Friday, February 22, 2013

Lots happening in the Arts this weekend in Niagara and beyond

Even though we are deep into the dead of winter, there is no excuse for cabin fever this weekend and next, as we have a wealth of arts-related events going on in Niagara or just a short drive away.  So this week and next in this space I will present some of the notable performances worth catching so you can get out of the house or apartment and get some real, live entertainment.

The final film in the Shaw Festival film series happens Saturday afternoon at 3 with the Dustin Hoffman directed comedy Quartet, a movie about retired opera singers and their new lives in a retirement home, thrown upside down by a new addition to the mix.  It looks to be a fun afternoon to wrap up the always-successful film series at Shaw, and tickets should still be available at the door.  It is general admission seating at the Festival Theatre, so I suggest you get there early to claim a good spot.  For more information, go to

Just down the QEW in Burlington, The Players' Guild of Hamilton presents Eric Bogosian's Talk Radio, a play about a controversial radio host in Cleveland, Ohio by the name of Barry Champlain.  He does what he does best, insulting the pathetic souls who call in the middle of the night to sound off about whatever is bugging them.  The play, directed by and starring my esteemed colleague on the CKTB Morning Show, Tim Denis, is getting great reviews and wraps up a three-week run Saturday of this weekend.  There's a matinee performance and evening performance tomorrow, and more information can be had by calling 905-529-0284 or going to

More theatre is available in Niagara Falls this weekend and through to March 10th when Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects presents Canadian playwright George F. Walker's Criminal Genius at the Seneca Queen Theatre in downtown Niagara Falls.  This is the new home for Lyndesfarne, having moved after last season from the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines.

Criminal Genius is the second in Walker's 6-play cycle, Suburban Motel, consisting of Problem Child, Criminal Genius, Adult Entertainment, Featuring Loretta, End of Civilization, and Risk Everything.  This instalment follows the antics of small time crooks, Rolly and Steve, a dysfunctional father and son tag team hired to torch a restaurant.  After botching the job they end up in a seedy Niagara motel where they meet up with a drunken motel manager named Phillie and criminal accomplice "Shirl the Pearl".

Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects has been employed a number of Shaw ensemble actors during their inaugural season in Niagara Falls, and Criminal Genius stars Ric Reid and William Vickers from Shaw, along with Lyndesfarne Artistic Director Kelly Daniels and Gemini Award-winning actress Sarah Murphy-Dyson.  The play is directed by Wes Berger and in fact opened this evening after a couple of preview performances.  Criminal Genius continues until March 10th with performances Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30 pm and matinees on Friday at 11:30 and Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets and more information, go to or call the box office at 905-374-7469.

The Niagara Symphony presents their Pops! 3 concert this weekend at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre, Centre for the Arts at Brock University for two afternoon performances, in two different formats.  A new feature this year rather than a regular Pops! concert on Saturday evening, they are experimenting with a shorter, 75-minute family-friendly concert Saturday afternoon, followed by the full Pops! programme on Sunday afternoon.  Both performances begin at 2:30 pm, by the way.

Associate Conductor Laura Thomas will be on the podium for these performances, titled Heroes and Villains, with guest artist Niagara tenor Matthew Cairns, who makes his professional debut with the NSO this weekend.  Cairns is currently in the final year of studies at Ridley College and has already garnered extensive stage experience, having appeared in Ridley productions of Little Shop of Horrors and Hairspray, as well as Blood Brothers which just recently played at Ridley.

The concert will be fairly light in nature, with music from such familiar film franchises as Star Wars, Superman, Batman and some of the popular Disney movies.  Both afternoons, I will be in the lobby before and after the concert and at intermission as well on Sunday afternoon with a wealth of great music available for purchase, so be sure to stop by if you are going to the concert.

For tickets call the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or pick them up at the door.  See you at the symphony this weekend!

Finally, early next week, neXt Company Theatre presents Khalida:  A Play for the Arab Spring at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines.  The one-act, 90-minute play opens Tuesday night, February 26th at 8 pm with performances continuing until Saturday, March 2nd.  There will also be a matinee on Saturday, March 2nd at 2 pm, and a special, community engaged performance project entitled The Arab Spring Monologues at Robertson Hall on March 2nd at 5 pm.

