And so, here we are. The end of 2020. My last blog post of the year. As I’ve heard others say, what a decade this year has been.
I’ve done my best to be honest with those I’ve spoken with over the past nine months – friends, family, colleagues – about how this situation has affected me: it’s been hard, for so many reasons. But I have a lot for which to be thankful, and I’d like to end this year on a bit of a positive note. Each night at home, we ask our kids for their “thorn, bud and rose” – something negative about the day, something they’re looking forward to, and something positive about the day. It’s a way for us to be honest about what may not have gone well, but also to be thankful for what did. So I figured I’d look back and share some “thankfuls” from the past twelfth months because, despite everything, there were positives on most days.
I’ve said it before, but I remain first and foremost thankful for family and friends, who always seemed to reach out at just the right moment, or who were always at the other end when needed. I’m thankful for work which continues to challenge and engage me on a variety of levels, a fantastic team of colleagues, and the incredible community of venue owners, media outlets, sponsors, fans and more who do so much to support the music which continues to inspire me on a daily basis.
I’m thankful for so many musicians who have found the courage, the drive, the passion to continue making music during this time. Releasing a new album is always an enormous undertaking – given the challenges of the pandemic it’s amazing that anything was released this year at all. But what was released, I think, was some particularly personal work. Naming names is always a risky business, but a few stood out for me in particular: Gregory Porter’s All Rise simultaneously explores his musical influences while demonstrating his ease in a variety of styles; Nubya Garcia’s Source displays an exciting depth of artistry and musical traditions; while here at home Rebecca Hennessy’s “All the Little Things You Do” is so completely, perfectly, a Rebecca Hennessy project, with fantastic writing and playing, and the surprise (to me) of her excellent vocal work. Brad Mehldau (Suite: 2020) and Fred Hersch (Songs From Home) released stunning solo piano albums. And thank goodness for albums by people like The Fearless Flyers, Cory Wong and Scary Goldings, among others, which allowed me to dance along unapologetically in the kitchen.
I’m thankful for music educators – in all of their various forms – who have had to overcome enormous barriers to continue to instil the love of music in their students. From physically distanced private lessons to virtual rehearsals to workshops with artists from around the world, teachers have found new ways to engage their students and keep them inspired. This one is especially personal – we enrolled our kids in a choir in the fall of 2019 and the TBCYC crew have done an incredible job adapting their programming to the circumstances. While obviously we wished they could rehearse in person, hearing our kids singing along on zoom from the basement every week is still a joy, and they look forward to every session.
I’m thankful for dance, for the dancers and choreographers who bring it to life, and the people and organizations who give it a home. Dance is an art form which continues to boggle my mind because, as much as I know about the art form in which I trained professionally – and how an art form is learned and practiced – I’m still amazed that choreographers can come up with routines out of the air, and dancers can do that with their bodies. I sat enthralled in front of my screen for the Fall For Dance North Signature Program, which featured six completely different world premieres, especially enjoying how each interacted with the music in their respective pieces. And I was excited to read that a Canadian choreographer – Brittney Canda from Calgary – won the 2020 UK Music Video award for best choreography for her work on the music video to Sheenah Ko’s “Wrap Me Up” (watch it here), beating out some impressive competition. From swing to street to tap to contemporary and everything in between, I’m often awestruck by what is possible on the dance floor.
Speaking of music videos, I’m thankful for videographers, and everyone who continues to pour their passions into making music videos. We are a long way from the glory days of MuchMusic, but institutions like the Prism Prize here at home (and so many others around the world) continue to recognize and, I hope, encourage the art of making music videos. Given the sheer volume of imagery we see on our screens on a daily basis, it takes real talent to create a video which can truly hold our attention for a few minutes – just yesterday I watched this video for Kelly Lee Owens’ “Corner Of My Sky” which follows the trials and tribulations of a man trying to figure out why his toast continues to disappear (yes really); while this all-too-brief video for Cookiee Kawaii’s “Vibe (If I Back It Up)”, for me, is a great mixture of fun music, engaging imagery and impressive choreography. (And if you haven’t already seen it, check out the Prism Prize-winning video to Charlotte Day Wilson’s “Work” – another simple but brilliantly implemented concept.) Even jazz musicians can get it on the fun – could this recent video from Carla Bley, showcasing a new side of Chet Doxas, be a more fitting encapsulation of her music? To a certain extent so many of us have become video editing “experts” over these past nine months…but I’m glad there are real pros who continue to make outstanding short films set to music.
I’m thankful for difficult conversations. Because as hard as year has been, it’s vital that we continue to grow as an industry, as organizations, and as individuals. For me, that meant working to face some of my personal biases, and aiming to truly listen, through the conversations which made up the ten-week CIMA/Advance series Breaking Down Racial Barriers. Over the course of ten sessions, an incredible diversity of Black entertainment professionals shared their perspectives on working in every aspect of the industry – from media to performance to artist relations to major labels and more – bringing to light the racial barriers they have faced in their work, and making some concrete suggestions on how to break down those barriers. I recognize I still have much work to do – on a personal level, but also as a member of an arts organization and the wider industry – to ensure we get to a real place of equity, and these conversations were a good reminder that my comfort zones can sometimes mean I’m missing the bigger picture.
And so, here we are. Despite everything, there has been joy, inspiration, growth, and much gratitude. I’m ready for a break, and then I’m ready to hit the ground running into a new year. Wishing you all the very best for the holidays.