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Michael Kaiser,

I concur with the last sentence of your post

“Wouldn’t the future of the arts in America be brighter if we dedicated our efforts to creating more and better art rather than bigger and fancier buildings?”

It is a burning question; and “build it, and, they will come”, IMO, is no longer relevant.


Adding to this, #IndieOpera is leading the way in presenting Opera in venues other than the “palaces” you mention; such as #divebars, parks, barges on lakes, rivers, city streets, farmers markets, train stations and the list goes on.

Start-Ups for live streaming such as is actively striving to connect the performing arts to people globally.

Just another example that compliments going to a movie theatre to see the performing arts live, delayed, simulcast etc.

And certainly less expensive than building a new state of the art #ArtsPalace too.

Thank you for this post!

PS: We still need the live performing arts to thrive; and in existing #ArtsPalaces too! Without the live performing arts there will be nothing to beam up to a #VirtualArtsCommunity wherever, whatever and whoever they may be.

Now, bring on the discussion! Keep it nice, please and ThankYou!


To reinforce #NOMusicEducation cuts in SD #39, (or other school districts for that matter), I unequivocally support Maestro Bramwell Tovey’s apolitical and ardent advocacy for Vancouver SD#39 not cutting band and string programs at the Elementary School level.





April 15, 2014, Maestro Bramwell Tovey, in his own words:

In April 2010 there was a similar public hearing when the Vancouver School Board had proposed eliminating band and strings programs. Extensive public consultation resulted in the proposal to abolish being withdrawn. The VSB were widely praised for this action which was in response to the overwhelming message of support for music in our schools from parents, pupils, the VSO and many other interested parties. The VSB listened and reacted with great leadership and insight.

At that time, I made a submission in person, which I am unable to do tonight as ironically, I am in the UK leading the spring course for the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain, an organization dependent on the music education programs in British schools.

Our 2010 submission contained many details about the value of music in the lives of children. I would refer you to those remarks which were published in the Vancouver Sun and are available online. It is not necessary to repeat why music is so essential a part of a rounded education – but briefly, may I remind everyone present that music is the only language understood by everyone in our wonderfully diverse community of citizens.

Music is the expression of the inner narrative of every child, the common thread of communication to those who participate in a band or orchestra.

Tonight we wish to express the strongest disapproval of the VSB’s latest proposal to eliminate the Elementary band and strings programs. We are extremely sympathetic to the predicament of the Vancouver Schools Board whose budgets must be balanced and whose role is to make difficult decisions, the depth and complexity of which require an understanding and judgment which by its very nature is highly specialist.

We are aware that VSB are encouraging those against the cuts to take up the matter with the provincial government. However, we sincerely believe that there is a particular concern about the elimination of the Elementary and String program that it is only possible for the VSB to solve.

Reinstating an eliminated program is very rare indeed. The teachers’ jobs have gone, the pupils have departed, the instruments have been sold. The whole support infrastructure has to be recreated from scratch, a very expensive undertaking, even when money seems to grow on trees.

Restoring levels of funding to an already existing program at a later date in better circumstances, is a much simpler scenario. It is difficult to believe that if VSB eliminates this program at this moment, a future VSB would welcome the opportunity in better times, to face all the financial issues of recreating it. This is why we are urging the VSB not to eliminate the Elementary band and strings program entirely. It would be impossible to resurrect it at a later date.

If the Elementary program were to be eliminated now, it seems inevitable that at the next VSB budget, high school programs would follow the same fate.

We cannot begin to understand the depth of the issues facing VSB in the many essential areas of public education for which they are responsible. Our only expertise is in music. We have seen the power of music to unite people of widely disparate backgrounds. We have been in the schools, working with the students and teachers with the full support of the VSB under the banner of our program VSO CONNECTS. As VSB knows, as music director, I have been fully involved with this program with the presentation “Meet the Maestro,” conducting school bands and orchestras, meeting with parent/teacher groups, raising money for groups and much else besides.

