The flap over changes in administration at the Banff Centre attracted a lot of online commentators, many of whom heaped scorn on the idea of including other genres of music in the residencies. It’s an ethos of exclusivity and, by inference, superiority that I believe diminishes the artform.

It takes only the lightest scratch on the surface of classical music to discover that so much we hold so dear has roots in or borrows heavily from popular forms — folk music, in particular.

The operas of Giuseppe Verdi are filled with melodies borrowed from the streets. Is it any wonder that Italians have returned the love for the past century?

The Romantics were known for filling their compositions with quotations from folk idioms. Does hearing a dumka in a Dvorák quartet diminish its quality? Is Chopin any less elegant for his mazurkas and waltzes?

Telemann, one of the Baroque era’s most accomplished composers, loved Roma fiddle tunes.

In the 1920s, Darius Milhaud made Brazilian dances his own by casting them in weirdly exotic harmonies. (I played two of them on Vladimir Horowitz’s Steinway two weeks ago, causing my minder, a stuffy caricature of a classical pianist/teacher, running up to see what the wonderful stuff was that he was hearing.)

Then there is the issue of the three-chord simplicity of pop music. Simplicity can make art better, not worse.

I’ll never forget sitting down with the score of Handel’s immortal Coronation Anthem, Zadok the Priest, in first year of university and discovering that it’s first eight measures — the setup of all that harmonic tension that explodes in a fireball when the choir comes in — is based on D major tonic, subdominant and dominant chords (with a little supertonic twist in the second measure).

I, IV & V are the basic chords of a rock anthem, too.


George Gershwin wanted to be more like Maurice Ravel. Maurice Ravel wanted to be more like George Gershwin.

Had these two been able to meet at the Banff Centre in the shadow of the snow-capped Cascade mountain range, who knows what sort of magic would have come from sitting in each other’s studio, or taking a hike together, or rounding up a small gang of instrumentalists for a bit of jazz-infused adventure?

Those of us who deeply love music want to share it, see it live and grow. We want the tens of thousands of people who have never given art music an even passing thought to hear it speak to their favourite indie band.

Torontonians have been able to witness the beauty and success of this type of open thinking, sharing of ideas and mutual inspiration in the amazing work that Andrew Burashko’s Art of Time Ensemble does every year.

We’ve been assured by the powers that be that Banff’s changes are not going to be at the expense of classical music, but will be in addition to classical music. That means more, not less.

Unfortunately, we have the recent history of the CBC to thank for making us all paranoid that art music is slowly being backed into a dark corner. But this is a very different situation — one that offers the exciting prospect of people coming together to discover ways of getting out of that dark little corner.

(And, speaking of our public broadcaster, I heard from a CBC Music insider last week that, of all the new channels streaming on the web, it’s not hip hop or rock or folk or jazz that’s the most popular; it’s Baroque music, which happens to be very fond of dancing.)

I’ll let Sir Andrew and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus have the last word (this is from the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations 10 years ago):


John Terauds


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9 Responses to Comment: Classical musicians do themselves a disservice by shutting out other genres

  1. Debra Chandler says:

    I am so relieved to hear from Jeff Melanson and Barry Schiffman that they are rearranging and adding to classical music programs, rather than diminishing them. Between Henk’s understandable grief and Norm Lebrecht’s penchant for sensationalism [which I should have recognized...I feel pretty silly], some of us jumped onto the downward spiral way too fast. This change sounds good!

  2. Eileen says:

    Thanks, John. Couldn’t agree with you more!

  3. Michael Macaulay says:

    I absolutely agree with everything you’ve said in this post, but I think it’s important to note that the Banff Centre’s initial unwillingness to directly comment on the situation may have contributed substantially to the unease. The Canadian musical community was reacting to a very specific allegation that the fall and winter music residencies were to be discontinued entirely, and the Banff Centre’s comments on blogs and social media did not address this allegation at all, but merely said that there would still be classical music at the centre before going on to discuss other programs not mentioned in Mr. Guitart’s letter. Later on the day that the controversy broke, the Centre ominously posted on Facebook that it was hard to discuss what the 2013/14 residencies would look like a year in advance. It’s hard not to assume the worst when you read something like that.

    Experience (with the CBC during the Radio 2 restructuring and with other arts organizations) has indeed taught me to be paranoid, and to suspect that if an organization is telling you not to worry about something but will not deny that the thing you are worrying about is happening, there is probably cause to worry. I’m glad I was wrong in this case, but the whole panic could have been averted with a single sentence: “fall and winter classical music residencies will continue at the Banff Centre and will be enriched by increasing participation of artists from other disciplines and genres,” or something to that effect.

    • Tawnie O says:

      Thank you, Michael! You’ve put my own thoughts into words far better than I could’ve.

      • Let Me Speak says:

        I concur. my own reply has mysteriously disappeared (the only one that was taken off, I hope?). As Michel says, the centre still have not stated the issue of existence of residency program format.

        By adding non-sequitur of classical vs. non-classical music, the important issue has been muddled. It is ‘Winter/Fall Creative Music Residency,’ attended by musicians of all genres.

        It would be helpful if the centre could simply state their intention regarding the future of the residency program format, rather than giving blanket statements.

  4. Alex McLeod says:

    I can only speak for myself and my circle of friends on Facebook, but the initial panic was not caused by the prospect of including other types of music, but by the mistaken impression that the winter residencies were being cancelled completely, or at least that they would no longer include classical music.

    In terms of collaboration with other artistic disciplines, Banff represents the ideal place to explore interdisciplinary projects or collaborations. Musicians are given the time and space that it takes to work across cultural and aesthetic boundaries. Now that everyone knows what’s really happening, I think we’ll fond musicians to be just as enthusiastic as you would like them to be,

  5. Erin Donovan says:

    Excellent article. Thanks for nailing it!

  6. Tintin says:

    Soothing and equivocating words aside, the fact remains that it is fundamentally an insidious Kulturkampf. As soon as public funding is involved the matter is motivated by racial and political concerns, not artistic merit. Behind all this is implied “the cello versus the rattle“, perceived aristocracy versus perceived populus… and the rattle has the upper hand, these days…because the cello is trying to be a rattle too!

    Wait and see.

  7. Confused says:

    I think I am being a bit slow here.
    The centre said nothing about the future of residency program? It says it supports all music- great. It always has.

    So is it being discontinued or continued?
    Is the current director leaving so that old director can return OR because old director wants to return, the current director is shown the way out?