We sat down with Jessie Rivést, Jennie Punter and Chris Mayo of Musicworks to learn more about their magazine and organization.
Firstly, congratulations on being a finalist this year and for your 40th anniversary, it’s a big milestone.
It's nice, just being a finalist is really great because it's going to give us an opportunity to connect with other artists and arts organizations outside of music as well.
Educational outreach is an integral part of the Musicworks mandate. Can you talk a little bit about why you think that's important?
When the magazine started in 1978, many of the people who were working on it were recently just out of school or were involved in education. I think that a lot of people who've been in the magazine and have written for the magazine, or have been and are themselves involved in educating young people. Some programs that we do such as Musicworks in the Classroom (which is essentially providing magazines free of cost to students at postsecondary institutions across the country), provides a way to introduce [young people] to the music of other artists in the country that they may not have heard of yet. I think it's really important because there are fewer media outlets that are paying attention to new and innovative music and art in Canada. We have an important role to play in keeping young people engaged and interested and become part of our community.
You also produce CDs. Can you talk about the impetus behind the creating them?
As you know, the magazine started in 1978 and 1983 Musicworks was (as far as we know) the first publication in the world to come with a recording. It was on cassette. John Oswald, who's a very talented composer, artist and musician, was one of the people that co-founded Musicworks. He assembled many of those early cassettes and they were really works of art in themselves. It evolved and they became companions to the issue. If you look back at the history of these recordings you'll find a lot of recordings of Canadian compositions that you can't find anywhere else. These recordings become a very important source of discovery and we have some of them streaming on our website. Also, this year one of our plans is to make a digital version of our recordings available to our subscribers and others because a lot of people don’t have CD players more. So we're evolving that part of our organization.
And how do you pick the music?
It’s primarily a companion to the content in the magazine, curated in the sense that there is a dialogue between the art. Because we publish only three times a year, there is a dialogue between the editor and writer and the artist. The artist becomes a part of the production in the sense that many of them think about what they would like to include on the CD and often, a number of times these artists have actually gone and recorded an improvisation specifically for the CD. That's always really exciting because it's very fresh. They're inspired by the fact that they're going to be connecting with a new audience and readership and we get excited about being able to present music to audiences. So it's a little bit more than just a track on a new CD.
Why do you feel like it's vital to promote Canadian artists?
There's just not many platforms that offer in-depth, long form writing about artists and musicians as you get in Musicworks. My first encounter with the magazine was having an article that was written about me. For me, it was a phenomenal experience to be able to tell my story about what I do and my practice on a much larger scale. It’s not only the possibility of a larger platform, but also just the breath and the diversity of the kind of music and art that’s in the magazine, it's different than what you would find in a lot of other magazines. It’s not just experimental, it’s not just jazz, it’s not just classical music, it's what’s interesting across all of those things, and it encourages a lot of cross pollination and ideas between totally different and unconnected worlds which I think is really valuable.
We use the word experimental but we could substitute the word exploratory or innovative. Often, art music or creative music are words that we use as well. It's really about people who are pushing the boundaries and exploring. I think it’s important to have it covered this way, especially for Canada, because you can open an archived magazine and look at a piece of culture from that time, see what happened and how it spiraled into other things we have today.
I think we have different audiences. People who subscribe to the print magazine and now we have a digital edition and we're on social media. So, even if somebody might not necessarily read the full article in the magazine, they might come across an artist because we've posted something from the article on our site and have a social media post.
What does music mean to you?
Jessie: I just got back from a over a week of barbershop and a capella performances. It’s people with extremely high EQs and bonding over vibrations of sound in the air - that’s really what music is about for me: whatever goes from my mind and my ear to my heart.
Jennie: I’m a musician and I’m a record junkie, and I’ve always lived in musical households and always wanted to go and see music and write about music, so I really feel for me, music is my life. Even now, I've done some other things in the arts, I feel that music or writing about music or playing music or talking about music is basically a big part of who I am and it connects me to people that I will never meet and that’s what I love about it.
Chris: It’s pretty much all I do, I write about music, I listen to music. I volunteer my time to make sure young people like music and listen to music. It’s all consuming, really.
Curious listener: what does it mean and why is that important to you?
Jessie: I think it's very important in a political sense. Those who are curious have a large openness. Just imagine a place where everybody was open to hearing other people's ideas. I think it starts with a curiosity.
Jennie: It’s been Musicwork’s slogan even before I started, “for curious ears,” and I think we stick with it because it’s still very true. To me, curious ears or curious listeners are people who may have a preference for a particular genre but they're just really interested in music and the ideas. I think some of the nicest compliments I've heard in the magazine are from people who might be new subscribers or long time subscribers who say something like “You know I took a while to read this issue because there's all these people in there I’ve never heard of before.”
Chris: It is political, making choices about the type of music you make but also about the type of music you listen to. It’s about creating and fostering critical thinking about how you're engaging with and experiencing something, whether it’s music or art or just the world in general. You have to take something you can’t just immediately process and it’s gone, but it takes effort and engagement on your part to interpret what it is. It really fosters that kind of thinking.