JOSEPHINE VAN LIER: BAROQUE SPECIALIST, NEXT WITH SCARAMELLA ON APRIL 7 IN TORONTO, COMMENTS: “TOO OFTEN DO I SEE A KIND OF “PROTECTIONISM” IN ARTS ORGANIZATIONS AND IN MUSICIANS. I FEEL STRONGLY THAT WE ALL SHOULD BE ONE BIG COMMUNITY SUPPORTING EACH OTHER, PROMOTING EACH OTHER, ENCOURAGING EACH OTHER. INSTEAD MANY ORGANIZATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS DON’T WANT TO ENGAGE WITH AND PROMOTE OTHERS, AND WE ALL LOSE!” … 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?

JOSEPHINE VAN LIER: Cellist, baroque cellist, viola da gambist, founder and artistic director of Early Music Alberta. I am particularly passionate about the historically informed performance practice of early music and, aside to performing with my peers in that field, try to encourage “modern” instrumentalists, both professional and amateurs, to become involved in, and passionate about, this and bring it to our audiences.

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

JVL: I find it of critical importance to always study the manuscripts of the music we play and learn as much as possible about the historical context: when and under what circumstances was the music written? For whom? And what did society look like at the time? Who were the musicians and what instruments, strings, reeds, and so on did they have at their disposal? I read treatises and study as much as possible the performance practice of the era of the music I am performing.

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

JVL: I have a patron. Which is something many musicians had in the 17th century, and they still exist today, though we don’t hear that much about it anymore. He has bought the absolutely terrific baroque cello I currently play on. An investment for him, a life and career changing opportunity for me. I really admire him for doing this at a time that many people are very selfish with their money. He is very humble about it and does it for the love of music, of the arts. He truly believes that a selfless act like this not only serves me as an artist and will allow me to grow and develop creatively, but also serves the community which gets to hear this great instrument played.

The second person is my husband Erik. I know that sounds tacky, but I really couldn’t be the creative person that I am without his support. He used to be a mechanical engineer and hated it. He quit his job 14 years ago and now makes very little money but is happy. He is my most amazing behind-the-scenes man. He has become a graphic designer, photographer, videographer and painter. Both for me personally as well as for Early Music Alberta he does all of the graphic design, the photography, videography, all of the running errands, and he stands behind me in every step I take. Had he kept his day job and made loads of money, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I do now. I am very grateful for that!

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

JVL: I don’t remember a time that I was not involved in creative work. I grew up with parents who were both professional classical guitarists. In my childhood home arts and creativity was a given. It has been there always, so it has shaped me and continues to shape me.

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

JVL: I find that I am most creative when I have enough time to retreat into the mountains, or at the very least go for long walks in the outdoors. The biggest challenge is trying to fit that into a very busy schedule with long days that require me to wear so many different hats – from teacher and educator, to researcher, to performer, to artistic director and organizer of a concert season and festival – is difficult. I know I am not as creative when I don’t have that time in nature.

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

JVL: Moving to Canada in 1995 from the Netherlands. My husband really wanted to move but I could not see myself move away from the arts and culture of Western Europe. We decided to give it a year’s trial period and…, well…, I am still here 23 years later and love it!

I live in Edmonton, where I really missed playing early music on period instrument, which was so common in the Netherlands. I performed a lot elsewhere, like in San Francisco and Europe, but missed having the opportunity playing historically informed early music in my own city. So, I founded Early Music Alberta in 2010, with the idea that I would invite specialists to perform alongside local musicians, thus training them. It worked (and continues to work!). We now have quite a thriving early music scene happening! I would say that was a major turning point!

Another big turning point was just a few months ago, so it really is almost too early to speak of a turning point, but I recently acquired a spectacular, 300-year-old English cello, that is much beyond what I have dared to dream about. I already feel my playing change, and it has only been a few months. I am so excited to continue on this journey with this cello and see where it will take me as a musician and artist!

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

JVL: People don’t understand the focus and enormous amount of hard work it takes to be able to perform at the level we do. For very little money. Many people tell me I am “lucky to have this gift”, but what they don’t realize is that it takes a tremendous amount of research and practice time to be successful. Not to mention the time and energy it takes to organize and promote concerts.

People also don’t realize the toll it takes on our body. At any sports event there will be a fully sponsored massage tent at the end of the day. I have yet to see that after a week of rehearsals and concerts!

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

JVL: I don’t know whether I can answer that, since being creative person isn’t something that happened to me; it just always was. Since both of my parents were creative people (and so is my brother Bas van Lier who is a very creative and innovative professional musician as well), there really never was any question about my future profession as a creative musician. I always had the calling, didn’t want to do anything else. Of course, the focus has much changed over time, and I really found my niche in early music. I keep reinventing myself as a creative person, and don’t think that will ever stop.

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

JVL: With Early Music Alberta I try to keep doing challenging projects, taking huge risks because it is quite expensive! I really would like to stage a full baroque opera, but haven’t attempted that because, well frankly, I just can’t afford it!

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

JVL: Founding Early Music Alberta and seeing what a difference it has made in Alberta of the past 8 years. When I started it, there were very few professional period instrumentalists. Now we have dozens to choose from. It has inspired others to start professional period ensemble in other places in the province also! It has had a great impact into the amateur scene as well, with an ever-growing group of musicians dedicating their free time to playing period instruments and more private teachers feeling that they can teach early music with some authority now!

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

JVL: DO IT!!

But be realistic about what it takes to be a musician, an artist. It is very, very hard work that never ever stops. In addition, you work in other people’s free time, so trying to schedule that dinner party with your non-musician friends is nearly impossible! And they must be willing to also teach, as that for many of us is the only “steady” part of our income. I see many young musicians wanting to be the next soloist touring the world, becoming famous and making your money performing, but the reality often turns out to be much different. Or they have their minds set on winning that audition in an orchestra. That is partly a weakness in the university system, which seem to want to train musicians to be soloists or orchestral musicians. That leaves many disappointed and disillusioned. Being a self-employed chamber musician is less financially secure, but if you go in with your eyes wide open, there is nothing more rewarding!

JS: Of what value are critics?

JVL: Oof… that is a tough one. We are our own worst critic already, and often we value (and dread) the critique of our peers most. The problem with many critics is that they really want to look for something negative to say, in the interest of their article. Live music is not a heavily edited CD, and critics sometimes lose sight of that. Having said that; they can certainly help a career tremendously (or break it). Plus, it really is good to hear the perspective from someone outside our own little bubble. How does our music really come across to the audience?

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

JVL: Be engaged! Connect with us. Enjoy the performance!

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

JVL: Arts funding! It is becoming increasingly difficult to get funding for the arts, and that is a discouraging trend. Governments all over the world are putting less and less subsidies into the arts, leaving organizations to rely more and more on private sponsorships and crowdfunding. While an organization might be successful one year, it might not be able to secure any funding for a next season. It becomes nearly impossible for an organization to make a solid 5-year plan because of the financial insecurity. In the long run that is not sustainable.

Among arts organizations, I strongly believe in actively promoting other organization’s events and mandates and encouraging audiences to experience their events. Too often do I see a kind of “protectionism” in arts organizations and in musicians. I feel strongly that we all should be one big community supporting each other, promoting each other, encouraging each other. Instead many organizations and individuals don’t want to engage with and promote others, and we all lose!

What would be better, for example, than inserting other organizations promotion, or announce your colleagues’ concert in your programs?! The more the better; it shows what a diverse community there is! And instead of seeing it as competition, and a threat to your organization, see it as an encouragement and an opportunity to the community at large to experience even more of what is going on in your area. It will create a much happier arts scene in the long run.

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

JVL: I really treasure so many projects I have done and am always deeply saddened when that project is over and really often wish I could relive that again right then and there. But once that sadness is gone, I put closure to it and I start to immediately make plans for the next creative project. I love the creative process so much. Re-living a former experience would not be very creative, so therefore probably not be as satisfying as it was the first time around!

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?

JVL: That is a tough one. I don’t think it has an effect on me. I am quite used to it and I don’t mind it.

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

JVL: I think I have been to most places that I feel a strong urge to visit. Growing up in Europe gave me access to many great cultural places.

Having said that, I will be in Europe this summer and I will go back to Italy to visit the great cultural cities again.

I have not been in England much and it has been on my to-do list for years, especially to delve more into the history of the early music there. Now this summer I will go to England, and I will visit all the places around London that my cello has been when it was built in 1720. I am really looking forward to 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?

JVL: For my concerts, whether personal, for Early Music Alberta or for the terrific amateur string ensemble I lead, I am trying to create programs that feature music that is seldom performed. While the Four Seasons and the Brandenburg Concertos will guarantee a large audience, I find it a great challenge and inspiration to create different programs as well and expose the musicians and the community to new early music. (And of course, I will also program the great works such as the Four Seasons and the Brandenburg Concertos!)

One of my ongoing projects is Early Music Alberta. I continue to create performance and educational opportunities for Alberta musicians, as I am trying to inspire people to start learning to play period instruments, and offer resources and opportunities to learn and play. In return the audiences get exposed to it! It also entices young musicians who go elsewhere to study early music (since that is not offered at a university in Alberta), to come back to Alberta knowing that there is now growing and thriving early music scene and that I am there to help create performance opportunities for them.

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?

JVL: I think I have talked about this in earlier questions already. I do tend to see the positive in most things and personally just make things work whatever the circumstances, even if that means that I do not get paid for it.

But I find the state of government funding and the fact that we have to spend a lot of creative energy in finding alternative sources of funding discouraging. I also find the protectionism among arts organizations a sad trend.

But it is incredibly encouraging to see so that patronage is seeming to make a come-back, and that many artists continue to create really terrific art and so many have brilliant ideas.

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

JVL: Hmmm, I don’t know that I can answer that: I think I know myself pretty well at this stage in my life!

