7 months ago

Volume 26 Issue 6 - March and April 2021

  • Text
  • Contemporary
  • Orchestra
  • Album
  • Toronto
  • Quartet
  • Ensemble
  • Jazz
  • Composer
  • April
  • Musical
96 recordings (count’em) reviewed in this issue – the most ever – with 25 new titles added to the DISCoveries Online Listening Room (also a new high). And up front: Women From Space deliver a festival by holograph; Morgan Paige Melbourne’s one-take pianism; New Orleans’ Music Box Village as inspiration for musical playground building; the “from limbo to grey zone” inconsistencies of live arts lockdowns; all this and more here and in print commencing March 19 2021.

THEKATANDTHEFALLINGLEAVES city’s sonic and cultural traits. Community development, architecture, urban planning and grassroots politics; community health and playground design – from my Music Box Village research, all of these and more will come into play when discovering your musical playground’s potential to help a neighbourhood heal. It will not necessarily all be plain sailing. An example: with community music models out there such as Luke Jerram’s Play Me, I’m Yours project (which has seen over 2,000 street pianos installed in 65 cities) and others that allow public access to musical experience, the notion of noise in a public space cannot simply be ignored. On this particular topic, I have always supported the concept of choosing, even helping shape, the noise and sonic landscape of one’s community. I can think of a lot less constructive soundscapes in a city or neighbourhood than a musical playground. It’s a topic that slides easily into related areas, such as playground safety, and the danger in removing all risk from play – not an easy question to resolve, with national-level architecture and design policies to guide developers and planners in their decision making on the one hand, and a resurgence of child-led public play spaces on the other. Both can help cities make wiser long-term decisions around playgrounds. Playground safety is undoubtedly an important consideration, but musical playgrounds allow us to embrace some wellargued tenets: that “art should be dangerous”; and that a certain level of risk in play is actually healthy. Where better than a musical playground, with multiple intelligences being fostered between adults and children alike, for these ideas to run safely wild? What city in Canada is daring enough to embrace a musical playground? The answer: very likely more now than would have before. As we collectively begin to reimagine our relationship with space, there is an opportunity to turn the corner towards innovative spaces that build community in a bold new way. With institutions of formal learning taking a good look in the mirror, this is also an opportunity to rethink education, and to set up informal learning spaces, because we know that this is where so much of the real learning happens. July 2012: Toronto’s Play Me I’m Yours installation, inspired by Luke Jerram, was the brainchild of the creative arts director for the 2015 Pan Am games, Don Shipley. 41 street pianos, each decorated to reflect a country participating in the games, were unleashed in places like Pearson airport, Union Station, on the Toronto Island Ferry and city parks, squares and streets. Let this gruelling pause we are in not be in vain, and as we begin to take baby steps in reintegrating as humans, let us all move towards playing more in communal spaces such as the Music Box Village in New Orleans. But here, with our own multiple weirdo Canadian twists on them, celebrating and strengthening the assets in our various communities. Richard Marsella is executive director at Regent Park School of Music. His recent doctoral dissertation, The Musical Playground as a Vehicle for Community-Building, is available online via the University of Toronto. To donate to the Regent Park School of Music, visit FEATURE TAKE ONE: Morgan-Paige Melbourne’s multidimensional practice GLORIA BLIZZARD When pianist and composer Morgan-Paige Melbourne recorded her first album, it was during the March 2020 lockdown. She did it on her own, with one podium microphone and an iPad. She placed her mic underneath the piano to capture the gritty sound of the keys working. She recorded the ambient sounds of the city. Sometimes she sang. The resulting EP, Dear Dysphoria, is beyond genre: it is an emotional soundscape, an artful negotiation through our challenging times via formal compositions, improvised music and songs. IAN CHANG 10 | March and April 2021

