Read. Watch. Listen. with Jonathan De Souza

Read. Watch. Listen. introduces you to the personal side of our faculty, staff and alumni. Participants are asked to answer three simple questions about their reading, viewing and listening habits – what one book or newspaper/magazine article is grabbing your attention; what one movie or television show has caught your eye; and what album/song, podcast or radio show are you lending an ear to.

Don Wright Faculty of Music professor Jonathan De Souza is an associate member of the Brain and Mind Institute.

Today, he takes a turn on Read. Watch. Listen.

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I’m always reading various books for various reasons. Right now, for example, I’m reading William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace (for a book club with friends), Mariusz Kozak’s Enacting Musical Time (for work), and C. S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian (with my daughters, in anticipation of an upcoming production at the Shaw Festival, which will feature Western Music alumnus Jonathan Tan in the title role).

But a novel that really grabbed me, recently, is Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. It follows a group of jazz musicians in Berlin and Paris during the 1940s. Edugyan is a brilliant writer. She clearly did a lot of research, and for me, the musical and historical details ring true. Beyond that, though, I was enticed by the characters’ relationships, the interwoven timelines, and the distinctive voice of the narrator, an African-American bassist. (Half-Blood Blues also includes one memorable joke about London, Ont.!)


Tiny sandwiches, tiny noodles, tiny cakes … Tiny Kitchen stages the preparation of miniature food, over a repetitive soundtrack. What makes this so pleasant?

To start, such videos show how the aesthetic experience of food is multisensory. I can’t taste or smell these dishes. But I savour them with my eyes, as I do with beautiful cookbook photos. Beyond that, I like to see the cooking process unfold. Tiny Kitchen is about making: an object takes shape, gradually emerging from basic ingredients. I take similar pleasure from videos of woodworking or painting. And all of these involve highly skilled activities, which I enjoy in YouTube videos by skateboarders and chess grandmasters too. When I watch experts, I’m amazed, yet I also identify with them to some degree, implicitly taking on skills that I lack.

Most cooking videos share these features, though. What about the tininess? Obviously, the room is straight out of a dollhouse, full of cute details. But part of the fun, I think, comes from incongruous juxtapositions – between a toy kitchen and real food, between a minuscule stove and huge cooking hands. Those hands seem essential to my sense of scale. Watching them, I can imagine myself as a giant in a tiny world, like Alice in Wonderland or Gulliver in Lilliput. After all, big and small are relative, often judged in terms of my body.

Meanwhile, the mellow, looping background music recalls certain video games. Here I’m reminded of an article that discusses Candy Crush, by U of T professor Scott Richmond. When life seems relentless, I sometimes seek content that doesn’t demand too much attention that lets me relax. To paraphrase Professor Richmond, I don’t watch Tiny Kitchen videos to relieve my boredom; I watch them to cultivate a kind of boredom that I often value.


At the moment, I’m fascinated by Jeremy Dutcher’s album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa. Dutcher is a singer, pianist, and composer from the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick. Songs on the album feature lyrics in the Wolastoq language. They weave together Dutcher’s voice, acoustic piano and string instruments, electronics, and early twentieth-century wax-cylinder recordings of traditional songs from his community. These dynamic sonic textures are incredibly rich, and I find this music very moving and thought-provoking.

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