Q & A with Executive Director Menon Dwarka

By Tim Crouch, Director of Marketing & Patron Experience, and Menon Dwarka, Executive Director

Welcome to Soundstreams Menon! Have you always been involved in the arts and culture sector?

I think like most people in our sector, I was “awoken” by some pretty typical works as a teenager (Rite of Spring, Pierre Boulez’s Piano Sonata No.2, R. Murray Schafer’s String Quartet No.2) but unlike most folks, I had a very supportive high school teacher who not only gave a very solid background in music theory and composition, but would also take me to shows. Besides the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Rake’s Progress, I also got to meet and have a lengthy conversation with John Cage when New Music Concerts brought him to Toronto for a concert that featured his Postcards from Heaven, work for 6 harps tuned in 6th tones. I went to NYC to pursue Ph.D. studies but ran away to “join the circus’ as it were, writing music for TV commercials for 5 years. 9/11 and a writer strike totally decimated that field, so I ended up working in community arts administration, leading the music departments at the 92nd Street Y, Harlem School of the Arts and Greenwich House. In 2013, I returned to Canada after my mother passed away, where I’ve had the good fortune to lead organizations like 918 Bathurst and Arts Etobicoke.

How do you personally identify?

I think of myself as a citizen of the world. I was born in Georgetown, Guyana, as part of the majority Indo-Caribbean community there, but moved to Toronto when I was 9 months old. I stayed here until I was 25 then moved to NYC for almost 20 years, where I had pretty substantial contact with the Black, Latin and Jewish communities there. All of these things have informed my outlook, and I really don’t think of any kind of incongruities that might arise from such a fractured background. I’m all of those things and none of those things at the same time. I’m just me.

Your website says you focus on ‘Culture and Community’ – how do you see music fitting into connecting with various communities in Toronto?

I personally know the power the arts have to make someone feel included, but every great art form has its roots in a particular community, for which the artist speaks. Toronto is a city rich in diversity and capital, but we sometimes forget that our own stories are worth telling. My goal is to help all of the arts, not just music, find its way to a larger audience. I can personally attest that music saved my life, and I feel a strong duty to make sure other people “find their way” through the arts, locally or globally.

Any big plans for Soundstreams? And what attracted you to us in the first place?

As a newcomers’ kid who completely understands the power of contemporary arts, I’d like to broaden our cultural conversation to include more of Toronto’s population. Since we’re touring much more internationally, I’d also like to strengthen Soundstreams’ role as a central player in the world of contemporary music.

What are the last 3 pieces of music you’ve listened to

Gemeaux – Toru Takemitsu
Raga Bairagi-Bhairav – Ram Narayan
Series of Dreams – Bob Dylan