Category: 2010 |

Keynote Address: George Lewis

Rethinking Diversity: New Music in the Global Context

Friday, January 8, 2010, from 9:00 to 10:00 am

With George Lewis — Edwin H Case Professor of American Music, Columbia University (NYC)

(The following is the complete speech by George Lewis)

Je me sens très étrange de parler de diversité parmi les Canadiens; surtout parce que je ne suis pas Canadien moi-même. [I find it very strange to be talking about diversity among Canadians; especially since I’m not myself Canadian. ]

Despite having had over thirty years of deep association with several Canadian experimental and scholarly scenes–in music, video, visual art, cultural studies, and new media studies (most recently in the West, but also in Toronto, Guelph, and Montreal) — with a number of my friends and collaborators in attendance this morning — I still have only a limited understanding of how Canadian cultural workers have approached the issue of diversity. I do have some sense, however, of the wide-ranging changes that have taken place in Canadian society over the past decade, and I’m sure that over the next two days I will learn a great deal about how emerging cultures of new music have been affected by these developments.

Duo 2: with Ajay Heble and Ellen Waterman, University of Guelph

The Improvisation Community and Social Practice Research Project:Some Thoughts on Outreach, Partnership, and Policy

Friday, January 8, 2010, from 1:45 to 2:30 pm

With Ajay Heble and Ellen Waterman, University of Guelph

1. Introduction

Thanks very much for the invitation. We’re pleased to be here. We’d like to use our duo talk today as an opportunity to give you a brief overview of the Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice (ICASP) research project. We’ll tell you a little about the project’s scope and context, about some of our key research goals, and, given this conference’s “Partnering Diversity” theme, we thought we’d give particular attention, via three key areas of inquiry (outreach, partnerships, and policy) to our understanding of the significant intervention that improvisation, as a social practice, might make into the ways we understand issues of diversity. And here, we want to think beyond our roles as creative artists in a professional arts milieu, to provoke some discussion about the wider roles that the creative arts could play in Canadian society. But first, and by way of introduction, we’d like to play you a short (6 minute) video about the project. (See

2. Scope and Context

Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice (ICASP) is a 4.3 million dollar collaborative research project generously supported for 7 years by SSHRC’s prestigious Major Collaborative Research Initiative program. Centered at the University of Guelph (and in partnership with McGill University, the University of British Columbia, and Université de Montreal), it brings together a dynamic international research team of 35 scholars from 20 different institutions to study the social implications of improvised musical practices, and it fosters innovative partnerships with numerous community-based organizations (including major institutions such as the Canada Council for the Arts and the Canadian Centre for Architecture, presenters such as the Guelph Jazz Festival, state-of-the-art research and documentation centres such as the Daniel Langlois Foundation, and street level service organizations such as KidsAbility Centre for Child Development). Outcomes will range across a wide spectrum of electronic, broadcast, and print media, with a focus on policy-oriented and community-facing impacts. The project will have a significant effect on how research is done and how its results are implemented and disseminated, both within and beyond the academy. In addition to public discourse and scholarly publication, our work highlights collaboration with international arts presenters, educators, street-level organizations, and policy makers to ensure the broadest possible impact on Canadian society.

The idea for the ICASP project comes in large measure out of the research and outreach activities associated with the Guelph Jazz Festival. As a regular part of the festival’s schedule of events, and for over a decade we’ve been running what is now an annual three-day international conference: it’s the only ongoing scholarly event of its kind to be linked to a North American jazz festival, and it has been bringing together scholars, creative practitioners, and audiences for vibrant and inspired critical exchanges. An event that has innovatively cut across a wide range of social and institutional locations, our annual conference has already fostered an impressive record of publication including two scholarly books and numerous published articles while also serving as something of an important training ground for young scholars and a meeting place for well established international researchers. Indeed, the work associated with the conference (the talks and panel discussions, the published papers, and, perhaps most importantly, the creation of a highly integrated and diverse network of international scholars and artists) has done much to shape and to define the emerging discipline of critical studies in improvisation. And it has shown us just how much interest and excitement there is in this emerging field. In fact, this work has created a climate of genuine intellectual excitement and innovation, and has led to the formation of the international research project we’re discussing with you today. And now, as part of the ICASP project, we’re running satellite conferences in Montreal, Vancouver, and most recently have inspired a similar project in Paris, using the Guelph model of partnerships between festivals and universities.

3. Research Questions and Hypotheses

The ICASP project’s core hypothesis is that musical improvisation is a crucial model for political, cultural, and ethical dialogue and action. Taking as a point of departure performance practices that cannot readily be scripted, predicted, or compelled into orthodoxy, we argue that the innovative working models of improvisation developed by creative practitioners have helped to promote a dynamic exchange of cultural forms, and to encourage new, socially responsive forms of community building across national, cultural, and artistic boundaries. Improvisation, in short, has much to tell us about the ways in which communities based on such forms are politically and materially pertinent to envisioning and sounding alternative ways of knowing and being in the world. Improvisation demands shared responsibility for participation in community, an ability to negotiate differences, and a willingness to accept the challenges of risk and contingency. Furthermore, in an era when diverse peoples and communities of interest struggle to forge historically new forms of affiliation across cultural divides, the participatory and civic virtues of engagement, dialogue, respect, and community-building inculcated through improvisatory practices take on a particular urgency.

