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We don't need any more problems in classical music, but could sure use more people with solutions

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Violinist Moshe Hammer organized two Hammer Band summer camp sessions last month, one at Jane and Finch, the other at Danforth and Main — two Toronto neighbourhoods known more for youth problems than community musicmaking.

With school and the music season starting up after Labour Day, this feels more like the start of the year than January 1, so I thought I’d close summer with a resolution to celebrate more of those people who come up with solutions to the multitude of problems and challenges big and small that come our way every day.

Disaster, tragedy and loss used to sell newspapers. Now they bring eyeballs to websites. It’s normal; we’re all mesmerized by a good train wreck, be it an orchestra in trouble or an opera star walking out during dress rehearsal. It’s also easy to moan about all kinds of things, from the death-by-a-thousand-cuts disintegration of our national public broadcaster to the recent demise of the vocal recital as a viable concert form in Toronto.

But what about those people who are doing something about it?

I had a really annoying boss early in my writing career. He had been to some sort of management training course and, when he returned, he wouldn’t allow anyone to walk into his office with a gripe. “Don’t come to me with problems; come to me with solutions,” he would repeat, over and over again.

At first, I thought this was a creative form of laziness, a way to slough off the responsibilities of being a manager, and would return to my desk with a black cartoon cloud over my head. But, over the weeks that followed, I discovered that it was a truly productive way to work. I would sit down in his office with a problem for which I could propose a solution, and we could proceed to have an interesting discussion on the matter.

It’s an attitude I’ve tried to maintain through a succession of jobs and a wide range of problems, from dealing with the messily scrunched-up tube of toothpaste on the bathroom sink to working around unreliable choir attendance at the church.

It’s an empowering, positive way of looking at the world every day. (Yeah, I know this sounds corny; but, like many corny things, it works.)

Which brings me to classical music. In less than 30 seconds, you, gentle reader, can probably come up with a half-dozen things that could be different, or better, or that were so much finer 20 years ago.

I’ve spent the last six weeks working intensely on a book project. Every day this project exposed me to the stories of music-loving Torontonians who, over the course of the last five decades, saw things that needed doing — and then did them. Most of these people had full-time jobs and families and countless other obligations, but they saw a solution, and convinced others to join them in making it a reality.

It’s made me think of all of the people out in the city today who are doing everything they can to make music and to share it with as many people as possible in the finest possible way.

Here are just a few examples — not the big showcase projects, but grassroots stuff:

  • The principals and teachers and Toronto District School Board administrators who are about to welcome the first children into two new vocal academies.
  • The Canadian musicians who, in the face of indifference from established music labels, have scraped together money to make their own recordings.
  • The young composers and performers who have started their own orchestras and concert series, and the operators and owners of non-traditional concert venues that open their doors to them.

Each person involved in one of these endeavours has made it happen not because it was their job, but because they went above and beyond what their job would traditionally be.

Clearly, it’s not in everyone’s nature or personal circumstances to be so enterprising. But it doesn’t cost anything to have a great idea and share it. And it costs relatively little to provide encouragement and moral support to those who are actively trying to keep art music alive, well and thriving.

So here’s to a new Toronto music season — after a final breath of summer on a long weekend.

John Terauds

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