We are aware that the VSB is urging those against the cuts to speak out against the provincial government. The VSO will pursue its own private channels with the provincial government to communicate our serious concerns about the situation regarding the VSB budget problems. We are a non-partisan arts organization, but when it comes to the education of the children in our community, we realize that as a centre of excellence in performance and education, we have responsibilities.

For the VSO the stakes are much higher in 2014 than in 2010. VSO Connects, which was only in its infancy in 2010, is now a fully fledged program, drawing on several years of success and operating in every school district in the Lower Mainland. In 2011 the VSO School of Music opened its doors, offering additional individual lesson capacity, group learning from infancy, adult classes and a great deal more.

Perhaps most importantly, the VSO is in a community partnership with the extraordinary work going on in the St James Music Academy on the downtown Eastside where opportunities for young people are few and far between. As mentors and partners to SJMA, working with students and ensembles the VSO has renewed its mission to bring music to as many children as possible in our community.

If I might repeat one thing from our 2010 submission it would be this


The social benefits of music are extraordinary –

If a student holds a musical instrument then he or she can’t hold a knife, or a joint, or a needle or a crack pipe – or a gun. 

If a student is in a choir or a band or an orchestra, they are communicating through the universal art of music at the heart of our community.

Please support the children who play music as one Grade 8 student said this week, because its something they can do for their entire life.

The VSO recognizes the dilemma facing the VSB, but please, do not take the instruments away from the elementary students.

Submitted with great respect on behalf of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.



“Music is the only language understood by everyone in our wonderful diverse world.” Bramwell Tovey, Music Director, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra


Premier Christy Clark, here are some messages you might pay attention to and change your point of view regarding Education Funding in British Columbia. Listen to your own Liberal team, in their recommendation to, restore funding for education in British Columbia; and, keep your promise of “FAMILIES FIRST”.






Premier Christy Clark: Do you still “hope they, (being cuts to Education Funding), are being kept away from hurting Kids”?

I hope you get the message, loud and clear, that restoring Education Funding in British Columbia must not be a long-term goal of our government. It must be an immediate and ongoing goal of the government we elected.

From a parent: Here’s proof positive WHY funding Music Education in our schools is important: “My daughter is studying micro-biology at university now. Her preparation was piano theory and a GAP year in a singer-songwriter program. The interplay is obvious in her work so far.” Kevin Teichroeb

Premier Christy Clark please pay attention to the KIDS, and show the leadership we voted for, in you, by restoring Education Funding in British Columbia, NOW; because later, in your current long-term goals agenda, it won’t matter.



Premier Christy Clark:

From a young clarinetist in elementary band: “please don’t take away the band. It would break my heart.” VSB39





ATTEND the Vancouver School Board Budget Meeting, open to the public, Tuesday April 15, 2014 at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School – 7pm. #NOMusicEducationCuts #InvestInVanKids

Here is WHY:

Madame Premier,

You have a child attending a school located in the Vancouver School District #39 area.

I extend to you, as a parent of a school-aged child, a sincere invitation to  the public discussion on the 2014/15 VSB Budget at 7:00pm, April 15th at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School.

From students in school music programs, and, in their own words, here is WHY: (Please watch the video)


Please, do, #InvestInVanKids, and in your child’s education.


Susan C. Weiss



JOIN the Twitter campaign #InvestInVanKids
FOLLOW  #RallyNOMusicEducationCuts
WRITE a letter to Premier Christy Clark
ATTEND the VSB Public Budget Meeting at 7 p.m., April 15



I am also passionately upset, grievously so, that the Vancouver School Board, yet again, (they tried to do the same in 2010), is proposing to ELIMINATE, yes, ELIMINATE, the Elementary School band and string music program in, School District #39, that they govern, to SAVE $630K+.

