It is with great sadness that I write of the passing of our dear friend and colleague Neil Crory. Neil passed away yesterday at age 68, after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.
He was a former Senior Music Producer at CBC and most recently a columnist at Ludwig Van. He was a constant source of insight that informed the direction of our then-fledgling website, and a staple of our shared music community.
According to his sister, Maxine Delaney, Neil died while listening to Elizabeth Schwarzkopf singing the last of Strauss’s Four Last Songs.
I was first introduced to Neil by a colleague in 2014, who had the foresight to see Ludwig Van (then Musical Toronto), as a potential home for his writing. We were hungry for good writers, and Neil’s reputation from his days as a producer for the CBC was the stuff of legend.
Neil was enthusiastic about it, and after some reflection, his column, The Voice, was born. In the process, we became fast friends,
As a new endeavour, Neil would sense my anxiety involved with building a grassroots publication from the ground up, and offered plenty of encouragement. “This is God’s work”, he would say gently, impressing the importance that writing thoughtfully about music mattered, whether it be on the internet or in print.
Neil understood what was at stake, and helped us built on a vision in the face of the decline of local arts coverage in Toronto, and beyond.
He saw Musical Toronto, now Ludwig Van, as the beginning of something special.
The relationship between editor and writer is a close one, and while we would sometimes disagree on small matters, he always made the process captivating.
He would often call me early in the mornings to bounce ideas for new stories that he planned to write. These conversations would sometimes stretch for hours, and would include details on his extensive research behind each piece.
“Good morning, Michael — is this a good time to talk?“ Neil’s voice was a strange combination of humble fragility and dangerous intelligence.
When he spoke, you listened. His words, much like his writing, always seemed to be strung together as if they were painstakingly thought-out beforehand, leaving just the essence of what he wanted to say.
His knowledge of classical music, and opera in particular, was boundless, and to be honest, slightly intimidating.
He was meticulous in his approach, and would agonize about everything from the addition of a dash in place of a comma, to the shape of a sentence.
After just two years of writing for us, Neil’s health began to rapidly decline, and he found it increasingly difficult to get out to concerts. He took to writing obituaries for artists in the Globe & Mail, which he felt deserved to be remembered. It became somewhat of an obsession for him — but deep down, I worried that one day, I would be writing his obituary.
The last time I saw Neil was for coffee at his downtown condo in Toronto, which he shared with his partner, Bruce Galbraith.
It was a sunny mid-week afternoon, and he had baked cookies for the occasion. I never told him I had given up sweets — but somehow the sight of Neil Crory holding a plate full of fresh-baked cookies with a boyish grin proved too difficult to resist.
We spoke in hushed tones about his health, interspersed between stories about the artists we mutually admired for their miraculous expression of human spirit in sound. He would describe Maria Callas’ voice as “a smoke made with the fume of sighs”, and Glenn Gould’s playing as “high-end exuberance”. He’d pull CD’s from his collection, recalling his favourite passages as though they were playing for us, right there and then.
But the writing was literally on the wall, as was his favourite illustration of Maria Callas that hung glamorously behind us as we chatted.
Neil had the tradition of having his many personal friends sign their names to a wall beside his front door. Over the years, Neil’s “wall of friends” grew to be a who’s who of the Toronto music scene. It included everyone from Krisztina Szabó to Isabel Bayrakdarian.
Before leaving that day, and in what would be the last time I ever saw him, he handed me a black felt pen and asked me to add my name to the wall. It was an honour I will not soon forget.
Read Neil Crory’s final review here: Renee Flaming at Roy Thomson Hall — Nov. 7, 2015.