Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What are you doing New Year's Eve?

It is the end of 2013, and if you are like me looking forward to the end of it, let's say in unison "Bring on 2014!"  It has been quite a year, really.

Now, I don't want to dwell on the past year, which for me personally has not been a good year.  But I will say I am looking forward to some better luck in 2014, as are a lot of people, I suspect.  I saw a Facebook posting from a former colleague of mine in the radio business, lamenting the number of people who are complaining about such a lousy year; she would rather people look more optimistically towards the New Year rather than dwell on the past.

I tend to agree with that assessment.  We can all do with a little more looking forward and a little less looking back, so from this humble scribe, we say "Here's to a better 2014!"

So, what are you planning to do this evening anyway?  Time was, everyone seemed to go out on New Year's Eve and celebrate, but that seems almost out of fashion these days, doesn't it?  I mean, the last thing I would want to do tonight, for example, is bundle up and freeze in the New Year with Demi Lovato and friends down in Niagara Falls.  I know lots will, and more power to them.  But I have never gotten into that big celebration event thing on this night, partly because for about 20 years or so, I worked New Year's Eve until well past midnight, so I almost don't know how to go out and celebrate on this night.

I recall one year about 15 years ago I spent New Year's Eve at a National Ballet of Canada Gala in Toronto and yes, it was fun.  But as Peggy Lee once sang in that classic hit from 1969, afterwards I thought to myself, "Is That All There Is?"

So, I suspect I am not the only one planning a quiet night in tonight, especially with a cold wind howling outside as I write this.  There is something to be said for curling up on the couch in your PJs with someone near and dear to you, and simply ignoring the world.  Heck, I often go to bed by 11 as I do most nights anyway, figuring, quite correctly I feel, 2014 will still be here when I wake up in the morning.

As I was thinking about this night earlier today, I started to think of the utter lack of music written specifically for this evening.  Oh, there has been music written for this night to be sure, but compared to a week ago, not that much really.

I have three New Year's Eve-specific songs in my personal collection I usually pull out this evening if nothing special is planned, and you'll laugh when you hear the archaic pieces I am referring to.  First up, a classic song recorded by several singers over the years, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?".  The version I have is by Johnny Mathis of all people and is a romantic ditty about a guy hoping to get the girl on this so-called night of nights.

Second up is a Nat King Cole song from an old Capitol album titled "The Great Songs!" from the early 60s, featuring the orchestra and chorus arranged and conducted by Gordon Jenkins.  It is only one song on the album that has to do with this night, and it is a Jenkins original, in fact, titled "Happy New Year".  It is about the saddest song for this night you can imagine, about a guy who doesn't even have a girl he wishes to get on this night.  The Great Songs, eh?  Maybe not this one.

Finally, Abba recorded a song called "Happy New Year" on the album "Super Trooper" years ago, and yes, I have a soft spot for this recording to this day.  Maybe it is the two females in Abba looking so good on the album jacket, but hey, a guy can dream, can't he?

See what I mean?  Not much has been written over the years for this night, and yet music is always a part of the celebrations.  Oh sure, if you go really old school you listen to Guy Lombardo's Auld Lang Syne (come to think of it, I do have a recording of that somewhere) but that might be going too far back.

So maybe a movie instead to flesh out the evening.  It had better be good, though, as I don't plan to stay up late...

Happy New Year, and here's to a great 2014!

December 31st, 2013.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A tail (not tale) of three cats

I promised on Facebook yesterday I would relate the bittersweet story of our cat situation this weekend, so we'll dispense with my usual coverage of the local arts scene for this weekend and return to that subject again in the new year.

First, let me say my wife and I are pet people; we love pets, especially cats, although we have had a dog we lost to cancer several years ago.  Pets may come and pets may go, but they leave an indelible mark on your heart you can never forget.  So it is - and has been - with the myriad of pets we have allowed to own us over the past dozen years or so.

Since we don't have children, the cats are essentially our kids, and we do what proud parents do:  celebrate the good times with them; deal with the bad times, and through it all, love them unconditionally as they do us.  What more symbiotic relationship can there be than a man or woman and their beloved pet?

