Saturday, June 28, 2008

Niagara Symphony confirms the show will go on!

I wrote about the latest fundraising efforts of the Niagara Symphony about a month ago, and at that point the drive was winding down and there was speculation the goal of $ 150,000 had not been met. Last week, the symphony confirmed they had, in fact, failed to reach their projected goal, but also confirmed the 2008-2009 season is indeed a go.

The campaign, led since March by Shaw Festival artistic director emeritus Christopher Newton and wealth management consultant Peter Partridge, had lofty expectations. But you have to reach high when you shoot for the stars, as it were, and although the goal was not completely met, the symphony is happy with the results: at the end of May, a total of $ 86,000 had been raised, meaning, according to acting executive director Candice Turner Smith, they will not be able to retire an accumulated debt of $ 66,000. They were, however, able to pay off a $ 75,000 line of credit incurred earlier this year to stabilize the orchestra and put them on a firm financial footing. Turner-Smith says the debt, comprising only 10 per cent of the operating budget, will eventually be paid down with a debt-reduction plan now in place.

The really good news out of all this is the fact audience attendance rose 14 per cent last season, mostly with single-ticket purchases. Although the subscriber base has not increased, let's hope those single-ticket buyers liked what they saw and heard last season and decide to get on board for the full season that begins again in October. If that means you, keep in mind new subscriptions will be accepted after June 27th, when present subscribers no longer have the right to renew their same seats for next season. Single tickets, incidentally, go on sale starting August 21st. And although ticket prices will rise eight per cent for the coming season, the orchestra is still comparatively a bargain compared to other neighbouring orchestras.

The other thing to consider is the repertoire, and music director Daniel Swift has crafted another interesting, varied program of 12 concerts, made up of both Masterworks and Pops performances. In fact, I had lunch just this past week with a friend from Buffalo who feels the Niagara Symphony programs far more imaginatively than other orchestras in his area, and were it not for the price of gas these days, he would be inclined to come over for concerts more often.

That raises another interesting conundrum for the Niagara Symphony as well as other arts organizations in the area: with fuel and food prices rising, will people still be willing or able to spend on arts and culture in the region? Let's hope so, because the Niagara Symphony and other arts organizations in the area have a lot to offer, and need our help to keep the music playing.

You can show your support for the Niagara Symphony this coming Tuesday, July 1st at Market Square in downtown St. Catharines as they perform their annual Canada Concert from 2 to 3 pm. It's free, fun, and a great way to celebrate our country's birthday. Come on out, and enjoy the music!

June 28th, 2008.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Senior Star Regional Competition a Great Success!

Last evening (June 18th) I was in downtown Niagara Falls, Ontario, for the second annual Senior Star regional competition, held at Club 4555 on Queen Street. In May, I was asked to MC the event, and I made my first visit to Club 4555 in late May for a planning session for the event. It is a lovely space; pretty funky in a quirky sort of way, but an indication of what is slowly but surely happening with dear ol' downtown Niagara Falls.

The Senior Star competition is a national appreciation of seniors by Chartwell Seniors Housing Reit, operators of a number of seniors residences across the country, including Willoughby Manor in Niagara Falls. They feel, basically, it was time to give some of our talented seniors the star treatment and give them their own Canadian Idol-like venue in which to perform. Last year, the national finals were held at the swank Imperial Room at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. This year the regional competitions will again send their top winners to the national final and we'll crown another Senior Star for 2008.

Getting back to last evening, we had five contestants originally, with a sixth joining the competition just before we began. There was a heavy dose of old-time country performances last evening, and in fact the winner, Richard (Dick) van Trigt, is a fan of the Grand Ol' Opry from away back. Dick performed a medley of Eddy Arnold's "Make The World Go Away" and Hank Snow's "I Don't Hurt Anymore". He was in fine form and easily took the regional crown for the second straight year. He comes by his country roots naturally, as he has taken part in the Oakville-area Polka Fest, performed at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall during Senior's Week, and in fact he is the founder of Opry Niagara Classic Country Music Association, which meets every Wednesday evening from 7 to 11 pm at their meeting place on Garner Road in Niagara Falls. Last evening, he left Club 4555 for the Opry gig with one of the other country performers last evening, Gabe LaPointe.

