For many artists and workers in the performing arts, the pandemic restrictions on large social gatherings has been difficult. No more live shows and concerts for choirs, theatre companies, orchestras, dance troupes. And lots of artists, and the many behind-the-scene folks who support the performers on stage, wondering what the future holds.
We understand why these measures are in place, and we know that for many in our society the pandemic has been much harder, although I do feel for younger artists who must wonder if they will ever have the chance to work in large groups, in front of a large audience, any time soon.
In the meantime, there has been tremendous creativity in presenting art of all kinds online. Some artists are showing what invention really means! For me personally, I must say I miss the immediacy of live sound. Something about hearing the sound coming directly from its source, with no intermediate steps!
In the first month or so after the lockdown, I spent lots of time listening to music, and playing our old piano at home, which was a lovely luxury. Now, as it becomes clear that the performing arts are going to be very different for the foreseeable future, it has become more challenging, trying to figure out how to plan and prepare for a lot of unknowns.
So it was a real delight to be approached by Laura Menard (many TSP folks will know Laura for her work with Viva Youth Singers) to contribute a short webcast for the Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto. What is the Centre for Ethics? I must say I had to ask that question when Laura got in touch. Looking at their website (https:// ethics.utoronto.ca/welcome/), I learned that the Centre for Ethics is “an interdisciplinary centre aimed at advancing research and teaching in the field of ethics, broadly defined. The Centre seeks to bring together the theoretical and practical knowledge of diverse scholars, students, public servants and social leaders in order to increase understanding of the ethical dimensions of individual, social, and political life.”
The Centre has created very interesting webcasts on a variety of subjects (the ethics of Black Lives Matter, of artificial intelligence, of COVID-19), and they had decided to present a small series called “The Ethics of Songs.” The mandate was quite open- ended, and I was intrigued.
I decided I could do something about a song I had just learned from some friends, called “Tiny Perfect Moles,” with words by Margaret Atwood from her novel The Year of the Flood. In that novel, there is a religious group called God’s Gardeners who gather to worship and to sing hymns, and Atwood wrote words for their hymns. There is no sheet music in the novel, but the lyrics fit beautifully to a number of hymn-tunes, and my good friend and colleague Alan Gasser had set “Tiny Perfect Moles” to an old shape-note tune. The words speak of earthworms, and nematodes, and moles, all of whom help maintain the health of soil, but who work unseen by human sight. This image made me think of the great feminist, activist and scientist Ursula Franklin, who talked of the “earthworm theory of civic engagement,” and I decided any chance to explore more of Ursula Franklin’s thought and speeches was not to be missed. The result is a short fifteen-minute webcast which will be first aired on September 2, and then available for viewing. The Ethics of Songs is a whole series of songs and presenters that some folks might find interesting. Thanks, Laura, for the invitation – the project was a welcome relief from more anxiety-producing work at the moment!
Catch David’s episode starting on September 2!
Here is information about the whole series: