Music Notes – September 2014

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.

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