Saturday, February 28, 2009

Who says there is nothing to do in Niagara?

Every now and then, I hear someone say "There's nothing to do around here!". If you are a patron of the arts locally, there's a wealth of concerts and other events coming up over the next few weeks that should take your mind off the last remnants of Ol' Man Winter. Here's a sampling of this week alone:

Last evening, I was in attendance at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at Brock University for the return of John Sherwood and The Jazz Nine, a presentation of the Department of Music in their ENCORE! Professional Concert Series. John quipped off the top of the show the return engagement only took ten years to happen, so the first performance ten years ago must have been a good one! Sherwood and his boys were in fine form last evening, and the near-capacity crowd gave them lots of encouragement. Many in the audience were students at Brock, taking a music appreciation course, I gather, and they generally seemed to be into it; they even shut off their I-Phones during the performance!

This evening, Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects, located at the old Courthouse opposite the market in downtown St. Catharines, opens their new show: David Mamet's American Buffalo, which promises to be an entertaining evening. Mamet's characters, especially here, are, shall we say, rather earthy, so if you do not enjoy coarse language on stage, you'd best stay away from this one. Starring Ric Reid, the show is directed by his wife, Artistic Director Kelly Daniels. I believe opening night tonight is all but sold out at the Sullivan Mahoney Theatre, but the play runs straight through to March 15th, so lots of time for you to catch this one. Tickets are available by calling 905-938-1222.

Tomorrow, Sunday, we have two afternoon performances that will be of interest to lovers of chamber music and choral music: The Gallery Players of Niagara present the Niagara Winds at 2 pm at the acoustically-perfect St. Barnabas Church on Queenston Street. Music for woodwind quintet will be featured, with compositions by Milhaud, Francaix, Barthe and Taffanel. Tickets are available by calling 905-468-1525. Meantime, Brock University's Department of Music Choral Series partners with Redeemer University College Choir, based in Ancaster, for an afternoon of choral music called Choral Glories. The performance takes place at St. Thomas Anglican Church on Ontario Street and gets underway at 3 pm. Music ranges from Canadian to international composers from the Renaissance to the present day. Composers represented include Purcell, Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn and many others. Harris Loewen will share the podium with Dr. Christiaan Teeuwsen of Redeemer University College; other performers include Lesley Kingham on piano and organ, and trumpeter Tim White.

That's all this weekend in Niagara! Looking ahead to next weekend, the big event will be the next performance of the season for Chorus Niagara, the 100-strong voice choir conducted by Robert Cooper. They are always a joy to watch, and next Saturday, March 7th, they perform Bach's B-Minor Mass at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in downtown St. Catharines. This promises to be one of the highlights of the Lenten season, as we move ever closer to Easter in mid-April. Tickets are available through the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257. If you love great choral singing and choral masterpieces, next Saturday evening is a must-attend performance.

So there, now you know there is lots to do in Niagara this week alone to keep you warm and comfortable. Just think: you hear some great music, support our local arts organizations, and ignore Winter 2009. What better deal can be had in Niagara at this time of year?

February 28th, 2009.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Weekend in....Hollywood!

After a week off from work where I went my basement for the next phase of the Big Clean Up, it is back to the computer and catching up on what's going on around us. Musically and entertainment-wise, it is the biggest weekend of the year for movie buffs, as the Oscars are handed out on Sunday evening. I won't catch much of the broadcast, as I get to bed early for a 3 am alarm to get me up for work on Monday morning. But I might catch a bit of it before I head to bed. I find it fascinating so many people watch for no other reason than to see what the women are wearing...isn't it the movies we are interested in? Apparently not.

Once again this year, I missed seeing all of the Oscar nominated films, which is not all that unusual, as I rarely go to a movie these days and when I do, it invariably ends up being something that has no hope of winning anything at all. I think the last Oscar-winning movie I went to was The English Patient, and I found it about as exciting as watching paint dry. Mind you, I was on the Date from Hell that day, with the lady in question moving several rows up from me to watch the last half of the movie by herself, but that's another story for (hopefully not) another day! I do like the soundtrack, though, with the moody backdrop and occasional splash of Fred Astaire to liven things up a bit. I even have the disc in my personal collection.

