My farewell piece in the Star focused on passing love of music on to children
Because it's buried online, I thought I'd post my farewell article as a critic, which appeared in print, in the Star on Aug. 20:
For six years, people not involved in the business would look awestruck when I told them I was a music critic.
“You mean you go to concerts for free?” was a typical reaction.
“I’m working when I go to a concert,” was my prepared reply. But I could tell from the looks on their faces that they didn’t think work had anything to do with it.
I think these people were on to something.
Many have said that the act of making or listening to music connects us the eternal. The sound is ephemeral, its effects linger, but what, for me, makes it truly eternal is how the love and appreciation of music gets passed along from old to young.
Since becoming a full-time music critic six years ago, I have written 2,357 articles, reviews and arts-calendar blurbs. I have listened to about 2,000 CDs, watched in excess of 300 DVDs of operas, classical concerts and documentaries. I have attended nearly 1,000 live performances.
Now, as the Star calls me to new challenges elsewhere in the organization, I’ve sat down to figure out what made me tell people, over and over again, that I had the best job in the world.
I’ll be able to spend the long, dark winter evenings of my dotage replaying the glorious and the ghastly highlights in my head.
Most vividly etched in my soul is not the music itself but my encounters with people who work selflessly every day to make Toronto one of the great musical cities of the world and who do everything they can to light the spark of love and appreciation in each new generation.
It is natural for a lowly, quiet Canadian to look longingly at the gilded opera houses and concert halls of Europe. Our venues may not be covered in gold leaf but, thanks to the drive and stubborn determination of people like late Canadian Opera Company general director Richard Bradshaw and Royal Conservatory of Music CEO Peter Simon, we have an opera house and a recital hall worthy of the world’s finest.
These are not just buildings. They are manifestations of a vibrant civic cultural life.
I’m grateful my job gave me front-row seat for seeing them come to be.
Our singers, violinists, pianists, brass players, directors and conductors are the tip of a massive iceberg. There is even more going on under the waves, out of sight, and too often out of mind.
Music – any kind of music, from jazz to pop to classical – demands powerful acts of will before it can come to life. It takes people, time, inspiration and a lot of effort before the first note of a symphony can reverberate in Roy Thomson Hall.
The process includes patrons, who have over the past decade handed over millions of dollars so that classical music and opera of international calibre can thrive in Toronto. Then there are the dedicated administrators, marketers and arts council officers who keep the wheels of our culture industry turning season after season.
Ultimately, what really keeps a culture alive is adults passing it along to their offspring.
As one musician told me a while ago, “Children are not our future; they are our present.”
I couldn’t agree more.
I was brought to uncontrollable tears of joy four years ago as I watched a little 7-year-old girl -- so set back by Down syndrome that she couldn’t focus her eyes or coordinate her limbs -- respond to the work of music therapists at the Holland-Bloorview Rehab facility in Leaside.
Music shot a bolt of pure light into a darkness that the world could not otherwise penetrate.
I witnessed Moshe Hammer, a violinist with an international career, arrive at a middle-school gymnasium in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood with an armload of instruments for children whose parents would never be able to afford paying for a music lesson.
Every week, for the past three years, Hammer and a growing team of volunteers have given of their time and talent to teach and mentor in that area’s schools. The Hammer Band now numbers more than 100 tweens and teens, spreading the musical gospel in a part of the city desperately in need of inspiration.
Tireless former opera singer Ann Cooper Gay introduced me to the noisy, creative world of her Canadian Children’s Opera Company, so that I could be reminded how children don’t understand the meaning of the world “difficult.”
I had the privilege of meeting Adrian Anantawan, who didn’t let a missing forearm stop him from becoming a fine professional violinist. If that weren’t inspiration enough, he has made it his life’s mission to help other children with disabilities realize able-bodied dreams.
Sitting perched high above Harbourfront in a living room filled with a lifetime of travel and teaching, composer Michael Colgrass revealed more to me about the nature and power of creativity in the space of two hours than I had experienced in all of my 40-plus years.
It is no coincidence that he spends a lot of time working with children.
The vast majority of musicians and music teachers barely make the hop over the poverty line, but the love at the very core of their being won’t allow them to do anything else. They don’t know the meaning of nine-to-five. But they do know that passion is infectious.
Going to a concert or listening to an album opens but the tiniest window into a world of human wonder and striving – a world in perpetual growth and regeneration.
Listening to music is only a finger-tap away. making a connection with a real, live artist takes a tiny bit more of an effort. But I promise, it’ll never feel like work.