Archive for the ‘Views’ Category

Music, Drama, and Children by Stanley Fefferman

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Remember the 1968 movie musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? The story is set in Vulgaria where children have been outlawed by order of Baroness Bombhurst. Any child found wandering the streets is likely to be detected by the kid’s-blood-sniffing ‘Childcatcher’ and taken to the ‘Castle.’ To prevent this, the kind toymaker hides all the children in the cellar under his shop. A town without children.
Really! What could that be about?”

A blogger recently wrote that she visited a town in Vermont, which she called, ‘A Town Without Children.” She claims that she and her three children never saw another child in the town. They did see plenty of signs on establishments everywhere saying, “ No Children. Dogs Welcome.” The convenience store had “no baby items… yet it had an entire aisle of dog food.

Is that really happening? Are people preferring beagles to babies?

One guy responded to the Town Without Children blog like this:

“I am fascinated by a place without children….A place without children is a place where respectful adults can live out their lives without having to worry about other people’s bad parenting, having to be concerned for their safety when they go to a convenience store after 9pm and it is littered with teenagers and young adults (<21) who are looking to get into trouble. I think there should be more places like this around the country. Keep the kids in suburban hell with their over-achieving "keeping-up-with-the-Joneses" parents where they belong. Seems like it is happening. What could that be about? Really! In 1957, Van Johnson starred in a TV musical that was released to theatres and is still around.  The Pied Piper of Hamelin is filled with songs based on adaptations of Edvarg Grieg. The story, as everyone knows, was transmitted by the Brothers Grimm and concerns a rat infested town that hired a piper to ‘pipe’ the rats into the river but then refused to pay him, so he ‘piped’ their children away. The Grimm story reaches back to a tradition that connects these events to the year 1284 in a town (without children) in Bavaria. The novelist Richard Powers writes the following note into the Hamelin Town Records:” On June 26, 1284, through stupidity and a mass tin ear, we killed our children.”


On May 5, 2009, The Honourable Adrienne Clarkson hosted an evening introducing a unique new opera by R. Murray Schafer—The Children’s Crusade. Imagine this: history records that in the year 1212, 30,000 children under the age of 12 left their homes, to gather around a boy named Stephen who led them on foot 660 kilometers from Paris to Marseilles, where they expected the sea to part and show them a path to Jerusalem, where they expected the Saracens would give them the keys to the kingdom just for the asking. Instead, the ones who survived the walk were lured onto ships and sold into slavery in Africa. That same year, 20,000 children in Germany gathered around a boy named Nicholas who led them to the seaports of Genoa and Pisa, and to Rome where they were received by the Pope who told them to go home. Very few made it. You can get all the details of this story by googling ‘Children’s Crusade’.

The Opera that R. Murray Schafer based on this story, is co-commissioned by Soundstreams Canada and Luminato will open the Luminato Festival in Toronto on Friday, June 5, 2009, starring Jacob Abrahamse pictured above. Details at

Some Notes on Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) the centenary of whose birth is being celebrated at Chamberfest ’08 in a series of three concerts

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Monday, July 28, 2008. Ottawa.

Olivier Messiaen described his musical leanings in these four words: theologian, rhythmist, colourist, and bird lover.
– Messiaen was a strong Catholic and lifelong organist at Trinité Church in Paris. His compositions for organ fill half a dozen CD’s.
– Messiaen regarded rhythm as a topic almost separate from music and spent much time studying the intricacies of Hindu rhythmic patterns.
– Messiaen learned to notate and recognize some 500 bird songs that he incorporated into his music.
– Messiaen was synaesthetic: he naturally visualized colours while listening to or reading music. While enduring life as a POW in a German prisoner-of-war camp at Gorlitz, Silesia from 1940-42 he regularly dreamed of sound colours that he put into his music.
-His seminal “Quartet for the End of Time” was composed in Gorlitz as a way of surviving the “cruelty and horrors of the camp.” It was premiered on January 14, 1941 in Stalag V111-A before an audience of 5000 prisoners. Messiaen commented later, “Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension.”

The following notes on the eight movements are partly based on Messiaen’s descriptions.

