York ’s Stephanie Martin gets her big Bach break

In a world awash in distractions, Stephanie Martin is passionate in her defence of the enduring value of community music-making, wrote the Toronto Star April 23. What it may lack in glamour, it compensates with something else.

“You can talk about relevancy, popularity or seeming to be relevant,” says the church organist, choir director, harpsichord master and professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts in a North Toronto living room where books and music scores threaten to topple from every surface. “What’s relevant about what I do is there are these groups of people that gather every week and they create these amazing works of art. The sense of community that comes out of singing choral music or singing in a church choir – that’s irreplaceable. If that’s not relevant, I don’t know what is.”

Martin is about to realize a dream this weekend, as the Pax Christi Chorale, which she directs, performs Johann Sebastian Bach’s monumental Mass in B Minor at Grace Church on-the-Hill. “Now, at age 47, I’m finally getting to conduct it with professional voices and a full orchestra,” Martin says. The soloists include young Canadian Opera Company regular, soprano Virginia Hatfield.

In the course of the interview, it eventually becomes clear that this Bach Mass is a particularly sweet event. At York University, where she says she has taught at least 20 different courses as well as harpsichord and organ, she tries to raise the awareness among her pupils of more recent local heroes…. “Canadians are loath to celebrate our heroes. In Britain, you have the Elgar Society and the Finzi Society where everyone will gather around this great figure and celebrate their achievements. Here, we’re kind of, ‘Yeah, we’ve heard of him, but we’ve never heard his music.“

Asked if there’s a secret to engaging her students, Martin says that it’s the same force all musicians need to nurture all the time: a love of what they’re doing. “Otherwise it would be like cooking and serving something that you wouldn’t eat yourself.”

Famed composer gets a jazzy makeover

A made-in-Mississauga jazz oratorio – written by an outstanding Canadian jazz musician and composer on a commission from a celebrated local arts group – will be performed for the first time ever on the stage of The Living Arts Centre on May 3, wrote The Mississauga News April 22.

You could say the pairing of the Mississauga Choral Society (MCS) and composer and baritone sax master David Mott, who teaches music in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, is a match made in heaven. It would be a bad pun, but an accurate description.

The Riverdale resident has fashioned a 28-minute jazz reinterpretation of the first seven days of the Earth’s existence, first musically explored in Haydn’s 18th-century masterpiece, The Creation. That’s a work whose exemplary execution over many years helped make the reputation of MCS, which was founded in 1975.

When MCS said it would be performing The Creation at its first recital March 1, “I told them that I had a fiendish idea – a 21st-century jazz version of The Creation.”

Providing the perfect backdrop to the music will be a series of photographs from deep space, taken by Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean (BSc Spec. Hons. ’77, PhD ’83), now head of the Canadian Space Agency, who loves Mott’s music so much that he programmed two of his original songs (Regarding Starlight and Eclipse) to listen to while orbiting the globe.

Dynamic violinist makes Campbell River appearance

Moshe Hammer, one of the most dynamic and admired violinists of our time, will appear in concert with pianist Jamie Syer at the Campbell River United Church, Saturday, June 6 at 7pm, wrote BC’s Campbell River Mirror April 21. They are announcing the performance well in advance so no one will miss this much-anticipated concert.

A naturalized Canadian living in Toronto, Hammer founded The Amadeus Ensemble, and taught violin in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts. He also launched The Hammer Band in 2006, teaching youth to apply themselves to music as an alternative to street gangs and violence. As well, he offers master classes to young violinists wherever he travels.

BC voting reform may set trend, writes York grad

British Columbia voters get another chance on May 12 to reform the way they elect representatives to their legislative assembly – and perhaps start a trend for the rest of Canada, wrote York grad Mervyn Norton (MES ’82) in The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon, Sask.) April 23. The impact would be comparable to fundamentally changing how NHL hockey playoffs determine a championship team.

BC came close to approving a new voting system in 2005, but the support of almost 58 per cent of voters fell just short of the required 60 per cent threshold for approval. Similar reform referendums were held in Prince Edward Island in 2005 and Ontario in 2007, yet in both those cases the new proposals garnered only about 37 per cent of support.

The close vote convinced the BC government to stage another sudden-death referendum in conjunction with the upcoming provincial election. If the 60 per cent threshold is exceeded this time around, a new system will have to be implemented in time for the next provincial vote in 2013.

Health Canada too quick to approve drugs, says Lexchin

A critic of the pharmaceutical industry says Health Canada’s approach to drug regulation puts too much emphasis on speeding up drug approvals, wrote the Hamilton Spectator April 23. Also, there is too little emphasis on following the safety profile of drugs once on the market.

Dr. Joel Lexchin, professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management, Faculty of Health, says the Food and Drugs Act doesn’t give Health Canada enough tools to deal with safety once drugs are approved for sale. Health Canada says Lexchin’s report doesn’t take into account a recent beefing up of the department’s efforts to track drug safety after a product has been approved. Still, they admit some of Lexchin’s criticisms are valid.

Merging architecture with dance

Over his 30-year dance and choreography career, Bill James became known across the country for his vision of dance in unconventional spaces, wrote The Peterborough Examiner April 23. Always on the move, James worked at various other jobs including being artistic director for a dance group in Montreal and teaching dance at York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

On air

  • James McKellar, director of the Real Property Development Program in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about his study of Toronto and sustainability on Sun TV, April 22.