Let me introduce you to the current brood we share our home with in St. Catharines.  First we have Pia, short for Olympia (my wife is Greek, need you ask), although I often referred to her as Princess since she ruled over her kingdom when she first arrived on the scene in 2006.  She was the runt of a litter abandoned in a field in Niagara, and suffered a torn lower lip before she arrived with us, sewn up and ready for a new life.  Tiny, she was only about 5 pounds even fully grown, all white with a dark spot on the top of her head, and two different coloured eyes.  She had what some would call a "delicious temper", but others might call it attitude.  Upon arriving on the scene, she promptly whipped the two elder statesmen of cats we had at the time, Pushkin and Tom Kitten, into line.

Next on the scene in 2008 was Sweet Pea, a female tabby who came to us via a friend who found her abandoned in Short Hills Provincial Park, and couldn't keep her due to the fact she had dogs of her own.  We took Sweet Pea in and she proceeded to dominate the other cats in short order, although oddly, she had a soft spot for old Tom Kitten and they often played together in the sunroom.  Sweet Pea, sort of the "Grand Dame" of the cat world, was sort of a den-mother to the others, cleaning up the litter box mess after the others used it, among other things.

The third addition to the brood came via our neighbours who adopted him from the Niagara Falls Humane Society a couple of years ago, and he was not comfortable with their older tabby, Hobbs, nor with being outside in the neighbourhood.  Shalom, a small black male cat with rather a rather dainty character, would routinely visit many of the houses on the street, crashing on their couch and mooching food, all the while ingratiating himself to one and all.  He did the same in our house, often spending more time inside than outside, playing with our other two cats, Pia and Sweet Pea.  Sweet Pea was particularly fond of Shalom, so after much discussion with our understanding neighbour, it was decided Shalom would stay with us permanently.

In August of this year, not long after I lost my full-time position with my previous employer in fact, Pia took a turn for the worse that resulted in a visit to the local emergency clinic on Labour Day weekend.  There she stayed for a few days, and we discovered this tiny, young little cat had diabetes.  How could it be?  There was no logical explanation for it:  clearly she was not overweight and she was only about seven years old.  But diabetes was the diagnosis, so we were faced with insulin injections twice a day and a special diet, along with regular checkups to check blood glucose levels and such.

This we managed rather well until late November when Pia, after going off insulin for a few days to see if she was in fact in remission, went into a tailspin with her blood glucose levels shooting up in short order.  Getting the diabetes back under control proved problematic and very tricky.  Pia being so small, the dosage had to be minuscule.  Things improved somewhat until late November when Pia's condition worsened considerably.  We were faced with the eternal dilemma:  pull the plug or work on finding another treatment that might stabilize her condition.

After much soul searching and observing she still had quite a bit of fight left in her even in her weakened state, we decided she wasn't yet ready to go.  We were referred to the emergency pet hospital in Oakville where a planned ultrasound was delayed until they could stabilize her condition.  When done we discovered the diabetes was likely hereditary, and the prolonged high blood glucose levels had likely resulted in kidney damage.  It was not going to be an easy fix, but we faced the situation and decided to go ahead and try to correct things if at all possible.  Five days later, she was released and we took Pia home.

The recovery was slow but sure, with a different type of insulin helping to stabilize the situation for about a month.  Now, while all this was going on, a week after Pia came home I did the unthinkable:  while putting the garbage out one afternoon, Shalom managed to slip out the door behind me and escape my grasp, thanks to being chased by another cat over our fence.

The evening of December 10th was spent scouring the neighbourhood looking for Shalom and actually coming close to catching him one street over, but he was clearly ill at ease with the situation and bolted over the neighbour's fence, and in the dark of night, a black cat was not to be found anywhere.

Immediately posters were put up around the neighbourhood, 70 flyers were distributed to homes and businesses in the area, the Lincoln County Humane Society and St. Catharines Pets Alive, among other organizations, were notified of Shalom's disappearance.  I was regularly walking the neighbourhood, treat bag in hand, trying to find him, and calls from observant residents and business owners came in on a regular basis, all to no avail.

The stress level for both Sophie and I was considerable, as we had just brought Pia back home after almost losing her and then this happened.  The Christmas season was not shaping up as a good one any way you look at it.  And for good measure, Sophie had to be rushed to St. Joseph's Health Centre in Stoney Creek for emergency laser eye surgery to correct a torn retina the week before Christmas!  That went well, thankfully, but certainly not what we were expecting - or needed - at that point.

