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Earlier this year I got to work with the outstanding food journalist Chris Nuttall-Smith on the pilot for a new CBC podcast. It officially launched September 27, and I’m thrilled to see it out in the world (you can subscribe here).

It’s a nerdy, quirky deep dive into everyday food. I won’t try to do better than the description from the official website, which describes The Fridge Light as “an obsessive, fascinating journey through the hidden stories of the things we eat. Each episode chows down on one food phenomenon, revealing the unexpected cultural ingredients. Part science, part business, part psychology.”

I think it’s great, and I’m not just saying that because I helped produce it. Nuttall-Smith is a helluva fine journalist: curious, thorough and dogged, an expert in his field – and, on top of it, hilarious as hell off the cuff.

Listen to Episode 1 (Dark Meat/White Meat) or Episode 2 (One Word: Yeasts) and make sure to subscribe to hear future episodes.

orchestral-tales-title

Music has always been used to help us tell stories. Think of incidental music in plays, the music in songs, musicals and operas; and soundtracks to movies and video games.

But music also tells its own stories. 

Each instrument has such a distinctive voice – and I figure, if you mix together the most famous melodies that have been written for a particular instrument, you’ll find a fantastical character emerges – a character with a magical story to tell.

Starting this weekend on CBC Music and on In Concert, the show I host on CBC Radio 2, the instruments of the orchestra come to life on Orchestral Tales, a brand new season of The Signature Series. I’m pretty excited to share this – I’ve been working hard on this along with Denise Ball, the executive producer of In Concert.

On the previous seasons of the Signature Series, you met personalities based on the major and minor key signatures.

On Orchestral Tales, you’ll meet vivid characters inspired by the instruments of the orchestra.

Follow along here – new tales will be published every Friday for the next ten weeks, starting on Friday, January 6th.

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There are few places right now that have the electricity and the energy that is flowing through the city of Shanghai.

Perhaps you’ve seen pictures of the incredible skyline that’s sprung up in record time. It’s futuristic and sleek: right out of a science fiction movie. If there is a place to be in the 21st century, it feels like it’s on the streets of Shanghai.

In 2015, I was lucky enough to attend the Shanghai Spring International Music Festival at the behest of the WFMT Radio Network. When I came back, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work on Shanghai Spring: an 8-part radio series about classical music in China featuring concert performances from Shanghai and mini-documentaries about life and music in the city.

On Shanghai Spring, you’ll get a front row seat at the Shanghai Spring Festival and get a look at bustling Shanghai in all its glory.

You’ll also be transported to rip-roaring, cosmopolitan 1920s Shanghai, when the seeds of Western classical music began to take hold in China. And you’ll get a glimpse of Chinese culture, beyond dragon boats and fortune cookies — a chance to see the real China through the lens of classical music.

Part 1 airs this Sunday on my CBC Radio 2 show, In Concert, and you can also hear it here.

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The Nerve
A few years ago, Chris Brookes, Jowi Taylor and I produced a six-part series for CBC Radio called The Nerve: Music and the Human Experience. It was a follow-up to our Peabody-Award-winning series The Wire: The Impact of Electricity on Music, and it takes a look at how music is a facet of every part of our lives, from human evolution, to war and peace, to religion and personal identity.

This month, Radio New Zealand National is rebroadcasting The Nerve in its entirety, on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm New Zealand time. (That’s 5pm Pacific time and 8pm Eastern time in North America on Fridays and Saturdays.) You can listen at those times HERE.

Music is found in every culture worldwide. It’s our constant companion, from birth through childhood, love, marriage and death. It has a starring role on every stage of the great human drama – whether we are at war or at prayer, by ourselves or with others, happy or sad – music is there. But does it really have a purpose? Where does it come from? And why does it have such power over our hearts and minds?

The Nerve asks those questions, featuring the voices and thoughts of top musicians and thinkers, from Zakir Hussain to Howard Shore to Richard Dawkins and more.

Episodes 1 and 2 aired last weekend – but you can listen to Episode 1, “Wired for Sound: Music and the Brain” right here:

In 2009, Episode 1 of The Nerve was Shortlisted for the Prix Italia in the Work on Music category. The Nerve as a series was awarded two Silver Medals at the 2009 New York Festivals of Radio Programming in the Culture & the Arts and Best Editing categories.

A gallery featuring images from 20 of the 24 keys personified in the Signature Series.  Graphics designed by Ben Didier of CBC Music.

The Prix Italia is one of the most coveted awards in broadcasting in the world. It’s an incredible honour for me and for my co-producer Denise Ball to announce that the Signature Series has won a 2013 Prix Italia in the category “Work on Music”.

Here is the citation from the Prix Italia jury:

“In a series of 5 minute programmes the listener is invited to discover how particular musical key signatures have been used by composers over the centuries to define certain specific human characteristics. The jury found that this was an innovative and simple format that was extremely effective in helping to bring new listeners to classical music.

By personalising each key signature – B minor: the dark romantic, A minor: the faded beauty – each programme takes the listener through a broad range of classical music genres and others, all very skilfully edited together, to form a specific character. This is continued online in the programme’s ingenious website which invites the listener to identify with a particular key signature, and share it with others.

This programme genuinely breaks new ground.”

Read the official CBC Music announcement here. Music critic John Terauds had this to say. (Thanks, John!)

I feel thrilled and very lucky that this the 2nd time one of my programs has been awarded a Prix Italia. The first was for my series The Wire: the Impact of Electricity on Music, co-produced with Chris Brookes and Jowi Taylor for CBC Radio 1.

