Music Notes – December 2014

11 Dec

Singer- Songwriter Dave Gunning in Pictou

Musicians rally for clean air in N.S.

A host of prominent Maritime musicians including Dave Gunning (above) donated their time to a free “Clear the Air” concert on the waterfront of Pictou, Nova Scotia on September 9th. 2,000 people gathered to listen, and also to protest corporate and government indifference to the deleterious effects of air pollution on the local population. The Northern Pulp Company’s kraft paper mill provides 200 jobs in this town of 3500, but its smokestack spews out a toxic cloud of sodium sulphate over the community that irritates the eyes and throat. Musicians at last summer’s Lobster Festival actually stopped playing because of the chemicals in the air. The local residents’ group, Clean Pictou Air, is demanding that the mill be closed until the probem is fixed. Concert organizers Gunning, an acclaimed singer-songwriter and local resident, and Troy Greencord, artistic director of the Stan Rogers Folk Festival in nearby Canso, recruited 17 performers, including East Coast luminaries Joel Plaskett, Catherine MacLellan, Matt Anderson, and J.P. Cormier. Dr. Dan Reid, former chief of staff at the Pictou hospital, blasted both the current Liberal Government of Stephen McNeil and the former NDP Government of Darrell Dexter for dithering on the issue.

International Orchestra Week

Last month the Paris-based International Federation of Musicians (FIM), an umbrella organization that represents musicians’ unions in more than 60 countries, designated November 17-23 International Orchestra Week, calling for actions to resist austerity policies that are decimating orchestras, choirs, and opera theatres. This fall, in the country where opera began four centuries ago, management of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma (Rome Opera) sacked 200 orchestra musicians and chorus members. The FIM called it “a scandalous act of cultural vandalism”. Throughout Europe and North America artists and workers employed by similarly venerable cultural institutions have been under management attack because of declining operating grants and subsidies. In some countries, entire orchestras have been shut down. The campaign calls for local affiliates and their members to distribute the FIM leaflet at concerts, to address audiences from the stage, to dedicate works in their program to orchestras that are under attack, to build alliances with other sectors of the population, and to deploy the FIM’s web banners, widgets, and electronic signatures in their social media campaigns. Read the statement and sign the petition at:

Belafonte’s stirring Hollywood speech

Harry Belafone delivered an inspiring speech at the annual Governors Awards in Hollywood on November 8th. The singer, actor, and social justice activist, now 87, was the recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, one of three given prior to the Oscars by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Belafonte cited the pioneering, but deeply racist, 1915 D.W. Griffith film “Birth of a Nation” as an example of the powerful role of cinema in shaping social attitudes. Despite its apologetic depiction of American slavery, the film was legitimized by a White House screening, with subsequent praise by then U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Next, Belafonte recalled watching Tarzan movies in Harlem as a child, when a generation of black youth learned to cheer the white man and boo Africans. Lastly, he reminded his audience that Native Americans and Arabs have fared no better. Belafonte paid tribute to his mentors, including W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, and Paul Robeson. A singer, actor, and activist like Belafonte, Robeson encouraged him at the beginning of his career with a vision of the artist as “civilization’s radical voice.” Before inviting his friend, African-American actor Sidney Poitier, to the stage, Belafonte called upon his peers to create films that challenge those who seek to “punish truthseekers”. View Belafonte’s acceptance speech at

I Thought I Heard Sweet Victor

Paul Baker Hernández is a Scottish activist and musician who’s worked in solidarity with Latin American struggles since 1980. As a resident of Nicaragua since 1994, he’s worked with the Sandinista government’s Zero Hunger Project, as well as various international solidarity campaigns, all the while cultivating his musical vocation. In 2013, on the 40th anniversary of the coup that overthrew the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende, Baker Hernández was Chile, helping in the search for justice for victims of the coup. He visited the Victor Jara Foundation, established in 1994 to honour the great singer-songwriter and theatre director, who was tortured and murdered by the Pinochet regime days after the coup. Coaxed to pick up Victor’s guitar at the insistence of Jara’s widow, Joan, he was inspired to write “I Thought I Heard Sweet Victor”. The song has since become part of the campaign for justice for (in his words) “ all those whose names are known only to their beloveds.” Key in “Bringing Victor Home” at YouTube to view Paul and friends performing the song around the kitchen table at the Victor Jara Foundation. It has English-subtitles.