While the search for Shalom continued, Pia took another downward turn on Christmas Eve, resulting in a very sad Christmas Day when we felt we had no choice than to let her go that night.  She held on until Boxing Day, once again rallying briefly and starting to eat again for awhile, but clearly, she was out of fight this time.  For a little while in the late afternoon on Boxing Day, we took a drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake to look at the lights, with Pia bundled up in a towel seated in Sophie's lap.  She was watching everything as we drove along, becoming animated at the sight of all the colourful displays.  It will always remain one of the magical, treasured moments of our time with Pia.

We waited until her scheduled visit to the vet on Friday morning in order to properly assess the situation, and it was not a good report.

Pia's blood glucose levels were at their highest point ever, and she had advanced kidney disease.  We could go back for another ultrasound and try more treatments, but at that point we knew the best thing for our little girl was to say goodbye to her, which we very reluctantly did Friday afternoon.  It was one of the toughest things we have had to do as Pia was always a very special cat in so many ways, having survived so many hardships in her young life up to that point.  She is now gone, but will never, ever be forgotten.

When we arrived home about 5 pm, teary-eyed and emotionally wrung out, I decided what I needed most at that moment was a walk to clear my head.  So out the front door I went, and was greeted with the plaintive cry of a cat somewhere nearby clearly in distress.  The noise came from my neighbour's house, where Shalom had begun his tenure in our neighbourhood, and there, behind the wooden lattice work of their front porch was a cat looking back at me.  I coaxed him out and upon doing so, I realized this could only be Shalom; but I had to be sure, so hurriedly I went back to our house and with a struggling, scared cat in my arms, managed to unlock the door and present the evidence to Sophie in the kitchen.

It was Shalom, 17 days missing, and also missing a small chunk of his tail.  Obviously another cat had put the bite on him while he was on the lam, so a quick call to the vet and ten minutes later he was on the examination table there.  He checked out fine, although he had lost a little weight, and his tail, following treatment, really looks awful at the moment.  We are hopeful he will heal, but have to give it some time.

So, from saying goodbye to Pia to one hour later returning with our prodigal cat for an examination?  As a noted author once penned, "It was the best of times and it was the worst of times."  The evening was spent quietly with Shalom and Sweet Pea getting back together again, and Sophie and I both numb from exhaustion after a bittersweet Christmas miracle on December 27th.

I can't say thanks enough to all the people who cared enough to help look for Shalom, with tips, ideas and looking themselves for our missing cat.  What a tremendous team effort in a neighbourhood that knows the value of a pet in your life.  To all of you, Sophie and I are forever grateful.

We are also eternally grateful to Dr. Locking, Dr. Wagar and the rest of the caring staff at Fairview Animal Clinic, as well as all the staff we met at the Niagara Emergency Pet Hospital and the Oakville/Mississauga Pet Hospital for all their efforts caring for Pia over the last several months.

Yes, it has been a tough week and we lost Pia.  But we are at peace with the decision now, knowing we did the right thing at precisely the right time.  You have to accept that and move on, and Shalom returning at that exact time was, if not providence, certainly a turn of good luck much needed right now.

You can't put a value on what a pet brings into your life; nor can you quantify the return on the investment you make in them over time.  But you can be thankful for the time you have with them and be thankful for how much they enrich your lives.  We do that each and every day, and that makes every day very special in this household.  I hope the same holds true for you and your household.

So, with all these vet bills we have to deal with, Daddy needs to find a full time job more than ever now, so after New Year's the search will continue at an even more accelerated pace.

Speaking of which, about that walk I was planning for myself last evening...

Happy New Year, from Mike, Sophie, Shalom, Sweet-Pea, and yes, Pia too.

December 28th, 2013.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Some thoughts on this Christmas Eve

Here we are, on a cold and snowy Christmas Eve in Niagara.  Last year if I recall correctly, it was more green than white out there, at least in the early evening.  But this year, we do have that much-coveted "White Christmas".  Let's enjoy it and all this time of year brings with it.  But also, a few other things we should keep in mind, too.

