Genre Implosion – 10th Anniversary episode publication


Things became pretty quiet at IAM at the conclusion of my service to the Organ Century year of Timothy Eaton Memorial Church in Toronto, whose employ I left in July 2015 after an exciting and deeply satisfying two year opportunity with its excellent staff and congregation, contributing to a milestone in the life of both the instrument and institution.

The big news for Easter 2016 was the 10-year anniversary of “Genre Implosion,” the radio show on Hamilton’s CFMU FM 94.4 that formed a part of my 2004-2006 M.A. degree in Music Criticism at McMaster University. At that time I published the entire 19-episode archive (there were in fact 21 episodes, but regrettably two of them were lost). You can still access the entire series on the “Listen IAM” link of, and I will now begin posting the episodes over the coming weeks.

Enjoy Genre Implosion for now – I am still proud of much of it, although it’s always hard to look more than a few years back at one’s creative work without thinking of high school yearbooks, haircuts and other artifacts.

Musical Genre is a fascinating system, phenomenon or construction, but I still say, as I do at the start of every episode – they’re your ears – BELIEVE them.


ORGAN SYMPHONY Concert Program for Sun Nov.16

10658941_709572839122969_2549348661117052086_oSun 16 Nov 2014, 2pm
Timothy Eaton Memorial Church
230 St. Clair Avenue West, Toronto, Canada  

Toronto Concert Orchestra
Kerry Stratton, Conductor and Artistic Director

The Sanctuary Choir of Timothy Eaton Memorial Church
Elaine Choi, Director of Music
Soloists: Alison Cecilia Ahrends, Brittany King, Joanne Leatch,
Jean Nato, Lyndsay Promane, Paul Williamson, Michael York

Christopher Dawes, Principal Organist of TEMC
organ soloist and ensemble musician

Grand cortège de Bacchus
     (du ballet Sylvia, ou La nymphe de Diane) – Leo Délibes

Welcome – The Rev. Dr. Andrew Stirling

Oratoire de Noël – Camille Saint-Saëns
     I. Prélude
     II. Recitative
     III. Choeur

Allegro (Symphonie No.6, Op.42) – Charles-Marie Widor

Deux Motets – Maurice Duruflé
Tota pulchra es, Maria
     Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est

Cantique de Jean Racine – Gabriel Fauré

Le Cygne (Carnivale des Animaux) – Camille Saint-Saëns

Oratoire de Noel – Camille Saint-Saëns
IX Quintette et Choeur
    X Hymne “Tollite Hostias”




 Symphonie No.3 Op.78, c – Camille Saint-Saëns
     I. Adagio – Allegro
     II. Poco Adagio
     III. Allegro Moderato – Presto
     IV. Maestoso – Allegro

ORGAN SYMPHONY Radio Ad hits the airwaves

10658941_709572839122969_2549348661117052086_oThat moment when one of Canada’s great organs shouts out its incredible and unique music to celebrate its own 100th birthday… ORGAN SYMPHONY with the Toronto Concert Orchestra under Kerry Stratton and the TEMC Sanctuary Choir under Elaine Choi.

Sunday November 16 2pm Timothy Eaton Memorial Church – tickets at or the TEMC Volunteer office at (416) 925-5977.

You’ll hear this all next week on 96.3 Classical FM – but here’s your on-demand version – don’t miss this great event on November 16, 2pm at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church.

Morten Lauridsen in Toronto, or Zeitgeist meets Love and Craft

ML shining night

Morten Lauridsen

A recent Toronto choral event, the Shining Night Festival in honour of a visit by, and dedicated to the works of Morten Lauridsen, brought to mind an overused, but always intriguing concept – that of Zeitgeist. The events of the tortured 20th century have made it comparatively rare for North American English to welcome Germanic expressions into mainstream parlance. But Zeitgeist, a term describing a generally-held feeling in society based on a specific time at some point bucked the trend and made the cut. And I am not alone in the media world (as a self-styled metatheorist) to seek higher, less obvious meaning found in this invisible backdrop to events, trends and ideas.