We believe that there is much to be learned from performance practices that accent dialogue, collaboration, inventive flexibility, and creative risk-taking, much to be learned from art forms that disrupt orthodox standards of coherence, judgement, and value with a spirit of experimentation and innovation. Our broadly-based team of researchers and community partners is particularly well-positioned to take on such work. With expertise in critical, literary, historical, musical, sociological, anthropological, technological, and philosophical inquiry, policy-oriented social research, law, and creative response, our team is addressing pressing issues of social and cultural transformation: human rights, transculturalism, pedagogy, intellectual property rights, the civic participation of aggrieved populations, the role of creativity in powering economic growth–issues central to the challenges of diversity and social cooperation in Canada.

To what extent, and in what ways, then, might improvised creative practice foster a commitment to cultural listening, to a widening of the scope of community, and to new relations of trust and social obligation? What role does improvisation play in facilitating global and transcultural conversations, and how (and to what extent) are diverse identities, cultures, and viewpoints being brought together through improvisational music-making? How do artistic and social practices get transformed as they move across cultures? What can improvisation tell us about how communities get organized, how identities get formulated? How do the kinds of cultural (and pedagogical) institutions that present and promote improvised music shape our understanding of public culture, of memory, of history? These are among some of the key research questions we are exploring through the ICASP project.

4. Outreach

From the beginning, we’ve been concerned to reach beyond the academy into other communities, and to redefine the nature of “research”. Instead of “research on” we have adopted a model of “research with” a diverse range of participants that is consistent with the goals of community music. As Constantijn Koopman suggests: “Being flexible both musically and socially, community music does not require people to accommodate to some pre-existing format. It can devise tailor-made programmes addressing the needs and preferences of specific groups” (154). If we imagine improvisation as a form of community music, then our focus becomes one of widening and diversifying the community of available participants. One of the most potent questions we can then ask as musicians is: “who gets to participate?”

For the past two summers, we have worked with creative improvisers (Rich Marsella and Matana Roberts in 2008, and Jane Bunnett and Larry Kramer in 2009) to develop workshops with a group of special needs children at KidsAbility, a community-based program structured around providing children and teens with developmental, physical, and communication disabilities, with educational, physical, and social support. The “Play Who You Are” workshops bring a group of 10 to 15 kids together with artist/teachers who work with the kids over several sessions to produce a concert at the Guelph Jazz Festival. It’s a challenge! As Rich Marsella noted, “all my ideas were flushed down the toilet” — working with these kids (and their quite diverse circumstances and conditions) meant adapting his entire repertoire of workshop techniques. The musicians must carefully listen to feedback from staff, parents, and volunteers in addition to working directly with the participants (many of whom are non-verbal). The focus is on adapting musical means to allow the most direct participation by each child, whatever his or her challenges, tastes, and aptitudes might be.

One of our researchers, Pauline Oliveros, has further developed the connection between improvisation and diversity through her ground breaking work on adaptive use musical instruments for the physically challenged: a computer/camera tracking technology for musicking that extends the possibilities of creative improvisation among and across people with a wider range of bodies, mobilities, and sensory experience. Working with an occupational therapist and a technical team, Oliveros developed a non-intrusive virtual instrument designed for people with cerebral palsy and other motor/neural conditions who have almost no voluntary mobility and who cannot speak. The instrument is specifically designed to be improvisational — it enables users to interact directly with other musicians, and it encourages a wide variety of creative choices that can be accessed in the moment. With the help of this instrument, formerly silenced bodies become expressive, improvising bodies. Leaf Miller, an occupational therapist who is also an improvisational drummer, is one of the key researchers in this work. Miller makes a whole-body connection between musical creation and physical and mental functions; in my experience, her improvisational encounters with these children result in nuanced and expressive musicking.

Working with Oliveros and Miller, we are exploring ways in which adaptive use instruments explode our concepts of “talented,” “expressive,” “proficient,” and “creative” bodies in music. We are challenged to re-imagine not only the musical body, but musical research: How do we avoid pathologizing the musical activities of the physically and mentally challenged, and what does it mean to conduct “research” with those who cannot speak for themselves?

One of our Vancouver-based outreach projects is looking at an existing improvisation group: the Carnegie Jazz Band. Trombonist Brad Muirhead has been working for several years now with a wide variety of musicians through his jazz band class at the legendary Carnegie Centre that serves the diverse population of Vancouver’s downtown eastside. One of our graduate research assistants, Tegan Ceschi-Smith is looking at the impact of creative improvisation as a means for expression in a group that includes the homeless, the addicted, and those with multiple social/emotional/physical and mental challenges. A vital aspect of Ceschi-Smith’s work is playing violin in the band, and she understands both Muirhead and the other musicians as co-participants in the research. Improvisation as both a research model and a subject of inquiry calls us to listen deeply for diversity of expression, and moreover to join in the musicking–to participate in the dialogue–in a spirit of community building and sharing.

