Putting Down New Roots
Reggae likely isn’t a genre that comes to mind when you think of a symphony orchestra—unless you recently attended one of our unforgettable performances of Reggae Roots, that is.
Conceived by TSO Barrett Principal Education Conductor & Community Ambassador Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser as a tribute to his Jamaican and Trinidadian roots, and featuring the enthralling Jamaican-born, Halifax-based vocalist Jah’Mila, the concert reflected on the social, cultural, and spiritual importance of Jamaica’s most famous export. It invited attendees to explore the evolution of the genre, and discover the people, sounds, and stories of the movement that grew to influence music around the globe.
In an interview with Toronto’s VIBE 105, Daniel shared the reasoning behind this first-of-its-kind musical mashup: “What we want is not to dilute Reggae in any way,” he said. “What we’re doing is augmenting—with the different sounds and tones and timbres of the instruments of the orchestra—what’s already there. The question is, if you put these two things together, what newness, what new life, what vitality springs forth?”
Thousands of appreciative audience members discovered the answer to this question when we presented the groove-filled program no fewer than eight times from April 11 to 16. It was performed as four School Concerts for students and teachers from across the GTA, one all-ages event at The Rose Brampton, one Relaxed Performance for neurodiverse audiences, and two Young People’s Concerts.
Though the content remained the same for all performances, what differed was the context. “How we talk about the pieces to young people, how we talk about them to adults, how we talk about them to a relaxed audience of people that may be neurodivergent—that's what changes,” Daniel explained to host Kathleen Kajioka on The New Classical FM’s Sunday Night at the TSO. “Three different styles of delivery for three different populations…. I think it’s great that we’re providing different ways for people from all walks of life to come and enjoy this music.”
The concert at The Rose—which sold out days in advance—represented a completely new geographic context for us as well, as it was our first-ever visit to the city of Brampton, Toronto’s northwest neighbour.
“This performance is meaningful for so many reasons,” noted TSO Chief Executive Officer Mark Williams in the concert program. “It marks our début, after 100 years of existence, in one of Canada’s fastest-growing cities. It reflects our drive to explore many forms of musical expression, and it provides us with the opportunity to introduce ourselves to new audiences as their Toronto Symphony Orchestra. It is truly a highlight of our Centennial season.”
As part of this collaboration with The Rose, TSO musicians were delighted to get to know the members of The Rose Orchestra’s youth orchestra—the Rosebuds. In the weeks leading up to the performance, our members coached sectionals with the impressive young artists, and Daniel had the pleasure of leading them all in a rehearsal. We also invited the Rosebuds to showcase their talents at Roy Thomson Hall prior to the Reggae Roots Young People’s Concerts.
After all, what are neighbours for?