One of the more immediately identifiable composers by virtue of a characteristic harmony, textual and melodic sense spanning much of his work, Lauridsen is something of a choral ‘brand’ – and one audible in his music, not simply marketed or personified to him as an individual. To use a bit of technical jargon, his fondness for first-inversion chords, disjunct melody based on dissonant notes approached by leap, added-note compound and yet strictly tonal harmony and a kind of free-nonprogrammatic approach to text and image makes anyone exposed to even just a few works instantly suspect upon hearing another.

Morten Lauridsen has had a long, productive and well-positioned career as a composer of choral music, and contributed much beauty to concerts and church services – on purely musical grounds his many accolades and awards are well-deserved. His choral works are performed and recorded widely throughout the world, and are omnipresent on the US choral scene. But there was more than an easily-recogniseable product and a distinguished reputation at work in the success of the composer’s first-ever visit to Toronto, and perhaps the most simple way to state it is that his music is beautiful, and it seems to matter.

If a certain Zeitgeist might have especially motivated Lauridsen’s welcome to Toronto and the large audiences encouraged by enthusiastic choristers and professionals, it might just be our collective hunger for what matters. If we must live under the shadow of economic uncertainty, pandemic, war, terrorism, political farce and gridlock, we want to be pointed to the light, as in the collection of sacred Latin texts of Lux aeterna. We want to heal from the loss of innocents, be they in Iraq/Syria, West Africa, or in the silent cribs of our children in upstairs bedrooms, as in Dana Gioia’s Prayer. We want to look into the strange emptiness of darkness and time and see healing beauty, as in James Agee’s Sure on this Shining Night.

Morten Lauridsen begins every composition class he teaches at the University of Southern California with poetry, and while never conceding to explicit word painting he doesn’t ‘set’ texts… he venerates them, both in the clear reverence in which he holds them, and in the characteristic, crafty and often caressing music with which he enfolds them. He convinces us first (as he did in sessions with students of our Choral Programs at the University of Toronto, and with the public in encounters at the main Festival Day at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church) that text matters deeply to him, and then uses beautiful music to prove that it can matter to us.

Posted in IAM.

Chasing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”

Cohen album-various-positionsA little under a year ago I treated myself to a book purchase (something I do only rarely because of my perpetual and monumental reading backlog): Alan Light’s “The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the unlikely ascent of “Hallelujah”.  But even having just read Light’s interesting book my attention piqued especially when my 12-year-old son was skimming my copy and asked of the foreword’s account of the 2012 inaugural PEN “Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence” awards, who was this ‘Berry’ guy who was being honoured along with Cohen?

I have sung, listened to, accompanied at various keyboards, considered, parodied (in the medieval sense implying more respect than humour or critique) this piece for only two of its four decades of life, whatever ‘life’ means to a song or for that matter, a poem. I even once re-wrote the lyrics for a wedding whose bride loved the song, but maintained a fierce disinterest in the song’s original content to the point that even my pragmatic theatre/church musicianship required of me lots of denial. But I must admit that I had until Light’s book no idea of the true ubiquity of the Canadian song and songwriter my 12-year-old knew while never having heard of Chuck Berry – just its musical perfection and the remarkable power of its intimate and vivid sentiments.

Two signposts in my own relationship with “Hallelujah” were accompanying a young Patricia O’Callaghan in a performance at St. James’ Cathedral, Toronto in the late 1990s, and then playing a minor role in the August 27 2011 state funeral of my distant acquaintance and political idol Jack Layton, when Steve Page’s version was deeply memorable to many, but confirmed that, in the words of Toronto critic Kevin Courrier, “[it] has lost its meaning and much of its sting. Sung now with a solemn reverence, as Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” often is, “Hallelujah” is about as misunderstood as Randy Newman’s “Sail Away.” (to be fair to Page, in a conversation I had with him backstage he like the rest of us had not much notice before taking part in the Layton funeral, and agreed with many others that it was a challenging and bordering chlicheed request.)

Some versions, like the John Cale’s from 1991, famously used in the 2001 movie Shrek!, and the late Jeff Buckley’s backing video of the World Trade Centre attacks later that year became holy writ in the “Hallelujah” canon while others, like Bono’s and Sandra Boyle’s, fell more into a continuum ranging from missed opportunity to outright embarrassment. But in the end words and music make this obscure (and at the time rejected outright by Columbia Records in perhaps one of music industry’s most legendary missteps) 1984 masterpiece into something timeless, transfixing, and endlessly vital.  When in 2004 k.d. Lang contributed a beautiful symphonic-scale arrangement into the repertoire, its most poignant attribute IMHO was its album title, “Hymns of the 49th Parallel” – reclaiming the work not just for the country she, Cohen and I share, but also for Cohen’s deeply nuanced and often tortured faith journey.

