Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Top Five noteworthy arts events of 2010

Tomorrow evening is New Year's Eve, so the week leading up to same we tend to collate a number of lists of 'best of' and 'worst of' for the year, along with Top Ten lists of everything from news events to most popular food trends for the year. Not to be outdone, I humbly present this week my Top Five noteworthy events in the arts during the past year in Niagara and beyond. I could have done a Top Ten, I suppose, but these are the real noteworthy events as I see them, and anything else would have been just padding out the list. So, let's get to it...

The return of actor extraordinaire Christopher Plummer to the thrust stage at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival in Stratford, Ontario, in a breathtaking production of Shakespeare's The Tempest. As I wrote at the time, this production had it all: amazing special effects that didn't detract from the play but rather augmented it; a stellar supporting cast; great design and direction; and of course, Christopher Plummer, who presented a beautifully crafted Prospero. This was a production for the ages, and one we'll likely not see again. Hope you got tickets this season...

Staying with live theatre, the continuing evolution of first-quality, exciting and vibrant live theatre in downtown St. Catharines courtesy Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects and their Artistic Director, Kelly Daniels. Yes, Virginia, there is great theatre in the heart of downtown St. Catharines in the dead of winter when the Shaw Festival is hibernating. The last three productions for Lyndesfarne, going back to the fall of 2009, have shown the quality of theatre we're capable of producing in our own backyard: Ric Reid's delightfully manic and funny take on Steven Berkoff's hilarious one-man show, "Shakespeare's Villains" this past fall; Kelly Daniels and Ric Reid romping through Michelle Riml's comedy "Sexy Laundry" in the spring; and in the fall of 2009, Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's gritty play "The Beauty Queen of Leenane", starring Daniels and featuring a great performance by Shaw actor Jennifer Phipps. Yes, there is great theatre to be had in downtown St. Catharines; the challenge now is to get that word out and fill more seats in the new year.

The announcement this past May of the new Music Director Designate for the Niagara Symphony, Toronto-born Bradley Thachuk. After a season-long search for a new Music Director and an audition process that saw four eminently-qualified candidates for the position show what they could do as each conducted a Pops and Masterworks concert, the audience was asked to vote for their favourite following each concert. How much influence the audience had on the final selection process is open to speculation, I suspect, but the final outcome, announced at a press conference at the Centre for the Arts at Brock University in May, seemed to please most people, and Brad said all the right things that day as he accepted the position. This season, we don't get to see Maestro Thachuk every time out, since he has to fulfill his final committments in Fort Wayne, Indiana this season, but he is conducting about half the season. Next season we get all Bradley all the time, and then we truly get to experience what this energetic young conductor has to offer. A sidelight to the entire selection process for me personally was a lovely email from candidate Diane Whittry thanking me for my comments in this space following her two outings with the Symphony last season. A classy touch, I found.

The second most noteworthy event in the arts has to be the November 'Flash Mob' unfolding amongst unsuspecting food court patrons at the Seaway Mall in Welland on November 13th. The people at Alphabet Photography, who devised the idea as a sort of video 'thank-you' for their clients, never imagined the thing would go viral within days, with about 30-million hits the last time I checked on YouTube. What a thank-you! What great promotion for Alphabet Photography and especially for Robert Cooper and Chorus Niagara. Cooper arranged the music for that specific location, and the photographers and chorus members executed the game-plan flawlessly. The result, singing the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's oratorio "Messiah", is four minutes of sheer pleasure: watching the faces of the stunned food court patrons; the quick appearance of digital cameras to record the event; and the sheer exhuberance of a skilled choir who simply knows this music backwards and forewards. The downside to this whole story? The numerous copycat versions now out there, with each of them apparently claiming the idea was theirs. Go figure. But we were first here in Niagara. Bravo to everyone involved for creating some Christmas magic in the most unusual place: a shopping mall food court. What can they do for an encore!?

The summer announcement by all four levels of governement: federal, provincial, regional and municipal, to work together and bring significant funding to the table to help make the dream of a downtown performing arts centre a reality in St. Catharines. The announcement, though not totally surprising, was still significant considering the scope of the funding and the determination from all levels of government to see this thing through to its conclusion. There was some tension as we waited, on the edge of our collective seats, no less, for the funding to come from the provincial government for the Brock portion of the project, which will see the construction of a centre for their arts programs and students in the heart of downtown St. Catharines. We are still a few years away from seeing this project reach completion, but significant strides have already been made, giving downtown merchants the incentive to improve their own premises as we work collectively to make the downtown a destination place once again. This project has the potential to totally transform not only our own downtown, but the entire peninsula. Handled properly, we can bring more performances to Niagara from outside the area, as well as showcasing our own homegrown talents such as Chorus Niagara, the Niagara Symphony, and a host of smaller arts organizations. The trick will be making it affordable both for the tenants and the patrons. We have time to do this right, and we had better, for we have all waited so long for this project to move forward at a pace not seen before. Let's show everyone how good a job we can do on this!

So there you have it, my Top Five for the year 2010. I hope your 2011 is just as interesting, and I wish you all a Happy and prosperous New Year. I have lots more to write about in the New Year, including some announcements I will be making in due time, so please keep reading this space, and please always send your comments in; I love the feedback!

December 30th, 2010.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Down to the wire for Christmas 2010!

As always, Christmas is closer than you think, and believe me, I have been running hard the last several weeks trying to catch up! I fear the day will overtake me in the passing lane any moment now; I haven't even got my Christmas cards written and in the mail yet - now that is bad! But most people know not to expect them until the new year anyway, so...

I don't know yet if A Web of Fine Music will be setting any sales records this month, but I will do my end-of-month calculations late next week and see where we stand. Based on that, we'll chart the course for the next year and see where life leads us. In the meantime, if you have any last-minute music-buying needs, I can certainly do my best to fulfil them if you go to my website at or email me directly at

For many people, Christmas is a time to be close to family, but for me my family is now quite far away for the most part. My sister and her family live in Kenora and my brother and his family live in Aurora, so it is basically Sophie and I with the two cats here at home base at Christmas, making for a quiet day. Frankly, I like it that way now, since I run so hard for most of the month I enjoy the fact I can just stop and rest for a change on Christmas Day. The week between Christmas and New Year's is traditionally very quiet in the music business, so I am able to catch up on paperwork in the office, pay some bills and catch up on sleep and reading. That sounds so inviting at this point!

If Christmas means more to you than the simple commercialization of the day, and I certainly hope it does, you likely will be attending a church service either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. If that is the case, you will be bathed in some glorious music of the season that helps to re-establish the meaning of the season. For me, personally, my Christmas begins about 11 pm on Christmas Eve, when all the important preparations are done.

It is then I, having donned my tux and walked to the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in downtown St. Catharines, I prepare for the annual radio broadcast of the Midnight Mass, which begins with a live carol service at 11:30, both broadcast on radio station 610/CKTB here in St. Catharines, where I have been employed for almost 30 years now. This is a great tradition that goes back 78 years, making it the longest-running radio broadcast of its kind in North America and perhaps the world. I have been the host for the broadcast for 21 years now, which is amazing to me; I hardly imagined when I took the reigns from the late Johnny Morrison in 1989 I would still be doing this on Christmas Eve. In fact, in the 78 years of the broadcast, I am only the third voice of the broadcast, and that is something to think about.

I still have to write the script, which hopefully will be later this evening if I am lucky, but I have a knack for getting it done under pressure if it has to wait until tomorrow evening. The difference now is I keep the script saved on my computer, which means I don't have to completely re-write it every time out. The first decade or so I had to pull out my trusty old Underwood manual typewriter (which I still have, by the way) and write it from scratch each and every year. I don't miss those days...

After the broadcast, about 2 in the morning, comes my all-time favourite Christmas moment: walking home in the cold night air, stars overhead, peaceful thoughts as I see the remainder of the Christmas light displays still on in home windows in my neighbourhood. At that moment, all alone and at one with the season, Christmas has arrived for me.

Anyway, it would be wonderful to know you were listening on the radio if not attending in person; just dial 610 on your AM band by 11:30 tomorrow night and you won't miss the broadcast. Let me know if you do; I would love to hear from you!

Merry Christmas, and I will be back at my usual post before the end of the year.

December 23rd, 2010.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Last minute Christmas gift ideas from A Web of Fine Music

Hard to believe, but we're less than a week away from Christmas Day, and judging by the lines of cars entering mall parking lots in Niagara this weekend, lots of people are still out there looking for the perfect gift for that special someone. I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't recommend a few good holiday recordings available through my website, A Web of Fine Music ( in time for Christmas gift-giving. As of this writing, all these are currently in stock and ready to go; all you have to do is email me either through the website or directly at

This is turning into the must-have Christmas disc of the season. Anyone who knows the group Pink Martini will not be the least bit surprised this disc is a hot item: they are wonderfully creative and inventive, with every track getting a thorough re-working and coming out sounding almost brand-new. The music is largely standard Christmas fare: White Christmas, Santa Baby, Little Drummer Boy, Do You Hear What I Hear? and We Three Kings are some of the more familiar tracks. Reflecting the international flavour of the disc, we also hear Shchedryk (Ukrainian Bell Carol), La Vergine Degli Angeli and Ocho Kandelikas. A nice touch, the lyrics are reprinted in the accompanying booklet in several different languages. The album graphics are first rate, as is the production of the disc itself, and this collection rates a strong 4 out of 4 stars.

The retro graphics set the tone for this new recording with the Seattle Symphony, sounding just fine, thank you very much, on the popular Naxos label. The collection features some pretty standard fare, including several selections from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ( Miniature Overture; March; Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy; Russian Dance and the Waltz of the Flowers), plus several pieces from the Water Music Suites by Handel, which is a nice addition. Also heard are the ubiquitous Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel, and the Christmas carols Gesu Bambino and Coventry Carol. The production values are first-rate, which is typical of the Naxos engineering team, and the orchestra sounds in fine form. Granted, they break no new ground here, but the programming is varied enough you'll enjoy listening to this disc time and time again. Holiday Classics rates a respectable 3 out of 4 stars.