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GARY KULESHA: THE COMPOSER, CONDUCTOR, PIANIST, EDUCATOR, AND MENTOR TO MANY YOUNGER ARTISTS EXPLAINS, “ART EXTERNALIZES THE CONFUSING AND UNINTELLIGIBLE IN OUR SOULS AND ALLOWS US TO EXAMINE IT. IT ORGANIZES A MINDLESSLY VIOLENT AND CHAOTIC UNIVERSE INTO A HUMAN-SIZED MICROCOSM.” … 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?

GARY KULESHA: Gary Kulesha is a composer, conductor, pianist, and educator who has been active for almost 50 years. His works have been commissioned, performed, and recorded throughout the world. As a conductor, he has premiered literally hundreds of works by his colleagues. He has been an important mentor to many younger artists.

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

GK: Great art changes people. Art serves two important functions: it helps us understand ourselves, and it creates order in chaos. If I do my job correctly, by the end of my piece, you should understand, at least at the unconscious level, something that you did not understand before you heard it. Art externalizes the confusing and unintelligible in our souls and allows us to examine it. It organizes a mindlessly violent and chaotic universe into a human-sized microcosm.

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

GK: I can’t really be this specific because I’m too critical to believe that anyone is without foibles. The good things about each person are usually balanced by the not-so-good things. I really admire Elon Musk, for example, for changing the automotive world and having the commitment to release his patents for free to help others make the change, but I can’t shake the feeling that he is an ego maniac who runs a cult and that he may have some ulterior motive, like controlling battery production for the whole world. I admire and respect anyone who is good at what they do and yet remain self-aware– not exactly humble, but fully aware of what they are and are not good at. I admire committed people whose actions demonstrate that commitment. I admire and respect people who are humane. And I definitely do not like people who don’t like animals.

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

GK: Oddly enough, I’m not sure that I have changed very much. I started doing creative work at the age of 8 or 9. Even as a teenager, I was very self-directed and self-sufficient. I never responded to peer pressure, I never caved in to the expectations of my teachers, and I did not care about being part of an artistic “club.” These are the same traits I have now. I never cared what anyone thought about me, and I still don’t. I suppose I have, like most people my age, mellowed somewhat in that I no longer engage in arguments about anything, especially aesthetics. Arguing always ends up being “yes, it is, no it isn’t” and I don’t have the time to waste going in circles.

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

GK: Writing better music. I always quote Lutoslawski quoting Bartok: when I was young, I wrote the music I could write, not the music I wanted to write. I think we all do this. There is never a point when a good composer is fully satisfied with what they are writing. There is a psychological term, “presque vue”, which refers the experience of feeling that something is about to be revealed, but it never is. I have this about my music. There is a kind of music I want to write, but I don’t know what it is. I had this feeling when I was young, and gradually wrote works which fulfilled what I had been feeling, but I still feel it.

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

GK: In 2000, I had been working as a sessional teacher at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music for about 10 years. The Dean, David Beach, got special permission to appoint me to a full-time position. This must have been a colossal undertaking, because I never went to university and have no degrees. But he believed in me, and got me the appointment, and then made me the Coordinator of the Theory and Composition division. I want to point out that David was American. If you look at job posting for Canadian and American universities, the Canadian ones all say “Doctorate required.” The American ones say “Doctorate or career equivalent required.” Americans are better at recognizing special abilities than Canadians. Or perhaps we recognize them, and just don’t want to admit it.

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

GK: Probably everything. I don’t understand a lot of it myself. Every time I start a new work, I think “How do I do this, again?” Conducting, too, is a mystical thing. Why will professional musicians follow one person, and just grudgingly tolerate another? Why can even the finest and most skilled musician be a terrible conductor? Most people can at least grasp what a composer does, even if they have trouble understanding “where you get your ideas from.” Most people, even wonderful musicians, don’t have a clue why some conductors are great and others, who are perfectly capable, are dull and uninteresting.

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

GK: I was very young and had a brother who was 4 years older. He began piano lessons and immediately developed an interest in composing his own music. At the same time, our uncle was living with us on and off between marriages and jobs, and he had a passion for boogie woogie and country music. The boogie woogie really rubbed off on me. Between my brother’s love of Mozart and Schubert and my uncle’s love of ostinato-driven piano music, and my own adoration of Chopin, and at least partly because anything my brother could do I was sure I could better, I began writing music.

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

GK: I want to create an opera for orchestra. By this I mean a full-length work that does not rely on staging per se, but rather uses singers, video, dance, and sound track to tell a story. This may sound like a lot of what is going on right now, but my intention is to make it quite literally an opera, with a clearly linear story line and sharply defined characters who sing their roles. I am stymied by money. Because no one sees me as being a media composer, no one will even talk to me about this. It is true that I do not have a great deal of experience in media, but I did “electronic music” in the 80s and 90s, and even taught it, and I made movies when I was a student. I could learn fast.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

GK: Marrying the woman of my life, paying off a home, writing the music I believe in, and teaching young artists I believe in. Also, co-creating and co-directing two important new music festivals, the Massey Hall New Music Festival and the New Creations Festival. And bringing the music of my colleagues to audiences, either by directly performing them or by managing to place them on programmes somehow.

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

GK: Music is a calling, not a profession. It is a calling just as surely as the priesthood is a calling. If you are not called, do not enter the profession. Your passion for music must irrationally outweigh every other consideration, and you must be prepared to do what you have to do to be an artist. If something dissuades you from composing or conducting, you are not a composer or a conductor. Learn. There is no freedom without discipline, and there is no creativity without knowledge. Learn everything. Be interested in everything, music, film, philosophy, art, books, everything. Be a human being first and a musician second and a composer or a conductor third. Contain your passion in professionalism. Remember courtesy and self-discipline.

JS: Of what value are critics?

GK: Maureen Forrester once told me “Listen darling, it doesn’t matter what they write about you as long as they write about you.” I suppose an argument can be made that it is professionally valuable to keep your name in the media. A good critic can also illuminate things for audiences. But remember, no one, not even a professional musician, can be absolutely certain about the value of something they have heard only once. Art is in the details. Works that can initially seem unimpressive can slowly reveal themselves to be much deeper than they appeared. Incredibly, Moby Dick was so poorly received it literally ruined Melville’s career, and yet we now know that it may well be the greatest book in the English language. The problem with most contemporary criticism is that it isn’t really criticism, it’s journalism. I remember Robert Everett Green once writing a review of a work of mine that was so intelligent I had to write him a note expressing my thanks. He was mostly positive but questioned the inclusion of the middle movement, articulately and analytically wondering about the structural integrity. That kind of critical writing is very, very rare.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

GK: That they be like me. I am my own best audience. I hope my real audience wants to hear what I want to hear.

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

GK: Obviously, I would want the things we all want– peace, equality, breathable air, etc. – but the truth is that these things are unlikely to happen. Humans are consumers, of the things around them and of other humans. When we get to Mars, we’ll consume that too. In the music world, people are still people. It is astounding how small and petty people can be in this business. But then, it’s a business built on ego. Not only do we tolerate the ego of artists, we encourage it and call it “artistic vision.” I would certainly not change this. But an artistic world in which even the biggest narcissists accommodate other people’s ideas and opinions would be better. The politicization of ego is a serious impediment to artistic prosperity. And ego is everywhere. Composers in particular lead such internal lives that they tend to be unable to allow for other people’s opinions.

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

GK: The premiere of my first symphony, conducted by Jukka Pekka Saraste, with me as the second conductor, with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1998. There are many reasons why. I still consider this work to be one of my best. It was surprising to me, and to everyone else. It was hugely successful, despite its astonishing technical demands. The orchestra totally rallied around me, and I could not have felt more supported by my musical colleagues. It was one of those rare occasions when you know you have done something very good, and everyone else knows it as well.

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?

GK: I couldn’t honestly say that I’m very aware of this. I know objectively that I am somewhat well known in the musical world, that my name appears in newspapers, online, and in books, that I have a listing in a few encyclopedias, that people recognize me, etc., but I couldn’t say that I “feel” it. I’m not famous enough for it to change my life. The effect of what fame I have is that people I don’t know want to talk to me, which I don’t mind. The downside is that anyone in the public eye is reviled by someone, usually irrationally. I remember being with a young composer who had just had some public success when he got his first piece of out-of-the-blue hate mail. He was devastated and upset that someone he had never met took the time to write him a really vicious piece of email. This kind of thing happens to anyone who has a public presence.

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.

GK: I don’t have any idea why, but I am obsessed with Tristan de Cunha, the main island of the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world. It is in the south Atlantic and is part of a British protectorate that includes Ascension Island and Saint Helena. I think it seized my imagination when I was 7 years old, in 1961, when the local volcano erupted and all 200 inhabitants had to get into boats and get off the island. I must have Google-Earthed this island 20 times at this point. It’s so remote, though, that getting there is a massive undertaking. I would like to return to two places, Iceland, where I have already been twice, and Scotland. My wife and I were in Iceland for a week last summer and will very likely go again this summer. I love Iceland because of its remoteness and grandeur. Photos and video cannot even slightly capture the massive scale of the distances and mountains. I am told only the outback of Australia comes even close to this amazing experience. My wife has never been to Scotland, perhaps the most beautiful place I have ever been, so we may plan a trip there sometime soon. Scotland also has a craggy beauty but is more pastoral and has a more human scale than Iceland.

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?

GK: A few days ago (March 10,) the Toronto Symphony, Peter Oundjian, violinist Jonathan Crow, and violist Teng Li premiered my Double Concerto at Roy Thomson Hall here in Toronto. This was another experience like the premiere of my first symphony, which I talk about above. Everything just clicked into place with this work and this premiere. The performance was nothing short of astonishing, the audience reaction was spectacular, and the support from the orchestra was inspiring. Why should it matter to you? Because, for better or for worse, whether or not you think we’re successful, we are working hard to make good art, to make Canada a more civilized country, and to become part of the greater international artistic world.

