The Young Center was holding the Global Cabaret Festival. An array of folk and pop singers would sing in front of diners and drinkers. The programs included Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Paul Simon’s Graceland, etc. Prior to my visit, I was surprised to see the countertenor Daniel Taylor’s name on performers’ list. Previously I had seen him performing with Tafelmusik, TSO or his own Montreal-based group, Theatre of Early Music. Bach, Handel and Purcell were his repertoire. What would he be singing here?
The lobby of the Young Center was bustling with people and noise. There were people of all ages, all ethnical backgrounds, and all combinations. There was probably more diversity here than anywhere else in the District: a Caucasian old lady was taking care of an east-Asian small boy (they seemed to be grandmother and grandson). A 50ish and flamboyant gay couple were calling each other “boys”. A young woman with spectacles and backpack was sitting alone in the corner: I immediately recognized her as one of the lone cinephiles who frequented the former Cinematheque Ontario in the AGO basement. I almost forgot all those familiar but unknown faces since Cinematheque moved into the big and vulgar TIFF Lightbox.
Mr. Taylor was sitting at a coffee table. When he seemed to have finished his conversation with a 30ish lady, I approached him with this question: “What are you doing here?” “Well, I will sing a Shakespeare album – folk songs in Shakespeare’s times”. He smiled. Then he stood up and walked around the lobby with a cookie in his hand, checking out other singers’ program. He seemed eager not to be just a performer but also a diner and listener. I could feel his satisfaction in not being high up alone on the stage.
The performance began. Curiously, nobody was really drinking and eating under the candle light. Almost everyone sat straight as if they were attending a classical concert. The performers were more at ease. During the one-hour performance, Mr. Taylor even checked out his cell phone and played with his blond hair a few times on stage.
Another curious fact was that the folk songs didn’t work as well as Handel, a fact Mr. Taylor admitted on stage – he in turn adjusted the program. An obvious explanation is that Handel’s music always has a dramatic flare for public consumption. German-born, he is English through and through. The Renaissance English folk songs, by contrast, are reserved and introspective. The duality of Englishness was played out.
My companion happened to be English. When I was struggling at the high table, she invited me down to sit with her. She came from England some 40 years ago but kept her strong British accent. After Handel, she was going to the Beatles album concert.