A brand-new disc out just in time for the holidays, this collection of carols both old and new features the soprano voice of Monica Whicher, described by The Guardian as"poignantly expressive" teamed with acclaimed harpist Judy Loman, former Principal Harpist with the Toronto Symphony. Loman also did many of the arrangements on this disc, incidentally, and her music-making is always a joy to hear. Some of the familiar carols given lovely treatments here are The Garden of Jesus; In the Bleak Mid-Winter; Noel Nouvelet; Six Noels Pour la Harpe; and In Dulci Jubilo. The recording, made in Newmarket, Ontario's St. John Chrysostom Church earlier this year, has a lovely warm sound to it, and the performances are both first-rate. This is the disc for after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, as you're setting the milk and cookies out for a special visitor overnight. I really like this disc, and it rates a strong 4 out of 4 stars.

I don't quite know what it is about the music of Bach, but it lends itself to so many different interpretations, both classical and otherwise, it is hard to find a bad recording of Bach's music at all. He was such a prolific writer of music for Christmas, too, you have a perfect opportunity to take liberties with his original music and make something uniquely different and special, which is what arranger Bill Dobbins has done on this brand-new recording of Bach's Christmas Oratorio. The King's Singers are totally in control here, keeping the meaning of the music in focus throughout, in spite of the decidedly jazzy arrangements provided by Dobbins. This may not be a disc for the purists, but rather, those open-minded individuals who also happened to enjoy the big-band Christmas presentation offered by Chorus Niagara last year at this time. This set is an adventure! It rates a positive 4 out of 4 stars.

I think everyone grew up listening to this disc, coming out as it did in the 60s when James Last was at the peak of his popularity. I took a long time to make it to disc, however, but the wait was worth it. The sound is quite amazing given the age of the recording, and the arrangements, although showing their age just a bit, still are fun to listen to today. I can't imagine many actually 'dancing' to this music, but listening will be easy: Last just knows how to handle a good tune and make it fun. Most of the medleys are made up of German carols, although some familiar international carols can be heard, including Silent Night and I Wonder as I Wander. Go ahead, listen to this disc again and relive those heady days of the 60s when people thought we could do just about anything! Christmas Dancing rates a respectable 3 out of 4 stars.

Just a few items of interest this week; remember, all of these are currently in stock as of this writing, but don't delay. If you're interested in more information, go to my website at or email me at and I will take care of the rest.

The countdown is on - let's enjoy the ride!

December 19th, 2010.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Countdown is on to Christmas - ready or not!

So here we are, as I write this, just over a week away from Christmas Day, and there is still so much to do. That's the trouble with this time of year; too much to do and too little time to do it in. But we somehow manage, and after Christmas is all said and done for the year, we usually say next year we'll be better organized. But it never happens. At least we know we have a lot of company...

I was thinking of all this for a couple of reasons this week; I was out last evening on a whirlwind Christmas shopping spree, and everything is pretty much done now. An hour out of my life at targeted locations, and I had most everything done - now that is lucky, and good news! I always have to get my shopping done early, for two reasons: firstly, much of my family now lives up north in Kenora, so I have to send everything up to them, which I did earlier today. But I also can't afford, being in the retail business with my website, A Web of Fine Music, to leave things to the last minute when I am busy enough as it is filling and sending out last-minute orders for my customers. So I have never been one to be wandering the mall on December 24th, lamely looking for something - anything - that might remotely resemble a present someone I know might appreciate receiving.

So, what has all this got to do with the arts, you ask? Well, I have devoted a lot of time lately to writing in this space about the myriad of Christmas concerts and other events scheduled for December, and the fact you almost need all your spare time just to attend them all, should you wish to. By now, December 16th, you would think they would all be done, but no, not yet. We still have several concerts coming up, including A Glissandi Christmas tomorrow evening at St. Mark's Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and the annual Christmas Choir Concert at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in downtown St. Catharines, which comes up at 4 pm on Sunday afternoon.

Out of town, we have the National Ballet of Canada presenting their ever-popular Nutcracker performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts through to January 2nd, and the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra has their annual Christmas Pops performances this coming Saturday afternoon and evening at Hamilton Place. I just received word yesterday the annual Festival of Carols peformances at St. John's Church in Elora, featuring The Elora Festival Singers scheduled for early next week are all sold out, so we're both out of luck on that one.

The problem has always been, of course, balancing your pleasure with what simply has to be done this month. For me, I am always so busy with my website (, I often don't have time for many of the concerts unless I happen to be set up in the lobby, as I usually am with the Niagara Symphony and Choralis Camerata, for example. So it was I was looking at my schedule this week when the 20th annual Civic Christmas Carol Concert rolled around Tuesday at noon. Now, I have never been to this wonderful musical event before, and although I had a lot on my plate that snowy Tuesday, I decided "What the heck, everything else can wait!" as I made my way over to St. Thomas' Anglican Church for the annual event.

As always, it was a sellout, and well worth the small donation to Community Care that was requested of people attending. The choirs of Laura Secord Secondary School and Holy Cross Secondary School, along with the Chorus Niagara Children's Choir and the Civic Brass Ensemble were all in fine form, filling the church with glorious sounds of the season. It is hard not to get caught up in the spirit of the season when you hear those youthful voices ring out in song, and we, doing the best we can, joining in on occasion. The icing on the cake was the Christmas message delivered by The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the special guest for the occasion. I have had the pleasure of speaking to him before and he is the most down-to-earth, kind and gentle soul you could imagine. The fact his roots take him back many years to his radio broadcasting days, about the time I was getting into the business myself, well, he just made us all so proud in the radio business! His words, echoing those of the Queen in her 1957 Christmas Day address, still ring true for us today, and his blending of then and now was a pleaure to hear.

So, will I go for number 21 next year? You bet I will! I wish I had become part of this annual tradition, a unique one in a city our size I imagine, years ago. But better late than never, and the tradition now begins for me.

Another tradition at Christmastime for many is going to Niagara-on-the-Lake the weekend before Christmas for the annual reading of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, featuring several members of the Shaw Festival acting ensemble. This is the sort of thing you need, like Tuesday's Civic Christmas Carol Concert, to take you out of the commercialization of the season and ground you to the true meaning of Christmas. So it will be this Sunday afternoon at 3, when Peter Millard, Ijeoma Emesowum, Kelly Wong, Gabrielle Jones, Peter Krantz and Guy Bannerman will present A Christmas Carol at St. Mark's Anglican Church on Byron Street, with musical interludes presented by music director at St. Mark's Michael Tansley, along with singer Patty Jamieson. This should be a great afternoon; in fact it usually sells out, so if you have not already done so, you might want to get your tickets in advance from the Shaw Festival boxoffice at 905-468-2172. Tickets are only $ 12 for adults and $ 6 for children; a small price to pay for the magic of Christmas without sugar-coated carols piped in to the mall shops everywhere at this time of year. There, I feel better already just thinking about it!

There is much to do in Niagara to bring you back to what Christmas is all about; all you have to do is look around and marvel at the possibilities. Enjoy!

December 16th, 2010.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Niagara Symphony and Chorus Niagara celebrate the season this weekend

This is what would be called by some a Big Weekend in local arts circles, as both Niagara Symphony and Chorus Niagara unleash their always-popular Christmas programmes on what are expected to be for both groups, sellout crowds. And since the season is so full of things to do at other times, this is the perfect weekend to set aside some time for yourself to just relax and enjoy some great music.

First off, both this evening at 7:30 and tomorrow afternoon at 2:30, the Niagara Symphony presents their Pops! 2 programme, titled "A Niagara Holiday Fantasy". This is always a popular event, and I imagine it gets tougher each year coming up with new ideas. This year, the Chorus Niagara Children's Choir will be featured, along with young Annette Malinowski singing the lovely "Allelujah" from Mozart's Exultate Jubilate. There will also be the requisite audience singalong, and several Leroy Anderson classics, including the ever-popular Anderson arrangement of "A Christmas Festival". Needless to say, I will be in the lobby before, at intermission, and after both concerts this weekend with lots of seasonal sounds to hopefully tempt you, including several recordings of Leroy Anderson classics.

The guest conductor this weekend is St. Catharines native Rosemary Thomson, who will be joined by her sister Elspeth Thomson playing viola at this concert. Thomson now resides in B.C., where she is Music Director of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra.

Meantime, Chorus Niagara rides the wave of popularity generated by their much-watched "Flash Mob" video on YouTube, now approaching something like 15-million hits, last time I checked, and counting. Handel's Messiah is much more than the celebrated Hallelujah Chorus, of course, which was featured in the video, but those in the know will be there this weekend to hear the every-other-year event in the Chorus Niagara calendar. I would not be surprised if both performances, this evening at 7:30 in Grimsby at Mountainview Christian Reformed Church and tomorrow afternoon at 3 at Calvary Church in St. Catharines, are total sellouts due to the popularity of the video on top of those who would normally not want to miss this event. So be forewarned, and hope for the best!

Ideally, you can go to the Niagara Symphony for one performance, and Chorus Niagara for the other this weekend, and if that sounds like an ideal way to avoid the mall this weekend, there is still time to call the Brock boxoffice at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, or take your chances at the door for both events.

Enjoy the sounds of the season this weekend!

December 11th, 2010.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Chorus Niagara celebrates the season in syle!

What a season it has been so far for Chorus Niagara! Every year, they put on several performances of great choral music throughout Niagara, with Handel's Messiah performed every other Christmas. Their performances this year take place next weekend, in fact.