5. Partnerships

One of the most exciting things about the work we’re doing with ICASP is the degree to which we have succeeded in forging innovative partnerships with the larger community, and we note that this is neither an easy nor a common accomplishment in humanities-related research. With our project, we seek to develop mutually supportive partnerships in ways that will highlight how community, arts-based, and university research and education can purposefully support one another. Our partners represent many of the most vital participants in the cultivation and perpetuation of communities of arts and creative improvised music in Canada. And our partnerships include collaboration on the hosting of colloquia, the media dissemination of vital outputs from project research, and the promotion of research on improvisation well beyond its traditional existing constituencies (for a list of our current partners, please see the handout we’ve distributed). Through activities such as these, we will continue to establish and strengthen ties between musicians, audiences, and the local communities within which they function; and researchers who work to contextualize and articulate the vital implications of musical improvisation within culture at large.

Of particular interest in the context of the current forum are the partnerships we’ve established between university researchers, music festivals, and community-based street level social service organizations such as those described by Ellen in our discussion of outreach. Through these partnerships, as you’ve heard, we’ve put improvising musicians in direct and meaningful contact with marginalized people. The benefits of such partnerships, we would like to suggest, are many: they serve to break down silos, to bridge gaps, and to enable different kinds of organizations to come together, to engage in a productive process of knowledge-exchange. Moreover, they’ve played a key role in broadening and diversifying the methodological and disciplinary expertise of our research team to enable us to see beyond the assumptions and perspectives associated with our home disciplines. Indeed, we’ve seen first hand what happens when people from diverse sectors come together, how they learn from and challenge one another in productive and inspiring ways. Such a broadening is akin to what Hank Rubin, in his book Collaborative Leadership: Developing Effective Partnerships in Communities and Schools, calls moving beyond a “toolbox” mentality:

In the fields of education, social services, health care, and the arts, collaboration offers the advantage of moving beyond our toolbox mentality: a mentality that has us building the capacities of our organizations in order to accomplish their specific missions by identifying and mastering a prescribed set of tools we think our missions demand…. Collaborations not only add tools to the toolbox, they add diversity to the perspectives, broaden our understanding of the problems, and multiply the stakeholders with vested interest in seeing that our mission-driven goals are met. (10)

One of our research team members, George Lipsitz, makes a related observation. He tells us that “Those of us who work, teach, and study as ‘traditional intellectuals’ in institutions of higher learning have an important role to play in analyzing and interpreting the changes that are taking place around us. But we need,” he insists, “to develop forms of academic criticism capable of comprehending the theorizing being done at the grassroots level by artists and their audiences, of building bridges between different kinds of theory.” Our project takes seriously this insistence on building such bridges, on learning from artists and from grassroots organizations, on forging innovative partnerships between scholars, creative practitioners, arts presenters, and street level community-based organizations. While dominant methodological paradigms in the arts have typically been characterized by a separation between theory and practice, our project recognizes the extent to which improvised music-making offers a resonant model for a marriage of the two, and for addressing broad critical, social, cultural, and intellectual issues from a diverse range of perspectives. And part of what’s at issue here is the need to increase and diversify the base of valued knowledges, to enable understanding of a diversity of educational principles and sources of knowledge. Using improvisation as a pedagogical model in these communities, in other words, allows creative practitioners to tap into principles of learning that come out of diverse communities that have not historically been valued. (Last year, for example, as part of Black History month, we brought African American vocalist Dean Bowman and African Canadian / Chinese Canadian pianist DD Jackson into a very homogenous community, an old order Mennonite school, to lead a series of workshops on improvisation, spirituals, and gospel, which culminated in a performance with the students and the visiting artists.)

Our case studies show us that inclusivity and diversity, indeed, are two key aspects of improvisatory musical practices that may very well be different from more traditional models of music-making or institutionalized music pedagogy. Because improvisation as we conceive it need not be predicated on specific genres, and because it figures in the music of so many world cultures — we think that improvisation is a powerful tool for connecting people. And when people from diverse (and especially marginalized) communities (such as those we’ve discussed in relation to our outreach projects) don’t feel that traditional musical (or educational) institutions speak to them, improvisation may have the potential to build bridges, model new ways of speaking and collaborating, bring more people to “the table.”

Experience and theory alike have shown us that the communities in which we’ve been working have a great deal of capacity, that there is, indeed, significant (if often untapped) creative energy among members of aggrieved and marginalized populations. Unfortunately, however, as so many of the participants we have interviewed have also made clear, these communities are often short on resources. Institutions (like universities), on the other hand, have resources, and they can also provide an ability to track larger trends and bigger-picture issues. How, then, might we use our partnerships to tap into existing institutions and turn them into resources for change and transformation? This question informs one of the key areas where we hope, through our project, to make some useful policy interventions.

