Tom Cone remembered in song at Vancouver's Modulus Festival


Tom Cone succumbed to cancer in April of this year, but his legacy is evergreen—and its latest blossoming can be heard on Thursday (September 27), as part of Music on Main’s eclectic Modulus Festival.

Tom Cone Songs is the most recent installment of Cone’s collaboration with composer Jocelyn Morlock, a creative partnership that’s too compelling to be silenced by the much-loved playwright, librettist, philanthropist, and arts activist’s death. It’s also part of Cone’s last will and testament, although Morlock resists the finality that implies.

“Don’t say ‘last words’,” she stresses, on the line from her Vancouver home. “But it was like, ‘Okay, this is the last one we’re going to have a chance to work together on.’ I don’t have a really good term for that, but it was a strange feeling.”

Music on Main’s resident composer is referring to “Somewhere Along the Line”, which, along with “Cubistique”, is one of the two pieces that make up this first iteration of Tom Cone Songs. It features the final lyric Cone wrote, which is difficult to hear now as anything other than a wistful farewell.

“Somewhere along the line/the ball bounced too high/never to return,” it begins, before ending with: “Never to return never to return never to return.”

“Tom finished the text right before he was too sick to do other things,” Morlock explains. “So he didn’t hear the song, and it felt pretty strange to be writing it knowing that it was probably the last one he would write.

“It was hard to deal with,” she adds, with considerable understatement. In the end, she addressed her friend’s absence by adding a meditative instrumental coda—a gentle lullaby for Cone’s spirit. “I felt like we needed some time at the end, right?” she says. “So I have this part that’s marked ‘Play as if nobody else can hear you,’ and it’s just the piano playing really simple stuff to itself.”

Morlock has published some of her memories of Cone in ti-TCR, an online offshoot of The Capilano Review. (It’s viewable here.) And preparing for tonight’s concert, which will feature pianist Rachel Iwaasa and mezzo-soprano Melanie Adams, has given the composer further opportunity to reflect on how Cone fed her artistic appetite.

“He would push me, and I think other people, beyond their boundaries,” she says fondly. “He would make you do something that might be uncomfortable, and yet you’d be sort of compelled.

“The other thing he would do is he knew everybody, and he knew about so many things,” she continues. “He would tell you stuff that would be interesting: ‘You might want to get to know this person,’ or ‘You need to look at this or listen to that or see this thing or read this poem.’ He was so good at connecting everything. He was unusual that way.”

Even now that he’s gone, Cone continues to have a remarkable ability to bring people together. Tonight’s show will be more celebration than wake, and there’s little doubt that after the Songs are sung more Cone stories will be told.

Tom Cone Songs will be performed at Heritage Hall on Thursday (September 27), as part of the Modulus Festival.

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