This year, however, Chorus Niagara is riding a wave of unprecedented popularity due to the production of a 5-minute 'flash mob' video on YouTube that has gone viral, with more than 6-million views the last time I checked. The worldwide interest the video has garnered has meant coverage on Good Morning, America, Inside Edition, CNN and ABC World News. Now, the choir is set to perform the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah from the food court at the Seaway Mall in Welland again this coming Wednesday morning at 6:30 am, as they broadcast live from the mall on Canada AM. Life just doesn't get any better for Chorus Niagara these days!

It all began when Jennifer Blakeley and her team at Alphabet Photography in Niagara approached Chorus Niagara with the idea to record something seasonal in a public location. The result was an early-morning visit with choir members, recording equipment and such back on Saturday morning, November 13th. The set up crew apparently got there at 5 am; choir members began arriving at 6, and rehearsals began shortly thereafter. Once the mall opened for the day around 9, choir members, dressed in their Saturday street clothes, milled about and basically blended in with mall shoppers visiting the food court that morning. When Lynn Honsberger, their accompanist, finished playing endless Christmas carols on the electronic keyboard in the food court, the cue was given for her to launch into the opening chords of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's oratorio 'Messiah' and the fun began. One by one, choir members joined in, surrounding startled patrons of the food court with glorious music for the holiday season.

What is interesting watching the video now is how quickly - likely within seconds - people's cell-phone cameras began recording the event, which is a part of everyday life now, it seems. All went well for the few minutes the choir sang, with everyone bursting into exhuberant applause at the end. Success! But it took a lot of work to get to that point and everything was planned out and rehearsed in advance. You can tell from the quality of the photography everything was orchestrated to the second, yet it looks spontaneous and very matter-of-fact. The video, which you can find on YouTube, or just go to the Chorus Niagara website,, and there it is on the home page for you to enyoy, is one of the classiest, well-done and inspiring videos you're ever likely to see.

What I like about this whole idea is bringing quality music to the masses by way of modern technology. Literally millions around the world will log on to view the video, and even if their interest in the choir or the music itself doesn't go beyond that, it is a victory for those who feel classical music has taken a back seat in society today. Here is an example of great music being performed exceptionally well in the unlikeliest of locations, and everyone wins. The choir gets great exposure, as does the Seaway Mall, and everyone feels good from watching a few minutes of video magic unfold. You might not be able to catch lightening in a bottle, but capturing the performance in a video is the next best thing, I suspect.

If you want to catch the entire performance of Messiah, keep in mind the Hallelujah Chorus is but a small part of the entire work, but every note Handel wrote is glorious, and nothing else will put you in the spirit of the Christmas season like Messiah will. Performances are next weekend on Saturday evening at 7:30 at Mountainview Christian Reformed Church in Grimsby, and Sunday afternoon at 3 at Calvary Church in north St. Catharines. Tickets always go fast for Chorus Niagara's presentations of Messiah, so don't wait. Likely the best seats are to be had for the Grimsby performance, I should think, but you can check with the Brock box office for ticket availability at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.

By the way, the early-morning performance at the Seaway Mall food court this coming Wednesday at 6:30 am is open to the public, so if you are free, why not head down and watch the action as Canada AM broadcasts the choir live to a national television audience?

Yes, life is good for Robert Cooper and Chorus Niagara. And it is about to get so much better, I bet. Congratulations!

December 4th, 2010.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

News and Notes on Christmas in Niagara

There is so much happening these days in Niagara, as the Christmas season is upon us, I thought I would devote my midweek entry to a round-up of things coming up over the next few days in the area. First, though, I want to quickly look back on the Niagara Symphony performance on the weekend.

As mentioned in my last entry, the second Masterworks concert of the season was conducted by Associate Conductor Laura Thomas Sunday afternoon, as they performed Buhr's Akasha and Mozart's Symphony No. 41, the "Jupiter" symphony. Laura, I find, is a very democratic conductor, giving credit to everyone in the orchestra who deserves it, perhaps since she is also a member of the orchestra herself. Oddly, though, I don't feel the orchestra sounded as sharp as it usually does, and I can't put my finger on just why that would be. The other notable piece on the programme was Vivaldi's familiar The Four Seasons, Op. 8, performed by members of the strings conducted from the violin by young Julia Wedman, who spends a lot of her time in Toronto performing with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. This was not a period instrument performance, of course, but the Symphony under Wedman presented a rather rustic, rough-hewn version of Vivaldi's greatest hit, with its own particular charm. A notable change was the fact all the violins and violas stood during the performance, which added a different visual dimension to the performance I quite enjoyed. Wedman for her part was poised and took control of the situation without dominating it. The other nice addition to the mix was Shaw Festival actress Sharry Flett, who narrated the sonnets attributed to Vivaldi that subsequently inspired him to write the music for The Four Seasons. Again, it added another dimension to the performance, changing it from just another performance of a classical warhorse to a work with exceptional grace and charm. Overall, a pleasant performance; I also scored a couple of winning bids at the silent auction tables after the performance. Bonus!

Now, on to other things happening this weekend. Staying at Brock University, tomorrow evening (Friday) from 6 pm to midnight, Nuit Blanche Brock 2010 takes place - a multidisciplinary celebration of installation, time-based and performance art. It's a free community event organized by the Department of Visual Arts, with over 30 student artists and performers participating from Dramatic Arts, Music and Visual Arts. Art works include drawings, sculpure, dance, photography, video, installation and performances. Locations are throughout the campus, including the Thistle Complex, James A. Gibson Library, Market Hall and the MacKenzie Chown complex. For a complete listing of art works and dowloadable maps, you can visit Should be a great evening, and it's free!

On the weekend, the Avanti Chamber Singers present Christmas Suites: Seasonal Music from Niagara and Beyond at St. Barnabas Anglican Church on Queenston Street. Tickets are available at the door or through the Department of Music at Brock. The concert begins at 7:30 on Saturday evening. Also at St. Barnabas Church, which is one of the acoustic jewels of Niagara, by the way, the next Primavera Concerts performance takes place Sunday evening at 7:30, and features Graham and Ian Shaw as narrators in a performance of Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales. This is a perennial favourite, and the old recording of Dylan himself reciting it is still available on CD; you can order it through my website,, or just emailing me directly,

Both Saturday and Sunday, Laura Thomas' choral group, Choralis Camerata, presents their annual Christmas concert, and since Chorus Niagara is doing Messiah this year, they are not. This season, the concert includes a number of seasonal favourites, with the highlight being Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl & the Night Visitors, which premiered on television in 1951. There's an indication how television has changed over the years: the world premiere of an opera on television was broadcast LIVE on NBC back in 1951, so the 50th anniversary comes up next year. Laura and her singers jump the gun this weekend, with performances Saturday evening at 7:30 at St. Andrews United Church in Niagara Falls, and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 at the expansive St. Alexander Roman Catholic Church in Fonthill. Tickets are available at the door for both performances, and on Sunday afternoon I will be in the foyer at intermission and after the show with lots of seasonal music for sale, including the only CD recording of Amahl currently available, on the Naxos label. It is a great recording; sadly the original from 1951 which I still own on LP, is long out of print. If you can't make it to the concert but want a copy of the CD, send me an email at and I can get a copy for you.

A little further afield, over in Lewiston, New York, their annual Christmas Walk takes place on Center Street with many area merchants getting into the act, and tied in with it this year is the grand opening of the Opera Hall Gallery at 736 Center Street. Many local artists' work will be featured, not just this weekend, but on an ongoing basis.

In Hamilton, one of the best area choirs down that way, the John Laing Singers, present their annual Christmas concert on Saturday evening, 7:30, at Central Presbyterian Church on Charlton Avenue in Hamilton. Titled Gloria in Excelsis, the concert features music from Palestrina to Whitacre and lots of other music in-between. The John Laing Singers have a great sound, and their lovely Christmas CD, Merrily Sing We, is a joyful celebration of the season in words and music. I have it featured on my website at, or email me directly at and I can get a copy out to you in time for Christmas.

So, as you can see, we have lots going on not far from our own front doors. More to come, too, and I will have some thoughts on the upcoming Messiah performances with Chorus Niagara this coming weekend in my next blog entry.

Enjoy the season!

December 2nd, 2010.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Niagara Symphony presents Vivaldi's Four Seasons this weekend

Hard to believe we are just about at the end of November already! No snow yet, but that doesn't appear to be deterring people from getting into the Christmas spirit, so that is good to see. I'm not quite there yet, but I am getting there. One or two more Christmas bazaars this weekend and I might be in the Christmas spirit officially...

Now, one way to celebrate the season and in fact, every season, is to attend the second Masterworks concert for the Niagara Symphony, coming up Sunday afternoon at 2:30 at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University. This concert is a big deal on a number of levels. First, we welcome Associate Conductor Laura Thomas back to the podium for performances of Glenn Buhr's Akasha and the wonderful Symphony No. 41 by Mozart, the so-called "Jupiter" symphony. But we also welcome a young violinist and guest conductor, a mainstay at the Shaw Festival for many seasons, and of course, the annual silent auction tables in the lobby.

Laura always does great work with the Symphony, and I am always happy to hear what she can do in the Masterworks concerts in addition to her more frequent appearances in the Pops! series. She'll be joined this weekend by young violinist Julia Wedman, who was in town just last Friday evening at Robertson Hall for the launch of the new CD by the Eybler Quartet, of which she is a member. The CD, incidentally, featuring music by Mozart and Backofen, is a sheer delight to listen to, and is featured in my November Fine Music Newsletter, as well as on my website at You can order a copy of the disc through my website or by simply emailing me directly at

Julia is on a leave from her full-time position with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in Toronto, so she can spend some time travelling the world. But she stops in St. Catharines this weekend to perform and guest-conduct the Vivaldi Four Seasons, Op. 8 with the Niagara Symphony. Julia told me last week at the recital at Robertson Hall the violinist doesn't necessarily need to go through all the traditional gestures the conductor normally does to conduct the orchestra while playing; eye contact or even a head nod is often all that is required, so we'll see how it all comes together this Sunday afternoon.