6. Policy

We’d like to end our presentation today by reviewing the conference description for this year’s Canadian New Music Network forum. It tells us that

The environment for creative concert music has changed radically in the past 25 years. New practices, new cultures, new partners — the scope of musical activity in Canada is truly astonishing. But how have these new practices, cultures and partners integrated into existing structures, into existing musical traditions? What are the benefits? What are the challenges? How can we create a strong, open and positive climate for real musical dialogue among the many cultural partners that make up the Canadian new music landscape?

We’re in agreement that there is an astonishing diversity of musical activity in Canada, but we wonder whether our traditional models—our existing structures and traditions—are really equipped to take on the challenge of honouring diversity? Does diversity simply mean a proliferation of acceptable genres of professional music making? That comes with an implicit (and sometimes explicit!) anxiety: we must divide a finite funding pie into more and smaller pieces. That is, if we accept that the imperative of diversity is “integration” into an existing norm.

What kind of paradigm shift would it take, we wonder, to really take on the idea of diversity in all its many manifestations? What kinds of policies (of arts funding and education for example) would we need to implement such a vision? As arts workers, are we prepared to examine, and possibly change, our existing structures (and our assumptions about what diversity means) so that more people’s creative expressions may “count”?

Works Cited

Koopman, Constantijn, “Community Music as Music Education: on the Educational Potential of Community Music,”International Journal of Music Education 2 (2007): 151 — 164.

Marsella, Rich. Interview with Ellen Waterman, September 2008.

Rubin, Hank, Collaborative Leadership: Developing Effective Partnerships in Communities and Schools. Thunder Oaks: Corwin Press, 2002.

Duo 3: with Moshe Denburg (Vancouver) and Joël Bons (Netherlands)

Saturday, January 9, 2010, from 9:00 to 9:45am

With Moshe Denburg (Vancouver) and Joël Bons (Netherlands)

(The following post-presentation report is from Moshe Denburg)

Moshe Denburg, of the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (VICO) andJoel Bons, of the Atlas Ensemble (based in Amsterdam) spoke about their experiences establishing an intercultural orchestra, and the ongoing challenges entailed in such an endeavour. Brief video clips were shown — one of a piece by Moshe Denburg with the VICO in concert, and several small clips by Joel illustrating the use and function of several non-western instruments, as related by master practitioners.

Moshe talked about the history of the VICO, and his motivation in founding an intercultural orchestra. He emphasized the personal side of ’overcoming one’s own ignorance and prejudice’ as a motivator, as well as the artistic vision of exponentially expanding the palette of sounds available to the composer. He also spoke about one of the main challenges of intercultural work: bringing together musicians trained in aural traditions with musicians trained in written traditions. Solutions can be found in teaching improvisation to reading musicians and teaching reading skills to improvisers. There are a variety of techniques that can be utilized.

Joel emphasized the ’mutual learning’ that is at the core of the intercultural project. He spoke about the differences between Vancouver and Amsterdam, in that Vancouver has a lot of non-western musicians to choose from, whereas Amsterdam has few, and so the Atlas Ensemble has had to go looking for non-western musicians all over the world and bring them to Amsterdam to realize various projects.

A lively question and answer period ensued, much of it focused on the importance of improvisation as a way to bring together the practices of different cultures.

Duo 5: Building National and Diverse Audiences for New Concert Music

Saturday, January 9, 2010 from 1:00 to 1:45 pm

With Russell Kelley (Canada Council) & Matthew Greenall (Sound and Music)

(The following notes are from Matthew Greenall)


Big topic! I will approach somewhat obliquely as new concert music only a part of SAM’s remit. However I hope reflections will be relevant, and touch on other themes that have run through the conference.

1. Why Sound and Music (SAM)

Feb 2004: meeting convened by Arts Council England. 10 organisations connected with new music in UK brought together to discuss ambitions for the sector. Orgs ranged from multi-cultural touring agencies to grass roots collectives, the national jazz agency, the MIC and professional development orgs for new music.

We established some common themes:

  • shared struggle to attract significant audience numbers
  • relatively low profile of our work vis-a-vis other arts forms (e.g. visual arts)
  • small scale operations leading to cycle of instability- no financial reserves- difficult to plan for growth or take advantage of opportunities

Arts Council then offered carrot and stick.

Carrot: new arts venue planned in central North London (Kings Place) next door to major transport hub (Kings Cross International Terminal). Mixed use of arts spaces (2 new halls) and office space with major arts friendly media client (Guardian newspaper) the main tenant. Opening 2007. We can move in, on preferential terms, and establish Kings Place as a new performance hub for new work.

Stick: we must combine to take advantage of opportunity to move in to Kings Place. Arts Council wants to write one cheque (implied: merge or your grants at risk).

