New recital hall worthy of Accolade

The physical renaissance of Toronto culture isn’t just happening downtown, as visitors to the gala-concert opening of York University‘s Accolade Project fine-arts facility and inaugural arts festival witnessed last night, reported the Toronto Star March 21. Far north of the longest shadow cast by the Royal Ontario Museum or the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts sits the University’s now-complete Faculty of Fine Arts, all bright and shiny in its new digs. Most inspirational of all, it went from blueprints (by Bregman + Hamann Architects-Zeidler Partnership) to unlocked doors in less then three years. And, eschewing grand architectural pronouncements, it delivers the essentials room for students to learn, to practise and to perform in bright, airy, friendly, clean spaces.

A case in point is the Recital Hall in what is called Accolade East, the Star said. The building has a 325-seat auditorium with proscenium stage to house theatre and dance (there’s even an orchestra pit with elevating floor), as well as a 500-seat cinema/lecture hall. This means each space could be tailored to specific acoustic and physical needs. The concert space could therefore be designed specifically for making music. From the vantage point of either the main-level seats or the three-row balcony, the space is a success – and a testament to how much you can do with the simplest of architectural elements.

The room starts with the ideal “one box” form, which places the music in the same space as the audience. The sound is shaped by floor-to-ceiling convex, cream-coloured plaster pillars that are approximately two metres wide. The stage is a hollow box covered in hard maple. And things that can buzz and vibrate, like the exposed catwalks, are clad in acoustic panels. To adjust the sound, many of the plaster pillars contain double doors that swing open on large hinges. The floors are bare concrete, as are the main structural columns. The seats are tastefully padded in grey cloth. The overall effect in the tall yet intimate room is of a sober focus on the artistic tasks at hand. The sound is clear and direct, if not particularly warm. High frequencies (high notes) are occasionally piercing in their directness, while low frequencies (bass notes) are more muted. The sheer variety of music – much of it new – produced on the stage was testament to the enthusiasm of the faculty and students for their new quarters.

Andrew Craig,  host of CBC Radio Two’s “In Performance”, himself a York music graduate (BFA ‘93), hosted the evening, which included a couple of hundred student choristers and over a dozen York alumni or faculty on stage at various times, said the Star. York music department head Michael Coghlan‘s Accolade Fanfare for Five Trumpets blew the audience’s hair backward in a suitably exuberant opening gesture. The evening ended with the world premiere of Eclipse, a concerto for piano, 10 instruments and voice by David Mott, a professor in York’s Department of Music. Written in three movements that weave into each other, and conducted by York Professor Mark Chambers, Eclipse was a showcase for the considerable talents of Christina Petrowska Quilico, York professor of performance and musicology, at the piano. It also attempted to fuse musical styles and ethnicities into a new kind of sound, in much the same way as the mixture of backgrounds is changing the face of Toronto society and culture.

There was a buzz of anticipation in the scarlet-painted lobby before the gala began, said the Star, and there were even wider smiles afterward, as everyone involved last night realized that this particular piece of Toronto’s cultural renaissance couldn’t have turned out any better.

  • York University officially opened a landmark fine arts facility yesterday at its Keele campus that will add learning space for a few thousand students [from all faculties], reported the National Post March 21. Phillip Silver, dean of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, said the original plan for the faculty was to have a series of interlocking and adjacent buildings make up the faculty’s home. “These buildings are the last piece of a vision that was a long time coming,” Silver said. “Now we will go beyond that dream.” The opening ceremony in the Accolade East building’s CIBC lobby, a large red room with a white leaf on the ceiling, boasted a host of VIPs for the project – all of whom helped cut the ribbon – elaborately-garbed dancers and a jazz trio. Video screens in the lobby displayed a “virtual ribbon-cutting” at the smaller west building using computer graphics, as well as elapsed-time footage of the construction process.

 “This project is very important to the Canadian economy,” said Lorna R. Marsden, York president and vice-chancellor. “It will build on the strengths of our arts community and the arts needs of our community.” Three artists helped decorate the unique interior of the building by donating pieces of their own work, noted the Post. Two sculptors created the large, wall-mounted likeness of a terrier dog using a variety of hundreds of balls they collected while walking one of the artist’s dogs, Angus, on the beach. The piece is entitled “Air Dog.” Gary Brewer, York vice-president finance & administration, said he was proud of what had been accomplished within the financial constraints of the project. “As you can see,” Brewer said, “at York we do things big. We took one grant and built two buildings. Some people say they encounter speed bumps in life. Well, we encountered speed mountains, but the end result was worth it.”

  •  David Mott, professor in York’s Department of Music, Faculty of Fine Arts, and Canadian astronaut and York alumnus Steven MacLean (PhD ’83, BA ‘77) were both interviewed on CBC Radio’s “The Arts Tonight” March 20 about Eclipse, music MacLean will broadcast from space on his next flight on the space shuttle later this year.
  • Philip Silver, York’s dean of Fine Arts, spoke on CFTO-TV March 20 after opening the Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre. Fecan, a York alumnus (BFA ‘01) who is now chief executive officer of CTV and Bell Globemedia, was also interviewed. Mention of the opening was also made on the CTV National news.

