Two New Hours producer, David Jaeger with Norwegian composer/performance artist Maja Ratjke (left) and Canadian composer Melissa Hui (right) in happier times .

Canadian music has been dealt a serious blow by CBC in their decision to axe the award-winning show Two New Hours, the last broadcast bastion for the live presentation of new Canadian art music. This program was truly world-class, occupying a prestigious place in the international music community and among international classical broadcasters. Knowledgeably moderated by host Larry Lake and produced by Canadian composer, David Jaeger, it was a jewel that has been thoughtlessly cast aside.

Will CBC stop presenting Canadian art music entirely? No, it seems not, but the replacement show, The Signal, in its initial show has broadcast only a small sampling of serious Canadian music from recording. By relying on recordings rather than taping live concerts as Two New Hours did so successfully for 30 years, CBC is presenting the works of composers who have already met with some success, rather than being a launching pad for new voices. It has ceased to be a partner in the creation of a unique Canadian musical voice and canon.

How do we create a Canadian canon of music with so little support from our national public broadcaster? Canadian icons like R. Murray Schafer came to international attention in large part through their concerts being broadcast by CBC and through CBC exchanges with international public broadcasters.

What is happening at CBC? Their corporate communications all cite a need to appeal to a younger demographic and have a larger market share. Surely this is a problem for commercial radio rather than public radio. Is not the mandate of public radio to serve the interests of the development of a national body of art and to serve the interests of minorities within the population–those NOT served by commercial media. Surely there is a plethora of commercial radio stations serving the interests of teens and young professionals with a taste for pop culture. One might say, “serving the lowest common-denominator”.

As an arts administrator I have become familiar with the basic criteria of Canadian national and provincial public funders when it comes to grants for Canadian performing arts. If it is populist it is deemed to not require public support, or require less support–the marketplace will fund it. If it has artistic merit but is unlikely to find an immediate audience–so not commercially viable–it is deemed to need support from the public sector. To give just one example: in 2001 I was serving as interim General Director of Opera Ontario when Canada Council of the Arts threatened to cut our funding in large part, because our opera seasons were–at that time–deemed as too “popular” in presenting standard opera repertoire rather than taking risks with new opera and less-performed works. We were encouraged to increase our presentation of Canadian works and Canadian artists to receive public funds. We made adjustments and commitments to new programming and a policy of presentation of Canadian artists to re-coup those funding cuts.

So why is CBC, a publicly-funded radio station being allowed to pursue a course of populist programming, when a regional opera company could not? And indeed once the CBC management has managed to wreck a national treasure–one of the things Americans have envied us for–and deliver radio and television just like their commercial “competition” will politicians not turn around and say, “why are we funding this”? I sure would.

Does the rush to serve the youth market even make sense?

It may have escaped the marketing braintrust at CBC but the older demographic that they have traditionally appealed to is not disappearing, but rather growing, as the baby boom matures–and older citizens will always be with us. The CBC seems to be saying, “if we don’t attract young people, our audience members are all going to be dead in 10 years” but this is a very simplistic analysis. Every day people are getting older, so there are new people always entering the mature demographic that has a taste for thoughtful, challenging programming in news, opinion and the arts. And serious music has always appealed to a larger proportion of the older demographic than youth. This has been true for centuries.

The CBC move to axe Two New Hours was made quietly and swiftly before effective opposition could be mounted. Now that the changes at CBC Radio Two are in place, there is opportunity for the mature, sophisticated music community to speak out if their interests are no longer being served by their public broadcaster. We need to reclaim our public broadcaster. In the meantime, oddly enough, in the Toronto market, the classical music community is being best served by WNED FM from Buffalo, NY.

Radio culture used to flow the other way across the border.

Want to speak out?

Lobby your MP to keep CBC Radio Two free of commercial pop music
Find your MP here

Contact Mark Steinmetz head of CBC Two programming

Contact members of Heritage Canada committee responsible for commenting and recommendations on the role of CBC as a public broadcaster in preserving Canadian culture

Read another more informed and involved voice on the demise of Two New Hours.

