Intergenerational Collaboration In Music


There’s a beautiful phenomenon going on in the music scene – a lot of collaborations between generations. Whether it’s the older generation of musicians wanting to remain relevant by ‘appearing’ to mentor the young, or it’s the latter group expressing support of the boomer or senior generations of entertainers, this intergenerational collaboration is excellent news to music fans.

I first remember the beginning of all these collaborations happening at The Grammy Awards a couple of years ago – older bands teaming up with younger ones and appearing on stage for a joint performance. Then renowned crooner Tony Bennett first came up with the idea of recording duets (although preceded by Frank Sinatra) with various younger artists – Michael Buble, Dixie Chicks, Diana Krall, John Legend and others.  Following the huge success of Duets: An American Classic, he came up with Duets II in which he famously sang with Amy Winehouse shortly before she passed away. The album also made him the oldest living artist to reach No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. He took the idea and expanded it further to the Hispanic community with Viva Duets by involving younger Hispanic musicians such as Thalia and Chayanne to sing the Spanish part of the duets.

Just when you thought Bennett might be content with his accomplishments in his octogenarian years, the 88-year-old musician is about to come out with another duet album, Cheek to Cheek, next week with Lady Gaga, who’s 60 years his junior. Nobody ever associated Gaga with jazz music although her diehard fans would know that the pop songstress first started off as a jazz singer in some New York City dive bars before becoming famous. In a recent interview with NBC’s Today and The New York Times, Lady Gaga got choked up a couple of times and said, “I wonder where I would be at this moment in my career had this not happened. I really didn’t want to make music anymore, for a little while, because I was so confused and tired. But now it’s so clear.” The skeptics said that this collaboration with Bennett in a brand new genre for Gaga might be a reboot for her, whose most recent solo release, Artpop, did not come even close to her usual blockbuster standards.

The truth of the matter is: both Bennett and Gaga were probably quite happy with where they were before making this new jazz album. But both seemed to continue to want to innovate and break new grounds. Hence came the latest collaboration!

Even the stage- and performance-shy Barbra Streisand has come out with her own duets album called Partners which was released earlier this week. In her usual diva way (a trait denied by her on The Tonight Show last night), this album is a collection of duets she recorded over the last year with an all-male lineup including some younger artists such as Michael Buble, John Legend, John Mayer, Babyface and Blake Shelton. Whether you like the 72-year-old icon’s music or not, this new album sounds irresistible.

This intergenerational musical collaboration is not obvious just in duet albums, but also as a ticket draw on stage. I attended a concert last night at Massey Hall where Joss Stone and Charles Bradley performed separately. Marketed as a “Soul Explosion” concert, both artists were mesmerizing in their own ways.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Joss Stone’s since her debut album The Soul Sessions at age 15. Once you’ve attended her concert, you’ll like her even more – in spite of her success, she started her show punctually at 8 p.m. in a long, orange summer dress and heated up the night with The Choking Kind which made her famous. Now at 27, she’s lost a lot of baby fat and is a bit more mature, but still sexy, approachable and such a natural performer with an Aretha Franklin voice. At the end of her one-hour performance, she got a soul train going among the audience on the floor and just exited off stage without any fanfare and encores in her signature bare feet.

Then came 65-year-old James-Brown-look-alike Charles Bradley. Unlike Stone, every single stage appearance of Bradley was introduced with huge fanfare by one of his younger band or crew members. Like Brown, his performance was as much about his moves and costumes on stage as it was about his voice and music. What highlighted his show last night was his supporting band – all white, young guys in their 20s who were so electrifying that I’ll be surprised if Bradley doesn’t record his next album with them.

Last evening was another example of musical collaboration between the young and the old, not together on stage, but as a two-in-one concert draw. For me, as a soul and r&b music fan, both gigs were intoxicating!


