Monthly Archives: June 2015

RIP, Emmanuel-Howard Park Chancel Choir

Our small choir performed its last service on 31 May 2015.  Church attendance and revenues not being what they used to be, Emmanuel-Howard Park United Church in Toronto has divested itself of its Chancel Choir. Here are our final three numbers.

First the Introit, “Cast Thy Burden upon the Lord” by Felix Mendelssohn, from Elijah.

“Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee. He never will suffer the righteous to fall. He is at thy right hand. Thy mercy, Lord, is great, and far above the heav’ns. Let none be made ashamed that wait upon Thee.”

Our Anthem was “Waters of Babylon“, written by Philip Hayes in 1786.

“By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept, and wept, and wept, when we remembered thee, remembered thee, O Sion. As for our harps, we hang’d them up upon the trees that are therein.”

Our final song for ever was the Offertory, Giuseppe Pitoni’s “Cantate Domino“.

“Cantate Domino canticum novum, laus ejus in Ecclesia Sanctorum. Laetetur Israel in eo qui fecit eum et filii Sion exultent in rege suo.” (“Sing to the Lord a new song, and His praise in the church of the saints. Let Israel rejoice in Him that made them: let the children of Zion be joyful in their king.”)

I’m going to miss singing with Rosie, Neil, Heidi, Rhonwen, Michelle, Bob, and all those other people who subbed. But at least Suzanne is a neighbour of mine.


Oh, get OVER yourself already!

corey crawford

Fuckin’ right, Chicago!” With those words, for the second year in a row, Corey Crawford caused the media to clutch their collective pearls and go into a faint.

Honestly, I don’t understand why F-bombs are such a burning issue for supposedly intelligent adults. “Bad” words do not exist. There are bad thoughts, there are bad deeds, there are bad intents, but no bad words. Spoken language is nothing more than phonemes strung together in a way that conveys information to a listener. Phoque is French for seal (the animal); the phonemes are identical to those in “fuck”, and in the same order, and yet phoque isn’t a swear word in French. It’s the thought process behind the word that gives these phonemes meaning. Dirtiness is in the brain of the beholder.

In the movie The Sound of Music, the Mother Abbess says, “Maria, our abbey is not to be used as an escape. What is it you can’t face?” But because of her accent, it sounds very much like “What is it, you cunt face?” which, when you think about it, is absurdly funny in context.

I used to work as an administrative assistant to a doctor named Shitij Kapur, whose name kept getting flagged by computers in email correspondence and on message boards. Objectively speaking, that was, you know, remarkably silly. He told me that he’d had to put up with a sniggering attitude not only during his career, but throughout his youth and all the way through medical school.

You may notice that I used the word “sniggering”. Or maybe you didn’t. Congratulations if the word didn’t make you feel queasy because of what follows the “s”. That means you have a refreshingly mature attitude towards language. Remember a number of years ago when that aide to the Mayor of Washington DC got into trouble for using the word “niggardly” to describe his budget constraints? He meant “stingy” and “narrow”, but some staffers unfamiliar with the word got all bent out of shape because they thought he was using a racial slur. He was more or less forced to leave his position, but thankfully he was hired back, so the story had a happy ending at least. What was really offensive was that he should have had to suffer for others’ ignorance, and it made me want to use the word “niggardly” as much as possible, just to poke the prudes where they needed to be poked.

Related to this is the word “Jew”, which to me is “someone who practises Judaism”, but as far back as I can remember, people have been reluctant to say “Jew” due to its antisemitic connotations when used as a verb with a lower-case “j”, so instead they go out of their way to say “Jewish persons”. This avoidance, while well-meaning, has led to an overall impression that the word “Jew” is a slur in itself and in all applications, This has an unintended but dangerous consequence: once you get it into your head that “Jew” is a bad word, eventually you’re going to start thinking that Jews are bad people. Really, if you call Christians Christians, Muslims Muslims, Buddhists Buddhists, and Hindus Hindus, then there’s no reason not to call Jews Jews.

