Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ontario/Manitoba Tour – Toronto, Ontario

The final event on this Canadian mini-tour was in Toronto. The superb organizers of the entire tour were Simon and Liselotte Jongedijk.
Liselotte was also responsible for the Toronto event and it was another two full days of improvisation groups, master classes and a Gala Concert.

In addition, on the morning of day 1, I co-presented, together with Clarke MacIntosh - President of Novus Via Music Group, publishers of American Popular Piano (, at the Music for Young Children ( teachers’ meeting for the Central Ontario area.
Clarke kicked off with a talk about why and how APP – as it has become known – came to pass, with references to the history of the RCM in Canada and his time at Frederick Harris Music. I then took over and talked about how MYC activities, with their emphasis on group work and composing, can move seamlessly to the Preparatory level in the APP series. I got some teachers to come up and did simple group improvisation work with them, which they enjoyed and related to very well. Here are the MUSICA-MYC teachers who were all present at that event - MUSICA Music School, along with Novus Via Music Group, was the promoter of this Spring 2010 Tour, with generous assistance from Music for Young Children in Kanata, as well as local sponsors at each of the various events; you can see Frank Berg, Central Ontario Area coordinator for Music for Young Children, standing in the background:
After lunch, I made my way to the Salvation Army North Toronto Community Church on Eglinton Avenue and enjoyed nearly two days of improvisation groups and master classes, with a superb final Gala Concert. The Gala concert included an impressive performance of Samba III from my Latin Preludes Collection by 6 year old Catharine He, which, accompanied by live drums, can be seen at:

Here is a group of young Improvisers at work on Rockin’ in the Aisles:
Here I am playing a duet with one of the younger performers.
And here’s a picture of one of the outstanding student performers in Toronto (and indeed of the tour), Shikara Fahie, who performed Rainforest from Connections 3. This is Shikara’s third year in the Norton event in Toronto. Good hand position there Shikara!
As in other centres, a few of the Toronto students brought me their own compositions for constructive criticism. I was happy to include some of those compositions in our Gala Concert.

The entire Toronto event – master classes, improvisation groups and Gala Concert - was professionally filmed by Lennox White of Otima Media Productions ( and will be cut into a soon-to-be available DVD (details from More information will be posted on this website when the DVD is ready. Apart from capturing some excellent master class and Gala Concert performances as well as some great attempts at improvisation, the film will also feature many of the students being interviewed about their experiences as newbie improvisers and these interviews will also be part of the final cut.

Comments from Toronto:

From Matthew, a student:
The Christopher Norton Improvisational Class was enjoyable because you got to make up your own tunes. It inspired me to want to write my own compositions. I was nervous at first of making mistakes, but there were lots of people in the group. Christopher Norton was very funny, although not everyone got his jokes... but I did! The Master class was also fun because I made no mistakes! Christopher Norton was helpful and encouraging. He almost made me want to practice more!

General comments:

The master classes at all the events raised a number of issues that are worth listing here:

1. Make sure you have all the right notes and the correct rhythms under your fingers before you come to a Master Class! Aim to play your pieces in time and aim for accurate articulation and always make a nice sound!
2. Try to play with curved fingers rather than straight fingers.
3. If a piece includes pedaling, try to pedal the left hand first, with as much of the legato as you can manage “in your hand”. Then play the right hand melody without pedal, with fingers doing as much of the work (in legato terms) as possible. Only then put hands together.
4. Use a graceful down up movement of the wrist to play 2-note slurs.
5. Use a flexible wrist and judicious arm-weight to both shape phrases and to create round-toned accents and staccato.
6. Don’t try to reach for the next position when playing something like a staccato ragtime left hand part. Use the dropping on one note to act as a springboard to a drop on the next note, however far away it is.
7. Don’t look at your left hand if it’s playing an accompaniment figure – it will always be in danger of being too loud!
8. Aim for the physical movements you make to be reflected in the sound you make – so no unnecessary sliding of the fingers after you’ve played or sudden jerks upward of the wrist. And no twisting of the wrist to get to a black note!
9. Try and incorporate playing by ear, improvising and composing into your regular practice sessions.
10. Aim to perform confidently in public – this is achieved in part by making use of every opportunity to perform in public.

There’s a start students!

The whole of this tour has been most rewarding, with the double emphasis on playing better and improvising proving to be a potent
and congruent combination. I enjoyed meeting many of the teachers in the various centres and look forward to seeing many of the same students next time I am invited to your cities and towns.

Tour managers Simon and Liselotte Jongedijk of MUSICA Music School in Leaside, Toronto, cannot be congratulated enough for their vision of how it might be and for their ability to then carry it through triumphantly.
Should you wish to host a Norton event in Ontario next year (in late April/early May) please do not hesitate to contact Liselotte Jongedijk at

Au revoir Canada – I hope to see you all again soon!

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