The Globe and Mail
Friday October 4, 1991
Music and art find a perfect harmony
When Toronto pianist John Arpin was first asked to perform on special occasions at the McMichael Gallery, he got the idea that music and art went so well together they should be presented on a regular basis.
As a result, Music at McMichael and the Canadian Art Collection offers visitors two art forms for the price of one, and an extremely reasonable price considering the scope of the collection and the talent of the musicians who play in the large foyer.
Arpin, a recording artist who has played the Toronto nightclub circuit for 30 years, began more than four years ago with his own first-Sunday-of-the-month concerts and now, as artistic director, books other musicians in two series of three-hour concerts on Thursdays and Sundays.
His latest venture is a concert on the third Sunday each month, which drew a crowd of 400 when it was launched in July with the Peter Appleyard Quintet. Pianist Raymond Spasovski followed in August with a Mozart concert, David Warrack appeared last month and Gelati performs on Oct. 20.
"My idea was trying to push a little more music so we came up with a Musical Friends of McMichael concert, which launched the Thursday night series," said Arpin, who has booked Charlie Gall's group, Dr McJazz, to kick off the fall season this month, along with a tribute to Louis Armstrong by New Orleans biographer Al Rose.
The Musical Friends concert features Spasovski, Dr McJazz and Glyn Evans.
"There's a pretty wide spectrum of music, and that also goes for the third-Sunday-of-the-month series," Arpin said. "Gelati, which is Italian for ice cream, does palm-court style music and the classics."
Keeping pace with efforts at the McMichael to get the ethnic groups interested in Canadian art, Arpin has booked musicians such as Gelati, with Italian-Canadians in mind, and violinist Ti Zhang, whom he hopes will appeal to the Chinese community.
The audiences have grown from the initial 50 or 60 people who listened to Arpin when he started his Sunday concerts to regular crowds of from 250 to 300.
"I had the feeling that music and art are one and the same, so rather than just have art the is appealing to the eye, I felt that foyer is geared to having a little concert," Arpin said. "It started modestly and they didn't charge people if they weren't going into the gallery.
"I guess it spread a lot by word of mouth and we noticed every month more and more people coming in. The Thursday night is a paid-for concert but on Sunday's we're finding out that people, even though they know they could walk in and sit down, are paying for an admission and don't necessarily go into the gallery.
" People come in to catch the music and they think it's the best value anywhere around, but we encourage them to go into the gallery. We want them to see the art."
With a limited budget, Arpin has to balance the appearance of "name" musicians with the single acts who don't demand as large a fee. "When you're booking someone like the Peter Appleyard Quintet, I've got to rob Paul to pay Peter, that sort of thing" he said. "But kicking off the Thursday series, which just started in July, I felt it really needed a shot in the arm to get it going and, of course, Peter drew a wonderful crowd."
Spending an afternoon listening to music is made all the more pleasant by the view of the Humber Valley from the foyer and the refreshments available.
"I'm hoping that little by little the music will be an integral part of the McMichael, and we've been talking about plans to build a small concert hall there, " said Arpin, whose interest in the gallery isn't restricted to the music. Canadian art has always been a draw for him.
"One of my biggest thrills was meeting A.Y. Jackson sitting on a bench there some years back."