February 12, 2021

It was 2009 and one of my staff members suggested trying to bring Chick Corea to Aeolian Hall to perform.  At the time, I knew who he was and his cross-over into classical music, but only at a really surface level.

To my great surprise, the invitation to perform at The Aeolian was accepted.  I never thought he would come to such a small venue with little history of presenting Jazz Giants.  On March 2nd, I picked Chick up at the London (Ontario) airport with his tour manager who was also his piano technician.  Our first stop on the way to the hotel was to pick up some spring water at a local store.  While his manager went into the store, Chick and I began a lively conversation centered around music.  Luckily, the errand proved much longer than anticipated.   We chatted about so many classical composers and music.  Scarlatti, Scriabin, Dutilleux and many more.  That night, Chick went to the internet and downloaded some scores.  He ended up performing some of the works we chatted about that next day in the concert.  I distinctly remember the Scarlatti Sonata he performed.  He played it straight with no improvisation.  I’ve never heard a piece of music performed with such meaning.  It was if Chick had written it himself.  Every interval felt vocal and intentional.  No pianism, just sheer music.  That first concert was a mash-up of everything you could imagine stylistically.  He performed in sweatpants as if he was in his own living.  His interactions with the audience were informal, warm and regular.  I sat within his view.  He gazed over regularly, smiled, winked and I felt that he played every note for me.

I spent much of the next day looking after Chick and his manager.  That included meals and eating together.  One of the Aeolian’s volunteers cooked up a gourmet feast for us, so we were able to eat on site and not miss a beat!  Conversations flowed easily.  Chick had a child-like curiosity and wonder for music.  The music industry hadn’t affected his ability to be in wonder and awe at the beauty of discovery.  I’ve seen so many veteran artists jaded and tired on our stage over the years.  This experience was so refreshing.

Chick had been touring a lot when I first met him.  I asked him how that felt.  I had left that world when I bought Aeolian Hall in 2004 out of fatigued and loneliness.  He called himself a “Road Warrior” and loved the adventure even after all of the years of touring.  

I remember one discussion we had about Bach and the Well-Tempered Clavier.  He was just discovering and learning some of the Preludes and Fugues.  He said to me: “You could spend hours delving into two bars of this music”.  He was also learning the Dutilleux piano Sonata.  I had studied that Sonata many years before and we were able to both marvel at the structure and development of ideas in this work.  

Chick told me about his experience at the Juilliard School of Music.  It was brief (I think I remember him saying a couple of months). He was, in his own words, not a sophisticated classical musician.  He said he came from a humble background.  He loved Chopin and brought some of Chopin’s music to his lessons.  After playing for his teacher (a Russian teacher), she told him that it was very nice.  He said: “yeah, I’d really like to learn more about this Chopin guy”.  The teacher responded: “No, we are going to do the finger exercises”.  He said to me: “I had a choice.  Go this way (classical) or that (jazz).” He chose the latter.  He told me that he regretted that choice today because he missed so much of the foundations of pianism and training in the discipline of classical music.  He said classical music was his greatest inspiration. I told Chick that I had plenty of that training and that it could be really limiting. I wished that I could improvise. 

To that he responded: “Yes, classical musicians take themselves and their music too seriously.”  I knew exactly what he meant; how that training can limit freedom of expression-especially in the old paradigm of having students do the interpretation their teachers insist upon them to do, instead of letting them discover and serving as a  guide to them.

Concerning The Aeolian and my passion to advance its mission, Chick told me: “Don’t you ever let this place stop you from making your music”.  Those words haunt me even to this day.  It’s so easy to stop playing when you have administrative and program development duties on your brain all of the time.  I fight to keep my music going.

After his first visit, Chick and I stayed in touch by email.  I remember introducing him to the late works of Gabriel Fauré and his excitement when I sent him Fauré Fifth Impromptu.  I had suggested a project of coming back with Herbie Hancock and having them improvise with two pianos on themes from Fauré’s Piano Nocturnes and record the concert.  He was excited and enthusiastic about the idea.  Chick left with my CD recordings and graciously told me how much he enjoyed them-especially my Debussy playing.  What an inspiration to hear this from such a great musician.

