As you may have surmised from the title, I’ve been re-reading Hilary Mantel’s glorious Booker Prize-winning Cromwell Trilogy, which culminates in The Mirror And The Light. One of the many things that struck me through this second reading was the constant presence of plague in the shadows of the main storyline. There was no understanding of its causes and the cures of the day were useless. People accepted it as ‘the will of god’ and quacks and charlatans proliferated.
And while it’s true that we have seen our own share of conspiracy theories and ‘miracle cures’ through our own pandemic, we are thankfully not at the mercy of superstition, beneficiaries as we are of the Renaissance and the hard-won primacy of the scientific method over cant and superstition and ignorance — a Renaissance that was just getting going during Cromwell’s day with the proliferation of printing presses and distribution of books. Today we understand the cause of the pandemic, how to avoid catching and spreading it, and vaccinations are liberating us from its existential threat. How far we have advanced as a civilization from those dark days.
And yet … even as we emerge from this terrible pandemic thanks to modern science and public health, it has taken the lives of more than twenty-six thousand Canadians and millions more around the globe.
And despite how far we have traveled from the Dark Ages, we have recently witnessed the horrifying discovery of the remains of two hundred and fifteen Indigenous children left in unmarked graves at a Residential School in Kamloops, shocking the conscience of the entire world. And now we learn hundreds more have been discovered in Saskatchewan.
The pandemic, and its unequal impact; the gruesome discoveries at residential schools now coming to broader attention; the killing of the Muslim family in London, ON; and the anti-Asian violence we’ve seen. These terrible incidents are holding up a mirror to our society. One we find shocking.
If ever our eyes were closed collectively to the genocide integral to our founding, or the systemic racism which has sustained toxic Colonial systems of oppression right up to the modern day, alongside rampant misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia, those eyes have been opened. We are all aware now of the systemic oppression of Indigenous peoples and the anti-Asian, anti-Muslim, and anti-Black systemic racism that poisons our society, and the stark differences revealed as the pandemic has most impacted the most vulnerable among us.
This newfound collective awareness of the injustices prevalent in our society demands action from us. We are called, in FDR’s words: “To do what we can, with what we have, where we are.”
“‘Rise, then, like lions after slumber,’ said Shelley. ‘There is plenty to do, but we have to do it fast.’
So how have we responded at CMC BC, given that resources are limited and our purpose is to champion composers and bring their music to life? With generous support from the Vancouver Foundation, we have tried to build bridges, and learn about new music’s part in a history of cultural oppression, appropriation, and negation. We have helped share our platform. We have showcased work from racialized creators and performers. And we have engaged in partnerships and collaborations with Indigenous and Black leaders and innovators.
Indigenization & Decolonization
With of the now concert series in Victoria, we co-presented an innovative Decolonial Imaginings composition project led by Dylan Robinson, Canadian Chair of Indigenous Arts and Culture at Queens University and featuring leading Canadian composers. We also presented Dylan in two well-attended talks about his landmark new book Hungry Listening and presented him with a Barbara Pentland Award of Excellence for his contribution to Canadian Music.
Internationally recognized artist and activist with Black Lives Matter Toronto Syrus Marcus Ware led an anti-Racism workshop with members of our staff and the BC Advisory Council. More of this work is planned this Fall.
Conversations with Indigenous and Racialized Creators and Performers
Mezzo-Soprano Marian Newman conducted conversations on our behalf with Indigenous and racialized artists and creators across the country. And it is our hope that these conversations are only the beginning, not an end in themselves.
We helped support in a small way Rich Coburn’s visionary effort to create BIPOC Voices, a new online library of music for voice by Indigenous, racialized, and culturally diverse composers.
BC Advisory Council
Last October, our membership elected one of the most diverse and inclusive Advisory Council’s in our history, electing Jennifer Butler Chair, and presenting philanthropist and pianist Marnie Carter with the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award.
