time found her ensconced among the mountains of northern Thailand. She practised Kendo and Iaido.

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

CT: My primary motivation in my work has always been focused around my deep personal connection with the natural world and in some way to present my perspectives to the world at large. It really is at the root of everything that I do and care about. Within that broad foundation I might say that I strive for a kind of clear thinking and focus in what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to find English words to express what I mean but it’s not really working. I think that perhaps the Japanese concepts of Wabi-sabi and Shibumi are much clearer meanings of what I mean. To explain Shibumi, Shibui (adjective), shibumi (noun), or shibusa (noun) are Japanese words which refer to a particular aesthetic of simplicity, subtlety, and unobtrusive beauty.

To explain Wabi-sabi, in traditional Japanese aesthetics, Wabi-sabi is a world view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (sanbōin), specifically impermanence (mujō), suffering (ku) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (kū).

Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.

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

CT: The naturalist John A Livingston, who passed away, if I remember correctly, in 2005, has had a profound influence on my thinking in regards to our human place on the earth. Many might not know him by name but will, if of a certain vintage, know him from the older Hinterland Who’s Who nature vignettes. (https://youtu.be/i9X8RFABXRg)
A naturalist to the core, he refused to call himself an environmentalist and for that alone I adore him. On a CBC Ideas program in the late 80s, he said something akin to ‘the environmental movement is mostly made up with those who want to keep everything the same and still get away with it.’ To my eyes little has changed.

Not too sure who to mention as a second. There are many amongst family and friends that I truly admire, but I’d rather leave that bunch out of it.

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

CT: I’ve been doing creative activities since a young child and so there have been quite a few significant changes in my life since then, what with me being sixty years old now. I can say that as I have stumbled about and managed to get myself where I presently am, my focus has become clearer and my willingness to put up with nonsense (or at least what I perceive as so) is at a pretty low bar. I pretty much always did as I wanted, when I could, but now… well life is short and things are so very dire on multiple planetary fronts so… well, I seem to have managed to set myself up, for the time being, with a situation where I can manage to take doing whatever the hell I want to do to a pretty fine and continuous level. Unless it involves pots of cash. I haven’t got that down to a fine and/or continuous level at all.

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

CT: Self-confidence. A lack of it has pretty much always dogged my heels. Didn’t really stop me in the end doing what I thought I ought to be doing, but it’s been a bugger for sure. I found, and find, at times, that much of this gets amplified when amongst others. From a fairly young age, I found myself out in the wilderness on my own for extended periods of time. This was essential, these journeys, on so many levels, but not being influenced by pressure from others was a big part of this for me. It is also, I think, why a great deal of my performing has been as a soloist. Seems easier to do it on my own, I suppose. Having said that I have also been lucky to have been a part of numerous collaborations over the years that were deeply fulfilling, so…

Oh yeah. Lack of money has been a hinderance, but I already mentioned that aspect, so I won’t go on about it here.

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

CT: For three years between 2011 and 2013 (not during the winter) I embarked on a solo long-distance ride on horseback through the southern plains of Saskatchewan and Alberta. There were also three years of preparation for the journey that were very much a part of the trip itself and two years before that envisioning the damn thing. In the end, it was a long slow meandering that linked the endangered and almost disappeared native prairie grasslands in the region. Because of that journey, I had the great honour of being inducted as a full member in The Long Riders Guild which is the world’s preeminent organization of equestrian explorers.

That trip, in many ways, is what led me to moving to Thailand. I was what you might call ‘nomadic’ for a good 12 years before that and the ride was a kind of ultimate culmination of that life for me. I wondered during the ride if I might find a place to settle somewhere in the southern prairies where I travelled, but no, it ended up being Thailand. It was my mom and brother, who live in SE Asia that brought me here and, on top of that, it was the place and people that ensured my staying.

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

CT: This is a little tricky, as it means me trying to interpret what I perceive from others’ perception of me wondering what they are thinking about what I do when they are thinking of how and then what and wait wait wait… where? I guess, obviously.

I often feel outside the general loop of things and this has been so all along. I’m not really thinking so much about that these days because I am absolutely out of the loop of things now. Physically I mean. No metaphor.

Well… I think that some don’t take me seriously at all, or they doubt me and/or my work, at first especially. Sometimes later this perception seems to change and people like and accept me to my satisfaction. I sometimes get the sense that some in the main stream of things see me as some nutty bush bunny, interesting enough but not really worth serious consideration. No. Wait a minute. Maybe that’s how I see myself. Nah. It couldn’t be. I take myself VERY seriously and I know that I am seriously interesting.

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

CT: I really don’t know. It has always been a part of my life and I have the bank balance to prove it. There I go again.

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

CT: Ummm…. nothing, actually.

I wouldn’t say no to a long ride in Mongolia and/or Siberia, but I’ve done a major long ride already, so that doesn’t really count.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

CT: The ride, for sure. It seems that a lot of my big achievements take place over 10 years or thereabouts. They are these big ill-defined ‘projects’ that are really attempts to ponder my (our) place in the natural world (it’s not going particularly well). So, it has a centre based in some sort of art or whatever, but that is really just the vehicle to explore the ideas and thoughts.

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

CT: Well, there’s the obvious self-deprecation humorous cliché… don’t.

Maybe if the question was more specific that would be easier. I do a lot of different things that need to be approached from different angles. I guess I might say to do what you really deeply wish to do (if you can figure that one out) in your life, do it with as much excellence as possible, never give up, never surrender – that’s from Kendo. I would for sure recommend practising Kendo. Practising a martial art or something that can give a person some sort of potential for mayhem is an excellent idea. We don’t have much of that these days in the west on a mass scale, especially for young people. It’s probably important for us to bonk (I mean hit, not…) one another once in a while just to keep our heads on straight. Get out in the woods a lot, if you like that sort of thing. Pay attention to the world around us because things are changing very quickly now and it deserves being witnessed. The previously mentioned shibumi/wabi-sabi concepts might be something I might pass on, but then that might not be terribly shibumi/wabi-sabi-like of me to specifically do so.

JS: Of what value are critics?

CT: For me, very little. I have been a part of very few media critical revues in the past. Any that came my way were generally from dance projects that I was composing for. But they were few and far between and I always got a short mention, if any. I did get a full two paragraphs – huge, that – in a brilliant review from Michael Crabb for a project that I did with choreographer Eryn Dace Trudell. Otherwise, for the arts world at large, I’m not sure. I guess there’s value in getting the word out for shows and things. It’s valuable to be compared with others in one’s specific practice, one’s peers, community. I guess. To some extent. It’s been a long time since I read any article at all from an arts critic. But I used to read them more often when I wasn’t doing so much galivanting.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

CT: For quite a while now, my performances have been small in audience numbers and venue size and have been acoustic without any amplification and very intimate. I ask (indirectly) that when people come to see me perform that they simply allow themselves to be blanketed in the spirit of what I am doing. It works out nicely for the most part. I spent many years going to The Banff Centre and that was a place where I could set that sort of thing up easily and nicely. I’m not sure if I can play with a sound system ever again.

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

CT: Bwahaha! Those who know me would know what’s coming next!

And that would be to rapidly and immediately deconstruct industrial civilization with a medium to long term vision of we humans existing at a stone-age level of technology and pre-agricultural in our manner of living. I don’t think we’d need to worry too much about the arts in that context as that sort of thing, I suppose, would just follow along with the general mayhem of things.

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

CT: My first music piece in collaboration with choreographer Sasha Ivanochko holds a really lovely memory for me in so many ways. The piece was called The King and Queen of Ruins. Sasha got me to compose for a number of her pieces after that over the years and they were all wonderful experience,s but that first one, well it was special special and that’s what popped into my mind.

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?

CT: As I mentioned above, I get very little media attention. I do have a youtube channel, though, and have got into the habit of making videos of late. Many to do with music and my instrument making and I also did a series of videos that I called Water Walks that I made when I would go up the mountain to get my drinking water. It is an almost 4km walk there and back to the spring, about half in the forest and half on our windy village road. I often talked about environmental things, but I seemed to have lost the heart for making those videos. In part, I think, because I probably made enough of them and got my point across as much as I might and, when I’m in a more cynical mood, it seems past needing now. I’ll probably get back at it when I have something pertinent to say. Maybe when we have our first arctic sea ice blue ocean event! That’s something to look forward 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

CT: Mongolia and Donegal in NW Ireland.

Mongolia is somewhere I have not been and it has been on my mind as a place to spend time in for a long while now. This place because of its similarity land-wise and climate-wise to south Saskatchewan and Alberta, its long and vital horse culture, and I also love the music from central Asia generally and Mongolia specifically.

I spent a summer in Gleann Colm Cille, Donegal in 2001 taking part in Irish language immersion and sean nós (traditional, literally ‘old style’) singing workshops. A good deal of my family roots are from Ireland (though not Donegal) and it felt like coming home in so many ways. My ideas that a language emerges, in part, from a land, a place, were deepened tremendously during that summer. Somehow the crash of the ocean on the rocks, the specific ways the wind plays over the grass, the rain upon the ground brought to my mind that the land helps to create a very language itself. In that context, English seems quite an imposing entity. If I wasn’t in Thailand, I might consider living in Donegal. If they’d have me. Might consider Mongolia too on that account. It’s less rainy there and then I could live in a Ger. I have spent a huge amount of my life tent living and I love that.

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?

CT: Goze in the Foothills of the Himalaya (https://gozefoothills.wordpress.com) is the most recent project that I have been working on, though it has been on a sort of hiatus for almost a year now. I need a couple more years away from it to continue on but, all willing, I will do so soon enough.

This project was an honouring and exploration of the Goze who were active in times past in Japan. Mostly blind, the Goze would travel the countryside and perform, sing, play the shamisen and no doubt pass on the news of the day as well as much-loved stories. This idea is an extension of my nomadic past and interests which in themselves come from my roots in traditional Irish music and the itinerant nature of that music in ancient times.

I have had an interest in moving cultures for a long time. Hunter gatherer especially. In terms of why they matter, there is a big aspect for me that it’s important to not get too too comfortable and, in that, whenever possible it is valuable to remember what it feels like to be diminished, to be uncomfortable, to be in danger. To my view, modern societies avoid that sort of thing like the bloody plague and avoidance of it will probably end up biting us in the ass. Hard.

My most recent ‘project’ or perhaps endeavour is a better word, has been shifting over to making guitars. ( http://musicforestinstruments.wordpress.com) I’m making flamenco guitars at the moment and will include classicals as well soon enough. There is something about the making of something beautiful with a lovely sound, and nothing more than that that feels like a really good thing to be doing right now. Shibumi, you know.

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?

CT: I’ve been so isolated from the outside arts world for so long that it’s difficult for me to comment other than to say that I can’t be arsed. I’ve been looking for a spot to use the phrase, ‘I can’t be arsed’, and now I’ve found it.

I lived in the fringes of the art world when I was in Toronto and it’s been a good 17 or 18 years since I left there. A lot of what I see and hear about now is via the internet and from what friends are up to. It seems that there are lots of interesting things going on. Not too many seem to care much at all about the state of the natural world so that is, I guess, depressing enough for me. Well, people say they care, but it does not seem a true confession, that. From this distance where I am looking from, I feel like identity politics is getting a bit of a foothold on things generally and in the arts specifically and I really dislike and distrust that. We’ll see soon enough where that all goes I suppose.

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

CT: Every now and then I get myself pulled into a project and I get the deep feeling and thought that I already know how to do this, that I have done this before. This has happened a number of times over the years, but it is still rare enough. I certainly felt this when I was teaching myself to brain/smoke tan deer hides and then a little while afterwards to hunt and dress deer.

