A community centre. A retirement residence. A pair of adult day centres. A hospital. In addition to our home of Roy Thomson Hall, all of these gathering places resounded with the captivating music of your TSO throughout the month of June. As Toronto’s symphony orchestra, we could think of no better way to wrap up our 100th-anniversary season and signal our ongoing commitment to serve this incredible city and its neighbours.
Our performances in the community weren’t singular events, however. In each case, the concert represented the culmination of a program designed to create opportunities for connection and engagement with people from diverse backgrounds and circumstances.
Seeing Ourselves in the Symphony
Adjacent to Chinatown and just a stone’s throw from Kensington Market is the Cecil Community Centre, which held its summer Youth Fair on June 1. On that occasion, an octet of Orchestra members performed the World Première of Light of the City, a new work by former TSO RBC Affiliate Composer Kevin Lau and two young composers in the making, Maya and Ila (both age 15).
The duo were the participants of Seeing Ourselves in the Symphony, a program that was generously funded by the Ontario Arts Council and intended to teach participants how to translate their personal interests and hobbies into an original musical composition. Our Barrett Principal Education Conductor & Community Ambassador, Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, who facilitated the initiative, described it to prospective participants as an opportunity to “put your stories and your experiences and your music on the stage with Toronto Symphony Orchestra musicians.”
From January to April, over the course of eight one-hour sessions, Kevin—an award-winning and frequently commissioned composer—mentored and worked directly with Maya and Ila to co-write a five-minute work for chamber orchestra that was reflective of their personalities and ideas, while Daniel further supported the young women.
How do they feel about the result? “Super proud,” said Maya. “I hardly knew anything about orchestral music before this. It’s really cool.”
“I kinda knew that composing took a lot of effort, but I didn’t realize how much,” added Ila. “Now I appreciate the amount that goes into it.”
The third year of TSOUND Connections—our trailblazing program, made possible with support from TD Bank Group and the George C. Hunt Family Foundation, providing free life-enriching online performances to seniors in long-term-care, retirement residences, and assisted-living homes, and attending virtual adult day programs—concluded with no fewer than three live concerts at our partner locations throughout the GTA.
Baycrest@Home, our community partner since 2020, hosted a duo of TSO musicians, Principal Flute Kelly Zimba Lukić and Violin Clare Semes, at the Baycrest Terraces Retirement Residence in North York on June 12.
Alzheimer Society Peel (ASP), which joined the program in 2021, presented concerts at two of their adult day centres in Mississauga: On June 5, Violins Amanda Goodburn, Ivan Ivanovich, and Shane Kim, and Cello Lucia Ticho performed at ASP Brunel. And on June 8, Violins Jennifer Thompson and Angelique Toews filled ASP Meadowvale with beautiful sound.
“It’s great for us,” shared Sonya, an ASP client. “Music helps when people are down. Music picks you up. When you start singing a song, you forget that you were crying.”
“Our members look forward to it each week, and they know they’re going to get this fabulous music,” explains Ruth Watkiss, ASP Music Therapist. “When we have the musicians come live, and they recognize their faces, recognize who they are, it just builds that connection even more.”
Art of Healing in Partnership with The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
“When the first notes played, the small crowd was transported,” wrote Anand Ram in his CBC News article about our June 12 chamber performance of a new work by Métis composer Ian Cusson at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) on Queen Street West.
The piece, entitled To Live (Ikiru), was the wonderful product of a pilot program called Art of Healing, which we offered in partnership with CAMH and its Shkaabe Makwa—the Centre for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Wellness. For eight weeks throughout the winter, Ian, TSO musicians Camille Watts (Flute & Piccolo) and Joe Kelly (Percussion/Assistant Principal Timpani), and a clinical practice leader met weekly with patients to support their healing through musical storytelling and composition, ultimately writing this original piece of music together.
Bruce King and Alex Abramenko, two participants in the initiative, were in attendance at the World Première of their co-creation. To Ram, Alex described the program as being “about coming together—and a sort of psycho-magical experience.” And of the performance, Bruce said, “It sort of felt like a new day coming about…and, sort of, being a part of that in nature.”
Though the Art of Healing pilot clearly resonated with the participating patients, its impact will only grow in our 2023/24 season, as audiences will have multiple opportunities to experience To Live (Ikiru) for themselves: The TSO Chamber Soloists will include it in their performance preceding James Ehnes Plays Barber on October 21. And Music Director Gustavo Gimeno will lead the première of the full-orchestra arrangement in two of our final Masterworks programs of Year 101, Mendelssohn’s Violin on June 7 to 9 at Roy Thomson Hall, and Mozart’s “Prague” on June 16 at George Weston Recital Hall.