And this Fall we plan panels centred around new digital rights, on women in the world of composition, and on Indigenous and racialized artists working in the field of new music.
Economic Supports Fostered Artistic Innovation
The economic impact of the pandemic was hardest of all on the cultural sector. Here in BC, presenting arts organizations and independent artists, including our own family of composers and the musicians that bring their music to life, have been devastated artistically and financially since the nation shut down a year and three months ago, on March 16, 2020.
Thankfully, in response to the economic crisis caused by the epidemic, governments across the country have provided additional support to artists and arts organizations alike, and here in BC the additional support has been extensive and highly effective because it was so strategic and planned in consultation with the organizations and artists most impacted.
The BC Arts Council created new channels of support for individual artists; and provided millions more dollars of support through their new Resilience program. Additionally, the federal government extended CERB and unemployment assistance to independent artists and creators.
And a sector-wide transition to online video performances, like our own Unaccompanied Series, have also helped to a limited extent to keep musicians working and our composer’s music alive and available to patrons in new ways.
Maintaining Functionality Through Crisis
CMC BC has gone through several stages of closing and opening in tandem with the rest of the province, following public health directives and adopting plans reviewed by ActSafe BC. It is with pride we can say that we have prioritized keeping our team, volunteers, and patrons safe throughout this crisis.
For many months we have asked staff to work from home as much as possible and kept occupancy in the centre down to one person at a time, with the exception of the filming of Unaccompanied videos when Jordan is in the Adaskin Salon taping a musician. And that work has been done according to strict health protocols that have been successful in keeping all parties safe.
As you may recall, Dave McLaughlin, our long-serving Admin left us last February to go into the private sector just before the country shut down, leaving us without an Admin at a challenging time. Mail couldn’t be delivered to a closed centre, including bills. Paying those invoices once finally received was a challenge with our centre shut down. Banking was difficult. Obtaining signatures as needed problematic. All of the normal activity and business of running the CMC became much more complex.
But thanks to the investments in technology we’ve made over the past few years, our phone system is digital and we were able to access phone messages from home; the accounting system is accessible online; and we have home connections to documents and records on the server as needed.
Two Theatre Attendants stepped in to help — Heather Molloy, who compiled a modern operating manual for all of the procedures needed to support our operations at the beginning of the shutdown, which will stand us in good stead for years to come. Composer Daniel Bartoni then came in once a week to help process invoices, pay bills, and handle mail and deposits. In August we hired Heather Molloy to start full-time as our new Administrator, and she has done an outstanding job ever since, contributing more and more to our future.
And in mentioning contributions by staff, Jordan Nobles has made an extraordinary and lasting contribution to the CMC through the many programs and projects he has helped lead and champion, including Unaccompanied, new score videos, the Weisgarber Workshop, and the highly enriched Centrepulse he curates.
Financially, we were the beneficiary of an extraordinary anonymous donation from a private individual of $20,000 last fall, and $18,000 in Resilience funding from the Provincial government in 2020, followed by an additional $29,000 in Resilience funding for 2021. That was a great help during a year when earned income and traditional donations were much lower. In addition, we received support for salaries from the Canadian government. As a result, we began 2021 in a strong position.
But there have also been unexpected financial challenges in 2021 including $22,000 in additional expenses as we responded to the pandemic. With carful stewardship, though, we should end this year with a small surplus or at least break even.
What have we done over the past year and a half to fulfill our central mission to champion Canadian composers and bring their music to life?
While I could not begin without acknowledging the tragedy and heartbreak we have all experienced together even while more separated than ever before, there are also reasons for optimism.
The fullness of summer approaches. Canadians are embracing vaccination in record numbers, with second doses speeding across the country. Here in BC, rates of infection are dropping rapidly.
As a result, we are all preparing to re-emerge into a new world as live performances return to our province, and together we have a unique opportunity to transform our society into one less unequal and more compassionate and caring as we once again gather. So what is CMC BC doing to fulfill our central mission to champion composers and bring their music to life?