More recently it came to me again when I started making guitars, flamenco guitars specifically. I did have reference materials, certainly, but it was a deep thought that I knew how to do this already and that all I really needed to do was to wait until I had a full image of what I was to do and then I went ahead and did it. I’ve only made two guitars to date but they are both really good – the second technically and cosmetically somewhat better – and sound excellent, pretty close to exactly what I was hoping for sound wise. When this happens, I will often say half-jokingly that it was ancestral memory at work. I don’t really know what it’s all about, but I can say that it is bloody exciting, if also exhausting. I would really like to say that I’ve been channelling Santos Hernandez, but that just seems a tad presumptuous.

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AMANDA SMITH: DIRECTOR OF HAUS MUSIK (ON APRIL 26) – TAFELMUSIK’S EXPERIMENTAL, IMMERSIVE SERIES AT TORONTO’S LONGBOAT HALL (1087 QUEEN STREET WEST) – EXPLAINS “IT’S IMPORTANT TO SHOW THAT PEOPLE’S LIVES ARE NOT ALWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM TO BE.”… A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

Photo: Dahlia Katz

The April 26 edition of Haus Musik, Tafelmusik’s experimental, immersive series is at Longboat Hall, The Great Hall, 1087 Queen Street West. Doors and electronic set at 8pm | Live music at 8:30pm. General admission, limited seating. Tickets: $20 Advance / $25 Door | Cash bar. Details at hausmusikTO.com.

JAMES STRECKER: 1 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?

AMANDA SMITH: “Canadian stage director, Amanda Smith, is the Founding Artistic Director of the interdisciplinary new music and opera collective FAWN Chamber Creative. Her work revolves around visual and dramatic interpretation of classical music through staged concerts and opera. Smith’s work is known for her frequent collaborations with artists from different disciplines.”

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

AS: That’s a tricky question, because it changes based on the project and, probably, what’s most on my mind at the time of concept creation. I think it’s important to show that people’s lives are not always what they seem to be. In much of my work, I often focus on creating understanding around the complexities of people’s internal experiences that are often superficially judged. I try to create opportunities for empathy in my work.

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

AS: I admire my parents. It might sound cheesy but they worked very hard to give my siblings and I a loving, fun and fulfilling life. We grew up with a number of challenges but they made sure we stuck together and enjoyed being with each other. They taught us that caring for other people is of the utmost importance and I thank them for that.

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

AS: I’m sure I’ve grown in a lot of ways but one is that I’m a lot more collaborative in my directing approach. It’s easy to want to control everything but far less interesting. Some of the best ideas belong to many people all at once. An important part of my job is to bring focus to those collective ideas.

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

AS: Burnout can be an issue, especially since I often direct and design for the shows I work on. It’s important to give yourself space for that.

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

AS: Meeting my partner and soon to be husband, Julius. I would be a very different person if I had not met him. The type of love and support he has given me has allowed me to grow in very important ways.

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

AS: I think a lot of people have a hard time fully understanding what a director does. Every director works a little differently and may have more influence over some elements of a production than others, due to their areas of expertise and interests. It’s a highly collaborative role, so the lines of creative responsibilities can be somewhat blurred. The idea is that directors often have a few fingers in every pot.

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

AS: I was in music school and craved a creative outlet. Before going to school for it, singing was my outlet but it no longer felt that way. I still love singing but making music is not how I personally access my creativity. With that said, music remains the source of my creativity. I wanted to find a way to interpret what I saw in my head while listening to music. I started directing and designing my school’s choir concerts in my second year of undergrad. I definitely caught the bug then.

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

AS: I have always wanted to move to Berlin and was preparing to do so at the end of my undergrad. The range of work being done there looks like a place I would feel comfortable in. I stayed because I fell in love, as simple as that, and it was totally worth it. Living there for a short period is still on my list, but I’m enjoying the classical music and opera scene that’s growing in Toronto. There are many reasons to stay here!

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

AS: My most meaningful achievements come from times when I’ve been able to give people a voice to be heard, especially when it leads to self-discoveries. This is true when it happens in my creative work and also my personal life.

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

AS: I strongly encourage anyone who wants to become a director to experience life from multiple perspectives. Open yourself to different kinds of people and truly listen to their stories. Go to see different types of art and take the time to think about it. Attend a range of events by different social and professional circles. This all helps you to better understand the worlds and characters you’re imagining.

JS: Of what value are critics?

AS: It’s important to have discussions about the art we see. Critics help to keep that spirit alive.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

AS: Remain open minded and take the time to think about what you’re experiencing. This is something I tell myself as well.

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

AS: Wow, this list is forever changing and growing as I get more settled in both. In both cases, inequality is ever-present, be it as a result of gender, sexuality, religion, physical appearance, physical abilities, culture and/or mental health. We see white, cis men at the top more often than not, so my hope is that we see more progress in this as time goes on.

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

AS: Last summer I was the faculty Chamber Werx stage director for the Banff Centre’s summer opera program. I directed and designed two immersive, interdisciplinary music-theatre shows out of art song, arias and electronic music by ACOTE. Being there, where you can fully immerse yourself in your work, was an immensely powerful experience. High altitudes seem to be great for creative thought!

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?

AS: Being in the media can be exciting but it’s also a bit unnerving, especially for a stage director. The best way to learn is by doing, so, unlike a performer, most of your learning is done publicly. Hopefully it just means that more people can be witness to your growth as an artist.

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.

AS: One place I would like to visit is Berlin, as mentioned before. The plan is to head there in September 2018 for a visit, so I’m looking forward to that. As for a place to go back to, I always love going to New York City. It’s hard to explain why but I feel immediately at home there, more than any other city I’ve been to. The size of it suits 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?

AS: I just finished stage-one of a project called Belladonna, which is a new, queer techno opera developed by FAWN Chamber Creative. The story was created for the FAWN Team by U.K. librettist, Gareth Mattey, who specializes in writing queer narratives for opera, something that is very infrequently done despite the significantly sized LGBTQ community in the industry. As the Artistic Director of FAWN, I’m very excited to be helping to grow the queer voice in opera through this project.

The piece includes dance, modular electronics (by my upcoming Haus Music collaborator, ACOTE) and a classical ensemble of double-bass, piano, tenor and mezzo-soprano. Creating this piece was a very interesting process because the staging, choreography and music were all developed in tandem through guided improvisation, using the libretto as its guide. As a result, all three elements were intrinsically linked through the narrative. With over half of the Belladonna team belonging to the LGBTQ community, the creation of this work, from concept to performance, has been infused with the voices and experiences of numerous queer individuals. Be sure to keep an eye out for Belladonna because this is a piece that will continue to grow with every performance.

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?

AS: People are becoming less complacent and more vocal about prejudice and inequality – this gives me hope. I find it depressing that human decency is something we even have to fight for at all.

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

AS: I’ve had a wide range of life experiences, which I like to think gives me the ability to intrigue people through my work.

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ISAIAH BELL: TENOR CURRENTLY IN MONTEVERDI’S RETURN OF ULYSSES (OPERA ATELIER), OCTOBER 2018 IN RUFUS WAINWRIGHT’S HADRIAN (COC), AND LATER IN HIS OWN CREATION THE BOOK OF MY SHAMES (TAPESTRY OPERA), DECLARES “ALTHOUGH THE INTERNET MAY HAVE SHORTENED OUR ATTENTION SPANS, I DON’T BELIEVE IT HAS DIMINISHED OUR BASIC DESIRE FOR QUALITY COMMUNICATION… THINGS THAT WERE PREVIOUSLY OBSCURED BEHIND VEILS OF HIGH CULTURE CAN (NOW) BE SEEN UP CLOSE” … 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?

ISAIAH BELL: I’m a tenor working in the Classical tradition. Currently I sing primarily early music (up to and including Mozart and Haydn), and 20th and 21st century music, both opera and concert. I also write and compose. I have combined these disciplines in the past and hope to continue doing so.

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

IB: I believe that my job as an artist is to bring my understanding of the world to my work as fully as possible. In my life I observe, and I learn about myself and the world. This informs my work. I hope that by exploring myself and my environment, and suffusing my work with that intimate knowledge, that I can show someone else something about themselves and their life. Art has many purposes — including connecting communities, celebrating beauty, and entertaining — but the one I find most compelling is its ability to show us ourselves in other people, and other people in ourselves.

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

IB: Cecilia Bartoli, who is an amazing synthesis of intuitive artist and intelligent technician.
Virginia Woolf, who had the keenest aptitude for observing and recording the invisibilia that swirls around us and shapes us, but which is so hard to name or even to see.

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

IB: Being a traveling performer has forced me to be a different person than I would be naturally if left to my own devices. I have to be more social, better at meeting new people, more comfortable with change, less patterned, and more adept at operating under pressure. Our lifestyles really do shape us. There’s not as much room in my life now for preparing for every new experience, so I’ve had to learn how to fly by the seat of my pants, a bit. It’s a challenge… daily.

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

IB: Like many artists, I’m sensitive. I’ve chosen to make a business out of something intimate and personal, and so of course I’m always being critiqued and criticized and adjusted. And even though I’ve been working long enough to be able to functionally separate the personal from the professional to a large degree, it’s hard not to feel at times that it is me, not my work, that’s at fault, if something is. The further along I get, too, the more personal my work becomes — I don’t think I will ever get to a place where it is just a job, where I just unplug myself from it at the end of the day. Some colleagues say they can do that, but not me. As a singer your body is literally your instrument. Being both the sculptor and the clay can be an intensely vulnerable feeling — and not everyone in the room is necessarily interested in worrying about that. So, you have to get on with it, and you do, and sometimes you have to put yourself away entirely and just get through the day. Striking a balance between being a professional who gets the job done and being a person whose very self is the medium is always a challenge.

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

IB: When I started to understand that my fear, stress, overanalysis, restlessness, anxiety, and frustration were expressions of my fundamental life energy — not burdens to be dispersed or distracted or eased or smothered, but essential parts of me to be understood, listened to, focused, channeled — my world view started to expand. This is a process that’s still happening, and, I’m sure, will go on indefinitely. Trying to bring my living self — the imperfect and volatile spirit that exists in my body at this moment — to my performance work creates a shift: I begin to care more about the integrity of what I’m doing than about how other people see me. It’s much easier and less scary to study, prepare, practice, produce, and then replicate a previously approved version of myself… but that’s not art in a way that’s meaningful to me.

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

IB: The inspiration is not bottomless. Being an artist is like being in a long-term relationship — the desire to express yourself and the joy in the art form are not naturally endless springs, not when they are called upon so often and in such various situations. There is a measure of technique and effort to constantly rediscovering and renewing, and even occasionally to going through the motions with all the craft you can muster and trusting that the work itself will speak through you when you feel tapped out. Like in love, the real joys may not be the ones that come at obvious times, and there is a deep and slow-burning satisfaction in the long game.

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

IB: I’ve always had it oozing out of me — which sounds disgusting and uncomfortable, and often is. My last serious non-arts ambition was to be “a scientist in the Amazon jungle” – when I was 11.

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

IB: I would like to work as a creator (writer, composer, etc.) at a professional level that’s on par with my work as a performer. I’ve been giving priority to my singing in the last few years because that’s always been my official vocation. It needs a lot of focus, especially at junctures where you’re trying to elevate yourself to a higher level. I’m starting to combine the two, but it’s a long way from where I want it to be. I’ve created my own productions before, on a shoestring or as part of a collective, but eventually I’d like to build enough influence that I can make that an integral part of my professional output.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

IB: I have a somewhat self-defeating disposition, which at times is almost equal to my ravenous ambition. (I didn’t intend that to be a poem.) My life and my work are inextricable, so I see my whole life as an ongoing act of resistance against that sabotaging force. Deciding to get fit and sticking with it, maintaining a stable and mutually supportive and (knock on wood) happy marriage in the face of long separations and the vicissitudes of an unpredictable career and life in general — not to mention seeing success as a singer in a hyper-competitive field — this all feels like a blow struck against the void.