Study shows diverse activities prolong interest in fitness

The Canadian ritual of driving young kids to the rink in search of hockey greatness isn’t necessarily the best way to go if you’re hoping to cultivate the next Great One, reported The Toronto Sun March 18. Getting kids into different sports is key to keeping them involved in physical activity, a new study finds. “We looked at a group of masters athletes [athletes who train 20-25 hours a week for decades] and we found it was rare for them to specialize in one sport at a young age and they were involved in a wide range of sports as kids,” said Joe Baker, a professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Sciences. “When you diversify, there’s a higher likelihood of staying involved in sport and exercise throughout your life,” he said. The study looked at top-ranking triathletes and found they didn’t train specifically in swimming, cycling or running when they were young, but took part in a wide range of other sports. “The take-home message for parents is not to force your kids into a particular sport or physical activity, but provide a wide range of sports and physical exercise. Let them try what they like with an early emphasis on fun and enjoyment – not stress on training,” Baker advised. “This is important because there’s no negative consequence to that approach.”

  • In its story on Baker’s study March 21, the Hamilton Spectator  reported that in previous studies, Baker found disadvantages to early specialization, including increased rates of dropout. “The assumed benefits of specialization (e.g., doing more focused training to get a jump-start on competitors) are largely an illusion and reinforce the conclusion that for most sports there are no benefits to specialization, only negative consequences,” said Baker. In fact, he adds: “The early specialization approach favoured by many sport programs has been linked to increased injury, decreased enjoyment and, perhaps most importantly for athletes, a reduction in the length of an elite athlete’s career.”

  • Baker was also interviewed on “The Ted Woloshyn Show” on CFRB radio (Toronto) March 20.

Former Argo becomes offensive co-ordinator for York’s football Lions

Former Toronto Argonaut player Tommy Denison may have played his last down of football, but the sport has not seen the last of him, reported The Standard (St. Catharines-Niagara) March 21. The Beamsville native and two-time Canadian university player of the year has changed his focus to coaching. In September, he will begin his first season as offensive co-ordinator for the York Lions. He was with the Lions as a quarterback coach in 2005. It was a natural step for Denison to take. “I always knew that when my playing career ended I was going to go into coaching. I”ve had the most success in my life in football and I knew that I wanted to continue to work in football when I was done.” 

The Standard noted there will be lots of room for improvement with the Lions and Denison understands he will have his work cut out for him. Among football programs in Canada that have fielded a team for more than three seasons, York is the only program to have never played in a championship game. The Lions failed to make the playoffs in 2005 and the team’s best offensive player, running back Andre Durie, is questionable after suffering a serious injury last season. Denison’s first game as an offensive co-ordinator comes on Labour Day, in the Lions’ opener against McMaster. If Denison has his way, that game will be the first of a long career. “I have my dreams.” And that is to coach in the pros. “And hopefully that will come in time but, for now, my focus is on York. I want to help this team have the type of success I think it is capable of.”

York contestant on ‘The Apprentice’ gets axed by The Donald

York alumnus Brent Buckman (BA ’99) got the boot from The Donald on Monday night’s episode of “The Apprentice”, reported Canadian Press March 20. Trump fired the Toronto-raised Buckman after a challenge in which contestants had to design a billboard for a new brand of cereal. “You can’t get along with anybody. There’s not one person in this room who thinks you’re even slightly good,” said the tycoon before lowering the axe on Buckman. Buckman’s final moments on the show saw him subject to an all-out attack by his Apprentice teammates in the boardroom. “I would say that Brent was embarrassing and a liability to the team,” said one. “We’re all embarrassed by him and I think if you had to fire somebody I think it should be him,” said another.

Finding missing ozone was ‘elementary’ for York researchers

Sherlock Holmes has solved his biggest case, one that has cast a pall over an area larger than all of England for more than a decade, reported the Toronto Star March 19. The case is The Problem of the Missing Arctic Ozone, and Sherlock Holmes is the nickname for a detection device orbiting the Earth on SciSat, Canada’s over-achieving, $42-million science satellite. Researchers from York University and the University of Waterloo were perplexed when ozone levels didn’t drop much in the Arctic winter of 2005 despite colder-than-normal temperatures that theoretically should have accelerated ozone depletion. The Problem of the Missing Arctic Ozone was that it didn’t seem to be missing when it should have been. But Sherlock Holmes let researchers at York University observe what others had missed. An ingenious manipulation of readings from the spectrometer revealed that vast amounts of Arctic ozone had indeed been destroyed but it had been replenished by ozone in masses of air blown in from outside the depletion zone.