Ernst Schneider Celebration
In February of 2020, CMC BC co-presented an 80th Birthday Celebration of Ernst Schneider with the Okanagan Symphony. The performance in Penticton featured the premiere of Ernst’s sweeping new Second Piano Concerto and I was there to present a Barbara Pentland Award for Outstanding Contribution to Canadian music to the orchestra and its amazing Music Director, Rosemary Thomson.
100th Birthday Celebration for Ross Alden
The following Monday, on February 10, we presented a posthumous 100th Birthday Celebration in our Murray Adaskin Salon for Ross Alden, a closeted and oppressed gay English composer of the last century who sought refuge and anonymity teaching in Vancouver. That concert became something of a cause célèbre, garnering more media attention than any other performance since the launch of our series in 2016.
Rodney Sharman Transcriptions
A month later, on Friday, March 6, we presented Pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa in a recital of Rodney Sharman Opera Transcriptions. That concert, offered free to the public, was a gem, featuring a fascinating and colourful commentary by Rodney. It was the last performance presented in the Murray Adaskin Salon before the COVID-19 shutdown forced us to cancel the balance of our season.
19 Waltzes for the Distanced
Last September we sponsored the participation of three musicians (and the BC Director) in a 57-event tribute to John Cage called 19 Waltzes for the Distanced, produced by our amazing friends at Blueridge Chamber Music.
And we are already exploring opportunities to produce live concerts again this Fall. Stay tuned.
Thanks to a partnership with Redshift Music Society, CMC BC has produced three dozen Unaccompanied music videos of solo performances of Canadian works for one instrument since March of 2020. By the end of 2021, we will have recorded performances of fifty of these unique Canadian solo works.
This year, we committed five thousand dollars to the creation of 100 new score videos by the end of 2021, bringing another 100 works to life.
Last year we released the latest music video from 2019’s Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings — Surface Fiction by Chris Albanese.
And last Fall we created our first-ever online composition program — the Elliot Weisgarber Workshop — featuring composer-mentor Edward Top and PEP Piano and Erhu Project’s Nicole Ge Li and Corey Hamm, with ten young composers selected to develop a work for this unusual combination of instruments. The very first video from that workshop has just been published to our Video Channel, itself a new feature added to our website this year.
Last year, to better stay connected and help create community for our family of composers, we began a series of weekly conversations with small groups of composers. Those conversations were very rewarding and helpful for all of us involved.
Charles’ Magical Headsets
City Opera Vancouver led a group of arts organizations, including CMC BC, Redshift Music Society, and Vancouver Moving Theatre Company, in a grant application to purchase a state-of-the art Virtual Theatre sound synchronization and recording system consisting of forty headsets and back-end equipment allowing simultaneous yet distanced rehearsals for choirs and ensembles and offering real-time precise synching. The system will be shared by the partner organizations, and live at CMC BC, where it will be available for borrowing. Kudos to Charles Barber for his leadership in making this happen.
So that has been the experience of the Canadian Music Centre in BC through the last year and a half. We have survived. We have kept each other safe. And we have used the time well, strengthening our capacity so we can better fulfill our mission once we reopen. We have innovated, going online, working remotely, and immersing ourselves in video production. But we have missed our composers and the musicians who are their true champions and we have missed our audience and our patrons. We cannot wait to welcome you all back to our beautiful centre once it’s safe to do so this Fall.
In the meantime, we urge you to add your voices and your music and your support to address the causes calling Canadians to overcome the terrible legacy of our past. We call on you to help be the light going forward, to help create a better future for every single one of us and those new generations to come who may yet enjoy a life free of the systemic racism and prejudice that are just as much a product of the Dark Ages as charlatans and quacks.
If we all try to make a difference in whatever small way we can, as FDR suggested, the result will be transformative.
“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.” (L.R. Knost)