Saturday, December 27, 2014

The importance of shopping local

Now that Christmas has come and gone for another year, we are faced now with the ever-popular Boxing Day or more accurately, Boxing Week sales.  From what I have seen so far, people are out there looking for the best deals on things they often don't really need to begin with.

I admit I did partake of a little Boxing Day shopping myself today, as I had some time to spare in the afternoon, and yes, I came away with a couple of things, although what I really went shopping for had nothing to do with an after-Christmas sale at all.

One year ago today, we lost our dear cat Pia, who had not been well for some months, and she bravely made it through Christmas, succumbing to her illness on the 27th.  It was a tragic loss, yet it was tempered almost immediately afterwards by the return of our little black cat, Shalom, who had gone missing 17 days previously, surviving somehow out in the winter weather last December before returning home.

So today, I wanted to find a nice photo frame for a special picture of Pia in order to commemorate the anniversary, and I found just what I was looking for.  It wasn't on sale, and that was not the point.  I wanted that for today and I had the time to go out and find it; it just happened to be on Boxing Day.

The Christmas shopping season has been by all accounts a good one for most merchants I have spoken to; not spectacular, but certainly respectable.  It is tough here in Niagara as we are so close to the border and even with a weaker Canadian dollar, many in Niagara still cross the border to shop stateside, especially for the holidays.

So how about you?  Did you cross the border once, twice or maybe more?  Did you stay here in Niagara and visit one of our major malls or newer outlet malls for your Christmas shopping?

This year, I decided to buck the trend and follow a different path.  I avoided every mall and outlet mall for my Christmas shopping in order to concentrate my purchases at smaller, locally-owned and operated businesses I tend to count on the rest of the year.

The reason for this is quite simple.  Over time, you develop relationships with these merchants, and that means they will often go that extra mile to make sure you are completely satisfied with your purchases not only at Christmas but any time of the year.

A couple of Saturdays ago, for example, I spent most of my afternoon after I finished work strolling the shops in downtown St. Catharines and came away with some really unique and clever gifts for the holidays.  Oh sure, I bought a pair of shoes at The Boot Shop for me, but that's okay.  That particular day they were reducing prices by 25%, with savings from those sales being donated to the YWCA in Niagara.  I didn't need the shoes quite yet, but knew I would eventually, so why not do it when I can get a better deal and the money I save goes to help others who really need it in the community?

This is what I love about shopping local:  you see the results right here in the community.  I help to support a local business, and they in turn do their part to help others in the community.  You don't always get that with a national chain no matter where it is located.

Another stop on my downtown shopping excursion was at a Pop-Up store on St. Paul Street operated by a local Artisan Collective, showing many one-of-a-kind gift ideas at very fair prices.  The shop, located next to Rise Above, was only in operation for about 10 days in December but the crowds when I was there that weekend suggested to me this sort of a collective mindset could actually gain widespread support in the area if it is marketed properly.

The following Saturday I visited several businesses around St. Catharines and Thorold where I knew I would find some interesting things, and I was not disappointed.  Not one of them was a national chain.  For the record, here is a partial list of businesses I visited on that excursion:  Henderson's Pharmacy in Thorold; Your Deli and St. Joseph's Deli on Facer Street; Della Terra on Martingale Road; Bamboo Natural Food Market on Martingale Road; The St. Catharines Farmer's Market; and The Guilty Burger on St. Paul Street.

Sure, I could have just parked the car at the mall and walked indoors from store to store, and I admit I do that when the mood strikes me.  But this year, I wanted to do something different.  I wanted to shop local and support smaller local businesses so they'll still be there for me in the New Year.

It has been said if everyone just spent $10 dollars locally the local economy would benefit immeasurably.  It is not that difficult to do, so if you have not tried it yet, what is holding you back?

I am quite frankly tired of hearing people brag about their super deals from over the border, for example, including most of their groceries on a regular basis, yet these same people will complain there is not the selection of stores here at home to interest them.  Or they say prices are way lower over there.

Okay, I agree, prices are often lower over there, though not always.  But have you considered why?  The minimum wage is lower in the States for one thing, and worker's benefits are usually better in Canada, which is a cost the business owners here have to shoulder moreso than over the river.

A funny thing happens when you don't support local businesses:  they eventually close and often are not replaced by new businesses.  You can't have it both ways; you have to support local businesses so they will be there when you need them.  Otherwise, a community suffers through lack of tax revenue and that affects services you and I really count on.

I don't want to get preachy here, but even if you diverted a small amount of your out-of-market shopping to shopping local, we would all benefit.  A pipe dream?  Let's hope not.

I want our local businesses to not only survive but to prosper.  To do that, I have to show them I support them not only at Christmas time but throughout the year.  It just makes good economic sense.

If you are looking for a New Year's resolution worth making and keeping this week, this would be a good place to start.

Happy New Year!

December 27th, 2014.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas music - my love/hate relationship with the genre.

With Christmas Eve less than 24 hours away as I write this, I gather you, like me, have had more than your fill of Christmas music by now.  Perhaps you are thrilled with wall-to-wall Christmas music on your favourite radio station about the end of November; or perhaps you are a little tired of it all by now, as I am.

Time was, radio stations eased you into the Christmas music a little at a time, starting with about one an hour or so at the start of December.  It would gradually build to a grand Christmas crescendo about the 24th of December and continue that way until midnight on December 25th before magically disappearing again for another 11 months.  I know; I spent 40 years of my radio life listening to the sounds of the season in various iterations at several different stations.

But the current all-Christmas all the time format starting in late November is a bit too much too soon for my tastes, unfortunately, and I am about to explain why.  Consider this a holiday rant from a certified curmudgeon.

The problem I have with the "new era" of presenting Christmas music is it wears thin far too soon, for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, the music "universe" (radio-speak for how much music they actually play in the musical rotation) is far too limited.  Secondly, radio people often don't actually listen to what they are playing and how often it plays.

This second fact came to light in a big way for me this year as I now work in an environment - as many do - where the radio station of choice is a local "lite-rock" format that plays day in and day out. While I am enjoying the break from hearing Taylor Swift shaking things up several times a day for almost a month, what replaces it is just as repetitive.