A few days after his visit, Chick sent me an unsolicited testimonial for his experience at The Aeolian: 

“ Thanks once again for a totally pleasurable two days. You and your team were the best of hosts and best of all, the Aeolian Theatre, the audience you helped bring in and the whole ambience was just perfect including the very nice Yamaha grand. I’m sure any of my musician friends would love this venue and the wonderful way you have of hosting the artist (me in this case). I wish you all continued success in your passion to bring good music to London, Ontario and hope to play here again soon.”  

In 2012, Chick’s agent reached out to us mentioning that he would love to come back with his friend Gary Burton and the Harlem String Quartet.  The cost of producing this concert was out of the reach of our 300-seat venue.  We told the agent that we couldn’t proceed.  When Chick found out that we couldn’t go ahead, he made arrangements so that we could produce the concert by reducing the price to the same as his solo concert.  Chick himself kicked in the difference in cost.  Many who attended this concert thought it was the best concert they had ever heard.  It was all new music composed by Chick.  The collaboration was astounding.  The Harlem String Quartet was a great maven for diversity with Black and Hispanic members.  Chick would often get up from the piano when he wasn’t playing his part in the concert and go over to the members of the quartet and listen, sometimes waving his hands….not conducting; just getting caught up in the moment.

I had to travel to Toronto to pick Chick up at the airport for this concert.  On the way back to London, conversation flowed steadily for two hours.  At one point he was asking me about a technical challenge of playing repeated octaves and his struggles for endurance.  On the dashboard while driving, I showed him how one can utilize the wrist in a down-up movement to avoid fatigue; something discovered in the 19th Century by Theodore Kullak that revolutionized octave playing.  He got it right away.  I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I imparted this knowledge to this legendary man and how grateful he was.  Later, when I watched his interactions with our volunteers, clients and staff, I noticed he always treated everyone as an absolute equal.  I’m quite sure one of the biggest roles his tour manager had was to protect his time with people so he could practice, eat and sleep!

During this second visit, my husband and I sat down to dine with Chick, Gary Burton and his life partner Jonathan Chong.  I introduced my husband to everyone at the table and then Gary introduced his husband.  Gary later told me that he was so happy I had been so open in front of Chick about being gay.  I guess Chick and Gary had never discussed his homosexuality-even after years of performing together.  Chick had only positive, nonchalant reactions to these introductions. He belonged to the Church of Christian Science which is a Church that had a history of being anti-gay…although I think that is changing in recent years.  

Another question I asked Chick during this visit was tied up with my own frustrations as a musician.  I remarked: “Don’t you ever worry that with all of the projects of composing and learning music, you’ll run out of time in this life?”.  He remarked: “No.  I’ll have many lifetimes to get to the ones I don’t get to in this life.”

We lost a great musician this week.  A man who I’m sure had a profound, inspiring impact on everyone he met.

In closing, here are Chick’s own words he placed at the end of his collection of Children’s Songs:

Keep what you like

Change what you want

Create your own rules

Have a question?

            Get it answered

            to your satisfaction

Seek out the ones who create

            And are willing to share knowledge

Beware of the “authorities” who don’t

            themselves create

Discipline your body

Discipline your instrument

But only toward your own 

            dreams and goals

Run the body and make it obey

Practice with an even flow

Control with easy intention

Discover the Beauty of Slowness

It’s the Beauty you intend

Practice your imagination

Put your illusions through your 

            Body and instrument

Sing to yourself without your body’s 


                        This is what is meant by

                           “hear it”

Play what you “hear”

Practice with an even flow

Control with easy intention

Gather the techniques that

            Serve your dreams

Create techniques to 

            Serve your dreams

(Chick Corea)

El Sistema Aeolian Expands

It was just a little over one year ago that The Aeolian took on a new facility.  Bishop Cronyn Memorial Place is a former Anglican Church located at 442 William St. in London Ontario.  Built in 1873, this designated Historic Site is a perfect facility for our program.  The Church, Chapel and adjoining three story complex offers us ample performance and classroom space.

