Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring is Here! Bring on the choral music!

Spring officially, finally, arrived yesterday morning at precisely 7:44 am. I was out for my walk late yesterday afternoon and although it didn't feel too spring-like with the cooler temperatures, the blue sky and calm winds, along with the start of spring bulbs poking up through the earth in the garden already, told me that yes, indeed, we are on that road to spring for another year.

I don't know why, but I always associate choral music with the springtime. Perhaps because Easter is in the spring and so many concerts feature choral music geared towards the season, we just naturally link the two together. And for me, hearing voices rise up in song and resonate from a vaulted ceiling in a lovely old cathedral just sounds right at this time of the year.

When you talk great choral music for Easter, you almost invariably think of Bach and Handel, with the former usually leading the latter in choral performances at Easter. Handel usually wins the Christmas popularity contests with his oratorio Messiah, but you could - and should - enjoy Messiah at Easter also, as much of it really has to do with Easter rather than the Christmas season. And in fact, it premiered in Dublin around Easter time in 1741. But now, it is a Christmas staple, leaving the choral field open to Bach and his wonderful St. Matthew and St. John Passions and the magnificent Mass in B Minor, not to mention his Easter Cantatas.

I remember years ago, after attending the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival (now there's a juxtaposition of activities!) driving down to Hamilton to hear a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion with the Bach-Elgar Choir at a cathedral in the downtown core, the name of which escapes me after all these years. But the blue sky with the sun going down as we entered the church for the performance on a cool spring evening, setting the scene for the powerful music we were about to hear inside, has stayed with me to this very day. I also remember not as many years ago hearing the same work at the majestic Church of Our Lady in downtown Guelph, set high on a hill as you enter the downtown. The performance by the Guelph Chamber Choir was equally moving that Sunday afternoon; I remember being particularly touched that day as it came about a month or so after the untimely death of my mother, and it was the first concert I had gone to since that event. There have been other performances, of course, in Toronto, here in Niagara and elsewhere that somehow define Easter season and the beginning of spring.

This season, we have already had a performance of the Mass in B Minor with Chorus Niagara a couple of weeks ago, and although I was in the wing outside of the church proper, I could tell the performance was exceptional and had touched the hearts of the capacity crowd at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria here in St. Catharines. Next Saturday evening, Choralis Camerata presents their spring performance, titlted "Heaven Laughs, The Earth Rejoices", at Lundy's Lane United Church in Niagara Falls. Featured will be the Easter Cantata 31 by Bach, along with other works appropriate to the season. It promises to be a great evening of music, and if you want to go, tickets are available by calling 905-354-4348, or you can log on to their website at I will be there that evening in the lobby at intermission and after the performance, so be sure to say hello if you go.

On my website this month, found at, you can find excellent performances of both the B Minor Mass and the Easter Cantata 31 for sale, both at excellent prices. The B Minor Mass is a two-CD set on Naxos featuring the Dresden Chamber Choir and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra. The Easter Cantata, also a two-CD set from Berlin Classics, features all of Bach's Easter Cantatas performed by the Thomanerchor Leipzig and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. These recordings will keep the performances with you long after the spring has gone for another year!

March 21st, 2009.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Service is out there...somewhere...

While I usually try to confine my comments in this space to music-related subjects, occasionally I take a detour for a bit of a rant of some sort before getting back to business as usual. Today is one of those days...

We hear so much these days about how customer service is the key to increasing business and weathering the current economic storm. And yet, often I find the customer service lacking to a great degree. Why is this? You would think, especially now, businesses would try to hold on to whatever customer base they have and try everything they can to increase it. One of the easiest ways, and one that costs nothing but a bit of time and effort, is in the area of customer service.

Last week, I had two experiences with customer service I'll share with you today: one was very good; the other not so good. The not so good concerns a certain big box technology retailer based in the United States with stores in Canada that wants you to know their sales persons are not working on commission. That's all very well and good, as I don't like commissioned sales people breathing down my neck while I am browsing, but when I am ready to spend, I expect someone to be available. On several occasions in the past week, not just once, mind you, I was at said retailer looking to upgrade a computer program and their sale price on that upgrade was significantly less than the competition. Do you think I could find a person to help me out with my purchase? I did find one soul who could offer me little or no insight into the product, so I decided to leave it for the time being and perhaps even shop elsewhere. I might still get the upgrade there, when all is said and done, but I must say the lack of service and product knowledge was quite frustrating.