And that brings us back to my first point.  The music selected is far too confining and leaves out many great recordings by many great artists you might just like to hear at Christmastime.  Why?  A consultant in a far-way city has determined this is what the audience likes to hear, and so that is what the station plays...and plays...and plays.

Now don't get me wrong on this.  I love a wide variety of Christmas music and my eclectic musical tastes are reflected in a very large library of Christmas discs by a wide variety of artists, so I am not confining myself to just one era in my musical preferences.

Having said that, I am pretty tired right now of hearing these titles, my so-called Top 5 of Christmas songs I would dearly love not to hear as much as I do.  In no particular order, may I have the envelope please...

Feliz Navidad - Jose Feliciano
Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord - Boney M
Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
Jingle Bell Rock - any version
Wonderful Christmas Time - Paul McCartney

Any of these sound familiar to you?  Of course they do; we hear them several times a day, seven days a week for about a month.  No wonder we get tired of them.  But more than the repeat factor, in some cases they are just not great songs.  Everyone seems to agree some of the worst offenders were probably mailing it in to make a quick buck for the holiday season, but we keep hearing them over and over again because said radio consultant has deemed these so-called contemporary classics are what we want to hear.

Okay, I get that.  But what of the ones they leave out?  While it is nice to hear Burl Ives sing "Holly, Jolly Christmas" and Bing Crosby's classic "White Christmas" every year, they did not corner the market on classic holiday fare.  I hear far too little Dean Martin, Andy Williams and even Perry Como these days, and if I do, it is maybe one song by each of them.  Yet each artist has a wide selection of great recordings from which to choose.

Can't we get a little more creative next year?

I got to thinking about all this about a month ago when I saw a release of a very old Christmas disc I grew up with and loved very much, yet it had remained stubbornly out of print for decades.  The record label Real Gone Music, which specializes in bringing back classic albums from the past by mostly middle-of-the-road artists our parents grew up with, released on disc this year the old Columbia LP from 1960 entitled The Old Sweet Songs of Christmas by Frank De Vol and the Rainbow Strings.  It is about 40 minutes worth of very simple, sweet-sounding musical medleys of popular and more traditional holiday fare, arranged primarily for string orchestra.

In spite of the age of the recording, it still sounds good today, and I am glad to have it back in my collection after all these years being out of print.

The liner notes for the reissue are written by Lawrence "Chip" Arcuri, Owner & Webmaster of The Yule, which many people will be familiar with over the years.  Chip has also compiled his list of the Top 500 Christmas albums of all time, and he lists the De Vol disc at number 14 on that list.  If you go to, you can see the entire list for yourself.

What you'll find is a purely arbitrary listing of just about every Christmas album ever recorded in the past 60 years ranked in several categories from 1 to 500.  It is firmly rooted in traditional "apple pie" territory, and doesn't stray too far into more contemporary, even "classic rock" holiday hits from the past.

While I agree with many on the list, including the 2013 release of Percy Faith's Music of Christmas/Hallelujah! albums on a double-disc set from Real Gone Music in the coveted Number 1 spot, some others are curiously way down the list or not on the list at all.  For example, I would rank The Glorious Sound of Christmas with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra far higher on the list than Chip does.  It remains for me one of the quintessential "big-orchestra" recordings from Columbia's glory days, recorded as it was back in 1963.

But that is the thing about music in general and Christmas music in particular:  the sentimental value can never be underestimated, and one man's potion is another man's poison.  So I understand not everyone will agree with Chip's rankings - or mine for that matter.  Everyone has their favourites, and that's as it should be.

For me, my dirty little secret is an album of Christmas music by the all-girl group The Golddiggers, who appeared on the Dean Martin TV show back in the late 60s and early 70s.  Yes, this leggy collection of singers did a Christmas album I remember from my early days in radio in Toronto, yet has never made it to CD, and certainly is not on Chip's list of the Top 500, or even his list of honourable mentions.

When that comes out on CD, I will be the first in line to buy a copy.  I might be the only one in line, but no matter.  We all have our favourites, right?

If you have a favourite Christmas disc from your past you would like to hear again, drop me a line at and I will see if I can find a copy of it for you in the New Year.

Enjoy your Christmas music, and above all, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Looking for some new music this holiday season?

If you, like me, have had more than enough of holiday music on the radio, of which I will be writing more about in this space later this week, I have a couple of Canadian discs available that might just cure you of that sugar-coated musical overload.  One is Christmas-themed and the other is not; both are by groups of Ontario musicians who know their market niche and do a nice job of filling it every now and then with new recordings.

The Elora Festival Singers scored a major Christmas hit a number of years ago when they recorded The Mystery of Christmas for the Naxos label.  It proved to be a popular disc, combining superb artistry and sound with a collection of carols both familiar and not quite so familiar.  When it was first introduced, it was marketed as their "Disc of the Month", which meant it sold for a limited time for about $5 a disc.  The price-point won many listeners over, of course, but the disc was worth far more than that and is still a best-seller in the Naxos catalogue each holiday season, albeit at regular price.

Those heady days of $5 Naxos discs are long-gone, of course, but the Elora Festival Singers are back again this season with a new collection of Christmas music every bit as appealing as the first.  Entitled The Wonder of Christmas, the music ranges from much-loved settings to new works, from polyphony to more straightforward melodies;  the timeframe covers the Middle Ages to modern day.

The track listing begins with the very familiar Once in Royal David's City and continues on through My Dancing Day, What Child is This? The Holly and the Ivy and ending with the ever-popular The First Nowell.  Composers range from Britten and Adolphe Adam to more contemporary composers such as Paul Halley and John Tavener.

Once again the choir is directed by Noel Edison and accompanied on several tracks by organist Michael Bloss.  The sound is full with a nice acoustic, and the choir is simply one of the best anywhere.

The Elora Festival Singers are not just known as a Christmas choir, of course.  In fact, their highly-acclaimed Naxos disc of Eric Whitacre's music was nominated for a major recording award in 2010.  But once again this season, they bring their special warmth and style to the music of the season with outstanding results.

