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Volume 26 Issue 5 - February 2021

  • Text
  • Toronto
  • Recordings
  • Musicians
  • Pianist
  • Composer
  • Quartet
  • Musical
  • Jazz
  • Recording
  • February
So, How Much Ground WOULD a ground hog hog? community arts and the Dominion Foundries end run; the vagaries of the concert hall livestreaming ban; hymns to freedom; postsecondary auditions do the COVID shuffle; and reflections on some of the ways the music somehow keeps on being made - PLUS 81 (count them!) recordings we've been listening to. Also a page 2 ask of you. Available in flipthrough format here and in print February 10.

Robert Markus,

Robert Markus, Kimberly-Ann Truong and Marcus Nance in The Stratford Festival's Up Close and Musical. star perform onstage with nothing more than a microphone; all they would do is stand and sing and talk to you, but they would captivate the audience.” The series he proposed to Cimolino and Gaffney took this idea further. As he said to me, “Right now in the pandemic, I think people would like to be uplifted, but they don’t want just fun and games. I have also often felt privileged in that I know a lot of the Stratford Company personally, and a lot of people out there don’t. They know what they see onstage, but in some cases it is drastically different.” This led him to the idea of letting each performer “speak for themselves.” Once a list of performers was decided on, Ouzounian contacted each of them with the invitation to take part saying, “I want you to think of a story about your life right now that you want to tell us, and I want you to pick five songs that will help to tell that story. In between the songs you’ll talk to us, sharing thoughts and bits and pieces of biography that illuminate things, telling the story you want to share.” “Nobody said no,” he says, “but a lot of people were scared. In fact, Robert Markus, in his episode, says, ‘I was terrified when they asked me to do this, because, you know, we’re not used to speaking for ourselves as actors, we’re encouraged to take other people’s words and read them.’” Someone else asked if “everything was on the table” and they were told “yes” and that they would not be censored. The only guidance given by Ouzounian in choosing songs was to say that “if there was a song that connected with their Stratford experience, to please use it, and that I would like the final number to have some sense of uplift or hope … Everybody does something different.” One of the hardest things, other than rehearsing and designing the show on Zoom, was getting the rights to use the songs, which took months. In some cases, rights could not be acquired and then the team of Ouzounian and music director Franklin Brasz would step in and help to choose alternate songs. The process has been intense, from the individual crafting of each episode, to Zoom rehearsals, to the filming with full production values (and under rigorous COVID protocols) in the Festival Theatre – the only fully staged performances of the 2020 season, though without any audience other than the production team watching. So intense was the process that, while Ouzounian focused on the songs, he brought in another expert – veteran musical theatre and cabaret performer, Thom Allison – to work with the performers on fine tuning what they would say in between the songs. Having had the chance to pre-watch the first episode, Marcus Nance’s Preacher’s Son, which will debut on January 28, I have to say that the teamwork is impeccable. This first episode lives up beautifully to the series title, Up Close and Musical, alternating between stunning performances of the songs (with wonderful audio quality, rich lighting design and beautiful clothes) and the relaxed personal storytelling by a casually dressed Nance directly to the camera, not from the stage, but from a seat in the house. The tantalizing, mostly black and white, trailer for the series gives only a hint of the power of what these personal cabarets have achieved: a wonderful up close and personal introduction to some of Stratford’s – and Canada’s – top musical theatre talents: established Stratford stars Cynthia Dale, Dan Chameroy, Chilina Kennedy, Alexis Gordon, and Marcus Nance; more recent stars Vanessa Sears and Robert Markus; and newer members of the company Kimberley-Ann Truong who won over audiences for her comedic performances in The Rocky Horror Show and The Music Man, and Robert Ball, who would have made his Festival debut in the 2020 season. Up Close and Musical will be available on Stratford’s streaming service STRATFEST@HOME, with new episodes premiering every two weeks. Happily, each episode will also be part of the free weekly watch parties on Stratford’s YouTube channel starting on January 28. For more information please visit Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director, and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare and new Canadian plays. 16 | February 2021

On My Mind The Rocking Horse Winner And Other Tales DANIEL FOLEY DAVID JAEGER Of late, the topic of mentoring has been on my mind. Your Dictionary defines a mentor as “someone who guides another to greater success,” but one of my favourite quotes on this topic comes from flutist and composer, Robert Aitken: “You can only teach a person two things: how to listen, and how to teach themselves.” Particularly in this latter sense, I have experienced the joys and benefits of being mentored at various points of my life, as well as opportunities to “pay forward” what I have learned. Particularly memorable, in the former category were my high school band teacher, my graduate school advisor, my trainer as a new recruit at CBC Radio in 1973, and Glenn Gould, whom I worked with often in the ensuing years. Then, as my professional career developed, one detail of my personal history seems to have forecast Robert Aitken how my own involvement in the role of mentor would evolve. In 1969, while still a university student, I had the good fortune to be named as a Fellow by what was then the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation (now The Institute for Citizens & Scholars). The panel of examiners for the Foundation was charged with the task of finding scholars entering graduate schools, whom they felt possessed the potential to become outstanding future teachers. I suppose, in retrospect, those perceptive examiners were on to something, although teaching “on the job” has always come naturally for me rather than as a formal profession. It was during my 40 years as a music producer for CBC, that, with the passage of time, I began to find myself in the role of mentor rather than mentee. There were innumerable opportunities to share my knowledge, skills and experience with colleagues, especially those in the early stages of their own careers, as I had been when I arrived. I found myself delighting in introducing eager young colleagues to programming concepts and methods, and in enabling them to make productive and prudent choices. One of my broadcasting protégés, Stephanie Conn, describes the process as “being given the feeling that we were legitimate producers-in-training and part of the music community, and thus being enabled to grow into just that.” One of the things I learned early on was that the process of broadcast content production is inherently teamwork, so the key to success Dennis Patterson, at Revolution recording in Toronto is putting the best teams together. The ability of teams to focus effectively on the project’s agreed standards largely determines success in making meaningful content. This seems like common sense, but in reality, actually finding gifted team players and motivating them to join in the effort to make exceptional outcomes, is no small task. Among others, I think of someone like a young recording engineer named Dennis Patterson who was one of the people I had the chance to bring into my production teams, beginning in the mid-1990s. Patterson has worked steadily at his craft, and several of the recordings he engineered have won a variety of prestigious awards, including several JUNOs. Fast forward, then, to 2020, when the plans of every single performing arts organization were brutally rendered void and radical adjustments to plans and well-established ways of thinking have become necessary just to survive. In this context the hierarchical relationship between mentor and mentee goes out of the window; mentorship becomes a team sport, with the ball being passed around as the situation demands. I was given the exhilarating opportunity to work in one such team, when Michael Hidetoshi Mori, artistic director of Toronto’s Tapestry Opera (no stranger to mentoring himself) approached me to Stephanie Conn in the engineer's chair during a stereo remote recording course. Toronto, 1994 DENIS GRENIER February 2021 | 17

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