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REMOTE| Tim Dawson ‘Everyone Is Suffering Right Now And We Need To Be Patient And Kind’

By Michael Zarathus-Cook on June 17, 2020

Tim Dawson
Toronto Symphony Orchestra bassist Tim Dawson (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Tim Dawson, Toronto Symphony Orchestra bassist, joins us for this episode of REMOTE to bring a much needed dose of positivity to your online content. His contribution to this series is proof you can do two things at once: you can be very grateful for the good things and people that have come your way, while acknowledging the perspective of those who don’t have access to your privileges.

If I could give myself from a year ago just two pieces of advice, it would be 1) hold on to 2019 for as long as possible, and 2) buy Zoom stock. The latter has been part of almost every conversation I’ve had in the last three months and, for Dawson, practically a daily platform for communication. He’s been busy reaching out and collaborating with colleagues in the industry right from the start of the lockdown, and was one of the masterminds behind the TSO’s collaboration with Guillaume Côté and Heather Ogden of the National Ballet of Canada back in April.

How are you doing during this pandemic?

Like everyone else, my life has been turned upside down by this pandemic. I’m fully cognizant of the fact, however, that I am one of the lucky ones. My children are grown, I don’t have parents or grandparents suffering in a retirement home, I have a home, I’m part of a supportive community, and we can afford groceries. This pandemic is weird in that if I just stay in my neighbourhood there is little evidence of change. It is difficult to put myself in the shoes of the many that have truly suffered and continue to suffer from COVID-19. I decided early on, however, that it was important to stay positive. Long bike rides, walks with my wife around the neighbourhood and delicious family meals have been important factors in staying balanced and healthy. We enjoyed watching baby robins being hatched on our front porch then taking their first flights. What a miracle!

Now that you have some free time, how are you keeping busy?

This time in isolation has been incredibly busy! Early on, it occurred to me that the only way to get through this time is to have projects. Not just projects around the house but things that bring artistic satisfaction. Why not do what musicians are good at? That is, making music. I play bass in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and our season has been cancelled. All of our incredible musicians were home with nowhere to play. Since joining the orchestra (and all the way back to my Uof T days) I’ve been organizing concerts. So why not ask some of these performers to play online? One of the first isolation videos out of the gate was Appalachian Spring – a video created by TSO bassist Jeff Beecher that featured some of my brilliant TSO colleagues. This video stunned the world, showing that even though we were all isolated from each other it was still possible to create meaningful art. This pandemic has hit performing arts companies everywhere. Here in Toronto, the major arts organizations have all closed their doors. I got to wonder what it’s like to be a ballet dancer, stuck at home. How do they stay in shape? These incredible artists are like finely tuned racehorses – you’ve got to let them run! I reached out to Guillaume Côté and his wife Heather Ogden, two soloists with the National Ballet of Canada to see if they would collaborate on a fun project. I suggested that we could show a day in the life of two dancers, struggling to keep in shape at home with their children. They jumped at the chance and the result was Bach to the Barre. Five of us from the TSO played the famous “Air on the G-string” while Guillaume and Heather went through their paces, often with hilarious results. It seems to have touched a nerve because it has been watched well over 1 million times.

Meanwhile, in Germany my daughter Julia was cooking up her own projects. She was isolated in a small village in Alsace with her boyfriend’s family. She kept herself busy by creating what turned out to be the first operatic isolation video.

This lovely trio from Cosi Fan Tutte by Mozart involved colleagues from the Frankfurt Opera. I played the bass part here in Toronto — what an incredible new world! Her second video, a Mozart Don Giovanni duet is soon to be released. I played here in Toronto with colleagues from Japan, Europe, USA and the TSO. On yet another project she has invited five composers to create five pieces, all one minute long. The first two have been released. All of these videos can be seen on Keep The Music Going.

While all this has been going on we’ve been working on a follow-up to Bach to the Barre. This video will be released shortly. Just yesterday I was working online with the audio engineer in Germany. Because of technology, it was like I was sitting beside him! Who knew that at my ripe old age (soon to be 62…) I’d be continuing to learn and participate in this brave new world?

Speaking of a new world — my wife and I can now join a weekly dinner in Edmonton — by Zoom. Sunday dinner now includes family from Alberta to Baltimore. Zoom has brought us together in a way never before possible. I’d never even heard of Zoom before! We also have Zoom cocktail night on Wednesdays and I enjoy choir practice on Thursdays, Qi Gong on Fridays, get-togethers with friends in Finland and elsewhere and conferences on innovative ideas in churches across Canada — all online.

What are you missing the most right now?

As a performer, I miss the music on our TSO concerts that have been cancelled. Every week I look at the schedule book and imagine what it would be like to be playing that music with those particular artists. In addition, I run a concert series called the Kingston Road Village Concert Series. Our final show, a collaboration with Second City actors, had to be postponed. It was rather too appropriately called Mass Hysterical, a Comedic Cantata. We were set to perform this brand new and very funny commissioned work in four churches across Ontario. We have rescheduled the show — but for when? I also really miss getting together with friends and family without having to worry about distance, masks, gloves etc. I’m pretty sick of getting geared up every time we go out to buy groceries. I want life to be normal!

Any specific books, films, or TV on the go?

And what a time for Netflix to exist! We have really enjoyed discovering a few shows, most recently Vikings. Apparently it is historically accurate. I would make a lousy Viking but, as brutal as their life seems, there were many things to admire about their society. And of course — books! I’ve discovered the murder mysteries of Stuart MacBride — gruesome and hilarious at the same time.

My stepson and his girlfriend are quarantining with us. They are both actors so it has been exciting to see them working on their projects through this time. They are involved as writers and actors in pilots for two shows: a queer murder mystery called Sloppy Jones Show and another show about an underground world of witches here in Toronto called Spellbent.

Any words of wisdom to get through this?

I am fortunate to be living in Canada, to have a family and to have a job in the wonderful TSO. Even though we are not performing as an orchestra we still enjoy privileges that many do not. As a white male I am realizing just how much privilege I truly have in our society. It also must be incredibly difficult for those people that are alone during this time. In the news daily we are seeing the result of the mental health stress that all of us have been feeling. It is so important to reach out and connect in any way possible with our friends and family. Everyone is suffering right now, and we need to be patient and kind to the people around us whenever we can.

Music can be a healing force. Small chamber performances in churches and other communal spaces may be one way that our city’s performers can begin to connect with the public. Online performances will continue to offer innovative and exciting works. For the first few weeks of the pandemic CBC radio adopted a policy of playing only Canadian artists so that there would be royalties coming to our out-of-work musicians. Thank you CBC!

The future of our orchestras, opera and dance companies is unclear but I’m convinced that artists can LEAD the way out of this difficult time. Artists have an incredibly important role to play, now more than ever. I’m excited to see how we will collectively come out of this pandemic. To my fellow musicians — lead on!

For more chats with artists in social isolation, read on HERE.


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Michael Zarathus-Cook
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