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Volume 28 Issue 2 | November 1 - December 13, 2022

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Available now for your online "flip-through" reading pleasure, The WholeNote Volume 28 no.2. For Openers, my uncle had a barn; then: Trichy Sankaran at 80; the return of the professional chamber choir; what makes music theatre more than just theatre; how to fit three violin concerti into one concert; and more.


QUICK PICKS MUSIC THEATRE More than “a play with music” JANET BAXTER JENNIFER PARR Standing Wave Ensemble NOV 12, 7PM: New Adventures in Sound Art. NAISA North Media Arts Center, South River. A program of video-music works focused on reflections on natural spaces by artists from a variety of disciplines. Featured is a new work by Hector Centeno commissioned as part of NAISA’s 20th-anniversary project. NOV 20, 8PM: New Music Concerts hosts the Standing Wave Ensemble from Vancouver in a concert program titled Ex Machina at St. George by the Grange Church. The Standing Wave Ensemble is the leading contemporary chamber music ensemble in Western Canada and is known for performing works full of experimental ideas and approaches. The repertoire for the evening includes works by Canadian composers Mari Alice Conrad, Bekah Simms, James O’Callaghan, and Gordon Fitzell. A special feature will be an arrangement by Jennifer Butler of Olivier Messiaen’s Le Merle noir written in 1952. As a prelude to the concert, musicians from the Glenn Gould School will perform Derives I by Pierre Boulez. NOV 24, 7:30PM: Music Gallery. A concert of music by Pouya Hamidi titled Sense of Place. Hamidi is a celebrated Iranian- Canadian composer, pianist and sound engineer. This, his first portrait concert, will highlight seven of his chamber music compositions from 2006 to 2018. Hamidi will be performing in several of the works, along with numerous musicians he has worked with over his career. DEC 6, 7:30PM: The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music Contemporary Music Ensemble performs three works by European composers: Anahit – A Lyric Poem dedicated to Venus for Violin and Chamber Orchestra written in 1965 by Giacinto Scelsi, an Italian composer who also wrote surrealist poetry in French; Introduktion und Transsonation from 2020 by Georg Friedrich Haas, a composer from Austria known as a leading voice in the writing of spectral music; and Notes on Light, written in 2006 by Kaija Saariaho, originally from Finland and now based in Paris. She has also been influenced by spectral music, an organizing theme for the concert which is titled Re:SPECT(ral) Re:DUX. Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electrovocal sound artist. sounddreaming! “When is a play with music just that, and at what point does it cross some threshold into becoming “music theatre?” This is a question I grapple with all the time but it came up prominently in a conversation about an eagerly anticipated show about to open, and then was brought into sharp relief by two other productions already happening, almost simultaneously, this fall in Toronto. Choir Boy Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s play Choir Boy, presented by Canadian Stage and Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre, will start its Toronto run on November 8. A hit at London (England)’s Royal Court Theatre when it premiered in 2012, Choir Boy went on to equally acclaimed productions Off Broadway, at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, on Broadway, and a few years ago in Montreal directed by Mike Payette, who will be directing this new production, as well. An Oscar winner for Moonlight, McCraney has been amassing a reputation for brilliant theatrical storytelling, and this play is unique in that it is interwoven with gospel music and R & B sung a cappella throughout the show by the main characters. Having read the wonderful script, I spoke with director Payette as he was on his way from a rehearsal of Choir Boy to the opening of another show at Tarragon Theatre where he has recently taken on the role of artistic director. One of the first questions I asked him was how he would categorize this play. “Not as the Mike Payette Tonys defined it (a SABRINA REEVES 18 | November 1 - December 13, 2022

Andrew Broderick in Choir Boy at Canadian Stage JOHN LAUENER play)!” was his fast reply. In many more ways it could be “considered as a musical, but not a traditional musical,” he said. “The scope of the music is expressed very much by the voices themselves rather than by any instrumentation, as everything is sung a cappella, which is really, really challenging but also incredibly exciting and heightens the overall theatricality.” Choir Boy is set within the walls of the prestigious African- American Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys. Pharus, a junior at the start of the play, wants nothing more than to be the leader of the school’s celebrated gospel choir. While his wish comes true, the choir becomes the crucible for all the students for navigating their passage to adulthood while trying to live up to the school goals of becoming strong and ethical men. And here’s where the show crosses that line I mentioned earlier: the songs echo their struggles and hopes to the point where you could not do the play without them. Payette’s take on the idea is perceptive: “The songs are the core of the storytelling, though in a fundamentally different way from the songs of a traditional musical. Usually songs advance the narrative, but here they speak to a larger spiritual and psychological connection to the characters. That’s not to say that the music doesn’t move the story along, but it has an extra layer because it is so ingrained in the history, and this notion of spiritual, ancestral and generational relationships with the music that all exist within the characters.” “Usually songs advance the narrative, but here they speak to a larger spiritual and psychological connection to the characters. That’s not to say that the music doesn’t move the story along, but it has an extra layer.” — Mike Payette Tied in with the music is a debate ignited by Pharus about the nature of the gospel songs themselves. He believes that whether they were or were not at one time coded messages shared between slaves seeking to escape to freedom, that now they are powerful vessels of spirituality and hope that speak as clearly to him and to his contemporaries as to anyone in the past. All this makes Choir Boy music theatre in so many ways that Payette’s slightly aggrieved comment about the Tonys takes on added resonance. The 2013 Tony Awards nominated Choir Boy for Best Play, which it didn’t win, but also awarded a special Tony to Jason Michael Webb for ‘his outstanding vocal arrangements’’ – a nod to the fact that this was something more than a play with music. The play does not, however, come with a score attached – as Payette November 1 - December 13, 2022 | 19

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