I, Susan Weiss, unequivocally support, encourage and plead with everyone who cares about education, (whether you have children in school or not), to make yourself heard, seen and shout it out: “VSB, DO NOT ELIMINATE MUSIC PROGRAMS IN OUR VANCOUVER SCHOOLS!


I share this letter from Access to Music Foundation President and CEO Elka Yarlowe:

10 APR 14

“The Vancouver School Board’s recent budget proposal including either a fee raise or total elimination of the Band and Strings Program, has compelled Access to Music Foundation President and CEO Elka Yarlowe to put out a call to action.

She’s written an open letter to the city’s school board engaging Vancouverites to speak up to government and through social media about the importance of early music education in youth development, and take part in the public discussion coming up at 7:00pm, April 15th at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School.

The recommendation in the 2014/2015 preliminary budget is “to eliminate the band and strings program for a savings of $630,651.

Alternatively, the Board could increase the annual fee for the band and strings program to $25 per month for a total of $250.00 per year. This however would only generate an additional $350,000.”

Access to Music hopes you can help encourage the Vancouver School Board to keep funding in place to ensure VanCity’s kids have access to elementary school music programs.

Your voice can make the difference, please join us today to help us make a better tomorrow for our kids.

You can contribute in the following ways:

JOIN our Twitter campaign using #InvestInVanKids to show your support of music education;

WRITE a letter to Premier Christy Clark asking for improvements to school funding – an example is at


ATTEND the public budget meeting on Tuesday, April 15th at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School at 7pm.

It’s not just about music. It is about providing a creative and innovative way to make the overall learning experience for every child a meaningful and lasting one.”

Please click this link to read the full open letter from Elka Yarlowe to the VSB.




To the President of the Board of Directors of the San Diego Opera:

Was the original gift invested and at what ROI?

How is it possible that the Board of Directors of the San Diego Opera, for so many years, passed deficit budgets? Was that prudent for the sustainability of the institution?

If, yes, why?

The Board of Directors of the San Diego Opera are the guardians of the society.

IMO, as guardians of the society, the Board of Directors of the San Diego Opera might/should sell the Society for $1 to all the hard working employees who will lose their jobs, (when the San Diego Opera plans to cease operation on April 13, 2014.)

Let these people move forward with dignity; they will do a better job(s) than the individual who planned the consecutive budgeted deficit seasons that were approved by the Board of Directors of the San Diego Opera.

This suggested action to be followed by the 30+ members of the Board of Directors of the San Diego Opera who voted to dissolve the company, all resign, without dignity, but, drinking watered down beer!

A Prelude:

Dr. Eugene Benson,

I thank you for writing an excellent letter. And, thank you, for an incredible blueprint to follow for the survival of new Canadian operas.

As a proud member of the production team that realized a new and wonderful Canadian opera, I was the Stage Manager of the world premiere of Heloise and Abelard at the Canadian Opera Company.

I am eternally grateful for the wisdom of Herman Geiger-Torel, (a mentor of mine); he truly believed in and clearly demonstrated his support for new Canadian operas. RIP “Papa Torel”.

An Overture:

A serious petition for action:

Herr Alexander Neef:

Als jetzt “frisch gebackenen”, permanente Wohnsitz in Kanada, ich bitte Sie, sich aktiv, zu Herzen zu nehmen, diese weisen Worte von Ihrem Landsmann, und der ehemalige Generaldirektor der Canadian Opera Company, Herman Geiger-Torel, (geboren – Frankfurt-am-Main). As a now, “newly minted”, permanent Canadian resident, I ask you to actively, take to heart these wise words of your fellow countryman, and, former General Director of the Canadian Opera Company, Herman Geiger-Torel, (born – Frankfurt-am-Main).

HGT: “I came to realize …it was best that we concentrate, for the time being at least, on performances of new Canadian operas and give our own composers a chance to write and see their works performed. The box office risk would be the same but the stimulus for Canadian music of inestimable value.”


