What does music mean to us? How do Canadians value (undervalue or devalue) music? What is the difference between art and culture? Why is Western art music problematic in a postcolonial, multicultural country?
Cultural equity and the relative value of the performing arts are pressing and complicated issues currently facing Canadian musicians and musical institutions. Whether historically advantaged or disadvantaged, almost all (outside of Quebec) have been perennially underfunded. Moreover, in the social justice and post-Truth and Reconciliation era, we must now confront the layers of colonialism inherent in Western arts practices and in the structures by which we present them.
In my consulting work, I disentangle the complex web of historical and socio-political dynamics currently affecting the Canadian musical landscape. I deconstruct the terminology associated with cultural equity using musically relevant metaphors and examples, so that musicians, music educators, and management can make informed decisions about how to move their creative practice forward and engage respectfully with those whose arts practices (or selves) have been historically othered.
Through 2017-18, I and Soraya Peerbaye have been undertaking research for Orchestras Canada in support of their "Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility" document. Our work has included one-on-one interviews and panels with orchestra management from across the country, as well as with Indigenous and visible minority musicians working int the Canadian orchestral sector. We will present results of our research at the Orchestras Canada conference in May, 2018, followed shortly thereafter by a research document.
Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (presentation: August, 2017; Una Voce article on equity in Canadian orchestras "Tempo Inégale?" April, 2018)
Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra (April, 2018)
Please contact me if you are interested in a meeting or presentation related to cultural equity in Canadian musical arts.
The back story
In addition to performing, teaching and creating music, I am also an ethnomusicologist. Each aspect of my musical life feeds into the other. As a violinist, I am particularly drawn to detailed learning. But, in addition to being naturally curious, I also need to understand the context in which I make music: how the minutiae of things fit into the larger social, economic and political frame. Perhaps, too, because I come from a science-oriented family, I need to understand beyond superficial perceptions; beyond the hypothetical epithets uttered by colleagues frustrated by the increasingly tenuous nature of being a musician today.
I can only describe my introduction to the field of ethnomusicology as a “stumbling”. While looking for a way to move to London (after two years studying violin in Switzerland, where I eventually tired of constantly confronting racist attitudes), a friend suggested I consider studying ethnomusicology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. At that point, I had never heard of either SOAS or ethnomusicology. In retrospect, and having taken my undergraduate degree at Indiana University—an important centre for ethnomusicology—this shortcoming highlights what I now consider an egregious divide between performance and academia at the university level (on both sides of the division).
Ethnomusicology has proved a perfect fit for my extra-performative inclinations. At SOAS, I focused on the history and musical performance of medieval North Indian devotional poetry. Thus, I was able to combine my background in music with my interests in poetry, religion and history. I also had the privilege of studying Gurmukhi translation in one-on-one lessons with linguist, Christopher Shackle. Most importantly for me, I gained a deeper understanding of the non-Western side of my ethnocultural background and why I sensed antipathy (from members of my ethnocultural community) towards my pursuing music as a profession. The framework for being a musician is completely different in Canada: it is not tied to religion or heredity here; nor is it clouded by gender prejudices.
After many years making a living as a performing musician in Toronto, I returned to academia to pursue a Ph.D. in 2004. Again, my situation informed my subject matter. Since the late 1990s, my performing colleagues and I noted the sharp decline in professional opportunities for Western classically trained musicians. This decline was paralleled by the business world and arts funders/presenters increasingly emphasizing diversity and diverse representation in the workplace and onstage. Thus, my doctoral research focused on the effects of official multiculturalism on contemporary Canadian music-making, with a particular focus on public funding, identity politics and liberal-democracy, notions of culture within multiculturalism, and conflicting definitions of authenticity. My thesis, Eh 440: Tuning into the Effects of Official Multiculturalism on Publicly Funded Music in Canada is available through the online thesis portal, T-space.
In 2016, Routledge published Improvisation and Music Education: Beyond the Classroom (edited by Mark Laver and Ajay Heble,) in which I contributed a chapter on improvisation and contemporary pedagogy—from the Western classical perspective. In the chapter, I argue that an ability to improvise--even simply having the openness to creating, rather than only interpreting music--is an increasingly important tool for the contemporary musician. Moreover, I also suggest that improvisatory abilities are important to cross-genre and cross-cultural dialogue and collaboration.
I have undertaken a few research projects for Regent Park School of Music (where I teach violin and viola two days a week). Along with the school’s 2014-15 intern, Karen Black, a former pianist now studying behavioural psychology in children at York University, we examined the dimensions of student engagement at the school as perceived by the teachers. The project's goal was to enhance our teachers' pedagogical toolkits; giving particular attention to factors that can affect children from socio-economically compromised backgrounds and how we might adjust pedagogical approaches in teaching them. In the spring of 2018, and in conjunction with York University, I will begin a study of extra-musical pedagogies in teaching music in Toronto's Jane/Finch neighbourhood.
From January-April, 2017, I was the Stanley Knowles Distinguished Visiting Professor in Public Policy at Brandon University. In addition to teaching an introductory ethnomusicology class for performance and music education majors ("Ethnomusicology and the Canadian Musician") and undertaking knowledge-exchange with the Manitoba Arts Council, I presented public lectures on: "The Impact of Multiculturalism on Arts Funding in Canada" (available by request); "The Implications of Multiculturalism and Decolonization on Curricula in Canadian Post-Secondary Music Programs"; and "Towards a Canadian Music: Supporting the Development of Authentic Personal Voices".
In May of 2018, I will present the results of research I and equity consultant, Soraya Peerbaye, have been undertaking for Orchestras Canada in support of their 2017 "Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility" document. In my home page blog post, "Ghosts of the Woolly Mammoths Roar", I have outlined the various problematics we are tackling with this research. Additionally, I will be contributing an entry to the Springer, Encyclopaedia for Business Ethics on the ethics of symphony orchestras in multicultural nations (forthcoming).