Canadian Songwriters Hall of FameARTISTIC DIRECTOR
As Neil Young walked from the house to the stage, the 2500 people in Massey Hall leapt to their feet. Neil’s a cool cat, but you could tell he was deeply moved. At the podium he paused, gave a thumbs up to the house band, gathered his thoughts, looked toward the heavens and quietly thanked his mom and dad. Then he gazed at the audience for a second and said with a smile; “Hey, look, I know I can’t sing”.
This event was a kind of resurrection for CSHF. Their previous galas had honoured Joni, Leonard, Gordon, Gilles, Felix, Robert, Luc, all artists whose body of work was so impressive they require no last names. But the organization had stumbled upon hard times and there had been no induction ceremony in six years. The performing rights organization SOCAN purchased CSHF out of bankruptcy and 2017 was the relaunch, with the first gala in six years.
CSHF is one of the rare organizations in Canada that serves both the English and French communities. Creating a show that speaks to both communities is always a challenge and in the past there had been huge conflicts on language and culture, one of which ended with the director of the English CBC being summoned to testify in front of a Parliamentary Committee in Ottawa!
I’m pleased to say I was not involved in that show and can boast, that in producing and artistic directing numerous large-scale bilingual shows and state celebrations, I have never done an event that required post-show testimony in front of Parliamentary hearing. Whoooho! Who knew that was a thing!
Creating a show that honoured each of our four spectacular artists was thrilling. I had grown up with their music. They all wrote loves songs of course, but they were also powerful activists and sage social observers who sang incredible stories.
We broke with all the predictable formats of an awards show. No shiny floors, no slick host banter. The musicians hosted with the intimacy of a kitchen party. Their deep personal connection to the music of our inductees made for compelling storytelling in both languages.
The iconic songs were respected, reinvented and played with incredible musicianship and visible joy. All was wrapped in imaginative video projection, lighting and sound design that always supported the fresh approach to a bilingual show.
To ensure that the gala was rooted in Canada’s French and English music communities, we drafted two music directors; Erik West-Millette based in Montreal and my long standing co-composer and Manteca co-leader Doug Wilde out of Toronto. We mandated them to cast a house band that included players from both communities . Then we gave the MD’s arrangement assignments across the language divide.
It was a remarkable celebration of the power and social impact of four of the most exceptional songwriters Canada and Quebec have ever produced.
All of our inductees had been previously honoured so many times that our goal was to create short films on their stories that were fresh and broke with the tradition of the “award show bio pack”. They were edited by Hugh John Murray, voiced by Lyne Tremblay and Olaf Gundel and written and directed by me.
Ensuring that the Franco artists – giants in the Francophonie, but relatively unknown to the English audiences in Toronto, were celebrated as the super stars they are. Bringing Anglo and Franco audiences together to honour their cultural heroes.
Massey Hall has a miniscule backstage and accommodating our cast of more than 100 and full audio, lighting, video and broadcast production presented daunting challenges.