This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

One area talked about, kind of in passing, during this crisis, is the financial fate of artists. Their income is not as great as people might think, and it’s often erratic. Both visual artists and musicians are month to month, week to week and sometimes day to day when it comes to cash on hand.

The Ontario government has freed some money to help. The big one, which may not seem to be of direct benefit to artists is the concession to payout any Ontario Arts Council, Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund, or Trillium grants money to festivals regardless of whether an event gets cancelled or not, is important. There are many annual festivals and events which hire musicians and other artists and many events only break even each year. Being forced to cancel for this year is in effect a permanent cancellation for some.

Details of how the government is changing the Ontario Music Fund don’t appear to be posted anywhere, but the government said they are changing criteria to get money out now. Many people in arts make a living off-stage. I don’t think anyone is going to lose sleep if record labels take a hit right now, but promoters, managers, publicists, bookings agents and other careers depend on someone getting on a stage.

In the film and TV industry, the government has created three refundable tax credits for contract workers and freelancers (why there are such in those industries needs to be examined after this is all over with) and made the application process simple.

Hotels depend on festivals and events and there won’t be many of those happening. The government has established a $341 million fund for hotels in case hospitals and other health care facilities run out of room. The government and hotel associations have already evaluated which hotels can be switched over or accommodate needs as they arise..

The Tourism Development Fund has had a new word – Recovery – in its name and the budget has been increased by $1 million. Destination Ontario is already working on a marketing plan for a return to normal life (though some parts of our past normal life need to be thoroughly re-examined and perhaps left as history footnotes).  I generally disapprove of the marketing profession as a whole (they feed the greed in all of us which fuels consumerism and the ignorance that makes us think when we vote we’re doing something) in this case, and – I’m sure if I spend the day thinking about it, other cases – it’s a good use of talent markers acquired.

A strange one is creating a $150k fund to match community investment, “to give musicians a platform to do concerts from the safety of their homes.” If this is meant to help musicians and other artists buy the gear they need to stream concerts and presentations, this is good. I hope someone who understands how these things work is in charge of providing a list of adequate and bare-essential gear to allow musicians to perform online because there’s a lot of garbage equipment out there (cameras, microphones, audio and video cards for computers, signal processing gear, lights (lights people, you need lights) and etc.) How do I know? I see it every day on Youtube and Facebook. It’s not just evaluating from a television production perspective, which you might recall I have some experience with, but a lot of it starts with the wrong equipment. My experience with government procurement in this area is some person who doesn’t know what they are doing will approve $10 for a PA because it’s $10 and will do the same thing as the $15 one (never mind the $50 dollar choices), ending up with nothing better than the quality of sound Edison’s gramophone produced.

Speaking of concerts, check out Steven Henry’s Facebook page, he’s been doing online concerts every few days. Nate Robertson did one the other day too. Plug the name of any local musician or band name into Facebook or Youtube and see if you’ve been missing something to help pass the time you’re not using reorganizing closets.

So Long, Thanks For The Music

It started earlier this week, the list of musicians who have died from the virus. Joe Diffie was the first on Sunday. Yesterday it was Ellis Marsalis and a revered jazz trumpeter Wallace Roney. The Oscar nominated composer of That Thing You Do, Adam Schlesinger, died yesterday as well. Alan Merrill, who wrote I Love Rock and Roll (Joan Jett), is gone too. There’s a longer list of musicians who have said they had symptoms or tested positive, including Jackson Browne and Ed O’Brien (Radiohead).

John Prine (Supplied by Mariposa Folk Foundation)

John Prine was the first big name to be hospitalized. He was to be the headliner for this year’s Mariposa Folk Festival. The news came between weekly column issues, but the news spread through Orillia pretty quickly anyway. The latest is he is recovering. Let’s hope it continues. Schlesinger’s family said he was recovering too.

I’m not going to keep a running list of developments in this area. I’m just pointing out a thing we will be getting used to. Most of the people who won’t be with us at the other end are not from here and other media will have the news sooner.

How This All Happened, Part 2

Part 1 is here.

I began a ten year career in September 1970 as a member of a Drum and Bugle Corps, first at home, then in Toronto. My first day was in the junior drum program. Back in those days the rugrats drummed on wooden planks supported by metal legs. We lined up from best to not so best. I started at the low end. By the end of the first practice session I was moved up to third position of about 20 kids. I was in line after the colour guard captain and sergeant, neither of whom had a chance of being put in the drumline because of their rank a step below drum major.