This year, I find a lot of friends and acquaintances have been dealing with loss of some kind.  At least three in recent weeks I know personally have suffered the loss of a family member; several more have lost a beloved pet, which for most of us is every bit as difficult to deal with, especially over the holidays.

Some may say they are just pets, but to pet owners, they are part of the family, and we should never forget that when someone you know loses a pet for whatever reason, especially at this time of year.  Certainly we all grieve in different ways, but we grieve nevertheless.

In spite of the economic improvement we are reminded about by our elected officials at this time of year, the fact remains many people are in a very bad financial situation, often through no fault of their own.  Job loss at any time is a terrible blow to deal with, but at this time of year it can be especially difficult.  Not everyone is gainfully employed and as such, have limited resources at their disposal to celebrate the holidays.

The mounting client list at such agencies such as The Salvation Army or Community Care of St. Catharines & Thorold tell the tale:  more and more people find it difficult to make ends meet on their own, and they reach out in desperation for a helping hand from the community at large.  It is not only our preference to help out; indeed it is the duty of each and every one of us to help out.

Let's not forget those displaced individuals hit hard by the ice-storm of the past weekend, especially in cities such as Toronto, where at last word over 200,000 people were still without power and could be until the end of the week.  These people need help, as well as being kept in our thoughts and prayers at this time of year.

Right now at this very moment, hospitals throughout the area are not empty.  Patients often don't get to go home for Christmas, so they should be remembered as well as the many shut-ins unable to travel easily for whatever reason at Christmastime or any time.

There is much to love about this season, and much for each and every one of us to celebrate.  But let's not forget the less fortunate amongst us as we go about our holiday celebrating with friends and family.  It is the Canadian thing to do, certainly, and the right thing to do.

We all have much to be thankful for and with which to count our respective blessings.  We live in the greatest country in the world, and we are - or at least should be - very proud of that fact.  Canada is just not another country to the rest of the world, it is Canada, a place people often risk their lives for in order to come here.  We have so much to offer the world, and we have to remember that.

For myself on a personal level, yes, this season has brought with it a set of hardships I have not experienced before, having lost my full-time job earlier this year, and finding it difficult to keep my own spirits up at Christmas.  But I am hopeful the new year will bring with it a new job, new optimism, and the return of our beloved Shalom, a little black cat who went missing two weeks ago this evening.

I am especially thankful this evening for my sister and her family being down in Niagara from their home in Kenora for a few days, and we will celebrate a family Christmas for the first time in many years together.  This celebration could not have come at a better time for me.

I am also very thankful my previous employer, CKTB RADIO, has agreed to allow me to host the annual Midnight Mass radio broadcast this evening beginning at 11:30 pm.  This is something very near and dear to my heart, as this will be the 81st consecutive broadcast live from the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in downtown St. Catharines.  There have only been three hosts for these radio broadcasts since the first one in 1932:  Edward T. Boyne began the tradition, followed by Johnny Morrison, and he passed the reigns to me for my first broadcast on Christmas Eve in 1989.  So this will be number 24 for me, and I hope to at least make it to my 25th next year if not more.

So yes, we all have plenty to be thankful for, and we should remember that the rest of the year when the holiday spirit might not seem quite so evident.

However you celebrate, whatever you celebrate, and whomever you celebrate with at this time of year, I wish you good health, happiness and the richness that comes from friends and family near and dear to you gathering together for another Christmas.

From my house to your house, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

December 24th, 2013.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas music...good and bad...

I'm having a quiet evening in, with the weather expected to turn nasty later this evening, and I started thinking about some of the Christmas music I have loved - and not loved - over the years.  Much of it I have enjoyed hearing year after year, but as a general rule, anything newer than say, 20 years ago, isn't worth the time to listen to.

I know this certifies me as a charter member of the Old Fogey's Club International, but let me explain.  I was watching the Michael Buble Christmas Special (Third Annual!) on CTV earlier this evening, and I got to thinking as good as he and his musical guests were and are, there just seems to be something missing in recordings and live performances today.  I found Mariah Carey especially vexing, as she just doesn't seem to instill any heart into her renditions of timeless classics.  Slickly produced, yes.  Heartwarming, no.

