Keep the fire burning Part 2: From the CPO to U2

Many artists are trying to Keep Their Fire Burning, usually by playing in small spaces with cameras running, and sometimes releasing earlier triumphs with the hope of remaining relevant: which is better? Well that depends how much you want to hear live music.

Man wearing formal clothes holds large tube across his abdomen
Photo by Trudie Lee

Whether it’s the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, having soloists from among its members play in exotic spaces around the city, or the Raga Mala Music Society, whose musical events “include artists from both Northern (Hindustani) and Southern (Carnatic) Traditions of India (and) which include most of the stalwarts and many rising talents or rising stars,” all of these experienced professionals have transferred their live performances to a virtual showcase, and if it can capture even a small amount of their face-to-face brilliance they will move you deeply.

Alternatively, if you’re a band like U2 with 40 years of arena rock lying around in boxes and bags, you can release high points from your career without any sense of self reproach! Having just watched them on YouTube performing in Ireland in 1991, and remembering seeing them there myself in 1990, I can attest to the timeless energy that they convey in every show they perform! And with other concerts from their ‘80s life to their ‘20s life on offer, there is an amazing amount of performance beauty in all these areas

Calgary’s national music centre is presenting music in its own spaces using its own tools and then providing it online for us to enjoy! Whether it’s genre changing synthesizers or the product of Canadian MCs, the local experience is priceless.

Occasionally appearing in the NMC themselves, the Calgary folk Festival’s midwinter Block Heater extravaganza went ahead with online shows at specific days and times, and asks people to donate for the tickets in the hopes of supporting the musicians whose lives are being similarly shattered by this lack of audiences: the artist provided original performances which now exist in recorded form: live as live can be when no-one’s allowed in the room! Find them there while you still can.

Event poster
Image by Liam Prost.

Or it’s our Honens International Piano Competition releasing recordings that were made during the actual competitions. As the Honens demonstrates, there are many ways to approach the difficulties of currently audienceless performance, and necessity IS the mother of invention.

Another collection of live performances that precedes our pandemic awareness by a decade is Jam In The Van. They have been setting up exactly that (jams in their van) from festivals all over the US, and loading them up on YouTube since 2011: lots of different styles; lots of different places; lots of great music!

And this doesn’t even touch on the artist with smaller resources, who hook up with charities or fundraisers to simply get a chance to share: without an audience, you’re just sitting in the bedroom playing to your cat! Instead, musicians can support cancer survivors or ability challenged individuals with organizations like Wellspring and Vecova; fundraising by their presence, and perhaps gaining new listeners at the same time: it ain’t exactly U2 at Red Rocks or a chamber quartet in an art gallery, but the connection makes it all worthwhile.

Other organizations support musicians directly through their ongoing concerts and travel bursaries, like the Mountainview Festival which has been bringing young performers to play in Calgary for decades, and now are giving them an online audience through the Isolation Point Concert Series. Their mandate is “(to provide) opportunities for young musicians from across Canada and around the world to gain valuable experience performing and perfecting the song and chamber music repertoire.” These are high-end students performing at a professional level, beautifully!

Image courtesy of Unique Perspectives.

In the more traditional, or less traditional sense, depending on how you look at it, the Tsuu T’ina Nation just southwest of Calgary have been providing access to Pow wow events that they’ve hosted for some time on Youtube, whether dance competitions of different kinds or musical performances by local and visiting singers and drummers. Personally, I find this music some of the most powerful in this article: an example of how rhythm and voice carries so much of the human soul to others, either dancing or listening. You NEED to hear some of these!

The aforementioned Honens Piano Competition has also organized the Tour des Laureates which brings winners from earlier Competitions together to talk about, and play, music online in the interest of Keeping the Fire Burning on both sides of the instrument.

And that, my friends, is what it’s all about. More live musical styles and opportunities to come!

Posted by Carey Rutherford

Author: Carey Rutherford

Swallowed by the mutual loves of words and music (but far too chicken-shit to perform them with a band), Carey’s writing career started slowly as a freelance writer in 2003, starved him nearly to personal bankruptcy until 2008, and changed directions while writing for FastForward, Beacon Calgary, GayCalgary, and Examiner magazines. With the death of many old-school periodicals, and the explosion of musical diversity in Calgary, the modern approach to writing about live music performance in the Calgary region presented uncluttered landscapes for the focussed passion that Carey’s conversations with musicians, drag queens, festival producers and small animals has uncapped. He was moulded by the brilliance of paper-based periodicals old and new (Life, rolling Stone, Swerve! and Adbusters etc.), and sees the info-verse as needing creative, empathetic, but clear-eyed Agents to communicate these performances.