Music Notes – November 2014

4 Nov

Tanya Tagaq

Inuit singer Tanya Tagaq wins Polaris

Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq not only won the prestigious 2014 Polaris Prize on September 22nd for her album Animism, but she stole the show with a stunning performance. Inuit throat singing is usually performed by two women, but Tagaq, who grew up in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, has taken it to the world over the past decade, collaborating along the way with artists like the Kronos Quartet and Icelandic singer Bjork. In her performance at the Polaris Awards she was joined by a talented group of musicians, including electric violinist Jesse Zubot, drummer Jean Martin, DJ Michael Reed, and the all-woman 24-voice Element Choir. The names of the 1200 Aboriginal women, murdered or missing since 1980, scrolled on the screen behind the singer, projecting a powerful political message. Introducing her at the awards ceremony, Vancouver musician and novelist Geoff Berner declared “there is no artist working today more emphatically herself, more incomparable than Tagaq”. View Tagaq’s Polaris performance on YouTube and judge for yourself. For more about Tanya Tagaq, as well as the complete text of Berner’s introduction, visit

Halifax baristas sing a union song

An upbeat musical video has been released to promote the drive to organize coffeehouse servers in Halifax. “Hey Baristas!” features a catchy doo-wop tune set in a coffee shop. Although reinforced by a few actor/musicians, the performers are mostly servers. They sing about their precarious and low-paid working conditions, and call for baristas to unite and join the union. Last year Halifax baristas at the Just Us! Coffeehouse, members of SEIU Local 2, negotiated a first contract. The agreement increased the number of full-time positions and added benefits, job security, better scheduling, and a cost-of-living clause. Now, workers at another coffee shop, Coburg Coffee House, have applied for certification, and there have been organizing drives at several Second Cup outlets. Increasingly, baristas are seeing their jobs as more permanent than temporary, and they’re seeking the respect and security in the workplace that a only a union can provide. Kudos to all involved in the video, including co-producer Margaret Anne McHugh, co-producer/composer/musician Mike Chandler, camera operator/photography director/editor Deedee Slye, director/writer Kevin Russell, and a cast of performers too numerous to list here. Look for Hey Baristas! on YouTube.

A Tribe Called Red cancels Rights Fest gig

Acclaimed First Nations electronic band A Tribe Called Red drew attention to the unacknowledged genocide of Aboriginal peoples when it withdrew from a scheduled September 20th performance at Rights Fest, the weekend long program of music, dance, and art, accompanying the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. In its statement the Juno Award winning band said that it was canceling because of “the museum’s misrepresentation and downplay of the genocide that was experienced by Indigenous people in Canada by refusing to name it genocide”. The museum issued a statement in response that called on the band to tour the museum so that they could see “the full breadth of exhibit content dedicated to Indigenous perspectives and issues”. Several other Aboriginal artists performed at Rights Fest but declared their full support of the band’s position. Singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie, in an interview prior to her concert, said that the museum’s directors still do not understand what the United Nations recognized in 1948: the forcible transfer of native children to residential schools is genocide. For more info:

Emily Yates: Iraq war vet songwriter

Since her return to civilian life, Iraq war veteran Emily Yates, who served a six-year stint in the U.S. Army as a military journalist, has taken up songwriting. The 32-year-old native of Syracuse, New York, is also an activist with Iraq Veterans Against the War (, and she’s emerging as an important voice in the anti-war movement, as well as a sardonic critic of American life. Her sharp wit and political satire can be experienced on two albums: I’ve Got Your Folksongs Right Here (2012) and Folk in Your Face (2014). Her songs can also be sampled online at YouTube. Look for such evocative titles as “Try Not to Be a Dick”, “I Don’t Want to Have a Baby”, and “Foreign Policy Folksong”. Best of all, check out the brilliant “Yellow Ribbon”, with its chorus “take that yellow ribbon off your car”. Here, accompanying herself on the banjo, Emily performs in front of a U.S. Armed Forces recruiting station. While her chops on the ukulele and banjo are so far pretty rudimentary, she gamely asserts that she’s on a quest for “eventual world domination” (including ukulele “superstardom”). One of her dreams is to form a band of U.S. Iraq war vet musicians and go back to Iraq to collaborate with local artists on a musical project. Emily Yates is a bold new voice who deserves a wider audience. For more info:

