One Year Later - Toronto's Palpable Cosmopolitanism -

This week celebrates the one year anniversary of the Ismaili Centre Toronto. It was also one year ago this week, that I found myself in Toronto, with one suitcase and the intention of going back to Vancouver after the premier of a new work. Lo and behold, I'm still here and this week marks my first week in as a PHD student in Music Education at the University of Toronto.

I had never thought Toronto would be where I watered the garden, even for a while. Yet, when I arrived here last year, I knew that I wouldn't go back to Vancouver (where I lived for over two decades).

There is a palpable cosmpoloitanism here in Toronto. There is a life beyond the diversity here. The multiculturalism, the constant encounters with people's from many lands, and the ease of interaction amongst people here makes Toronto feel like home - the kind of home only your heart knows.

At first, living in North York with friends, I hadn't yet seen the extent of this diversity first hand, but I certainly felt it. There was something in the air. There IS something in the air. Whatever this palpable cosmopolitanism is and however one defines it, I don't know quite now. What I do know that the feeling of what that is, is embodied in what is Toronto.

I found that in Vancouver (where I lived for over two decades) diversity is still finding itself. There is a sense of diversity, but it's cautious, Interactions are cautious. Cultural groups are still very much in a protection mode rather than an interactive one. It feels to me like a formal living room.

However, in Toronto, there is seems to be a readiness, a desire, an openness to mingle and find a new voice together. It feels like people are ready to engage but don't seem to have a pathway to do it, beyond the casual yet meaningful encounters on the streets. I feel a craving in the city for creative, spiritual, holistic, embodied, collective understanding. A feeling more of a den or family room.

I can see here a role for music and the arts in general - again something that I feel that's in the air. There is a musical texture in the Toronto vibe waiting to be realized. Many organizations are already exploring this texture and producing some fabulous and current work responding to and working with this texture. There is a huge opportunity here to engage a musical way of knowing that illumines a common and shared humanity, yet also acknowledging the struggles and dissonance in our discovery of what it is to be Canadian and human.

Music is reported to be a universal language, one that serves everyone. Yet, with all due respect, many fossilzed musical contexts, particularly in schools, combined with cultural beliefs of diverse communities, is creating a perceived barrier to music. The very thing that can humanize and connect us to spirit and one another, is not serving the larger society - specially vulnerable communities that may really need it.

How we get more music in the hands of all people to raise hope for a world in which a truly pluralist mindset rooted in our shared humanity is a natural way of being, is certainly an area of great interest to me. I'm very curious how music can become a part of this cosmopolitan texture, where all people, particularly youth - Muslim youth - have the tools, knowledge and ways of being in music that allow them to find comfort in who they are, and express with others a dream of what they want Toronto to be.


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