I spent the lion’s share of last week in Toronto, Canada, for the first half of the 2009 Conference of the International Association of Music Information Centres. These conferences are always a great opportunity to learn about what is going on in the contemporary music scenes in countries all over the world (mostly Europe, but also New Zealand and this year also Cyprus). In addition, it’s a great way to foster international collaborations. One such collaboration was a IAMIC Remix Concert at the Rivoli on Queen Street (at the edge of Toronto’s Chinatown and close to the City Center) where five local DJs remixed contemporary music tracks submitted by music centres in 12 different countries. The United States was represented by excerpts from Joseph Bertolocci’s groove-laden Bridge Music which proved to be an ideal sonic source for the trippy laptop manipulations of Bartek Kawula.
But perhaps most importantly, IAMIC conferences provide the opportunity for a complete immersion in the new music community of the host country, since the conference takes place in a different country every year. Over the course of four days, amid various meetings for the various delegates and panels open to the general public, we also were able to meet some of Canada’s most prominent composers and experience some highlights of the opening weekend of the Luminato Festival which included the world premiere of The Children’s Crusade, a new opera by R. Murray Schafer. Staged throughout a large warehouse with the audience walking around from scene to scene, this widely anticipated production was an extremely unusual event. Schafer is an icon in Canada, yet his music is hardly ever performed south of the 49th parallel. Even more thrilling was hearing a performance of a short minimalist piano piece by Ann Southam whose music I had previously heard only on recordings issued on Centre discs (the Canadian Music Centre’s label). Why aren’t pianists across the United States playing this repertoire?
The IAMIC Conference is currently continuing in Vancouver, but I’m now in Chicago for the conference of the League of American Orchestras. Today I’m in an all-day orchestral leadership academy focused on pops concerts. One of the participants is composer Jeff Tyzik who conducts pops concerts in Rochester, New York, Portland, Oregon, and, as luck would have it, Vancouver. At one point during his presentation, he exclaimed that when he’s in Canada he says that he’s a proud “Canarican.” How can we engender a greater sense of continental pride among the rest of us?
In many ways, Canada and the United States are mirror images of each other. Both are sprawling nations comprised of a collection of smaller regions spread across numerous time zones from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts. Both were created by European settlers initially displacing indigenous communities but gradually evolved into extremely diverse multicultural populations. And the music of our two countries reflects this parallel evolution. So you might think that as a result of these similar developments, as well as our close proximity to each other, that there would be strong cultural ties between us, but surprisingly there is much that we do not know about each other.
In the past, both Canada and the USA looked to Europe for cultural inspiration. As our own traditions developed, we both became more inward looking. And now we look at the entire world, though all to often not toward each other. Of course, American pop music is ubiquitous everywhere and Canada is no exception. Every now and then a Canadian artist breaks into that global market as well, but all too often is assumed to be from the USA almost by default. Canada has legislated ways to ensure that their own culture is prominent at home and is not completely subsumed by its more densely populated and, believe it or not, slightly smaller, southern neighbor, but there is still a long way to go for their culture to take a foothold elsewhere in the world. Similarly, though our popular music is a primary export, other musics are less well represented. It seems that there could and should be a lot more we could do to foster more extensive collaborations between our musicians and performers to ensure a greater presence in each other’s countries. So what would it take to establish a NAFTA for culture?