The very good experience came last Saturday evening when Sophie and I were out to dinner to celebrate her birthday. We went to Treadwell's in Port Dalhousie on a truly dark and stormy night, and in spite of a winemakers' dinner taking up a lot of their attention from 7 pm onwards just a few feet away, the service at our table was exceptional. Granted, you pay for that service with the bill at the end of the evening, but still, the service is not always reflected in the size of the bill. This night, several people, not just our particular server, went out of their way to make sure every last detail was taken care of and the evening would be a memorable one. It was, and I certainly will recommend them to others who might be planning a nice dinner out in the future.

So what is different here? One large U.S. based retailer just doesn't seem to get the message that you have to hit the proper balance between being there and not being overbearing; a local restaurant goes out of their way to make the evening special, without even knowing it was indeed a special evening. All it takes is a little effort, and the dividends are significant.

With my business, A Web of Fine Music, while I don't operate a storefront location so often I only communicate with my customers via email or the internet, I still try to make every effort to be informative, friendly, and attentive. Many customers I talk to on the phone or make personal deliveries to, and the approach is always the same. It takes little effort to show you care, and the customer matters. I don't know about you, but I personally would rather pay a little more in order to get the service I feel I deserve; I will likewise avoid a great price if I don't feel the business is the least bit interested in keeping me as a customer. I may not always have the lowest price on a particular item, but I always try to remain competitive and certainly include value added items like free local delivery, whenever possible.

If you're frustrated finding the music you love, whether you are here in Niagara or elsewhere, why not give me a try? You can find my website at, and my email address is If music is your passion, why not support a local business that shares your passion?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

March 14th, 2009.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Another busy weekend for the arts in Niagara...

Well, we may not have the cornucopia of musical events we had last weekend, but there is still plenty to do this weekend if you are into the arts in Niagara. Here are a few suggestions if you plan to get out the next couple of days...

Leading off the weekend is the next performance by our 100-voice strong choir, Chorus Niagara, who perform this evening (Saturday) at 7:30 at the wonderful Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in downtown St. Catharines. Artistic Director Robert Cooper conducts one of the truly great choral works of all time: Bach's B-Minor Mass. This promises to be a great evening, with voices, orchestra and conductor joining together to fill every corner of the cathedral with the most sublime music you can imagine. I will be there in the new entrance later this evening, and yes, I will be set up with recordings of the B-Minor Mass available for sale along with many other great choral discs. For tickets, call the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.

Continuing for another week at the Sullivan Mahoney Theatre in the old courthouse next to market square in downtown St. Catharines is Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects latest production: David Mamet's American Buffalo. I was at the opening night performance last Saturday evening and the theatre was full to capacity, and those in attendance were treated to a fine example of late twentieth-century American theatre. Mamet uses rather colourful language to bring his three characters to life, but it does not offend: you cannot imagine these three not using expletives when they speak. Basically, the story deals with three hard-nosed amateur crooks looking for an easier way to chase the American Dream; they decide to rob someone they believe to be in possession of an expensive coin collection, after the person buys an American Buffalo coin from one of the three who runs a second hand resale shop. Unfortunately for them, they cannot get their acts together and never manage to leave the shop to pull off the job. Director Kelly Daniels crafts fine performances from all three cast members here, including her husband, Shaw Festival veteran Ric Reid, as the abrasive Teach. There are several performances before the show closes March 15th, including a Tuesday evening Pay-what-U-can show. For tickets and peformance times, call Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects at 905-938-1222.

On Sunday evening at 6:30, the Niagara Pumphouse Art Centre at 247 Ricardo Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake presents Muzyka - From Warsaw with Love; Music, Art and Song. The evening combines the stunning art of Wojciech Ciesniewski together with the extraordinary music of Waclaw Zimpel and the jazz music of 2009 Juno Award nominee, Chris Donnelly. Guest peformers include Polish-born Kornel Wolak, the clarinettist from Toronto-based Quartetto Gelato, as well as Niagara's own Wendy Franz. pianist and graduate of the Brock School of Music and soprano Natalie Donnelly. Tickets are only $ 15, including wine and hors-d'oeuvres, so how can you go wrong?

Also opening this weekend is The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O'Brien, returning to Theatre in Port in Port Dalhousie. Director Wendy Mackie says you are welcome to participate in the show as well, as most people who follow the Rocky Horror Show will know all too well. The small, intimate space at Theatre in Port should lend itself particularly well to getting 'up close and personal' with your favourite performers from the show. Dinner and show packages are available by calling 905-934-0575, ext. 226. The show runs to March 21st.

So there you go - lots to do on the weekend we welcome Daylight Saving Time back for another season!

March 7th, 2009.