The second disc I want to highlight this season is even more local than Elora; The Gallery Players of Niagara are back with a brand-new disc entitled Transformation to celebrate their 20th anniversary.  The group performs regularly in Niagara and beyond, and in fact their Glissandi Christmas concerts were held this past Friday and Saturday evenings in Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Catharines.

The Gallery Players comprises several musicians on this new recording including Artistic Director Margaret Gay on cello; Douglas Miller on flute; Carol Lynn Fujino on violin and Patrick Jordan on viola.  Added on some tracks are James Mason on oboe; Peter Shackleton on clarinet; Julie Baumgartel on violin; and Leslie De'Ath on piano.  On Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe, Op. 48 which concludes the disc, the Eybler Quartet and Brett Polegato are featured.

In addition to Dichterliebe, the disc also features Beethoven's Sonata Op. 24 "Spring Sonata" and Ravel's ravishing Le tombeau de Couperin.  If you're thinking these must be transcriptions, you are absolutely right.  Patrick Jordan transcribed the Beethoven for flute, violin, viola and cello; Trevor Wagler transcribed the Ravel for oboe, clarinet, violin, cello and piano; and Patrick Jordan transcribed the Dichterliebe for baritone, string quartet, classical guitar and double bass.

What I love about this disc is the luminous sound and clarity of the transcriptions, bringing an entirely new focus to these time-honoured classical works.  While the Beethoven works beautifully, I loved the joie de vivre inherent in the Ravel transcription, capturing all the gallic charm of the original in a small chamber setting.  With the Robert Schumann Dichterliebe, the work just sparkles with the wonderful baritone of Brett Polegato and the Eybler Quartet.

Gallery Players patrons might recall Polegato and Co. performed the Dichterliebe at a concert last January at Rodman Hall Arts Centre in St. Catharines.  Now that performance has been preserved on this new disc for those who were there or wish they had been.

Polegato has never been a stranger to his native Niagara, having returned as recently as this past fall for a recital for the Department of Music at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock University.  He brings added cachet to this new disc, and the lightness of his baritone works especially well on the Dichterliebe.

The recording, made at Humbercrest United Church in Toronto earlier this year, has a nicely balanced sound with a beautiful acoustic.

If you want more information on either disc or want a copy for yourself, you can go to for The Elora Festival Singers disc, or for The Gallery Players of Niagara disc.  Alternatively, you can order either disc through my website at or by emailing me directly at

Enjoy the gift of music this Christmas!

December 21st, 2014.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Final round-up of events coming up prior to Christmas

The busy holiday season continues apace with a number of events - both holiday themed and otherwise - still to come before Christmas arrives, so this weekend I'll touch on a few things happening here in Niagara and beyond you might want to attend or in one case take part in.  It's by no means a complete list of events; just a few things to tempt you as the season marches on inexorably to its conclusion.

The Niagara Symphony Orchestra (NSO) presents their annual Holiday Pops! concerts this weekend at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University.  The first one was this evening at 7:30; the second and final concert is Sunday afternoon at 2:30.  Maestro Bradley Thachuk will be gathering together a host of musical guests to accompany the Niagara Symphony in their annual Christmas concert, and yes, there is the obligatory sing-along in the second half of the programme.

Tickets should still be available for the Sunday concert, although seating might be tight at this point.  You can call the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 for tickets and more information.

This weekend up in Kitchener-Waterloo, the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society continues their ambitious programming with performances by Trio Celeste, headed up by Canada-Council-Stradivarius winning violinist Iryna Krechkovsky.  Dubbed by Philip Seltzer of the Emerson Quartet as "one of the best young chamber groups around", Trio Celeste are presenting a trio of concerts devoted to - what else? - Beethoven trios.

The first concert was last evening, and the three-concert series continues Sunday evening and Tuesday evening at 8 pm with the Trio nos. 1 and 5 and the "Kakadu" Variations on Sunday and the Trio nos. 3 and 6 and the Variations, Op. 44 on Tuesday.  I'm told there will be a bit of a party following the Tuesday concert, although just what that entails I am not quite sure.

The KWCMS presents a season full of wonderfully-programmed chamber music in the cozy confines of the Music Room in Waterloo, and you can access more information on their season by going to, or check out the Calendar page of my website at, where I will be updating the entire season shortly.

Tickets to the final two of the Beethoven Trio concerts and indeed the entire season can be had by going online to or by calling 519-886-1673.

Also up that way, the final concerts of the Christmas season will be held later this week and on the weekend at St. John's Church in Elora, as part of the Elora Festival Singers winter season.  The ever-popular Festival of Carols will be presented by Noel Edison and the Singers twice on Thursday, December 19th at 5 and 7:30 pm, and again on the 22nd at 7:30 pm.

The church is small but has a wonderful ambiance and acoustic to it, and the full sound of the Elora Festival Singers is not to be missed especially in their home church.  Tickets are available by going to or by calling 519-846-0331 or 1-888-747-7550.

Back here in Niagara, the annual Gallery Players Christmas concerts come up this Friday evening and Sunday afternoon at two lovely churches in the area.  Entitled Around the World with Glissandi and Guy Bannerman, the veteran Shaw Festival actor will be reciting spoken work passages interspersed with seasonal music by the local ensemble Glissandi, always a great draw over the holiday season.

The Gallery Players have just released their new CD, by the way, and I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of it last month.  It is absolutely delightful, and I will be writing about it in the coming days in this space.

The two Glissandi concerts next weekend are Friday evening at 7:30 at Grace United Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake; the Sunday afternoon concert is at 2 at St. Barnabas Church in St. Catharines.