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Purchasing A Home For Aging In Place


More and more people are thinking about their long-term future when buying a home. Whether they are aging couples or singles planning for their retirement, or a growing cohort of young professionals who expects eventually to share a home with their aging parents, there’s an increasing demand for architectural designs of houses or condos with aging in place in mind.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of grandparents living with the grandchildren jumped 45 percent between 2001 and 2011. For multicultural Canada, it becomes even more important for a multigenerational house because for many diverse cultures, particularly Asian, letting your parents live in an old-age home is unacceptable. According to Betsy Williamson, one of the partners at award-winning architectural firm Williamson Chong, in order to make a multigenerational house successful, where all ages feel accommodated and not cramped, it’s essential to factor in everyone’s needs and expectations from the outset of the design. She also said in an interview with The Globe and Mail that it’s important to listen carefully to the family’s particular set of cultural and demographic requirements.

The older generation wants to minimize stairs for maximum mobility and, very often, wheelchair-friendly master bedrooms and bathrooms are located on the ground floor. There might also be an extra guest room on the same floor that can be converted for a live-in nurse.

Younger offsprings, on the other hand, want to maintain their own independence while caring for their aging parents and grandparents. So, very often, houses are designed to provide opportunities for ‘togetherness’ with easy access to the house’s main living spaces. At the same time, there are also separate entrances to an independent suite where the younger generation can opt to enjoy their privacy and independence.

For condo dwellers, the space would incorporate private studios, a large communal living area and an extra room for a caregiver. According to Matthias Hollwich, an architect and author of a New Aging manifesto that is slated for publication next year, a New Aging home adheres to the principles of universal design, which considers the needs of people of every age and ability. He gave examples in his interview with The Globe about entrances, pathways, bathrooms and kitchens accommodating someone with a walker or in a wheelchair. Hollwich and his team from New York architecture firm Hollwich Kushner Architecture DPC have designed several New Aging community prototypes for locations in Europe, Africa and North America, but these concepts have not been built. However, all of his work is infused with an awareness of aging, including the 1,840-unit apartment building that is under construction in New Jersey, which will feature details such as barrier-free travel, direct access to public transit, kitchen surfaces that are the right height for wheelchairs and fully accessible bathrooms.

It’s gratifying to hear that the architectural and design community has come to realize the potential future of aging in place and instead of a niche, we’re now seeing more of such designs as an industry standard instead.

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Legitimate Concerns About Canadian Health Care

Old Hands

Of all the doom and gloom news reports about our aging population, the only one that is of real concern is from a recent poll, commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), that baby boomers are getting increasingly antsy about the availability and quality of health care as they age. The Globe and Mail reported that the CMA survey of Canadians aged 45-plus shows that 78 percent of them are worried that they will not be able to access necessary health services like homecare and long-term care in a timely fashion when they need them. Eighty-one percent of those polled also expressed worries about the quality of the care they will be able to access.

In addition, the majority of older Canadians – 61 percent – lack confidence that hospitals and long-term care facilities can handle the needs of Canada’s elderly population, or that there are enough services to help Canadian seniors live at home longer (60 percent).

I totally share this concern and was, therefore, glad to read that the new leader of the CMA, Dr. Chris Simpson, was calling out the Conservative government for its inaction on health care, saying the medical system is floundering and Canadians are “tired of excuses as to why the federal government can’t take action.”

Dr. Simpson, according to The Globe, further asked for some “brave leadership” from Ottawa to fundamentally reshape the health system to reflect the changing needs of an aging population. Simpson said given the challenges posed by the aging baby-boomer demographic, the starting point for health-care reform needs to be creating a comprehensive seniors’ strategy. He also cited a recent report from the Commonwealth Fund that shows Canada’s health system ranks next to last (after the U.S.) on almost every measure of quality and access. The top-ranked countries were Britain, Switzerland and Sweden.

Simpson said Canada’s seniors – especially those with multiple chronic conditions – lack proper primary care and end up in overcrowded emergency rooms and hospitals by default, and at great expense.