But back to the word “fuck”. Corey Crawford is a goalie, not some withered up old school marm from the 1950s who, as my mom would put it, “wouldn’t say shit if her mouth was full of it,” and he’s addressing a huge crowd of happy Blackhawks fans. If his language offends some people’s sensitive virgin ears, well, one has to consider the context. Sometimes “fuck” is exactly the right word. That’s hockey. That’s language. That’s life.

And for those who would argue that they don’t want their kids hearing that kind of dirty talk, exactly what do they think their little darlings hear (and say) every single day at recess? If they’re anything like what we were like, I can guarantee that it’s a hell of a lot worse.

Parents, don’t keep your children in a linguistic bubble. Your prudery will do them no good and will not prepare them for the real world. This is not to say you have to talk like a stevedore all the time, but your babies have to learn context. Teach them that words are not to be feared, and that each one is just another arrow in their quiver. And that includes a well-chosen F-bomb.

Music, math, architecture, and Jeanine Tesori

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Since the accomplishments of female lyricists, poets, novelists, visual artists, and performers of all stripes are well known and beyond question, I have long been puzzled that there is such a dearth of female composers both in musical theatre and in the classical concert hall. Women are perfectly capable of composing, but for some reason, they just don’t, at least not in proportion to their numbers. For every Clara Schumann, there are dozens and dozens of Roberts; for every Mary Rodgers, dozens and dozens of Richards. Is it the nature of music itself? Is it due to temperament or a difference between how male and female brains are wired? Is there any particularly good reason why the composition of music has to be a masculine endeavour?

At first I wondered if it’s because music is such an abstract, almost mathematical art, and girls have often been discouraged from excelling at mathematics and other sciences because “those are boy things” and “you’ll never get a man that way,” and so they’re similarly put off from writing music. Nowadays, of course, the situation at schools is changing, and women do work in maths and sciences at least on a par with their male counterparts. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I admit that while I’ve been writing music since I was eight, I’ve never really enjoyed math.

So maybe math isn’t the connection after all, but if it is, more and more women in the field of mathematics should lead to more and more women writing music. I hope so; a wider variety of voices can only enrich the art form and add to its vibrancy.

What’s a more compellling analogy, then? I’ve noticed that there are also comparatively few female architects. Maybe that’s it. Boys build things, whether because of aptitude or conditioning. Now, there are many ties between architecture and music. Music is basically architecture in sound and architecture is visible, tangible music. Architecture and music are essentially structural arts, sheet music is a kind of blueprint, and both architects and composers require other people to translate their blueprints into forms that are useful and meaningful to consumers—contractors and builders in the case of architecture, conductors and performers in the case of music.

What’s more, it takes a lot of financial resources to put up an office tower or premiere a large musical work. Someone has to pay those contractors, conductors, builders, and performers, and women have traditionally and unfairly received less funding than men. It’s a societal thing. I don’t much like it, but there it is, and it’s even worse when times are tight. If there’s less money for artists, there’s proportionately less money for female artists.

Those women who’ve had success as songwriters usually have had to work with smaller ensembles like pop bands, or acted as entrepreneurs and showcased their songwriting gifts as solo performers. Dolly Parton, Carole King, Cyndi Lauper, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Madonna—all of them are supremely talented artists, but as far as I know, none of them has written, or chosen to write, a symphony, though the first three have all had their work performed on Broadway.

Which brings me to theatre composer Jeanine Tesori. She’s truly exceptional, and I mean that in both senses of the word. At least two of her scores, CAROLINE, OR CHANGE and VIOLET, are among my favourites. She has enjoyed quite a bit of critical acclaim, but she has also confessed that she hasn’t had the easiest time making a living as a theatre composer. So while I’m pleased that her latest venture, FUN HOME, has received the usual plaudits from critics, I’m even happier that the show is playing to capacity audiences on Broadway, and I hope she receives her much deserved and overdue Tony Award this Sunday.