The Stories of 2012

Odysseus and DemodocusSince the return of Story and Song Night last May, we’ve had  a lot of great nights of gathering ’round the fire (so to speak) to listen to stirring tales and enchanting music.  John Russon retold the story of the The Quest for the Holy Grail, Greg Recco from St. John’s College in Annapolis MD told us the story of the last stand of “the 300” Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae, Susan Bredlau from Emory University in Atlanta told the story of the Bacchae, Belinda Piercy told the classic modern tale of Batman, David French took us back to Coriolanus, and the early days of the Roman Republic, and Pouria Lotfi told the traditional Iranian tale of the tragedy of Sohrab and Rostam from the Shahnameh.  We witnessed a great deal of innovative and inspiring music: the debut performance of “Dirty 11th,” which is Michael Keith, Chris Banks and Nick Fraser, Ian Sinclair played piano along with Ben McConchie on trumpet and Michael Eckert on dobro, “Freedman,” (Justin Haynes, Ryan Driver and Jean Martin) performed with Mary Margaret O’Hara, Araz Salek improvised on the tar, Dan Fortin and Michael Davidson gave us a fantastic duo jazz performance, and The Chris Banks Trio (Tania Gill, Brodie West and Chris Banks) released their debut CD “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise.”  It’s been a great season.

2013 will be our fourth year.  Please join us!  We’ll meet once a month at Cafe Pamenar, 307 Augusta Avenue in Toronto.

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Story and Song Returns: The Quest for the Grail!

The days of King Arthur, Parsifal, the Crusades: all these and more will be woven together as Story and Song Night returns.  On Tuesday May 8th, at 8:30 pm, John Russon will tell the story of the Quest for the Holy Grail.  This inauguration of the new season of stories and songs will also feature music by Toronto pianist Ian Sinclair.

Story and Song night now has a new location: our tradition will now continue at Pamenar Cafe in Kensington Market.

Please come for a fun night of story-telling, conversation, and music!

There is no cover charge, but donations to help pay for the musicians will be greatly appreciated.

Pamenar Cafe is located at 307 Augusta Avenue.

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The Story of Rome!

Romulus, Remus, and the Rape of the Sabine Women. Tullus Hostillius and the Horatii.  Sextus Tarquin and the Rape of Lucretia. These are the legendary stories of the founding of Rome and the violent developments that ultimately led to the overthrow of the hated Tarquin kings and the establishing of the Republic.  On Tuesday November 22nd, John Russon will tell the tale.  Come listen and discuss, and then stay for a set of live jazz music performed by Toronto jazz musicians David French (saxophone) and Chris Banks (bass).  Story at 8:30, music at 10.  Naco Gallery Café, 1665 Dundas St. West, Toronto.  This, the 23rd installment, will be the last Story and Song night until further notice, because Naco must close.  Please come to this finale, and please pay what you can.

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Next Story and Song–Captain Cook!

How many times have you circumnavigated the globe?  How often have you been hailed as a god?  If you haven’t had those experiences, perhaps you should come and hear about someone who did have them.  On Tuesday, October 25, Don Beith from McGill University will tell the story of Captain Cook.  Come sail with us through the 18th Century seas, and then stay around for the discussion followed by some great live music: after the story, “Hat and Beard” (Ken Aldcroft on guitar and Dave Clark on drums) will play their versions of the music of the great Thelonious Monk.  It should be a highly memorable evening!

Naco Gallery Cafe, 1665 Dundas St. West, Toronto.  Tuesday October 25, 8:30 pm.  (Pay what you can.)

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St. Thomas More

The next installment of Story and Song Night will be this Tuesday, September 27.  Greg Kirk, from Stony Brook University on Long Island, will tell the story of St. Thomas More, the author of Utopia, and a man heavily involved in the politics that shaped Modern Europe.  Come out, enjoy the experience of being told a story, and then participate in the discussion.  The event will take place at Naco Gallery Café, 1665 Dundas St. West in Toronto.  The story-telling will be from 8:30-9:30.  After a short break, there will be a set of live music performed by Toronto bassist Chris Banks and vibraphonist Michael Davidson.

All are welcome.  There is no cover charge for the event, but a donation to the tip jar would be greatly appreciated.

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An Epic Weekend

On Saturday September 17 and Sunday September 18, Professor Patricia Fagan, a classicist from the University of Windsor, will introduce the world of Archaic Greek Poetry through discussions of selected passages from Homer’s Iliad. Professor Fagan, a specialist in Greek literature and philosophy, has lectured nationally and internationally on many aspects of Greek and Roman culture, and has won the “Teacher of the Year” award at the University of Windsor and been a finalist for the TVO “Best Lecturer” Competition.  20 Dewson St., Toronto.

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Story and Song Night–The Story of Mary (and Jesus).

This Tuesday, August 23rd, Story and Song Night will continue at Naco Gallery Café.  This month, Naco Gallery is featuring “The Mary Project”–artworks devoted to the theme of the Virgin Mary–and as part of that project, John Russon will tell the story of Mary (and Jesus).  The storytelling will begin at 8:30, followed by discussion.  Then, after a short break, there will be a set of live music, performed by Michael Keith.

Naco Gallery Café is located at 1665 Dundas Street West in Toronto.

There is no cover charge for the event, but donations to help pay for the music would be greatly appreciated.

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A Year and a Half of Stories and Songs.