The participants in our program love this facility and often come early for their classes so that they can “just hang out”.  We are building a massive library, computer lab and have many ideas to implement that will offer our participants one of the best music programs around.

Last year, we launched two other programs in this facility.  Pride Mens Chorus London is a choir open to men of all backgrounds and ages.  Rebelheart Collective is a new conductorless ensemble designed to change access to classical music.

We are excited about our future and how we can use music to foster community!

December 11, 2016

I’m in Austin Texas and just heard two performances by the Grammy Winning Choir Conspirare.  My friend Matt Alber was guest soloist with the choir.  It was a magical experience in so many ways.  The conductor Craig Hella Johnson is a beautiful human being who is making change through his music and the message of love.  The choir members are all professional singers and come from all over the United States.  The glances of affection and joy they had for each other and their leader throughout the performance were astonishing.  I have never seen that before.  Matt’s voice came through like an angel…he truely has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard.  That sentiment was definately shared by the response of the audience.  More than his voice, Matt shares a mission to make the world a better place and he radiated that feeling throughout the performance.  I am so blessed to meet and have colleagues and friends engaged in making postitive change in this world.  Thank you Matt for inviting my to come to Texas to hear you sing and for the friendship and values we share together.  It makes life really rich and meaningful.

October 12, 2016

Rebelheart Collective

Without wanting to call this an orchestra or chamber ensemble, let’s call it a group.  The Rebelheart Collective is a new creation of the Aeolian and is designed to change the experience of classical music.  It is a string quartet at its core including Scott St. John, Sharron Wei, Tom Wiebe and Erika Raum.   There is no conductor!  Each core player takes a turn leading the ensemble.  The second layer is students at the graduate level in an apprenticeship relationship with the core musicians.  The third layer is participants from the Aeolian’s El Sistema Program.  Half the tickets for these concerts are free.  The other half are pay-it-forward premium tickets.  For every concert held at Aeolian Hall, one shorter program will be held in a community space.  Members of the ensemble will come out and greet the audience both at intermission and after the concert.  Classical music should belong to everyone and not just an elite few!!

August 2, 2016

Pride Men’s Chorus London

Open to men of all gender identities, the Pride Men’s Chorus London is a choir based on the Gay Men’s Chorus model.  Its roots go back nearly four decades and have centred on community, diversity and social justice.  Why did Rod Culhman and I start this choir?  We felt there was a need for an alternative, community-focused activity in London Ontario for our LGBTQ community.  There is a lot of work to be done both locally and globally to raise awareness and help foster acceptance and embrasement for diversity in the LGBTQ Communities.

Members of our choir also include the straight community.  We have big plans for this choir and are kicking off our 2016-2017 season with a performance at the Matt Alber concert at Aeolian Hall September 23, 2016.

Stay tuned for more details:


June 30, 2016

This coming Monday, The Aeolian is launching a brand new inittiative.

MEDIA ADVISORY                                                                                                                                                                                  FOR: Monday, July 4, 2016
New Notes About to Sound
Surprise Announcement from The Aeolian
Who: The Aeolian Musical Arts Association
When: Monday, July 4, 2016, 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm, announcement at 4:25 pm
What: Surprise Announcement
Where: The Aeolian Performing Arts Centre, 795 Dundas St East, London, ON
LONDON, June 28, 2016 – – The Aeolian is proud to be launching a brand new initiative!

Imagine an orchestra without a conductor.
Imagine orchestra concerts that include free seats.
Imagine an orchestra with a core of Canada’s best musicians.
Imagine our El Sistema students playing with these artists.
Imagine an orchestra that is accessible to everyone.
Imagine an orchestra that provides equal opportunities to youth.
Imagine an orchestra that supports social justice.
Imagine the Orchestra of the future.

