Thursday, November 21

Carolling in the Kingsway Concert

Michael will once again be reading at the wonderful Carolling in the Kingsway Concert this Saturday. This year it will be "A Child's Christmas in Wales." Along with many favourite carols, the massed 120-voice choir will perform the exciting 2009 "Gloria" by Mark Hayes.

Thursday, October 10

Your Temper, My Weather

Last Saturday I was lucky enough to participate in "Your Temper, My Weather," a performance created by Diane Borsato at the Art Gallery of Ontario during Nuit Blanche.  At 7:00 p.m. on October 5, 100 beekeepers, students, and pro-apian others assembled in the Walker Court of the AGO. There we performed sitting, walking, and humming meditations until midnight. After that, a video of the performance was screened until 7 the following morning.

Diane Borsato is Artist-in-Residence at the AGO and designed the performance for the 2013 Scotiabank Nuit Blanche festival. The work was intended to "explore the effects of collective meditation, and create a public platform upon which to consider the health and temper of bees and their keepers."

Entry to the AGO was free that night and Walker Court was lined with spectators. It was surprisingly easy to meditate with an audience, even one that frequently wore diverting costumes. There was a man in a furry bear costume, a tiger, a silver-horned unicorn. Thinking. Return to the breath ....

Monday, May 6

The Barber of Seville ... ish

My teacher and accordion-guru-for-life Tiina Kiik will be performing in a new production of The Barber of Seville opening at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto's Distillery District on May 9, 2013.

No, not that Barber of Seville -- rather, it's "a free-wheeling adaptation of The Barber of Seville by Michael O'Brien and John Millard, based on the play by Beaumarchais and the opera by Rossini."

If you missed the original (1966! were you even born then?) production of Barber at Theatre Columbus, this is a rare opportunity to revisit Toronto theatre history. It was hugely popular and included in its cast Donald Adams, Todd Duckworth, David Fox, Paulina Gillis, Martin Julien, Alisa Palmer, Martha Ross, Luis Ochoa, Dragoslav Tanaskovic, and Martin van de Ven. Nominated for six Dora Mavor Moore Awards, it won three:

Outstanding Performance by a Female: Paulina Gillis
Outstanding Production of a Musical
Outstanding Sound or Music: John Millard

The all-new production opening on Thursday will feature Dan Chameroy, Robert Clutton, Lise Cormier, Oliver Dennis, Raquel Duffy, Rick Hyslop, Tiina Kiik, Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster, Gregory Prest, William Webster, and Daniel Williston.

For tickets, visit the Young Centre website or call 416-866-8666.

Sunday, May 5

Writing Without a Parachute: The Art of Freefall

Barbara Turner-Vesselago has published a new book titled Writing Without a Parachute: The Art of Freefall.  Freefall is a writing technique that “invokes the courage to fall without a parachute, into the words as they come, into the thoughts before they have fully formed in the mind, into the unplanned structures that take shape, without prompting, to contain them.” This gives hope to those of us whose inner critics and censors are not only authoritarian, but like to assume the greater mantle of Reality.

Barbara is an excellent writer and teacher, two proficiencies not often found in the same person. And, though I don't know that she would describe herself in this way, she is a profoundly gifted motivator.

Writing Without a Parachute gives a brief history of the technique of Freefall, how she came to it and how the events of her life have determined her approach to it. It offers some habits useful to the writing life:

·        balancing will and surrender
·        not talking about your writing

and my favorite, the intriguingly named:

·        habit of a “walk-on manner.”

The advice is sensible and experiential. As the proverb says, “Let the work teach you how to do it.” For someone whose writing process is not an easy fit with more prescriptive approaches, this is a huge relief. Barbara’s five writing precepts are intended to be helpful adjuncts to one’s own process, not determinants of it. And she doesn't expect you to take it on faith. Try it and see! she urges. Don't just take my word for it.

This technique encourages “not knowing” in the act of writing, something I've always had great difficulty with. “But where is it all leading?” is my usual despairing – and unhelpful – mantra. Just now I'm listening to a CD of Pema Chodron who seems to be saying exactly the same thing when she talks about dwelling in the discomfort of no firm ground to stand on.

If there is a precept I wish I had encountered earlier in my life it is “Follow the energy.” I would have saved myself a lot of time, boredom and anguish had I known at the outset to write “what has energy for you.” As opposed to spending quite a long time writing what had energy for others, or what I felt ought to have energy for me – but didn't.

