Music Notes – January 2012

Philip Glass joins NYC opera protest

 Composer Philip Glass joined 200 “Occupy Museums” protesters at a December 1st rally outide the Lincoln Centre where Satyagraha, his opera about M.K. Ghandi, had just completed its final performance. The targets of the protest were far-right billionaire David Koch (who has a Lincoln Centre theatre named after him) and New York’s billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg (a major sponsor of the Metropolitan Opera). The protesters, playing upon on the Gandhian principle of Satyagraha (“truth force”), chanted “let’s tell the truth, join us” as the crowd filed out of the Lincoln Centre. Inititally separated from the protest by a metal barrier, opera-goers quickly joined the demo after seeing the composer on the side of the protesters “mic-checking” passages from the Bhagavad Gita. Tycoons like Koch and Bloomberg attack the people while currying public favour by patronizing elite cultural institutions. It’s encouraging to see people fighting back against corporate colonization of the arts.

 Common Thread choir shines at CFMA

 Toronto’s Common Thread Community Chorus promotes ideals of community and social justice through choral music. While a “flying squad” of activists from this choir has been mentioned before in this column, the full 80-voice chorus must be seen and heard. On December 4th they sang before hundreds of appreciative folk music fans at the 7th annual Canadian Folk Music Awards. Under the direction of conductor Isabel Bernaus, the choir performed a glorious 30-minute set in the foyer of Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre. For this observer it was an affirmation of choral music’s rightful place in the folk music world . As for the Canadian Folk Music Awards, the packed house was a sign of a healthy roots music scene in Canada. A review of this significant cultural event will appear in People’s Voice in the near future. For more info: and

 Dick Gaughan on working class song

 Last spring Scottish communist musician Dick Gaughan gave a talk in Edinburgh on the topic “Song and the Working Class Movement.” The socialist daily Morning Star sponsored the lecture as part of its “Our Class Our Culture” series. Now it’s been posted on the Scottish Communist Party’s website. Dick Gaughan’s majestic voice and skillful guitar work have uplifted working class struggles for more than forty years. Calling upon songwriters to join him in taking a a class perspective, he examines the issue of arts patronage, discusses differences between protest songs and songs that offer hope and “clarification,” and contrasts the pursuit of fame with an artist’s legitimate need for recognition. Gaughan illustrates his points with with salient references to artists like Bertolt Brecht, Hanns Eisler, Woody Guthrie, Victor Jara and Si Kahn. The discussion that follows dwells upon the contradictions of labour arts programs. If you’re a musician or interested in working class culture don’t miss Dick Gaughan’s stimulating lecture. Visit the Morning Star video section at

 David Rovics: Songwriters Notebook

 David Rovics is a perceptive journalist as well as a talented songwriter. The same powers of observation and analysis that underlie his anti-capitalist music are evident in his news analysis, his observations of life on the road and his thoughts on what it means to be a contemporary independent musician. Since 2006 Rovics has been publishing a blog in addition to maintaining a musical website. His November 24th posting “Recollections From a 3-Month Tour” is highly recommended. From early August until well into November the singer toured the U.S.A., Canada and Western Europe, seemingly everywhere that people were organizing in resistance to the current ruling class offensive. Beginning at a protest in New Orleans, Rovics’ itinerary included Norway, Denmark, Greece, Germany, Portugal and Ireland before reurning to New York to play at Occupy Wall Street. Then he was off to sing at occupations across North America. David Rovics’ description of the people he met and the local acts of resistance that he witnessed is an inspiring read. Check it out at  

 Celebrating Ben Shek (1927-2011)

 Toronto’s Morris Winchevsky Centre was filled to capacity on November 20th as the United Jewish People’s Order celebrated the life of scholar, journalist, singer and choir activist Ben Shek. It was fitting that the tribute ended with Shek’s beloved Toronto Jewish Folk Choir performing a set of Yiddish folk songs. Ben Shek had been a member and key organizer of the choir since 1951, and he personified its progressive spirit. The Toronto Jewish Folk Choir celebrated its 85th anniverary not long ago with a live Cd that collects recordings of recent performances under the direction of conductor Alexander Veprinsky. Remembering Our Roots features a host of Yiddish folk songs with a sprinkling of other favourites. To order send $23 ($20 each for two or more) to the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir, c/o The Morris Winchevsky Centre, 585 Cranbrooke Ave., Toronto, ON M6A 2X9. For more info:


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