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On The April 5th “What Is Toronto?” Concert, And Exploring the Sound of Toronto’s Languages


Examining and creating the identity of a place or group has always been an essential role of art.  Indeed, some would argue that it is the essential role of art, and of culture in general.  In this era where so much of our culture is beamed in from places like the USA, increasingly what makes organizations like Spectrum relevant is precisely that we are local, and what we create is a reflection of the place we live in. Local culture allows the citizens of a place to study, debate, and define themselves, which is essential in order to move forward with any sense of unity, harmony, or cohesion.


Lately, Toronto has been especially in need of a sense of moving forward with unity, harmony, and cohesion.  For example, many blamed the unfortunate results of the last municipal election, and the ensuing disorder and controversy at city hall, on various splits within Toronto: downtown core vs. suburbs, immigrants vs. native Canadians, “intellectual elites” vs. the honest blue-collar working class.  It seemed to me like Toronto needed to come together to better understand and unify its own identity. Furthermore, as someone who grew up outside of Toronto, I also had a personal desire to better understand my new home, and my relation with it.  For all of these reasons, on April 5th, Spectrum will present a concert that ponders the question, “What is Toronto?

To do this, we’ve commissioned six emerging composers to each create one piece that explores some aspect of Toronto’s identity.  Shannon Graham will compose a piece about the creation story of the Iroquois, who lived in the Toronto area before European settlement. August Murphy King will compose a piece about Davenport Road, which was once a portage route.

In picking the subject of my own piece, I tried to think about what makes Toronto unique.  One of the remarkable things about this city is its multiculturalism – according to a 2006 census, 49.9% of Toronto’s residents were born outside of Canada.  Toronto is considered one of the most multicultural cities in the world, and the ethnic diversity is obvious wherever you go, affecting all aspects of life here.  For me, the memory of when I first awoke to the amazing diversity in Toronto was taking the 29 Dufferin bus shortly after I moved here, and realizing that it seemed every conversation on the packed bus was in a different language.


When you don’t understand a language, you hear it as sound, and to me, that’s music. I’ve always loved the “sound” of foreign languages, and in the public spaces of Toronto, the sound of languages from all over the world combine like perhaps nowhere else.  In my piece I will collect sound recordings of Torontonians talking about their city in various languages, and then splice and edit these recordings into a sound track which will accompany the Spectrum ensemble of vocal, piano, cello, saxophone, and multi-reeds, performing live.  It’s new compositional territory for me, and I’m very excited about the challenge and the concept.

But, I need your help!  I need Torontonians to send me recordings of themselves talking about their feelings about Toronto, in their mother tongues.   A few sentences is fine; non-English languages are preferred, but I’ll take English speakers too!  As long as there isn’t too much background noise, it doesn’t have to be super high-quality.  You could record it on your laptop or smartphone.  Or, send me a message, and we can arrange to meet up so that I can record it on my portable recording device. Send your recordings to matt@spectrummusic.ca, and then don’t forget to come to the Al Green Theatre at 7:30pm on April 5th to hear your voice as part of a new work of art!


- Matt Roberts

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