Sometimes the improbable happens as when the ordinary is revealed as exceptional, or the exceptional as commonplace. So it was with live music during the dog days of the pandemic, when theatres and concert halls were shuttered. Some musicians took to the streets and in one endeavour last Spring, a couple of percussionists, several neighbourhoods distant, performed a daily car-duet. They performed their honk-a-thon in the early evenings for several weeks, and I began imagining others like me were tuning into the short-lived concert series.
Once (masked) audiences were permitted, we returned to our soccer and live music. The turning point for me was a concert last March of violist Rivka Golani performing with pianist Angel Park in Newmarket. Golani, a soloist with an international following (and concert schedule), played compositions by seven composers that afternoon, including Chaconne – Cadenza for Viola Solo, a piece written for her by Canadian Michael Colgrass. (In fact, this was its world premier.) Despite the fact I’ve been listening to (mostly recorded) music more than usual these past two years, the live experience took me by surprise. The proximity of the musicians, the spatial and imaginative embrace of the work was as reassuring as it was invigorating.
November brought SCAN!’s Saturday afternoon fundraiser when fifty or so masked seniors assembled at the Heliconian Club in midtown Toronto for a concert of chamber music featuring the work of three composers who lived in the nineteenth century. Clara Wieck Schumann, Louise Dumont Farrenc and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. Clearly, these were women who knew something about persevering against the odds.
Though separated by two generations, the work of Clara, Fanny and Louise as performed by Dorothy de Val, Velma Ko and Kye Marshall (piano, violin, and cello), was unexpected historic inspiration. As part of grassroots efforts to pressure governments to get down to the job of saving the planet — something that requires collective action shorn of platitude — it underlined the longevity of the effort to tame human behaviour in the face of environmental catastrophe.
Clearly, we need to face the reality of climate damage head-on. And, as journalist, Linda McQuaig argues, leave the oil in the tar sands, convert to a green economy and face the music. In our own lives that includes acting politically, as the raging grannies did back in the 1980s. Only this time, the 70+ population is the fastest growing demographic, and many of us have done this before.
The magnitude of climate change is not something easy to live with, or to conceptualize in everyday terms. Figuring out how the environment is faring given the string of catastrophes and the discouraging results of COP27 on one hand, and the enormity of the continuing damage wrought by mining, cattle raising and fish farming worldwide on the other is no job for the faint-hearted. For there is no denying that mother Nature is right pissed-off. Or that our grassroots effort to move governments to serious action is a long shot. As they say, climate action is not for the faint-hearted.
In the days following that concert, I felt old enthusiasms returning like feeling to a frozen hand. Moreover, I realized that in some odd way, I’d acquiesced to the silence of the last months. It was time for stock-taking and SCAN! groups. All part of the necessary political task of moving minds, hands, and hearts.
Susan Crean is a Toronto writer and a former chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada and a member of SCAN! Her website is at https://susancrean.ca
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