In spite of all the criticisms of Obamacare in the U.S. and our southern neighbour’s poor health-care rating in the world, at least the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a plan to tackle the health-care problem facing the aging population. In The State of Aging and Health in America 2013, the sixth volume of a series that presents a snapshot of the health and aging landscape in the U.S., the report focuses on the health of adults aged 65 years or older and identifies needs for improvement on the 2020 health targets, particularly for older Americans. The report also presents several calls to action intended to encourage individuals, professionals and communities to take specific steps to improve the health and well-being of older adults. They include developing a new Healthy Brain Initiative Road Map; addressing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) aging and health issues; using data on physically unhealthy days to guide interventions; addressing mental distress among older adults; and monitoring vaccination rates for shingles.

But where is the Canadian plan? Dr. Simpson of the CMA suggested that Canada should learn from the top-ranked countries in health system by having a clear commitment to quality improvement with goals and targets; by having a buy-in and leadership from doctors; and by having a strong leadership from a committed federal or national government. Perhaps, intead of participating in a G7 or G8 conference focusing on global economy, our federal government should look into calling a summit of major Commonwealth countries to share best practices for a seniors’ health-care strategy?

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Windy City Revisited

chicago-riverOn my recent fourth visit to the Windy City, I spent most of my time catching up with an old friend whose first time in the city brought us on many introductory tours. Chicago has always been, to me, a ‘second city’ to New York. But I have to admit that this recent visit has warmed me up to this partnership city of Toronto.

With the formal relationship formed since 1991, the cities of Chicago and Toronto are partner cities within the International Alliance Program which features activities driven by city staff and focusing heavily on economic development goals such as building business links, increasing each other’s profile, cultural exchanges and promoting trade. Our other partner cities are Chongqing, China; Frankfurt, Germany; and Milan, Italy.

Most Torontonians love Chicago because there are a lot of similarities between the two. Toronto has Lake Ontario while Chicago has Lake Michigan. Our city is renowned for the contrast between the old and contemporary architecture, whereas Chicago, also renowned for its architecture, features prominent buildings noted for their originality rather than their antiquity. Chicago has long been connected with some of architecture’s most important names: Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe and Holabird & Root. On our architectural cruise around the city, our tour guide from the Architecture Foundation pointed out that Mies van der Rohe was responsible for the design of the TD Centre in Toronto’s financial district and the 52-storey AMA Plaza (formerly known as the IBM Building), housing The Langham Hotel (where we stayed), in Chicago’s business district.

I don’t know whether Toronto has an architectural tour for visitors. But, if we do, we certainly have many wonders to brag about too, including Frank Gehry’s Art Gallery of Ontario; Daniel Libeskind’s Royal Ontario Museum; Santiago Calatrava’s Allen Lambert Galleria of Brookfield Place; Viljo Revell’s Toronto City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square; and Jack Diamond’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Toronto is famous for its International Film Festival and Jazz Festival whereas Chicago is renowned for its blues and soul music as well as The Steppenwolf Theatre Company. The list of similarities just goes on and on.

But three unique features of Chicago pale Toronto by comparison – the bridges and the 24-hour-operating elevated L (EL) train; the Chicago Riverwalk; and the Ohio Street and Oak Street Beaches right in the middle of the city. Chicago, apparently, has the most movable bridges of any city in the world – 37 in total – including 18 along the river’s main branch downtown. Most are drawbridges that lift up instead of swinging to the side. This collection, together with the elevated train on top of highrises, give an extra charming character to the Windy City. I would never forget the scene in the movie The Fugitive, when Tommy Lee Jones, playing the clever detective, deciphered where the fugitive, played by Harrison Ford, was calling from during his escape just by the sound of the EL train in the background.

Toronto’s Beaches area (actually now renamed The Beach) is never an attractive beach in any sense of the word because there are no high mountains like Rio’s or Hong Kong’s that bring out the contrast of the landscape. Furthermore, it is located in the suburbs and is, therefore, no comparison to at least two beaches in the centre of the City of Chicago. I’m no beach fan at all, but I have to admit it’s pretty cool to see people playing beach volleyball right in the middle of the city amongst skyscrapers, busy traffic and parks.