I. Predawn and the awakening of the birds; a thrush (one of the most vocally talented of birds) improvises, amid notes of shining sound and a halo of trills that lose themselves in the trees…The piano [Jamie Parker] provides a rhythmic ostinato based on unequal augmentations and diminutions—the clarinet [James Campbell] unfolds a bird song.
II. From the piano, soft cascades of blue-orange chords, the plainchant-like recitativo of violin [Annalee Patipatanakoon] and cello [Roman Borys].
III    “Clarinet solo [James Campbell]. The abyss of time, with its sadness and tediums. The birds are the opposite of time; they are our desire for light, for stars, for rainbows and for jubilant outpourings of song! There is a great contrast between the desolation of time…and the joy of bird-songs.
IV    Scherzo. Of a more outgoing character than the other movements.
V    A long phrase, infinitely slow, by the cello…with love and reverence…majestically the melody unfolds itself at a distance both intimate and awesome.
VI    Dance of Fury. Rhythmically the most idiosyncratic movement of the set. The four instruments in unison give the effect of gongs and trumpets…Use of extended note values [and] augmented or diminished rhythmic patterns. Music of stone, formidable sonority; movement as irresistible as steel, as huge blocks of livid fury or ice like frenzy….
VII    In my dreamings I hear and see ordered melodies and chords, familiar hues and forms: then following this transitory stage I pass into the unreal and submit ecstatically to a vortex, a dizzying interpenetration of superhuman sounds and colours…rivers of blue-orange lava, these sudden stars…behold the rainbows.
VIII    Expansive violin solo [Annalee Patipatanakoon] balancing the cello solo [Roman Borys] of the fifth movement. Glorification of total love…a slow rising to a supreme point [of human life]—the ascension toward [the ultimate beyond all striving.]\

Christina Petrowska Quilico’s 20th CD

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

One of Canada’s foremost pianists, Petrowska Quilico is widely recognized as an innovative and adventurous artist and a leading champion of the music of our time. She has appeared in solo recitals, chamber settings and with orchestras on four continents. Much in demand as an interpreter of contemporary music, she has premiered more than 100 works, many written especially for her. A professor of piano performance and musicology at York since 1987, she frequently collaborates in live and recorded performances with her colleagues.

“Ings”, released on the Welspringe label, is a two-CD compilation of performances recorded by and broadcast on CBC Radio during the last few years.Released on the Welspringe label, Ings is a two-CD compilation of live performances recorded by and broadcast on CBC Radio during the last few years. Selections, mainly by Canadian (Ann Southam’s “Glass Houses”) and American composers – along with Messiaen and Boulez from France, England’s Gavin Bryars, and Japan’s Toru Takemitsu and Masamitsu Takahashi – range from the spiritual and sacred to blues, boogies and jazz– from Alexina Louie’s Star-filled Night to a swinging Suite by William Westcott.

Produced by David Jaeger, whose Quivi Sospiri is also featured, the CD is named for the title track, 6 Ings by American composer Henry Cowell (1897-1965). The Ings, composed in 1917, are evocative musical portrayals of Floating, Frisking, Fleeting, Scooting, Wafting and Seething.


FLYING HIGH IN THE JAZZ SKY viewed by Stanley Fefferman

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Mike Ruby’s debut CD entitled “Playtime” was released a few days ago at The Rex Hotel in Toronto with a live performance attended by a multitude of well-wishers, among them lots of jazz heavy hitters. And no wonder. Ruby on tenor sax in quartet benefits by comparison to the young Joshua Redman. Warm even tone, flexible attack, a composer of listenable tunes, with a feel for the lyrical mode in tender standards like “Someday My Prince Will Come”, virtuoso technique on fast, wild runs, and a love of adventure in improv that goes out out and far out.

Ruby’s backstory made news last year, when JazzFM, in conjunction with Universal Music and Alma Records, held the inaugural National Project Jazz contest at The Rex Hotel in Toronto. There were over 60 tapes submitted from across Canada. Mike Ruby won and received $15,000.00 towards his debut recording on Alma Records (distribution via Universal) and, in July Mike Ruby, under the guidance of Alma president and producer, Peter Cardinali and co-producer, Universal Music’s Scott Morin, recorded Playtime at Phase One Studios with Mike’s outstanding band (Pascal Le Boeuf, piano;Dan Fortin, bass, Adam Arruda, drums).

Mike is currently living in New York on a two-year scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music. He is the lone accepted student to receive the President’s Award for exceptionally high merit (2007). Mike’s website is


Laila Biali has been one of my favourites since I wrote about her trio at the late Montreal Bistro in January of ’05. Laila has such an abundance of sheer talent as a pianist and composer, and she sings very well. Her voice can be breathy or full of brass. Her dynamics are wide-ranging and well under her control. She has great daring in improvising melody and she is capable of a tenderness matching the delicacy of her piano arpeggios. However, back at the time of her first CD I wrote, “Her excellent vocal qualities need to cook together a bit and settle into something more natural before Diana Krall needs to move over.”