Perhaps Salman Rushdie, an author of mythic power in his own right and presenter of Cohen’s award in 2012, said it best: “(it’s) joyous and despondent, a celebration and a lament, a juxtaposition of dark Old Testament imagery with an irresistibly uplifting chorus, ‘Hallelujah’ is an open-ended meditation on love and faith.”

“There is a religious hallelujah, but there are many other ones,” Cohen once said. “When one looks at the world, there’s only one thing to say, and it’s hallelujah. That’s the way it is.”

Posted in IAM.

Kickscooting as Metaphor for the Musical Life

Human powered transport made to fit today's city

CD & Scooter

Like many musicians middle age has not financially empowered me to buy a sports car, even if I wanted to.  My new vehicle is human powered and has two wheels – but it is not a bike, I’m NOT wearing a stitch (if that’s the right micro-unit) of Lycra, and I was recently surprised to learn a remarkable lesson about music from my new wheels.

There are few reliable assumptions in the musician’s life.  Many in the mainstream workforce struggle in the ‘new economy’ to survive temporary contracts, lack of benefits, highly variable work conditions and constantly-changing colleagues and circumstances; musicians, who are mostly in effect hired and fired every day by individual project, who have never had access to anything resembling conventional job security or meaningful health benefits (even publicly mandated ones like maternity leave), and who must often adapt to new instruments, new mission-critical colleagues including soloists and conductors, new hall acoustics, new genres of music and other wide-ranging demands untranslatable to those outside of the field… well, we tend to yawn and politely support while whistling in our minds, or inaudibly through our teeth, “You can cry me a river.”

(As some of you will know, ‘cry me a river’ originated in the 1953 Arthur Hamilton song – NOT in the 2002 break-up between Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, a fact that neither Timberlake nor the proprietary Wikipedia entry on the song he included in that year’s “Justified” solo debut studio album seem very interested to share).

Middle age is traditionally a time for reflecting on one’s work and life, and my scooter has taught me that I have a three-part response to the challenges of a musician’s life, even as I continue to reap the rewards and savour the joys thirty-or-so- years in.

My account of Kickscooting: One leg (in my case, the right) takes on a role of support – it flexes, it locks, it releases as needed – but it provides no power.  The other leg (in my case, the left) provides the power, and the real response to the road (/sidewalk) surface and the pedestrians and their vehicles including strollers, grocery carts, and so on.  And beyond safely navigating what lies immediately ahead my hands are what keep me headed where I’m needing to go (and apply the brakes, if needed!)

So HERE’S THE IDEA:  Musical life requires all three – a supporting level of knowledge and discipline, like my RIGHT leg on the scooter; a degree of power able to push ourselves towards our limits and others around us to new understandings as needed – like my LEFT leg on the scooter, and critically also A PAIR OF HANDS to work on, and direct where all of this is going.  Nor is this such a bad model for creating and interpreting music.


Posted in IAM.

Music’s Debt to Others, and Our Debt to Music

Eden Mills pic for Sep 23rd Blog entry

Village of Eden Mills

When you finally do something you’ve long meant to you do it as the person you have become, not the person that initially wanted the experience, nor the one who has said year after year, “I must do that…” but never does.  You are, in a sense, someone new.  The person I have become this September is the author of this new blog, IAM – Ideas About Music… a project I’ve had in mind for some years, and which now becomes real (at least as ‘real’ as anything on the Internet is).

I have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy a now-30-year career I love as a musician who thinks a lot about music.  For almost half of that career I have lived a 20-minute drive from the beautiful village of Eden Mills, which has for even longer, 25 years, been home to the Eden Mills Writers Festival, which annually welcomes celebrated Canadian and international authors and poets, publishers and hundreds of ‘literati’ of all ages for readings, workshops, and a general celebration of the printed page.   In 2014 it finally welcomed me and my family. Continue reading

Posted in IAM.