Music Notes – October 2014

2 Oct

Talib Kweli

U.S. musicians respond to racist shooting

American musicians joined in the condemnation of the August 9th slaying of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by white police officer Darren Wilson. In a Huffington Post interview, prominent Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli (pictured above), on the front lines in Ferguson after the killing, responded sharply to efforts by authorities to diffuse the justified anger of the town’s black community. “We’re getting killed out here in the streets,” he said. “We cannot afford to put peace above justice. We work towards peace, that’s the end goal, but it’s about organization, it’s about strategy, it’s about tactics. It’s not about calming down.” Outspoken R&B singer Lauryn Hill responded to the killing with a new song, “Black Rage”. The song takes the melody of the Rogers and Hammerstein standard “My Favorite Things” but replaces the sugar-coated lyric with a bitter satire that evokes Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Radical singer-songwriter David Rovics also responded. “His Hands Were in the Air” is a typically hard-hitting Rovics broadside. These are only a few of the many interventions by musicians in the Michael Brown case.

Standing on the edge of a revolution?

Nickleback is one of the most successful rock bands in the world. The slick quartet from Alberta has sold more than 50 million records and raked in a slew of music industry awards, all despite receiving mostly hostile reviews from rock critics. They’ve been derided for their overuse of that most time-honored of rock themes: sex, drugs and rock & roll. While occasionally the band engages social issues (e.g. spousal abuse), they’ve steered clear of political commentary. However, in a surprising turn this summer, Nickleback released Standing on the Edge of a Revolution – a single from their upcoming new album No Fixed Address. In the video, we find the band in a dimly-lit classroom, performing before adolescent students, with a succession of protest images and slogans projected on a screen behind them. They incite the kids with references to the privileges of Wall Street banksters, domestic spying by the NSA & CIA, and images of the occupy protests. As the kids grow increasingly angry and start overturning desks and throwing paper in the air, the band leads them in a call-and-response chant for revolution. Sadly, it’s a little deflating to see the students, fists in the air, defiantly repeating that pathetically unspecific advertising slogan: “We want change!”

British musicians support BDS

While supporters of the cultural boycott of Israel failed to persuade North American rocker Neil Young to sign on this summer (he canceled his Tel Aviv concert for ‘security’ reasons), the BDS campaign continues to attract prominent musicians in Europe. On July 25th, during the IDF assault on Gaza, the U.K. Palestinian Solidarity Campaign delivered an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron calling for an end to Britain’s arms trade with Israel. Visiting Canadian rock star Bryan Adams was among the signatories, who also included Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream and Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack. Speaking of Massive Attack, the popular English band headlined Ireland’s Longtitude 2014 music festival earlier that month. Their spectacular evening concert displayed pro-Palestinian LED solidarity messages. On July 27th more than 50,000 people attended a Gaza solidarity march in London. Speakers included composer Brian Eno and guitarist-producer Dave Randall (of Faithless and Slovo fame). Irish singer Sinead O’Connor sent greetings and added her name to the ever-growing list of musicians who have pledged not to perform in Israel until justice for Palestine has been realized. For more info:

Native rapper takes on sports mascots

Sports fans are often attached to the symbols associated with their favorite team, but too often they are oblivious to the racist implications of those symbols. In recent years, Native Americans have stepped up their fight to compel offending teams (e.g. Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Black Hawks) to acknowledge the pain that abuse of their identity as sports mascots has caused. At the centre of the controversy is the team with what may be the most egregious name: the National Football League’s Washington Redskins. The campaign picked up steam in August when CBS and NBC sports broadcasters Phil Simms and Tony Dungee declared that they will no longer use the word “Redskins” on the air. On September 2nd the sports network ESPN dedicated an episode of its show “Outside the Lines” to the controversy. It opened with a performance by the popular 25-year-old Native American rap star Frank Waln (from the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota) and his band Nake Nukla Waun (“I am always ready, at all times, for anything”). A podcast can be accessed at the ESPN website. For info about Frank Waln check out an interview with him at and look for his outstanding video “Hear My Cry” on YouTube.