But the most attractive feature of Chicago is, by far, the Chicago Riverwalk along the main branch of the Chicago River. One of the first things my hotel concierge told me during my introductory tour was Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plans to complete the expansion of the continuous walkway and recreational amenity connecting the lakefront with the heart of downtown. “Our mayor wants to recreate the riverwalk experience to that of The Seine in Paris,” our concierge said. If he were successful, the City of Toronto should definitely learn a lesson!

That brings me to the mayoral comparisons of the two cities. While our crack-cocaine-smoking Mayor Rob Ford has been a joke around the world for too long, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is also a mayor in the love-him-or-hate-him category. Now in his third year as mayor of Chicago, the city’s first baby-boomer mayor is not a popular guy. In fact, when I mentioned his name to cab drivers and tour operators, most of them gave negative reviews, including the “senseless” bicycle lanes, the high murder rate and the traffic gridlock.

This was kind of surprising to me as I’ve always quite liked the mayor who’s not only a ballet dancer when he was a teenager (he was offered a scholarship to join the renowned Joffrey Ballet), but also Obama’s former Chief of Staff. I watched his interview on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon where he talked about his February Chicago Polar Plunge into Lake Michigan with Fallon. The mayor has long been described as a control freak who works 24/7 non-stop, swears and curses with no hesitations even to a nun, and is a fitness freak who exercises seven days a week. But perhaps the City of Chicago does need a tough mayor like Emanuel to take on the many challenges – the massive budget deficit, the high crime rate and the worst school system in the U.S. In fact, Bill Clinton wrote in his memoirs that Rahm Emanuel was so aggressive most of the time that he made the former President look like he’s too laid-back! With such a personality, he’s bound to make a lot of enemies if he wants to get his job done.

But Chicago’s crime rate is, perhaps, the one area that its mayor really needs to get a handle on. According to, in 2012, Emanuel’s first full year in office, murder rate soared 16 percent and Chicago was dubbed the country’s murder capital –  its homicides far surpassing New York City’s and Los Angeles’s. Over just one weekend, 49 people were shot in Chicago, including a six-year-old who was killed as she sat on her family’s front porch. Although the crime rate has gone down since his mayoralty, he still has a long way to go. As the third largest city in the U.S., and now the fifth largest city in North America (Toronto has taken over as the fourth largest), Chicago should, for once, learn from Toronto where our crime rate is the lowest among big cities.

I, for one, have changed my mind about my lack of preference for the Windy City after this recent visit; not because it resembles Toronto, but because I’ve discovered more of its strengths on its own merits.


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Robotic Caregivers Lack Empathy


We’ve been reading about robotic caregivers becoming a reality soon. In fact, it’s already happening in Japan. In a recent New York Times article, Louise Aronson, an associate professor of geriatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote about a 72-year-old woman named Miriam finding comfort in interacting with and confiding in a robot called Paro.

We already have robots assisting us in surgery and delivering medications and other supplies in hospitals. Robots are also increasingly used in rehabilitation after debilitating events like strokes. Aronson, however, pointed out that even within the medical community, the idea that machines could help fulfill more than just physical needs meets largely with skepticism, and occasionally with outrage.

While robots might not ever replace human beings (try not to think of the movie Her), they could help solve the labour crisis by providing more caregivers for the growing number of older people. The Times also quoted Jim Osborn, the executive director of the Quality of Life Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon, who said that the current limitation for the robotic caregiver to become more accessible is not the technology, but finding a viable business model to make it affordable.

But whether we can afford robots or not, many seniors and boomers consider robots only as ”caring machines.” They are not human beings who do care about us unlike most robots who maintain eye contact, call us by our names and respond to verbal cues to simulate care and understanding. No robots in this world could possibly understand how we feel and experience the real pains and joys in life we human beings go through.

So I agree with Sherry Turkle, a professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT, who recently pointed out in The New York Times letters to the editor, that by outsourcing a caretaker’s job to a robot, we give up what we, as human beings, do best – “understanding each other, taking care of each other.”

Machines and technology are meant to help alleviate human tasks. But if we give up empathy and feelings for one another, particularly for our elderly, then growing old is really going to be a tragic business!

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