Joining Julia and the Niagara Symphony is narrator Sharry Flett, a long-time member of the Shaw Festival acting ensemble, who will be reading a sonnet attributed to Vivaldi that subsequently inspired him to write the music for The Four Seasons. I must admit, I have never heard the sonnets before, so this will help make a very-familiar classical piece appear fresh and new again. The Four Seasons, of course, is a four-part work that has become in the last 70 years or so Vivaldi's most famous work, and certainly one of the most famous classical works, period. Adding Sherry's narration to the mix changes the whole complexion of the work for many, I suspect, and adds a new dimension to this popular work.

I have always been a fan of Sherry: her work at Shaw is always solid and interesting, and years ago I had the pleasure of interviewing her for a theatre production in Toronto where she quite simply captivated me with her charm and grace. What a lady! Can't wait to hear what she does tomorrow afternoon.

Finally, the annual silent auction fundraiser for the Niagara Symphony is also part of the afternoon's proceedings, taking up every available table in the lobby before the concert and at intermission, so you can peruse the offerings and hopefully bid often on many items in time for Christmas. Just think how much Christmas shopping you can do while supporting the Niagara Symphony! Since space will be at a premium in the lobby, I won't have my usual table set up for this concert, unfortunately, but I will be there for the concert, and if anyone has any musical enquiries about the music or any other musical question about something you're looking for, be sure to stop me in the lobby and I can take down the information for when I get back into the office.

Still don't have your tickets yet? The Brock box office can set you up by calling 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, or you can pick them up at the door prior to the concert.

Enjoy the show!

November 27th, 2010.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Ultimate Christmas Gift for the serious music lover

As I write this, we are just a month away from Christmas Eve, so for most men, that means about 29 days before they seriously start to thing of their Christmas shopping, it seems. For others of either gender, they get at it early and get the best ideas and deals long before things run out of stock. I'm saying this now, as I hope I run out of stock on this particular item this Christmas, because it is so great!

My business, A Web of Fine Music, which you can find at, is primarily devoted to classical and jazz CDs, although sales are not confined to those two particular musical genres. I order whatever you like, at Christmas and throughout the year. But I also issue my Fine Music Newsletter each month, and included are my Top Ten Mike's Picks for the month; these are new or recently released CDs and sometimes just old favourites I think you might like, that I suggest for you in case you would like to purchase them from A Web of Fine Music. By November, I have an eye towards Christmas, and try to offer some Christmas music in the mix, of course, and also some great items for holiday gift-giving.

This year, I think I have the ultimate Christmas gift for the serious music lover on your gift list, and it is the feature item both in the newsletter this month and on my website. Hanssler Classic has recently reissued a 10th-anniversary edition of their Complete Bach Edition at a very special price, and from what I have heard from the copy I've been sampling so far, it is a spectacular set! It comes in two formats this time, something that wasn't possible at the first issue ten years ago. The first format is the familiar CD format, in a slim long box that flips open to reveal 172 CDs of the entire J.S. Bach ouvre, featuring Helmuth Rilling and his various ensembles recorded over a period from 1975 to 2000. This Limited-Edition set includes a CD-ROM with 5,000 page eBook, including all song texts, introductions, and biographical notes; as well as two books with complete track listings. Over 200 hours of glorious music, meticulously recorded by Hanssler and all packaged in an elegant, matt-black box.

The second format is a fully-loaded iPod Classic, also in matt black finish, including OEM headphones, USB cable, backup DVD-ROM discs with the Complete Bach Edition in AAC format. The jury may still be out on whether MP3 files are as good-sounding as traditional discs, but there is no denying the compactness of having everything Bach wrote in the palm of your hand! Granted, the iPod version is more expensive, but either way, the set constitutes a real bargain when you consider what this set originally cost as a box set ten years ago, or as the discs were originally released over a 25-year period.

So, you're asking, "What's the cost, Mike?" The 172-CD box set is specially priced at $ 350 for the holiday season; the iPod format is $ 600 for the holiday season. Granted they are not cheap, but consider everything you get, and the fact this is globally recognized as the only authoritative edition of Bach's complete works, and you begin to realize just how valuable this set really is.

I have the CD box in stock now, and ready to ship. Once it is gone, I can get more, but keep in mind Christmas is fast approaching and I suspect this will be a popular item this season, so if you are interested, drop me a line through my website or directly at and I can make arrangements to get a copy of either format to you in time to place under the Christmas tree this season!

Happy listening!

November 24th, 2010.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

News & Notes on the arts in Niagara

Just the other day I posted a reminder about Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects' latest production of Shakespeare's Villains, which stars Ric Reid and runs through this weekend at the Sullivan-Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines. I suggest again if you have not seen the show, make tracks to the theatre before the end of the weekend as you will not be dissapointed!

Hot on the heals of that news is the latest release just out from Lyndesfarne, announcing their winter production will be the Tony award-winning play The 39 Steps by Patrick Barlow, adapted from the novel by John Buchan and the film by Alfred Hitchcock. The play will star Lorne Kennedy and Jenny L. Wright from the Shaw Festival, along with John Osbaldeston and Jason Cadieux. The release states it is a "smart and fast-paced comedic thriller that sees four performers spinning through over 150 characters and a mysterious storyline - a seductive woman, a missing finger and accusations of espionage." Once again the director will by Kelly Daniels, Artistic Director for Lyndesfarne, who calls the play "a theatrical feast of sight and sound." More details will follow on this production but the play opens on March 10th at the Courthouse Theatre, so that will be something to look forward to come the new year.

In the more immediate future, we have a couple of important musical concerts coming up this Saturday afternoon, so you'll have to choose your favourite if either or both of these interest you, which I hope they will. First off, the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre will present 'Hear Freedom's Ring', a celebration of southern Ontario's history in a musical journey along the Underground Railroad, with tenor Michael Toby Saturday afternoon at 2 pm. During the performance visitors will discover the hidden meanings behind some of the world's most beloved spirituals. Having hosted concerts annually with Choralis Camerata on this same theme, I can say some of the hidden meanings in the lyrics is really quite astounding.

The concert takes place at the St. Catharines Museum, Welland Canals Interactive Centre at Lock 3 along the Welland Canal and tickets are only $ 20; you can call 905-684-8880 or simply pick them up at the door.

Also on Saturday at 1:30, and this is one I have a particular interest in myself, the St. Cathairnes General Hospital Foundation will be hosting a 25th anniversary Christmas Concert at the Bethany Commuty Church in St. Catharines. The concert will feature the popular Chorus Niagara, all 100 voices strong, along with special guest artist, singer Michael Burgess. You'll certainly remember Michael from his role as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. There will be other musical acts taking part, including the Niagara Star Singers
as well on Saturday afternoon, and I am happy to report I have been asked to emcee the event, which I am all too happy to do.

The proceeds from the concert will be directed toward the 2010 Tree of Lights Campaign, one of the most successful fundraising initiatives for the Foundation, raising a remarkable 1.3 million over 24 years. The money is much needed and well spent: funds have been used to purchase urgently needed patient care equipment for departments including the Operating Room, Emergency Room, Critical Care and Paediatrics at the St. Catharines General Site. Specifically, funds from the 2010 campaign will be directed toward urgently needed electric beds for the SCGH site.

The afternoon promises to be a perfect kickoff to the holiday season, and with tickets only $ 20, how can you refuse? Students & seniors are only $ 15, and children 12 and under get in for only $ 10. If you don't have your tickets yet, call 905-323-3863 or go to

I have spent a lot of time at the SCGH over the years, first with my mother passing away in 2000, my father passing away in 2009, and me in Emergency three times in that same year, so I know intimately what is needed now at the hospital, and we all hope you'll help out by coming out to the concert Saturday afternoon beginning at 1:30.

November 18th, 2010.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A busy week for the arts in Niagara!

It's a good thing I am off on vacation this week, as there is simply so much to do in and around Niagara this month in general, and this week in particular. First of all, let's get to the Clerical Chefs dinner Sunday evening at the synagogue I wrote about on the weekend...

It was a marvellous affair, with good food, lots of familiar faces, and some pretty interesting music from the B'Nai Israel Melody Makers. No, I didn't dance the Hora on Sunday night, but most everyone else did, and that was fun to watch. At times in resembled a sort of ring-dance, and at other times, a sort of Jewish conga line. But everyone had a great time, and I am, in fact, returning to B'Nai Israel Synagogue in the morning for a guided tour of the actual house of worship, which I am particularly interested to see.

Now, on to this week proper. If you have not yet booked your tickets for the first production of Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects' new season, you have until this weekend to catch Steven Berkoff's marvellously witty and devilishly clever Shakespeare's Villains. It runs Wednesday through Sunday at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines, and if you go, you will not be disappointed. I attended the opening a couple of weekends ago, and Ric Reid, the lone actor in this one-act tour de force performance, gives us a compelling look at several familiar - and some not-so-familiar - of Shakespeare's villains. Don't worry if Shakespeare's actual plays don't interest you; this play certainly will. It is an amazing performance and a great start to Lyndesfarne's season, and I know for a fact tickets are readily available for the remainder of the performances. Call the box office at 905-938-1222 for tickets.

Two events this Friday evening will interest arts lovers in Niagara: first, The Gallery Players present a musical celebration of the new CD by the Eybler Quartet with Jane Booth playing Backofen and Mozart. The disc is just out on the Analekta label, and autographed CDs will be available at the event for purchase, or you can simply order a copy through my website, If you go, the launch party takes place at Robertson Hall at the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre at 85 Church Street in downtown St. Catharines. Admission is $ 10 unless you are a Gallery Players subscriber, in which case admission is free.