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

IB: When the pianist Evgeny Kissin was asked to give life and career advice to a roomful of young pianists, he said, “If anyone who does not know you personally, who does not know how you play, what kind of life you have, what kind of problems you have, starts giving you a piece of advice, send him or her to hell.” That makes me laugh, and it’s also kind of true. It’s hard to give helpful advice even to someone you know well, and much harder to give it generally to someone you don’t, or to a group of people. I’ve received a lot of bad or unhelpful or frustrating advice from well-intentioned, intelligent, experienced people who just didn’t — and shouldn’t have been expected to — understand where I was on the path. I have been called on more recently to offer advice to younger singers, though. In these cases, I try to make suggestions that might have been helpful to me at a younger age, like, “Try to start developing and trusting your own instincts now. Just because someone else is more experienced than you doesn’t mean your knowledge and input are of no value — especially when it comes to your instrument and your personal development. Most things are subjective, and any professional or “expert” might not have the right guidance for you, for where you are right now. Including me.” And even that might be the wrong thing to say to someone on the other side of spectrum from the too-submissive young me, someone who most needs to learn how to learn from other people.

JS: Of what value are critics?

IB: If I’m trying, as a prospective audience member, to decide which show to see (especially in a discipline other than my own), I may read some reviews to help me pick. Similarly, sometimes after I experience a show or a film, I’ll read a review to see if other people agreed with my opinion. I never read reviews of my own work anymore. It’s not helpful. It has never been helpful to me. I am surrounded every day by professionals whose job it is to make me better. I listen to them. In my opinion, critics are there for the audience, not for the artists.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

IB: I don’t ask much from the audience because I know the difference between the job I have as an artist and my job as an audience member. As an artist I work hard to communicate so I have the best possible chance of being understood. For that reason, I bristle, as an audience member, if I feel like the same effort is not being made by the artists I’m watching. I resent feeling that some specialized work or prior knowledge is required for me to communicate with the artist. Of course, the audience’s experience will be deepened by their own knowledge, and I may or may not bring something extra, but I don’t like it when artists seem to be assuming that only an elite group will be capable of understanding their lofty goals. When I’m in the audience I’m not usually just there to be entertained — I’m open to learning, to being challenged, to being moved. Those things have the best chance of happening if I am open to listening to the artist, and if they are doing everything in their power to communicate what they want to say as clearly as possible. So, I guess I just ask for the audience to listen! Everything else is my job.

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

IB: This is too big a question to answer! However: I am increasingly bothered by the standardization of arts training. It can feel like an assembly-line, which is destructive to creativity and honesty and individuality and interest. As young artists in the Classical tradition we spend our energies trying to do things “right”; introspection is limited to determining our category and our marketable traits. Understanding our personal instrument, and how its controls and emissions are unique, is tertiary. Upon emerging from my decade-long training regime, I felt that I had been shown all the tools, but I didn’t know how I was supposed to use them. This, I think, is because I didn’t know who was supposed to use them. Not everyone has this problem, and some people thrive in the age of institutions. But I see a lot of young artists nearing the end of the standardized process who know that they are supposedly primed to enter “the real world”, but who seem over-educated and ill-equipped. I know I am too young to sound like such a codger. And this is an unforgivable generalization — but that’s what you get for such a broad question!

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

IB: I’m not at a point in my life where I spend a lot of time looking back. I’m very focused on growth, and on the future. When I think about my past successes I often think about how I would improve them with the experience I’ve gained in the meantime. And often I’ve given that chance — one great thing about working in this tradition is that we do get to revisit some masterpieces over and over. I will always be excited to sing the Evangelist in the Bach Passions, to sing Monteverdi, to sing the great Schubert cycles, and to sing Britten. I’ve done a wonderful production of Britten’s Curlew River twice now with the Mark Morris Dance Group, which I’m keen to do again.

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?

IB: As a working classical singer, I haven’t encountered anything really horrible, like tabloids or gossip columns or any kind of mud-raking. When I appear in the media, if it’s not specifically a review of my performance, it’s usually something I have a measure of control over. For that reason, I used to fuss a lot about the wording of my press materials and interviews. I’d be bothered when a presenter dug up an out-of-date bio which listed where I went to school and my greatest accomplishment of 2011, making me look like a rookie next to my peers. I remember giving an interview over the phone where the reporter wrote down everything I said as if I’d been dictating it into my iPhone, complete with “ums” and misspellings and no punctuation, and it made me look stupid. That kind of thing will still bug me if I let it, but I stopped googling myself years ago, and I try not to think about it all too much — other than doing the basic requisite self-promotion. I have a friend who updates my website with usable reviews, and for the rest of it I try to be Zen and take the stance that you can never control what people will think or say about you.

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.

IB: I’ve always been interested in Japanese arts and culture, especially the theatre, poetry, and painting, so I’d love to visit Japan. And to go back to Turkey, where we went for our honeymoon. The combination of the history, the physical beauty, and the living modern culture… and the food…

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?

IB: Right now, I’m singing in a period production of Monteverdi’s Return of Ulysses, from the 17th century, with Opera Atelier. At the same time, I’m preparing to sing a lead in the premiere Rufus Wainwright’s Hadrian at the Canadian Opera Company, and developing a semi-autobiographical show that blends my own personal stories with original music, music from the Classical cannon, and 20th century popular music. Each of these projects stimulates me enormously.

I adore Monteverdi (it’s so modern, so beautiful, and so dramatic!) and it’s a rush to bring this ancient music and even older story to life in a way that draws heavily on what we know of the original idiom. There are many more steps involved in aiming for “authenticity” (whatever that means). But it’s so rewarding. You hammer out your ornaments, your gestures, your understanding of the social mores of a different era. But in the end, if you can live within all that, what you get is more than just a recreation — it’s the closest we can get to time travel. And we’re keeping alive the brilliance of history’s greatest minds.

With Hadrian, it’s a special project because, we hope, it will cross some of the boundaries that can be so limiting in opera. Rufus Wainwright obviously has a legendary reputation as a pop artist, but he’s gaining repute on this side of the divide too. Hadrian is a gay love story, which itself is a breath of fresh air for opera, and the librettist is Daniel MacIvor, a Canadian theatre heavyweight and a brilliant proponent of the kind of subjectivism I am obsessed with. I love the story and I love being a part of something brand new.

With my own project, The Book of My Shames, which I’m developing in conjunction with Tapestry Opera in Toronto and Intrepid Theatre in Victoria, I’m relishing the chance to explore unrestrainedly. The piece is a fusion of theatre and music and cabaret-confessional and comedy and religious ritual. I’m using all my tools to paint the war between the “me” inside and the “my public self.” I’m so fixated on how art helps us connect with other people, but this piece attempts to express how being disconnected from oneself can preclude that. It’s the most personal work I’ve ever done, and it’s as much an act of reconciliation in itself as it is a performance. My hope is that, if nothing else, it will contribute to the conversation about how we express ourselves as Classically-trained artists in the age of the Internet. Singers — all musicians — are usually intensely creative people, but the industry in general encourages us to specialize, not diversify.

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 pressing?

IB: I do get depressed about how opera can seem stuck inside itself and disconnected from the outside world. Cultures that are so insular quickly get rarefied, and, worse, boring. I wish that it was more generally understood that it’s OK to enjoy the “fine arts” in the same way that we enjoy the movies and music and shows that we don’t see as elite. That would be a total paradigm shift because the cultural capital of the fine arts is their high status. And because it’s a club, it’s alienating. Since we’re all initiated, there are lots of traditions and shorthands and shortcuts that exclude and mystify and bore outsiders, but that people on the inside don’t even notice. We’re also desperate to attract new audiences, but there’s no easy answer on how to do it. I don’t know how either. But when I go to the theatre or to a museum, if I enjoy it, I’m not enjoying it in the fancy part of my brain. It’s the same part that enjoys Breaking Bad. And I guess what gives me hope is that if I’ve figured that out, and if my friends have figured that out, then more people will too. Although the Internet may have shortened our attention spans, I don’t believe it has diminished our basic desire for quality communication. We can share our ideas and our excitement more directly now, and the true value of things — things that were previously obscured behind veils of high culture — can be seen up close.

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

IB: I’m not in a position to comment on what is surprising or intriguing about me!

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RISING OUT OF THE ASHES WITH MUSIC AND WORDS: CDS THAT GOT ME THROUGH TRAUMA AFTER THE HOUSE FIRE

It was about a year ago, five months after the fire that kept us out of our home for eight months, that this happened: I was driving down King Street in Hamilton and playing, back to back, the Hungarian String Quartet’s recording of Beethoven’s Opus 130 String Quartet # 13 and John Coltrane’s jazz essential cornerstone, A Love Supreme, when for some reason I said aloud, “I didn’t think I would feel like this again.”

After five months of very little listening – or reading, for that matter, or anything but numbness – music felt once again part of my spiritual and physical fibre, as natural in its life-giving energy as breathing. Since that moment, I’ve been reconnecting with all kinds of music, some for the thousandth time, and sometimes making new discoveries for the very first time. Often, music and musicians I had listened to for years, even decades, through concerts and recordings – and some I had known or briefly met- sounded new and rich with much to discover in their art.

So, here are some recordings of many that reached deep into me, gave me much pleasure, and made the void around existence vibrate with life.

Billie Holiday The Complete Commodore Recordings: You can have a younger and sprightly Billie on Columbia with the beautiful Lester Young among many other greats of jazz (Teddy Wilson, for one), or Billie’s later Verve recordings which reveal many of life’s hard lessons in her delivery, but for now it’s a consummate vocalist proving, as it’s often been said, that she sang like an instrumentalist with astoundingly similar phrasing and sense of time.

I discovered that Doc Cheatham was playing trumpet on a good many of these, the same Doc who, after telling me memories of being in the pit band for Bessie Smith, then recommended bitter melon, which he swore by, for anything that ailed your truly. Another memory: “Billie could really use the language” added Barney Josephson once at his Cookery in NYC’s Greenwich Village, after recounting how Ms. Holiday had got quite pissed off with an audience member who complained that Strange Fruit had been too disturbing to listen to.

The Duke at Fargo 1940 is a legendary live “one-nighter” that fortunately got recorded in the middle of a grueling tour, and this recording certainly has an evocative and bursting “you are really there” feel to it. As you know, the Ellington band of 1940 is an unbelievable gathering of greats -Webster, Hodges, Carney, Blanton, to name a few (Ray Nance, too, with trumpet, violin, and vocals, since Cootie Williams had just departed for Goodman’s band). This gig, with its overdrive swing, embodies a whole era.

But then, so does singer Alex Pangman, the Toronto-based “Sweetheart of Swing” on her CD “New” or any of her recordings, for that matter, like “Live in Montreal” or “33” or “Have a Little Fun,” the latter featuring Bucky Pizzarelli. There’s so much to recommend Ms. Pangman. Her sense of style doesn’t feel acquired or forced at all, as with too many current singers, but more a natural evolution from the vocalists of the twenties to the forties. She seems one of them, she seems from their world, when jazz was popular music and vocalists conveyed a hip but understated knowingness and it was natural to swing. This lady’s music is a toe-tapping trip of fun.

When I first heard The Thrill is Gone and then the album B. B. King Live in Cook County Jail on which it is featured, I never imagined that I would some years later get to sit down and chat with him half a dozen times and that he would even write a foreword to one of my books. The man still touches me deeply with his vocal blend of crooning and shouting and aching vocals, his economical guitar picking that, as the world knows, can tell a lifetime in three or four notes, and in memories of this gracious and humble gentleman I was privileged to meet. We laughed a lot.

