Spectrum Music, now in its fifth season, is proud to continue to showcase innovative and genre-defying performances of new music in one of its most exciting seasons yet. With innovation and exploration, it is only natural that the organization itself would grow and change as well – and it is this evolution that brings us to today’s announcement.
After five years at the helm our Founding Artistic Director Ben Dietschi has resigned to devote himself fully to his new role as Interim General Manager at Soundstreams Canada, one of Canada’s largest new music presenters founded in 1982. We are thrilled to welcome Shannon Graham as our incoming Managing Artistic Director. Shannon has worked with Spectrum in a number of growing roles for the past four years, most recently as Director of Operations.
Ben and Shannon sat down to discuss the change and other things with Manager of Education and Outreach Chelsea McBride (emphasis hers); here’s what they had to say.
Ben, five – six years ago now, technically – you had an idea, a vision that inspired you to start this company. Set the scene for us: What was happening in the music scene, in your life, that inspired you to start Spectrum? Who did you call on to help realize this vision?
I created Spectrum in 2010 to provide a voice for a unique style of music that was happening around Toronto that weaves improvisatory elements together with sounds from both the jazz and classical worlds. I studied with bassist/cellist/composer Andrew Downing during my grad degree at U of T, and he turned me onto this particular aesthetic: blending elements of jazz and improvised music with the instrumentation and long-form compositions typically found in classical music. So at the core, my initial artistic motivation for Spectrum really stemmed from this idea: that the future of jazz music lies in its synthesis with other genres, and that jazz improvisers can be a conduit for the great emotional power that comes from expressing a particular moment in time.
I did a year-long study project with composer Gary Kulesha in 2011 (Composer Advisor at the TSO) which produced a series of works in this vein. I wanted a platform to share those pieces with the public, and there wasn’t any company dedicated to chamber jazz in Toronto. Necessity is the mother of invention, and thus the very first Spectrum concert was born! I assembled some of the most accomplished and inspiring figures working in chamber jazz in Toronto: Andrew Downing, David Occhipinti, Patrick Reid, Caitlin Smith, among others and presented on “Stories Without Words” in the fall of 2011. They were fantastic collaborators, some of which stayed on for several years as the company grew.
Shannon, when did you first join Spectrum? What was your role? What inspired you to be a part of this collective?
I joined Spectrum shortly after the first season had started. I was talking to a friend about a concept I was working on (chamber-jazz). The friend said, “that sounds like the project Ben Dietschi just started.” At first I was jealous, because I (mistakenly) wanted it to be “my thing”. Thankfully I quickly got over that ridiculous idea (a quick word of advice to solitary university students: working with others is much more fruitful than being “special!”) and contacted Ben to see how I could get involved. I became Spectrum’s first intern and later that season, when there was a concert that needed more music for the program, I happily contributed a piece.
Now to both of you…We’ve talked in past about Spectrum being a passion project, something that we the team are really excited about, but was there ever a “eureka” moment where you realized there were other people out there who were excited about Spectrum too?
B: My eureka moment was realizing that some of our audience members had arrived at our door because of the story our concerts were telling, not necessarily the music itself. I quickly became enamoured with the idea of using thematic programming to reach out to communities with no awareness of contemporary music. Art for art’s sake is important, and I respect it…but that’s not what Spectrum is about. We believe that music is a lens, a kaleidoscope through which we can better understand the world around us, our lives, and each other. So, all of our concerts are about a theme; something out there in the world which has nothing to do with music. We’ve used music to explore the cosmos, ancient art, and fairy tales, and even hipsters and internet memes. We want our audiences to join us on a journey, one that we take together, and one that leaves us slightly changed when we go home. In other words, there is an element of outreach in all of the art that we create. I feel it’s our responsibility as artists to reach out and offer something of value to the public.
S: It’s easy to forget the big picture when you work really hard on all the little day-to-day tasks that make up a project. For me, there wasn’t one big “eureka” moment, but more like a bunch of smaller “huh?” moments when I see Spectrum for what it looks like on the outside. Examples of this are when people I’ve never seen before attend our shows or each time a new person is excited to join our team or work with us on a concert. Composing music is a great activity that I love and respect very much, but it’s the moments when I connect with people (musicians and audience) in the community that show me that this project is very valuable and has the potential to grow and become even more valuable.
Is there one particular moment/concert that you recall as being particularly special/memorable? Maybe even a favourite concert?
S: Atlas of Imaginary Places was a special one for me. With that concert I saw how the right theme could better invite the audience to engage with new music. The music was as creative and sophisticated as all our concerts, but packaging it in a fun theme allowed us to reach more people with our work. That’s something I always keep in mind now when we program our seasons.
B: My favourite has to be Starry Night, our cosmos themed show in Feb 2014. Shannon and I did lots of grassroots outreach spreading the word and an annual astronomy symposium. It was a fun way to dive into another highly specialized community. The response was very positive and a contingent of astronomers showed up at the concert. We projected a starfield simulator onto the ceiling and lots of beautiful imagery behind the ensemble. It was out of this world.
Is there a way in which Spectrum has directly influenced your artistic identity or practice, or a way that you have grown that wouldn’t have happened without Spectrum?
B: Spectrum has been essential in providing me with a platform for my works and allowing me to explore the world around me with music. It put me square in the middle of a supportive, talented, group of likeminded artists. What more could one want? It’s one of the most meaningful outlets in my artistic life and I look forward to continuing to contribute as a composer in the future.
S: Working in Spectrum has kept me connected with the creative music community at times when I might not have otherwise. Team work is a great way to stay motivated and stay on track. Also, Spectrum has allowed me to dream up projects on a larger scale than what I could ever have accomplished on my own. I’m excited to stay on that trajectory…we already have some really great plans for 2016/2017!
Last but not least: what thoughts do you have to share with each other in this transitional time? Any advice? Big confessions? Parting words?
S: I’m thankful to Ben for having the courage and skill to start this project five years ago and for all of the work he put into building it up. It’s a joy and an honour to take the lead when such a strong foundation has been built.
B: While it’s hard to step back from this company that I’ve grown from the ground up, I can think of no more qualified person than Shannon to take the torch. Her artistry is rich and draws from many influences and her administrative acumen and leadership is more than requisite. My parting advice: Amplify the uniqueness of your vision, and imagine growing your place in the ecology of arts presenters in Toronto. It’s a jungle out there….but there’s always room for one more flower.