One of the most debated topics in art and music, is whether one must be skilled to become good at it. In other words, how much of success in an art form is about technique and how much of it is in pure human communication? Where is the line between popularity and quality?
The Art of Time Ensemble has been trying to answer these questions in real time since its inception in 1998. A performing and creative music ensemble, the group combines highly-skilled creators and performers with popular music in order to, according to their mission, “fuse high art and popular culture in concerts that juxtapose the best of each genre.”
Of course any outfit looking for the best of pop culture for content would be absurd to not include Christmas. Christmas has long been a pop culture touchstone. How a group like The Art of Time might fuse it with high art is a mystery that will be solved when To All A Good Night comes to the Rose Theatre on Dec. 21.
“The songs are what they are meant to be,” says founder, pianist and musical director, Andrew Burashko. “All the songs that we’re doing have arrangements that are really intricate and interesting though, done by some brilliant musicians.”
Musicianship and performance is something that will definitely be on display that evening. The show includes some of Toronto’s absolute best singers tackling some pretty well curated material.
Tom Wilson, of the band Junkhouse, and Lee Harvey Osmond handle much of the evening’s comedic numbers, among them, John Prine’s Christmas in Prison and You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. Jackie Richardson brings her massive voice to the more classic numbers like, Silent Night, Cool Yule and Little Drummer Boy.
“It’s a really diverse bunch,” says Burashko. “They’re all really different and they’re all great.”
Chris Murphy, from alt-rock pioneers Sloan; country sensation Jessica Mitchell and David Wall, from the well-remembered Toronto music collective Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, round out the cast.
Bringing these nuanced and ambitious interpretations of Christmas music to life requires more firepower than your average concert too. The band is bigger than a typical pop band, with a rhythm section, horns and a string section.
“It’s a 10-piece band; all amazing players,” says Burashko.
One thing Burashko is always trying to do with the group’s programming is to surprise people. He believes that an audience can love something great that they’ve never heard before if it fits into a larger theme or idea. He wants to confound expectations without dishonouring them.
“I hope whoever comes will be tickled pink … and maybe poked just a bit,” said Burashko.
One of the show’s highlights comes from a mash up (when two songs weave together into one piece) of the traditional classic Silent Night and the streetwise fairy tale of Tom Waits’ Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis.
“It’s a great juxtaposition,” continues Burashko “I think of Christmas as not just joyous but also potentially lonely. I want to celebrate Christmas but also laugh at it a bit.”
One of the reasons that Burashko wants a slight edge in his Christmas show is to bring what he calls a different kind of fun to Christmas. He wants to share his vision of of sharing Christmas, without taking it altogether too seriously.
“I hope they just grin from ear to ear, perhaps with a small tear in their eye,” says Burashko, of his audience. “I hope more than anything they have fun.”
Photo: Clockwise from left, Jackie Richardson, Tom Wilson, Jessica Mitchell, at the Rose Theatre on Dec. 21 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available by calling 905-874-2800 or by clicking here.