Parmela Attariwala – Toronto-based violinist/violist, composer and ethnomusicologist – has been described as “one of Canada’s most original and compelling artists”. She traverses genres from Mozart to the avant-garde, from fiddle to rock, from free improvisation to non-Western crossovers with virtuousic fluidity, and is equally comfortable performing acoustically in a concert hall or plugged-in in a club.
The creative process inspires all that Parmela does, whether it is performing composed music, creating or improvising her own music, mentoring young musicians, or undertaking academic researching on the arts in Canada.  She has been deeply influenced by dance—working extensively with choreographers as a composer, musician and movement artist—and by small-scale works for instruments and voices. In 1995, Parmela created the Attar Project as a vehicle to perform and create with musicians and artists from non-Western and non-classical forms.
Parmela has released three critically acclaimed recordings that defy the boundaries of genre:  Beauty Enthralled (1997), featuring tabla player Ravi Naimpally and ghazal singer Kiran Ahluwalia; Sapphire Skies (2003), which features her own compositions; and The Road Ahead … (2010), a collection of commissioned works for violin and tabla, performed with Montreal-based tabla player, Shawn Mativetsky

As an academic, Parmela has undertaken research on: multiculturalism, democracy and arts funding; improvisation in classical Western music pedagogy; and devotional poetry and music in medieval India. She is currently researching music teaching and student engagement.

Hello, Brandon!  

Winter 2017 finds me in beautiful, snowy Brandon, Manitoba as the Stanley Knowles Distinguished Visiting Professor in Public Policy. What can I say? It's my dream gig: thinking about and conducting research on policy, social justice, equity and music, plus teaching ethnomusicology and performing. 

I'm grateful to Pat Carrabré for thinking of me, and for putting my name forward to the university as a candidate for this position. It's an honour to hold this residency - created in the memory of MP Stanley Knowles, who advocated for social justice through his career in public service. Along with Tommy Douglas, (another BU graduate!), he created the CPP and helped create many of the social programs Canadians now take for granted. The institutionalization of these programs paved the way for Canadians to pursue social justice and equity as national ideals. And now, it is my turn to work towards doing the same for music and the arts.

Ah! But what about the cold? Yes, the mildest day I've experienced was my first day here last week. It was -13C; and it has been much, much colder since. But I love it!! The crunch of the snow under my feet, and the immediacy of my body remembering to walk angled forward with heels heavy so as not to slip. The silvery snowflakes settling for mere seconds on my cold skin before evaporating. The bright sun and brilliant blue sky. I am transported back to the carefree days of my youth in Calgary and the morning walks to school (especially the 3 km walk to high school when I missed the bus, which happened often - and subconsciously, perhaps purposefully, so that I could indulge in sinking my feet into snowdrifts up to my knees while watching the sun rise). And to be in a small place? After years of long winter commutes on Toronto's subways, buses and streetcars, it is a relief to be in place where nothing I need is further than the eye can see.


Spring, nature and movement 

Spring has finally arrived in Toronto. After a mild winter, I'd been looking forwards to a long, lovely spring; but no. Winter decided to show up after all: in April!

Under the superficial layer of snow and frozen grass, life has been percolating with projects and performances. And everywhere around me, I have been buffeted by the swirl of what has been potential energy lying latent now become dynamic.

I'm currently in the midst of performances for a wonderful, new, experimental production by Coleman-Lemieux: "Against Nature", a chamber opera featuring the music of James Rolfe, libretto by Alex Poch-Goldin, and direction by James Kudelka. As-ever with Coleman-Lemieux, the production (let alone the richness of its content!) is exquisite. 

Against Nature review

Meanwhile, I've been preparing for my visit next week to the Vale of Glamorgan Festival in Wales. I have been working with movement and theatre coach, Kelly Arnsby, on two movement pieces originally choreographed for me by Gitanjali Kolanad. It has been an extraordinary process to integrate a third layer - of emotional contour - into these already complex pieces.  I look forwards to presenting them next week.

In advance of my visit to Wales, The Cusp Magazine, has written a feature article on my dance and music work

The Cusp Magazine Feature Profile 

Looking forwards to Wales!

Recognition for "Under Milk Wood, an opera"  

The highlight of 2014 for me was performing in the premiere of Under Milk Wood, an opera. John Metcalfe composed the music to text based upon Dylan Thomas' radio play of the same name. Under Milk Wood has been nominated for a number of awards, including the prestigious World Premier category in the International Opera Awards. This follows on nominations for both Best Opera Production and Best Design/Costume at the Wales Theatre Awards, and a listing as one of the best operas of 2014 by The Guardian.

Working on and performing in Under Milk Wood marked my transition from academia back to performance. In fact, I flew to Wales to begin workshopping Under Milk Wood just hours after my Ph.D. convocation at the University of Toronto in Nov, 2013. Metcalfe (in whose 1996 opera, Kafka's Chimp, I performed at the Banff Centre) believes that musicians perform better--and learn the score more deeply--without the aid of a conductor as interlocutor/interpreter; and personally, this type of chamber music approach to an opera suits me perfectly. I also love working with singers (and what an extraordinary cast we had!). Singers--and the words they sing--always bring me back to the essence of musical phrasing and breathing: something that I find tends to get lost when music is mediated by conductors who try to convey musical interpretations by explaining them through the language of instrumental technique. 

Under Milk Wood involved eight singers and five musicians - all onstage together. We became a tight knit merry band, particularly during the last rehearsal, performance and touring period in March/April 2014. All of the musicians performed multiple parts. I played violin, viola and learned how to play a 6-string, bowed Welsh lute (based on an 11th c. design)called a crwth. The crwth's tuning was Bb, Bb, F, F, C, C: the doubled notes tuned in octaves. Of course, I didn't play the crwth in a traditional manner (as a drone instrument with an optional single melody line on the top string). Oh no (when did a living composer make things that simple for their musicians?) I had to figure out how to triple and quadruple stop chords - even on the strings that didn't have a fingerboard beneath them. But that is the kind of challenge that I love.

Kudos to all my colleagues and everyone who helped bring Under Milk Wood to life. Next step: let's bring it to North America! 

Parmela Attariwala, "The Effects of Multiculturalism on Publicly Funded Canadian Music"

R.D. Bell Hall, Queen Elizabeth II building, Brandon University, Brandon, MB

First lecture of my residency as Stanley Knowles Distinguished Visiting Professor at Brandon University.

Free, Open to the Public


Parmela Attariwala - 3rd lecture

R.D. Bell Hall, Queen Elizabeth II building, Brandon University, Brandon, MB

3rd lecture of my residency at Brandon University.

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