Years of negotiation and politics followed. Two decisive turning points:

  • decision of 6 orgs to detach venue issue and its imposed timescale from that of merger, with merger becoming the lead agenda item
  • award of £1.2 million in 2007 from Arts Council organisational development funds to capitalise merger.

Eventual decision of four organisations to merge and create entirely new organisation:

  • British Music Information Centre (Bmic)
  • Contemporary Music Network (CMN — Arts Council’s own touring network for new music
  • Sonic Arts Network (SAN — organisation for sound art, electro-acoustic and acousmatic music)
  • Society for the Promotion of New Music (spnm — professional development organisation for composers)

Merger completed October 2008.

2. Audience development research

From earliest discussions of what would become SAM, clear that relationship with audiences would be a key development area.

2007-09: SAM worked with an audience development agency, Audiences London, to get a more complete picture of our core and potential audience.

Conducted first national audience survey (e-survey) of new music for many years. Some key findings:

  • Our audiences prioritised our live events profile, our knowledge base (publications, scores, collections) and they felt what we produced was of high quality
  • Postcode analysis of our key demographics showed high spike in ‘counter-cultural mix’ category (typically young professionals or students living in culturally diverse, socially mixed urban areas)
  • 75% of our respondents were male
  • Relatively low audience penetration in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Primary (e.g. in person, one-to-one) research in three areas:

  • interviews after events
  • immersive research, i.e. new audience member taken along to event and gives feedback
  • life charts: new music frequent experiencers or professionals chart their life journey to being new music ‘avids’

What we found from primary research

  • a lot of confusion and uncertainty over language and how to communicate the new music ‘experience’
  • a tendency of audiences to prefer engagement with risk and edginess in environments that were for them low-risk or non-risk
  • immersive research showed that for new attenders were deterred by events that seemed to priortise an in-crowd whilst excluding them (i.e. too long, not enough information, mis-match between marketing and event itself)

An overall view emerged of an audience outside our core of professional users that was curious, open to experiment, mobile, digitally aware, sometimes wanting a personal, participative involvement in work that went beyond role as a passive audience member.

3. How we believe Sound and Music will make a difference

SAM is still very new and has yet to fully establish its working practise. However, three areas to highlight:

Critical mass. SAM has a combined grant of £1.26 million from Arts Council (the sum of the four founders’ grants), an endowment inherited from one of the founders, and a significant reserve. This is stronger position from which to fundraise and withstand recession, from which to develop higher-level partnerships and profile events than the founders, to offer sector leadership and develop advocacy.

Working model. Our legacy from the four founders provides us with strong profile in four interconnected areas of work- live events, learning and participation, digital/web and knowledge/resources. By combining these we can provide rich content around projects or events, offering multiple entry points to our work for audiences.

Greater fluidity for artists. By working across genres and expanding the range of contexts in which we work, we offer artists, composers and producers greater opportunities to expand their own range of practise and engage with new audiences (e.g. professional development).

4. Some reflections on diversity and building audiences

Some thoughts from the perspective of SAM’s journey (in no particular order):

The UK is an environment that continually presents new challenges and new communities to address if an arts organisation is to remain relevant in a changing environment. Immigration since 1950’s and EU enlargement in 2000’s are big factors.

  • More than a third of London inhabitants now born outside UK
  • UK will soon have its first city where UK born inhabitants a minority (Leicester)
  • Approx. 10% of population of Lithuania currently lives in UK
  • Post 2004, between 2 and 3 million Poles (exact figure unknown) came to work in the UK. Many have stayed.

SAM has begun addressing some of these communities, through:

  • Artistic residencies, e.g. tabla player Kuljit Bhamra as Artistic Director — tour of Melas and projects with north Asian communities (2007-09)
  • Support for UK’s Fertlilizer Festival of new Polish music (2009)

From audience research, we have objective to collect own data and build knowledge around audiences. Trying to see ourselves as we are seen and change the dialogue with venues, promoters and presenters around data sharing to get more access..

Take seriously and address the issues that alienate potential new audiences.

Engage local communities through its leaders and take new work to them in spaces where they feel at home and can bring an audience (in UK, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group is an example of good practise)

Work with and embed leading artists to make diversity implicit rather than token in an organisation. Reflect diversity on Board and staff team.

Panel 1: Finding Unity in Diversity: the Structural Issues

Friday, January 8, 2010, from 10:15 to 12:00 pm

The following notes are from Jim Hiscott — Composer • Musician • Producer • Co-Artistic Director of Groundswell (Winnipeg)


GroundSwell is an example of unity in diversity in a new music series in Winnipeg. The organization was founded in 1991 by an amalgamation of three new music series, Music Inter Alia, IZ music, and Thira, as a strategy in coping with the radically diminishing funds for new music (and other music forms) being offered by the Manitoba Arts Council. There were not enough funds for three separate series; so we combined to make one series with an artistic committee comprised of the directors o the former three organizations: Diana McIntosh, Michael Matthews, Therese Costes, William Pura and Jim Hiscott. Therese is a vocalist, the rest are composers or composer/performers.