I once told Richard Thompson that if I needed music for my funeral, I would take, for one, his acoustic guitar solo titled Dargai. Richard Thompson? Yes, the one who combines technical versatility, a rich and subtle imagination, a sophisticated sense of poetry, and an always focused artistry in his songwriting, his guitar accompaniment and guitar soloing, and his singing. Among my faves of his CDs are Small Town Romance, a live gig, and the more recent Acoustic Classics. I recommend him often, simply because he’s a true artist, his idiom being folk and rock combined. Be warned that you’ll then be much less impressed with several enormously popular singer-songwriters who created their accessible images for an image-hungry audience. With Thompson, his art comes first and his sense of irony can’t accept shallow idolatry.

It took several months of listens to Shelby Lynne’s Just a Little Lovin’, an album “Inspired by Dusty Springfield,” for me to realize that her artistry resides, at least for me, in a vocal mastery of intimate space, one that is quietly rich with nuance, understatement, and deeply-felt life experience. I return to a number of her recordings when I want to believe another human being, when I want to believe a singer-songwriter who takes an inward path to feelings and difficult personal realities. She told me once that she has to tell the truth, and I believe her.

Try anything on the Dusty CD and then try Revelation Road which addresses her painful childhood (father kills mother and kills himself and Shelby then looks after kid sister). Or Tears, Lies and Alibis with the simply beautiful Like a Fool -during our interview I told her how much I loved this recording and later found out that she considered it her favorite. Shelby Lynne is often a stylist of intimate feelings and one is compelled to listen openly, which is respectfully, isn’t it?

Martin Carthy, MBE, has long been considered the most influential and premier folk singer of England, one who has had an impact on everyone. I first met him many years ago when, at Sheridan College School of Crafts where I laboured, he sang for one of my classes. I then got a tape of the LP Shearwater and, on a twelve-hour car trip to New York, played the eleven-minute song Famous Flower of Serving over and over, ultimately in a cold and windy night in the mountains near Pete Seeger’s home in Beacon.

Years later, Martin explained to me how he had developed this specific reworking of a traditional song by hanging fragments on a clothesline in his flat for several months. In any case, to listen to a Martin Carthy song is to enter an uncompromising and unique world where the fibre – be it celebratory, or oppressed, or bloody – of human existence is given brilliant and imaginative and absolutely appropriate guitar accompaniment and committed vocal artistry. As with others in this list, I go to Martin Carthy for truth through art.

Truth? There’s a lot of it in classical music, often of deeply felt sincerity, carefully realized passion, subtle risk-taking, and long developed technical know-how in the service of the music -at – hand’s heart, be it physical or spiritual. Of the latter, I was joyfully surprised to finally find recently a CD of an album from university days that introduced me to deep spirituality through music – Gregorian Chants: Monks of L’Abbaye Saint Pierre de Solesmes. The recording first appeared on the London label in the fifties, I believe, and, in any case, it gently pulls one into an experience of ineffable connections and heartfelt tranquility. And existential humility.

In 1993 I was commissioned to write and recite a cycle of poems on the pianist by the director of the Glenn Gould Festival in Groningen, The Netherlands. I then looked forward to a piano recital by Angela Hewitt, also invited to the Festival, but, alas, our gigs were scheduled at the same time. Nevertheless, after listening to many of her recordings and attending a number of her concerts since then, I find she’s become one of my essential pianists.

In The Art of the Fugue, for one, she infuses a blend of counterpoint and airy singability of musical lines with a quality of firm purpose. The playing is undeniably seductive, not because of any detectable sense of intention, but because we find an air of rightness in this unforced delivery of Bach’s creative mind. We feel beckoned, we feel an invitation not to analyze but to coexist with Bach’s creation, to breathe it in. Of late, I’ve also been enjoying Hewitt’s two CDs of Domenico Scarlatti Sonatas and, and, and….

Wilhelm Furtwangler conducts Ludwig van Beethoven The Complete Symphonies and Selected Overtures and Furtwangler’s Brahms: The Complete Symphonies, Haydn Variations, Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat, on the Music & Arts label, both illustrate for me the conductor’s unique genius. Over and over, we experience musical argument that unfolds in surprising steps, no matter the familiarity of the work.

We often sense as well a potent logic at work, a voyage of repeated discovery, a metaphysical drama in the works of which we can’t help but be a part. We also sense each interpretation’s undercurrent of inevitability, as if the music is gradually realizing itself. We also sense the conductor’s profound commitment to a given composer, a sense of love and respect, a need to be true to the music. We sense the human truth and profundity that creators and interpreters endlessly seek in what they do. Listening to Furtwangler conduct is always an event for me.

We often sense as well a potent logic at work, a voyage of repeated discovery, a metaphysical drama in the works of which we can’t help but be a part. We also sense each interpretation’s undercurrent of inevitability, as if the music is gradually realizing itself. We also sense the conductor’s profound commitment to a given composer, a sense of love and respect, a need to be true to the music. We sense the human truth and profundity that creators and interpreters endlessly seek in what they do. Listening to Furtwangler conduct is always an event for me.

Johann Baptist Vanhal? Who? Joseph Leopold Eybler? Who? Both composers were contemporaries of Haydn and Mozart – Vanhal lived from 1739 to 1813, while Eybler did his earthly duties from 1765 to 1846 – though each is hardly known nowadays. Happily, the Eybler Quartet has arrived with Six Quartets Op. 6 by the former and the performances are ripe with playing that is vigorous, breathtaking, playful, charming, delicately elegant, touchingly tender -and do I hear some understated mischievous?

String Quartets Op. 1 1-3 by the latter (hey, isn’t the quartet named after him?) are also given outstanding performances, rich with subtly dramatic shadings, a sense of solid presence yet also warmth, and a dancing nimbleness. The ensemble and solo work for both composers are often jaw-dropping for each one, not as a will to impress, but as an extension of eighteenth-century worlds and aesthetic values that reflected them. (Yep, I’m going to delve into Johann Huizinga’s Homo Ludens again, in its new and more accurate translation, and understand these folks better.) In the meantime, I totally submit to the implicit charm of these performances, and there is plenty of it, always in the warmest sense of the word.

“The protagonist is not quite the Ophelia of Shakespeare” we are told about Let Me Tell You by Hans Abrahamsen. The work, however, does allow Barbara Hannigan to navigate, always light as air, the upper levels of her soprano range and to embody, in voice, what seems an unstable and sometimes agonized state of mind. In both articulate words and gliding vocal extensions interwoven, one senses a mind dividing, perhaps a young woman’s or perhaps one’s own. Indeed, we experience, on listening, an intense vulnerability firmly secure in its own world. Both composition and performance are haunting, challenging, potently alluring. As a result, the listener feels as if in the grasp of eerie mystery. It’s an unsettling, even troubling place to be, yet we do not choose to leave, even if we could.

I’ve long given in to the underpinning echoes of longueur – or is the better word ennui? – in Erik Satie’s piano music, played, say, by Anne Queffelec. Now a new discovery I’m much enjoying is Barbara Hannigan’s take on vocal works by Satie – Trois Melodies, Trois Autres Melodies, Hymne, and Socrate – in which voice and piano support and seem to propel each other in the presentation of these delicate jewels. With this recording, I find myself holding my breath, drawn to many vocal glimmerings of light that settle lightly on my senses and then in a breath disappear. Satie and Hannigan are a subtly compelling pairing, always at the tip of one’s fingertips, it seems, where feelings are too elusive to grasp but solid enough to know.

I’m on my seventh composer, Mozart, in the Naxos Life and Works series -Chopin, Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Liszt, so far – with Dvorak, Wagner, Haydn, and Verdi to go afterwards, and am totally wrapped up with each recording and rapt with attention. These are all presentations of frequent musical selections in a biographical context of original sources, some very well known and some intriguing in their vague but not secure familiarity. In a word, we learn much. And not only musically, but in biography too. Who would have thought Brahms so overtly passionate as we hear in his earlier letters to Clara? Who would have thought that Leopold Mozart was such an out and out prick, always using and abusing? Who would have thought that each four CD set could bring such new life to composers we assumed to know well.? I look forward to each listen.

And then there’s the outstanding two CD set titled Six Poets Hardy to Larkin: An Anthology by Alan Bennett, Read by the Author. Bennett certainly knows how to read, how to tell, how to feel, how to share, and one of his many contributions to this venture is his ever-present dose of writer’s smarts. Bennett is insightfully and compassionately, though not uncritically, attuned to human tendencies on one hand and to the mastery and potential in a life of dealing with language. The other poets in question are Houseman, Betjeman, Auden, and MacNeice, and the works of each poet are read with a honed skill in emphasis, rhythm, inner rhyme, overview, and much else. I can’t think of a better introduction to the reading and -of course, it follows – the writing of poetry. Bennett’s insights are illuminating and his many asides delight without fail.



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BRUCE DOW: AFTER BROADWAY, STRATFORD, AND BUDDIES IN BAD TIMES, THE AWARD-WINNING ACTOR DECLARES, “I LOVE STUDENT AUDIENCES. THEY ARE THE FIRST ONES TO PRAISE YOU FOR GOOD WORK, AND/OR TO CALL YOU OUT ON YOUR PRETENTIOUS BULLS*T” … 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?

BRUCE DOW: Bruce Dow is an award-winning theatre artist and educator, best known for his 4 featured roles on Broadway; his 12 seasons as a leading member of the Stratford Festival acting company; and his Dora Mavor Moore award winning work with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre Company (the world’s largest and longest running LGBTQ2A theatre).

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

BD: I try to exemplify honour, honesty and fairness in my life, and hope that that is reflected in my work. Sometimes you need to show life’s underbelly in order to best demonstrate its beauty – that whole Oscar Wilde “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” thing.

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

BD: Judy Garland – the greatest singing actor of all time.

Kurt Weill – a composer who wasn’t afraid of using ugly noises to show our deepest humanity.

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

BD: I think, like many actors, I began in the profession in seek of praise and attention.

Now, that matters so little to me. I’m really more interested in what I believe to be the true
purpose of the theatre – to explore the human condition. Regardless of belief systems, none of us knows why we are here.

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

BD: Time and money. Art doesn’t just happen.

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

BD: The first major turning point in my life was coming out as a queer person. My life has long been divided between my desire to be the dutiful son – the one my family wanted – and in being who I am and living for myself.

It’s a long journey. I’m still on it.

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

BD: That being queer is not a catch phrase, nor a lifestyle. We are ALL different. But being queer makes you inherently different to everything our society supports and encourages. It’s been a long road from the ‘80s and the AIDS crisis to achieving some visibility and tolerance. But don’t fool yourself. Acceptance and understanding are still a long way off.

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

BD: As a child, I was driven, out of fear of my narcissistic father (laughing – but wish I were kidding!) to live in a world of fantasy/make-believe. Imagination was my friend and solace. Not as pathetically sad as it sounds – I had a great time!

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

BD: It’s hard to “attempt” new things in a world that is so driven by labelling and compartmentalizing.

I have had two original musicals produced as composer/lyricist – and I’m working on some new ones.

I look forward to presenting myself more as a creator. As an actor, I have been able to break the mould of “funny-character guy” thanks to a few think-outside-the-box directors – to whom I shall be forever grateful!

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

BD: Cabaret and Into the Woods at Stratford allowed me to first break the mould I felt I was being pushed into.

Directing for the National Arts Centre, and my work with Buddies in Bad Times helped me to feel some sense of national context. While, of course, working on Broadway and in Washington D. C. have allowed me some international context. I’m not famous. But I can hold my own in a number of circles and that gives me a nice sense of self.

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

BD: Get training. Learn to take direction. Never direct another actor. Although an actor needs to learn what market they will be working in, and to understand what kind of characters you will be asked to play based on your age and appearance, don’t let them put you in a box. Know your “type” and fight it every day of your life.

JS: Of what value are critics?