Susan Weiss

PS: Herr Neef, pursuant to this: “Arrell also explained that the financial risks of presenting new Canadian work are too great at this time.”; how do you justify taking a $1M+ risk with the commission of Hadrian to be composed by pop music composer Rufus Wainwright, (up to now), an unproven Canadian opera composer?

The Epilogue:

Here is Dr. Benson’s entire letter originally posted by John Terauds, #Musical Toronto

“Benson writes that he did get a response from H.A. Arrell, President of the Canadian Opera Company, on Oct. 15, who defended Alexander Neef’s championing of Canadian singers who would otherwise only get work outside Canada. Arrell also explained that the financial risks of presenting new Canadian work are too great at this time”.

17 September 2013

Mr Philip C. Deck


The Canadian Opera Company

227 Front St. E.

Toronto, ON  M5A 1E8

Dear Mr  Deck,

Following discussion with a number of colleagues whose advice I value, I write to you about my concerns with the CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY’s sorry record in programming Canadian content, and, more particularly, with the management style of its General Manager, Alexander Neef.

Because the COC is heavily subsidized by the Canadian taxpayer, receiving grants that in the period 1993 to 2013 would run, in present day terms, to hundreds of millions of dollars,  it would seem not unreasonable that the Company would play a significant role in fostering new work by Canadian composers. After all, the company is not named the Toronto Opera Company but rather claims a national identity and mandate. Writing in The Globe and Mail (6 Sept. 2012) the paper’s music critic Kate Taylor made the same point: “…in the music community, the lack of Canadian work at the COC is a subject of heated  debate.”  A look at the record confirms that the COC has failed the Canadian public in its neglect of Canadian opera.

In a 1975 publication Remembered Moments of The Canadian Opera Company 1950-1975, the COC’s General Director Herman Geiger-Torel wrote:  “I came to realize …it was best that we concentrate, for the time being at least, on performances of new Canadian operas  and give our own composers a chance to write and see their works performed. The box office risk would be the same but the stimulus for Canadian music of inestimable value.”

Geiger-Torel was as good as his word. He commissioned and premiered such Canadian operas as Deirdre (1966),  The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1967), Louis Riel (1967),  and Heloise and Abelard (1971), and the short operas The Spirit of Fundy (1972) and The Glove (1973).  At the much smaller organization — the Guelph Spring Festival — Nicholas Goldschmidt did the same thing, commissioning four operas:  Seabird Island (1977), Psycho Red (1978), Crazy to Kill (1988), and Saint Carmen of the Main (1989). Additionally, the GSF commissioned some 30 other major musical works by Canadian composers between 1966 and 1992.

The record of the Canadian Opera Company following Geiger-Torel’s retirement in 1976 stands in shocking contrast to that of Geiger-Torel’s COC and the GSF. In the intervening years only one opera has been commissioned and performed — The Golden Ass (1999). When Mr Neef assumed leadership of the COC in 2005 there was hope that that he would foster original Canadian work. But Canadians, especially Canadian composers and librettists, have been gravely disappointed. Mr Neef is on record as saying that it will not be until 2017 at earliest that he may present, not a newly commissioned Canadian opera, but Louis Riel, premiered by Geiger-Torel fifty years ago!  Neef has argued that because government funding for Canadian opera companies falls far below what some European countries provide the risk in commissioning and present new operas is too great. The example of Geiger-Torel’s COC and the GSF in funding new Canadian operas contradicts such a specious argument. New and imaginative strategies in budgeting for new work (an area in which I have experience) can allow companies to overcome the myth that premiering new opera is prohibitively expensive. Geiger-Torel, as noted above, wrote that “the box office risk would be the same.”

Mr. Neef may argue that that there are too few Canadian operas to allow him to plan for the inclusion of Canadian content. The obvious answer is to commission new work.