The process of getting together took some time–three organizations which were initially in competition sharing the programming, each maintaining a strong creative position in the new amalgamation.


The plan soon evolved for each Artistic Director to take one concert in every year, and curate it relatively independently.

We have a board and an executive director, and a group of Artistic Directors (max five, min three) called the Artistic Directorate (to distinguish it from a committee of the board, which has a different relationship to the board– so pres not ex-officio, ad must exist as opposed to being discretionary, board member can’t be AD member without AD consensus, etc.). Accountability: the board must approve any new choices of artistic director, and renew the existing Artistic Directors on a three–year basis, both after advice from the Artistic Directorate (based on consensus).

The curator is responsible for, among other things, choosing the rep. and creating the program; choosing musicians and venue; communicating with the executive director re hotel and travel bookings if required; ordering performance materials; writing the outlines of promotion texts; writing a curator’s note for each program, and writing and editing the program booklet itself. Curators contribute written content, through the Artistic Coordinator, to grant applications, season marketing campaigns and season brochures.

Almost all our concerts are original curations of the Artistic Directors, conceived from beginning to end.

As the process developed, each curator went a different direction, developing different interests. Some of us are interested in various types of theatrical presentation, involving dance, acting, alternate venues, even a bus transporting the audience around to different inner city semi-industrial locations, each for one piece on the program. We have sometimes hired a stage designer to create and direct these productions from a theatrical point of view, adding a layer of theatrical oversight while keeping the musical integrity intact as in a traditional concert.

Some of us are interested in avant-garde modernism, others folk music influences, other mainstream chamber repertoire, others spoken word. We have featured local musicians throughout our series, encouraging those who love new music, and introducing others to the joys of new music. We’ve also brought a regular number of national and international performers– including Cuarteto Latinoamericano from Mexico; the Mondriaan Quartet from the Netherlands; the Hilliard Ensemble; a trio made up of Shauna Rolston, Susan Hoeppner, and Heather Schmidt, conductors like Alain Trudel leading 15-piece ensembles.


In order to promote consistency, we have introduced critiques of each concert, done by the other Artistic Directors and then by the board. At one point we tried soliciting audience feedback via evaluation forms, but this proved less detailed, informative or objective, than individual opinions garnered from musicians, specific audience members, and board & artistic colleagues.

We also tried one or two years to move from individually-curated concerts to a groupcurated series, with each curator proposing ideas for each of a series of five concerts developed by a process of consensus. This was interesting, but resulted in more homogeneity of concept from concert to concert than we wanted. We found we had lost the contrast and variety of the series as constructed in our original way.

While we have returned to single-curator events, we have planning meetings, in which each curator suggests a detailed program for his or her concert, with artists and repertoire, along with a budget and venue. The other ADs give suggestions or feedback, perhaps regarding choice of musicians, or additional repertoire which may be appropriate. they may also express concerns about budget details. The general direction or inspiration of each program is respected by the other ADs, so that the season’s programs are as diverse as the five curators’ visions.

These program discussions begin 2 or 3 years in advance of the actual productions, because funders require several years’ lead-time. This result is favourable for us because it enables us to adjust programming if desirable. (It might be that 2 ADs propose somewhat similar programs for the same season, so with a long lead-time, they can work out adjustments together, with suggestions from all ADs. Also, if for a season one AD proposes an unusually costly program, the others might need to trim their budgets. Such adjustments have been made amicably several times.)

As another way to bring consistency to the series, an Artistic Coordinator was designated early on. The AC brings together the logistics and production details, and helps the executive director as a liaison with the production and creative side of the organization– without taking any creative precedence. The AC coordinates the marketing materials and brochure as chair of the marketing committee.

So the consistent elements are:

The Executive Director, who does contracts, books facilities, etc. The board, to which the Artistic Directorate is responsible Budgetary reporting and responsibility through AC, ED and Board treasurer Consistency of presentation, programs & notes through Artistic Coordinator-proofing, etc., especially for Guest Curators.

Satellite Concerts

Because our concerts are original curations, it’s been harder for us to deal with the many new music tours that are proposed to us; so several years ago we began a satellite series, on a smaller budget, where we would present a touring ensemble as a sixth concert in our series. We have featured the Turning Point Ensemble from Vancouver, pianist Roger, the Quasar Saxophone Quartet, Ensemble Contemporaine and Veronique Lacroix with their Generation x tour, Winnipeg’s own student improv ensemble XIE (shay) led by Gordon Fitzell. This season we’re going local with this concert and incorporating it with our outreach program, presenting the Winnipeg Youth Symphony Orchestra ina program of new music with several Canadian and Manitoban works.