The play is written and directed by neXt Theatre Company Co-Artistic Director David Fancy for a friend of Fancy's who was once Saddam Hussein's favourite actor.  I don't know if you would want that on your resume these days but there it is.  Khalida is an international story and as timely as the nightly news on television and features Toronto's Jason Jazrawy onstage, with a stunning design by Serbian-Canadian director and designer Vojin Vasovic.  Should be a great evening of theatre, which I am looking forward to catching myself at the opening Tuesday evening.

For tickets, call the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or pick them up at the door.

So that should keep you going until next weekend when we look at Chorus Niagara's big weekend and other arts events in and around the Region.

Enjoy the weekend!

February 22nd, 2013.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Rediscovering the rich history of 610/CKTB

As many of you know, my arts writing and reporting duties are a sideline to my full-time job as producer for the morning show on Newstalk 610/CKTB here in St. Catharines, where I have been gainfully employed for over 31 years now.   As such, I write about radio in general and CKTB in particular whenever the mood strikes me, as is the case this week.

Since I have been at the station for so long now, many colleagues come to me with questions about the so-called "early days" at the station, even though I only arrived there in 1981 as a new chapter was beginning at the station.  Still, I have always had a keen interest in the rich history of the station that now extends to 80 years - quite a milestone I am sure you'll agree.  When we celebrated the 60th and 75th anniversaries of CKTB I did extensive research on the past and at one point even considered writing a book about the storied history of CKTB.  Alas, making radio history every day now at the station takes up such a lot of my time I think it will likely be relegated to a self-published retirement project once I myself fade to black as a daily employee at the station.

Of course, the rich history includes something I personally am particularly proud of:  the annual Midnight Mass broadcast at the Cathedral of St. Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in downtown St. Catharines, which itself is now 80 years old.  I am only the third host of these annual broadcasts, taking over from the late Johnny Morrison in 1989, so 2013 will be my 24th year handling the broadcast.  I figure I will need another 7 or 8 years in order to claim the crown of longest-serving host for the broadcast, currently held by the founding host of the broadcast, Mr. Boyne at about 31 years.  Will I be around long enough to host the 100th broadcast in 20 years?  I certainly hope so, but we'll have to see.

At any rate, I thought this year on an occasional basis I would explore that rich history of the station and share it with you in this space throughout the year beginning this week.  This idea was precipitated by an email I received a couple of weeks ago from a good friend of mine, chef extraordinaire Greg Willis, who used to run The Cellar Bench in the basement of the old Court House at King and James Streets downtown.  He now does a lot of cooking to order for clients in their homes, it seems, and he told me of one couple he cooks for in St. Catharines who actually own a good-sized piece of CKTB history.  He suggested I contact them to arrange a meeting which I did, and what awaited me was astounding!

If you are of a certain age, you remember tuning in to CKTB Radio mid-mornings to hear Clarence Colton tinkling the ivories of a concert grand piano in the studio and chatting up the housewives of the day on the air with friendly banter.  The piano Clarence played, apparently, was a Heintzman piano  and it was in fact one of two concert grands in the CKTB studios for many years.  The other was an even larger Steinway, so you can imagine how large this one studio was at the station at 12 Yates Street back in the day.

When it came time to retire the pianos from active duty, about the time when radio stations started to shift from live in-studio performances to personalities hosting music shows and playing records, this couple I met in St. Catharines were connected to the late manager of CKTB Radio at the time, Mary Burgoyne by a third party, and a deal was struck to acquire the Heintzman piano.  They told me this past week the piano was in pretty rough shape when they first saw it, as apparently work had started on renovating the studios before the pianos were even removed!  But they got it out of the studio and into their north St. Catharines home where a loving restoration was undertaken.  It was then moved twice more as the family moved, including a memorable move up an elevator at a south St. Catharines condo development.

The couple, whom I won't identify at their request, originally purchased the piano to fill their home with music as they grieved the loss of a young daughter in the 60s, and they still have the piano in their home.  It is now painted off-white and needs a good tuning, but still looks absolutely spectacular.  It was a great pleasure for me to not only see but actually touch a piece of CKTB history from so many years ago.

