Saturday, April 19, 2008

Spring Is Here - finally!

I know I might be straying from my usual music-themed posts, as is usually the case, but with the wonderful spring weather we are now experiencing, I think we are all feeling a little bit of spring fever right now. There is a method to my madness...this time, at least...

Spring is the time we finally get out into that warm sunshine and take stock of what needs to be done in the yard and to the lawn for another year. That is my project today once I write this: try to bring my lawn back from the abyss and see if I can make it look half-way decent for another season. Raking, de-thatching, seeding, topsoil, core aeration, the whole deal. I know by mid-summer it will look awful again with crabgrass and large brown spots, but hope springs eternal. I may not have the best lawn on the street, but I will try my very best to make sure it is not the worst, either.

So, what does all this have to do with music, you ask? Well, at this time of the year, I find it hard to listen to music while I'm outside, as the music of the birds and other sounds of spring tend to take over. That's not to say I ignore the music altogether: I always install the outside speakers on the patio for when company is over or we want music while dining on the patio. They are probably the worst-looking imitation rock speakers around, but they work and that's all that matters, really. But when I am working around in the yard, I rarely use them. It is just so nice to be outside at this time of the year and hear the music of nature.

There is still much music to listen to, of course, and at the end of the day when I return to my office to catch up on work after toiling away in the garden, I find myself turning to a couple of CDs quite frequently now. The first has been around since the '80s, and features Quebec-based pianist Andre Gagnon with the National Philharmonic Orchestra of London (England), titled "Impressions". This came out as an LP back around 1983 and I acquired the CD version about 10 years ago on the Star label. I can't imagine it not being available, as it is clearly one of his best efforts. Lush orchestral backdrops to his sensitive piano playing, and all original Gagnon tunes. I always think of a misty movie scene when I hear this music, but even in the springtime with the sun shining, it just sounds right. The other collection is a wonderful new 5-CD set of all nine Beethoven Symphonies conducted by Herbert von Karajan, recorded in the late 1950's at EMI's famed Abbey Road studios with the Philharmonia Orchestra. The sound is amazing given the age of the recordings - over 50 years old in some cases. The individual discs come in the small cardboard sleeves rather than the usual jewel boxes, but there is is nice booklet that accompanies the set, and for the price, you can't complain. At A Web of Fine Music (, you can order it for only $ 30.00 CDN, plus tax. Free shipping is offered anywhere in Canada. If you find yourself in need of a new copy of the complete Beethoven symphonies, this is a wonderful set to have. I might just put it on again today while working in the garden! Speaking of which, off I go to make some sense of the mess created over the winter months...

Enjoy the spring!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Niagara Symphony Reaches Out to Community for Help

It has been awhile since we last addressed the issue of funding of our arts organizations in this space, and frankly, since the last time I wrote not much has changed. The Niagara Symphony has just launched their "Thanks and Thoughts" fundraising campaign, co-chaired by two prominent arts supporters in the Niagara area: Christopher Newton, Artistic Director Emeritus for the Shaw Festival, and Peter Partridge, wealth-management consultant in St. Catharines. The goal is an ambitious but attainable $ 150,000 by May 30th. The campaign will be formally announced at this weekend's final Masterworks concert at Brock Centre for the Arts, Sunday afternoon at 2:30 pm.

Last spring, you might recall, the symphony launched an SOS Campaign to raise a staggering $ 500,000 to keep the organization afloat. The goal proved to be overly ambitious, of course, as only $ 85,000 was raised through donations, including $ 14,000 alone from board members. Still, it was announced in June there was enough money raised to keep the symphony going into the next season - their 60th - at Brock Centre for the Arts. However, in January of this year, things appeared bleak again following the sudden departure of new Executive Director Denise Stone last November. The board, faced with another cash crunch, collaborated with several staff members and musicians to provide personal loans to buy a shared GIC to serve as collateral for a six-month line of credit for the symphony. Together, board members and friends made pledges toward the purchase of the $ 75,000 GIC. This GIC secured a line of credit to help guarantee the completion of the current season and buy them some time to re-start their fundraising efforts. And that brings us to this weekend's announcement of the $ 150,000 campaign.

In short, the symphony is stuck between a rock and a hard place yet again, as public funding for the arts is at an all-time low, and people are growing weary of supporting yet another organization in need of our donations. But, can we afford to let the symphony die? Clearly, the answer is no. Everyone must do what they can to help out during this fundraising campaign, no matter how large or small the amount. The Niagara Symphony provides community outreach programs besides their 12 concerts during the season, and these programs touch many who otherwise might not be exposed to quality music. The Niagara Symphony Summer Camp is a prime example of community outreach paying dividends for the public at large, as many young musicians get their first taste of creating music for themselves. But there's more. Many of the orchestra's musicians teach in the area, either in structured programs or on their own, and that enriches the community as well.

Two things must be done to solve this problem: we must give what we can to help out the Niagara Symphony during this current fundraising campaign. But on a larger scale, we must work to persuade our elected officials that support for the arts must be taken into consideration when planning their budgets. And this goes not only for municipal politicians, but also regional, provincial and federal representatives as well. Locally, only the City of St. Catharines contributes to the Niagara Symphony; can not other municipalities contribute as well? It has become clear from similar campaigns in Brantford, Hamilton and Kitchener-Waterloo that fundraising campaigns can be successful if everyone works together to pool their resources. But the bigger picture also needs to be addressed: we need to properly fund these organizations so they don't have to go to the public cap in hand on a regular basis; while these same organizations have to be able to better manage the finances they have. Only then will we finally reap the rewards of a properly funded and well managed arts organization.

Come on, Niagara, support your Niagara Symphony Orchestra this spring!

April 12th, 2008.