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?

GK: I find it depressing that the education system has lost sight of the fact that the arts are an important part of education. We have become a society of trade schools. The raw value of arts training is no longer understood. You don’t have to go on to be an artist to benefit from arts education. You don’t even have to become a regular consumer of art. The discipline of art at a young age changes you, for the better. I find it depressing that, because of the lack of arts training in general schools, there are now two or three generations who don’t know anything about traditional art. We are even seeing this in music at the university, where young composers don’t know anything about music, they are interested only in what they are doing, and in the people who are doing the same things as them. I am encouraged that there are so many young people interested in art, even if they are not that well informed. I am encouraged that new music continues to find listeners, despite the timidity of administrators. I am encouraged by all the experimentation and creativity going on. I am hopeful that, because of the interest of young people in new and fresh things, we may return to a time when people go to symphony orchestra concerts specifically to hear the new thing on the programme, not despite it.

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

GK: Nothing intrigues or surprises me about myself. Other people are usually surprised to find that I adore cats, have an expansive knowledge of movies ranging from utter schlock to art films, listen to a lot of pop music, and play fps video games almost every evening I am free. They also surprised that my favourite novelist is Virginia Woolf, and that I am a fanatic about James Bond, the only thing I am fanatical about.

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BORIS BROTT: CONDUCTOR AND “A BUILDER OF ORCHESTRAS” EXPLAINS: “WHAT THE ALCHEMY OF CONDUCTING IS ALL ABOUT IS THE HARDEST OF THINGS FOR AN OUTSIDER TO UNDERSTAND.” …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?

BORIS BROTT: A builder of orchestras in England (Royal Northern Sinfonia) Wales (BBC National Orchestra of Wales) Canada (Regina, CBC Winnipeg, KW Symphony, Hamilton Philharmonic, McGill Chamber Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia,) USA New West Symphony Los Angeles.

Winner of Gold Medal Mitropoulos International Conductors Competition 1968

Assistant Conductor to Leonard Bernstein.

Principal Conductor Royal Ballet, Covent Garden.

Assistant Conductor Toronto Symphony.

Significant guest conducting symphony and opera in Mexico, Canada, Israel, Scandinavia, Italy, France, USA and Canada.

Principal Guest Conductor Petruzzelli Théâtre Bari, Italy.

A devotion to education: Written and presented over 50 original scripts introducing classical music to young audiences significantly as Principal Youth and Family Conductor of the National Arts Center Orchestra of Canada

Founder of Brott Festival (31 years) & National Academy Orchestra of Canada (30 years)

Significant career as Motivational Speaker for 28 years to present for Fortune 500 corporations.

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

BB: Connecting mind and spirit through music – positive reinforcement.

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

BB: Leonard Bernstein: An intellectual and musical genius. He made a significant impact on my life inspiring my musical and written language.

Alexander Brott (my father): Instilled a creative work ethic in me and created the foundation of my musical language.

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

BB: Listen better, react better to those around me, positively reinforce rather than dictate.

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

BB: Faith to stare down the blank piece of paper.

Accepting my failures and using them as a springboard to continued activities.

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

BB: Winning NY position & meeting Bernstein

Losing all my work in midlife, attending Law School, rebuilding my life and career.

My marriage to Ardyth

Webster (41 years ago) Her faith and inspiration changed and continues to positively change my life.

The birth and raising of our 3 children Alexandra, David and Benjamin and now being a grandfather to Isabella, Everett and Jonah with a fourth about to arrive!

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

BB: Understanding what the alchemy of conducting is all about.

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

BB: Parental influence – Mother Lotte a great musical entrepreneur as well as consummate cellist. Grew up in one room with my parents until 7. No other option but to be a musician.

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

BB: Practice law as well as music. – not the time since possibly too old at 74 to start a new law firm – but not out of the question!

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

BB: The professional development of orchestras in Britain, USA and Canada to the point where they made a musical difference in the world.

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

BB: Be super prepared – be ready when luck meets you. Be courageous and humble.

JS: Of what value are critics?

BB: Public critics often have personal agendas and their own audiences. So much depends on how responsible they are to the continuity of the art form.

With the diminution of daily newspapers. The positions in all but the largest papers have been made redundant.

The important critics are your colleagues and those closest to you who REALLY care about making you better.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

BB: Let yourself be carried away. Enjoy, be inspired. « Technical knowledge « is of little importance.

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

BB: Generally, « caring » about the sanctity of life, about the importance of creativity.

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

BB: Too busy living in the moment.

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?

BB: You have to consistently remind yourself not to take your reflection too seriously. YOU have the inner standards to measure your accomplishments.

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.

BB: China – fascinating country. Musically a giant but NOT in their own music, rather in European music. A real paradox I’d like to experience firsthand.

Italy – love the amazing opera theatres, the warm living people, the gelato and the pasta!

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?

The programming of my two current responsibilities – Brott Music Festival      www.brottmusic.com

Experience the fabulous energetic National Academy Orchestra – you will be blown away.

The same goes for the intimate McGill Chamber Orchestra Www.orchestre.ca

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?

BB: I am ever challenged and enthused by the potential.

Reminds me of two shoe salesmen sent to remote central Africa to sell footwear.

First Salesman texted back

« Hopeless situation – they go around barefoot »

Second Salesman:

« Fabulous marketing opportunity – they haven’t discovered shoes yet! »

I’m number 2

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

BB: I’m intrigued that people care - It inspires me to strive to do better always!

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ROBERT SILVERMAN: PIANIST WITH A “DISCOGRAPHY AMONG THE LARGEST AND MOST COMPREHENSIVE OF ANY CANADIAN PIANIST IN HISTORY” ADVISES, “FIND YOUR OWN WAY. ABOVE ALL, DON’T TRY TO BE THE NEXT LANG LANG OR YUJA WANG. THOSE POSITIONS ARE ALREADY TAKEN” (COMING NEXT A CHOPIN RECITAL AT HAMILTON CONSERVATORY APRIL 29) … 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?

ROBERT SILVERMAN: Eclectic Canadian pianist. (Last one standing of his generation.) Studied engineering and played hockey under contract with Montreal Canadiens before taking up music seriously in his early 20s.  It took him until age 40 to make a NYC debut. Has always devoted a sizeable portion of his energies to teaching. Although not known a proponent of “New Music”, he premiered five Canadian piano concertos by name-brand composers (Hétu, Somers, Coulthard, Louie, M.C. Baker). Discography among the largest and most comprehensive of any Canadian pianist in history. In his later career, tends to focus on music of one composer at a time: Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart.  As he approaches his 80th birthday, Chopin has caught his attention.

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

RS: To bring the composer’s notes on a page to life as vividly as possible, to reveal his patterns of musical thought, while neither adding anything that is not there, nor subtracting anything that is there. I am well aware that such an endeavour is not the easiest path to fame and fortune. Moreover, this is certainly not the only way of playing; nor is it the only way of playing well. However, it is definitely the most difficult way to play, and for better or worse, it is the only way I feel that I’m doing an honest day’s work.

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

RS: Solomon (Cuttner) for his musical rigour, and Ivan Moravec for raising the craft of technique to an art-form almost independent of musical interpretation.  I don’t remotely sound like either, nor would I want to even if I were in their league.

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

RS: I grew up a bit.

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

RS: Technique. I was not and am not a “natural,” and it has always been difficult for me. But I am still making progress, even as my stamina is not what it once was.

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

RS: 1. Making that “delayed” NYC debut – 2 different recitals at Tully Hall a week apart. It did wonders for my self-confidence as an artist.  Hell, as a person too.

2. Learning and performing the 32 Beethoven sonatas after I retired from UBC. It set me on a different musical trajectory that shows no sign of slowing down after 20 years.

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

RS: See the answers I’ve provided thus far.

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

RS: I don’t know. It was always a part of my life as far back as I remember.

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

RS: Schubert on a period instrument.  I have never been able to perform him to my satisfaction on a modern instrument, and I do love his music.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

RS: Being an artist who never stops growing and evolving.  As Toscanini said, “Every time I conduct a piece I’ve performed previously, all I can think about is how stupid I was then.)

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

RS: Don’t.  Find your own way.  Above all, don’t try to be the next Lang Lang or Yuja Wang.   Those positions are already taken.

JS: Of what value are critics?

RS: Some are more perceptive than others to say the least. Here’s an article I wrote for Globe and Mail in 1987 following Kraglund’s — surely the most hateful of Canadian music critics, ever — retirement. (They refused it, saying that of course they agreed with me, but they didn’t see the point to it.)

ON MUSIC CRITICISM AND RETIREMENT PARTIES by Robert Silverman

Recently, Zena Cherry listed the guests attending a party honouring John

Kraglund on the occasion of his retirement as Senior Music Critic of this

newspaper. The resulting hiatus has provided me with a timely opportunity to

offer his successor a few general observations about music criticism from a

performer’s standpoint, while avoiding the obvious pitfalls involved in taking

any particular writer to task.

“Congratulations! You have landed one of Canada’s most prestigious

positions in the field of music journalism. You undoubtedly were selected for

the job because you write well, your training and experience have enabled you to

discuss a broad range of musical issues cogently, and above all, your love of

music is both passionate and profound. As a result, you now have the good

fortune to be paid to attend the finest concerts to be heard in your city.

Furthermore, given the level of Toronto’s cultural activity nowadays, the vast

majority of artists you hear will be of world, or at least national, class.