Last month I was lucky enough to give a presentation at the fantabulous Third Coast International Audio Festival. I called it AuRa: The Chemistry of Sound.

You can listen to my presentation by going here.

In this post, I’ve embedded links to the complete programs from which I drew the examples I gave in my talk. But first, a few words about the idea behind AuRa:

Audio is like gold (Au): it can easily be shaped, molded, crafted; it is sometimes raw, but we most often encounter it shiny, burnished to perfection. You can turn it over and over again to admire it from many different angles.

Radio is like radium (Ra): active, ephemeral; frequently unpredictable, it comes and it’s gone. You can only experience it in the moment – thence its vital energy.

Each is a part of the other, and by careful application of sound principles, the sound chemist can harness the power of both.

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Another instalment in The Signature Series:

B minor: The Dark Romantic

Also known as:
The Gloomy Gus.
The Pessimist.

B minors you might know:
Werther from Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther.
Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby.
Cliff Barnes from Dallas.

The notes: B – C♯ – D – E – F♯ – G – A♯ – B.

Number of sharps: two.

Relative major: D major.

What they said about B minor in the 18th and 19th centuries:
“Banished from music of good taste.” – Francesco Galeazzi, 1796

“Bitter, gloomy lamentation, on account of hard suffering … in these tones the shocked soul looks around exhausted and almost without hope.” – J. A. Schrader, 1827

More G minor listening:
The Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre by Richard Wagner.

Cello Concerto by Antonín Dvořák.

The Canadian connection:
“Robots” by Dan Mangan.

Note: Historical quotes and translations from A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuriesby Rita Steblin, UMI Research Press (1983).

 

Another instalment in The Signature Series:

D major: Miss Congeniality

Also known as:
The Workaholic.
The Homecoming Queen.

D majors you might know:
The Goddess Athena from Greek mythology.
Oprah Winfrey.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The notes: D – E – F♯ – G – A – B – C♯ – D.

Number of sharps: two.

Relative minor: B minor.

What they said about D major in the 18th century:
“The key of triumph, of Hallelujahs, of war-cries, of victory-rejoicing.” – Christian Schubart, 1784

“Enflames the heart. The spirit … is roused to impudent, joyful, even to somewhat boisterous songs of praise. Even the god of thunder has a claim to this key.” – Georg Joseph Vogler, 1779

More D major listening:
The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss, Jr.

Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky.

The Canadian connection:
“Past in Present” by Feist.

Note: Historical quotes and translations from A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries, by Rita Steblin, UMI Research Press (1983).

This Sunday I’m lucky enough to begin a fantastic gig: hosting CBC Radio 2’s weekly classical music performance program, In Concert.

Preparing tomorrow’s show put me in mind of summer camp – and thus conjured up all kinds of feelings and recollections.

Once upon a time there was a camp called Toronto Music Camp that happened every June, right at the end of the school year on the shores of Lake Couchiching, near Orillia, Ontario. I spent five years there as a camp counselor. I think it still exists, but these days it’s called Music by the Lake.

TMC wasn’t all fun and games (although there were many of those, too) – it was a lot of hard work – hours of rehearsal every day. The large ensembles used to rehearse in a cavernous barn with a tin roof. I remember one year we were playing the Planets by Gustav Holst and it seemed as though our endless repetition of the first eight bars of section J provoked Mars, Bringer of War to open the heavens upon our heads. The sound of the rain thundering on the roof made it impossible for us to continue.

Another year it was so cold, the coldest June in decades, that we had to light as many candles as we could find just to stay warm in the 19th-century farmhouse where the chamber ensembles rehearsed.

Those were five of the happiest fortnights of my adolescence. In those days it felt like there was TMC, and the rest of the year until the next TMC – two different levels of existence.

The mother of all musical summer camps in this country is a residency with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada – and I think that the instant camaraderie of the camp experience must have something to do with the magic that the NYOC produces year in and year out. This Sunday you can hear a fabulous concert by the NYOC on In Concert, beginning at 11 am in all Canadian time zones (except 11:30 in Newfoundland) on CBC Radio 2 or online at cbcmusic.ca.

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For the next little while, I’m excited to be sharing a project I’ve been working on called The Signature Series.

Here’s how it works:

1. Select a musical key.
2. Gather together the most famous melodies composed in that key.
3. Mash up.
4. Meet the person behind the key.

To get to know G minor, click on the orange play button. Follow along with the pop-up comments to find out what composition is playing.

G minor: The Contrarian

Also known as:
The Moody Teenager.
The Complicated Man.

G minors you might know:
Captain Ahab from Moby Dick.
Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye.
Pete Campbell from Mad Men.

The notes: G – A – B♭ – C – D – E♭ – F♯ – G.

Number of flats: two.

Relative major: B-flat major.

What they said about G minor in the 18th century:
“Discontent, uneasiness, worry about a failed scheme; bad-tempered gnashing of teeth; in a word: resentment and dislike.” – Christian Schubart, 1784

“It is suited to frenzy, despair, agitation.” – Francesco Galeazzi, 1796

More G minor listening:
Dido’s Lament from Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell.

Der Erlkönig by Franz Schubert.

The Canadian connection:
“Your Rocky Spine” by Great Lake Swimmers.

Note: Historical quotes and translations from A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries, by Rita Steblin, UMI Research Press (1983).