The second event Friday evening takes place at The Market at Brock University, with doors opening at 8 pm for the eleventh annual wearable art show known as Strutt. Benefitting the Niagara Artists Centre, this has developed into the largest wearable art show in Canada, which is really quite something. You never know what - or whom - you'll see there; but we can guarantee you'll see some pretty amazing wearable art developed locally at the show, which gets underway at 9 pm. General admission is $ 30; NAC members and students pay $ 20 and those on Curator's Row pay $ 50. They say to wear what you dare, so that leaves things open to all sorts of possibilities! For tickets, call the Brock Centre for the Arts boxoffice at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.

Enjoy the week in the Arts!

November 16th, 2010.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Primavera Concerts fundraiser this weekend

As I mentioned in a recent posting, there is just so much going on in the area at this time of year, it is hard to cover it all, but I am trying! I wanted to write today about an event coming up Sunday evening that is quite simply taking the community by storm; in fact it is totally sold out at this point, so if you don't have your tickets, you'll unfortunately be out of luck this year.

Primavera Concerts, that innovative musical group based at St. Barnabas Church on Queenston Street in St. Catharines, is holding their fall fundraiser this Sunday evening, and this is a new idea: an elegant kosher dinner prepared by two clerical "celebrity chefs", Rabbi Eli Courante of B'Nai Israel Synagogue, and Father Keith Whittingham of St. Barnabas Church. St. Barnabas and B'Nai Israel Synagogue are just around the corner from each other, and the event will take place at the larger of the two locations, namely the synagogue. Following the dinner, klezmer music will be provided by the B'Nai Israel Melody Makers.

I love the idea of this, and in fact, when I first heard of it late last month I ordered my tickets right away. I have always been fascinated by Jewish traditions, even though I am not of that faith, and I like the cooperation shown by both sides to sort of bring the people together as one for at least one evening. There will be dancing after dinner, of course, with people dancing the Hora; I don't know if I would even dare to try, but we'll see...

The dinner, not surprisingly, looks fabulous. Both chefs are known for their culinary skills; in fact we attended a dinner at St. Barnabas a few years ago where Fr. Keith held court, and it was amazing. He has a fully equipped kitchen in the church hall that could rival many a restaurant and knows his way around in there. This will be my first experience with the Rabbi as chef, although I am told he is no slouch in that department, either.

The menu choices reflect a wide range of tastes and great humour: Oi Vey Pasta Shells, for example, or Hava Nagilah Baked Fish. I think most people are looking forward to the desserts, however: how about a serving of Frozen Hell, or the one I plan to experience, Seven Mortal Sins. That's the dessert I am looking forward to experiencing, by the way... Anyway, it looks like a great menu and we know the chefs are experienced enough to pull it all off.

The music, being klezmer, will be decidedly Jewish, of course, and that is great, too. I have always had a love of klezmer music, going back to my first exposure to the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band out of Toronto, who have put out a few recordings, and of course the better-known recordings featuring Itzhak Perlman with klezmer musicians recorded for EMI Classics. If you have not had a chance to hear the spirited, ebulliant joy of real klezmer music, you're in for a treat. And if you want to be introduced to it by way of recordings, email me at or go to my website, and send a message from there, and I can find a good recording or two of authentic klezmer music in case you want to have your own kosher dinner party this season.

As for the fundraiser tomorrow night, congratulations to Primavera Concerts for selling out a fundraiser and getting the whole community talking about an innovative concept they will likely have to repeat again in the future!

November 13th, 2010.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bishop Bergie installed Tuesday evening in St. Catharines

Every now and again, I step outside my usual realm of writing and touch on something of interest to me, and I hope by extension, to you, too. I'm doing that with this entry today, although there is a musical connection towards the end, so there is rhyme to my reason.

Last evening, Gerard Bergie was installed as the fifth Bishop of the Diocese of St. Catharines, in a lavish ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria. When I say lavish, I don't mean in an over-the-top way; rather, it was a marvellous celebration of renewal for the Catholic church, as the new Bishop moves the Diocese forward into the future. Incidentally, November 9th was the 52nd anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of St. Catharines, so it was a fitting date for the Installation.

On hand for the ceremony were over 180 clergy, priests and deacons from the Diocese of St. Catharines and Hamilton. There were 38 Bishops in attendance as well, including Bishop O'Mara, now retired as Bishop of the Diocese, who himself was installed at the same Cathedral in 1994. So there was certainly a celebratory tone for the evening, with greetings offered from many people in attendance, most notably from Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana, the Apostolic Nuncio, the Pope's official representative in Canada.

As for me, I was honoured to be asked once again to handle broadcast duties on our local cable provider, Cogeco, who taped the evening's events for later broadcast. As well, I was a reader at the ceremony itself. It's funny, but I realized last evening I have now handled broadcast duties for three Bishops for the Diocese of St. Catharines, which means I have been around for all but the first two Bishops of the Diocese since it was founded!

The new Bishop is younger than I am by a couple of years, I was surprised to find, and was born and raised in Hamilton, where he has served in many capacities for a number of years now. He has an engaging personality and quick wit, and articulates his points with considerable precision. In his homily last evening, he both honoured the past and looked to the future, inviting everyone in attendance to pray for him as he begins his new journey.

Now, about the music. I have a friend who has long considered the music heard in the Anglican Church to be superior to that heard in the Catholic Church, for the most part. While I have often enjoyed glorious music over the years at Anglican churches in many cities and even countries, I personally feel last evening's music provided by a massed choir, several instrumentalists and soloists directed by David Holler along with Music Director Lucas Chorosinski at the organ to be of the highest calibre, and as good as anything you'll hear anywhere. For me, nothing beats a large choir and grand organ at full tilt to lift the spirits as well as the pulse rate!

As for the broadcast itself, it went quite well, I'm told, and if you desire to experience some wild vicarious thrill watching me introduce the evening's proceedings while all around me got into position, I understand Cogeco will be broadcasting the Installation this coming Friday evening as well as Saturday and Sunday mornings. I don't know yet if I will watch, as I have always been my own worst critic with these things, but we'll see...

Welcome to St. Catharines, Bishop Bergie!

November 10th, 2010.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Shakespeare's Villains a devilishly clever play!

As I wrote Friday in my last entry, one of the anticipated arts events this month was the opening Saturday evening of Steven Berkoff's Shakespeare's Villains at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines. It served as the season opener for Lydesfarne Theatre Projects and was, in fact, the Canadian premiere of the one-man tour de force.

Artistic Director Kelly Daniels showed a certain amount of daring in being the first to present Berkoff's play in Canada, which up to now he had only performed himself. But the gamble has payed off nicely, with huge applause Saturday evening for her husband, actor Ric Reid in the Berkoff role. Ric, I have long felt, is one of those underestimated Canadian actors who just goes about his work and continues to impress quietly. All that may change after this play, as Reid romps through a myriad of Shakespeare's characters, some you would expect to be villainous and others not so much, with almost lightning speed.

Oh sure, there was a line or two needing prompts at the opening (was it intentional?) but consider all the lines he has to remember. And he's carrying the whole darned thing himself! I think it was a pretty impressive performance you would do well to see before it closes November 21st.

My far better half was almost reluctant to go with me, since sitting through a Shakespeare play is about as pleasant as a root canal while suffering from a migraine, but I encouraged her to come, as I had attended the Media Day preview the week before and knew she would enjoy it. She not only enjoyed it, she was laughing even more than I was at the witty lines Berkoff has come up with.

As Reid himself has said, this is the role of a lifetime, and I believe him. Although only 85 minutes in length with no intermission, the play packs a lot of sharp dialogue into that time frame and more characters than you can imagine, both male and female. R.J. Conn has provided a simple, yet effective stage design, and director Kelly Daniels successfully manages to keep Reid reigned in while at the same time giving him room to breathe.

Lydesfarne Theatre Projects has been going from strength to strength the last couple of seasons at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre, and this new production kicks off a very intriguing season.

Do yourself a favour and catch the show before it closes November 21st. Performances are Wednesday to Sunday this week and next, and tickets are very affordable: general admission is $ 25 with students and seniors paying only $ 15. Call the boxoffice at 905-938-1222.

November 8th, 2010.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A busy weekend in Niagara and beyond in the arts!

Here we are, barely a week into the month of November already, and we have lots of things going on both here in Niagara and beyond. This weekend, for example, along with the plethora of Christmas bazaars and other seasonal events already getting underway, we have three noteworthy arts events I want to touch on today.

First off, Chorus Niagara gets their new season underway with two performances at St. Thomas' Anglican Church on Ontario Street, Friday and Saturday evenings. Titled CN Cinema, this is a mixed-media presentation of The 1923 silent film classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Lon Chaney. I think most of us have seen the film at one time or another; this weekend, the film will be projected on a screen while the members of Chorus Niagara, out of sight but not out of earshot, provide a live choral "soundtrack" to the film. I talked to Artistic Director Robert Cooper about it this week and he says it is a challenge keeping everything in sync, but doesn't anticipate any problems. He adds popcorn will be available to make the evening truly an event, which is a nice touch.

The Friday performance is now done, of course, but you can try for tickets for Saturday night; call the Brock Centre for the Arts boxoffice at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 for ticket availability. It will be a tight fit at St. Thomas' Church, but this looks like a performance not to be missed.

Meanwhile, over at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines, the season opener for Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects continues until November 21st. Previews were Thursday and Friday; opening night is Saturday for the Canadian premiere of Steven Berkoff's one-man show Shakespeare's Villains, starring veteran actor Ric Reid. Ric is directed by his real-life wife, Lyndesfarne Artistic Director Kelly Daniels, in a tour-de-force performance examining many of the well-known villains in the Shakespeare canon. Everyone from Iago from Othello to the Macbeths to Shylock from The Merchant of Venice and even Richard III get a going-over by Reid, courtesy the insightful dialogue created by Berkoff, who has been the only actor to headline the play thus far. So Reid has big shoes to fill, but from what I saw at the media preview a week ago, he is more than up to the challenge. This is the sort of play an actor relishes: as Reid says, "It demands a great range of playing that few plays ever ask of the actor."