Tickets to Around the World with Glissandi and Guy Bannerman are available by calling 905-468-1525 or by going to

The Centre for the Arts at Brock University presents their final concert prior to the Christmas break with Canadian crooner Matt Dusk's holiday concert next Sunday, December 21st at 2:30 in the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre.  Matt is the consummate pro and an all-round nice guy, too, so you'd be best to call the Brock box office soon if you still don't have tickets.  Call 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or go to

In Hamilton, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra presents their annual Home for the Holidays Christmas concert next Saturday evening, December 20th at 7:30 in the Great Hall at Hamilton Place.  Guest conductor Martin MacDonald is joined by special guests the Hamilton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra along with the HPO and narrator Roch Carrier, in a performance of his classic story The Hockey Sweater.  Many more of your seasonal favourites will also be featured at the concert, along with the usual carol sing-along with the audience members.

Tickets to the HPO season are available by calling the box office at 905-526-7756 or by going to

Finally, my friends at Essential Collective Theatre in downtown St. Catharines have come up with a clever fundraiser for next Saturday, December 20th, to be held at Mahtay Cafe on St. Paul Street.  The free community event will run from 11 am to 7 pm, and will essentially be a marathon of play reading as they welcome thespians and would-be thespians to take to the stage and read some holiday classics such as The Christmas Carol to a hopefully very supportive audience.

The open-house style event will raise much-needed funds for ECT as they prepare for the move next season to the new Performing Arts Centre right across the street from Mahtay Cafe.

You can get involved by either volunteering to read yourself, which takes up about 20 minutes of your time and requires a minimum $50 of your friends' pledge dollars, or you can pledge a reader through the 12 Days of Giving, on now through December 21st.  You can make a tax-deductible donation by going to

The choice is yours as to whom you want to sponsor for the reading; for me, it's my neighbour and ECT board member Sandy Middleton, who has bravely agreed to take to the stage next Saturday and is already looking for pledges.  If you don't already have a favourite reader to sponsor, Sandy will be an exceptional choice!  The minimum donation being suggested is $10.

That should do it for events coming up in the next week or so; plenty more are available in communities both near and far, so get out and support a local arts organization and get some Christmas cheer in the process.

Have a great weekend!

December 13th, 2014.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The season for Messiah is here again

When December comes around each year, people invariably look for a performance of Handel's oratorio Messiah to attend in order to help them get into the Christmas spirit.  It's about as grand a tradition as Christmas itself, really, although it was originally premiered at Easter, not Christmas.

Handel wrote the oratorio in three weeks between August and September of 1741, and it premiered at the New Music Hall in Dublin on April 13th of 1742.  It remains one of his most popular works, with the celebrated "Hallelujah Chorus" king amongst the selections included in the lengthy work.

It makes good economic sense, therefore, for many professional and amateur choirs alike to program the work prior to Christmas as a guaranteed crowd-pleaser and yes, money-maker as well.  It is not often a performance of Messiah doesn't sell out.  Such is the attraction of this perennial favourite.

If you are looking for your Messiah fix this month, you can of course try to beg, borrow or steal tickets to the biggie with the Toronto Symphony and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in Toronto, or you could attend the smaller, more intimate-sounding Tafelmusik performances, both of which are annual draws in the Toronto area.  But there are other options available, and all of them are guaranteed to please this holiday season.

Right here in Niagara, Chorus Niagara presents their Messiah every other year, with Artistic Director Robert Cooper wisely deciding to alternate years with other Christmas presentations in order not to wear out the Messiah magic.  That's a good move, although for many, Messiah every year is just part of the season, no matter what.

The Chorus Niagara presentation of Messiah is this weekend, in fact, with one performance this evening at 7:30 at Mountainview Church in Grimsby and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 at Calvary Church in St. Catharines.  The chorus performs with orchestra, of course, and the weekend concerts are sponsored by Peter & Janet Partridge.  Chorus Niagara asks audience members to bring donations of non-perishable food items for Community Care and the Grimsby Benevolent Fund.

Tickets will be hard to come by, but you can try the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, or contact any Chorus Niagara member for tickets as well.

Also this weekend, the Elora Festival Singers directed by Noel Edison present their annual A Village Messiah at St. Joseph's Church in nearby Fergus, Ontario Sunday afternoon at 3 pm.  Their version is smaller in scale, but just as enjoyable with a first-rate chorus and exceptional soloists.  For tickets, call the Elora Festival box office at 1-519-846-0331 or 1-888-747-7550, or go to

In Guelph, meantime, the Guelph Chamber Choir holds their annual Messiah performance closer to Christmas, with a single performance at the River Run Centre in downtown Guelph on Saturday evening, December 20th at 7:30 pm.  The choir performs with the Musica Viva Orchestra on period instruments.

Tickets are available through the River Run box office by calling 1-519-763-3000 or 1-877-520-2408, or go to

The Guelph Chamber Choir also performs a Messiah Sing-a-Long if you are so inclined, Sunday afternoon, December 21st at 3 pm at St. George's Anglican Church in downtown Guelph, and tickets should be available through the same numbers as above as well as at the door.

I attended a Sing-a-Long Messiah with Tafelmusik years ago in Toronto, singing baritone, of course, and it is a great experience you should have at least once in your life.  I also attended two Messiah performances in a single day once, too, attending the Chorus Niagara performance on a Sunday afternoon and the Guelph Chamber Choir performance in the evening.  I wouldn't recommend anyone attempt that, mind you!

So what if you want a great recording of Messiah for your listening pleasure at home?  There are lots available, both new and old and at several price-points, ranging from a basic Naxos set at about $ 30 to the Archiv set with Paul McCreesh directing for considerably more coin.  Tafelmusik released their full-length Messiah a couple of years ago on their own label, on two discs.  And a new release by French conductor Emmanuelle Haim and Le Concert D'Astree with four of Britain's top soloists is being billed as a must-hear release this season.

For me, I love almost any recording of Messiah, be it period or modern-instrument performance, but two I listened to this week are worth mention in this space, although only one is still commercially available.

Years ago I acquired the classic Toronto Symphony Orchestra recording from 1952 with Sir Ernest MacMillan conducting, along with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and soloists Lois Marshall, Mary Palmateer, John Vickers and James Milligan, released on Beaver Records.  Yes, it is an LP set, and save for a single-disc reissue of highlights about 20 years ago, this complete recording has never made it on to CD.