(I will add more links to this post as I find them)

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Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers

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  1. I am the greatest fan of Canadian classical music. I listened to 2 New Hours always. I was disgusted when the CBC got rid of it and other wonderful programs on March 19, 2007. So they want to be more “mainstream” and appeal to a younger crowd. At a time when the CBC, and other news sources, love to tell us all the time about our “aging population”. I agree with you totally that they should bring back 2NH, In Performance, Music for Awhile, West Coast Performance, and other great shows they thoughtlessly dumped. Before 3/19/07 I was tuned in to CBC radio 2 almost daily. Not so now. Bring those shows back, and I’ll listen regularly again. By the way, I’m a relatively young 40 years old.

  2. I think that we also need to ask why we are not hearing more from music leaders. What is silencing the orchestras, ensembles and musical organizations in the country from speaking out?

    Audience members need to ask their orchestras and music series to speak out t defend their music on the radio.

  3. I STILL can’t get over the loss of 2 New Hours, and I used to go to great bother to listen to it online, despite the time difference (GMT). For all those people who think Two New Hours was not popular, they are wrong. Nearly every Canadian I’ve ever come in contact with has told me how much they loved that show. It was one of the shows that influenced me to get into radio, so it’s a complete and utter shame that it no longer goes on air.

  4. It’s unfortunate. Music -“serious music” in particular- appears to be dying.

    There are only 3 comments here. That should tell us something.

  5. I don’t think serious music will ever die, it just moves around. You know how the artists all move into a neighbourhood and it becomes cool and so rich people buy it and the artists move out (and then the neighbourhood becomes bland and boring). Think Yorkville 30 years ago and today. Well the same thing seems to happen in the realm of arts practice and dissemination. Serious music practice has moved out to the internet and even into virtual reality (where I have my music project). And serious music fans are turning off their radios and tuning in online.

  6. Oh and I would not measure the strength of the response by there being only 3 posts on my blog. My article was one of many in many blogs around the country and a lot of debate went on. People don’t take the time to comment on blogs generally, instead they twitter them or send a link to a friend. Comments are quite rare.

  7. I should be forthright and tell you my name. If you’re interested, google Shane Fage.


    I spent a lot of time working upon commissions here in Canada but mainly freelancing in Europe. I will say that it is a fantastic lifestyle but wow, it’s no walk in the park. I remember saying to a colleague: “if one spent the amount of time they ‘should’ be spending upon marketing, you’d never get any writing done.”

    So, yes, I did the best I could. I can honestly say that -for years- I only wrote commissions. One could say that I was lucky. I only remember working my tail off. Unfortunately, I broke even, at best.

    … but here comes the reality:

    Those student loans weren’t going to go away. Neither was car insurance, rent, et cetera.

    Jobs in academe weren’t falling from the sky. They still haven’t picked up.

    The reality is: If one wishes to do “real” composition, it is much, much more than a full time job. One works seven days a week. That’s just the way it is. At the same time, a person has to earn a living somehow. Eventually, they have to face reality –and more government grants is not the answer.

    I’ve stopped writing. I don’t see the point any more.

    It might seem that my post is about me. It’s not. It’s about a lot of people ‘like’ me. A lot of us have stopped. We certainly aren’t going to make a living having our music played on an obscure CBC Radio Canadian Composer’s link.

  8. Oh I agree and so composers are going to electronic music, techno, jazz, ambient music… whatever flavour of the moment and actually some exciting stuff is coming out. I am kind of demoralized too with the state of things in the arts “business” these days. I recently left an organization where I began by working my tail off and trying to get the Board to do their side of the job. Failing that, my own wings got tired of flapping and trying to hold up the entire organization. Putting governance in the hands of community volunteers on arts boards means that you are always going to be pressured for conservativism and mediocrity in artistic programming while pressured to “put bums in seats” at an unrealistic level of expectation based on a mistaken idea that live symphony or chamber music has EVER been supported by ticket sales alone. 50% has always been donations, government, sponsorship (including inkind such as a free space).

    Check out for my little hobby. In the videos, Torben Asp and AldoManutio Abruzzo videos are new music… and also Storm in a Teacup that shows a virtual multimedia art experience (rather poorly as it was so much different to be ON the teacup whirling through space)

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