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Jonathan Storm: Performing arts get TV spotlight

Well, shut my mouth and knock me over with a feather: WHYY premieres a whole new home-grown weekly series tonight at 9.

Well, shut my mouth and knock me over with a feather: WHYY premieres a whole new home-grown weekly series tonight at 9.

On Canvas

is just the kind of thing the big public station in the nation's fourth-largest TV market should be doing: a showcase of the variety of performing arts in the region.

Given that WHYY likes to think of itself as the overarching institution that brings everybody around here together, the show emphasizes diversity.

So it won't be covering the Philadelphia Orchestra when it gets back from China next month, nor the Tom Petty concert at the Wachovia Center next week. But it does cover Intercultural Journeys at Ursinus College tonight.

Also on the schedule, among others: classical Arab music at Swarthmore College, Bob Musso's Transonic Band, and the Philadelphia Ethical Society's 10th annual Banjo Gathering, featuring Cheick Hamala Diabate on the Malian ngoni, a lute that is one of the banjo's precursors.

Its first singer-songwriter (next week) is an Israeli woman, Keren Ann, from Paris by way of Holland, whose mother is Dutch-Javanese and whose father is Russian. She plays at Johnny Brenda's in Fishtown.

And that's just fine. Public TV should introduce you to new things. The second singer-songwriter, Natalie Walker, is a little more domestic, though she's not Tori Amos, either. Walker's an Indiana native who has lived in Philadelphia for six years.

But, uh-oh, she performs at Johnny Brenda's, too, which might make owners of the other 26 million live-music joints in the area a little jealous. They, and anybody else who has an idea for the show, can contact the producers at 215-351-2393 or



The title,

On Canvas

, is strange, since neither painting nor wrestling seems to have anything to do with the show, but who wants to waste time on that when they're listening to tonight's broadcast, which puts new musical meaning in the word fusion?

Playing at Ursinus, in Collegeville, Israeli-born cellist Udi Bar-David and African American violinist Diane Monroe take the stage with R. Carlos Nakai, who's of Ute and Navajo heritage, and Wu Man, a native of Hangzhou, China.

Both are world-class virtuosos on instruments which may be unfamiliar to you, he on the American Indian flute and she on the pipa, an ancient four-stringed instrument. Sure, it sounds all spacey and New Age on paper, but in your ears, the quartet's music is extraordinary and arresting.

Unlike so many public TV and radio shows, which crowd the air with interviews and explanation,

On Canvas

lets the artists perform, and the video is about as good as it gets for these sorts of static concert performances, moving coherently, sometimes surprisingly, around the stage to keep your eyes alert.

WHYY has stuck the show, premiering weekly on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. and airing in repeats every day of the week at different times, on its Y Arts Channel (generally way up in the 200s on Comcast, 12.2 over the air, if you've got digital, which everybody will have to have by next February).

Sometimes Y Arts has nature, history and documentaries, but it's mostly

Great Performances

and the like. Now it has an estimable local performance arts show, too. It's a start.

Jonathan Storm:

On Canvas

Tonight at 9 on WHYY Arts

(Ch. 241 on most cable, Ch. 12.2 on broadcast)