Musicians’ fees

As I mentioned, we often bring musicians from outside the community, with programs specially curated by GroundSwell. But most of the time we employ local musicians. We have a strong pool of musicians and singers in Winnipeg, many interested especially in new music (we’ve drawn several guest curators from this group). We have always felt that we should pay musicians well for their work. Learning and performing a variety of new pieces for the first time on a program is demanding, and the fees reflect the difficulty of the music, the number of pieces performed, and the great contribution brought by each musicians to the success of the music-making in each concert.


GroundSwell does not have a “home of its own”, but rather finds the most suitable venue for the program it is presenting, be it a regular concert hall, or a church or whatever. There are not many halls with good pianos. And renting and moving a good one is difficult because they are scarce, and expensive. Also, for our more theatrical productions, venues with proper lighting and sound systems are scarce, particularly when we also need a good piano for the program. Each of our ADs works this out for his/her own program.

This variability of venues does not seem to deter our audiences. They seem eager to explore with us, and we have had very well-attended concerts in such diverse places as our Manitoba Legislative Building, The Winnipeg Branch of The Royal Canadian Mint, The Western Canada Aviation Museum, on the streets of Winnipeg. and in an Equestrian Centre — complete with a dozen horses doing a routine to contemporary music!

Advantages of GroundSwell’s structure

1. Variety of programming for our audience

New music in the past couple of decades and likely into the foreseeable future, is perhaps more varied and non-uniform than it has ever been. Because we have a directorate of experienced ADs with different tastes and visions, as well as guest curators who bring their own interests, we can present a wide range of this music to our audience. We are the only new music series in Winnipeg, and so we owe it to our audience to present as diverse a program of styles as we can within our mandate. In one season we can present, avant-garde modernism, minimal or folk-based music, popular music fusion, electronic music, improvisation, etc. We can do a tribute to Elliott Carter, feature the Hilliard Ensemble in a concert of Canadian music, or put on an evening of theatre-and-dance collaborations. In the early years of the WSO New Music Festival we collaborated with the ground-breaking theatre company Primus one year, and in another worked with Balinese instruments and a Scottish bagpipe ensemble.

2. Continuity/succession

A major benefit of having four or five artistic directors is that we can plan for succession and smooth transition of creative contributors. Our organization is not thrown into turmoil when an AD leaves us, because we have a continuing strength in place to cover the opening, and we are not under extreme pressure to fill it. New artistic directors are chosen by consensus among the existing ADs, with the new candidates then proposed, by the Artistic Directorate, for approval by the GroundSwell board.

In 1998, when one of our founding Artistic Directors left the organization, we worked with a succession of guest curators from out of the province, in order to bring different ideas to our season. This added invaluable ideas, although it was sometimes logistically challenging, and always required a local project coordinator. A couple of years ago two of our ADs left at almost the same time, and we filled their positions with guest curators, this time all from Winnipeg. Last season we featured a tribute to Elliott Carter put together by guest curator Cheryl Pauls– a pianist rather than a composer; this season we had a concert called “Licks and Riffs” mixing popular and classical music influences, curated by percussionist Ben Reimer, who lives in both worlds. He also has a lot of students, and he helped us sell out the concert– we turned away people at the door after reaching the fire safety limit. You can hear that concert on CBC’s Concerts in Demand. Later this month, Winnipeg composer Orjan Sandred will bring composers Hans Tutschku and Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi for a concert called Live Electronic Spaces–we haven’t had a lot of live electronics in the past, and Orjan’s expertise and contacts allow us to feature some of that world’s best.

Guest-curated concerts involve more effort from the Artistic Coordinator, as new curators need to learn the operations of GroundSwell; sometimes they haven’t put on a major concert before. We have begun to think of this as a sort of mentorship for new music concert presenters, where we use our experience to help people approach a complex process with support and our knowledge of details and potential challenges given as necessary. This continues down to the concert day, where we help with any issues that arise– the complications, perhaps crises, which can arise during live productions with a large cast of musicians and other collaborators.

In terms of succession, we have just welcomed this season a new artistic directorate, composer Gordon Fitzell, who teaches at the University of Manitoba. We still have three of our original ADs; and so there is strong continuity, and none of the major rifts that can occur when there is only one Artistic Director who may suddenly leave without a successor.

3. Opportunity for curators

Another enormous advantage that our structure provides is opportunity for several people, rather than for only one person, to gain invaluable experience in Arts Administration, programming, budgeting, etc., etc. In fact, one of our ADs — a composer — was hired for a senior position with a provincial Arts Council.

4. Financial Practicality

Our structure is also practical with regards to our budget. We remunerate our artistic directors a small honorarium, and pay our Artistic Coordinator a nominal amount for administrative work throughout the year. The total amount of all these expenses is about 15,000. This isn’t a ’living wage’ by any means, but, if all the hours devoted in a year to the work, by all the ADs and the Coordinator, were totalled, they would likely exceed the 2,000 hours that a full-time position of fifty 40-hour weeks would provide in a year. In return, our ADs enjoy the benefit of having a piece performed once a year, and the benefit of being involved, and in close touch, with their peers. These additional benefits do not put bread on the table, nor would they for any full-time incumbent.