Laila’s new CD entitled “from sea to sky” (available online) features 9 of Laila’s terrific compositions and two standards all of which Laila has arranged for herself on vocals and piano backed by the most pro dream team of jazz players in the country: Phil Dwyer on saxes, Don Thompson on vibes, Guido Basso on trumpet and flugelhorn, Rob Piltch on guitar, George Koller on bass, and Darnell Lewis on drums. The music is no less than first rate. One little problem is that Laila sings on almost every cut:the sameness of the vocal tones gives me a feeling of monotony. The album is gorgeously produced.There are generous samples of her tunes on Laila’s website. Check it out and give them a listen.

THE VIOLIN IN CARNATIC MUSIC: by Subhadra Vijaykumar*

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

*(scroll down for bio)

The European violin has been Indianized in many ways during the past 200 years to produce South Indian classical music.

The Indian classical violinist’s playing posture is different from that of his Western counterpart. The Western violinist stands with his feet at a right angle and holds the violin between the left collarbone and chin, the instrument at a perpendicular slant to the body. The left hand provides the other support to the instrument.

The South Indian violinist sits cross-legged on the floor and balances the instrument between his chest and the ankle bone of his right foot, on which rests the scroll of the violin. This posture facilitates the free movement of the left hand along the fingerboard, particularly in producing the gamakas (graces) integral to the Carnatic mode. It also necessitated appropriate changes in bowing technique, the changes being duly made.

In the Western system, the four strings are tuned in the order E A D G from right to left, each five tones apart. However, in the Carnatic system, the tuning is not absolute but relative. Beginning with the fourth string (the E string being the first string) the tuning is as follows: tonic, dominant, tonic octave higher, dominant octave higher (the tonic being variable in Carnatic music).

Carnatic music system revolves around vocal music. Therefore, any instrument with unique qualities can best complement vocal music. The violin, because of its unique qualities, has earned its place as an accompanying instrument and also as a solo instrument. The instrument can be tuned to any pitch that the vocalist chooses. The bow lends continuity to the instrument, a necessary ingredient for vocal music.

The tonal quality and the volume that it produces enable it to blend with the human voice. The area of operation is small, thus making it possible to play any speed to match the vocalist with ease. Its range includes 3 octaves, which is the normal range for a good vocalist. It can produce all subtle nuances, graces (gamakas), modulations, and all the microtones (srutis) which characterize our music. It can paint any musical phrase evoked by any other instrument.

The phenomenal potentialities of the instrument enable it to approximate the human voice very closely. In other words, it can kindle the bhava that the voice produces with the same intensity. So it has inspired and helped the vocalist and other instrumentalists. All these qualities have earned the violin the place it deserves and enjoys.

It must be noted that these are additional merits in comparison to other instruments, so over the years, apart from being an accompanying instrument, the violin has emerged as a solo instrument in the hands of virtuosos in no less measure than when compared to any other solo instrument.

History of the Indianization of the Violin

About two hundred years ago, during the British rule over India, the Violin first made its entry into the annals of South Indian classical music, that is, Carnatic music, chiefly through three persons. They were: Varahappa Iyer, Baluswami Dikshitar, and Vadivelu.

Varahappa Iyer, a minister of the Tanjavur Maratha court in Southern India, was a highly placed official, well-versed in English, who had an in-depth knowledge of music. On his visit to the British governor’s residence in Madras, he had the opportunity to see the various Western instruments in his collection. His close friendship with the Governor enabled him to try them out. Although he was initially awestruck at the range (spanning 7 octaves) of the piano, he instinctively realized that it was the violin that was eminently adaptable to our system of music. A brief period of practice increased his familiarity with the instrument to the extent that the governor gifted it to him. With time, he became proficient enough to provide accompaniment to vocal music. In recognition of his meritorious service, a lane in Tanjavur has been named after him.

Baluswami Dikshitar (1786-1859), son of Ramaswami Dikshitar and brother of Muthuswami Dikshitar, lived at Manali. The Dikshitar family was patronized by Manali Muthukrishna Mudaliar (Dubash – interpreter to the British governor, Pigot). Mudaliar introduced Baluswami Dikshitar to Western music at the performance of the European band attached to the East India Company. Dikshitar learned to play the Western violin for 3 years. Later, he began trying out Carnatic music on the violin and so developed his skills and playing technique that he was appointed State Vidwan of Ettayapuram in 1824.

Vadivelu (1810-1845), the youngest of the Tanjavur quartet (all of whom were students of Muthuswami Dikshitar) was a composer and a vocalist. He was the Asthana Vidwan at Travencore, during Swati Tirunal’s (1813-1837) reign. The Maharaja encouraged Vadivelu to take up playing the violin. Suitably impressed, he presented an ivory violin to Vadivelu in 1834. Vadivelu is credited with introducing short passages on the violin for classical dance performances.