So who ranks up there with some of the best Christmas performers and their respective recordings we likely all grew up with?  Without a doubt, the all-time champ has to be Bing Crosby, whose White Christmas recording originally on Decca has never been out of print, I believe.  Yes, I have a copy in my collection.  Even Sinatra's A Jolly Christmas on Capitol, which I am listening to while I write this, has its moments of archaic pleasure through the arrangements of Gordon Jenkins.

Others we've enjoyed over the years?  Andy Williams and Perry Como, both Christmas icons with their own Christmas TV specials for many years, and unfortunately both passing away in recent years, defined what great Christmas music pop music should be.  Both artists have nice collections available on Real Gone Music now, with the Perry Como set especially nice as it compiles on three discs all of his classic Christmas recordings along with some rare radio broadcast performances.  The Tony Bennett Christmas Album from Sony still sounds great, thanks to the exceptionally smooth and swinging arrangements of ex-Canadian Robert Farnon.

Instrumentally, the Vince Guaraldi Trio's classic recording A Charlie Brown Christmas is another disc that has never been out of print and with good reason.  It just makes you feel good.  New this year, and this I admit might be gilding the lily a little bit, is the fact accompanying the disc is a build-it-yourself Snoopy doghouse!  Even the original Mannheim Steamroller Christmas disc from 1984 has its nicer moments, including a very nice version of Silent Night recreated last weekend with the Niagara Symphony at their Holiday Pops concerts.

Oh, there are plenty of others, too.  Percy Faith's first two Columbia albums of Christmas music are newly-available on a two-disc set from Real Gone Music, with the second disc out of print for years until now.  The Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir apparently masquerading as the Temple University Concert Choir, recorded in 1962, still sounds great today.  Arthur Harris did the arrangements on this one, and they have always been some of my favourites.  The disc is still in print, and I still have it in stock if you would like it for the holidays.   The second volume, incidentally, has sadly been out of print for years now.

I could go on and on with some of the classic discs of Christmas music I love and have had in my personal collection for years now.  But how about the ones I personally try to avoid?  Oh, the anguish even talking about them!  Some of these may surprise you but in no particular order, here are some of my Christmas recordings I dearly try to avoid at this time of year, and most of which get far too much airplay in order for me to properly avoid them.

Rockin' Round The Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
I used to like this little piece, but really, it is played so often you can't help but be sick of it by the last week of November, when most radio station playlists have run it through the system countless times already.  The only thing worse than Brenda's classic take on this is any other version of it.  I heard a new version this year with a bunch of tenors doing it, and sorry, it just sounds stupid.  The mere thought of a bunch of tenors "rockin' round the Christmas tree" defies logic.

Feliz Navidad - Jose Feliciano
Okay, it sounds rather contemporary, as it dates from about 1971, so radio stations love it, but by about the 50th refrain of "I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas" I just wanna turn the thing off...

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - Jimmy Boyd
This oldie from 1952 just sounds silly; how would you like to be in the chorus on this one singing for scale while this little kid with not much of a voice gets top billing?  And when will be get a song about Daddy Kissing Santa Claus?  Oh wait, we did thanks to comedian Kip Addotta.

Santa Baby - Madonna
The original from Eartha Kitt in 1953 borders on awful, but you know she was having us on back then, singing about the crass commercialism she personified with her stage persona.  But Madonna, you sort of think she believes it all.  In these more austere times, no thanks, Madonna.

Santa Got Run Over By a Reindeer - Elmo & Patsy
Worst Christmas sing-along song...ever.

Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney
Maybe he really needed the money for some reason back then, but really, Sir Paul, you mailed it in with this one.  You should lose your knighthood over this piece of musical tripe.

Sleigh Ride - Leroy Anderson
This one might raise some eyebrows...actually, I love the piece and the virtuoso trumpet "whinny" at the end, but every orchestra (including our own Niagara Symphony) programs this every year at their Christmas concert; it would be nice to hear the Leopold Mozart A Musical Sleigh Ride or even the much more restrained and elegant Sleigh Ride by Frederick Delius for a change.  Besides, I couldn't help but think at the NSO concert last weekend, the fill-in percussionist just looked so "thrilled" to be ringing those sleigh bells for almost 3 minutes straight.  He had a look that suggested he was thinking "I spent how many years taking music in university for this?!"

Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Helms
Same rule applies here as it does with Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree.  Too much airplay and you get sick of it.  Besides, not much "rockin'"going on with this song anyways...

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas - Gayla Peevey
Like little Jimmy Boyd, the shelf life of Gayla Peevey, who recorded this in 1953, was very short, but not short enough, unfortunately.

Twelve Days of Christmas - Bob & Doug McKenzie
Pretty much any version of this song is annoying, what with financial planners declaring each year how much it would cost to actually pay for the things and people listed in the song, but the Bob & Doug McKenzie version is the worst of the lot for those of us tired of the Great White North stereotype portrayed by these two and their love of beer.  Not all of us love our beer, uh, gentlemen...

So there you go, my Top Ten of songs to avoid this and any holiday season.  If you want any of the good ones (oh, what the heck, any of the bad ones, too!), I am always at your service at www.finemusic.ca, or email me directly at music@vaxxine.com.

Happy Holidays!

December 21st, 2013.

Friday, December 13, 2013

More holiday events in December

Last week I offered a variety of concerts and other holiday-themed events based primarily in the Niagara area; this week I will look a little further afield and see what else is going on you might want to catch this season, along with a couple more local events I missed on last week's entry.

Niagara Falls History Museum
The wonderfully renovated Niagara Falls History Museum presents a Christmas concert Saturday evening of this weekend featuring the Baker Street Victorian Carollers directed by Richard Crossman.  Four part harmonies and timeless music should make for an enjoyable evening in the intimate setting of the small theatre space at the museum.  Tickets are only $ 10 each and only available in advance, so I would suggest calling first thing in the morning to make sure there is space available.  Call 905-358-5082 or go to www.niagarafallsmuseums.ca.

Shaw Festival
Last week I wrote about the 13th Annual Christmas Coral Concert coming up this Sunday evening at the Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  I received late word this week members of the acting ensemble will present the annual dramatic reading of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol with musical accompaniment at St. Mark's Anglican Church at 41 Byron Street.  The performance takes place December 22nd at 3 pm, with proceeds to benefit Bethlehem Housing and Support Services.  For tickets, call the Shaw box office at 905-468-2172 or pick them up at the door.

Wellington Winds
Now moving further afield from Niagara, Music Director Daniel Warren and the acclaimed Wellington Winds present Joyeux Noel with the Grand Philharmonic Youth Choir, directed by Amanda Brunk, on Sunday, December 15th at 3 pm.  Along with Carol of the Bells and the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah, they will also be performing The Adoration of the Magi and something called Donkey Sleighridge, among other musical offerings.  Tickets should be available at the door at Knox Presbyterian Church in Waterloo, or in advance by calling 1-519-669-1327 or go to www.wellingtonwinds.ca.

Elora Festival Singers
There are two performances of the choir's popular Festival of Carols concert, both on December 18th.  The first is at 5 pm; the second at 7:30 pm, and both at the lovely home base of the Elora Festival Singers, St. John's Church in Elora.  I love the sound of this choir and the warm acoustic of the church as well as the organ when talented individuals like Michael Bloss take command of the keyboard.  For tickets, call the box office at 1-519-846-0331 or go to www.elorafestival.com.

Guelph Chamber Choir
The Guelph Chamber Choir under their longtime conductor Gerald Neufeld will present their annual performance of Handel's great oratorio Messiah at the River Run Centre in downtown Guelph on Saturday, December 21st at 8 pm.  I have caught their Messiah in the past and the hall just resonates with the choir and musicians every season.  It is a Messiah well worth driving up to Guelph for!  Tickets are available at the door or by going to www.guelphchamberchoir.ca.

Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra
Finally, the HPO presents their annual Christmas concert, entitled Home for the Holidays, on Saturday, December 21st at 7:30 pm at the Great Hall of Hamilton Place.  The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Music Director James Sommerville will welcome special guests the Hamilton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and the acclaimed Hamilton Children's Choir.  For tickets, call the box office at 1-905-526-7756 or go to www.hpo.org.

So there you go, lots of great opportunities to get out and enjoy some wonderful music this holiday season!

