In this week’s edition of Fellow Fridays, we speak with violist, educator and Pocket Concerts Artistic Director Rory McLeod. A three-time fellow of the TSM Academy, Rory has since gone on to perform with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, the Smithsonian Chamber Players, and the orchestras of the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada. However, it is his work with Pocket Concerts that is particularly impressive. To date, the concert series that brings chamber music to intimate venues has been growing by leaps and bounds within the musical community here in Toronto. With the outstanding press that they have received from such media outlets as the Toronto Star, CBC Radio, and Toronto Life, it’s no surprise why Pocket Concerts has been such a success.
We recently spoke with Rory to discuss a number of topics that include performing, getting started with music, and his newfound fascination with Beethoven’s metronome markings.
1. How old were you when you started studying music? What were some of your early influences?
It’s hard to say exactly when I started “studying,” because my early life was full of music from the beginning. My mother played a lot of music (mostly Classical) on our LP player when I was young, and my brother and I used to dance around to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Dvorak’s New World Symphony when we were toddlers. As for lessons, I started on the violin with the Suzuki method when I was 5. I don’t remember making the decision to start playing, but my older brother Alex played violin and my mom played the cello, so I’m sure I just followed their examples.
2. What was your experience like in the Toronto Summer Music Academy?
I had a great time—enough so that I came back to do it three times! From my teens on, I always sought out opportunities to play chamber music, because it combined the challenges and rewards of ensemble playing with some fun social time. TSM offers the complete package: playing with talented peers, as well as top-notch professionals who can help bring your musicianship to another level. Preparing and performing many works in a short period of time is a bit like being put in a pressure cooker—it’s very intense, but the results are worth it. Often you don’t recognize what you’ve learned until months later.
3. What did you find to be the most valuable from your studies at the Toronto Summer Music Academy?
It’s hard to pick one thing. In the short run, I learned a huge amount of repertoire and learned to deal with high-pressure rehearsal and performance situations. In the long run, I’ve expanded my professional network significantly and met some fantastic musicians that I will work with for years to come.
4. Would you recommend the programs offered by the TSM to other musicians?
5. Since attending the Toronto Summer Music Academy, what have you been up to?
I actually had a job as assistant principal viola of Symphony Nova Scotia before I attended TSM for the first time. I played there until 2012, and then moved back to Toronto to work as a free-lancer. I’ve been playing with various orchestras, including the Canadian Opera Company and National Ballet Orchestras, The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, and the Group of 27 Chamber Orchestra. I’ve also traveled to Washington, D.C. to play with the Smithsonian Chamber Players, and played at the SweetWater Festival in Owen Sound a few times. In 2013 I started Pocket Concerts, a chamber music series here in Toronto that takes place in intimate venues, mostly homes. We present monthly house concerts that are open to the public, as well as private concerts in homes and offices. I also have a private teaching studio of eight students.
6. What are some of your musical goals for the future?
Pocket Concerts is really taking off (www.pocketconcerts.ca), and my partner Emily Rho and I are working very hard to make more of these chamber music concerts happen. We would like to make in-home and at-work chamber music concerts an integral part of the life in Toronto, not just for musicians but also for music-lovers. Apart from that, I think a huge challenge for all musicians is to look for inspiration both within themselves and in the outside world. I find that I have to constantly turn inward to face my own weaknesses, figure out what matters to me, and build myself up and as a musician. At the same time I have to look outward and keep perspective on the fact that my work serves the community, not me. My long-term goal is to make my own personal development and musical adventures part of a bigger and more important narrative: using art to bring people together. It’s difficult to set more specific goals than that, because you never know what opportunities lie ahead. We do have some exciting new ideas in the works, though, and if you keep track of Pocket Concerts over the next year or so, you will find out what they are.
7. Is there any music you’re listening to currently that you find really inspiring?
Ha ha, that’s a funny question, and I think a lot of professional musicians would have a similar answer to mine. I usually only listen to music at home when I have a new piece to learn. I get to hear so much music in my daily life that I usually prefer silence when I have a choice. I have become a bit obsessed with the two string quartets that I’m learning for the next Pocket Concert (Beethoven Opus 18 No. 6 and Debussy String Quartet Op. 10), getting inordinately excited about things like Beethoven’s metronome markings.
8. Where can people learn more about you?
You can go to the Pocket Concerts website (www.pocketconcerts.ca) and read about what we do. There are a few more blog articles and newspaper articles on the site as well. You can follow me on Twitter (@Rory_McLeod / @pocketconcerts) and Instagram (@pocketconcerts). We also have a Facebook page for Pocket Concerts (http://www.facebook.com/pocketconcertstoronto).
Better yet, you can come to one of our Public Pocket Concerts and meet me in person! You’ll have to wait at least a couple of months, though, because the upcoming concert is already sold out.