BD: I’ve known a lot of actors who don’t read reviews. I think that’s bullsh*t. While an actor should not allow themselves to be influenced by either a good or a bad review, it’s your job to know what is being said about your work.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

BD: A lot. But, I also know that if I’m not giving them a lot, I have no right to ask for their attention.

I love student audiences. They are the first ones to praise you for good work, and/or to call you out on your pretentious bulls*t.

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

BD: In their efforts to remain ever politically forward, too often arts groups will undervalue good, solid, simple work. Trying to be ever-important undermines a lot of what I believe we should be doing as artists.

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

BD: I have zero interest in reliving anything. I have a lot I’m proud of, but I’m a different person now. Move forward or die!

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?

BD: I feel it is my role to demystify the precious in being in the public eye. I’m just a guy. I have a skill set. And while I am very serious about what I do, I don’t think there is any reason to underline that as a public message. The only times I’ve run into any trouble with it is when people either assume they have a right to know things that are private and make huge intrusions into one’s space, or when I am making friends with someone who has known me as an actor first: it’s hard to get past their preconceptions. Do they like me? Do they like Bruce Dow. That can get weird, ‘cause I never seem to see it coming.

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.

BD: I would love to go to India. I think there is something spiritual and challenging for me there – it’s not more than a feeling so far. And I would love to go back to Hawaii. It’s a magic place. Even crazy Oahu has another-worldly feel to it.

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?

BD: Stratford star Graham Abbey has recently taken over a small summer theatre company two hours east of Toronto – the Festival Players of Prince Edward County. I will be serving as Director of their Academy for Young Actor Training. I feel very strongly about the need for there to be a training ground for young artists in-process or completing their formal training at a college or university.

Also, I have three new musicals in development with theatres across Canada – but, we’ll wait to start blowing the horn on those! lol

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?

BD: I find hope in the support being given to new and emerging artists. It’s a kind of support that didn’t exist when I was that age, and I find the level of talent and skill coming out now is so exciting. What I find depressing is the turning away from the elders in our community. A lot of gifted people with a lot to teach – and a lot still to learn themselves – are being shunned in favour of the new and shiny. It’s a double-edged sword. An artist of 75, for example, can be an emerging artist in a new field – or they may just have a lot of information and skills to share. New is great and needs to be supported – but new is not always best.

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

BD: I don’t think I’m that interesting. lol

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LAUREN BEATTY: ACTOR, WRITER, MUSICIAN DECLARES, “I THINK THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR ME AS A CREATIVE PERSON IS BEING DUBBED A “CREATIVE PERSON.” IT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE I HAVE TO CONSTANTLY FIT SOME SORT OF MOULD OR STANDARD. I DON’T BELIEVE THERE IS A STANDARD FOR CREATIVITY”…A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

Lauren BeattyJAMES 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?

LAUREN BEATTY: Lauren Beatty is an actor, writer and musician, I believe my job is to educate and elevate humanity by telling stories that excite, entice, intrigue and open people’s minds to a different perspective. My main focus is on the female outlook, and LGBTQ love & life.

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

LB: The most important overall belief that I want to express is that we are all equals. That being said, we clearly don’t all have the same experiences in life. I believe every individual’s experience is just as valid and worthy of exploring as the next, and that hearing a variety of stories from different perspectives throughout our life helps us to better navigate our own lives, by elevating our awareness/humanity and therefore our very existence.

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

LB: Leisha Hailey, Actress & Musician: She most notably played – my favourite character ever written – “Alice” on “The L Word” and is an openly queer/feminine actress and musician like myself. I’d like to commiserate with her about that, hear her stories from her time working on the show, play some music with her, let her know that ‘Alice’ helped me realize I was Queer, and also become her best friend.

Kristen Wiig, Actress, who needs no introduction: Kristen is my actual, literal idol. Words cannot express the amount of adoration and pure love I have for this woman. She is so unapologetically awkward and funny, and this is truly the way I want to live my life. To me, she’s just the pure form of joy and playfulness and light in a human being. Would love to do some improv with her and also become her best friend…

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

LB: I’ve been doing creative work since I was just a wee little thing, before I even knew that’s what I was doing. (i.e. performing my own made up monologues while gazing out the window because I knew my mother was listening, putting on a news broadcast in my front yard for my brother and the neighbouring children, “reading” books to my family before I could read, and stealing the family camcorder to film plays featuring my barbies as well as hosting my own ‘Antiques Roadshow’…) However, since I started doing it professionally, I do think I have changed quite a bit.

Being creative grounds me in who I am. I have never felt more like myself than when I am creating and playing. It brings me the utmost calm and exhilaration simultaneously. It allows me to feel so deeply, and to navigate my way through my life more freely. I’d say the most major change is that when I was young, I saw being creative as something fun to do – but now, I see how utterly vital it is to my existence.

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

LB: I think the biggest challenge for me as a creative person, is being dubbed a “creative person”. It makes me feel like I have to constantly fit some sort of mould or standard. I don’t believe there is a standard for creativity. You might feel at a creative peak one day, and completely blocked off the next – or for days at a time. But this doesn’t make you any less creative. I think my biggest challenge has been accepting that. Giving my creativity room to breathe and expand in its own time – trying not to force/push it. I think of creativity like a rope, you don’t push a rope but instead you the pull it in the direction you want it to go. Forced creativity feels different and it doesn’t fill that void. When the organic, unbridled creativity decides to rear its head though- that’s when I’m reminded that the challenges of being an artist are worth it. I live for those moments.

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

LB: One of the biggest turning points for me was when I decided to drop out of university and move to Toronto to audition for acting programs here. I was halfway through my first year at Ottawa University studying theatre at the time. I woke up one morning and had this overwhelming feeling of, “Well shit. This isn’t where I’m supposed to be…” I wasn’t happy, something felt off/wrong. I was just reading plays and writing essays. I wanted to be acting, performing – living and breathing the craft every day. The next day I went to the admin office and dropped out. That was a fun phone call home! Still, it was the best decision I’ve ever made, and my mother has since welcomed me back to the family.

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

LB: Whenever I talk to a ‘non-actor’ about what I do, they usually have two initial questions they want answered. The first one is usually, “So, how much do you get paid?” To which I reply, “Oh, I won’t accept less than $500,000 per job.” as I adjust my Dior sunglasses and sip my latte…

The second is, “Isn’t it competitive? How do you deal with that much rejection?” People can’t seem to understand why someone would voluntarily choose a career in which they’re subjected to so much dismissal and unpredictability.

What I usually say in response, is that you eventually learn the tricks of the trade so as not to let rejection affect you too deeply. You prepare, you go in and do the audition, you leave the room, and you leave it all behind you. As actors we also learn to not take any rejection too personally. It could be that the director thinks you look too much like her dentist (who gave her a bad root canal in ’09) and has nothing to do with your performance or personality whatsoever. Not to mention that the decision has to be OK’d by numerous people before anyone is hired. The director could want you, but the producer wants to hire his/her friend, the writer could think you’re perfect, but the director decides to cut the part completely… with all this in mind, you have to just go in and do your best – and then put it out of mind.

A good example of this is the day I booked my first principal role in a feature film (“Pay the Ghost”) with Nicolas Cage… I had done the audition at 9am that morning, left, and forgot about it. I started work at 4pm that evening, and around 6pm I got a call from my agent. I snuck into the washroom to take it, thinking that maybe I had an audition for the next day. When I answered she said, “Where are you right now?” I told her I was at work, and she said, “Well you might want to ask your boss if you can step outside and call your mom ‘cause you booked the movie.” I remember thinking ‘What movie?’ and being so confused and stunned for a second until I realized what she was talking about, “FROM THIS MORNING!?” I think is what I said/yelled. I had done such a good job of burying it to the back of my mind that I had completely forgotten about it. It was definitely a nice realization though!

The other factor worthy of mentioning is that, when you’re deeply consumed and passionate about something, it doesn’t matter how competitive or unreliable of a career it may be – you must do it!

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

LB: I’ve been doing ‘creative work’ since I can remember, but I think this is mainly due to my upbringing. My father (aka Fahj Mahal, aka Mark Beatty) is a skilled musician and a talented writer/artist. Growing up, he was in a band that was always playing shows in and out of town, touring around… I remember thinking he was a rockstar, or maybe more like a superhero. By day he was ‘Dad’ and wore ‘Dad clothes’, but by night he wore leather vests and had a bolo tie of a horseshoe encrusted with purple diamonds (I thought to be valued at roughly $100,000…) I hardly ever got to see him like this as I’d usually be in bed by the time he left – but I’d find evidence of his superhero rockstar life in the form of his leather vest/jacket hanging up in the garage the following day (to air out the cigarette smoke, he later told me.)

He had his music room in our basement and at any time of day you could find him down there writing or recording. He had several guitars, a keyboard (that I became obsessed with) and at one point we had a drum kit down there for a bit. That room was magical to me. I would see him constantly creating and I wanted to create too. I would sneak into the basement when he was at work and play with his keyboard, making up my own songs. Hitting keys until something sounded right.

On top of that my parents were almost always recording us in the early days. From the mundane to the bigger family occasions/gatherings. I was immediately fascinated with the idea that you could capture or “trap” moments from your life and look at them again. I knew where my parents kept the camcorder, so I would get it out and ask/force my (poor) brother to help me record some short videos. We made countless infomercial parodies, as well as some little skits in which we’d play different characters (I think my very first role was an elderly woman who collected ant farms… We were WAY ahead of our time.)

All this said, I think I started creating because I was surrounded by it – immersed in it whether I wanted to be or not. I don’t think I even understood what ‘creativity’ was at the time, but I knew that whatever this ‘thing’ was, it was exciting and magical – and I knew I had to be a part of it. It was in my blood, and my inner voice was yelling “Go towards the magic!”

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

LB: It’s not that I haven’t “attempted” this, but it’s one of my major life goals that hasn’t happened yet, and that I’m slowly working towards…

I want to be a show runner. By this I mean I want to have a part in the whole kit and caboodle. From writing, to producing, to acting, to directing… having my hands in everything. Acting and writing may be my main focus, but the entire collaborative process with all its moving parts – that truly fascinates me. (Has nothing to do with the fact that I’m OCD, and a perfectionist, and want the final say in everything, Pfft – No way!)

Joking aside, this is something I have always dreamed of. I’ve always pictured myself in front of, as well as behind the camera. I guess what has been holding me back a bit is that I feel extremely under qualified because I haven’t gone to school for anything other than acting. That thought held me back for years. But it’s only recently that I’m realizing film school is just one of the avenues you can take. There are benefits, there are downsides. I want to just go out there and learn by doing! So, I’ve been planting some seeds, making moves, and getting involved with as many projects as I can. I co-wrote/acted in a short comedy 2 years ago entitled “Are You Gonna Eat That?”, I did wardrobe and continuity on a friend’s short in Montreal last year, last month I co-wrote, acted in and directed a short (“Boiling Point”) with some fellow actors, and just a few weeks ago I was script-supervisor for another friends short (“Closed Caption”), premiering in the “Feminist Fuck It Fest” at Storefront on April 20th. On top of this I’ve been co-writing/creating a comedic television series for the past 2 years that we recently pitched to CBC and Bell Media. The gears are in motion, and I can’t wait to see what happens down the line.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

LB: The things that mean the most to me are those which I have my hands in the most and have a part in bringing to life. That being said, my most meaningful achievements thus far would be the aforementioned short film I co-wrote “Are You Gonna Eat That?”, as well as the television series I’ve been co-writing – “Strong & Wrong”. Both centre around women who are trying to figure it out, and both came from a very real, very sincere place.

On the music side of things, I released a song last year called “Gaslight” which means a great deal to me. It took almost a year to write and came from a really raw place. It reminds me how strong I am – not only that, but I genuinely love the song and am very proud of it.