“You naturally will bring to your work your own aesthetic orientation, your

personal likes and dislikes, and this is as it should be. Your appointment

carries with it, however, the further assumption that you possess the capacity

to differentiate between subjective and objective elements of performance. Rest

assured that most serious artists today are aware of the various interpretive

possibilities inherent in a given work, they have heard all the recordings you

have heard, and they have thought long and hard about how the piece should be

played. What they have arrived at may not match your own conception, but their

approach may be equally valid, and must be judged on its own merits.

“A few more caveats may be in order. Remember that a critic who habitually

pans performers who are universally acclaimed by critics and musicians alike

probably is telling his readers much more about his own limitations than the

artist’s. Moreover, should a critic arrive at the point where he condemns more

concerts than he praises, there is a strong likelihood that it is music itself

he no longer enjoys, rather than any specific performance of it. True, he may

still enjoy writing on the subject. He may even get a special charge out of

slinging poisoned arrows at artists who he is well aware cannot, or will not be

bothered to respond; but as any perceptive reader knows, that sort of activity

has little to do with either music or criticism.

“Legend has it that the members of an orchestra, exasperated by the rough

treatment they persistently received at the hands of their local critic, xeroxed

all their diplomas and degrees, and sent him the package together with a note

stating “Here are our credentials. Show us yours!” The gesture was a little

juvenile, of course, since it is indeed possible to listen intelligently without

extensive formal training. On the other hand, not having undergone a rigourous

musical education over many years, and not spending countless hours practicing

virtually every day of one’s life does not necessarily render a critic more

qualified than a performer to know how a given work should be played.

“It must be extraordinarily difficult for a critic to leave a concert hall

night after night and knock off a review in the few minutes remaining before his

deadline. It is understandable that the muses cannot always be by the writer’s

side under such conditions: therefore, during those inevitable dry spells, it

might be advisable simply to mention who played what, much in the manner that

Zena Cherry listed the guests at your predecessor’s retirement party. In any

case, if in assessing the concerts you attend, you ensure that wit never

replaces wisdom, and sarcasm never masquerades as insight, you will elevate

music criticism in your current working environment to the noble profession it

potentially can be.”

(Robert Silverman is a Vancouver-based Canadian pianist of international

reputation. He appears frequently in Toronto and Hamilton and Niagara-on-the-Lake.


JS: What do you ask of your audience?

RS: Leave your cellophane candy wrappers and very young children at home.  Don’t come with the specific goal of being entertained (although I hope you will be), but rather to embark with me upon an adventure of discovery and exploration.

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?

RS: I am still in my Chopin phase. I remain gobsmacked by this man’s genius, and the totally original way he composes. I learn something new every single time I practice or perform his music. I feel exhilarated and enriched.  But I cannot tell others why this should matter to them, although I hope it would.

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?

Hopeful: the level of instrumental performance these days is as good as, and in many instances, better than it ever was.  Composers have rediscovered, after a half century, that writing music that some people may like is not a crime.  Depressing: Orchestras, containing musicians who are at the above level, schedule concerts made up of Video Game music.

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

RS: When I was in Grade X, my teacher once told me that I was pretty smart but that I lacked intellectual curiosity. I must say, in retrospect, that he was right at the time, and for quite a while afterwards. But something began clicking in shortly after I turned 30, and thus far, it seems that my life trajectory has been akin to a Sibelius Symphony: It started with promising fragments, but has been crescendoing for a long while.

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CAROLINE TOAL: ACTRESS, JUST ENDING A GRIPPING PERFORMANCE IN “BLACKBIRD” AT THEATRE AQUARIUS, DECLARES “THROUGH MY WORK, I TRY TO CAPTURE THE IDEA THAT PEOPLE ARE INTENSELY COMPLICATED. WITH ALL MY CHARACTERS, I STRIVE TO SHOW THE ‘GOOD’ AND THE ‘BAD’. I REALLY LIKE SHOWING THE ‘BAD’….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?

CAROLINE TOAL: I am an actor. I take the playwright’s work and I attempt to make it come alive. The writer will give me a character and it is my job to take that person off of the page and make them real. It is my job to find out why that person is doing what they are doing in the story. It is my job to tell their story. It’s my job to feel what they feel and think what they think and take the audience on a journey as to why this person does what they do to serve the bigger story.

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

CT: Through my work, I try to capture the idea that people are intensely complicated. With all my characters, I strive to show the “good” and the “bad”. I really like showing the bad. Ultimately, my belief is that people just want to feel for other people and connect with other people. They want to relate to the people and characters onstage and potentially feel less alone. I want that for everyone watching my work. I try to make my work all about connection and love. I am always striving to connect with the other person I am acting with and also to find the parts of them that I love. I want the audience to feel and escape their life for a bit. That’s all. I escape my life for a little bit because I get to focus on someone else. I want to take everything I feel and put it out there for other people to feel.

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

CT: I’ve been doing creative work all my life, so I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t doing creative work. However, I will say that when I find myself in a time between contracts and I’m not taking care of myself and nurturing my artist, I turn into a completely different person. When I’m spending days not being creative I am unhappy, jealous, easily depressed, tired, and negative. I don’t feel like the person I want to be and I am definitely not my best self. Figuring this out has been super important to me. When I’m creating my own art, I’m happy, purposeful, joyful, I’m a better friend, a better child, I have more energy and am positive. Being creative means being the best I human I can be.

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

CT: Money is the first thing that comes to mind. Finding a job that gives me enough money and keeping my spirits up and remembering that I am an artist first is difficult. Our society is not set up to cater to artists, which is fine, it is what it is – but it makes it very hard to remember that artists are valuable and important too. The artistic lifestyle is the only one I seem capable of living, so being free and not having commitments to other non-artistic things all the time is very important to me. The balance of making money to live and still doing my art is very hard. It took a long time for me to value myself as an artist and to put a price on my work as well.

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

CT: I would like to attempt directing and stand up comedy. I want to do stand up because it seems terrifying but I know the rush I would get from it would be amazing. I’m beginning to discover that I am a rush seeker. I want to attempt directing because I want to learn to tell as story from a greater, broader standpoint – not just the view of the character. I think I would particularly enjoy directing for camera. I also want to try DOPing. I have zero experience. I kind of just want to try everything before I die. Swimming with sharks, polar dip, backpacking, living in a commune… truly everything. May stay away from base jumping though. Seems like a sure way I would die before my time.

I’d like to do more Shakespeare, but I’d also like to keep playing dark, emotionally fucked up characters. I like that kind of stuff. I like playing characters who are messy because I am – we all are. I’d also really like to get more into on camera work. It almost feels like a different craft and I’d love to explore that more.

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

CT: I think there are many things that are difficult for an outsider to understand, but I think the biggest would probably be that our career is 24/7 job. There are no set hours and I am always thinking about work. It’s hard for me not to always be thinking about art and creating. Personally, I think it’s hard for others to understand my passion for what I do. It can often verge on obsession when I’m working on a show. I am pretty obsessed with my craft and that can be good and bad.

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

CT: When I was a kid, I would go to see my best friend’s Dad in community theatre in Orangeville where I grew up. I remember watching Oklahoma and wanting to be up there being a different person too! From there, when I was about 12, my parents put me in the Young Company at Theatre Orangeville. An incredible person by the name of Pablo Felices Luna was directing our shows and I was so taken by how he treated a bunch of children as if we were real, serious actors. He really is the reason I am an actor. We did the Hobbit the first year and I starred as Viola in Twelfth Night the following year. I was hooked! I became a little Shakespeare nerd at aged 13.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

CT: Being nominated for a Dora for To Kill A Mockingbird was a huge accomplishment. Even being cast in To Kill A Mockingbird at YPT was a huge accomplishment. It was my first big professional production. Also, I am just really proud to have worked with so many of the talented artists that I have worked with throughout my career thus far. I have just come off working on Blackbird at Theatre Aquarius with Randy Hughson and Marcia Kash and they were both incredible and I learned so much from being close to their experience and talent.

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

CT: I would ask a young actor: “Are you good at handling highs and lows? Are you good at keeping yourself motivated when there is no work to be done? Are you prepared to live frugally? How much do you love it? Are you good at anything else that you love as much?”

JS: Of what value are critics?

CT: It’s hard to say what value critics are. It’s a complicated question for me. For my own personal work as an actor they are of very little value – however, if a show that I am in gets reviewed well and I get a mention that can be very helpful. I think it can be really helpful to have good press and a professional opinion to promote/sell yourself. However, I think any artist would agree that it is just one person’s opinion. Whether they are an expert in theatre or not, it’s just their opinion. If someone doesn’t like your work… that’s that. Nothing you can do about that. But maybe there is a 9-year-old kid who loved the show. Or a 72-year-old woman who got something out of the show or felt moved by your performance. That’s the thing that matters to me. There are loads of times that I have to remind myself that theatre is not for the critics. It’s for the audiences.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

CT: I ask my audience to TURN OFF THEIR PHONES for the love of god. Be respectful that we are humans up here trying to focus – although, I do love vocal commenting if it’s engaged.

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

CT: Hmmmm… I’d like the arts to have more money. I’d like theatres to program a wider range of shows. It’s already starting to happen, but I love seeing stories from people who have vastly different experiences than I do. I grew up in Orangeville, Ontario, which was VERY white and Christian. I LOVE seeing shows that reflect a completely different upbringing than I experienced. I crave stories of different cultures.

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

CT: I’d re-do theatre school. I would re-do this recent show, Blackbird. I would re-do most of the shows I’ve ever worked on. I would re-do every on-camera audition I’ve ever had in my life. I would re-do all the talkbacks at YPT because children are fascinating and I love the way they think.

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: I have been in some media and it’s interesting. I don’t mind it because it’s about my work and art. If it was about me personally, that would be weird, but I like when people talk about the theatre that I am a part of.