Art and Energy: How Culture Changes

29 Sep

Art and Energy

Art and Energy: How Culture Changes

by Barry Lord, AAM Press 265 pp.

People’s Voice – Sept 15-30, 2014

Barry Lord’s new book Art and Energy: How Culture Changes is about the influence of changing sources of energy on aesthetic culture, as well as the influence of aesthetic culture on the pace of adapting new energy sources. While sources of energy from earlier eras are still necessarily with us (firewood, coal, wind, etc.), there is always, he says, a cutting edge source of new energy that transforms the social-economic environment and the resulting cultural values.

Hearth & Forge

Commenting on the Greek poet Hesiod’s description of Zeus’ rage after learning that Prometheus had given fire to human beings, Lord writes, “such a god’s-eye view of the fires of many communities gives us a glimpse of the prehistoric and ancient world’s primary cultural centre, the hearth”. Fire allowed humans to gather together in the evening to tell stories, invent songs and dances, and reinforce their values. The use of tallow lamps enabled the astonishing cave paintings found in Africa, Spain and Southern France, painted by artists some 30 millenia ago.

The kiln was a further application of fire, fostering the craft of pottery. Later came the forge, which introduced bronze and iron, transforming the weapons of war and the tools of agriculture, and harnessing animals for domestic use. In a vivid passage, Lord contrasts the tamed animals depicted on the walls of Egyptian tombs with the energetic animals of prehistoric cave artists.

Co-operation & Slavery

Lord asserts that co-operation in the workforce is also a source of energy, with the earliest co-operation being the division of labour between women and men. Once the advantage of co-operation was understood, collective identity followed, and the acknowledgment of individual leaders. Large-scale collective labour made it necessary to store and distribute surpluses over a wide area, making armed guards necessary, as well as taxes, marketplaces, and writing.

Slavery became a vital source of energy in the ancient world. Total control of agricultural labour gave economic and military advantages to slave society elites. This mode of production made standing armies possible, as well as a leisure class that engaged in philosophy and literature, and invested its surplus in ambitious works of architecture, and monuments that served to proclaim and maintain its dominance. Slave artisans were disciplined to provide exquisite pieces of jewelry, furniture, bronze, ceramics and glass.

Wind Power

In the period of European civilization known as the “Renaissance” cultural change was powered by technological developments in sailing. New methods of rigging made it possible to harness wind energy to explore the globe and exploit other peoples and resources. Human energy was organized for the exchange of surplus, an activity that required the invention of an abstraction: the international exchange rate.

Lengthy trading expeditions were risky and expensive affairs (as Shakespeare dramatized in The Merchant of Venice). To spread the risk, joint stock companies were formed, followed soon after by stock exchanges. The age of sail coincided with the growth of competition between merchant empires. Artists began to celebrate heroic individuals and wealthy patrons, rather than religious themes. A new individualism emerged in the arts with the rise of genres like portraiture (Rembrandt), and the novel (Cervantes, Defoe).

Coal: The Culture of Production

The decline of the age of sail was precipitated by an energy crisis in Europe. By the 18th century, many countries were experiencing deforestation. The solution to the crisis was found in the “underground forest”. Coal emerged as the cutting edge energy. It reorganized workplaces and concentrated a growing population into cities. Coal stoked the industrial revolution, fueling steam engines, cotton mills, and railroads. It made overnight postal service and daily newspapers possible, and global mass markets for cultural works, like the phenomenally popular novels of Dickens and Hugo.

Some artists, like the poet Baudelaire, responded to the new mass culture by embracing alienation. Others, like the painter Van Gogh, gave a new dignity to industrial and agricultural labourers. More radical new ways of seeing were pioneered by Turner and the impressionist painters, with their interpretations of the steam and smoke of the industrial environment.

Electric Transformations

In Lord’s scheme of energy transitions, electricity is an anomaly. It is an application, rather than a source of energy. Electricity brought about qualitative change. The culture of production was transformed by power grids and circuits. Electrical appliances changed the nature of housework and the role of women, and the phonograph, cinema, and radio transformed social and cultural awareness.