I so far have not seen any pictures of the studio nor the pianos during that time that ended with extensive studio renovations in the mid-60s, but I would certainly love to.  I will be checking the St. Catharines Historical Museum to scour the archives sometime soon where a wealth of CKTB articles and pictures reside.  If you have any old pictures of the station from many years ago or even some memorabilia, I would love to hear from you.  It would be a great way to celebrate our storied past and share it with a wider audience.

If you have anything at all, by all means get in touch with me either through the comments section of my blog or email me directly at  Any information that comes my way will perhaps even make it into a future blog posting as we celebrate a rich broadcast heritage in St. Catharines-Niagara with 610/CKTB.

By the way, a good book I am working on ordering for myself that documents a lot of Canadian radio's early years including some parts on CKTB and the Clarence Colton era is "Nothing on But the Radio:  A Look Back at Radio in Canada and How it Changed the World" by Gil Murray, published by Dundurn Press.   It is certainly worth checking out yourself if you get a chance sometime.

Happy Listening!

February 18th, 2013.

Friday, February 8, 2013

February events in Niagara

With the weather being very winter-like at the moment, I thought this week I would give you some excuses to get out and enjoy some entertainment in Niagara over the coming couple of weeks as we wait for spring to arrive.

The Shaw Festival film series will continue this weekend with Saturday afternoon's screening of the lavish Anna Karenina in the Festival Theatre at 3 pm.  Next weekend is Silver Linings Playbook and the final Saturday screening on the 23rd is Quartet.  The Friday documentary film series wraps up next Friday at 5:30 with Under African Skies.  For more information and tickets, call 905-468-2172 or log on to

Chorus Niagara has their annual fundraising Singathon this Saturday from 10 am to 3 pm at "The Most Famous Food Court in the World" at the Seaway Mall in Welland.  That was the scene, of course, of their record-breaking flash mob performance of the Hallalujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah a couple of years ago, which is now up to about 41 million views on YouTube.  The Singathon presents the Chorus in a casual, fun setting as they basically sing for their supper, along with The Chorus Niagara Side By Side High School Chorale and a special appearance by The Chorus Niagara Children's Choir at 11:30.  If you are down that way, be sure to stop by and take in some entertainment with several guest celebrity conductors taking to the podium.

Saturday evening this weekend, the Avanti Chamber Singers will perform at St. Barnabas Anglican Church on Queenston Street, directed by Harris Loewen.  The concert features works by Bach, Mendelssohn, Mozart and Schubert and the choir will be accompanied by the St. Catharines Chamber Music Society Strings.  Tickets are available in advance at Ryson's Music Studios downtown or Niko Music Gallery, or at the door tomorrow evening.

At that same venue Sunday afternoon at 3 pm, Primavera Concerts presents Stratford Festival bass-baritone Marcus Nance and Stratford's Interim Director of Music, Franklin Brasz on piano, in a concert of opera and Broadway musical favourites, along with a number of other popular songs.  Nance was part of the tour on Broadway with the Stratford production of Jesus Christ Superstar, by the way.  Tickets are available in advance by calling 905-736-2150, or logging on to

The St. Catharines Chamber Music Society presents Voice of the Whale, an evening of 20th and 21st-century music including a world premiere by local composer Tyler Versluis on February 15th at 7:30 pm at Covenant Christian Reformed Church in St. Catharines.  Tickets should be available at the door.

The Gallery Players of Niagara presents their Movie Night, an annual event at the Niagara Artists Centre on February 16th at 7:30 pm, with performers Eric Mahar, guitar; Douglas Miller, flute; and Penner MacKay, percussion.  They will improvise music to silent films being screened at NAC, with the feature film being 1927's Sunrise by F.W. Murnau, which was awarded three Oscars, by the way.
Tickets are available in advance by calling 905-468-1525 or going to; they should also be available at the door.

Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects will present their winter show, Criminal Genius by Canadian playwright George F. Walker, starting February 20th and running until March 10th at the Seneca Queen Theatre in downtown Niagara Falls.  The show opens on the 22nd, and should be a good one.  The cast draws upon veteran Shaw Festival actors Ric Reid and William Vickers, as well as Artistic Director for Lyndesfarne, Kelly Daniels, directed by Wes Berger.  For tickets call the box office at 905-374-7469 or log on to

Finally, the Niagara Symphony (nso) presents their Family series/Pops 3 concert the weekend of February 23rd and 24th at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University.  This is a new idea this year, doing without the Saturday evening Pops concert in favour of a Saturday afternoon performance geared towards family members, and that probably will prove to be a wise move.  The concert, conducted by Associate Conductor Laura Thomas, features music from Disney films as well as Star Wars, Superman, James Bond and Batman, and the concert is titled, not surprisingly, Heroes and Villains.  The concert is performed without intermission, by the way, so I will be in the lobby before and after the performances that weekend with music available for purchase.  For tickets, call the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.  Both concerts are at 2:30 in the afternoon.

