A recent article in Toronto weekly The Grid posed the question, “Is Toronto the greatest music city in the world?”
Only a Toronto publication would even ask. The term “greatest music city in the world” sounds like the dubious “free-standing structure” designation that gave the CN Tower its twenty-five year triumph of ludicrous loftiness.
To his credit, the author, Andre Mayer, admits “The question is deliberately grandiose, and, of course, impossible to answer.”
We agree: the question is grandiose. And if you’re from Montreal, Halifax or Saint John’s, let alone New York or New Orleans, you probably think so, too. But while Mayer’s article, a compelling catalogue of the exploits of various Toronto artists from Drake to Feist, won’t likely be enough to convince you otherwise, we cheerfully disagree about the question being impossible to answer.
It’s entirely possible to determine whether Toronto—or any other Canadian city—is the greatest music city in the world. We’ve even designed this handy-dandy seven-step quiz to prove it:
1) Do you play an instrument?
A mandolin, say, or a piano, or the bagpipes. Even the harmonica counts. If you do not play an instrument, what about your friends? Your colleagues? Your family? Your neighbours? How many people do you know can play an instrument? If the answer is a few, or none, you probably don’t live in the greatest music city in the world.
2) Do you sing?
Scenario 1: Happy Birthday
You’re in a somewhat expensive downtown bistro in an ordinary city—let’s call it “Hogtown.” You are not at East Side Mario’s, so the kitchen staff won’t come out and sing Happy Birthday for you, hey-budda-boom-budda-bing. You and your party must sing for yourselves.
Do you sing? Do you actually sing, with feeling, attempting to stay in pitch and in time with the group around you, like you actually care about what you’re singing? Or do you drone self-consciously, veering off-key deliberately and awkwardly, just so no one thinks you are trying to sing well?
Scenario 2: O Canada
You’ve got tickets to the big game, and they’re good seats, too. You’re a big fan. You pull on your jersey and splurge for a big red “We’re Number 1” hand to wave around in the enemy’s face. The enemy, by the way, is not just a divisional rival, but a cross-border one. From, say, Buffalo.
When the anthem is sung, do you stand up and belt it out with full-throated gusto, reveling in every note, feeling every lyric, to show your patriotic pride and prove to those Yankee interlopers this city isn’t full of suit-jacketed, pasty-faced pushovers that are too self-conscious to even bust a note?
Or do you stand silently, terrified the guy next to you might hear you attempt to hold a tune, and nervously mouth the words just in case you wind up on the big screen? Because that’s not how the citizens of the greatest music city in the world would do it.
3) Do you dance?
It’s Saturday night. You’ve had a hard week. Time to cut a rug, right? If you live in the greatest music city in the world, you bet your shimmying hips and slinky legs it is. Shave, shower, shine your shoes and dress to the nines. Grab your partner’s hand, because you’re heading out to hit the dance floor. You can’t get enough of dancing!
Nothing says “greatest music city in the world” like a city where people move to a beat. Imagine the writhing dancers in, say, Rio de Janiero at Carnival.
Is your city like that? Are you like that?
4) Got rhythm?
Hello, Canada. The groove is out there, really. Do you know where to find it? Can you even clap on the beat? Okay, maybe: but can you clap on the beat to something other than “We Will Rock You”? Boom-boom-chssssh, boom-boom-chssssh…
Because if you lived in the world’s greatest music city, you’d be able to clap on the beat, off the beat, or anywhere the groove goes, like a wild thing. You’d know beats you don’t even know you don’t know, you know? Wouldn’t you?
5) Do you clap and sing along at shows?
It goes without saying that when you go to a concert, no matter how big or how small, in the greatest music city in the world, the audience is every bit as into the performance as the performers are. In the greatest music city in the world, you clap, you shout, you move, you sing along at the top of your lungs. You rock out, right?
Surely you don’t sit there politely, quiet as a mouse, through the whole show, only to demand an encore at the end because you paid damn good money for those tickets… Not in the greatest music city in the world, you don’t.
6) Jam, much?
In the greatest music city in the world, people get together and jam just for the joy of it, right? They make music for its own sake, right?
So how does your city rate? Have you been to a kitchen party, a singalong, a campfire strum-along, a song circle, a drum circle or a basement jam recently? If you live in the greatest music city in the world, of course you have. Right?
7) Street party? Pub crawl?
If you live in the greatest music city in the world, chances are your city has a section of town where you can go from pub to pub—preferably with a glass of beer in hand—to see and hear people playing music.
Maybe these working musicians don’t spawn hits, break ground, or redefine genres—though maybe they do—but they make live music a part of the appeal of the place. That’s the sort of quality you might expect the greatest music city in the world to have. Does your city have that?
If the answer to any of the above is “No,” you may not live in the greatest music city in the world. You probably live in a regular Canadian city, and probably not in Atlantic Canada. Your city is musically okay. Perhaps it’s even musically promising. It’s just not the best music city in the world.
If the answer to ALL of the above is “No,” no matter how many big acts have called the place home, you (and they) plainly do not live in the greatest music city in the world.
You live in Toronto.