During the age of coal the industrial proletariat became aware of itself as a class and launched its epic struggle for workers rights. However, it is arguably the coming of electricity in the late 19th century that inspired mass socialist and communist parties and the world’s first socialist revolution. Lenin famously said that “communism will be the Soviets plus electricity.” But while working class organizations grew rapidly in this era, artists too, felt that they could change the world.

Electricity inspired international modernism, a movement for the transformation of art and society that included the architecture and design of the Russian constructivists, the Bahaus school, the cubism of Picasso, the epic theatre of Brecht, the abstract music of Schoenberg, surrealism and the anti-art of Dada, the revolutionary muralists of Mexico, and the cinema of Chaplin. It was an age that favored innovation over imitation.

Oil & Gas: The Culture of Consumption

Since 1900, the internal combustion engine has driven an era of oil and gas, transforming landscapes into highways and parking lots, and leaving behind an ever-increasing carbon footprint for subsequent generations. Ford’s offer of a Model T on easy credit to his workers dramatically enabled consumer culture. In the mid-20th century, working-class solidarity countered consumerism, but neo-liberalism, symbolized by Thatcherism in the 80’s, partly succeeded in replacing the social identity of unions with that of the individual consumer. Contemporary governments continue to promise high consumption levels, whatever the cost.

Post-modern philosophy corresponds to consumer culture, as opposed to class identity, in that it offers a “marketplace of ideas,” and eschews “grand narratives”. Artistic disciplines are characterized by a smorgasbord of alternative styles and meanings. Artists themselves are encouraged to develop their art as a brand. Ubiquitous corporate sponsorship imposes brands on cultural institutions and festivals. Large-scale international art fairs like the Venice Biennale confirm the culture of consumption and the growing wealth and power of the top-tenth of art dealers and auction houses.

Nuclear Energy: The Culture of Anxiety

Nuclear power was the first energy source to arrive as a weapon. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (as well as the application of industrial methods by Nazi Germany to exterminate Jews, Roma and other peoples) caused many artists and intellectuals to re-evaluate their ideas about the nature of humanity. Borrowing from a popular 1947 poem by W.H. Auden, Lord characterizes this phenomenon as “the culture of anxiety.” The mood was expressed after the war by absurdest writers like Camus, Ionesco and Beckett, and filmmakers like Resnais and Antonioni.

In recent decades, new causes of anxiety have emerged with fear of nuclear meltdowns and global warming. Fears actively fomented by governments in the metropolitan centres of capitalism include growing anxiety about “security” and “austerity”. Lord provides examples of the efforts of several contemporary multi-media artists to warn of the corrosive effects of this culture of anxiety.

Renewable Energy: The Culture of Stewardship

Some contemporary artists, reacting to the wasteful and environmentally destructive culture of consumption, are reflecting a “culture of scarcity.” They advocate impoverished art, made from discarded or low-cost materials. But, says Lord, this “frightens the haves and discourages the have-nots.” He names his vision of the emerging sustainable world “the culture of stewardship”. Its key values are storage, access, and sustainability.
Lord rightly celebrates electronic archives (libraries and museums) as creative cultural and media centres, but his description of digital data as “congealed energy” calls out for fuller explanation. When he writes approvingly of new museums designed by architects with sustainability in mind (living green roofs, geothermal wells), and art galleries that offer immersive experiences, one might well ask, who is this for? Where are the visions of sustainability for the 99%?

While he argues that digitization has weakened the collective identities that formerly supported transformative causes, he nevertheless concludes on an optimistic note, predicting that the time will come when the culture of consumption will be a distant memory. But we can’t build a sustainable future on hope alone. Where is the human agency to bring about these changes?

These criticisms aside, Art and Energy is thought-provoking and highly readable book.

Barry Lord and his partner Gail Dexter Lord are international museum consultants. Together they’ve published a series of widely-used manuals for museums, as well as an important contribution to cultural theory: Artists, Patrons, and the Public: Why Culture Changes (2010).