“We think it may have been the biggest loss since people started following ozone depletion in the Arctic,” says Jack McConnell, a distinguished research professor in York’s Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering. “It was down about a third from levels the rest of the year, and that’s 20 per cent worse than anytime in the past. It’s getting comparable to what’s happening in the Antarctic,” he said. McConnell adds that the “real work” on the ozone mystery was done by Jianjun Jin, a York PhD candidate in the same department. Much like Sherlock Holmes following telltale patterns left by bicycle tires, Jin traced the movement of large Arctic air masses by using the presence of nitrous oxide, a molecule that’s mostly inert in the chemical cauldron of ozone depletion. The findings, which are about to be published in an academic journal, will undoubtedly trigger a critical look at the phenomenon by experts elsewhere.

Delaney explains why spring is closer than we think

The notion that spring lands on March 21 is more often wrong that it is correct, reported the Toronto Star March 19. In fact, over the last 10 years, the first day of spring has come on the 21st only three times. What’s more, throughout the remainder of this century, spring in North America will often begin on March 19th. So why is spring now on the 20th, and soon, the 19th? The century year 2000 happens to be divisible by 400, and was therefore entitled to experience a leap-year day. This allowed the vernal equinox to drop back to an earlier point on the calendar. The effect will remain until the calendar reverts to its normal non-leap-year status in the year 2100. This calendrical game of tug-of-war between the primary and secondary leap systems produces a calendar that correlates nicely to celestial activity. “It’s a way of resetting the clock every 400 years,” says Paul Delaney, professor in York’s Department of Physics & Astronomy. “It fixed the calendar back in the 16th century, and it will keep us nicely accurate for the next several thousand years. It’s still not perfect, but it’s a really good correction. You can’t tinker much more without driving people nuts.”

Molot asked province to study both methods of waste management

The only people, it often seems, who really like incinerators are those busy opposing landfills in their backyards, and the only people who push for landfills are those who think incinerators could spew toxins into their backyards, reported the Toronto Star March 18. Rather than move forward on any waste disposal option, municipalities get caught up endlessly debating “red-herring issues”, like, if we incinerate, we won’t recycle, or if we recycle it all, we don’t need landfill or incineration, said Lewis Molot, a waste management expert and professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. To help municipalities get off this garbage merry-go-round, Molot wrote to the minister of the environment after the last election urging the province to do a comparative analysis of the health and environmental impacts of both landfill and incineration and set out some guidelines for the use of both. In 1992, the NDP provincial government banned incineration. In 1995, the Progressive Conservatives brought it back. So far, the Liberal government has mostly tried to stay out of the issue by sticking to the line “waste is a municipal responsibility”. “The province sets the regulations, and then they stand back and watch the municipalities basically die on them…they don’t want to get themselves burned by getting involved,” Molot said.

York historian says US can’t win shooting wars

The tragic shooting in Kandahar this week stands as a bleak reminder of the contradictions besetting Canada’s new Afghan adventure, reported the Toronto Star March 18. In a just-published, book-length essay entitled The Age of War, historian and York Professor Emeritus Gabriel Kolko details Washington’s recurring inability since 1945 to decisively win the shooting wars in which it has been involved. The reason, he says, is that the US consistently overestimates the value of military power in resolving conflict. Conversely, it rarely, if ever, appreciates the political dimension. Assuming that overwhelming military strength alone can conquer, it involves itself where it has no business and, in the end, usually makes matters worse. Kolko doesn’t deal with Canada in this incisive book. After 1945, this country followed a different military path, one characterized by grudging support of the Americans (as in Korea) and United Nations peacekeeping.

First holder of new Schulich Chair notes lessons of business history

The Schulich school of business at York University, in Toronto, has established a chair in global business history, reported Britain’s Financial Times  March 20. The first professor to take up the chair will be Matthias Kipping, formerly professor in business history at the University of Reading, in the UK. The chair has been established with endowed funding provided by school benefactor Seymour Schulich. Prof Kipping will focus on teaching business history and on fostering innovative research in the subject. It may not seem to be one of the most innovative areas in business research, but according to Kipping, “Business history offers lessons from the past that can help managers make better decisions in the future. For example, history shows us that the fortunes of companies are shaped by long-term resource commitments and by a corporate culture that has developed over a long period of time.”

Canada is not a world leader in applying for patents

When it comes to filing patents to protect intellectual property, Canada lags behind other countries, reported The Globe and Mail March 21. With 2,193 patents applied for in 2005, Canada ranked below Germany, China, Russia, Britain, Taiwan, Italy, Australia and Brazil, and just above Sweden and Spain, according to Thomson Scientific, part of the scientific and health care market segment of Thomson Corp. Why the average performance? “Canada is a resource-based nation lacking the technology-intensive nature of smaller countries like Finland and Sweden,” said Thomas Keil, professor of entrepreneurial studies with the Schulich School of Business at York. In addition, Canada has many branch plants, and patent applications are usually generated by head offices, he said. “Patents and copyright are central mechanisms to foster innovation,” Keil said. “Patents are the only tangible thing a small firm or inventor owns. With few resources and personnel and no brand, patents may be all they have. They are one of the motors that keep innovation going.”

On air

  • Alumna Eryn Marshall (MA ‘03), a fiddler who studied music in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, was interviewed on CBC Radio’s “Here and Now” March 20.