Indian musical instruments were classified into 5 classes, of which Tara, or string instrument, played with the bow is of relevance. In those days, though bowed instruments like Ek Tar, Dilruba, and Esraj were prevalent, only instruments like Flute, Sarangi, Vil-yazh, and Veena were used in South India to provide support to the voice. The timbre, potentiality of the violin, and its ability to blend with the voice gave the instrument an edge over all other instruments as the most ideal accompanying instrument.

After the introduction of the violin by Baluswami Dikshitar and others, the efforts of the next generation of violinists, like Tanjavur Sivaramakrishna Iyer, Annaswamy Sastri (grandson of Shamma Sastri), Fiddle Subbarayar etc. helped the role of the violin to grow further. Gradually the violin took precedence over all others as the main melodic accompanying instrument to vocal music and has come to stay.


Subhadra Vijaykumar comes from a family with rich musical traditions. She holds a first class diploma in Carnatic violin from the prestigious Bharatiya Music and Arts Society’s Music College in Mumbai, India. She is presently under the guidance of internationally renowned soloist and maestro, Professor T. N. Krishnan. She has performed in major venues across, Toronto, the far East, and England. With over ten years of teaching experience, Ms. Vijaykumar now teaches at the Mississauga campus of The Royal Conservatory of Music.

tel 905 8917944
The Royal Conservatory of Music
850 Enola Ave ( Cawthra & Lakeshore )
Mississauga, ON


Monday, October 30th, 2006

[The following text contains a brilliant analysis by composer David Litke, that served as a sonically assisted introduction to the performance of Elucide by the New Music Ensemble, October 15, 2006, in Toronto. It is intact, except for removal of references to examples that were played for the audience that cannot be reproduced here. In a sense, these examples were essential to the understanding of what Mr. Litke is sharing. In another, equally compelling sense, his verbal representation of ideas is quite rewarding and richly repays a careful reading. Enjoy this, and have your pleasure in listening to contemporary music enhanced. Editor]

ELUCIDE by David Litke

Elucide is a musical exploration of the act of perception, and the mechanisms by which we come to understand and find meaning in sensory information. The piece takes as a point of departure an examination of the raw materials of music, the acoustic phenomena created by the instruments of the ensemble.

Due to the transitory, elusive nature of sound, many aspects of sonic events generally go unnoticed. Elucide attempts to take hold of sounds that seem to pass too quickly, and to break apart the overtone structures of sounds that appear fused, in order to have a closer listen to the phenomena and to reveal elements that we would otherwise have difficulty perceiving.

Throughout the piece, individual instruments use techniques that reveal components of their sounds that would ordinarily be hidden. String harmonics, for example, allow the higher partials of a low pitch to emerge.

String instruments can play near the bridge, revealing the upper regions of their harmonic spectra.

The woodwind instruments use multiphonic techniques that allow us to hear multiple simultaneous pitches from a single instrument.

By playing inside the piano, a low piano note can reveal a rich set of higher component pitches.

While these techniques break a single sound into its multiple components, another compositional technique is used to combine numerous sound sources into a single timbre. Computer analysis allows us to examine in detail the internal characteristics of a short sound sample, such as the piano harmonic we just heard. This information can then be transposed to musical notation and played by an ensemble, creating a kind of instrumental synthesizer. In employing this technique, the partials of a source sound are played on an augmented time scale in order to reveal minute developments of the sound that generally pass too quickly to grasp.

Tonight we play an analysis of the same piano harmonic re-constructed by the ensemble. First, we hear the source sound, and then the instrumental version of the sound. These two compositional methods allow us to hear “inside” the sound, in a sense, and to become aware of aspects of the phenomena that were always present, yet were formerly hidden.

While Elucide begins with a focus on the perception of acoustic phenomena, it progresses to explore the ways in which these perceptions find musical significance. Over the course of the piece, the constituent elements of the source sounds are progressively manipulated, organized and re-interpreted. What begins as a unified timbre is thereby progressively transformed into melodic gestures, motives, and musical phrases. As the characteristics of the source sound are applied in various ways, the music gradually moves from the domain of pure “sound as sound” to that of musical semantics, the sound patterns and organization to which we ascribe musical meaning.

The image that I used to guide the composition of this piece is one of pulling apart and unraveling a sonic object, to find the living, breathing music that dwells within it. In synthesizing a unified spectrum with the ensemble, Elucide aims to engender a certain lucidity, in the sense of transparency, whereby the identifying characteristics of the individual instruments melt away to reveal a single harmonic entity. Over the course of the work, however, this transparency transforms into another type of lucidity, this time meaning intelligibility, whereby the musical meaning found within the sound is elucidated.