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

LB: I’d say start taking classes NOW. Start getting involved in the community, meeting like-minded friends, and find your ‘people’ NOW! Start writing/creating content and getting it out there NOW – and never stop!

On the topic of ‘classes’ though, I have to say that college was definitely useful in the way of meeting people who have the same passions/enthusiasm as me and want to collaborate – but overall I’d say use your discretion when it comes to full-time schooling. Sometimes being so heavily immersed in a craft like that can feel like cutting open a bird’s neck to see how it sings. Maybe getting an agent and taking classes on the side while you start to audition is the better route for you. You’ll know what feels right and what makes the most sense for your life/situation!

JS: Of what value are critics?

LB: Critics are insanely valuable to me. I’ve been learning recently to view criticism as something immeasurably useful and positive (when it comes from a place of caring.) If no one ever criticized me, I’d never grow – and I want to always, ALWAYS be growing. Criticism has such a negative connotation to it and I think it’s time we changed that. Other’s views, thoughts and feelings are valid and deserve to be heard. Also, if I’m over here trying to preach equality, and the importance/validity of different perspectives, I sure as hell can’t be against criticism. So, bring on the critique!

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

LB: I ask of my audience the same that I ask of myself as an audience member. To be open, willing to listen, respectful, open-minded, and please – tell me what you think! Have a question? I love questions. Have comments? I love comments. Also, if you like what you see/hear – please for the love of all things holy, SHARE!

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

LB: I want to break up the “Boys Club”, on every level. On a political and social level, but also on a creative level. The world needs to see more women in roles of power and decision-making. Whether that be presidents and world leaders, or filmmakers, writers, producers and directors (and equally paid while we’re at it). We are natural born lovers and leaders, and the world needs us.

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

LB: It would have to be the day we shot “Are You Gonna Eat That?”. It was such a dream seeing our story come to life, and to have the joy of working alongside my co-writers and insanely talented friends who all came together to help us. I’m pretty sure we spent a full 12hrs just laughing and at the same time creating something special. I’d like to relive that day over and over please!

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?

LB: It’s definitely an interesting feeling – especially when a stranger comes into the cafe you work at and says they loved your Justin Bieber parody from 4 years ago on YouTube (true story), and you want to crawl into a corner and die of embarrassment. But it’s a GREAT feeling when someone recognizes you for something you’re truly proud of.

When it comes to the media, what I think about most is the permanence of the internet. Anything I put out there is potentially out there for good. So as someone who has an agent and a certain professional image to uphold, I’ve become quite conscious about what I’m putting out there. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or even a song I’m releasing publicly. I like to make sure I can stand behind anything and everything I say or do. A lot of thought goes into things when you’re reminded that literally anyone could stumble across it – maybe even someone who has the power to make or break your career.

That being said, I never want to shy away from being myself – and that is a weird, goofy, passionate, loving, creative, queer woman. That will never change.

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

LB: Ireland: I have a lot of family roots/history in Ireland but I’ve never been! I know I’d instantly feel at home, and the history there is so fascinating to me. Would love to go one day soon!

France: I did an exchange to Rouen, Normandy in Grade 11. It was my first time travelling on my own, and my first time being that far away from my family. I was there for 3 months (which felt like an eternity then), but I had the absolute time of my life. I would LOVE to go back and experience it as an adult. Walk the cobblestone streets of Rue De La Gros Horloge (while smoking Camel cigarettes), and eat Pain Au Chocolat on the steps of the Cathedral Notre-Dame.

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?

LB: I touched on these above, but the project I’m currently dedicating most of my time to is the comedic series I’ve been co-writing for the past 2 years entitled “Strong & Wrong”. We are currently in the pitching phase and preparing to shoot the ‘Pitch Pilot’ which is a 10-minute teaser/compilation of some of the best moments from the show.

The project I most recently completed is, “Are You Gonna Eat That?”. A comedic short about four women who ruin their dining experience with their insane dietary restrictions. It was co-written by myself and two of the same writers from ‘Strong & Wrong’.

These projects matter to me because they both come from a very real place – my own life. ‘AYGET’ came from a compilation of our experiences as actors who take waitressing jobs and deal with insane customers while trying to make ends meet. ’S&W’ is also very close to my heart because it’s a commentary on the lives of the approaching-30-woman trying to make it in Toronto. We all play heightened versions of ourselves, while trying to balance love, careers, and social lives.

I think they should matter to you because they are relevant and written from a perspective that you can probably relate to (or at least appreciate). They’re both entertaining, funny, and told from the female lens – which we all know needs more exposure! Even so, we believe that anyone, any gender, with any background can relate to our work and see themselves in it.

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?

LB: What I find depressing is the attitude towards the Film & TV industry in Canada in general. I notice that a lot of Canadian talents (whether that’s actors/writers/filmmakers etc.) – including myself – feel you can only go so far here before you hit a wall. That’s why we see so many industry folks leaving for LA or NYC, which is totally understandable given the situation, but just further perpetuates the issue in the first place. I think it’s a stigma that we have about ourselves that we’re not good enough, and I wish we didn’t have it! We have so much talent here. I can’t wait for the day when Toronto is seen and recognized around the world as a powerhouse and hub of Film & TV – that I know it has the potential to be – and that people don’t feel the need to leave here to be successful.

What gives me hope, is the recent uprising of women fighting for equality, to be heard, and to be taken seriously. It’s been amazing to see what’s come out of the #MeToo movement, and how it’s brought us together. It makes me feel stronger than ever before, like I have an army of support behind me cheering me on.

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

LB: I think that would have to be my ‘spirituality’. I’m constantly surprising myself with just how much I am actually infatuated with the paranormal and spiritual side of life. I’m obsessed with mediums (and any/all shows about mediums), the paranormal (and any/all shows about the paranormal), and the idea of energy, reincarnation, different dimensions/realms and past-lives. I fully believe in it all, I’ve seen ghosts/spirits, I’ve had visitations from the dead, and I feel like in another life I would be a medium or paranormal investigator!

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STEPHEN FEARING: CANADIAN FOLK SINGER-SONGWRITER, FOUNDING MEMBER OF BLACKIE AND THE RODEO KINGS, MEMBER OF THE DUO FEARING & WHITE, & ON CROSS-CANADA TOUR IN APRIL, TALKS REALITY: “THERE IS NO ‘FAIR’ IN ROCK ‘N ROLL AND TO SURVIVE ONE MUST HAVE A THICK SKIN AND A STUBBORN, UNRELENTING COMPULSION TO PLAY. YOU WILL BE TESTED IN EVERY WAY. A DESIRE FOR ‘FAME AND FORTUNE’ IS WHY FOOLS PURSUE THE ARTS.” … 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?

STEPHEN FEARING: I am a songwriter, singer, guitarist, recording artist and producer. I’ve had the great honour to make my living at this for over 30 years and count myself extremely lucky to be able to write that last sentence. I also adhere to the saying that luck is 90% hard work and 10% luck.

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

SF: It’s difficult to put into words and perhaps a bit of a cliché, but I believe that the journey is an end in itself, that the “work” is by far the most important thing for an artist, far and above any critical or financial success that may come from the work. I believe that people are inherently good and worth the effort it often takes to understand each other and stay connected. Love is not “all you need”, but without love, we are nothing, love is life, life is the journey.

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

SF: My Mother, who struggled through a great deal of turmoil (as many women of her age/era have) and decided, after many attempts to be a “good wife” in the 50’s mode, to follow her gut and strike out on her own as a successful entrepreneur. Women have always inspired me. She is as tough as nails.
Nelson Mandela, another person who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to change the world without losing his own sense of dignity and grace… without giving away or amputating his soul and his humanity.

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

SF: I am less arrogant and also surer of myself. I am less concerned about what other people think of me or my work and much more interested in connecting with my audience. I have greater empathy for others and am certainly more aware of the great privileges I have “inherited” as a white male and also the challenges facing the white male artist now and in the future.

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

SF: Speaking of which… I think the Great White Male (!) has been on the receiving end of so much privilege, and for so long, that slowly, inexorably and inevitably the tide is shifting and in ways we could never have imagined – “the order is rapidly fading and the first one now will later be last for the times they are a changing”. Any artist, who has grown beyond the first flush of creating, who has been working and creating for years, is faced with the challenge of re-inventing themselves, with moving past a style or sound that has worked in their favour before, to avoid becoming stale or stagnant. At the same time, it is important to hold onto those elements of your work or process that are at your core… now add into this equation the fact that you are male and white and the unavoidable truth that it is high time for that genetic lottery ticket to no longer hold any advantage. This, I think, is my biggest challenge – how to be myself and remain current and relevant.

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

SF: When I was a high-school student in Ireland in 1979, I had a history teacher who was that rarity in Irish education – a teacher interested in his student’s inner lives. Mr. Moxham discovered that I was passionately interested in singing / performing and invited me to record a “demo tape” that I could use when I headed across the pond to America (post-graduation) to get myself some “gigs” (I had never heard of demo tapes and had not even considered such a thing). Moxham set up a reel-to-reel in the school music room and proceeded to record me for a few hours one evening as I played every song I knew. Later when I went around to his place to pick up the cassettes he had transferred those recording onto, he sat me down and turned on the radio, tuning it to a local pirate station. This was the era of pirate radio, where small (sometimes mobile) amateur “stations” were springing up all over the place to challenge the State stranglehold of the airwaves by broadcasting music and other content that would never have been allowed on Irish radios before then. As I sat there listening, I heard myself singing one of the songs we’d recorded, there I was coming across the airwaves, coming through the speaker. It’s hard to imagine how profound that was in this age of high-tech, when people record themselves and photograph themselves by the hour, but it was the lightning-bolt moment which I will never forget and still get goose bumps thinking about. In hindsight I realise it was an act of incredible generosity on Donald Moxham’s part… that crucial moment when an adult takes you seriously as a fledgling artist and holds open a door.

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

SF: The fact that I spend the vast majority of my day doing everything but playing music. Amongst many other things; I am a skilled long-distance driver, a small business owner, a publicist, a creative designer, a digital photographer, a teacher, a producer, a shitty bookkeeper and the list goes on. As such, I am an artist and though much of the joy I get from my work comes when I am onstage singing and playing, the vast majority of my work happens away from the stage (and some of that is joyful as well…). Once again – the work is the reward and an end in itself. The fact that I can continue to perform, that I make enough of a living as a performer (and all the other subsidiary streams that flow from into that river) to continue working as a performer, marks me as successful and I never lose sight of that.

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

SF: My family has been in this racket for generations. My maternal Grandfather owned a chain of movie theatres in Ireland, my maternal Grandmother played various instruments and sang as well as being a pit musician during the silent movie era. On my Father’s side, my Grandfather was a British Music Hall singer/performer. Music and performing are in my blood.

I started with piano lessons, but after my parents split up I grew bored with the lessons (and the instrument) and to my great regret, I quit and embraced the guitar (first guitar was a gut string “flamenco” model which hung on the wall of my step-father’s house). When my paternal-Grandfather died, he left me $250 (a small fortune for a teenager in the ‘70’s) I spent that on a glossy Japanese-made acoustic steel string and the die was cast.

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

SF: I have never had the pleasure of working live with a symphony orchestra or a group larger than a six-piece band. I grew up with recordings featuring big bands, orchestras etc.…. classical, pop and jazz recordings with large amounts of musicians playing the arrangements. As a singer, I would love the challenge of working in that environment, as a writer I would love hearing my material arranged for multiple voices / textures.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

SF: As an artist – the ongoing and precious connection I have with my audience.

As a man – my relationship with my wife and kid, my family and friends, all of whom keep me sane, alive and functioning.