The question now arises as to why the COC does not do so. A partial answer is that what is known colloquially as the “colonial cringe” still persists in certain areas of the Ontario cultural scene.  For people like Neef, opera is written by Europeans, very occasionally Americans,  but not by Canadians; unfortunately, members of the Board of the COC seem to have bought into this notion. But when the colonial cringe is overcome wonderful things can happen. In the 1960s Canadian dramatists and directors and Canadian writers and publishers, repulsed by the prevailing cultural colonialism and inspired by a strong sense of nationalism, discovered  their authentic Canadian voice and changed in an astonishing way the entire national literary landscape and the consciousness of the nation.

One could forgive Mr. Neef, coming as he does from Europe, for not being familiar with the Canadian musical scene. But there is no evidence of him reaching out to Canadian musicians who might advise him in this important matter and there is no evidence of him responding to Canadian composers who have approached him about writing for the COC. Randolph Peters, composer of The Golden Ass, who has also written music for a new opera Inanna (libretto by Margaret Atwood, commissioned by the COC’s Richard Bradshaw), has been quoted by Kate Taylor as saying “he did not see enough interest at the COC” in his work.  Neef claims he cannot judge Inanna until it is finished. Unglaublich!.  When Geiger-Torel commissioned Charles Wilson to write the grand opera Heloise and Abelard  he did so after listening to parts of the piano score played for him by Wilson one afternoon.  When John Cripton commissioned Wilson and Eugene Benson to write the opera The Summoning of Everyman (performed at Dalhousie University, the Stratford Festival, and by Opera in Canada), he did not ask to see the completed score. When San Franciso Opera premiered Adams’ and Sellars’ Doctor Atomic it did not ask its creators for the complete work in order to approve its commissioning.  The very fact that Margaret Atwood had written the libretto to Inanna should have tipped Neef off to pay more attention to Peters and his proposed opera. After all, the Danish Royal Opera Company had already commissioned and premiered to great success in 2000 an opera based on Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. A Canadian advisory committee might have alerted him to investigate the matter more thoroughly.

My own experience with Neef echoes Peters’ dissatisfaction and reveals, I am sorry to say, Neef’s lack of interest in Canadian composers and librettists. In February 2009 and again on 13 July 2009 I wrote to Mr Neef offering him two libretti that I had recently written, the first titled The De Profundis of Oscar Wilde, the second The Birthday of the Infanta. I told him that I could possibly interest Charles Wilson in writing the music but that he was free to pick the composer. The fact that both works were indebted to the writings of  Oscar Wilde would guarantee name recognition by the opera goers — more so, for example, than that of the opera L’amour de loin by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho,  presented by Neef in the COC’s  2012 season. Since Wilson and I had written Heloise and Abelard to commemorate the COC’s birthday,  an opera highly praised by The Times’ music critic, I thought my proposal would be welcomed. I regret to say that I did not even receive the professional courtesy of a reply.

Undaunted, I wrote again to Mr Neef  (with copy to Johannes Debus, COC’s Music Director) on 26 July 2013 offering him a new opera EARNEST, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING.  I made Neef aware that the composer Victor Davies was highly regarded in Canadian musical services (his full length opera Transit of Venus, 2007, had been commissioned and premiered by Manitoba Opera and broadcast by  CBC Radio) and that I was an experienced librettist (I sent him a brief c.v),  I pointed to previous productions of EARNEST (at Stratford Summer Music and Toronto Operetta Theatre), and I offered to provide both Neef and Debus with the finished libretto and a complete video recording of the work.  (This offer is still open to Mr Neef and Mr Debus, as it is to members of the COC’s Board.)  I regret to say that once again I did not receive the professional courtesy of a reply.  I add parenthetically that when The Auction, libretto by me, music by John Burge, was premiered by the Westben Arts Festival in 2012 I made sure that invitations to attend were sent to Neef and Debus. It will not surprise you to learn that neither attended even though the score was by Burge, a Juno-Award winner for classical music. I have no quarrel with Neef twittering from South America that he was checking out opera there, but I would have preferred he do so in Ontario in the company of  Wayne Gooding, editor of the journal Opera Canada, who did attend the premiere of The Auction and in the 2012 Fall issue of the journal praised it as  “a poignant and engaging piece that will resonate with audiences well beyond Westben’s farmyard setting.”  The Toronto Star’s music critic John Terauds cut to the point in his review: “it is mystifying that one has to leave Toronto in order to see the premiere of a new, full-length opera.” There is no mystery for those who have tried to have dealings with Mr Neef of the COC. A number of distinguished Canadian composers have told me they have given up on the idea of the COC ever entertaining seriously the creation of new Canadian opera.