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: I’d like to go to the Grand Canyon because I’ve never been to the desert. I want to check one of the wonders of the world off my list and I want to experience that different type of heat. If I had to go back somewhere, I would go back to PEI and/or South America. I visited PEI when I was a child and don’t remember it well so I’d love to go back and experience that again. I feel I would fit in pretty well on the East Coast. I’d like to go back to Rio because it gave me incredible culture shock and I think I need to be reminded of that again… also it’s beautiful and the people are amazing.

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: I worked on Blackbird at Theatre Aquarius and it was an incredible experience from the people I worked with, working in an A house, working on that challenging play, experiencing Hamilton. All of it was incredible. I still can’t believe I was cast and that I got to work with the amazingly talented artists that I did.

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: It gives me hope that different, more diverse stories are being told. It gives me hope that casting is now more diverse. It gives me hope that we are seeing messier more complicated stories on stage. It gives me hope that women are now being allowed a bigger place in positions of power. I’m disappointed by the lack of money.

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

CT: I am constantly surprising myself by who I am and how quickly I change. If I had to choose one thing currently, I’d say that I surprised myself by loving working out. It helps me mentally and I love the feeling of my body getting stronger. I’m 27 and a few weeks ago I stepped into a gym for the first time. Knowing myself beforehand, I could have never predicted that I would love it so much. It’s wild.

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AMANDA FORSYTHE: CELEBRATED SOPRANO WHO JOINS “THE FABULOUS BAROQUE BAND” TAFELMUSIK FOR HANDEL’S ALEXANDER’S FEAST (FEBRUARY 22-25) DISCOVERS “MY KIDS MAKE ME LAUGH LIKE CRAZY, AND THE JOY THEY BRING ME CARRIES OVER TO MY PERFORMANCES.” …A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

Concert info at http://www.tafelmusik.org/concert-calendar/concert/handel-alexanders-feast

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

AMANDA FORSYTHE: I believe that as performers, our most important job is to share our love of the music and create a type of bond with the audience. I try so hard to communicate with the public, and there are incredibly beautiful moments when you can feel energy radiating back at you from an involved audience. It nurtures and buoys our performances, and I think it is this collective spirit that really brings music to life.

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

AF: I think that in the beginning of my career, I was trying to sing everything “correctly”, with the notes and rhythms sung exactly as they appear on the page. With experience, of course, comes the confidence that you can expressively stretch a note, or dot a rhythm, or take a breath without embarrassment, if it serves to make the music more beautiful, or dramatic, or tragic, or haunting. Of course, you can take these liberties with a fabulous baroque band like Tafelmusik, who are accustomed to collaborating with the singer, and who are flexible and open-eared!

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

AF: I think many non-musicians imagine that we have wholly glamorous lives, when the reality is that much of our job is writing emails, updating websites, fundraising, and schlepping our gowns, tuxedos, and instruments through airport security. If all we had to do was make music, it would be incredible! It’s true that performing is exhilarating, but most of us have to travel to make a living, and being on the road for a long time can be exhausting and very lonely.

JS: Of what value are critics?

AF: I’m one of those singers who likes to read reviews. Of course, for every 99 good things you hear, it’s the 1 negative comment that you remember! But good or bad, without a review, I almost feel like the performance didn’t happen (If a tree falls in the woods, etc). I think a lot of the most honest reviews come from bloggers, who provide the so-called person on the street opinion. It’s good to know what the public likes, because at the end of the day, they are the ones buying tickets and CDs. We need the critics, to spread the word, to fill the seats, to keep the arts in the thoughts and minds of our potential audiences.

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

AF: I recently sang with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and my driver from the airport was talking about the new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, which cost over a billion dollars to build. A billion dollars, and most of it came from the taxpayers! Can you imagine if the arts were given such consideration in our society? Despite numerous studies showing that the arts, and music in particular, provide more learning benefits to children than any other subject, these programs are always the first to be cut in times of financial crisis. I hope that future administrations will place more value on the necessity of the arts in our schools.

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

AF: Having kids was a huge turning point for me, and I think it actually helped, rather than hindered, my career. I stopped saying “yes” to the jobs that didn’t pay enough to cover child care, and with less work, had the time to rest and practice between the bigger jobs. But more importantly, I stopped taking myself so seriously. Before kids, I had a whole performance day routine, and now I’m likely to be digging in the garden for worms 3 hours before I walk on stage. My kids make me laugh like crazy, and the joy they bring me carries over to my performances.

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DIANA COFINI: ACTRESS, PRODUCER EXPLAINS “IN ‘NOBODY’S ANGEL’ AND TWO OTHER PROJECTS I AM LOOKING AT, THE COMMON THREAD, OR WHAT I WANT TO REPRESENT, IS THE DIVINE FEMININE AND THE WOMAN’S POINT OF VIEW.”… 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?

DIANA COFINI: Award-winning Actress of Stage and Screen, classically trained in Theatre, Music and Dance, with Honours Degrees from the University of Toronto, Sheridan College and Royal Conservatory of Music. She wore many hats, behind the camera, on multi-award-winning projects ‘The Camps’ and ‘That Never Happened’, and is producing feature films.

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

DC: I love untold stories of Human history that deal with the clashing of cultures, War and that we ultimately need Peace for survival. There is a reason Jews say “Shalom” and that Roman Catholics say “Peace be with you” during Mass. Peace is the easiest thing to take for granted and Peace is truly the best thing we can get. ‘Enemy Aliens’ and ‘Nobody’s Angel’, two of the films I am currently producing, both deal with this.

In ‘Nobody’s Angel’ and two other projects I am looking at, the common thread, or what I want to represent, is the divine feminine and the woman’s point of view.

‘Nobody’s Angel’ is a feature film based on the stage play by Douglas Beattie about a woman who refuses to be just another casualty of war and sets out on a journey, amid danger and deprivation, to become mistress of her own destiny. It takes place 120 km south of Rome, near the end of WWII, when martial law has been imposed and Italy is occupied by both the Germans and Allied Forces.

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

DC: Sophia Loren is one of Italy’s most beloved Actresses. Sophia’s outer beauty is surpassed only by her legendary performances in films including ‘La Ciociara’ (Two Women) and ‘Matrimonio all’italiana’ among many others. Unlike many of her peers and fellow Icons of Cinema, Sophia has been married to one man her entire life and has raised two sons and a beautiful extended family.
Leonardo Da Vinci, My favourite Artist of all time and a great thinker, innovator and the quintessential Renaissance man.

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

DC: I’ve been creative as far back as I can remember, with a thirst to not only express myself creatively, but to constantly learn and grow. I’ve changed as a person continuously as we all do through Life. I’ve just never not been immersed in one Art form or another, and as Life has changed me, my Mediums have changed. And vice versa.

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

DC: Creating a life and environment from which to create.

Never enough creative time.

Rebuilding/restoring the Life (relationships) and environment from which to create, which suffers while creating.

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

DC: There were a number of really big turning points in my Life from age 18 – 20 or so. One was when I was in a very dark place during a tumultuous time in my Family and couldn’t really dance or sing or play piano like I used to. I had difficulty accessing those worlds and expressing myself there. And suddenly one day, it was as if a door opened, to a room I never knew existed. I entered the Realm of Acting for the first time and Life has never been the same since…

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

DC: That they have no idea about what I do, or what the industry is, but they think they know!

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

DC: That’s impossible for me to answer, as I liken that question to asking me how and why I was born…. It would be very fun to discuss all the possibilities as to how and why one is born, though. And why one was born with certain gifts, abilities, born into a particular family and culture, etc. Who knows!

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

DC: Every Artist wants to do something they have not done before. I’ve Acted and I’ve produced. For me, what’s next is starring in films that I produce and/or have a hand in creating.
And some day, I would love to appear on a show like “Nashville” in which I can both Act and Sing.

JS: Of what value are critics?

DC: I’ve always liked the quote from Jean Sibelius: “…A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic.”

In this business, you need articles, reviews and publicity. And, of course, I don’t mean to disrespect those who choose to be Critics as a profession. But in general, you know, in Life, I prefer to be on the Field playing the game than sitting in the stands critiquing. And (this is distinct from the profession of being a Critic, but another form of criticism in the vein of “everyone’s a critic!”), I detest Gossip of every kind. I detest the part of Celebrity Culture that has most people speculating about people’s personal lives and critiquing them, waiting for them to slip up. This vicious jealousy, and scrutiny. For example, I don’t like that in my doing this Interview I am opening myself up to scrutiny and gossip, but I do it because it may help spread the word about my projects and I believe my projects have important messages.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

DC: NOTHING. If I have an audience, I tell the story, then I say “Thank you”. I know many of the Greats ask for the audience to actively take part in the storytelling, I’ve heard things like “each word I send them is a pearl and I hold one end of the string and the audience holds the other end, and if they pull their end tightly the pearl will reach them…” something to that effect. But not me. If they’ve shown up, the rest is my job. I mean, maybe the obvious thing, like, don’t have your phone on, or disturb those around you etc. but again, that’s not my job to ask, someone else always asks that.

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

DC: Artists all over the world have always and will always seek to change the world and make some kind of an important impact. I personally have a stand for women and children, and for Peace. The World needs more of the feminine, and more of the female gaze. It needs more of the female way of considering all facets of complicated issues, our way of being able to hold many ideas at once and negotiate between all of those many, sometimes conflicting ideas and needs. In other words, we can multi-task in every way, even in terms of weighing and understanding the emotions of many different parties. We rarely take a position or direction that doesn’t account for and value more than just our own needs and wants. Unfortunately, women and children have had a bad deal for millennia, and I think a good place to start is to show that through Film. This was a major driving force for me in making the feature documentary ‘That Never Happened’ and it’s what I am up to with the feature film ‘Nobody’s Angel’. Through my films I would like to hold up the lens to real events, real man-made, human history with a focus on women.

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?

