When was the last time you were walking by your neighborhood centre and saw a violist practicing, or a string quartet rehearsing, or a child learning the violin? Day in and day out Music in the Barns’ presence remains, as the community watches our comings and goings, getting a true behind the scenes feeling for what classical music is about.
In this Q&A, we showcase both the work of Carol Gimbel and her Music in the Barns storefront-studio and chamber ensemble, as well as the historic Wychwood Barns at St. Clair and Christie where they are based.
What will strike you most is the variety of inspiration and experiences that Carol draws on not only as an artist and teacher, but also as a community builder. Check out their upcoming concert this Friday at The Academy of Lions (a hybrid space that is a crosstraining studio and a storefront), or drop by their studio at Wychwood that is always opened to curious onlookers in the budding and active community hub “at the barn”.
Carol, tell us about yourself. How did you become a classical music performer?
I grew up with music in my life. I loved teaching myself little songs on the piano at my grandmother’s house, and at my other grandparent’s house where we listened to classical LP’s including Peter and the Wolf, Tuby the Tuba, B. Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, or at holiday time, my favorite yearly PBS broadcast of American Ballet Theatre’s 1977 performance of The Nutcracker.
My mother took me regularly to see the Philadelphia Orchestra performances, which was also a tradition of my father’s growing up. My father loved Bach and owned a great collection of LPs of all of his organ works performed on original organs across Europe. We loved to blast those records when we were home, just the two of us. Yes, blasting Bach organ works, until the floor shook. My favorite request was the Little Fugue in G minor.
I basically begged for piano lessons, which I started at the age of 5, thanks to the efforts and dedication of my parents. At that time I declared that I wanted to be a musician. I immersed myself in music and performing, from singing, playing piano to musical theatre. By age 8 I began the viola and the rest was history… or a really long story!
Tell us about “Music in the Barns” and the relationship you have built with Wychwood Barns?
Music in the Barns is the fusion of many ideas and experiences, as well as my deep rooted passion for classical music. We are a studio-storefront located at the Artscape Wychwood Barns who presents the Music in the Barns Chamber Ensemble—consisting of 2 violinists, 2 violists, 3 cellists and 1 percussionist, all in different configurations—usually in Wychwood Barns’ Mainspace.
Our studio-storefront holds weekly classes and instrumental lessons at Wychwood as well as workshops for professional musicians. We have worked with featured mentors such as David Amram, a pulitzer-prize winning composer, and Burton Kaplan, a music professor from the Manhattan School of Music.
What inspired you to pursue this store-front model? What type of audience are you reaching out to?
The storefront model as an idea grew out of my experience as part of a collective in New York City, at that time called the Art Fiend Foundation (now Ekovarahuset). The AFF was a clothing storefront by day, art venue by night, and even had a cozy little loft-bed in the back where I lived in at one point. It was a magical place, a platform in which to interact with the community. Through our art events and spontaneous music improv nights, we welcomed the community and passers-by into our esoteric world of idealistic artistry.
I have the same vision for Music in the Barns since classical music-making is generally done behind closed doors. When was the last time you were walking by your neighborhood centre and saw a violist practicing, or a string quartet rehearsing, or a child learning the violin? Day in and day out Music in the Barns’ presence remains, as the community watches our comings and goings, getting a true behind the scenes feeling for what classical music is about.
I try to keep a creative, openness to the studio as well as our concerts so that the community feels comfortable peeking in, asking questions and seeing, and learning more about what is going on. Our concerts are the pinnacles of the way we generate community interest, through which we interact with concert goers from across the Greater Toronto Area. We always welcome all ages at our event, including our awesome kid fans, many of whom study at our studio. Our biggest, littlest fans, I call them.
Can you tell us more about the your March 1 concert as part of CMC’s new music in new place festival?
For this performance at The Academy of Lions in the heart of the Ossington Village, we have created a totally new style of presenting a classical concert, which will have a feeling “band night meets art-head party.” This is the first event of its kind at this cross-training studio slash gallery space. Most of the furniture, fixtures, art and lighting have been submitted by local designers including Delux and Fugitive Glue, who have been working with the Gladstone Hotel.
Our Chamber Ensemble will be kicking off Canadian Music Centre’s New Music in New Places Festival by performing three amazing Canadian compositions. Richard Reed Parry (better known as a member of Arcade Fire) opens the program with his string quartet, entitled “For Heart & Breath”. It integrates the performers’ heartbeats, with the use of stethoscopes. The two other Canadian pieces are “The Coming of Sobs” for String Quartet by Rose Bolton and “all that is solid melts into the air” by Scott Godin.
With a $10 ticket price, you can join us for the concert, stay for the drink, or come just for the post-concert party!
Could you share with us some of the most rewarding and surprising moments you’ve experienced as a performing artist?
Wow! There are many. I feel fortunate to be able to say that. I can think of my first performance at Carnegie Hall, performing Mozart’s Requiem. I also think of my performances with the Canadian Opera Company under the baton of the late Richard Bradshaw in his 1st season at the Four Season’s Centre. Touring Europe and the Middle East performing at Yad Veshem in Israel, and a symphony performance in an incredible cobblestone plaza in Spain overlooking the ocean were unforgettable. Performing the amazing and life changing concerts at Michael Schmidt’s Symphony in the Barn on his working farm no doubt influenced me.
There are so many performances that I can remember with moments that literally took my breath away, welling up with emotion while performing. It’s a high, a transcendence, and it is amazing to sense that everyone present is experiencing it too.
Basically my whole life has been one long chain of surprising moments, staying strong and having faith, being surprised when everything comes together, or people admire your work. Other than that there have been a few broken strings in performances that have kept audiences on the edge of their seats, and a ton of flying by the seat of my pants!
What is the biggest challenge/opportunity that you think exists within the new music scene, and the performing arts sector at large? What kinds of solutions, if any, would you like to see?
I think the biggest challenge for the performing arts sector is to hold on through this wave of tremendous change that society at large is undergoing-with the rapid changes in the global economy, communication and technology. There is so much speculation about what we can do to make classical music relevant through these changes, even the ones effecting the music industry as a whole. Organizations are brainstorming and experimenting with ways to reach out to new audiences, to ultimately build new models for sustainability within classical music and the performing arts sector. But really, we don’t know the answers and/or where the industry will be in ten years time.
We can only, as artists, try to create performances, events and circumstances for the magical musical moment to happen.
What words of advice do you wish you had been given when you were first starting out?
Be yourself. Stay open. Learn from your colleagues. Follow your inner compass. Be genuine and honest. And, most importantly, don’t listen to any of this advice, because you will find your own way and what speaks to you.
So, interested in winning two tickets to check out Music in the Barns live in action this Friday? Retweet us, facebook us, or leave a comment and share your thoughts by 5pm this Thursday for your chance to win!