I have dwelt at some length on this matter because I believe firmly that the Board of the COC has a responsibility to both the company and Canadian opera patrons to recognize that integral to its mandate is the encouragement and nourishing of opera by Canadian composers and librettist. Accordingly, I would ask you to copy this letter to your Board members as soon as is feasible for discussion and action. I would also ask the Board to discuss the following recommendations/suggestions that I believe would help it to discharge its duty in this respect: 1. Establish immediately a small committee with expertise in opera and an informed awareness of the Canadian musical scene to advise Mr. Neef on commissioning and producing opera written by Canadian composers and librettists.

2. Devise a simple procedure whereby composers and librettists who contact the COC concerning possible production of their work receive acknowledgement of their enquiry and a response as to whether the COC is interested in their proposal.

3. Agree that a full length Canadian opera be commissioned and premiered by the COC not later than the 2017/18 season.

4. Agree that it will be COC’s stated policy to premiere a new full-length opera written by Canadian composers and librettists in at least every fourth season.

5. That the COC sponsor and organize within the next twelve months (and not later than September 2014) a national weekend meeting/symposium of composers, librettists, senior personnel connected with the production of opera in Canada, and representatives of the COC and the OAC to develop ideas and plans that can be of help in furthering the COC’s policy of premiering new Canadian operas  and advancing the cause of  Canadian opera in Canada as a whole. A central feature of this symposium should be concerned with the economics of staging new work which (I am convinced, from experience) means the invention of new and original budgetary strategies to make this eminently feasible.

6. Should the Board feel that it cannot commit itself to a stated policy of committing itself to the development of Canadian opera along the lines described above, it should consider dropping its present title (officially adopted only in 1977) because it is misleading and is likely to create in some circles the impression that the COC actually does present Canadian work.

I close by saying that I take no pleasure in writing this letter. I have been an opera lover for more than sixty years; I knew and admired Herman Geiger-Torel; at the Guelph Spring Festival I served for over twenty years in various capacities — as President, Vice President, board member, and administrative director; I was a personal friend of Ruby Mercer, an American lady, who founded the journal Opera Canada partly to further the cause of opera created by Canadian composers and librettists. This partially explains why I write this letter. The  COC’s present company is of a very high calibre — it would, I am certain, take great delight in performing work written by fellow Canadian composers and librettists rather than in accompanying yet another director’s version of Carmen or La Traviata.

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

With all good wishes,

Yours sincerely,

(Dr)  Eugene Benson

Copies:    Joseph L. Rotman, Chair, the Canada Council;  Martha Durdin, Chair, the Ontario Arts Council;  H.A. Arrell, President, The Canadian Opera Company.

What a novel idea – making cities sing!

Click on the link below:

Listen up Vancouver and all the cities in British Columbia!


Should the CBC be using government money to compete with commercial live streaming entities in Canada?

And, is the solution, as one commercial entity suggests, that the CBC only live stream Canadian content?

Hmmmm….I have to wonder then what is Canadian content going to be defined as?

For example: a Canadian rock, hip hop, blues or techno artist sings a “non-Canadian” penned tune and gets the performance of the tune live streamed on CBC because he is a Canadian artist, it begs the question, does this make the grade as “Canadian” enough for the commercial live streaming entities?

You decide….

Read on (from Macleans Magazine penned by Colby Cosh

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