While it is not period instrument in any sense of the word, it is still of historic significance due to the ambitiousness of the project at the time, and the fact MacMillan got some pretty talented singers for the recording sessions, both well-known and up-and-coming.  The recording is quirky, especially given what was left out and what was left in, but it is nice to hear nonetheless.

I had my old LP set transferred to CD by my good friend Bruce Jackson so I could finally hear the set, and while the surface noise is quite prevalent, the generally fine performances shine through.  Too bad this has never reappeared in any form all these years, but we can hope someday it might just.

So what recording do I most often come back to, you ask?  You're going to laugh when you hear which one, but I must admit it is still stirring to listen to after all these years.

In 1959, British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham gathered together the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus and soloists Jennifer Vyvyan, Monica Sinclair, Jon Vickers and Giorgio Tozzi for a wonderfully archaic set released on RCA Victor.  It did make it on to CD, both as a single-disc of highlights and the full-blown 3-disc box set years ago, and I have both in my collection.

Now please understand.  This is not a Messiah for the feint-of-heart nor the period-instrument enthusiast.  Heck, this is not a Messiah historically informed in any sense of the word.  But it is still a wonderful experience to listen to every now and again.

In a way, this Messiah represents everything wrong about Messiah performances during the first half of the last century, which were usually modern-instrument monstrosities utilizing far more instrumentation than Handel himself every envisioned.  The use of much more brass, percussion and way too many strings would make most listeners today cringe in embarrassment, however in its day this was the way we heard Messiah.

Yet for me, this recording holds a certain, um, charm to it that cannot be denied.  Beecham brings the full force of a huge orchestra and chorus to bear in a large acoustic setting that still sounds breathtaking for its clarity over half-a-century after it was recorded.  Yes, the pace is ponderous much of the time, but other times the forces unleash a fury of sound such as in the celebrated Hallelujah Chorus that still sends a chill up and down my spine when I hear it.

The best way to describe this recording compared to modern-day Messiahs?  Think of yourself now jumping into your Toyota Prius to run down to the natural health-food store compared to 1959 when you borrowed your dad's chrome-laden Buick to pick up the cutest girl at school for a prom date.  That's the difference here:  you can't go home again, but damn you can enjoy those memories and smile while doing so!

With the exception of the old Toronto Symphony set I described earlier, most every Messiah performance you can imagine is still available, and I can order any and all for you through my website at, or just email your request to me directly at

And don't forget to stand during the Hallelujah Chorus.

Happy listening!

December 6th, 2014.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

News & notes on the arts this week in Niagara

A few things crossed my cluttered desk this week I wanted to touch on, as a busy season for performances and other arts-related events continues unabated in Niagara.

First of all, I touched on this in my posting last weekend, about the upcoming Niagara Symphony Orchestra NextGEN concert.  This is the successor to the Family Series of years past, in which the NSO grooms future concert-goers with performances geared toward a younger, family-oriented audience.

The Niagara Symphony has announced their "draft picks" for the concert on Sunday afternoon at 2:30:  Niagara IceDogs Captain Luke Mercer and left-wing Brendan Perlini, who will be narrating Roch Carrier's winter classic tale, The Hockey Sweater.  In addition, IceDogs mascot Bones will join Mercer and Perlini in the lobby after the concert to meet and great the young audience members.

The concert is entitled "It's OUR Game", so expect NSO players to be donning their favourite team's hockey jersey, and Associate Conductor Laura Thomas to have a few words to say on the subject of hockey in Canada.

Tickets to the concert will be available at the box office prior to the concert, either in person or by calling 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.

Meantime, Suitcase in Point's annual holiday sketch comedy show takes the form of a cabaret this year, with a new show entitled "Cabaret Stretchy Pants:  A Holiday Vortex."  The collaborators on the show have been working hard to come up with an evening full of laughs at two downtown St. Catharines locations over two weekends.

The first pair of shows come up Sunday evening at 7 and 9 pm at The Merchant Ale House on St. Paul Street, and the following Friday and Saturday, December 12 and 13 at the Mikado Bar & Lounge, also on St. Paul Street, with those performances starting at 8 pm.

All the shows are pay-what-you-can, with a suggested charge of $10, plus you are asked to bring a non-perishable food donation for Community Care of St. Catharines & Thorold.  With so many going hungry right here in the city at this time of year, every donation of non-perishable food is vitally needed right now.

Yes, Virginia, this is also the weekend Chorus Niagara presents a pair of performances of Handel's beloved oratorio, Messiah, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.  This is something they do every other year; audiences I am sure would welcome the chance to attend a performance every year, but Artistic Director Robert Cooper wisely decides to do it every other year in order to give choristers and audiences alike a little more variety.

I will be writing my weekend blog on the eternal popularity of this holiday classic, but for now, keep in mind the Chorus Niagara performances are Saturday evening at Mountainview Church in Grimsby at 7:30 pm, and Sunday afternoon at Calvary Church in St. Catharines at 2:30 pm.  For tickets, call the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.  I wouldn't want to chance waiting to pick them up at the door for either performance as Messiah almost always sells out every time.

Finally, some sad news from Stratford, where renowned director and choreographer Brian MacDonald passed away last weekend at the age of 86.

Over his 60-year career, MacDonald become one of the most prolific and internationally-renowned directors and choreographers this country has ever produced.  He was a member of the Stratford Festival company for 17 seasons, as well as being a founding dancer with the National Ballet of Canada and Artistic Director of the Royal Swedish Ballet, the Harkness Ballet as well as having associations with many other companies around the world.

Mr. MacDonald was demanding, to be sure, and the stories about him are legion; however he knew what he wanted and how to get the very best out of all the companies he worked with over the years.  A Companion of the Order of Canada, he was celebrated around the world as well as here in Canada with many honours ranging from the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement to the Walter Carson Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts.

For many theatre-goers here in Niagara and elsewhere, he will perhaps best be remembered for his string of Gilbert & Sullivan operetta revivals at the Stratford Festival in the 80s, where he directed fresh, newly-updated variations on the originals while still remaining true to the traditions of G&S.