December 13th, 2013.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Christmas concerts all around us!

We are well into December now, and there is no shortage of holiday (can I say Christmas?) concerts available in the Niagara area as well as further afield.  So this weekend, I thought I would round up a listing of some of the more notable musical events coming up this month you might want to catch.  This is by no means a complete list; a more complete listing can be found on the Calendar page of my website at www.finemusic.ca.  Happy holidays!

Chorus Niagara
Niagara's premiere choral ensemble presents their annual Christmas concert tonight, in fact, at Calvary Church in north St. Catharines at 7:30 with "A Canadian Christmas Carol."  Artistic Director Robert Cooper has programmed an evening of Canadian carols (yes, there are plenty of them!) as well as poetry, prose and images of the season, with Chorus Niagara being joined by narrator Benedict Campbell and organist Lynne Honsberger.  For tickets, call the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or you can pick them up at the door this evening.

Niagara Symphony (NSO)
Next weekend the Niagara Symphony hosts their Family Series concert Saturday afternoon at 2:30 at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University.  The highlight of the shorter concert will be Raymond Briggs' The Snowman, and the classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas, along with a full complement of seasonal favourites, all conducted by Associate Conductor Laura Thomas.  The narrator for The Snowman is Niagara/Toronto broadcaster Frank Proctor, and the soprano soloists are Carlo Rescigno and Alexandre Brillon.

Saturday evening at 7:30 and Sunday afternoon at 2:30, the NSO presents their Holiday Pops! concert, with Music Director Bradley Thachuk conducting the orchestra with guest vocalist Joey DeBenedetto along with the Chorus Niagara Children's Choir.  Local broadcaster Tim Denis is the narrator for both concerts, entitled "A Radio City Christmas!" and will be featured on the classic Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus.  Lots more music on the programme as well, including the ever-popular Christmas Festival by Leroy Anderson.  For tickets to all the NSO concerts, call the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.  Once again, I will be in the lobby before, after and during intermission with a table brimming with great music available for purchase, too!

Rotary Christmas Choral Concert
The 13th Annual Rotary Christmas Choral Concert comes up December 15th at 7 pm at the Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Area choirs will be participating in the inter-denominational event, including the Bethany Mennonite Church, Niagara United Mennonite Church, St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Grace United Church and the Evergreen Singers, as well as the St. Vincent Catholic Church Choir.  The ever-popular Bethany Handbell Choir as well as the St. Michaels School Glee Club and a host of instrumental musicians will also be taking part.

This is a fundraiser for the Rotary Club of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and tickets are only $ 20 for adults and $ 10 for children under 12.  Proceeds go to the St. Georges Outreach Breakfast Programme in St. Catharines.  For tickets, call the Shaw Festival box office, or pick them up at any of the participating churches or Simpson's Pharmasave & Simpson's Apothecary in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Gallery Players of Niagara
Niagara's premiere chamber music ensemble presents "A Glissandi Christmas" Friday evening, December 20th and Saturday, December 21st, both concerts at 7:30 pm.  The Friday concert is at Grace United Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake; the Saturday concert is at Rodman Hall Arts Centre in St. Catharines.  Guest narrator will be Shaw Festival actor Guy Bannerman on Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales" and a selection of poems and short stories.  Musicians are Deborah Braun, harp; Douglas Miller, flute; and David Braun, violin.

Tickets will be available at the door at both concerts, or you can purchase them in advance at 905-468-1525, or log on to www.galleryplayers.ca.

Centre for the Arts, Brock University
The seasonal favourite The Nutcracker is presented by Ballet Jorgen Canada Sunday afternoon at 2:30 at the David S. Howes Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, and at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre, the Leahy Family Christmas comes up December 19th at 7:30 pm, and local favourite John McDermott brings his holiday show back to Brock on Secember 21st at 2:30 pm.  There is always lots of great programming available at the Centre for the Arts beyond the seasonal offerings, of course, and you can find out the complete listings by going to my Calendar page at www.finemusic.ca.

For tickets go to www.Arts.BrockU.ca or call 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or toll free, 1-866-617-3257.

That's it for the local listings; mid-week we'll look at some of the out-of town concerts and events still to come this month.

Enjoy the weekend!

December 7th, 2013.