When David Bowser of the Mozart Players called for a benefit concert on the first day of 2018, the City’s musicians flocked in with enthusiasm. On Saturday 27 January, Torontonians are cordially invited to join an orchestra of volunteer musicians for the Out of the Cold Benefit Concert for Toronto Homeless at the Church of the Redeemer, 8 pm.
The winter of 2017-18 has shattered multiple weather records already, and Toronto has been busy with its contingency plan for the homelessness, against the cold. Despite the provision of 4,100 permanent emergency shelter beds operated by the city and community agencies, the harsh weather episode around Christmastime pressured the Mayor John Tory to open Moss Park as a respite centre on January 6, 2018, and though the Moss Park operation date has been extended to at least the January 29, it is hard to see how the city will continue to care for the less fortunate for the rest of the winter.
The current City statistics are old, and there is another survey scheduled for 2018, but with the recent years’ volatile housing market pushing out Toronto’s average-earners, we now rank 21 out of 293 global cities regarding unaffordability with a startling 9.1% in rent increase in the condo market (which is the biggest growing rental type in the city) just last year with average monthly rent at $2,166.
With over five thousands homeless people in the city (2013 estimation), it is particularly heartbreaking to see an increase of homelessness in seniors (age 51 and older, currently at 29%) and families (the group with most rise in demand).
While the shelter system is running at, or near capacity, we should also note that it is not only the homeless who visit these shelters. The Ontario Landlord and Tenant Act requires that the in-house temperature must be maintained at a minimum of 21C from September 15 to June 1. However, many landlords are not comfortable to accede to such a demand, as the rental market has been supersaturated for years.
It is perhaps only natural, as most musicians often work late into the night, that the only people who are still out on the street on the way home are the homeless, hunkered down on the most carefully chosen corners and air vents they can possibly find. Perhaps it is the rental market that many freelancers face, including musicians, which struck a chord with the lack of affordable housing in the city. Maybe it is the post-holiday solemnness that makes us aware of this less-brighter aspect of life.
Many musicians responded to Bowser’s call with enthusiasm and gratitude for the opportunity, as the issue is never too far from anyone who lives, and especially works, in the downtown core.
“In a city like Toronto, where housing prices are astronomically high, homelessness is something that so many of us could be facing after just a couple of bad throws of the dice. For me, keeping that in mind gives the situation much-needed relevance.” (Sharon Lee, Violinist)
“I often feel like I want to help more, but don’t feel like I have the skills needed- this was a perfect. I’d like to try to do more, and look into an alternative way of helping.” (Elizabeth Brown, Oboist)
“It was luck — the event is happening, and I was at the right place and at the right time, and it’s really gratifying to be able to do something tangible for people. Especially watching the problem get worse over many years, as the rent here gets higher and higher, to the point where my own friends and family have had to move out of the city- it is nice to feel that I have something to offer.” (Eleanor Verrette, Violist)
“A lot of people talk abstractly about how music helps people, but when confronted with huge, global problems – unlike people who easily volunteer their professional service to not-for-profits, or donate large amounts of money – it can be hard to see what music can actually do. This is something that really embodies the spirit of community music-making and at that same time, can actually contribute to a worthwhile cause. It feels concrete.” (Anonymous)
“Music brings people together, brings joy and happiness, it can also unite people like this concert in cause… we all see so many homeless day after day on the streets, and I get cold just waiting for the TTC.” (Christina B. Bell, Soprano)
As Bowser and friends have a deep connection with the Toronto classical music community, the program features quite a variety. Opening with the “Fanfare for the Common Man” in a nod to the community spirit, the program consists of mix of lovely operatic arias and chamber music selections, including a selection from C.P.E.Bach’s chamber trio, and larger works such as “St. Hubert’s Mass Fanfare,” “Grand March” from Aida and “Hunter’s Chorus” from Der Freischuetz (arr. Bill Schuetter). The tutti highlights will also include a few operatic choruses, including “Brindisi” from La Traviata and the finale of Act 4 from Le nozze di Figaro.
With the volunteer musicians and additional support from the Mozart Project, the Church of the Redeemer and Presidential Gourmet, all proceeds collected will benefit Sistering and Fred Victor, two shelters who support Toronto’s homeless and vulnerable citizens. It is only just yesterday, in addition to At least 70 homeless deaths in the first nine months of 2017 for Toronto, another homeless man died in the cramped shelter in the middle of the influenza outbreak. Such news does bring desperation and hopelessness to all of us, but, though it may seem late, it is always better now than later. Please mark your calendar and join these fine, and warm-spirited musicians with some hot chocolate, and let us be part of an active solution, one step at a time.
Out of the Cold Benefit Concert, Saturday, January 27, 2018, 8 pm, Church of the Redeemer. Pay What You Can; $10 Suggested. All proceeds benefit Sistering and Fred Victor. Details here.
LUDWIG VAN TORONTO