At this point, all we can say is that it is big, it is the first of its kind in London, and it is world-class. On behalf of The Aeolian Musical Arts Association, we would like to invite members of the press, arts organizations, and our community partners to take part in the unveiling of our great big secret.

July 26, 2016

Last week I attended the first global Positive Education Conference “IPEN” in Dallas Texas.  There is a major movement happening to change the world for the better!  Some consider this to be a “once in five hundred years” shift.  The focus for education is moving from survival and avoiding bad outcomes to “Flourishing”.  Seligman’s model of flourishing is at the core of this movement and is embraced by leading positive psychologists and educators globally.  This model is easy to remember with  the acronym PERMA and stands for:

Positive Emotions
Engagement in positive acitivites and with positive people
Relationships that are strong and supportive
Meaning:  What’s life all about?  What makes me feel like there is a higher purpose to my life-journey?
Accomplishments:  makes us feel satisfied!

We need to balance all of these footprints/pillars to have a feeling of well-being.

I would encourage all of you to investigate this new chapter in human evolution!  IPEN:  http://ipen-festival.com

November 23, 2015

Mindfull meditation is a technique which is growing in popularity in today’s schools.  It is also used outside of the classroom as a form of reframing thoughts and emotions before a reaction to them.  It is about focusing on the present without any judgement over thought patterns or their resultant emotions.  The breath leads this form of meditation.  One focuses on the breath and how it changes.  Belly breathing is essential in this form.  One pays attention to thoughts, feelings and emotions as a detached observer.  The release from thought is to return to breath.

Today we will begin mindfull meditation at El Sistema Aeolian with the kids.  We have already had a few sessions with our teaching team and volunteers.  Mario Faveri, a renowned sports and performing artist coach  will lead this exercise over a period of days and months to come and will measure its effectivenss.  Our hope is that our kids will learn this technique and its language through practise.  We will be looking for results measuring their ability to focus on their musical accomplishments.  We will also measure the outcome in regards to their more positive social behaviour.

November 22, 2015

The Communicative Performer

A communicative performer starts out with having something to say.  What is said must be “owned” by the performer to the degree that the audience feels as if the music was composed and is spontaneous.  Authentic to me means fully embraced and starting from a place of authentic “self”.  We are all products of our influences: our experiences, teachers, parents and other relationships.  Testing out ideas against any prejudice of a teacher’s ideas must happen in order to fully communicate to our audience and colleagues (if in an ensemble).
We must be in “flow” to communicate well.  The synthesis of mind, body, emotions and spirit is flow.  The match to light flow is inspiration.  This comes from a place of passion and the need to show our audience what we see and feel.
Being open and reading our audience is also critical.  Our body language and demeanour are part of making connection.  We must use intuition to make the connection.  Intuition is that subconscious intelligence which unites all of our being; all of our experiences as well as our present and our glance  to the future.
I have found that communicating on a verbal level with an audience helps immensely.  Not the typical “old-fashioned” lecture-recital, but imagery, history and story-telling.  This must not be academic but real and personal reflections.  I have often had audience members remark that this “set-up” or “after-thought” helped them find a “way into” or “reflection” of the music.  This is especially important with longer works where attention spans are challenging for the uninitiated.
There is a kind of psychic or symbiotic relationship that occurs where the performer feels the audience on the edge of their seats and can direct them.  This is a sign that all has been achieved.
My last thought on this subject is that we must communicate from a place of love.  Many of us can recall an experience of listening to a work performed without love.  It can be a good performance.  Everyone will know and feel that something is missing.  The ingredient of love shifts the “good” to “sublime” or “ecstatic”.
Some of being a communicative performer can be taught.  The rest is a point of arrival for giving rather than receiving.  It comes after we evolve as people to the point where we are past our narcissistic egoism.  At this point, there is no more divide and conquer, but feelings of love and delight in sharing a moment of creativity with friends.

November 15, 2015

An article from many years ago after I had just bought the Aeolian:

150 Moments that define London Ontario and Clark Bryan

An article where I gave my opinion about Art in Culture in London (London Free Press):

Free Press Article about Culture with Clark Bryan