With some assistance from her sibling, Genia, with mastering and violin (and with the addition of a new microphone and a two-channel mixer), Melbourne produced a second album titled Dear Serenity. She then went on to create videos for some of the pieces, filming and editing them all on her iPad. Did I mention that she does everything on the first take? The more I talk with this extraordinary and multifaceted artist, the more I am astounded. Trained as a classical pianist, Melbourne has a licentiate diploma in piano performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music. “It is the equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, and you can go into postgraduate studies from there,” she informs me. Melbourne has had significant success in the contemporary and classical music worlds. She has performed internationally, at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, and recently in Besançon, France where she was composer, musical director and principal accompanist for the Ciné Concert silent film festival. Despite deep roots in contemporary and classical music, Melbourne has always been open to all styles of music. “My parents were touring musicians. The only thing they did not play was classical music and I ended up being trained in it,” she says. “I grew up on 90s R&B, hip hop, jazz, blues, country, reggae and soca. I love heavy metal. I find my inspiration in everything.” Beyond Opera Tapestry Opera’s artistic director and general manager Michael Hidetoshi Mori first encountered Melbourne’s work at the lifetime achievement celebration of composer Alexina Louie, held at Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club in 2019. Melbourne performed one of Louie’s pieces. Mori says that what he witnessed was a very young woman playing extraordinarily difficult music with passion, poise, grace and exceptional ability. “Since then, I’ve seen the whole songwriting side to Morgan, as I follow her on Instagram,” he adds. “She has the chops to be up there with the best of the interpreters of contemporary classical music and also has the sensibility of a singer-songwriter. She is already exploring what it’s like to be a multidimensional artist.” In early 2020, Tapestry Opera was able to pivot their programming and presentations rapidly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re a new works development company,” explains Mori. “Reinvention was important to us before the pandemic hit. The capacity for change was there already. We decided to rethink a season, boldly called ‘Immune to Cancellation,’” he laughs. They reinvested some of the budget of the cancelled 2020 production of the opera Rocking Horse Winner, originally presented by Tapestry in 2016, into training performers and staff on recording software and technologies for collaboration. The opera was successfully presented online and on CBC Radio, reaching a much larger audience than it would have playing to full houses in a Toronto venue. The contemporary opera company first came on my radar with the presentation of a fully improvised online concert by jazz musician Robi Botos in October 2020. Mori felt that working with Melbourne would be another great fit for their innovative programming. He contacted her, suggesting a performance in collaboration with a dancer. “This felt like an exciting potential to bring the storytelling you can do with dance [together with the] storytelling that Morgan brings with her whole package of being a composer and interpreter,” he says. Take One Melbourne’s resourcefulness and improvisational focus has on some level come from working with limitations. She works at home with an electric piano, not the acoustic piano of competition and concert stages. “I do a lot of sight reading, and I hear the music in my head,” she says. Her clarity of vision started early when she entered the classical music competition world. “‘Oh, I’m surprised that you are here and you played like that,’ one adjudicator told me. Some other performers told me that Black people don’t belong in classical music, and that I should be playing jazz,” she recalls. “They would do this, nearly every time, ten minutes before I had to go up to perform.” Such comments came from teachers, adjudicators, other performers and their parents. “I went into competition when I was nine. This GISELLE ROSEPIGUE My parents were touring musicians. The only thing they did not play was classical music and I ended up being trained in it! occurred every year until I was 17, when they realized that I’m not going anywhere. It was insane!” she says. “Early on, I had to learn how to block out a lot.” In response, Melbourne developed the skill of razor-sharp focus, which allows her to perform deeply and well on the first take – of anything. In her brilliant self-made video for the piece ‘Say Their Names’, she stands looking at the camera, going through all manner of emotion, while the names of Black people murdered by police appear and dissolve around her onscreen. The performance was recorded on the first and only take. Where Do I Go? Melbourne brings her compositions, improvisations and voice to a bold new genre-bending performance for Tapestry Opera, titled Where Do I Go? This sonic journey is a coming-of-age story, exploring struggles with society, mental health and a young woman’s evolution towards resilience and success. Alyssa Martin Morgan-Paige Melbourne Natasha Poon Woo The presentation is a collaboration with contemporary dancer Natasha Poon Woo and director/choreographer Alyssa Martin, of Rock Bottom Movement. Poon Woo brings “additional layers to the narrative, communicating a version of these messages from the perspective of movement,” says Melbourne. Presented by Tapestry Opera via livestream on March 27, 2021, this performance is one of many to come from Morgan-Paige Melbourne, a truly exciting, multidimensional artist. Where will she go? Keep watching. I see her on a trajectory that will take her through a multitude of cultural venues and concert halls across Canada and abroad. Gloria Blizzard is a non-fiction writer, poet and penner of songs, whose wordsmithing has appeared in numerous literary publications, magazines and sound recordings. She is currently completing her first full-length book, a collection of essays, and can be reached at IAN CHANG DREW BERRY March and April 2021 | 11

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