Well, I will just have to “Proceed in a Walk-on Manner,” a useful injunction both in writing and in life.

There are exercises.  In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I am the friend she cites who once told her: “But nobody ever does the exercises in a writing book!” I think it's only proper to add that many of Barbara's students (who presumably did the exercises) have gone on to have books published. Whereas, me -- no. So.

Listen, I would love to chat more about this but I must go.  I want to get back to the book now because it is making me happy. Simple.

Will I in fact do the exercises? Well. The more important thing is, this book makes me want to write, immediately and a lot, with a burning intensity I thought I had lost.

Writing Without a Parachute: The Art of Freefall is available from:

To find out more about Barbara Turner-Vesselago and her writing workshops or to receive her free newsletter see:
or visit on Facebook at:

Monday, January 28

You might also like ...

On the heels of my posts about Sus Dungo and Vintergatan, a few folks have kindly suggested other bands. I thought I would repost some here.

Accordion Videos and Links recommended a Russian band called Iva Nova. This video begins with a longish intro and discussion that is probably enlightening if you speak Russian; for the rest of us, the music starts around 2:50 and features some great accordion.

AVL also suggested Detektivbiran as being in the same vein as Vintergatan. Here are a couple of my favourites of theirs:

And finally, Anonymous posted about a Derbyshire trio called Haiku Salut whose video includes a rare sighting of an accordionist in the wild. Apparently they do grow on trees!

Haiku Salut - Los Elefantes from Haiku Salut on Vimeo.

Thanks so much for the tips!

I wonder if anyone fell as I did into the Philip Glass opera Satjagraha on PBS yesterday afternoon? It was the the Metropolitan Opera's 2011 production and it was so hypnotic I think maybe it should be accompanied by a drug warning. I chanced on it after watching the American Figure Skating Nationals, a viewing combination that can really mess with your head. We don't have cable so the impact of these things is not diluted by having trizillion other channels, just the small handful detected by our wobbly rabbit ears. Whatever is coming in at any given moment depends on the weather, and whether or not our next door neighbour is operating power tools.

In other couch potato news, I was completely blown away by Kat Edmonson on Austin City Limits the other night:

Seriously, how did I not know about this woman? And the band!! Oh my.

Thursday, January 3

And not just the pants, either

Trudging home through the snow, pretending I was Jo in Little Women coming home from another unrewarding day at Aunt Josephine's, I realized that I had several advantages over my literary hero(ine). No, it wasn't just the ability to wear pants and my lack of an impecunious father. It was the entire winter wardrobe. No way was Jo March equipped as I was with my fat jeans over long underwear, a pouffy down coat, Blundstones, an H&M fake fur hat with ear flaps, and sun glasses. I know -- quite a picture, isn't it?

They would kill for a down coat.
She was liable to be wearing instead something called a muffler, or a wrap or, best case scenario, a cloak. A cloak sounds warm, but is really a glorified cape. And have you ever tried wearing a cape in a blizzard? No, well. Neither have I, but I am sure it is neither pleasant nor effective.

Aunt March in winter plumage
So here is Jo, wearing this ineffectual outer clothing, plus long skirts that will helpfully become encrusted with snow within a few steps, snow that will later melt and make the skirts so heavy she will wish she is dead. She won't say this of course because it isn't ladylike, and ladylike is what her impecunious father most wants her to be. But of course he is not there because, instead of providing for his family, he is doing something vague and unpaid in the Civil War. Meanwhile his children have to trudge off to work in clothes that are effectively textile snowplows. You don't fool anyone, Mr. March! -- you are just Bronson Alcott in sheep's clothing.

Jo clearing the snow with a broom and her skirt.  She is taking a break to call up to Laurie in the house next door. I have never forgiven her for handing him over to Amy.
I like to imagine that Birchcliff, where I live, and 19th-century Concord are very similar, if you subtract the monster trucks and several tons of stained slushy road snow. And honestly, we don't know for sure that Jo March wasn't wearing pants. She could be hiding anything at all under that Matterhorn of a skirt.

Re: the snow -- I heard someone in yoga class ironically call it "a frozen water blessing."

A picture of Jo reading while eating russets in the attic. Ursula LeGuin used it as a bookplate.

Louisa May Alcott

Monday, December 24

My wonderful friend Barbara just sent me this video, which I thought I would share with you. I believe there is an accordion in there somewhere.

Have an exceptional Christmas!

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