In all, MacDonald directed and choreographed 14 operettas and musicals for the Stratford Festival, ranging from Gilbert & Sullivan's Iolanthe and The Mikado to Cabaret, Carousel, Guys and Dolls and many others.

The Stratford Festival is dedicating the 2015 production of Carousel to Mr. MacDonald's memory, and a memorial will be held at the Festival Theatre on May 3rd.

The funeral will be held in Stratford this coming Saturday at the W.G. Young Funeral Home.

Have a good week!

December 3rd, 2014.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Looking for some entertainment for your late November Sunday afternoon?

This is the time of year there are so many concerts, theatre events and such happening, it is hard to keep track of them all.  But no matter:  you can always keep track by consulting the Calendar page of my website, for listings that are updated regularly on happenings in Niagara and beyond.  I have been falling a bit behind the last week, but plan to catch up again this coming week, so keep an eye out for more updates.

In the meantime, there are three Sunday afternoon offerings you might want to consider if you have a desire to ignore the mall and all the holiday madness already underway, and actually relax with some great music or theatre.

In downtown St. Catharines, the Sullivan-Mahoney Courthouse Theatre is the place to be for the final performance of ECT's thought-provoking play The Valley, written by playwright Joan MacLeod.  Presented in the round and headed up by Essential Collective's Artistic Director Monica Default, The Valley tells the story of Connor, his mother Sharon, police officer Dan and his wife Janie, exploring mental health issues and the stigma that surrounds them.

The final performance is this afternoon at 2 pm with pay-what-you-can pricing, and tickets are available at the door.  This play has been getting a lot of attention recently and with good reason, so you might want to check it out for yourself before it is done.

Meantime, up the hill at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University, the Niagara Symphony presents their second Masterworks concert of the season, entitled Will to Live.  Featuring guest conductor Kenneth Woods and tenor Lawrence Wiliford, the concert begins with the Chamber Symphony Op. 46a by Ullmann, and concludes with the ever-popular Symphony No. 4 by Beethoven.  In between, Wiliford pairs with Austin Hitchcock on horn and the string section of the orchestra for Benjamin Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Strings and Horn.

I like the dark wartime-era Ullman and Britten works, both dating from the 1940s, pitted against the decidedly more upbeat and sunny-sounding Symphony No. 4 by Beethoven, often overlooked for some of his weightier symphonies, most notably the 5th.  It's also the kind of programming I like to see from the NSO, balancing newer works with traditional favourites, never going overboard and risking losing their core audience.

This concert also features the annual Silent Auction in the lobby before and at intermission of the concert, where you can outbid your neighbour on a wide variety of great gift items.  You can do your Christmas shopping right there, and enjoy a great concert, too!

Tickets to this afternoon's performance at 2:30 are available by calling the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, or just pick them up at the door.  Should be a fun afternoon and a busy one at the Symphony as well.

Incidentally, earlier this month Music Director Bradley Thachuk dropped the puck at a Niagara Ice Dogs home game at the new Meridian Centre in downtown St. Catharines, and I think that is the type of cross-promotion that can only help the NSO as they try to build their core audience in the future.  I will be writing more about that aspect next month as the so-called 'Next' Gen series kicks off December 7th.

Finally, if you are near or plan to be up in the Guelph area today, the always-creative and inspiring Guelph Chamber Choir, directed by Gerald Neufeld, presents a concert entitled Carols for Christmas. Along with the usual array of holiday favourites, there will also what is being described as "music for wine glasses" - who knew there was another use for wine glasses?  Just kidding...anyway, sounds like a lot of fun, especially as that particular piece apparently brings out the "mad scientist" in Maestro Neufeld courtesy the new technology all around us today.

There's special guest artists for the concert presenting both musical and narrative offerings, at St. George's Church in downtown Guelph.  This is one of my favourite churches anywhere, incidentally, as it is a large, traditional and acoustically lovely church right in the heart of the city that embraces creative endeavours such as this afternoon's concert by the Guelph Chamber Choir.

The concert is at 3 pm and tickets are still available; you can get them at the door on a cash-only basis prior to the performance.

So there you go:  three reasons to avoid the mall and putting up your holiday decorations for another week!  You're welcome.

Have a great Sunday!

November 30th, 2014.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

News and notes on the local music scene in Niagara this weekend

As I've written the past couple of weeks in this space, there is no shortage of musical events in Niagara to catch your interest, and this weekend is no exception.  So a few notes on things that have happened or will be happening you might want to keep in mind before Monday rolls around again.

Last evening you had your choice of catching Liona Boyd in Concert at St. Mark's Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake or the Toronto-based Madawaska Ensemble at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University.  I chose the latter, simply because another chance to hear La Liona comes up next Friday evening, November 28th at Silver Spire United Church in downtown St. Catharines.

The Madawaska Ensemble performed two of Brahms' greatest chamber works as part of the Encore! Professional Concert Series presented by the Department of Music at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock.  The ensemble is young, sharp and very accomplished, handling the master of the Romantic Era with relative ease.

I am also happy to report the audience was quite large for one of these events, with many in the audience Brock music students who are required to attend the concerts as part of their course curriculum.  While I saw a few lost souls who had no interest in the music whatsoever, including the young lady seated beside me who fidgeted, played with her hair, stared at the ceiling, noisily searched in her bag for nothing in particular throughout the concert and who, at the start of intermission instantly started texting people, by and large the audience was appreciative and responsive.

I love well-played chamber music and this concert was a pleasure to witness from beginning to end.  It also illustrates the high quality of music programming the Department of Music at Brock presents each season, and which will be coming to the downtown Performing Arts Centre next season.  So thanks for the great concert last night, Madawaska Ensemble.

As I mentioned, Liona Boyd, Canada's so-called First Lady of the Guitar, is on a concert tour of smaller venues in the province at the moment, which brought her to the lovely St. Mark's Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake last evening.  The tour is to support her new Christmas (or Holiday-themed if you prefer) CD, A Winter Fantasy.  I featured the disc in my November newsletter from A Web of Fine Music a couple of weeks ago, in fact.