The judges last evening were the Mayor of Niagara Falls, Ted Salci, musician Martin Wall and local choir performer Carol Martin. While the three judges of American Idol have nothing to fear from this trio, they spoke from the heart and genuinely seemed to enjoy all the performers last evening. For the record, the others who performed last evening were Winston Harper, Marie Sharpe, George Bruklis and Liam (Bill) Black. Everyone came prepared and ready to go, and I felt any of them could have walked off with the top prize if it were not for Dick's obvious experience on stage and on television, where he hosted a show in New Brunswick for three years some time ago. The one other notable "performer" last evening was the Town Crier for the City of Niagara Falls, Derek Tidd, who kicked the proceedings off with a "cry" of epic proportions. I say notable performer because, besides being an official town crier, he also happens to be 84 years old, and has a set of pipes on him the envy of many, including myself!

All in all, it was a great evening of music and fun, comraderie and showing what our talented seniors can do. All the best to Dick in the finals, and my thanks to Chartwell Reit for the chance to be a part of it at Club 4555 last evening.

January 19th, 2008.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


It was with a great deal of sadness we learned last week of the passing of talk radio pioneer John Michael, following a heart attack. News reports listed his age as 72, but we were never sure of his age at CKTB Radio, where John ended his lengthy career in 2003. That was his second tour of duty at the station, having first arrived in the mid-80s full of fire and brimstone. He left a few years later, returning to CJRN in Niagara Falls, where he had been since the early 60s. But it was not long before John returned to CKTB and he ended his radio career with a splashy live broadcast from a local restaurant in September of 2003.

John had a career that took him from his native England where he began as a copy boy for the Reuters news agency to the Chicago Tribune's London office, where he covered part of the Queen's Coronation in 1953, to Canada in 1961. He moved from one radio job to another, eventually settling with his young family in Niagara Falls. There, his controversial and caustic style of talk radio began to take shape, and he developed a huge and devoted following. He also caught the attention of the CRTC and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters on more than one occasion due to his often times controversial views.

So what does all this have to do with me, and you? Well, in my career as a radio broadcaster I had the opportunity to work with John during both of his tours of duty at CKTB, and although I often disagreed with his views on things, I always admired his honesty, passion for radio, and his way of "stirring the pot" to generate calls from listeners. But more than that, I grew to admire his off-air demeanor more, which was totally different from his on air persona. He was quiet, very friendly and really cared about those around him. Many times, he and I had great conversations about the business of radio and, of course, the business of music as well. John loved music and incorporated it into his show at every opportunity.

That brings us to the other point about my connection to John: his love of music. During the 90s I had a consulting association with Downtown Fine Music in St. Catharines, and the store supplied some music to John to use on the show, in exchange for an occasional mention on the show. Given what his advertisers were spending, we thought it was a cheap way to get a mention on John's show. And what mentions we got! If John played a song and mentioned in passing you could buy it at the store, the phone would literally ring off the wall with orders: such was the power of John's recommendation. At one point, the store stocked up on every available copy of "The Collection" by Mr. Acker Bilk, causing the supplier to call and ask why we were ordering so many. The reason? John regularly ended his show with "Sailing", a lovely, lilting song he remembered from years ago, and to which he danced an imaginary dance with his wife, Maggy, describing the many ways they would display their love for each other. The thing is, the love was always genuine, it was never schtick. And the listeners simply had to have a copy of the CD! I still have a few copies of the CD here for sale through the website, A Web of Fine Music (; it is long out of print, sadly. Ah, the power of a recommendation!

Anyway, that was then and this is now. John will be missed by many; especially by his family who meant everything to him. But he will not soon be forgotten by anyone he touched either in person or through the magic of radio. His last day was spent doing one of his favourite pastimes in retirement: gardening. Thanks for everything, John; the gardening is now done. It is time for "Sailing"...

June 10th, 2008.