The play, 90 minutes long without an intermission, launches the new season for Lyndesfarne, which has given us some thought-provoking live theatre over the winter months the past several years. For tickets, call the Lydnesfarne boxoffice at 905-938-1222. Although there may still be a few seats left for Saturday's opening, you might do better to attend one of the later performances which offer a greater variety of seating choices. I look forward to attending the opening and will report on it next week.

Finally, there's a concert in Elora Sunday afternoon with a distinctly local connection: Thorold-born organist Andrew Henderson launches his new CD with a special recital at 4 pm on Sunday at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, at the corner of Henderson and Smith Streets in Elora. This is the very church the CD was recorded at this past June, on the glorious Casavant organ I love to hear whenever I visit Elora during the summer festival season. Not surprisingly, much of the music at the concert will be taken from the new CD, including Handel's Organ Concerto in F, Op. 4, No. 4; Barrie Cabena's Eine kleine Morgenmusik, and Elgar's familiar Imperial March. Also featured will be music by Bach, Bonnet and Gounod.

I have had the pleasure of hearing Andrew Henderson several times over the years, and have met him more than once. He has this disarmingly calm demeanor and a thorough knowlege of the music he plays; he may not be the flashiest organist on the circuit these days, but he is certainly one of the best of the new breed. The CD will be sold at the concert for only $ 15, which is a bargain, and afterwards at the Elora Festival Office. I will have to look into getting hold of the CD to feature on my website over the holiday season, which you can find at

If you're thinking of travelling up to Elora for the recital, it is a lovely drive up through Guelph, about 2 hours from Niagara. Admission is by donation, by the way, with tax receipts issued for gifts over $ 10. You can't beat that!

November 5th, 2010.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Hits Past & Present

So, here we are on that final weekend of October; a weekend when we used to turn the clocks back one hour and revert to Standard Time. Now, we do that in early November, which makes for a little extra daylight for the kids to go about their rounds trick or treating on Halloween. Mind you, I have seen the little ones out just after 5 pm, when I have not even got the candy out yet.

These days, I don't even bother shelling out to the kids on Halloween; not because I am a grinch, but because I rarely get anyone coming to the door. The last couple of years, I got one bag of goodies to give out, which would cover at best a dozen kids, and by the end of the evening, I had all of it to myself. So now I don't bother; I figure if I want my Halloween candy fix I can head to the store on Monday and stock up on what's left at about half-off the price.

I got to thinking today of some of the music we associate with Halloween, and how we have a dearth of newer recordings appropriate for scaring the pants off the little ones as they come to your door. So, we always fall back on the tried and true standards, much as we do at Christmas.

Back in 1994, I picked up a disc on the Rhino label titled simply Halloween Hits, and it proved to be a pretty complete collection of Halloween material for any get-together. But you have to realize, being pretty complete means on this disc at least, we have only ten cuts and the entire length of the disc is barely half an hour. No wonder it is now long out of print! But you'll recognize much of the material on it, leading off as it does with the classic recording of Monster Mash by Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, a giant hit when it first came out in the late 50s during the sci-fi and monster movie era. Oddly, it became a big hit twice more over the years, and now you can barely get through Halloween without hearing it on almost any radio station or in the shopping mall. It is one of those songs, like Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" that transcends time and just seems to go on forever.

Other tracks on the disc reflect the changing times somewhat and the fact most of the material is over 40 years old now: "Haunted House" by Jumpin' Gene Simmons; "The Blob" by The Five Blobs, a 1958 hit from the movie of the same name I grew up with as a kid (incidentally, the song is by Burt Bacharach of all people, and the movie starred "Steven McQueen" in one of his very early roles); "The Twilight Zone Theme" (not the familiar one but the - I think - better one by Bernard Hermann) recorded here by Neil Norman & His Cosmic Orchestra; Sheb Wooley's "Purple People Eater"; Vic Mizzy with the main title from "The Addams Family"; "I Put a Spell on You" with Screamin' Jay Hawkins (whose act, you might recall, was to start singing this song while climbing out of an open casket); The Ran-Dells with "The Martian Hop" and believe it or not, Lewis Lee with "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes". Whatever happened to Lewis Lee, eh? Couldn't have been the material he was recording...could it? Anyway, the newest track on the disc, from the 80s is Ray Parker Jr. with the theme from "Ghostbusters". And that's as new as it gets.

Some the material is pretty dated now and a lot of it is truly awful, but we keep coming back to these, um, gems for Halloween every year, because not much else has come along over the years. Good thing Halloween only happens once a year.

In classical music, a lot of the material was not intended for Halloween, of course, it just worked out that way. Could you imagine J. S. Bach taking some of his 20 offspring out trick or treating while someone played his familar Toccata & Fugue everyone associates now with Halloween? The mind boggles...but Bach never imagined the work would become one of his biggest hits, thanks in no small part to Leopold Stokowski's lush orchestration of the work for the Disney classic "Fantasia". From the same film, Mussorgsky's Night on Bald (or Bare) Mountain will always be associated with Halloween, as will Paul Dukas' greatest hit, The Sorcerer's Apprentice. In the world of classical music, Harry Potter films seem to be the greatest supplier of appropriate music for Halloween now, especially since Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette" isn't heard with much regularity anymore after being associated for many years with Alfred Hitchcock. And what could be creepier than that association? Speaking of marches, the March to the Scaffold from Berlioz' opium-inspired Symphonie Fantastique still sounds great at this and any other time of year, but you rarely hear it now without some kind of association with Halloween.

What will our kids do in the future for scary inspiration? I suppose Lady Gaga is doing her best to keep the "creep" factor at a high level, and teen sensation Justin Bieber can be considered a little scary to some, given his mammoth popularity in a relatively short period of time. But associations with Halloween over the long term? I doubt it.

So, enjoy the night of October 31st, however you choose to celebrate it, and if that includes music, you have a wide variety of choices from the world of classical and pop music for the night. Of course, for all your musical requirements, scary or otherwise, A Web of Fine Music is here to serve you. Granted, it's too late to fill orders for Halloween this year, but for anything else you may be looking for, contact me through my website at or email me directly at

Happy Halloween!

October 29th, 2010.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Niagara Symphony launches their Pops! season this weekend

Even though we have lots to do around the house this weekend, including raking leaves, yardwork, painting and general cleaning up after a busy week, I know I won't be alone when I say all that will have to work around the launch of the Niagara Symphony's Pops! season Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Granted, most people do one or the other, but I, of course, do both, as I set up my table in the lobby for CD sales from A Web of Fine Music; if you plan to go to either concert, I hope you'll stop by for a visit and say hello.

Earlier this month, the Niagara Symphony launched their Masterworks series with a well-attended concert of music by Robert Turner, Faure, Tchaikovsky and Brahms, with guest soloist Shauna Rolston. The new Music Director Designate for the Niagara Symphony, Bradley Thachuck, made his debut at the concert and turned in a pretty impressive performance, particularly in the Brahms Symphony No. 2 that closed the program.

Maestro Thachuk is on the podium this weekend as well to launch the Pops! season with a programme titled Symphonic All-Stars. In these tough economic times it is hard to pay for a guest soloist for every concert, especially when you have some great musicians already performing within the ranks of the orchestra. So, Thachuk and Co. wisely chose to forego the extra expense and showcase some of their own musicians who certainly deserve the recognition. So, over the course of the concert, we'll be hearing from Laura Thomas on Anderson's The Typewriter, for example; we'll also hear trombonist Steve Fralick on Hoagy Carmichael's Georgia On My Mind; cellist Gordon Cleland on the Hungarian Rhapsody by David Popper; violinist Xiaoling Li performing the Tango from the movie "Scent of a Woman"; concertmaster Valerie Sylvester performing the theme from John Williams' score to the movie "Schindler's List"; flute players Douglas Miller and Patricia Dydnansky performing the Rondo, Op. 25 for two flutes by Franz Albert Doppler; and the entire trumpet section on Leroy Anderson's popular Bugler's Holiday.

Lots of other orchestral music will fill out the programme, too, including music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Kander's music from "Chicago" and Richard Hayman's popular "Pops Hoe-Down". So all in all, it promises to be a lively concert! Now, none of this is exactly cutting edge, but it's guaranteed to fill the seats for both concerts, which will serve to introduce a lot of people - some of them new visitors, it's hoped - to the new Maestro, Bradley Thachuk. After all, the real challenge now is to fill those seats and broaden the audience base.

The Saturday evening concert begins at 7:30; the Sunday afternoon is at 2:30; both performances are at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University. I suspect tickets will be easier to come by for the Saturday evening performance, but you can check on either one with the box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, or stop by before the concert. And as mentioned, I will be there in the lobby before, at intermission and after the concert both days with lots of music you'll hopefully take a liking to, so be sure to stop by the table. Of course, you can also check out the latest Mikes Picks on my website,, and email any and all requests you have to

See you at the Symphony this weekend!

October 23rd, 2010.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

James Street Night of Art all set to go Friday!

Every year at this time, the St. Catharines and Area Arts Council teams up with a number of local business partners to present the James Street Night of Art, and this year the event comes up tomorrow night, Friday October 15th from 6 to 9 pm. I look forward to this every year, despite the fact the weatherman (person?) doesn't always appear to be a lover of art.

I can't remember what the weather was like last year, oddly enough, but I do recall the year it poured rain as we all walked from venue to venue downtown with umbrellas, determined souls that we were. This year actually looks promising, with clear skies on the sked making for a lovely sunset to accompany the festivities.

Basically, the entire block of James Street from King to St. Paul is blocked off to vehicular traffic and then taken over by art-loving pedestrians for three full hours. There is music, theatre and visual art in various forms performed both inside and outside all along the street. The idea is, you get a program going in, see what times performances are, and basically just meander from one art station to another, taking in as much or as little as you like. It's sort of like an art buffet, if you will, and it is all absolutely free.