Liona is really doing what she does best here:  visit smaller, more intimate venues with her guitar and fellow musicians to engage in some seasonal fare.  The musicians in question last night were the Queenston Ladies Choir, while next Friday night the Silver Spire Adult Choir will accompany Ms. Boyd.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Liona, as she was one of my very first radio interviews when I worked in Oshawa and commuted every day from my home in east-end Toronto.  The year was I think 1977 and Liona had made a splash on the Canadian music scene with a few solo guitar albums on the Boot Records label.  I was invited to interview Liona at her parents' Etobicoke home that afternoon and when I arrived, she was deeply embroiled in a long-distance phone call trying to book her concert dates in South America.

Back then Liona did all that herself, before she became much more famous and others were doing all that work for her.  But on this fateful day, I patiently waited while she negotiated the concert while sitting on the living room floor in a long flowing dress.  When we finally did talk, she was delightful in every respect, and I have had the pleasure of talking to her a few times over the years since; she is always very graceful and accommodating in our conversations.

Anyway, you can catch her concert next Friday evening at Silver Spire United Church by calling 1-888-222-6608 or going to  You could also likely get them at the door.  If you want her new CD, I can certainly get that for you by contacting me directly at

Finally, tomorrow afternoon you have two local concerts to choose from, one in Welland and one in St. Catharines.  In Welland, the local choir Choralis Camerata will present their second concert of the weekend, featuring Britten's A Ceremony of Carols and J.S. Bach's Wachet Auf! at Central United Church on Young Street.  Accompanying the choristers directed by David Braun will be harpist Deborah Braun and Sinfonia Camerata, along with soprano Kira Braun, mezzo-soprano Jennifer McKillop, tenor Jason Lamont and baritone Michael York.

Tickets are available at the door or in advance through their website, or by calling 905-646-9225 or 905-354-4348.  The concert begins at 2:30 Sunday afternoon.

Here in St. Catharines, meanwhile, Primavera Concerts kicks off their 10th anniversary season with a concert entitled A Strauss Party, featuring Guy Few on trumpet and piano and Stephanie Mara on piano.  As you might expect, the concert is primarily of trumpet and piano selections as well as piano four hands, celebrating the great composer Richard Strauss and his contemporaries and successors.

Primavera Concerts also uses Silver Spire United Church for most of their concerts again this season, with tomorrow's musical offerings beginning at 3 pm.  For tickets and more information call 289-990-3630 or go to  You can also pick them up at the door prior to the concert tomorrow afternoon.

So there you have it:  several reasons not to go to the mall and listen to all that dreadful piped in holiday music over the next few days.  No need to thank me; just doing my part for the sanity of the city and its' citizens, that's all.

Enjoy your weekend!

November 22nd, 2014.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Theatre and music notes around Niagara this November

The month of November is fast approaching the half-way mark already, and there is no shortage of great music and theatre available right here in Niagara for you to enjoy.  I'll touch on three such events getting underway or happening this weekend you would do well to attend if you have the time.

First up, Garden City Productions' new fall show is actually an early Christmas show this year:  Irving Berlin's White Christmas, which opened Friday evening at the Mandeville Theatre at Ridley College.  I'm sure everyone is familiar with the story by now, thanks to Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye hoofing and singing in the movie version many years ago.  For some it is the quintessential holiday "feel-good" movie and for a time, my season was not complete without watching it at least once.

Garden City Productions always punch above their weight, as it were, and this new show, directed and choreographed by Wendy Leard and featuring Tom Inglis as music director, should be no different.  Condensing the large story line from the popular movie is not an easy job, but GCP always seems to find a way to pull it off.

Performances continue this weekend with a Sunday matinee, and the remainder of the run will be Friday and Saturday evening performances the following two weekends, as well as Sunday matinees until November 30th.

For tickets and more information, call 905-682-1353 or go to

At the other end of the theatrical spectrum is the fall offering by Essential Collective Theatre, Joan MacLeod's play The Valley, which opened this evening at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines.

This show is presented in the round and explores mental health issues and the stigma that surrounds them.  Admittedly theatre not for everyone, I suppose, it will however appeal to those with a social conscience and aware of the need for a better understanding of and treatment of mental health issues in society today.

Performances continue evenings, Tuesday through Saturday until November 30th with pay-what-you-can matinee performances each Sunday afternoon at 2.  Of special note is this coming Tuesday evening, November 18th, playwright Joan MacLeod will do a play reading at 7 pm prior to the performance, and participate with the cast in a post-show talkback with the audience.

There is also a community event coming up Monday evening of this week at Brock University's Sean O'Sullivan Theatre that ties in nicely with the subject matter covered in The Valley.  It's a Town Hall Forum entitled "Out of Our Minds" featuring a guest panel of representatives from mental health and police services as they discuss themes present in the play.  This event is free and open to the public, by the way.

New Artistic Director Monica Default is taking ECT into exciting new directions, continuing the tradition of presenting quality thought-provoking local theatre in the heart of the city.

Tickets for The Valley will be available at the door prior to each performance through to November 30th.

Finally, a music note with a sincere apology attached.  The Gallery Players of Niagara kick off their 20th season Sunday afternoon with a performance featuring their founding music director, Heather Dawn Taves in a concert of piano and woodwind music.

I must apologize, though, as I detailed the wrong information when I included concert details from last year's inaugural concert in my November newsletter that came out a couple of weekends ago.  My mistake, totally, and my sincere apologies to The Gallery Players and their devoted fans for the mix-up in the newsletter.

Yes, this is indeed Gallery Players' 20th season, and this kickoff concert is tomorrow afternoon at 2 at the Silver Spire United Church on St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines.  Tickets should be available at the door, or you can order in advance by calling 905-468-1525 or log on to

Incidentally, Gallery Players are just about to release their brand-new CD to mark their 20th anniversary season, and I hope to have a copy in my hands shortly so I can review it in this space in the near future.

So there you go:  fun theatre, serious theatre and music to brighten up a November Sunday afternoon.  What more could you want to chase away thoughts of early snow in Niagara?