So there you go - lots of entertainment this month to get you out and banish the winter blahs - get out and enjoy!

February 8th, 2013.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Coughing up an opinion at classical music concerts

Last week, in the midst of my preview of the Niagara Symphony Masterworks # 3 concert, I touched briefly on the touchy subject of inappropriate applause, simply because too many times I have found the  action to detract from the music being played.

Imagine my surprise when I spied a small entry in The Globe and Mail this week, referencing an article from The Telegraph Online in Britain.  The article quotes a German economist, Professor Andreas Wagner, who says although there is little statistical evidence on the subject, existing research points to a strange increase in coughing at classical music concerts.  The professor says the finding holds true even when the demographic makeup of the average classical concert audience is taken into account.  Basically, findings indicate certain types of music appear to attract more coughs, he says.

Imagine that!  According to Wagner, "It is the more modern pieces of 20th-century classical music; it is the more quiet and slow movements that are interrupted by coughs."  He goes on to say, according to the article, "It is also non-random, in that coughing sometimes appears to occur in sort of avalanches or cascades through the audience."  Exactly.  One starts and others all around follow, perhaps even unawares of it.  They just start coughing when they hear others do it around them.

These findings do not come at a surprise to me at all.  In fact, when I paused and thought about the findings for awhile, I realized I don't often recall hearing a lot of coughing at a popular or jazz music concert.  Are these people simply more engaged with the music, perhaps?  What the findings suggest to me is people start coughing as a result of boredom; lack of interest in the music being played could indeed be a factor.

If modern 20th-century music is the culprit much of the time, well, more traditional audience members not enamoured with the music might find themselves coughing involuntarily even if they don't need to. Who would have guessed?!  But what about the quieter passages and slow movements?  Is it simply a faster-paced work or movement holds our interest that much more, thus making us 'forget' to cough?  Perhaps.  But if so I find that very disheartening.  Can we never listen to a lovely slow movement of any symphony, or example, without also putting up with a cacophony of coughs?  Apparently not.

Orchestras and theatre companies the world over have had to deal with this dilemma for years.  Most live theatre nowadays is prefaced with a friendly reminder to do two things:  turn off your cell-phone and please unwrap any hard candies or cough-drops BEFORE the performance starts.  It rarely works.  I can't count the number of times I have been in an audience where someone, barely thirty seconds in from the start and after just hearing that friendly reminder, finally decides that might be the best time to unwrap that cough drop!

That brings us to the next dilemma:  do you unwrap it fast or slow?  Logic would dictate that anyone finding themselves in need of a candy or cough-drop during the performance should try to choose a noisy passage in the music and quickly unwrap the thing.  But more often than not, they choose the latter option and drag it out, slowly turning the cellophane so as to make it feel the knife in your back is being slowly turned...okay, maybe a bit melodramatic but you get my point.

I remember reading about an orchestra somewhere that decided to have ushers at the doors to the auditorium man big bowls of cough-drops already unwrapped, and you could just take what you needed on your way into the theatre.  Not a bad idea initially, but then the concerns of other people pawing over the candies before you get them, and what do you do with the thing if you don't need it yet  seem to have kept that idea from catching on.

I really don't know what the solution is here.  If indeed the coughing is an involuntary reaction to the music being played, you can't change human nature.  We just do it without even thinking.  So concert-goers the world over will just have to grit their collective teeth and accept it as a fact of life.  Unless, of course, we stop programming quiet movements and 20th-century music entirely...Hmmm, wait a minute, we might be on to something here!

How did baroque-era composers deal with this, do you think?  Or were audiences just more attentive back then?  Mind you, if the patron of the music being played, often of royal stature is nearby, you might have been far too self-conscious to risk his ire by coughing...unless he did too, of course!

Happy listening!

February 3rd, 2013.