Friday, March 27, 2015

Recording: University of Toronto Undergraduate Horn Blow Ensemble

Artist: University of Toronto Undergraduate Horn Blow Ensemble

Song: [edited excerpt]

Recorded on King's College Circle, outside the office of the University of Toronto Vice-President & Provost's office, March 19, 2015.

University of Toronto Undergraduate Horn Blow Ensemble - [edited excerpt]

Over the past couple decades, our society has been slowly transforming into something less fair and equal than the image of it we hold in our minds. Wealth has been redistributed upwards by small increments, and in the short term it never has to look as if the powers-that-be are aligning themselves with mounting inequality. This process has been unfolding in Canada's universities since the 90's, with a steady progression of tuition increases accompanying a shift in the structure of the teaching corps that has seen full-time, tenured faculty increasingly replaced by short-term contract teachers. This season's near-simultaneous strikes at York and University of Toronto arise not only out of specific grievances on how money is allocated, but as a cry of "enough" at a system that is now fundamentally unfair and nearly at its breaking point.

Strikes have come and gone, but there was a sense that this year's reached people outside the academy in a different way. Perhaps it's just that precarious employment has diffused through the broader workforce to such an extent that the members of CUPE 3902 and 3903 seem more like insecurity-surfing fellow-travellers and less like ivory-tower bellyachers. In any case, I was glad to have been put in touch with this group of U of T music undergrads who decided to show their support for striking grad students in their faculty with some good-old grassroots action.

Instruments in hand, they congregated outside the office of the Vice-President & Provost and held a "horn blow", disrupting the status quo with some joyful gusting blasts. It sounded somewhere between a drunken marching band and someone (who'd only heard of it in a disparaging comment in an old Down Beat magazine) attempting to recreate Ayler's "Spirits Rejoice". Which is to say, a bit of a sonic jumble, but actually a surprisingly pleasing one. But more powerful than the musical effect was the feeling of voices being raised together. Congratulations to these polite sonic revolutionaries — I hope they felt a little freer afterwards, with a sense that it's not so hard to make some noise for a good cause once you take that first step. With the way things are going, we're going to need the likes of them finding their voices to speak up a lot more yet.

[As of this writing, CUPE 3902, Unit I voted to accept an offer of binding mediation to end the strike. Like this music, their jumbled voices managed to find and hold a ragged note of solidarity.]

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