Music Notes – September 2014

25 Sep

Naivelt Peace Tea 2014

Camp Naivelt celebrates Pete Seeger

Camp Naivelt, perched between a golf course and a conservation area on the Credit River just west of Toronto, has long been an incubator for progressive, grassroots culture. The camp, run by the Toronto chapter of the United Jewish People’s Order, has been at this location since 1935. Over the years, it’s nurtured popular musical groups like The Travellers and Sharon, Lois and Bram, and it’s hosted some of the most important progressive artists of our times, including Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson, Phil Ochs and Leon Rosselson. Cultural programming at Naivelt has always combined respect for the heritage of people’s culture with a determination to pass the torch to the next generation. Events at the camp this summer demonstrate that this tradition is alive and well.

This writer had the opportunity to participate in a week of musical activities at Camp Naivelt, culminating in three special events on the Civic Holiday weekend. It began with the annual week-long music camp, led by two outstanding musician-educators: clarinettist Martin Van De Ven and blues/folk singer Faith Nolan. Under their tutelage, instrumental musicians and singers of all ages and levels were brought together to experience the joys of music-making in a nurturing, non-competitive atmosphere. They showed their stuff at a joyous Saturday evening concert of klezmer music, folksong and other musical delights.

The next day Naivelt welcomed hundreds of visitors who came to remember Pete Seeger. The ceremonies began with the annual Peace Tea, held on the lawn in front of the Lazowsky Centre (the camp’s hall). Writer and activist Ronnee Jaeger explained the origins of this annual event, at which the camp observes the anniversary of the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Guest speaker George Auerbach, a native of New York City, paid tribute to that exemplary peace activist and teacher, Pete Seeger. Faith Nolan led a spirited singalong, and was joined at the end of her set by B.C. banjoist-folklorist Danny Bakan, and Sharon Hampson & Bram Morrison (of Sharon, Lois & Bram fame).

In the evening, the atmosphere inside the Lazowsky Centre was festive, as a capacity crowd assembled for the gala Pete Seeger tribute. The hall was decorated with flowers, banners, and a special motif for the occasion: dozens of cut-out banjos (template compliments of cartoonist and Naivelter Mike Constable), all uniquely painted by young and old, and symbolizing the unconquerable justice-seeking spirit of Pete Seeger. Performers included Toronto folk-revival trio Where Have All the Folksongs Gone?, Neil Sharp & Hugh Hunter (from the nearby Brampton Folk Club), Safety in Numbers (Naivelt’s own community band), a trio consisting of trumpeter David Buchbinder, jazz pianist Dave Restivo and vocalist Roula Said, and the aforementioned Faith Nolan, Danny Bakan and Sharon & Bram.

As the concert drew to a close, Sharon & Bram led a singalong of “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and performed Sally Rogers’ eloquent 1995 Seeger tribute “Pass Them On”, before stepping back and introducing a recording of an elderly Seeger singing his 1958 tribute to departed friend John T. McManus: “To My Old Brown Earth”. (To my old brown earth/And to my old blue sky/I now give these last few molecules of “I”/And you who sing/And you who stand nearby/I charge you not to cry). Following this poignant moment, all of the performers, accompanied by the camp children’s chorus, returned to the stage to lead the house in rousing versions of “We Shall Overcome” and “Goodnight Irene”.

Met Opera unions fight cutbacks

Unions at New York’s Metropolitan Opera could be hitting the bricks any day now. Met General Manager Peter Gelb is demanding that the opera’s workers accept a 17% cut in pay and benefits. He’s threatening to impose a lockout and file for bankruptcy if the unions don’t cooperate with his plan to eliminate a $2.8 million deficit. Unions involved include the American Guild of Musical Artists, AFM Local 802, and IATSE locals 1 (carpenters & stage hands), 751 (ticket sellers), 764 (costume shop workers), 794 (broadcast technicians), 798 (stylists) & 829 (artists & designers). They’re charging the Met with bloated management salaries and repeated cost overruns, citing as examples Gelb’s pay and compensation ($1.8 million last year) and the $169,000 spent on painted poppies for a recent production of Borodin’s Prince Igor. Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi estimates that non-pay demands by management (i.e. health insurance & work rules) translate into actual cuts for orchestra members of 25%-38%. At press time the dispute is in mediation. The Met’s 2014-2015 season is scheduled to begin on September 22nd, and its popular HD simulcast series is scheduled to begin on October 11th.

