8 years ago

Volume 6 Issue 6 - March 2001

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IN OUR Mt"DST by Allan

IN OUR Mt"DST by Allan Pulker Sterling Beckwith After 32 years .in Toronto and in his sixth year of retirement from his work as a music professor at York University, Sterling Beckwith has a lifetime of musical activity and activism to look back on and vistas of musical activity and development to look forward. to. A native of Manhattan,. his childhood friends included Gary Graffman ·and Charles Rosen. "In general it is fair "to say that I have had a really marvellous education, " he told me in a recent interview. This was in part because of being in Manhattan where the best ' teachers were available to him and jn part due to the time: "I grew up at a wonderful time in the 40's and 50's - after the war there was all this tremendous energy and excitement about the · arts and culture - and for the first time there were Americans in the forefront." Beckwith's heroes were people like Leonard Bernstein and Robert Shaw. This made a· big difference to him, showing him that Americans could work successfully in the arts. Hi~ early studie~ in New York, which included, besides music, the Russian language, in which he earned a bachelor's degree, led eventually to ad- - vanced study at the Fontainebleau · School. with Nadia Boulanger, at the Paris Conservatoire, the Salzburg Mozarteum, the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, New York University, Indiana Univt;rsity and the Ecole PHOTO BY ALEX BEVERIDGE not something that you take for granted or something that you us.e as a weapon to put other people down but something that needs to be built." There he helped bring about a cultural rebirth, particularly by helping to bring Robert.Shaw to that city. In 1962 he moved on to Buffalo where he was part of a very exciting musical scene, centred on the University, that would make that city a hotbed of the musical avant-garde. This taught him that as an academic he could also get involved in the community and help to bring. the cultural life of the city come alive. He moved to Toronto in 1969, to · become the first · chairman of York University's music department. It was a dynamic time in Canada, right after the centennial, and coming here was a very exciting prospect. While in Buffalo he had f;illen in love with Monteux. ·His working life ,... -H.,...it_t_h_e.._w_e_b.,....----------:--:::­ began at Emory Unive,rsity, where he was ' Join the future with director of University · Linda Maguire@ Choral Ensembles and conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Mixed 'Chorus. fr was in Atlanta that he put into practice his conviction that "... culture is Saturday morning opera chats at 1Oam-11 am. . . Lessons, coachings, consultations E-MAIL Also, don't miss ••• 20 wholenote MARCH 1, 2001 • APRIL 7, 2001 Toronto. What most excited him was ihe context the city offered fot cultural development and growth. , "The context that I was most aware of in Buffalo, , of course, was the CBC and all the eqergy it created around the arts." Another very important part of the context here was an establishea traditional music school at the University of Toronto. This freed ·him of any responsibility to create this kind of school, and opened up the possibility of creating a different kind of musical education that was not Euro-eentric but globally aware and sophisticated in the areas of musical discipline, like rhythm, where the European musical tradition was weak. He prnceeded to hire the people he thought could get the job done: John Higgin5, the American singer who had mastered classical Indian singing so competely that Indians considered him the reincarl}atlon of a great singer of the past, the drummer, Trichy Sankaran, whose courses would become core curriculum for York music students, Casey Sokol, who has created a whole pedagogy of free improvisat.ion, "a tr~mendously potent QT tt . !i (11) needs chorus members for·our 2001 season. Starts now! · All voices wanted for Seven Last Words of • Christ Oratorio byTheodore · DuBois & La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi Full production with set and costume! For information call (416) 787-3708

ingredient in musical training . and one missing from the traditional curriculum," and viol-player, Peggy Sampson, because early music too had a place in the musical education that Beckwith envisioned, where students would learn music history, not only by reading about it and listening to it but also by petforming it. Casey was a pianist who was also at home in Indian music, Higgins had mastered Indian classical vocal music but could . also sing Ives and Faure, and in fact conducted the Faure Requiem. "Every one of the people I tried to attract and a good many of the ones who came afterwards were themselves embodiments of the kind of cross-fertilization that I wanted to establish at York." Beckwith's excitement and high hopes, however, found themselves in a context of, at best, only lukewarm support. He found himself, almost from the beginning under tremendous pressure to stop doing the kinds of things he was doing, to restrain, restrict and cut back. "This," he says, ,"has been the most dl.sappointing part of the Canadian experience." Music at York, he told me, has had a very rough row to hoe because of the lack of sufficient support and understanding to build the basis for the kind of program he and others have undertaken to build. "We're doing it anyway, and we've · been doing it for thirty years, in spite of the lack of support." Beckwith, nevertheless, is . optimistic about the future. ·York's music program is now the third largest in Ontario, and he sees in Michael Coghlan, the department's current chair, a man with the right combination of artistic background, people skills and determination to, put . music there on the most solid footing ever. Evidence .of this are new resources: a' gamelan, African and Cuban drumming programs, Chinese and Indonesian music programs, and a voice teacher, Catherine Robbin, with more appointments like. it to come. Retirement has given Sterling Beckwith the time to develop another of his musical gifts, his bass voice. Anyone who has heard him speak will know what a formidable instrument his voice must b~. On March 24 he will combine his Russian and his musical backgrounds in a mini-conference on Russian composer, Dmitri Shostakovich, followed by a recital of his songs. The keynote spea~er will be Laurel Fay, author of the most recent Shostakovich biography. In the concert; ~eckwith will be performing songs written for bass voice, settings of Russian poetry that meant a great ~eal to the composer and which Beckwith describes as some of Shostakovich's most eloquent, brave, powerful and affirmative work. · I cannot think of four better adjectives to describe Sterling Beckwith. His life has been an eloquent expressi'on of high and altruistic ideals, which he has · affirmed powerfully and courageously in the face of numbing indifference and non-compreheruiion. And, as this · conference and recital show, he continues to be.involved in the musical community and to give generously to it. . F E 5 T I VA L C I N E M A S P R E s E .N r s REEL IEll . . 8 MOVIES FOR * • MEMBERSHIP RE'Q'D Available at any Festival Cinemas box office l ~ ' j FOX CINEMA 2236 QUEEN ST. E. KINGSWAY CINEMA 3030 BLOOR ST. W. MUSIC HALL CINEMA 147 DANFORTH AVE . PARADISE CINEMA 1006 .. BLOOR ST. W. REVUE CINEMA '400 RONCESVALLES AVE. ROYAL CINEMA 608 COLLEGE ST. FOR SHOWS & TIMES: 416-690~2600 . I I MARCH 1, 2001 - APRIL 7, 2001 wholenote 21

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