5. Summation

This structure works well in Winnipeg, since we are the only new music series and have a mandate to bring a wide variety of new music aesthetics to our audience. It also works because we have an overarching structure that brings consistency to the diversity of our individual Artistic Directors’ visions and productions.

This could work in a bigger city, with perhaps a narrower artistic focus (eg when a given new music group might be serving a niche of the new music audience, wih other groups doing different programming), as long as each AD is true to the organization’s goals & mandate. There has to be a functioning spirit of consensus among the Artistic Directors, and freedom for each to be creative. But this does give several people the opportunity to be involved creatively in the nm scene, to take agency and bring their creative ideas into the arena.

Plenary Session Notes

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Notes taken by Janice Jackson — Chair, Forum 2010 Steering Committee • Artistic Director, Vocalypse Productions • Soprano (Halifax)

Tim Brady led the meeting, which started at 4:08 pm.

Tim indicated that we doubled our original expectations for attendees. We have had over 70 attendees for this Partnering Diversity Forum 2010.

He indicated that we have not yet found the perfect mechanism to communicate to our fellow citizens. If we can speak to each other more frequently we will have a better understanding of our community and we could start to build a language and discourse which would help us communicate to our communities. He also indicated that the CNMN is never about telling people what to program etc. We are giving artists a way to facilitate communication between each other and our communities.

The floor was opening up to the following topics:

  1. How can we move forward and improve the forum project?
  2. How can the CNMN help us as artists do things we want to do?

Jim Hiscott: What records have been taken during the forum?

Tim: We took notes of the panels.

Emily: If any of the duos have notes, could they email them to Emily?

Nilan Perera: 3 suggestions.

  1. Could we live stream the forums?
  2. Could there be more time given for questions / comments from the floor?
  3. Could we have the bios of the participants posted before they speak?

Coat Cook: Podcast: video camera?

DB Boyko: It would have been advantageous to have a few definitions of diversity at the beginning of the forum.

Clemens Merkel: Could we have one session with all the changes in grant policies at the beginning of the forum?

Ellen Waterman: The FORUM Centered around the theme of Diversity…. but, more was brought out. Could the CNMN take on some of the lessons of diversity which we have learned from the conference for the next forum? Could all our efforts be a serious attempt to take on this theme?

Tim: We try to be a tool rather than imposing our view. We gave ownership of the forum to the steering committee which was mostly Haligonians. The board can impose a certain criteria for the next forum and Vancouver can also decide.
Ellen: Could Vancouver motion to support diversity in our ranks and the way we deal with people?

Russell Kelly: CPAC may have data information on diversity.

Jean-François Denis: At the next forum could we talk about the practical problems of the people who are coming to the forums? What are our problems and how do we solve them? Could we address our structural work? Our meeting was a great celebration of our diversity. We are already celebrating creation and human expression.

DB Boyko: She feels it is important to have a sense of follow up.

David Pay: He supports Ellen point of view to legislate diversity as a priority.

DB Boyko: Vancouver will have an advisory committee from across the country.

Caot Cook: People in different regions have different needs and values. For this to really work we need to look at the values and needs we share. What are our common needs?

Gyula Csapo: Diversity has different aspects. There are other aspects: the structures that produce are voices…how do they inform who we are? Certain music presentation modes…larger works. How could they be present in a Canadian context?

Jennifer Waring: What do we get together on, Jean-François? Coat, could we also find the differences in our values etc.?

Jean-François Denis: One person here said: “I am part of a music milieu”: Cities are strong areas, a forum could be about our diverse practices across the country and what are our differences? The mandate of cities would help us know how different the dynamics are. One city says “no copros” another says “this is ok”. Organizing our thoughts and how we work and sharing this knowledge.

Blair McKay: You can’t get a new audience if you don’t make the concerts accessible.

Coat Cook: There is a group called Sonic Presence in BC, umbrella for new music. They are having a problem finding people to buy in? How can we nurture the CNMN to help people buy into this organization as a national presence and voice?

Moshe Denburg: Note of caution in making political statements. One person makes a statement…this is a dialogue. Can we continue the thought process and let it coalesce?

DB Boyko: Could we use this body to make political advocacy? This is a place where we can educate ourselves and take discourse onto the next level?

Tina Pearson: The CNMN is very young and there have been 4 forums. She would to thank Tim for all of his efforts. Tina is writing a flying squad grant and is happy to hear all of our questions. If any one would like to be involved in the process contact her.

Jim Hiscott: Could we have a whole day of meetings…a round table of meetings with an agenda? Have a few months where we can prepare what we want to say?

Russell Kelly: The Flying Squad provides the tools to facilitate discussion and discourse. CNMN are experiencing something which other organizations are experiencing: facilitating a solid voice. We have more in common than differences.

Sandeep Bhagwati would like to thank Tim.

Everyone agrees!