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

SF: The best piece of advice I got (from Willie P. Bennett) was to take the music seriously but to NOT take myself too seriously. I took this to mean that I had to put my ego aside both for my own health and the health of my music. There is no “fair” in rock ‘n roll and to survive one must have a thick skin and a stubborn, unrelenting compulsion to play. If you are not “driven” to do this, it’s best that you find another way to make a living because you will be tested in every way. A desire for “fame and fortune” is why fools pursue the arts.

JS: Of what value are critics?

SF: It depends. I believe that being an authentic critic whose opinion “matters” takes work and a commitment to the music that is as great as the commitment to being a musician. I find that a lot of critics don’t actually like musicians (perhaps because they are frustrated musician’s themselves) and use their voice to build themselves up at the expense of others. For my money, a critic is someone who knows enough about what has gone before to truly discover and describe the value or spark in a creative work, even if they don’t necessarily “like” it.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

SF: That they open their hearts and minds. That they be willing to suspend belief and come with me on a little road trip. That they turn off their cell phones….

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

SF: Oh boy…. I love to sing and play and have been blessed to make my living doing just that (and all the other tasks associated with it – see above). There is a direct connection between the commitment it takes to actually make a living at this (rather than pursue it as a part-time hobby) and the depth of work one can achieve. For artists, I think it has to be your life’s work in order for you to get past the superficial. Coincidentally, I think you have to fully commit if you are to have any chance of making a living from this for your life (even though there are no guarantees). Sometimes I wish this were not the case as the pressure of “making a living” often threatens to suffocate the creative spark altogether and one has to constantly guard against chasing after the “fools gold” of commercial success. I wonder if we wouldn’t all be better off with a living wage… I also wonder if I would dig as deep and stick with it long after the rest of the world has gone to bed if my mortgage wasn’t due the following morning…

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

SF: When Blackie and The Rodeo Kings first went into Grant Avenue Studio to record “High or Hurtin’ – The Songs of Willie P. Bennett” I barely remember those sessions, I was so completely overwhelmed by what we were doing and struggling creatively to keep my nose above water. I would love to go back and savour that moment and those sessions when (without any understanding at the time) we opened a door to something that would feed us physically, emotionally and spiritually for decades to come… and counting!

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?

SF: The older I get, the more I understand the media and am comfortable with it, even as it morphs and changes, dies off and reinvents itself. There have been many times when I wished for more exposure and greater coverage, and as I continue to grow and create it does indeed get harder to get that exposure (even with all the new tools of social media) since “new” and “young” are still the magic keys to the kingdom. Even so, there is a fine line between using the media to your advantage as an artist and being “hit-and-run-over” by your own success and your own image. Thankfully (for better or worse) I have never experienced that kind of heavy-rotation and I am mostly comfortable with the experiences I have had. Occasionally I wish for more privacy, but generally I can disappear without too much difficulty.

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

SF: Asia: South Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam… I travel so much but 99% of the time in very familiar territory with a guitar in my hands. I would love to travel to these places with or without my guitar, to truly be a minority and delve deeper into cultures that I have tasted but only scratched the surface of. I would love to perform where I am unknown and free of cultural baggage, to be liked or disliked for what I create in the moment.

Ireland 1970s – a time of great cultural change when some social experiments (The Republic of Ireland for one) were starting to come to maturity and (d)evolve. Dublin was a dirty, tough town, surrounded by the aching beauty of the countryside and I recall milk delivered by horse-drawn carts and horse shit in the streets. The American flag was a tarnished symbol of rebellious youth culture, The Troubles” were mostly up north and everything seemed possible and impossible all at once. Punk rock was raising its snotty nose and I was scared shitless about what I was going to do next.

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?

SF: In a few months I am planning to release The Secret of Climbing – an album of songs (vinyl only) in partnership with Rega Research (a venerable old British company who arguably make the greatest turntables in the world). The concept for this recording was to eliminate as much of the processing/signal path between the performance and the listener as possible and to remain completely in the analog realm. Sounds simple? Yes and no. No mixing board, no EQs or compressors, no studio smoke ‘n mirrors, no cutting and pasting and no overdubs – just my voice and guitar, 8 songs, 2 microphones going direct to tape and then pressed directly to vinyl. As with any process there are elements of the studio arsenal that have evolved to deal with specific issues and like any solution, they come with their own problems. So, we decided to go back in time and try to home in on the performance and present that as nakedly (purely) as possible.

For me the opportunity to let go of all the elements of production and concentrate solely on the performance was a challenge I found irresistible. I was in the middle of a European tour when I went into a home studio (outside London) and recorded 11 songs (only 8 can fit on two sides of a 12” disc) over two days with no overdubs or editing. Being in a live-music touring mindset and completely freed of studio safety nets, made for an interesting headspace, but I was determined not to get bogged down in overly critical listening and just go for the performance. The nature of this recording method meant that we were constrained dynamically by the lack of technology, so this is an album of ballads – a gorgeously intimate and somewhat stark song cycle.

I think this album’s relevance to anybody other than the hard-core Stephen Fearing fan (a small but dedicated group of oddballs) lies in the vinyl grooves of the medium itself – hello Marshall McLuhan. One of the fascinating statistics of Rega Research is that even at the height of the CD boom – when Vinyl looked to be months away from total obsolescence – Rega was selling thousands of turntables worldwide month after month. Roy Gandy – my co-producer and visionary of Rega Research -explained to me that those who were devoted to the quality of vinyl as a medium never abandoned it even as they also embraced digital technology. Since Rega was always dealing to a niche HiFi demographic, the mass market currents didn’t affect them like other companies and they stayed healthy and viable.
Now that Vinyl has made such a dramatic comeback and is very much the flavour of the month, there are a lot of myths being pedalled to consumers and frankly a lot of crap being poorly pressed and sold on 180gram vinyl for reasonably big bucks (Ikea is purportedly introducing a turntable this year!). Our little project is beguilingly simple with a total focus on quality in performance, recording, cutting and pressing such that it is worthy of the Rega name.

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?

SF: Having just touched on the resurgence of vinyl in my last paragraph it’s timely to look at the digital wave of file-sharing that utterly gutted the recording industry and is now changing every other aspect of the arts world. As most of your readers are aware, file sharing (translating music into digital files and then sharing that over the internet for free) destroyed the retail market for music such that all the old “record” stores (A&B Sound, Tower Records etc. etc.) are gone the way of the dinosaur. Since I never really made my living within the mainstream of Radio and Retail (i.e. I never sold significant amounts of product – no gold records on my wall) this hasn’t affected me in the way it has other artists. However, there was an infrastructure in place and that is gone forever, replaced by YouTube (people watch music now rather than listen to it) and other social media outlets. Andy Warhol’s idea of everybody getting 15 minutes of fame has been whittled down to a fraction of that (15 seconds of fame?). Fortunes are created in a flurry of clicks and careers are born and die in a matter of months. People’s attention spans are ever more fleeting and an entire generation has grown up listening to hideously compressed files on earbuds with little or no sense of the creators and players or indeed the music itself (music is a lot more than the notes being played). It is extremely depressing to understand that for many people, art (music being the common denominator for the vast majority of people) is not something you spend money on and many people who think nothing of spending good money on their “device”, balk at the idea of paying for the music they listen to on that device, which leaves the creators of those recordings struggling to finance their work never mind make a living from it.

Live music is the only way to pay the bills now but since I have always made my living that way, it’s not really a big change for me except that the competition for paying gigs has risen dramatically and even in the dark corner of the business where folk musicians dwell, it’s getting very crowded. On the positive side – the same technology that has driven this industry into the weeds has created so much possibility for maverick creators and the old record companies who were the gatekeepers and “filters” have lost their power and their control, such that it is possible for work to be embraced strictly on it’s merits IF it can rise above the noise and the static to be heard.

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

JS: I’m still hungry.

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CHARLES DANIELS: MUCH-RECORDED TENOR – APPEARING WITH TAFELMUSIK APRIL 5-8 & 10 – AND A MAJOR SPIRIT OF CONTEMPORARY BAROQUE MUSIC PERFORMANCE EXPLAINS: “MY WORK IS INTENSELY COLLABORATIVE, AND THE SUM OF THE WHOLE SHOULD BE GREATER THAN THE SUM OF THE INDIVIDUAL TALENTS (AND EGOS)” … A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

Photo by Annelies van der Vegt

Tickets are still available for the April 10, 8:00 PM performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor at George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts from http://www.tafelmusik.org/concert-calendar

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?

CHARLES DANIELS: Tenor, musician, composer, narrator in song. Active since the 80s, best known in Baroque music and fortunate to have worked with many distinguished groups in that field. Lots of recordings, especially Bach and Purcell, but I believe live music is the best way to do and hear music.

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

CD: My work is more to do with expressing what the music is there to do than about my
personal beliefs. It’s also intensely collaborative, and sum of the whole should be greater
than the sum of the individual talents (and egos) …If you sing something you must put
yourself in the shoes of the character, or narrator of the poem or story, but while also
thinking very carefully about the whole work. Music has the power to transport people‘s
thoughts and the performing musician’s job is to do that the most effectively: which means
you have to try to weave a sort of magic

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

CD: Leonardo da Vinci – for his endless and unflinching efforts to understand everything, as well as his genius in the visual arts. He too was a musician – probably knew Josquin des
Pres when they were both in Milan. As it happens we have a snatch of a tune of his, from
one of his riddles. My suspicion is that one can quite easily do all manner of canonic
things with it, but I have yet to prove that.

J.S Bach – I simply couldn’t do without his music. So much in it, so powerful, I always find
new things. No doubt he wasn’t an easy man to deal with, if you were say Rector of St
Thomas or had to do with the Leipzig Town Council…

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

CD: Some things change – you think in different ways when you have a family, for instance, as you have responsibilities to others. But some of the big kid is still there, or whatever the bit of us is that won’t accept uniformity and routine. My world view is less rosy than it was. I wish it were otherwise.

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

CD: Every time you perform it has to be fresh. With well-known works that means constantly reinventing how you think of them, as if from scratch.

You also having to strive always to be getting better, to bring something more interesting
than the previous time. That also means constantly challenging oneself technically. Never
just to turn up and do one’s thing.

To stay full of ideas. But in a sense that should be, if not easy, at least natural. And it’s
much less easy to get stuck in a rut as a musician than for someone in a job which always
asks the same thing of them.

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

CD: My voice breaking! It may sound trivial and happens to almost every boy – I sang with a very distinguished choir but before it broke, had a surprisingly poor voice: I can only
imagine my reading music well was of some use to the choir, as long as other choristers
camouflaged the sound. But the fact that that my broken voice seemed at least useful as a
tenor, even after a few months, made a good psychological difference to me.

Being taken on as a post-grad student by Edward Brooks at the Royal College of Music
made it possible to do what I’ve done ever since. Doubtless there are things I do which
others should not reproduce, but essentially, I rely on the framework he taught me.
Edward had long experience teaching actors to use their voice with projection but without
strain, even before his career at the RCM began. His method, which can help anyone to use
their voice to its best natural extent (rather than, say, to try to make a sound of some
particular type or like someone) has proved incredibly useful for me for decades

Having children! I’m lucky to have two daughters: they’ve always had very distinct and
strong characters. They’re living disproof of babies having characters that can be moulded
at one’s will: that was so for both of them, from their first moments in the world. You have
to think differently when you’re considering the next generation – you think long term and
wonder how what you decide will affect them as adults.

Apart from anything else they make me laugh and stop me becoming fossilized in my ways.

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

CD: That it’s possible to make a living as a musician – or even needful. I wonder if some think that creative types can live off nothing but air and ideas. Almost the whole business is mysterious to many – from thinking up a project to delivering it to an audience. Groups
like Tafelmusik which have a great deal of outreach, from education to sponsorship, have
done much to demystify things, though.