I've caught a recital at The Watering Can, visual art in the window of Sandercott & Evans, and enjoyed a sublime hot chocolate while listening to authentic Indian tabla music at the Fine Grind Cafe. And those are just three of the highlights over the last few years; many more each year happen that I don't even get to see myself, and each and every one of them is well attended.

This year, the actual James Street boundary is stretched to include BBBlooms and Critelli's Fine Furniture on King Street, and Transitions New Lifestyle Furniture and Coffee Culture on St. Paul Street as well. Performances range from barbershop quartet singing to jazz with the Shea D Duo to Earthbeat African drumming and even Deanna Jones channeling Keith Richards in a dark alley. Visual artists include Melani Pyke painting nine canvasses in one evening in the window of the Arts Council offices at 31 James Street, and media art lights up the night at the site of the former Russell Hotel at the corner of James and St. Paul.

In other words, there is literally something for everyone, and it is all absolutely free of charge. Sure, you pay for whatever refreshments you choose to consume, but other than that, you're free to go from one end to the other for three hours. This is a deal you shouldn't refuse if you have even a passing interest in the arts. If nothing else, it will open your eyes - and ears - to the myriad of arts groups and individuals working here in Niagara, and in particular in downtown St. Catharines,

I would suspect once the new Performing Arts Centre becomes a reality in a few years, some of the performances might be transferred to the lobby area there, and probably by then the entire evening could be expanded in scope. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, right? Let's enjoy the intimate, cozy arrangement we have right now while we can.

New this year is an art party scheduled at Rodman's Hall VERVE following the James Street Night of Art events, although you'll have to drive to that one at Rodman Hall. For complete details on the 5th annual James Street Night of Art, to to; you can also join the event page on Facebook as well. Now that's something that wasn't there when it all began five years ago!

If you don't have plans yet for tomorrow night, make plans now to attend the James Street Night of Art from 6 to 9 pm. I can guarantee you the trip will be well worth it!

October 14th, 2010.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Remembering John Lennon and the rest of the Fab Four

Much has been written and spoken in the days leading up to the October 9th birthdate of John Lennon, the late, lamented singer/songwriter and former member of The Beatles until 1970. If he had lived, he would be 70 today, and that is certainly pause for thought for aging baby-boomers everywhere. Who knows what he might have created and/or accomplished in his life had it not been cut short in 1980 by Mark David Chapman, who remains behind bars for his crime.

But rather than write another retrospective on the life and career of John Lennon, I want instead to write about a less-obvious connection between The Beatles, quite possibly the most influential band of the 20th century, and classical music, which underwent significant changes during that same century. Truth be told, they are not strange bedfellows, mutually exclusive of influence on each side.

When The Beatles formed in Liverpool, England, in 1959, they began by covering pop tunes of the day at first, but quickly graduated to performing their own material. Much of that early material came from the songwriting team of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, two of the most gifted young songwriters of their time. Although huge hits such as She Loves You and Hard Day's Night owe little if anything to classical music. some of their other, and later material, did. One has only to listen to one of the most-recorded songs of any era, Yesterday, written by Lennon and McCartney, to notice the use of a string quartet, quite rare for the music of the time. I have no idea whose idea that was, be it from The Beatles themselves or perhaps their producer, George Martin. But the end result is so beguilingly simple as to be too obvious to comprehend. The song, simple in sound, is quite complex in its construction, and that is the genius of The Beatles: they could take a complex idea and boil it down to a level that would be accepted by the mainstream pop audience of the day, yet all the while mainting the music's integrity.

Other songs made effective use of strings: Penny Lane, for example, in the late 60s, which also employed a baroque trumpet to great effect. Eleanor Rigby, with those pulsing strings, is a classic example of pop meeting classical and both sides benefitting from the marriage. The jury is still out on the large orchestral forces employed in The Long And Winding Road, however. While powerful in a way, most today tend to think it was over-produced and over-orchestrated. Be that as it may, even that song showed a strong connection to classical roots.

On the other side of the coin, many classical composers and performers embraced The Beatles' music from early on, employing the tunes into large montages or writing variations on one of those famous themes. Perhaps the grand-daddy of all these adaptations is the Beatlecracker Suite, recorded in the mid-1960s with the Arthur Wilkinson Orchestra on Capitol Records. Although the suite, taking up a whole side of the original LP, is only a smidgen over 10 minutes, It is the sheer brilliance of the arrangements, melding The Beatles' tunes with the Nutcracker Suite by Thaikovsky that make the work still sound fresh and vital today. Unfortunately, that original recording on Capitol remains unreleased, and a newer recording on a collection of familiar classical themes was only discontinued this past year. It was great to hear the recording, though, and I proudly own both versions in my personal collection.

In the late 70s, dual pianists Rostal & Schaeffer joined forces with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra to record The Beatles Concerto, a three-movement work along standard classical lines recorded for Angel Records. It was a tasteful take on the music of The Beatles, but sadly has never made it to CD to the best of my knowlege. But again, I own the original LP in my collection, and might even get around to transferring it to CD in the near future. There have been lots of similar recordings since then, of course, with varying degrees of success, but these I've listed are the classic recordings to have in your collection if you're so inclined.

On my website, which you can find at, I include a long list of 'Mike's Picks', interesting recordings you might want to own. Last year I featured that now-discontinued recording of The Beatlecracker Suite, recording by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Later this month, when I put together my monthly newsletter, the Fine Music Newsletter, I'll include those two iconic two-LP sets of Beatles hits: the two that are now simply known as the Red album and the Blue album. The red album chronicles the early years of The Beatles, while the Blue album does the same with the later years. The two are available again on single discs, and now specially combined into a deluxe CD package for the casual Beatles fan or the die-hard Beatles affionado who for some reason doesn't own the original albums after all these years. There is also a deluxe version combining both sets, which I think would be the way to go if you want a great collection of Beatles classics. Look for those sets on the website later this month.

Of couse, you can always visit my website, at, for a complete list of available recordings as well as a complete arts calendar for the area and beyond. Can't find what you want? No problem; just email me your queries at and I will see what I can do about locating that elusive piece of music you remember hearing years ago.

Beyond their own material, many of the classic Beatles tunes have been done so many ways over the years, including clever classical arrangements such as those heard on Peter Breiner's recording of Beatles Go Baroque, still available at a bargain price on the Naxos label, that I think we'll always be listening to their material for years to come. And why not? Lennon and McCartney, along with George Harrison and Ringo Starr, defined an age and changed how we look at popular music. That's a pretty good legacy to keep with you, wouldn't you think?

October 9th, 2010.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Niagara Symphony kicks off their 63rd season this weekend

The anticipation has been building, and finally the opening weekend of the Niagara Symphony's 63rd season is here. On Sunday, the Symphony will welcome Music Director Designate Bradley Thachuk to the fold, as he begins his musical journey of discovery with the orchestra. It should be an interesting odyssey.

I've written in this space much over the past year or so about the search for a musical director last season, and the fact all four candidates for the position appeared to be eminently qualified for the position. Bradley won the day following the May Pops! concerts last season, and shortly afterwards he was presented to the media at the Centre for the Arts at Brock University. Now, all that excitement generated during the search process will now have to be channelled into the new season with rising expectations for the new, young conductor.

Bradley brings a number of qualities to the table, not the least of which is youth; something the Niagara Symphony is banking on to help broaden the appeal of the orchestra and lower the age demographic somewhat. I know the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter will now be part of the Niagara Symphony's marketing strategy, and that is probably a good thing, even though I loathe both forms of social media myself. The fact remains, of course, the younger audience the Symphony hopes to attract will likely be well-versed in both forms of social media, so it makes good marketing sense to try to reach them through those channels. Whether they respond favourable and show up for some of this seasons' concerts remains to be seen.

The opening concert, at 2:30 Sunday afternoon, includes an appropriate opener: An Opening Celebration. Nothing like setting the tone off the top! Also on the programme is the lovely Symphony No. 2 by Johannes Brahms, filling up the entire second half of the concert. The featured soloist for the afternoon is Canadian cello soloist Shauna Rolston, who has been a fixture on Canadian classical music stages for almost 25 years now. She has several recordings to her credit, and should bring some interesting insights to the major work in the first half of the programme, the Variations on a Rococo Theme by Tchaikovsky. She'll also perform the lovely Elegy by Gabriel Faure.

Once again this season, A Web of Fine Music is a proud sponser of the Niagara Symphony, and as usual, I will be set up in the lobby before, after, and during intermission, with my table laden with musical treasures I'm hopeful many people will take home with them after the concert. I'll have recordings of both works Shauna will be performing at the concert, as well as the Brahms Second Symphony, plus a number of other interesting titles, so be sure to stop by my table for a good peruse. Of course, if you don't find what you're looking for, let me know either at the concert or via email anytime at, and I will do my very best to locate that elusive piece of music for you. And don't forget, you can check out the complete calendar listings on my website, as well as a large selection of Mike's Picks, by going to

Tickets should still be available for the concert on Sunday, but I would not recommend waiting until the day of the concert if you can help it. Call the Centre for the Arts box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, and reserve your tickets sooner rather than later. It promises to be a real musical party on Sunday, and I know the Symphony would love to see you there. In fact, so would I.

Happy 63rd Anniversary season, Niagara Symphony!

October 1st, 2010.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ten Niagara Arts Companies want to see YOU this season!

My apologies for not writing my usual Saturday diatribe, but a combination of the Grape & Wine Grande Parade and the fact I was finishing work on the front porch this past weekend (yes, it is finally done...for now!), plus the fact I was setting up a wireless connection at home, all conspired against my creative energies...until now.

