Music About Town: Monsoon:Synthesis at the Canadian Opera Company

Nov 14, 2013

By James Sandham

Toronto is a great city for many reasons: not least of all its music. Music is everywhere, from the city’s art galleries (like the AGO’s David Bowie is exhibit, currently on display until November 27) to its theatres (the new staging of Les Misérables, currently playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre) to its clubs and cafés, where you can see any number of artists, both established and up and coming, as they ply their trade in innumerable genres.

It’s the diversity that makes this city so appealing. One of the most varied options is the Canadian Opera Company’s Free Concert Series. Inaugurated in 2006, the series presents performances of everything from dance to jazz to classical to contemporary – all free of charge – in the COC’s beautiful Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Most of the performances take place from noon until 1:00 p.m., so it’s a great way to spend a lunch hour.

This was basically my reasoning as I ventured down there last Tuesday. Not really sure of what to expect, I figured the surprise of the performance would be half its pleasure. I arrived at the Four Seasons Centre’s open sundrenched amphitheatre and found a spot among its bleacher-style seats. It was a beautiful day and looking out onto University Avenue through the building’s glass façade, the red and gold of autumn leaves could be seen drifting from the trees while the traffic below, both human and automotive, slowly lumbered by.

It was a perfect setting, in other words, for what was to follow: Meditations for Bass Veena, an Indo jazz–tinged performance by Monsoon:Synthesis, part of the Free Concert Series’ world music sub-series.

Featuring Justin Gray on bass veena (an instrument he invented himself that adapts the fretless bass to a form more suited to Indian classical and Indo-jazz music), Derek Gray on Tibetan singing bowls and cajón, Ed Hanley on tabla and Andrew Kay on saxophone and tanpura, it was an experience I can only describe as spirit-moving. The four performers cast a very special musical spell, the kind that, like all great music, seems to take you outside of yourself for a moment – or even takes you outside of time altogether, so that there is no moment, just the experience, the music and you: unaware of yourself, in the midst of it.

This seems to be the group’s explicit intention. Inspired by their time living in India, Monsoon:Synthesis aims “to infuse their music with the sacred and spiritual vibrations first revealed to the ancient mystic yogis and seers of India.”

Nada Brahma or “musical consciousness,” they explain, is “a powerful instrument of spiritual transformation.” By dedication and sincere devotion to these ancient spiritual teachings and music sadhana (practice), they aspire “to create art and music that inspires an inner journey of self-discovery.”

They seemed well up to the task last Tuesday. Spiritual enlightenment – and at less than the cost of a sandwich. I left feeling glad I had spent lunch at the COC instead of at Subway.

Justin Gray – “Grace”