If you are looking for another way to celebrate the Hollywood weekend, either this evening or tomorrow afternoon, leaving the evening free to either watch or ignore the Oscars, the Niagara Symphony has the third in their Pops! concerts this weekend at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at Brock University. Titled A Flute in the City of Angels, the concert features flutist Louise Di Tullio and clarinettist Kaye Royer with the strings of the Niagara Symphony, conducted this time by Guest Conductor Brian Jackson. The programme includes a world premiere: Ronald Royer's Short Stories for Flutes; as well, several selections by John Williams, John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith, Elton John, Bernard Herrmann and even David Rose. Should be an interesting program! Once again, I will be in the lobby before, at intermission and after the performance, with a table full of music that hopefully will tempt you, so if you are going, please be sure to stop by and say hello. Tickets are available through the Brock box office, at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257. Good seats are still available for both performances, with Saturday evening being the better choice for good seats.

I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't plug my own business, A Web of Fine Music, at, where this week I have on the website's Mike's Picks page a three-disc set of classic Hollywood stars from the past titled Singing Hollywood. It reads like a who's who of the Golden Age of Hollywood: Judy Garland, Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Bing Crosby and many others. There are a few surprises, too, like Martha Raye, Erroll Flynn and Delores Del Rio. Truly a collector's dream set, and at only $ 20 plus tax for all three discs, how can you go wrong? Perfect set for you Oscar night party, by the way.

So, enjoy the weekend, and don't mind me if I don't have a clue who won and who lost come Monday morning!

February 21st, 2009.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day thoughts and musings...

Well here we are, Valentine's Day is upon us again, guys, and it is even a Saturday this year. I have been told the pressure is really on us this year because it is a Saturday, and the first day of a three-day weekend for some, to boot. And to avoid getting the boot from your significant other, most guys feel the need (okay, with some it's the desire) to surprise that someone special in your life on this romantic day.

Okay, I am guilty as charged, as far as doing something today is concerned: earlier this week I picked up a lovely crystal votive candle holder we saw in the window of a shop downtown on a Sunday afternoon walk a couple of weeks ago. Rather than flowers this year, I presented the candle holder along with an appropriate card first thing in the morning with these instructions: you light the candle and provide the wine this evening, and I will provide dinner at 6 pm. I know I can do this, as I pre-booked dinner to be picked up from Sara's Fine Gourmet on Scott Street in the north end last Tuesday; a four-course gastronomic extravaganza at a very affordable price I will pick up this afternoon at 5:45. Now how's that for planning?

Now, I have always acknowledged Valentine's Day with my other half; more some years than others, but this year I felt I wanted to do more since it was a weekend. And since red roses are notoriously expensive this one day of the year, I figured the dinner and candle holder would make more of an impression for not much more money. But here's the dilemma: guys are usually expected to do something special on this day; the women are not really required to, although some often do. Why is that? Should it not be a mutual affair, if you'll pardon the expression? Just posing the question, you understand...

So what has this all got to do with music, you ask? In my days running a music store, there was always a mild rush on Valentine's Day as guys would pick up a CD that would set the mood for the big day or simply be something he knows she would like. That doesn't seem to happen as much anymore, but record companies still come out with romantic compilations to hopefully woo consumers (read guys) just in time for the big day, with an assurance this collection will make the day all that much more special. I have seen some pretty interesting collections over the years, some more successful than others, of course, and this year is no exception.

One of the newer collections specifically geared to Valentine's Day comes from Reprise Records, the label Frank Sinatra founded many years ago and which is, along with Capitol Records still repackaging Ol' Blue Eyes' classic performances to attract new buyers. This year it is Seduction: Sinatra Sings of Love, available either as a standard single disc or a deluxe two-disc set. Hey, guys, in for a penny, in for a pound, I always say; I have the deluxe two-cd set in stock now at if you are interested. Just email me at or go to my website to order it; you might even have it in time for this evening if that's what you want.

