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)

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.

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

November 4, 2015

I had an interesting conversation recently with a music educator from academia.  We were talking about musical and social outcomes from music education programs.  If I said that program X has a great outcome, she would ask:  “what lens or you putting on for this outcome”.  This begs the question of definition for outcome.  How can we truely measure a multifaceted outcome in a meaningful way.  There are logic models we can contruct.  There are measuring tools we can make and adopt.  But how can we “define” in a “moment in time” the impact of our teaching and resultant learning.  I think we need to continue to hold the tension between our observations and the questions we haven’t even thought of yet!

September 11, 2015

Why Music?

As we move forward to advocate for music education, there is an interesting perspective to keep in mind. Most of us are aware of the benefits of studying music such as increased brain function, increased fine motor skills, self-discipline, pursuit of excellence and many other side-benefits.

It is really important to remember that the first and foremost argument for studying, playing and listening to music should always be because “it is music”. Music alone advocates for music. Its powerful transformative nature inspires us and gives us the greatest depths of pleasure. We visit many lands, cultures and lives through music. It is by far one of the greatest gifts we have as human beings. It is impossible to describe music adequately in words and that is its magic. Music transcends language and integrates its communication to us uniting our mind, body and spirit. It brings us into “flow” and gets us to the centre of our consciousness. If we remind people of this, we will awaken them to the most authentic reason for music.

July 2, 2015

William Deresiewicz recently published a book entitiled “Excellent Sheep”.  Besides outlining the failings of our educational approach in our elite systems, he focuses on “the meaningful life”.  I love his last quote of Thomas Hardy:

“The beggarly question of parentage-what is it, after all?  What does it matter, when you come to think about it, whether a child is yours by blood or not? All the little ones of our time are collectively the children of us adults of the time, and entitled to our general care.”

If we can treat every child with this fairness and equity-not to mention love, we can change the world!

which are “empty receptacles”. It’s an oppressive relationship: the teacher takes control and takes the role of an oppressor. The student is expected to be a passive follower.

Freire proposes a “problem posing” education structured to encourage thinking in students. The student and teacher enter into a partnership relationship of dialogue to jointly come to conclusions about problems. The teacher must not pre-determine solutions but these solutions must come together with the student through dialogue. The teacher and the student must learn from each other.

July 2, 2015

William Deresiewicz recently published a book entitiled “Excellent Sheep”.  Besides outlining the failings of our educational approach in our elite systems, he focuses on “the meaningful life”.  I love his last quote of Thomas Hardy:

“The beggarly question of parentage-what is it, after all?  What does it matter, when you come to think about it, whether a child is yours by blood or not? All the little ones of our time are collectively the children of us adults of the time, and entitled to our general care.”

If we can treat every child with this fairness and equity-not to mention love, we can change the world!

July 2, 2015

I recently wrote this article for El Sistema Toronto’s e-newsletter:

Building Self

El Sistema is both a social movement and an inspiring music education program. The social component is about community building and eliminating barriers to participation, but is that enough? The music education component is an enriched intensive experience for our participants, but are we just offering a conditioned traditional approach?

Education in its best form is a shared experience. It should be an atmosphere of discovery. Our students are not empty vessels needing to be filled. They are also our teachers. It’s not just our participants who can learn and grow as we teach young people, but also our teachers, administrators, volunteers, families and communities.

The positive psychology movement is casting a revolutionary framework we can use for the social/educational context of El Sistema. Seligman, one of the leaders of this movement has proposed five foundations of human needs which give us a comprehensive sense of well-being. They are: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishments. If we make this model the foundation of our social/education framework we can then create tools to nurture these five areas of personal and social development.

These tools and approaches will help us continue to develop our revolutionary programs and create more influence for better education approaches and social impact.

May 6, 2015

Norman Doidge in his book “The Brain That Changes Itself” has offered us an incredible gift.  It is the beginning of the instruction book for the human brain.  Although research into neuroplasticity is still in its infancy, Doidge stands at the gateway of ushering in a new era of understanding of both how the brain works and how we can change the way it works.  A couple of quotes I really enjoyed:

“So a neuroplstically informed view of culture and the brain implies a two-way street:  the brain and genetics produce culture, but culture also shapes the brain.  Sometimes these changes can be dramatic.”

“Studies by Taub and others of musicians who play stringed instruments have shown that the more these musicians practice, the larger the brain maps for their active left hands become, and the neurons and maps that respond to string timbres increase….Brain imaging shows that musicians have several areas of their brains-the motor cortex and the cerebellum, among other-that differ from those of non musicians.  Imaging also shows that musicians who begin playing before the age of seven have larger brain areas connecting the two hemispheres.”

April 22, 2015

This sums up my feelings and experiences with our current approach to teaching and learning from our Education Systems in Canada and much of the world.

Our Education System