Noteworthy new songs for Palestine

Two of the finest radical English-language singer-songwriters have contributed timely new songs in support of the struggle of Palestinians for peace and justice: Leon Rosselson’s The Ballad of Rivka and Mohammed and David Rovics’ Gaza (from his new album Falasteen Habibti) can both be found on YouTube.

Music Notes – August 2014

23 Sep

Charlie Haden

 Charlie Haden RIP

The great jazz bassist Charlie Haden died in Los Angeles on July 11th after a prolonged illness. He was 76. In the late fifties Haden was an member of the revolutionary Ornette Coleman Quartet. The group’s music led a “free jazz” revolution that shook up the jazz world and exerted a lasting influence on subsequent generations of musicians. Haden was to go on to explore diverse musical paths that invariably combined his ever-evolving aesthetic preoccupations with his progressive political and social beliefs. The latter were most definitively realized in the Liberation Music Orchestra, an intermittent project that was essentially a collaboration between Haden and pianist-arranger Carla Bley. In 36 years, the Liberation Music Orchestra released just four albums, but each one is a creative venture into a musical world where avant-garde jazz meets revolutionary people’s music. They remain statements of and for their time, protesting the war in Vietnam, lamenting the death of Che Guevara, opposing U.S. intervention in Central America, and finally saying “Not In Our Name” to the post 9/11 wars of the Empire. Charlie Haden left a legacy of beautiful and relevant music for subsequent generations to discover.

Quebec musicians break with AFM

Quebec musicians have voted to disaffiliate from the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and its Toronto-based branch, the Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM). In a referendum held June 2-8, members of the Guilde des Musiciens et Musiciennes du Québec (GMMQ) voted 53.3% in favour of the break. About 70% of the union’s 3,000 members cast ballots. Guitarist Luc Fortin, President of GMMQ, declared on June 11th that the results confirm “a majority of Québec musicians no longer have faith in the current model of affiliation with the AFM, and want a stronger association of Québec professional musicians that can represent them effectively and be fully empowered to negotiate working conditions adapted to Québec’s reality”. The AFM’s response came the next day with a letter from the International Executive Board (IEB) in New York informing Fortin that a member of Montreal Local 406 has filed charges against him for abuse of power. Fortin replied that according to AFM rules, charges must be brought before Local 406’s executive, not the IEB. Among the contentious issues is the matter of affiliation fees and subsidies, especially in light of the union’s obligations under Québec’s Status of the Artist Act. The transition could be challenging for the GMMQ. Many agreements with cultural institutions will have to be renegotiated. For more info:

Music teachers fired for joining union

Two music teachers at a non-profit community centre in Toronto’s Jane-Finch area are taking their employer to the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Ruben “Beny” Esguerra and Omar Sanchez say they were fired for joining a union that had been formed last October to represent the 20 workers of the non-profit San Romanoway Revitalization Association (SRRA). The musicians allege that the shutting down on April 30th of the SRRA-managed Palisades Media Arts Academy (PMAA), where they taught music and recording skills to Jane-Finch youth, was a consequence of the unionization of the parent organization. The SRRA argues that the money (a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation) ran out, but lawyers from CUPE, who are representing Esguerra and Sanchez, point out that the Trillium grant was for three years, while the program only commenced two years ago. The OLRB hearings begin in September. Meanwhile residents of the neighbourhood have launched a campaign to reopen the PMAA. The closing of the program, which provided free music and art classes to youth of ages 14-29, leaves a void in the lives of many young people in this poor and stigmatized neighbourhood. For more info:

Young’s Tel Aviv Gig cancelled

After a world-wide campaign by cultural boycott supporters, large protests outside his concerts, and an impassioned open letter from musical peer Roger Waters, Neil Young ended up not playing his controversial July 17th concert in Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, it was the Israeli promoter who cancelled (blaming Hamas rockets), and not Young. After the cancellation the singer had an opportunity to condemn the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, but chose to remain silent. His only message came indirectly from a spokesperson who lamented that “tensions” had “rendered the event unsafe at this time”. The statement, in effect, echoes the official Israeli position. It’s hard to believe that Young, who garnered accolades for supporting First Nations struggles against tar sands development, and who once took a stand against the Vietnam and Gulf wars, is unable to see the parallels between the struggles of North America’s First Nations and the Palestinian people. One can easily imagine the pressure that the Israeli regime and its supporters apply to artists who might consider supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. But in his silence Neil Young is unfortunately complicit in the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