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

CD: I always did a lot of music from childhood on, so grew up with it – performing and writing music too – but didn’t think about making a living from it until well into my university time. There wasn’t the eureka moment, I have to do this and nothing else, but more that I’d being doing an enormous amount of music for years and a certain point it didn’t seem crazy, with further study, to make a living out of it.

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

CD: I’ve long had ideas about how some music should go, which are different enough from
what I hear elsewhere, particularly vocally, that I’d like to assemble a group and have a
go at making that happen. But I’d need more disposable time to do it – and at least a small
budget.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

CD: A good question, but how can one decide that for oneself? History (assuming we will have one) has to be the judge. Then there’s the question of as-artist versus as-entire-human being. But things in the sphere of music which have given me great satisfaction include recording the Evangelist parts of both Bach Passions; a lot of the wonderful but
underexposed music of the 17th century; doing my bit to put music back together which
was incomplete (a well-known Purcell Ode, and the Gesualdo Sacrae Cantiones à6 to name
two – for the latter there are other versions out there too. But having sung so much
Renaissance and early Baroque music, besides Gesualdo himself, has to help with realizing
the right sound world – and I’ve had really helpful input from my colleagues in the
Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam as well)

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

CD: First, go for it – then: be yourself as a creative person, try to resist people putting you into too small a box as a performer and always strive to get better (this also applies to someone of 60..). Use the new tools – social media, music streaming services – to help yourself – that’s a case of do as I say not as I do. You should have great fun but don’t expect to make a huge amount of money – if you have another way of earning a living you may need to run both in parallel while you’re getting known. Recordings are a fine calling card and monument of what you do, but what you earn will be from live performance, so put your highest voltage input into that. Bear in mind that if you have a significant other, being away from home a lot puts a strain on your relationship – you will both have to be flexible.

JS: Of what value are critics?

CD: For the performer: honest criticism holds the mirror of another intelligent human being to what we do. We don’t always like what’s in it, of course. When not, best to see if there are things in the negative responses that can be used as tools for self-betterment. If criticism is favourable, it’s nice to receive – but one should always be one’s own fiercest critic.

For the audience or wider public – a good critic knows his/her subject and will inform and
enlighten as well as entertain.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

CD: To try to lay to one side the things which distract them mentally, so be open to the music happening in front of them.

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

CD: The world – we’ll have to change the way we organize almost everything, simply to
survive as a species (though the planet might be content if we failed to). Education which
teaches people to think clearly and critically in intellectual and emotional ways might
help. Learning facts has its place, but if we have sympathetic faculties for discerning truth
from falsehood and creative ones for finding solutions to our many problems, it may serve
us better.

The arts – that they be a normal part of children’s growing up. Since not everyone is rich,
that means a good slice of arts need to be presented for little or no money to those that
can’t afford to pay, but who still deserve their share of culture. This does already happen
of course, but needs to be spread more fairly.

The tendency for schools and colleges all over the world to measure their results output
against each other has narrowed curricula, and institutions may concentrate too much on
tests and exam results at the expense of broader education.

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

CD: I’ve heard wonderful things often – but one that would be lovely to revisit with further
hindsight was doing Messiah with Nikolaus Harnoncourt. It’s a piece which is so well
known and yet he had so many new insights, though I knew the music well already. What
I’d try to think even more about a second time round is, how to use his sort of fresh
thinking not just on Messiah but how to increase my creative range in as many contexts as
I could.

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?

CD: It’s surprisingly hard to quantify – because I’m usually busy doing stuff, be it work, or if at home, family life – and since there are more things needing doing, than time to do them, I don’t spend much time thinking about what people think about me. But to have any sort of decent reputation has to help, because people in the arts world are so interconnected. It also means you owe people the best job you can possibly do, on all occasions

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

CD: Life being busy, I tend to like to spend leisure time in peaceful places. There are many and one doesn’t have to go so far: one I’ve been to and would love to revisit is the part of
North West Scotland near Kinloch Hourn – and if in that part of the world would be
fascinated to see St Kilda, a little island thirty miles beyond the Hebrides. People lived
there for thousands of years until the late 1920’s – there are still the remains of some
buildings which volunteers tend every summer to keep them from falling down. But
mostly it’s rock, sea, grass, sky, wheeling birds.

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?

CD: I’m lucky to have a good deal going on in Canada at the moment: to mention some of it, Bach Mass in B Minor with Tafelmusik – which is important because not only is it
wonderful music but Bach wrote it as a summation of his life’s work. A fantastic team
assembled under Ivars’ direction. And the following month I’m delighted to be doing
Monteverdi’s Orfeo with David Fallis. There are arguments about how near to being the
first opera ‘Orfeo’ was, but it’s a masterpiece and a wonderful challenge to sing!

I’ve a new programme for Early Music Vancouver which takes its cue from some of the
stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. There’s music by Handel, Purcell and Monteverdi
included, but even their pieces, rather off the beaten track. Great to have the chance to
show some of the unsung glories of that era.

Susie Napper and I have hatched a new programme with Les Voix Humaines for the
Montreal Baroque Festival in June.

Something quite different – I’ve written a song cycle, at the moment scored for voice and
piano, but with a view to remaking it for a larger chamber ensemble. Poetry by Ivor
Gurney, musician and poet, survivor of the First World War. Gurney was a remarkably
creative person and bipolar at a time when sympathy and money were scarce to deal with
such things and therapies ineffective. His poems span his life from before the Great War to
his later years committed to a mental hospital

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?

CD: Some of my worries have been touched on in my remarks on education. I don’t expect that the financial side of artistic activities will ever be easy, except for the lucky handful who realize commercial superstardom. Though the picture is patchy, my feeling is that live
music and other performing arts are creatively in fine shape, even if sometimes financially
not. It would be good for there to be more satisfactory ways for artists to make money
from their work on the internet. One clear hopeful thing is that there continue to be lots of
amazingly talented young people coming into the business, so I’ve no fear that there’s a
general withering of the arts going on.

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

CD: I don’t feel as if my creative instincts have waned with age. That’s perhaps not so
surprising as there are tons of interesting ideas pouring out of mature artists. But the urge
to perform hasn’t declined either. Finding something intriguing is a bit harder – if there is,
perhaps it’s for others to discern?

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CECILIA LIVINGSTON: COMPOSER WHO SPECIALIZES IN “MUSIC FOR VOICE” EXPLAINS, “ART IS A CONVERSATION ABOUT THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE. I DON’T THINK ART HAS A DIDACTIC PURPOSE, BUT RATHER THAT IT CAN ENGAGE THE MORAL IMAGINATION AND LET US FIGURE THINGS OUT FOR OURSELVES” … 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?

CECILIA LIVINGSTON: “Cecilia Livingston is a composer specializing in music for voice.” I’m becoming more and more focused on opera creation, and I’m composing my first full-length opera, Terror & Erebus terroranderebus.com. I also write about music, particularly contemporary opera.

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

CL: That art is a conversation about the human experience. I don’t think art has a didactic purpose, but rather that it can engage the moral imagination and let us figure things out for ourselves. I remember hearing an interview with the painter Paula Rego, who spoke beautifully about why and how we tell stories: to make sense of the world. I think we create art and turn to art to make sense of our world, to try to understand it and each other, our humanness.

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

CL: Jane Austen, for her remarkable shrewdness about other human beings, and her cocked-eyebrow satirical humour about them.

Steve Reich, because Music for 18 Musicians might be the most important musical work of the twentieth century. It astonishes me every time I hear it. Plus, he’s a brilliant raconteur.

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

CL: I’ve learned to trust myself more, to trust that I might see and understand things in the world in ways that other people find surprising and interesting, and that is useful to their lives.

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

CL: I’m going to quote Robert Hughes here: “We have had a gutful of fast art and fast food. What we need more of is slow art, art that holds time as a vase holds water, art that grows out of modes of perception and making, whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel: art that isn’t merely sensational, that doesn’t get its message across in ten seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that hooks onto something deep-running in our natures.”

Time for creating this kind of art is very, very hard to protect: making that time requires a real doggedness of its own, a real stubbornness.

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

CL: A concert at which my family first heard a particular piece I’d written. They have always been wonderfully supportive, but I felt like it was the first time they truly, absolutely, and completely understood why I do what I do. I felt in that moment entirely “seen”, and that they gave me their blessing. For me that was the turning point of my creative life.

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

CL: How very bizarre it is to turn back and forth between the kind of deep introversion that composition can demand, and the extroversion that networking, public appearances, and all the other “admin” of a compositional life demand. It’s a very, very strange sensation.

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

CL: I’m not sure, to be honest. Apart from a wooden theme-and-variations exercise in high school, now best forgotten, I didn’t begin to compose until well into my undergrad. But I’ve always loved “putting on a show”, so it’s no surprise that I love opera and creating opera; I probably got the bug for that from my elementary school musical (we’d get out of classes for several weeks to rehearse, really!) and being a part of the Pia Bouman School of Ballet’s Nutcracker every year when I was young.

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

CL: I’d like to do more work with film; I did my first project along those lines for Nuit Blanche 2017, and it was fascinating. Definitely an area of music creation that I want to explore more. Also, I’ve never been in a band.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

CL: Winning the 2018 Toronto Emerging Composer Award. I’m incredibly humbled by this, and incredibly proud of it too. It’s a recognition not only of the person but of the work, past and future: it is such a vote of confidence in my opera, Terror & Erebus, and such a beautiful gesture from my colleagues in this city where I grew up.

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

CL: That the most important qualities for any artist are curiosity and tenacity: they both keep you going. Being an artist can be a really difficult life – very uncertain, very lonely, very unconventional – and unless it is a calling you absolutely cannot ignore, it might be better to do something else.

JS: Of what value are critics?

CL: Good critics illuminate. Take Alex Ross, who I think is a superb critic. He writes about music with tremendous insight, revealing connections and details, strengths and weaknesses, and he also is able to suggest musical experience in language – the latter is usually a poet’s job. His kind of criticism helps us navigate old and new work, and to begin to decide what is valuable and what is not.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

CL: to be open to aesthetic experience, and not just sit there waiting to go home. I get frustrated when people only want to feel safe – when feeling safe means “not being moved”. I value the social ritual of arts event attendance, sure, but as a creator I want an audience that is going to participate in the conversation the art allows: that can be unsettling, comforting… it’s an unknown each time, yes; it’s a risk each time, yes.

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

CL: More money for the arts: because good art takes time and focus and protecting the time and focus to create great art costs money. And I’d fund music education in public schools. I’m frustrated that we know how beneficial it is to education and learning, and to shaping a thoughtful, engaged citizenry, and yet it’s always the easy budget cut. Ugh.

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

CL: The three weeks I spent as a fellow at Bang On a Can’s summer festival, basically living in the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art: I’ll never forget hearing Mark Stewart play Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint one afternoon in a sun-soaked Sol LeWitt gallery, with Reich himself sitting on a folding chair a few feet in front of me.

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?

CL: So far, it’s been a positive experience, and very encouraging. I’m happy that this has brought new collaborations and new friends, and that it has brought my music to new audiences. Opening my inbox to find a message from someone who has come across my work and learning what it means to them… that can keep me going when I need it most.

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.

CL: I really want to go to Australia. I’m enchanted by its landscapes. Probably the Canadian in me, liking big spaces. I also really want to go back to Saskatchewan, basically for the same reasons.

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?

CL: I’m working on my first full-length opera, Terror & Erebus. It’s a dream project, and it brings together some of my favourite people: TorQ Percussion Quartet and Opera 5. Every meeting is such a pleasure with these folks, and it’s a wonderful balance to the isolation that composing the score is demanding of me. The opera explores the last days of the Franklin Expedition to the Arctic: it’s a powerful story and a really important part of Canada’s history. (More at terroranderebus.com)

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

CL: I love airports.

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