How Toronto Music Guide The Whole Note Learned A New Tune During COVID-19


“In a few hours, as the last action in the amazing roller coaster ride of putting together this penultimate magazine from Season 25 of The Whole Note, I’ll call our designer and ask him to place the last missing piece.” of the puzzle. , on page five, so that we can go to press. “

So began For Openers, David Perlman’s column featuring the May-June issue of Toronto’s essential free (except summer) monthly guide to Toronto (mostly) classical music.

Perlman is the publisher-editor-co-founder of The Whole Note, a publication whose distribution points, thanks to the COVID-19 shutdown, plunged in April from 960 to 10.

Rather than looking for a bottle of cyanide, he and his team set out to rethink what was, fundamentally, a publication built around monthly concert listings, roughly 300 to 500 of them, for a period when the activity of concerts practically ceased.

Entries in the April issue had previously been labeled “postponed” or “canceled” and with large-scale concerts and operas resuming in a few months, the magazine needed a new rationale, let alone ” restoration of its electrical outlet distribution.

Recovering these outlets, phone call by phone call, turned out to be easier than expected. In one month, more than 400 registered and the number continues to grow.

As a controlled-run magazine, that’s how The Whole Note works. Sole proprietorships generally agree to take 10 or 20 copies and make them available to their customers free of charge.

Paid advertising helps pay the bills (listings are free), as well as a grant from the Ontario Arts Council’s Publishing Program. Perlman nevertheless finds a constant challenge to “keep the wolf out of the gate.”

The magazine has always been more than lists. Signed record reviews fill its last pages and articles of musical interest take center stage. Additionally, trade writers continue to push for greater diversity, with Jim Galloway championing jazz and Karen Ages championing world music.

What’s different about the July-August issue is the replacement of lists with essays spanning specialist areas, with Brian Chang, for example, writing about how choirs cope with the challenge of social distancing and Lydia Petrovic interviewing Katherine Carleton, Executive Director of Orchestras Canada. , about how orchestras cope.

Just as Perlman claims there was no real model for his business to begin with, there obviously isn’t one for the age of COVID-19. “We always improvise,” he says.

He started improvising in 1987 when he co-founded Kensington Market Drum as a similarly-based neighborhood newspaper on controlled circulation, with local merchants paying a nominal fee to act as distributors.

It was Allan Pulker, one of the newspaper’s columnists and now chairman of the board of The Whole Note, who convinced his South African colleague of the viability of a similarly structured music magazine.

Perlman had arrived from South Africa in 1975 to enter a Masters program in English Literature at the University of Toronto and it was one of his professors, the near-legendary Northrop Frye, who recommended him for a job in educational publishing, among his first projects? Edition of a Canadian version of the Harcourt College textbook.

It was his editing experience rather than his professional musical experience that convinced him to agree with Pulker’s suggestion. The idea clearly had legs. Less than a year after The Whole Note was founded, he responded to a call to inquire about the feasibility of launching something similar in Montreal. The result, La Scena Musicale, is a completely independent sister company.



What the future holds for such publications remains very uncertain, at least until concert presenters can reopen their doors. In the meantime, with its just released September issue, The Whole Note reminds me of a dinner I attended many years ago where I was sitting next to the octogenarian and very deaf American composer. Virgil Thomson.

Halfway through dinner someone came to our table and said what a pleasure it was to see the venerable blacksmith. “Yes,” Thomson barked. “Everyone expects me to be dead but I’m still here.”


William Littler is a Toronto-based classical music writer and a freelance columnist for The Star.


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