Music Notes – July 2014

3 Jul


Historic solidarity concert in Toronto

Toronto’s Common Thread Community Chorus joined forces on May 31st with local Chilean musical ensemble Proyecto Altiplano for two performances of the Cantata Santa Maria de Iquique by the composer Luis Advis (1935-2004). The 1969 work, composed for the reknowned Chilean group Quilapayún, uses classical forms and indigenous folkloric traditions to tell the story of a nitrate miners’ strike in the northern Chilean province of Iquique in 1907. The dispute led to the massacre, by the Chilean army, of more than 2,000 workers. In preparing for the concerts the organizers worked closely with two Canadian mining justice organizations: Mining Injustice Solidarity Network and Mining Watch Canada. Approximately 75% of the global mining industry is based in Canada. It is therefore fitting that speakers from these groups were invited to address the audience. Congratulations to all of the participants for an inspiring use of culture to build awareness and solidarity with exploited communities throughout the world. For info on mining justice visit and

Musicians unite to save Alaska salmon

The campaign to protect Alaska’s salmon fisheries from the devastating effects of the proposed Pebble Mine has achieved real success in the past year. Notably, on February 28th, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will protect Bristol Bay, using its authority under the Clean Water Act. A significant role in achieving these positive results has been played by Musicians United to Protect Bristol Bay (MUPBB), a resourceful solidarity group whose public face is the American folksinger and organizer, Si Kahn. This spring MUPBB released its annual report. It’s an inspiring catalogue of movement tactics, including: booking concerts and workshops by members at all Alaska folk festivals; organizing booths and workshops at national and regional folk festivals; soliciting and publishing songs on the struggle; recording and promoting Si Kahn’s best-selling Cd “Bristol Bay”; sponsoring a contestant in the 975-mile “Mushing for Bristol Bay” wilderness race; plus numerous TV and radio appearances and print media stories. More than 400 musicians have joined the campaign including two well-known artists from western Canada: Connie Kaldor and Maria Dunn. The fight to protect Bristol Bay is being won, but it’s not over. Unless it’s declared a federally protected area, the EPA decision can be undermined by a future federal administration. For more info visit

Anti-Flag on Justice for Cecily McMillan

Justin Sane, co-founder and lead singer of the popular punk rock band Anti-Flag, released a YouTube statement in defence of activist Cecily McMillan on May 19th. McMillan, 25, was arrested at an Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccotti Park on March 17, 2012. She was accused of elbowing a police officer who, she claimed, had grabbled her breasts from behind while police were clearing the park of protesters. The farcical trial resulted in McMillan being sentenced to 90 days in prison and a five-year probation for giving the officer “a black eye.” She was also ordered to undergo mandatory mental health evaluation and treatment. Since the altercation McMillan, a socialist activist with a demonstrated commitment to non-violence, has lost not only her freedom, but school, work, friends, and family. Justin Sane, in his statement, noted that her case highlights the problem of police brutality and the injustice of a legal system that is set up “to protect the powers that be and trample on the rights of anyone that questions their authority.” It illustrates, he adds, “the way in which the police, and those who command them, use intimidation to create a chilling effect.” For more info on the Cecily McMillan case visit

Seeger’s FBI files to be released

The death of Pete Seeger on January 27th was followed by a flood of requests for his FBI files from journalists, researchers, and the the general public. Now, thanks to the sheer volume of Freedom of Information Act applications, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has announced that thousands of Seeger files will be released online. They’re thought to total 2500 pages. NARA spokesperson Miriam Kleinman said in a May 27th interview that the archive is waiting for a review to be completed, adding that it will publish the documents “as soon as possible.” As is usually the case with Freedom of Information requests, documents will be screened for information that is “exempt from disclosure” (i.e. redacted). NARA was initially going to release individual files on request, for a hefty and prohibitive “administration fee” of $2000. FBI and CIA files on Pete Seeger go back to the 1940s and never really stopped. Redacted or not, it should be interesting to find out what nefarious behaviour of Seeger’s the FBI snoops were monitoring. So far, my own search of the NARA website has not come up with any FBI documents on Pete Seeger. For the source of this story visit


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