The two-disc set includes, the label says, 32 Irresistible Classics, including I've Got You Under My Skin, It Had To Be You, Witchcraft and I Get a Kick out of You. There is also, for whatever reason, an alternate version of My Funny Valentine. Was the famous version he recorded years ago not good enough for this collection? One wonders...anyway, I couldn't help but think most people who would remember Sinatra in their - and his - heyday likely have not given seduction much of a thought for a few years now, and even if they have, two discs is likely more seduction music than they need or can handle. Just surmising here, you understand...but it is a nice collection, and at $ 30.00 plus tax for the two disc set, it is cheaper than a dozen roses, let me tell you!

If I appear to have my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, you're right, I do. Just the thought of making one day out of the year more romantic and special has always struck me as a rather odd concept. I have always been an incurable romantic and always will be. I like the element of surprise and that means whatever, whenever. If an opportunity comes up the other 364 days of the year to show I care and someone means something special to me, I will almost always do it. Isn't that better than reserving just one day out of the year for it? Hmmm. maybe the thought of Family Day in Ontario two days hence is more than mere coincidence...

Happy Valentine's Day!

February 14th, 2009.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

New Technology - Part Two: Is it better?

Last week I wrote about the changing technology in the music industry that saw us abandon (well, some of us did, at least) old LPs in favour of more efficient and better-sounding (though not according to all) CDs. Not everyone was pleased with the demise of the venerable old LP format, and some die-hards still go out of their way to find a release on vinyl. As for me, I still listen to my old albums from time to time, but I do find CDs to be a much more convenient format to work with. Besides, as a retailer of CDs ( I can hardly forsake a format I have supported for so many years - at least not yet!

So this week, let's look at the future of the music business and what - if any - promise there is we'll have a music industry in this era of digital downloads and so-called 'free' music on the internet. First off, let me state up front I do own an I-Pod Nano and have I-Tunes on my computer. But I don't use I-Tunes as my music source; rather, I use it as a storage and organization portal for my CD collection I choose to transfer to a digital format for my I-Pod. I have not yet and likely won't be buying any music from I-Tunes or any other digital source for that matter. Not that I don't like the service they provide; I do. I just don't feel right doing things that way. Call me old-fashioned if you wish; I still prefer to have a hard copy of something in my hands I can play on my CD player, computer, and should I wish to, add it to my I-Tunes library.

The problem I have always had with digital music on the internet is unless it comes from a licensed provider such as I-Tunes, I am never sure if the people involved with the actual creation of that music ever see any money for their efforts. With classical composers, it is often a moot point, of course, as a lot of that music is now in the public domain anyway. But contemporary composers and performers deserve their royalties for the music they create; otherwise, there will be no new music created. Think about it; would you continue doing something you love if it becomes your profession and you discover people don't want to pay you for your services? I doubt it; none of the rest of us would consider doing work for free other than legitimate volunteer work, so why would musicians be any different?

Unfortunately, many in our society today would rather pay little or nothing for music, thinking it is a constantly renewable resource no matter how much they may starve it. Life - and music - simply doesn't work that way. Music is someone's intellectual property, and we should always remember that and treat the people with respect, as they need to earn a livelihood too.

Getting back to classical music, I know there are now several classical music digital download sites available, thereby eliminating the need for CD retailers althogether, just like with popular music. How successful they become remains to be seen. They say the music sounds better than what we are used to with conventional MP3 formats, but still, it is an MP3, and for some of us, not having a physical disc to play just doesn't seem right. Yes, I know you can burn that MP3 onto disc yourself, but again, I am from the old school and it just doesn't seem right.

I wonder what might come after the MP3? Will there be another new-fangled format people just have to have in order to be right up to date? I am sure something else will come along in time, but for now, the main threat to the CD remains the digital download MP3 format. I will wait for it, but not too intently, mind you. I am happy to try to keep up with technology as it now stands; I don't think I need or even want another format to come along before, say, the next millenium rolls around.

Let's keep CDs around for awhile longer; some of us are just getting used to them after finally letting go of our much loved LP collections!

February 7th, 2009.