We began our “Story and Song” meetings in January of 2010, carrying on the ancient human tradition of coming together around the performance of story-telling and music, and the monthly event is going strong.

Over the last year and a half, we’ve heard a wide range of religious, historical and literary tales.  From the great religions, we’ve heard stories of Rama, Ajax, Jason, Job, Moses, Abraham, Jonah, and Judith.

From history we’ve heard stories of Mohammad, the Buddha, Caesar, St. Paul, Socrates, Jesse James, the Mutiny on the Bounty, and the Borgias.

From literature, we’ve heard the stories of Macbeth and the Travelling Companion. 

Belinda Piercy, Karen Robertson, Shannon Hoff, Victor Bateman, David Ciavatta, Patricia Fagan, Susan Bredlau, Kirsten Jacobson, and I have been the storytellers.

Many outstanding Canadian musicians have performed at the series.  Most recently, Kristin Hoff and Antoine Joubert gave us a taste of opera in our little cafe on Dundas.  Before that, we’ve had two great performances by “The Unknown Bluesmen,” Michael Keith and Bob Vespaziani, a solo bass performance by Mike Milligan, solo guitar by Ken Aldcroft, country music by Victor Bateman and Jean Martin, and spy music by James Robertson and Chris Banks.

We also had lots of jazz-based ensemble music by Rebeccca Hennessy, Nico Dann and Michael Herring, by Peter Hill and Tom Richards, by Chris Banks and Michael Davidson, by Ken Aldcroft, Tom Richards and Mike Milligan, by Chris Banks and Brodie West, by Peter Hill and Bob Brough, by Blake Howard, Chris Gale and Chris Banks, by Eric St. Laurent and Peter Hill, and by Chris Gale and Chris Banks.


Story and Song Night will continue next Tuesday, August 23rd, at Naco Gallery Café, 1665 Dundas Street West, in Toronto.  The story will begin at 8:30, followed by discussion.  We’ll take a break, and then have a set of live music.

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Next Story and Song Night

There next Story and Song Night will take place at Naco Gallery Cafe, 1665 Dundas St. West, Toronto, on Tuesday August 23, 8:30 pm.

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The Toronto Seminar

I am deeply committed to the idea that philosophy is a cooperative activity and an inherently fulfilling one. For this reason, I encourage activities of philosophical study in which, through conversation, a community develops in which each participant experiences her or his thinking to be elevated beyond the level she or he could achieve alone, and in which study and social life are closely interwoven.

Since 2003, I have run an annual summer seminar in philosophy. Each year, roughly 25 invited participants-primarily faculty members and Ph.D. students from universities across North America-gather for roughly one week of intense, group study of a major text from the history of philosophy. Participants meet twice daily for sessions of highly focused discussion of the text and the issues it raises. When not studying in preparation for the meetings, seminar participants also socialize together, generally taking advantage of Toronto's outstanding, multicultural dining opportunities, and taking part in Toronto's vibrant and varied live music scene. Participants in these seminars consistently have the experience of growth in their conversation and conceptual abilities, and typically leave with a transformed sense of the nature and possibilities of philosophy.

Throughout the year, I also often lead smaller private seminars, specially oriented to graduate students, on various texts and topics in the history of philosophy.

Music, along with the other creative arts, is one of the most profound ways in which people express and define the distinctive character of human life. Composing, performing, and listening to music are some of the most fulfilling of our experiences. Listening offers us the opportunity for the sensuous pleasure of listening and moving (in dance), for emotional self-expression, and for bonding with others in shared enthusiasm. Performing brings with it the demands and rewards of communication and cooperation-with band-members and with audience-and supports the development and deployment of highly-refined bodily and expressive skills. Composing can be a powerful intellectual and cultural practice, offering one a route into participating in the rich historical and multicultural traditions of musical expression. Engaging with music, like engaging with philosophy, touches us in every dimension-bodily, emotional, intellectual, interpersonal, cultural, spiritual-of our experience.

My own personal path into music has involved me in the study of jazz music in particular, and since 2005 I have performed regularly in Toronto as a guitarist with my own band, the John Russon Quartet. The band (with the outstanding musicians Nick Fraser, Mike Milligan, and Chris Gale on drums, bass, and saxophone respectively, and, on special occasions, with Tom Richards joining us on trombone) performs my original compositions, as well as interpreting the standard tunes of the jazz repertoire and experimenting with free improvisation. We have just (August 2011) gone into the studio to record our first CD, and it should be available in a few months. It has also been, and continues to be, a major project of mine to develop a community of jazz enthusiasts who will carry on the tradition of appreciating live musical performance in general and jazz music in particular in this age in which recording, downloading, and dj-ing have come to define "music" for most people.

I think of both philosophy and music as communal practices first and foremost, and I regularly try to design community activities involving either or both. Currently, I am organizing one series in downtown Toronto.

"Story and Song Night" is a once-a-month event in which a speaker narrates one of the great stories from the world's religious traditions. Stories are among the oldest and most basic of our ways of telling ourselves and each other who we are as people, and the ancient stories that have been handed down for generations remain powerful and provocative resources for thinking about ourselves and our lives. On the fourth Tuesday of each month, a speaker narrates a story she or he has found personally meaningful, and this is followed first by group discussion and then by a set of live music performed by some of the best of Toronto's musicians. The event is hosted by Naco Gallery Cafe (1665 Dundas St. W.).