I also was encouraged to learn to play a bugle, which is not dissimilar to the cornets used by the Orillia Silver Band. Playing a brass instrument was a steeper curve. I was also small for my age and was disappointed when four others were called up to the competing level drumline ahead of me because they were bigger. I ended up joining the competing unit in the colour guard.

I was happy just to get to be in the corps. It was my first taste of learning how to do something as near perfectly as possible, no mistakes allowed. The whole process of learning a 13 minute show and practicing it until I could do it in a coma, looking back on it, is remarkable for a 12-year-old to accomplish. In year two I was still too small, but I had enough of carrying and spinning a flag pole and I had learned enough to be shuffled off to the brass section.

So, to all you horn tooters, yes I do know how to play your instrument. In my teens, even after getting into the drumline I continued to play a soprano bugle thanks to my brother staying in the hornline and therefore having access to an instrument.

Flash forward to 1977 and joining a drum corps in Toronto. This corps was on an entirely different level. They toured the continent all summer and competed against the best corps in North America. Our instructor went on to become an iconic force in the percussion world beyond drum corps and I learned so much from him about drumming, writing, teaching and how to achieve the highest levels of performance.

Oakland Crusaders, Toronto

We won the percussion caption at the world championship prelim competition. Through a quirk – the whole corps scored too low in marching – we did not make finals, so there is an asterisk next to the high percussion winners that year because their finals percussion score did not beat our prelims score. That achievement is still talked about in the competitive drumline and drum crops world today because we are the only drum corps to do it.

Throughout that period I was exposed to music on a large scale. Obviously I loved the brass sound and busy drumming, so the first album in my collection was Lighthouses’s Live record. I would hear another drum corps playing a cool chart and think. “I have to get that.” Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Chuck Mangione, Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, Don Ellis and of course Buddy Rich were what I was mainly attracted to. It didn’t end there, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Pink Floyd, and The Who were on the platter as well. I remember being one of the first to own Queen and Supertramp albums before anyone knew who they were. Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Bernstein, Britten, Copland and other classical composers crossed into my world because that’s the music drum corps were playing.

Then I discovered Tower of Power, and the Les Brown and Vic Schoen bands combined effort for a rare and fantastic recording. It took 35 years to locate my own copy. The latter was a recording feat I don’t think has been duplicated, two bands in different studios, playing simultaneously and only able to see the conductor in the connecting control room. It was made in 1939. It doesn’t sound dated and is technically better than almost anything else I’ve heard. Tower of Power proved to be a musician’s band, anyone worth their salt as a musician knows this band and most wish they could make music as well. They were the first (not counting Buddy) whose every record I had to own.

Of course there were other bands and orchestras I liked and back then radio was not the homogeneous creature it is today. I listened to everything. I was also one of the rare individuals who read album credits, and remembered them, tracing certain musician’s contributions across a variety of recordings.

I learned who followed who in the unfolding history of modern music, where the roots of certain conventions started decades before my time, how some seemingly innocent thing sparked a trend that in many cases reverberates today in new compositions.

One of the key things, which the significance of didn’t become apparent to my development until a couple decades passed, was the Cancon rule, which made playing music by Canadians on Canadian radio mandatory. The Guess Who, my hometown Max Webster, Rush, and years later The Tragically Hip were only possible because of it. I also grew up near Detroit at the right time. A little radio station from Windsor was the number one most listened to station in North America and that station gave the world Motown. I haven’t mentioned the influence of Motown as yet, but not being a rich kid the radio was the lifeline to the world beyond my town and that music was fundamental to my musical education and tastes as much as anything I’ve mentioned already.

The main thing to stay with me for life from all the above was an appreciation for the new. Every day I find some piece of music I never heard before. Contrary to popular opinion there is music of value still being written. The training I received and the heights of performance I participated in allowed me to recognize others playing and creating at a high level of excellence

I think those the things served me well these past 25 years writing about our arts/culture/entertainment. I absolutely love to be surrounded by other musicians who I can learn from, just as much as I like to be in a position to pass along some tidbit I learned to those at the front end of their careers. And, I love having the ability to be able to pass on to you the things I find extraordinary.

Next time the visual influence side of my story.

Mariposa Stories

Dennis Rizzo and Ross Greenwood, editors and publishers of the second volume of Mariposa Exposed (yup, Vol. 2 is coming) want some really short, 100 words approximately, stories from you about anything you can be the voice of during this period of finding out – who those people are in your home, where you put the house keys 5 years ago and couldn’t find them, and ‘you know those people next door? No, do you know them?” Send them to me at with the subject line – My Story for Mariposa, I’m stickhandling this project within a project for them.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)

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