DC: A lot of pressure. Especially in terms of my appearance. The good news is that I am now at once, both more fearful and less fearful. In other words, I’m less confident in my appearance (less to my own standard of beauty), while being less inhibited and more willing to show my flaws.

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.

DC: I’ve travelled A LOT and love to travel. There are many wonderful places I have been, but not one of them stands out as a desire even half as much as going home to Italy, especially to Rome. I’d like to return and spend time in Italy, every year.

I’ve never had the chance to go to Switzerland, and we are currently in talks with the Mission of Canada to the UN to discuss the possibility of bringing ‘That Never Happened’ to Geneva for the 70th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. If this happens, it will certainly be a dream come true in many ways…

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?

DC: ‘That Never Happened: Canada’s First National Internment Operations’ is a documentary film that sheds light on a dark chapter of Canadian History which was nearly lost forever. It shows the hard work, organization and grit of the few good men and women who worked for over 25 years to get it acknowledged by the Government and finally put back into the Education system. It is at once both a story of triumph (theirs) and a story of tragedy, that innocent people were wrongfully imprisoned and how the internment operations affected men, women and children and future generations. ‘That Never Happened’ shows the multi-generational impact of injustice and why this story from 100 years ago is relevant today.

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?

DC: What gives me great encouragement is the push for female-driven stories and the push for women to tell more stories.

Depressing? Hm… As an Actor, there are so many gatekeepers, and everyone is doing the best job they can, but sometimes it feels, that you are very much an outsider. If you are not on the Casting director’s short list of favourites and go-to actors that they bring in again and again, it feels like “will I ever break through?” and you may never… but then again you may. So, I find the best balance is to be creating and making my own work, while collaborating with an Acting Agent who can send me opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise see or know about. My agent is Jana Abrams (Jana Abrams Talent Agency) and I love working with her; she totally has my back and I feel like I could tell her anything.

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

DC: As an Actor, part of my job is to know myself. A process that continues with each and every character I inhabit who inevitably inhabits me, whether that is for a single day or for many months, and sometimes she stays with me for years, in that she remains accessible to me any time. I don’t really find anything about myself intriguing at this point. In fact, the best I can do to answer this question now, is that I’ve recently realized there is absolutely nothing “special” about me; we are all so similar (human beings), my need to be or prove that I am special is just a survival mechanism and an illusion. What’s intriguing about me is what is intriguing about every single human being. We’re all wired for survival, we each have a brain whose function is to predict the future so that we can try to survive it, and the mind uses past experiences as a way to predict, prevent, avoid, dominate, survive the future. Every time I remind myself about this nonsense and become present to it, I remember that none of it matters and I am able to find the present moment. In the present moment, which is the only place Being (good Acting is Being) can live, I can listen to what my heart, passion and intuition all tell me and take actions from there. I guess I also find it intriguing how there are always blind spots, and when you are able to turn and look at the blind spot, it disappears. Then in no-time there will be another blind spot. It can be really funny…

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TARA ROSLING: SHAW FESTIVAL, FILM, AND TELEVISION ACTRESS DECLARES “OFTEN IT OCCURS TO ME – AFTER DEDICATING HOURS OF REHEARSAL AND THOUGHT AND CARE, AND GIVING ALL OF ONESELF OVER TO A PIECE OF THEATRE, ONLY TO HAVE IT SUBJECTIVELY SHREDDED TO PIECES BY ONE PERSON ON OPENING NIGHT – THAT THE CURRENT & TRADITIONAL ROLE OF CRITICS IS A SYSTEMIC ABSURDITY. IT FEELS LIKE THE TIME IS RIPE TO RE-EVALUATE THE ROLE OF THEATRE CRITICS.” … A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS


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?

TARA ROSLING: As an actress, I attempt to offer the fullest life possible to the characters I am gifted to play upon the stage. Imagistically, I would describe my work as, “climbing into my character’s skin and tethering myself – my heart, my mind, my anatomy – to theirs” – thereby illuminating their story – their wants/needs/hopes/dreams/struggles via the action of the play.

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

TR: Ultimately, I believe that my job is to explore & bring to light the complexly woven fabric of the human condition. I believe the theatre has tremendous power – it has the potential to provoke, challenge, inspire, transport, illuminate, and move. I believe theatre, at its most profound, offers a kind of communion. I give myself over to my craft with the faith that if I and all my colleagues do their jobs well, the audience will be impacted/altered in some way – in essence, reminded and reassured that we are all one.

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

TR: I admire my Great Aunt Joyce tremendously. She is a force of nature whose joyous, curious, and mischievous spirit always makes my heart swell. She has an insatiable appetite for life and learning, and always sees the glass half full. She is an indomitable spirit with a huge heart and a tremendous sense of humor. I want to be just like her when I grow up!!

I have contemplated ‘the 2nd’ & am at a loss … so I shall say “Martha Graham, Peggy Baker, Frida Kahlo, Chopin, Andrea Bird, Cate Blanchett, Daniel Day Lewis, Peter Hinton to name a few … because they all were/are incredible artists marching to the beat of their own drum!!

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

TR: Oh, my goodness! Well, to begin with … I’m decades older (&, if I may say so myself – wiser!) I’m now a mother & a wife … coming from a severely dysfunctional family, having a family of my own has deeply shifted who I am, my relationships (to myself & others) & how I engage with the world around me.

Initially my work was pure conviction … now there’s room for breath, thought & compassion. I think that I am now more grounded, and am able to bring more of myself to my work with a greater sense of humor than ever before.

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

TR: Without a doubt my own insecurity is my greatest obstacle – but is this not true of us all? I think many artists question if what they have to offer is of value … this is certainly true of me.

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

TR: Becoming a parent was a major turning point – my perspective/priorities have certainly shifted since the birth of my daughter Eliana. When I was younger ‘the work’ was all I saw & all that mattered to me. I still love what I do for a living tremendously, but my family now takes priority.

Meeting and working with Peter Hinton in 2011 on ‘When the Rain Stops Falling’ was another turning point. It came at a time in my life when I was considering walking away from acting … but working with him reminded me WHY I do WHAT I do: he is a remarkable and deeply inspiring artist/director/human whose presence in my life I will always be grateful for.

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

TR: Such an interesting question! As actors we often receive questions like “How do you remember all those lines”. Or the romanticized, “It must be so amazing to do something you love for a living”. And don’t get me wrong – it is!!! That being said, not every show is a labor of love … some shows are gifts to play every performance and others are paying gigs that we do our best to commit to every evening. I think what maybe most people are unaware of is that our work is not confined to rehearsal and performance; i.e. we don’t punch the clock and leave our work in the rehearsal hall until the next day – rather, ‘the work’ always bleeds into our daily lives. Actors are ALWAYS working/thinking/processing/obsessing … about their characters, this moment or that, this beat, this relationship, this direction, this accent. And we arrive on the stage we are not just playing a part … but opening ourselves, with great vulnerability, to share all the work, thought, care, and preparation that has come before.

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

TR: My mother is an artist – a visual artist first, who became a music therapist later in life. Hence, art was a very present influence during my upbringing. When I turned 13, at my request, I was given the gift of acting classes. I had an amazing teacher who had a profound influence on me; she assigned me a monologue from Antigone and worked with me in such a way that I became forever hooked – & the rest is herstory … at 13 I devoted my life to acting!

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

TR: I’m a pretty impulsive person. In 2011 I decided I wanted to do my Yoga Teacher Training – I did & have taught here in Niagara for many years. Two years ago, I decided I wanted to take piano lessons – I just took my Grade 3 piano exam!!! I’ve also embarked on the path of teaching Drama over the past 4 years and have enjoyed that tremendously. I guess next on the docket is something inspired by an incredible friend of mine, Marinda de Beer – she has been a devoted meditator for some years now & recently did a 4-day (silent) meditation retreat … I would like to attempt THAT!!

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

TR: If a child can be categorized as an ‘achievement’ – my daughter. Or perhaps I should rephrase that as ‘being a mother’.

Moving beyond dysfunction and fear to find/create wholeness, stability, & love in my life … greatly assisted by my husband & co-parent Patrick McManus.

Learning to play the piano.

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

TR: Aside from parenting, it’s the most challenging and rewarding journey you’ll ever embark on.

JS: Of what value are critics?

TR: Interesting question. Sometimes I ask myself the same thing. If a critic’s heart is in the right place and they truly believe in the value of theatre (I think of Jon Kaplan) I think they can be of tremendous value; to bring upcoming talent into the spotlight, to offer a critical eye with a loving hand, to keep the bar high whilst also keeping their own agendas/egos in check. But often it occurs to me – after dedicating hours of rehearsal and thought and care, and giving all of oneself over to a piece of theatre, only to have it subjectively shredded to pieces by one person on opening night – that the current & traditional role of critics is a systemic absurdity. If feels like the time is ripe to re-evaluate the role of theatre critics.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

TR: That they turn off their phones, meet us half way, and listen.

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

TR: More rehearsal time – for life and art. More roles for women – for life and art.

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

TR: There are, of course, very special experiences which perhaps one would wish to ‘relive’ because there were so special – i.e. I wish ‘When the Rain Stops Falling’ had another life because it was such an extra-ordinary production. That being said, one can never be certain that if given the opportunity to ‘relive’ an experience it will be the same, or even similar. So, if given the opportunity, I would perhaps choose to relive a creative experience that I felt I missed – i.e. could be improved upon now that I have more life experience and know more about my creative process. For example, I never felt that I fully ‘got’ Viola in Twelfth Night … I was too impulsive and impatient at 29 to understand “Time thou must untangle this not I …”. That is only one example of many. But I certainly don’t regret any of the choices I have made during my creative life … for they have informed who I am today.

S: 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?

