New Works Magazine: Music
In Halifax 1985
are not locked in;
for musicians to seek opportunities outside the established industry
is not limited to Black players.
Symphony Nova Scotia is the only wholly professional classical
group performing in Halifax, Walter Kemp, head of the Dalhousie
Music Department, says classical music Is "very busy and
says if someone is interested in running a successful coffee
house in Halifax, "They'd have to make sure the overhead
was pretty low."
musicians are performing in almost every field of classical music.
There are, in addition to the .chamber groups, choirs and orchestras,
a number of specialized groups such as the Early Music Society
of Nova Scotia, inNOVAva-tions in Music, an experimental music
society, and BWV, a recently formed society for the presentation
of the music of Bach and his era. Opera is the only form of "serious
music" that isn't performed in Halifax.
of us gets as big an audience as we want," says Kemp, director
of two choirs, "but its growing."
classical groups are managed by the musicians themselves. ^Few
are set up to make money. Unlike the Symphony, these groups, by
playing in small auditoriums or in free spaces such as churches,
and by relying on volunteers, can meet expenses with only a small
attributes the growth In classical music in part to the high price
of the Symphony. By offering seats for half the price of a Symphony
ticket, the smaller performance groups have been able to build
greater audience support. Kemp also gives credit to the Halifax
school system and the youth choirs and orchestras for developing
greater appreciation of classical music in the general public
and in young musicians.
says interaction between the university, the schools, the military
and the rest of the community has also been beneficial - "The
thing that interests me about Halifax more than any other city
I've worked in is things are not locked in. Things interact."
Graham Steed, currently on a European tour that will include performances
at St. Paul's Cathedral and the King's College Chapel in Cambridge,
doesn't speak favourably of the caliber of many of the local musicians.
Steed plays organ at Saint Mary's Basilica but no longer plays
public performances. The audience is so small, he says it "Just
isn't worth the trouble." Going to classical performances
is also often not worth the trouble. Stead has recordings of expert
performances which he'd often rather listen to.
he says he would "infinitely prefer" to listen to some
of the chamber groups than to hear the Symphony. The-chamber groups
at least are local musicians.
player Robin Shier came to Halifax last year to play with the
Symphony. Shier has played once at Pope's and a few times at other
bars in town. This summer Shier put together a youth band on a
grant from the Department of Culture, Recreation and Fitness.
"I don't really do many Junk gigs," Shier says. "I've
been lucky." But Shier also says, "I feel a little stifled
that I haven't played any kind of Jazz for a year."
can't make money... Good jazz is too challenging."
says his gig at Pope's with Skip Beckwith, Don Palmer, Scott MacMillan
and others was "the most energetic music that's ever been
played in there as far as being progressive, but it was certainly
not the place to play it."
is concerned that young musicians in Halifax don't have enough
opportunity to hear good, progressive Jazz. "When a jazz
musician is performing he has to have the whole history of Jazz
within him.. He must know where it's coming from and respond in
the correct way." Shier says any musician who has "the
message" has an obligation to pass it along.
is thinking about forming a progressive jazz group this fall.
He hasn't looked for places to play yet but expects he would have
to play at a coffee house or in some other venue
where the music wouldn't be expected to make money. "Jazz
can't make money," he says. "Good jazz is too challenging."
house might be hard to find. There is only one coffee house operating
in Halifax at the moment and it might not be around long. Veith
House, a transition house for the mentally ill, has held a coffee
house every Tuesday night since April. A house band, Revival,
plays every second week.
house was opened to raise money for Veith House, but the response
from musicians and the general public has been poor. The most
the house has raised in a single night is 54 dollars.
house manager Dennis Brown, who ran a coffee house with some high
school friends ten years ago, describes the Veith House coffee
house as "an absolute waste of time." Brown says he
volunteered against his better judgment.
says musicians are tired of playing free gigs and Veith House,
a block on the north side of the MacDonald Bridge, is in a poor
location to attract an audience. Due to poor wiring in the old
house, only a few electrical instruments can be used a time, dictating
an acoustic format.
says the traditional coffee house with its emphasis on acoustic
folk music is out of place in the contemporary music market. The
coffee house is founded on idealism, on the hope that good music
alone will attract patrons, Brown says. But the coffee house can't
compete with the alcohol, high technology and glamour of commercial
music establishments, he says. Brown says coffee houses as a businesses
are invariably poorly run and will always fold after a year or
Brown says he would like to run a coffee house in a better location
and with a more flexible format. "I'd love to try and make
it work," he says.
singer Sandy Greenberg has made three cross country-coffee house
tours. "I enjoy the coffee house and folk club atmosphere
enormously," she says.
says there are numerous coffee houses and folk clubs across the
country that have run successfully for several years. The Calgary
Folk Club has operated for at least a decade, serving alcohol
while maintaining a "concert atmosphere."
can get 300 people in there and you can hear a pin drop,"
after returning from her third tour, Greenberg became one of the
founding members of the Harbour Folk Society. The goal of the
society was to give local performers a venue, and to become part
of a national circuit. The last goal hasn't been realized.
The audience is so small, he says, it "Just
isn't worth the trouble."
month, the Society holds a pub night with an open mike and often
a host musician. The pub nights are usually able to bring in a
large enough crowd to cover the cost of renting the performance
space. The Society's twice monthly coffee house Is another story.
Last month the coffee house was suspended. This month the Society
will be meeting to decide what went wrong. Greenberg thinks the
lack of alcohol may have something to do with it, but she isn't
the most successful and talked about coffee houses in recent years
was the Grafton Street Cafe. The Cafe gave nightly performance
time to folk, blues, jazz, rock and roll, new music and punk.
Marion Priestly took over the location from Odin's Eye, a coffee
house and community drop-in centre that had a busy year in 1977.
"When they decided they'd had enough of it because it got
kind of crazy, I decided to run it myself, but just the entertainment
ran it herself, gave it over to a manager, took it over again,
and eventually, with seven months left on the lease and the building
up for sale, sold the Cafe for $50.
burned out," she explains. When the landlord saw the Cafe
start to pick up, "he slapped on the heat and lights"
driving the overhead above the projected budget. Priestly laid
off the cooking and cleaning staff and took on their work herself.
Eventually, "I decided I didn't want to go on."
back at the Cafe, Priestly says, "It certainly had its moments
and I had my fun at times, but for the most part it was a lot
of trouble." Priestly says if someone is interested in running
a successful coffee house in Halifax, "They'd have to make
sure the overhead was pretty low."
operating expenses, persons wanting to open an alternative performance
space may face another obstacle: the Atlantic Federation of Musicians.
Next: The Union