BIOGRAPHY OF TOM GRAFF, WORKSHOP LEADER

Beginnings

Salli Terri, a native of London Ontario, became a mentor to Tom Graff. Terri was the possesor of a now-venerated haunting voice - remember Clyde Gilmore and his regard for the stratospheric vocalisation in the third Bachianas Brasilieris of Heitor Villa-Lobos. Reluctantly, Graff was taking the compulsory voice class at the University of Southern California, but he was shocked on the first day of the course, when on hearing his voice, she told Graff to either join her in teaching the class, or leave immediately and seek private solo voice lessons. Tom chose the second route to musical growth.

Her counsel led to Graff performing and conducting with a wide variety of people from all over the world. That first day in voice class was the beginning of a nourishing relationship through which Graff learned of "singing of a voice of the folk", of Charles and Ray Eames (the great Los Angeles designers of exhibitions, furniture, and EXPO pavilions) as well as winning numerous voice contest prizes and getting to work directly with Igor Stravinsky, Roger Wagner and Robert Shaw, not to mention Vera Lynn and k.d. lang. Along the way Tom performed at Disneyland to pay the bills, and benefited from exciting experiences in the trenches of classical music at the Ohai and Carmel Bach Festivals with such luminaries as Pierre Boulez and Ingalf Dahl. Sally Terri’s constant advice was to exercise all one's talents and genius. Focusing on only one field to the exclusion of others, she said, would lead "life to become more full of toil than art." Her watchwords were "Love thy art as thyself. Live large!"

Later Studies

Tom Graff was fortunate to study with Eva Gustafson, a Norwegian mezzo-soprano of the classical bel canto European school, imbued with the rigor and precision of Arturo Toscanini. In fact, with daring and just barely bridled energy, Toscanini had collaborated secretly with Gustafson using her concert engagements as cover for working as an agent for the Allies in World War II. She taught Graff "to sing with the soul, accompanied by his mind." He learned from Gustafson that singing was not only about singing

Tom Graff began his choral experience by working in the Robert Shaw Chorale. His solo work on tour and leadership with school choirs earned him attention from Shaw. Graff was included in conductor’s workshops and summer festivals which Mr. Shaw held each year. At the same time Graff was working on his voice and conducting in Los Angeles, singing with Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft. He was widely sought as an assistant conductor as well as conductor of various amateur and semi-professional choirs, performing in the classical, church and folk traditions. Under Paul Salomonovich he studied Orthodox Church Music. With The Greg Smith Singers he explored the genre of American indigenous folk and church composition.

Roger Wagner had discovered Graff in a talent search headed by Salli Terri. As a result, he worked in the Roger Wagner Chorale, the Los Angeles Chorale, and became involved the many and variousous choral activities at the University of California, Los Angeles. Stravinsky would often work in Graff's company during rehearsals and performances, sharing views of the master's hand-written scores with Graff whenever Robert Craft was conducting non-choral music on stage.Later, under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas, Graff welcomed the 80th birthday of Igor Stravinsky one day before landing in Canada, never to look back. Stravinsky himself had advised Tom, in the light of the oncoming Viet Nam imbroglio, to move to Vancouver and become a Canadian Citizen as soon as possible. Tom in the Briar Patch In addition to Stravinsky, during his last two years of professional engagements in California Graff worked with Darius Millhaud, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Ingalf Dahl, John Cage, Roger Wagner, Robert Shaw, and his mentor Salli Terri. Upon arriving in Vancouver, R. Murray Shafer, Don Druick, and Alfred Siemens were his new colleagues.

In the late 1970’s and 80’s Graff worked in the English choral tradition. In Anglican cathedral choir work Graff assisted Dr. S. Drummond Wolff as co-director of Hay-on Wye Chamber Choir performances in the famous "By the Book" festivals, and worked as singer and conductor with Wolff in Hereford Cathedral, the Cathedral Church of St. Mary the Virgin and St. Ethelbert the King, Hereford, UK.

Recent Work

Graff had worked with John Cage during his high school years (early 1960's) in solo roles in seminal pieces written for Bass singer and willing contemporary performer. Building on this experience and the many successes he had with small life works at the performing arts programmes in the Vancouver Art Gallery, Graff subsequently developed a performance art work style which became known as Performance Art. Between 1970 and 1999 he wrote and performed, 8 large performance art operas, for which he received two senior Canada Council Grants and the Lynch Staunton Award for Excellence in Canadian Culture, along with $30,000. Tom worked with a select list of performers that would have included Jeremy Wilkins, Phyllis Mailing, Harold Brown, Gathie Falk, Trudy Forest, Clyde Mullins, Avis Lang, Elizabeth Klassen, Joan Lowndes, Peter Miller, and k.d.lang as well as Vancouver New Music.

Tom in Utsunimiya, Japan Other activities in the local area and abroad:

Commissions:

To find out more about Tom Graff's work in vocal development go to his Voice Mentoring home page. Tom also is involved in Event and Exhibit Management, both here and abroad, particularly in Japan.

Return to the Workshops page