TR: Again, an interesting question. It really depends on the project. I have done a fair bit of self-producing – in these instances I rely heavily on the media to transmit information out into the public eye. Certainly, when I was younger, and embarking on my career as an actress, media attention meant a lot and it was tremendously exciting to receive any coverage! Now, aside from when a show that I am in is reviewed or when I am asked to engage in promotional material for a project I am working on, I don’t really think of myself as a figure who is presented in the media. I feel it is my place to commit to the project I am working on as fully as possible & if anyone has questions about it, my place is to speak about the work as candidly as possible.

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

TR: I’m dying to go to Iceland … to sit in a hot spring & watch the northern lights. Call me crazy, but does that not sound AMAZING!!

Two winters ago, we went on a family trip to Costa Rica – we spent a month tooling around the country. Along the way we discovered ‘Samara’ – a family friendly town on the Nicoya Peninsula. It was pretty special – the ocean was beautiful & calm enough to spend hours in, in the evening there were all sorts of beachfront eateries to choose from, craft beer down the street, & coconut popsicles – what more could you ask for? I would go back there in a heartbeat.

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?

TR: I just finished working on the World Premiere of a new Canadian play called SILENCE by Trina Davies at the Grand Theatre in London, ON. A beautiful love story/ghost story/memory play about Mabel & Alexander Graham Bell, exquisitely directed by Peter Hinton.

Mabel Hubbard became deaf at the age of five due to a life-threatening bout of scarlet fever. Her parents ensured she had the finest education as it was their desire to equip Mabel to ‘enter society’. She was a very proficient lip reader and speaker, and was initially introduced to Alexander Graham Bell as his student. Over time they fell in love and SILENCE charts their turbulent relationship over the course of 50 years.

The play is very unique in that it tells Mabel’s life story from her perspective – i.e. when she engages (lip reads & talks) the audience hears the world & words of the play; BUT when Mabel disengages (turns away physically or emotionally) the world on stage become silent. It was an extra-ordinary experience! One of those plays where all the elements seemingly fused in a cohesive whole and it was truly a gift to perform each show. I feel deeply indebted to my cast mates: Graham Cuthbertson, Suzanne Bennet, Catherine Mackinnon, Madelyn Narod, & Michael Spencer Davis.

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?

TR: I find it hopeful that, despite the onslaught of technology & iPhone & I this & I that – people still come to see/hear plays, art, dance, and music. I find it hopeful that diversity in the arts is being addressed. I find hope in the #metoo movement – that women’s’ rights & human rights’ issues are beginning to be recognized & addressed.

I find it depressing that theatre/art is having such a rough go of it at present – that in our current world of increasing technology & immediate gratification somehow the value of theatre/art has taken a bit of a back seat. I find it depressing that the old cliché is true, “once a woman hits 40 there are fewer & fewer opportunities/roles available to her”. I find it depressing that there are seemingly very few resources available for those who are creating art; i.e. for SILENCE – the NEW CANADIAN play that I just finished performing – we had 2 1/2 weeks of rehearsal/tech before we met an audience!!!

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

TR: I’m a Grade A goofball with a lipstick fetish.

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ANDREA MENARD: METIS SINGER, PLAYWRIGHT, SONGWRITER, ACTRESS – SET TO DO A TEDX STANLEY PARK ON MARCH 3RD, 2018 – DECLARES: “SINCE MOST CRITICS ARE EUROCENTRIC, AND ILL-INFORMED TO INDIGENOUS AND OTHER CULTURAL AND SPIRITUAL STANDARDS, THEIR ‘EXPERTISE’ IS DREADFULLY UNEDUCATED AND DAMAGING TO THE SUCCESS OF NON-EUROCENTRIC PROJECTS.”…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?

ANDREA MENARD: Métis performer, Andrea Menard has used theatre, film/tv, music, public speaking, and writing to find her loving, authentic, Indigenous, Feminine voice.
In this time of great upheaval, where the old patriarchal systems are crumbling, Andrea has given her voice, her body, and her heart to help revive Love on this planet, and to rebirth the Sacred Feminine.

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

AM: We are a Human Family.

There is no “us vs. them”.

That we are Spiritual Beings having a Human Experience.

That all Beings on and of the Earth are interconnected.

Indigenous people and teachings are Sacred.

Mother Earth is a living Being, who is our Mother.

Women are Sacred.

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

AM: Jennifer Podemski:
• Beloved friend, actress, film & tv producer, director, artistic producer of Indspire Awards
• First Nations & Israeli heritage
• Gemini Award winner, multiple Canadian Screen Award nominee (winner?)
• International film festivals: TIFF, etc.
• Kick ass actress! – worked with Sarah Polley, Benicio Tel Toro
• Producer of Empire of Dirt, Moccasin Flats, Rabbit Fall, The Other Side, Seventh Generation
• Huge supporter for Indigenous youth and ground breaker for Indigenous people of all kind. Opened doorways in the film and television industry. First All-Native production team (producer, actors, writers) in Canadian Television.
• visionary, do-er, fearless
• Her superpower: connecting people and seeing the best in everyone
• http://www.jenniferpodemski.com/

Shannon Loutitt:
• Beloved friend, honour runner, writer, co-founder and CEO of International Indigenous Speakers Bureau
• Métis & First Nations heritage
• Wanting to raise up her fellow Indigenous brothers and sisters, and create lasting bridges between Indigenous and non-indigenous communities, she co-founded the first ever Indigenous Speakers Bureau
• Ran 100 miles in 24 hours to honour her great grandfather Billy Loutitt, and retrace his heroic journey from Athabasca to Edmonton in 1904 (?) to get help for a flood threatening the HBC post of Athabasca.
• Ran 100 km from Saskatoon to Batoche with a young group of Honour Runners she trained as part of the Commemoration and Reconciliation Ceremony at Batoche in 2010. They delivered a message in the way of the runners of old.
• google Shannon Loutitt!
• http://kickasscanadians.ca/shannon-loutitt/
• https://www.iispeakersbureau.com/

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

AM: I now recognize that this innate creative ability needed nourishment in, not only my life, but in this world where creative arts are less valued. Now that I have honed my creative talents, they flow more easily. I trust them so implicitly now, that I can’t imagine operating solely from that logical brain. To tell you the truth, I don’t really remember what I was like BEFORE accessing this part of me.

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

AM: Financially supporting my big ideas. Since I moved away from my home in Saskatchewan, and fell under new granting systems in the new province of BC, I realized how tenuous an artist’s life really can be. If you get a NO for a project that costs $35,000, but you have already committed your heart and your community to moving forward, you cannot turn around.

My projects MUST move forward. I think in visionary ways. When I “see” something, I “expect” the world to get on board. When it doesn’t, either financially or otherwise, it confuses and even shocks me. Is that arrogance? Or vision? haha

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

AM: Moving away from the Métis homeland was a huge change that I didn’t know would affect me so deeply. When you move to another people’s territory, you are not the “Host” anymore. I took it for granted. Now I am a guest as the Coast Salish take over this role.

Another major event was when I really “accepted” my Cree Name, Notigwew Yutin – Grandmother Wind, that was given to me in ceremony. I literally kept it on the back burner for 4 years, before I understood that this little old wise woman inside of me has been there all along. It’s like I came out of the spiritual closet and started teaching healing methodologies through voice. Totally didn’t see that coming!! (join my newsletter, Grandmother Wind’s Tribe, to understand what I mean!!)

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

AM: Getting people of privilege to not only empathize but to actually “see” the struggle of those who are not privileged is very challenging. The blinders that enfold many Canadians are still pretty firmly entrenched.

And I’ve come to realize that my creative gifts are enhanced by my empathy. I take these two parts of me so for granted that I forget that not everyone FEELs the world around them so intensely.

It is hard to understand empathic abilities if one does not live from one’s heart. For example, when something painful happens to my fellow human Relatives or my animal Relatives, I feel it as if it were my own trauma. This is not the case for others.

Maybe outsiders don’t understand why “bringing communities together in peace” or ‘ending violence against women” means so much to me. It hurts one’s SELF too much to allow violence to be perpetrated upon OTHERS.

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

AM: I am a Creative being. As are all human beings. There was never a time, when I didn’t create. I simply did what I was called to do.

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

AM: Hmm. I don’t know.

I wanted to take my one woman show, The Velvet Devil, across Canada and make it into a film…and I did both.

I wanted to record uplifting music that offered well-being to humanity…my album Lift was released two years ago.

I wanted to do a symphony show…I debuted my show, I Am Andrea Menard, at the Regina Symphony Orchestra in 2014.

I wanted to do a TED talk…so I worked my butt off all year and am about to speak at the prestigious TEDx Stanley Park this March 3rd, 2018.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

AM: Everything I have done that helped me overcome tremendous fear or obstacles.

The Velvet Devil – this bush girl was forced to learn 3 industries I knew nothing about: theatre, music and television.

Lift – this cd was a positive message for the world. Nowadays, I want my listeners to be uplifted and filled with hope about their own life. See my Music Messenger website for more info on this change of heart:

http://themusicmessengers.com

Finding the courage to speak about Violence Against Women in my TEDx talk. It was the last topic I wanted to talk about, because I was scared and ashamed, but the times is now. And the beauty that has come out of this endeavor has been amazing: a new song, a new video, and a movement to end violence against women.

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

AM: Never give up on your dreams or your calling. There is a ton of rejection in life, especially in the entertainment industry, and you can’t take NO for an answer.

If you listen to the call of your heart, no one will ever succeed in throwing you permanently off your course. Others may try to interfere, but only you can rise up in self-protection. Creator gave us humans our gifts and our callings. It’s up to us to answer and honour them.

JS: Of what value are critics?