I wanted to write about an event I attended earlier this month at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines, now home to ten, count 'em, ten arts companies over the course of the year. On September 9th, all ten companies showcased highlights of their respective seasons, all of which take place at this intimate, almost quaint theatre space in downtown St. Catharines. If that evening is anything to go by, and I am sure it is, we're in for some thought-provoking and creative theatre this fall/winter/spring at the venerable Courthouse Theatre.

The ten companies are as follows: Brock Centre for the Arts, Carousel Players, Essential Collective Theatre, Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects, NeXt Company Theatre, Niagara Dance Company, Stray Theatre, Suitcase in Point, Theatre A&A and Theatre Beyond Words. Now, I know what you're thinking: "What's Brock Centre for the Arts doing in that list? They have their own theatre space at Brock University." Well, yes, they do. But this will be the first time the Centre for the Arts will be testing the waters downtown, no doubt in anticipation of moving downtown once the performing arts centre is built, with a performance April 1st of next year by Debashish Bhattacharya, the Indian guitar maestro, who will perform with his brother Subhasis on tablas. That should be the ideal show to bring downtown, and I hope all the seats are filled for the performance.

Speaking of seats filled during the performance, I think it is important to note that once you get past the opening night with most of these companies, which are usually full, the remainder of the performances are not always sold out, and that is a shame, really. Sure, some shows will do better than others and even some days will be better theatre days than others, but when you come right down to it, more people should be venturing downtown to discover a wealth of live theatre experiences throughout the fall/winter/spring. We know we can travel to Centre for the Arts at Brock University for a myriad of live performances from October to April each year, and from April to November each year we can travel the short distance to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

But what about downtown? You'd be surprised by what you find! Last season, I attended most of the Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects shows, for example, and they rivalled just about anything you'll see in the more familiar summer theatre venues, at very affordable prices. And don't forget, Ric Reid, one half of the Lyndesfarne team with wife Kelly Daniels, is a well-respected actor at the Shaw Festival during the summer months. In fact, you can still catch him in Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma at the Festival Theatre until the end of the present season. In other words, with all of the companies I have seen at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre, the quality is great, the prices reasonable, and the variety is simply astounding. You couldn't want for more variety in a downtown venue or anywhere else for that matter, so what's stopping you?

Parking shouldn't be a problem, as Market Square is right next door. Don't know what peformances are coming up? Most companies have their own websites now and they should be easy enough to find; heck, I just finished putting all the companies' full seasons up on the calendar page of my website,, and if that doesn't make it any easier for you, I don't know what will.

DAPA, or the Downtown Alliance for the Performing Arts, what you to experience what they have to offer. So this season, why not take a night or afternoon and simply head downtown for one of the performances at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre? You'll be impressed by what you see!

September 28th, 2010.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Highs and Lows in the past week for Chorus Niagara

With the start of autumn later on tonight, we are gradually turning our attentions to other activities that involve spending time indoors more than out, especially where the arts are concerned. The Niagara Symphony is less than a couple of weeks away from starting their much-anticipated new season, for example. So, too, will Chorus Niagara in early November.

Chorus Niagara, it is well known, is Niagara's premiere 100-voice strong choir directed by Robert Cooper, and they perform a program of four concerts each season at various locales in and around the Region. In the case of a couple of their performances this coming season, they double the number of performances, due to their popularity in the area, especially at Christmastime with their performances of Handel's oratorio Messiah, for example.

Chorus Niagara made news a couple of times this past week, and it is with mixed feelings I share those with you now. First, the good news: Artistic Director Robert Cooper will receive a prestigious Trillium Award - Established Artist, later this month. Cooper, who has been at the helm of Chorus Niagara since 1989, has seen the performance level of the Chorus rise considerably under his direction, and the choir has doubled in size since he took over. This is a 100-strong voice choir from all walks of life, each devoted to presenting the finest choral music in the Region, and more often than not, they do that year in and year out.

In addition to his duties down here with Chorus Niagara, Dr. Cooper also directs the Orpheus Choir in Toronto and the Opera in Concert Chorus. He has taught in the Choral Department of the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, and among his most recent projects, he was an adjudicator this past summer at the World Choral Games in Shaozing, China. Who knew?

I have had the pleasure of knowing Bob for many years during my association as a sponsor and fan of Chorus Niagara, and have always found him to be an honest, genuine soul who simply loves to share his passion for great choral music. Almost without exception, his appearances with Chorus Niagara are educational, entertaining and very creative. This is a richly-deserved award, and I know Bob shares the honour with his colleagues within the ranks of Chorus Niagara. In the press release issued to announce the award, Mr. Cooper states: "It really is an acknowledgement of Chorus Niagara's growing stature and presence in the community, for which I must thank the many, many singers who have devoted so much time to our organization's success...we are collective recipients." Thank you, Bob, for all your music making with Chorus Niagara!

The sad news that came out on the heals of that announcement was the fact a long-standing member of the Chorus, Rowland Lampard, known to everyone simply as Roy, passed away late last week of a heart attack while out for a morning ride on his bike. Roy, married for many years to Peggy, another member of the Chorus, and father to a son and daughter as well as a loving grandfather to their children had been singing with the Chorus for as long as I can remember.

This was really a shock to everyone who knew him, as he always appeared to be in good health and living his retirement years to the fullest. Being a member of Chorus Niagara meant that after the performances, the men in the Chorus would have to tear down the stage and bleachers and lug them out to the truck. I remember many a time over the years seeing Roy right in the thick of it, sans tuxedo jacket but fully dressed otherwise, lugging the heavy bleachers and things along with everyone else. He seemed the picture of health.

But more than that, his outlook on life and how he interacted with those around him made him a special person to know. I had the pleasure of serving Roy and Peggy as customers of my music business, A Web of Fine Music, a few times over the years, and his enthusiasm and love of music was quite infectious. He was a gentleman, and caring soul, and someone you would consider yourself lucky to be acquainted with.

Roy will certainly be missed, and his passing will certainly hang over the Chorus as they prepare for the coming season. But he would want them to continue on, and that they will come November. For now, though, we'll all gather at his beloved St. Thomas' Anglican Church in downtown St. Catharines at 11 am on Saturday, October 2nd for a memorial service. It will be a musical affair to be sure, but it would be even nicer knowing he were there singing that day, too.

Our condolences go out to Peggy and the rest of the family on the loss of such a gentleman. Roy will be sorely missed.

September 22nd, 2010.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Love, Loss, and What I Wore

Last week I wrapped up my summer theatre reviews for Stratford and Shaw, and the fall season is quickly approaching, with lots of arts entertainment to be had both here in Niagara and beyond. I will be returning to writing more about music-related topics in the coming weeks, but for now, I have a couple of theatre-related topics to cover before the month is out.

Years ago while living in Toronto, I spent many a pleasant evening in many of the prime downtown Toronto theatres, attending openings on a regular basis, from the Royal Alex to the then-named O'Keefe Centre and just about everything else in between. I was a particular fan of the ballet, and for over twenty years attended performances of the National Ballet of Canada on a regular basis, which I always enjoyed. I became a real fan of the ballet, and have missed the ballet performances the last few years. I also, rather slowly, I admit, became an opera fan and attended many Canadian Opera Company performances over the years. Again, I have not the past several years and I have missed them, but both the National Ballet and the COC were always more than generous in accomodating my ticket requests. Maybe I'm getting older after all, but I rarely make the trek to Toronto these days for live theatre; still, I couldn't resist an invitation to attend the opening night performance of Love, Loss and What I Wore at the Panasonic Theatre on Yonge Street.

This will tell you how long I have been out of the loop on Toronto theatre: I didn't even know the Panasonic Theatre even existed until the invitation came in! It is a nicely compact, reasonably modern facility with high ceilings and a good-sized balcony, with a proscenium stage not too large. One thing I immediately noticed upon taking my seat: the ushers are also wait staff, and take drink requests up until showtime! How's that for service?

Michael Rubinoff and Daryl Roth are the presenters of Love, Loss, and What I Wore, which is described as an intimate collection of stories by Nora and Delia Ephron, directed by Karen Carpenter. The stories are based on Ilene Beckerman's best-selling book of the same name. To be honest, I didn't know if I would get much out of the show going in, as it clearly appeared to be geared to women; mind you, I enjoyed (for the most part) The Vagina Monologues down at Brock Cente for the Arts several years ago, so I figured I was prepared for this show.

I was, as it turned out, prepared, and thankfully not the only male amid a sea of females on opening night. That being said, a lot of the stories are geared towards women, and frankly, most men - this reporter included - shake our heads in amazement when women rhapsodize about such things as shoes and handbags, both of which women apparently can never have enough of.

The set is simple, with five chairs lined up across the stage, each with a small podium for notes read by each respective actor. To the left of the stage resides a rack holding large drawings of particular outfits described by Barbara Budd in her segments, with each successive outfit moved to the front of the rack by a stagehand.

The five actors, Barbara Budd, Jeanne Beker, Sheila McCarthy, Luba Goy and Jane McLean, each present stories about love, life and particular clothing memories ranging from hilariously funny to poignant, in a show that runs just over 90 minutes without intermission. All five bring plenty of theatre credentials to the stage, with Jane McLean being the biggest suprise of the evening, as she held her own next to some very well-known Canadian personalities; Jane lives in Los Angeles and only began her acting career in 2001. Of the others, Sheila McCarthy seemed to garner the biggest laughs with a dissertation on handbags and how they become sort of a 'black hole' for everything a woman needs or wants to have with them. But really, there was not a weak performance in the bunch: each made the stories uniquely their own in convincing fashion.

Do you have to be a slave to fashion to enjoy the show? It might help, but frankly, anyone who has lived life to the fullest for some time will get plenty of enjoyment out of the show, and even if you haven't, you'll still be introduced to some interesting material presented by five very talented women.

Love, Loss and What I Wore rates a strong three out of four stars, and continues at the Panasonic Theatre until October 2nd.

September 18th, 2010.