AM: In my mind, there is no reason whatsoever for non-constructive criticism. Never will an outsider know the full story and should never have the right to make-or-break an artists’ vision. Since most critics are Eurocentric, and ill-informed to Indigenous and other cultural and spiritual standards, their “expertise” is dreadfully uneducated and damaging to the success of non-Eurocentric projects.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

AM: To open their hearts and FEEL. I realize that this is one of the main roles I have taken on. To help people feel. I like to think that I help those with closed hearts find a safe place to flower and share love. We are not going to get anywhere in this world without love. And the only way to feel love is to feel. Period.

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

AM: I would change the way we treat Mother Earth and the terrible cruelty we inflict on each other. Human beings are so traumatized by millennia of violence that we have almost forgotten how to “love our brother.” As a Metis woman, who honours the mixed heritage I hold in my blood, bringing people together matters to me very much.

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

AM: I have lived such a full life that I couldn’t possibly think of reliving just one Then I wouldn’t be open to the outrageous adventures that are still to come!

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?

AM: I’m not sure your meaning on this one. Do you mean being stereotyped in the media as an Indigenous person? Or as a celebrity in the media?

It is very disconcerting to be one of the misrepresented minorities on television or in the media. When you are one of the people that is being stereotyped right before your eyes, and you can’t do anything to change it, its infuriating. They say that it’s not that stereotypes aren’t true, it’s that they tell only one side of the story. I can’t stand not having the whole picture revealed truthfully.

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

AM: Egypt. Need I explain?

The South of France. – I went on a Mary Magdalene Camino and was profoundly changed by the landscape and hidden history of the place.

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?

AM: I just finished recording a song that is very close to my heart right now, called Silent No More.

It came as a result of needing a song to illuminate my TEDx Stanley Park topic: Violence Against Women Silences Far Too Many Voices in our Society.

When I finally had the courage to talk about this publicly, in other words, cracked my own silence, I knew that the only way I could speak up was to use all my talents to share the message. And that meant through song.

The song and topic are going to be released in March. We have plans to fill the streets of Vancouver’s downtown eastside with Indigenous women and allies in a March with t-shirts saying #SilentNoMore and #WeAreSacred.

I’ve also developed and am in the final stages of recording the teachings/music for my “Honouring Your Four Sacred Bodies” workshop.

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?

AM: The dramatic change in all my industries was incredibly challenging for me and my co-writers. It’s like we wanted to be riding on the coattails of our success a bit, but instead had to reinvent ourselves like we were beginners. Ouch.

I like to think that regardless what is happening “out there” in any industry, the real valuable work is in the quiet creative space.

As always, I re-invented myself to stay creative and stay active. You may not have seen me touring the country with tons of music releases, but you would have seen me on Netflix series, Blackstone. Or when all the industries seemed to reject me for a time, I was in my little office writing and creating healing modalities!!

I refuse to get depressed about all this change. It’s good to adapt.

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

AM: I am quite resilient. I used to hate that word when it came to Indigenous people or artists, but the truth is when I look back over my career I have had tremendous challenges and let-downs. I got through each one. I rose to the top every time. So, I am going to actually honour myself for that skill. Haha.

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ALISON MELVILLE: CELEBRATED RECORDER PLAYER, WHO JOINS TAFELMUSIK FOR ‘A RECORDER ROMP,’ FEBRUARY 8 TO 11, STATES: “SPEED AND GLITTER ARE FUN AND DEFINITELY A PART OF THE CREATIVE PACKAGE, BUT MAKING GOOD MUSIC, OR ART OF ANY KIND, REQUIRES REFLECTION AS WELL AS ACTION, CONTEMPLATION AS WELL AS PRODUCTION…OUR CULTURE IS VERY ‘YANG’ ORIENTED AND COULD REALLY USE A GREATER DOSE OF ‘YIN.’…. A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

photo by Colin Savage

Concert info: http://www.tafelmusik.org/concert-calendar/concert/recorder-romp

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?

ALISON MELVILLE: player and teacher of recorders and historical flutes, whose performing career spans music from the 11th to 21st centuries, and includes orchestral work, opera, musicals, operetta, theatre and dance productions, new music, chamber music of all kinds from woodwind quintets to Renaissance consorts, solo recitals and concerto appearances, improvisation, and studio work for radio, television, film soundtracks and CDs, in Canada and abroad.

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

AM: Music like all the arts is one of life’s great gifts. It inspires, unifies, heals, and communicates in ways words cannot. It’s also a great gift to be able to spend one’s life as a musician.

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

AM: It’s hard to choose just two!

1)      Frans Brüggen, the leading figure in the recorder ‘revival’ of the later 20th century. He was an expressive and persuasive musician whose best-suited medium just happened to be the recorder. As a kid I found both his playing and his attitude very inspiring.

2)      Rebecca Solnit, for her brilliant mind and her writing. I’m currently reading her ‘Hope in the Dark,’ a timely read these days.

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

AM: Creative occupations can be very instructive, especially when pursued in depth over a long period of time. I used to be very concerned about getting things exactly right, and playing well enough, whatever that means; after many years I’m in a more experimental and playful place. My curiosity reaches much further.

I began printmaking about three years ago and it’s been very interesting to experience how that informs and influences my musical work.

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

AM: Allowing for quiet/fallow time; considering well without over-thinking; and finding the right balance between artistic and administrative work, something that goes along with being a freelance musician; getting enough sleep.

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

AM: My post-graduate study at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland was a major turning point of three years duration, and the Canada Council audition I did to get there stands out for me as a significant moment.

I’d been in Basel for a brief time on a Short Term Grant and desperately wanted to go back for further study – it was as though I’d just scratched the surface of something so important that if I couldn’t go back, I didn’t know what I’d do. So, I applied for an Arts Award, which required several steps culminating in a competitive audition round. I made it through and at the audition the jury’s final musical request was the hardest section of a very difficult contemporary solo piece. I remember thinking that if I aced it, it would make the difference, and so I somehow managed to bid fear goodbye, and nailed it. The successful grant notification arrived about three weeks later. I’ll never forget that experience of courage overcoming anxiety, and I’ll always be grateful to the Canada Council!

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

AM: Many people have a hard time understanding why some musicians keep playing the recorder past grade 4. Let’s face it – beginner Suzuki class doesn’t sound so great either, but nobody blames the violin or cello for that. Like every other musical instrument, much depends on who’s playing it, and how.

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

AM: I’m told I wanted to play the recorder when I was told that it was the flute-like thing my Uncle Bill played. Uncle Bill was much loved in our family, he was a great guy, and I think I wanted to be like him. But that aside, from the get-go I just loved to play music, and that feeling has never left me.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

AM: Many of the Toronto Consort’s programs have been so inspiring to be a part of, particularly our recent Kanatha project with indigenous musicians from Ontario, Québec and New Brunswick.

Other highlights are the mixed media programs I designed as Artistic Director of the Bird Project, for which other colleagues such as Ben Grossman, Linda C. Smith, Debashis Sinha, Malcolm Sutherland and Stephen Dirkes have contributed wonderful audio and/or visual work; and the repertoire created for and with Ensemble Polaris, which is a mix of world/traditional/new/composed/improvised music, played with a bunch of great people.

This Recorder Romp program with Tafelmusik has also provided me with an opportunity to re-vision pieces I’ve known for a long time, even before we rehearse it. Vivaldi’s Concerto RV443 is well known amongst recorder players and the most publically familiar of our concertos, so it’s easy to get into a rut with it. But new ideas and approaches have been popping up in my preparation this time, and I’m looking forward to exploring them!

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

AM: Can you imagine being happy doing anything other than music? If the answer’s ‘No,’ then commit fully to music. Work hard while remaining kind to yourself, listen to lots of players and lots of music, study the scores, manuscripts, primary sources, and if possible spend some time in at least one geographical fishbowl other than your own.

Orchestral jobs don’t exist for recorder players, and the freelance world is quite tough. It requires that you devote some time to administration, promotion, marketing of your self or your group, etc., but make sure to use the majority of your energy and time on your musical work. Always remember why you chose music, and don’t let the grunt work extinguish your light.

Also: GET ENOUGH SLEEP.

And if a few years down the road you find the lifestyle’s not for you, then move on and be glad you gave yourself the chance to find this out.

JS: Of what value are critics?

AM: Useful things can often be learned from a critic who listens, observes, and writes from a knowledgeable and thoughtful standpoint.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

AM: They’ve already given of themselves in numerous ways by attending. I just try to offer my best and hope they receive what they hope or need.

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

AM: I would love to see a slowing down of the warp speed at which much of our constructed world seems to operate. There’s such an emphasis on hype, speed, glitter. Speed and glitter are fun and definitely a part of the creative package, but making good music, or art of any kind, requires reflection as well as action, contemplation as well as production. It takes time, it does not have to produce immediate results, and that’s often overlooked. Our culture is very ‘yang’ oriented and could really use a greater dose of ‘yin.’

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

AM: At the turn of this century I contributed a piece to 999 Years of Music, a millennium project by my friend, composer Peter Hannan. My piece was partly composed, partly structured improvisation from the performers. It was very touching to hear it performed, and it’d be special to experience that kind of revelation anew.

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.

AM: I spent three weeks in Iceland in the last century and would love to go there again. I was working on that first trip and it’d be great to have more time to explore that fantastic geography.

I’d love to go to northern Scotland, particularly its islands. The landscape, the sea, and the mix of Gaelic and Norse influences there all beckon. Oh, and my roots too.

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?

AM: A previous response partially answers this. I’d also be delighted to see a greater recognition of the time, energy and cost of making recordings, and more willingness to compensate musicians for this from the people who run and use services like Spotify, etc. No musician makes recordings to get rich, but the compensation from these services to their ‘content providers’ is pathetic.

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

AM: I’m not sure I’m the right person to ask, but people are often surprised that I earned a diploma in Zen Shiatsu many years ago, at a time when I thought I might step away from music. As it turned out, that didn’t happen, but I learned a lot from that training!

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