Enjoy the weekend!

November 15th, 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Busy season underway at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock University

I am always amazed when the brochure arrives outlining the season's offerings at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts up at Brock University.  If you love music, drama or the visual arts, there is something there for you this season well worth investigating.  So I thought I'd outline some of the highlights in my mid-week blog post just in case you want to escape your everyday world for something a little more satisfying.

One of the best deals in the city is the RBC Foundation Music@Noon series most Tuesdays at noon through to the end of next March.  The recitals are absolutely free, and feature established talent as well as accomplished students in the Department of Music at Brock.  Just today for example, local guitar virtuoso Timothy Phelan performed at the Concordia Seminary Chapel up at Brock, and I hear it was a great concert.

In coming weeks, there will be recitals by Voice Students, Instrumental Students and Piano Students at Brock before the Christmas break.  The series resumes in January with another 11 recitals planned. And did I mention they are all free and open to the public?

The University Wind Ensemble performs two concerts each season at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre, both directed by Zoltan Kalman.  The fall concert comes up December 2nd. and the spring concert on March 31st.  Both concerts pair up established Niagara musicians with both university and high school students as they perform major wind band repertoire.

The Viva Voce! Choral Series gets underway this coming weekend with a performance by the Avanti Chamber Singers directed by Dr. Harris Loewen, entitled Viva La Musica.  The concert at St. Barnabas Church on Queenston Street is Saturday evening and will also be a release party for their third CD, "Beauty is Before Me", the fifth instalment in the "Voices of Niagara" CD series.

As with the previous four recordings in the series, the music on this new disc is either written or arranged by composers with a Niagara connection, with most being recorded for the very first time.  Composers represented on the latest recording include Penny Blake, John Butler, Nathaniel Dett, Erik Gero, Brock professors Peter Landey and Harris Loewen, Gail Poulsen, folk singer Stan Rogers, Matthew Tran-Adams, and Ronald Tremain, Brock's first Professor of Music.

The concert itself opens with a work written especially for the occasion, based on the familiar round "Viva La Musica", and follows with a number of works by Renaissance composers and modern composers.  Tickets and the new CD will be available for purchase at the door.

The rest of the Viva Voce! series continues November 29th with the Brock University Choirs directed by guest conductor Glenda Crawford with their fall concert, and the spring concert on March 28th; and two more performances by the Avanti Chamber Singers, on February 7th and April 25th.

The very popular Encore! Professional Concert Series gets underway November 21st with the Madawaska Ensemble performing two works by Johannes Brahms; Toronto-based Quartetto Gelato on January 30th; local jazz diva Sarah Jerrom and Friends presenting something called The Yeats Project on February 27th and Trio Surgite presenting Voices of Eastern Europe on March 27th.

The Department of Dramatic Arts presents a couple of plays each season, with the fall offering opening this coming Thursday evening at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre:  Hannah Crowley's The Belle's Stratagem, directed by Gillian Raby and featuring music by local musician Joe Lapinski.  The cast is made up of students in the Department of Dramatic Arts at Brock, and the play is a comedy exploring the city and how we cope in this more modern, digital age.  If you can't make the Thursday evening opening, there are additional performances Friday morning at 11:30 and evening at 7:30, as well as Saturday evening at 7:30.

Finally, if the visual arts interest you, the Walker Cultural Leader Series continues in the spring with the Department of Visual Arts presenting acclaimed Canadian painter Janet Werner in March and April.  The public presentation of Painting the Imaginary Portrait takes place at Rodman Hall on March 5th, and that is a free community event.

In April, Rodman Hall hosts Janet's exhibition, From likeness to fiction:  the portrait inside out, running from April 1st to the 26th, and again it is a free community event.  The exhibition then travels to the University of The West Indies in Trinidad for May and June.

So there you go:  lots to choose from and literally something for everyone as is the case each year with the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock.  And just think, all that creative talent will be in their new home in downtown St. Catharines come next year, so why not get involved now prior to the move?

Many of the concert events are at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre up at Brock, and for any of the events requiring tickets, you can get those through the Brock Centre for the Arts box office by calling 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, or go online to  For many of the events tickets will also be available at the door prior to the performance.

I have all the events listed on the Calendar page of my website at, and you can alway check out their website as well for more information at

There is always something interesting happening at MIWSFPA, the rather unwieldy acronym for the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts; all they need is you to share the excitement!

Enjoy the show when you go...

November 11th, 2014.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Marking the 100th anniversary of the Great War in music and memories this weekend

This weekend, even though Remembrance Day is still three days away, many Canadians will pause and think of someone they either knew or even didn't know, who served in the First or Second World Wars.  We'll wear our poppies proudly on our left and thank the veteran who is selling them yet again this year, in spite of perhaps failing health in their senior years.

This year, of course, brings a special poignancy to the day with the recent deaths of two Canadian soldiers on Canadian soil, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent of Quebec and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo of Hamilton.  Reports just yesterday suggest Royal Canadian Legion branches may not have enough poppies on hand to supply all who want them prior to Remembrance Day this year.

What a bittersweet thought that is.  Yet it shows how close the two deaths hit home for many Canadians, who have come to the realization there is danger on our own soil should we choose to ignore it.  And we are especially thankful for all the work the men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces do around the world as well as here at home to protect us all.

This weekend, we can perhaps show our gratitude and reflect on the difficult jobs these men and women in uniform do, and have done for many years, defending democracy and human rights around the world by attending a concert or other event commemorating those who lost their lives in past conflicts and continue to do so today.

Two such concerts are coming up tonight, in fact, one in St. Catharines and one in Hamilton; both will be fitting tributes to those we remember on Tuesday.

In St. Catharines, Chorus Niagara presents The World Remembers, a First World War Centennial concert.  Artistic Director Robert Cooper has put together an audio and visual program with the help of the St. Catharines Museum to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War, as witnessed by the personal accounts of Niagara's soldiers and nurses, their families, friends and community.

This musical salute to the pride, passion and pathos of the so-called "war to end all wars" will be sponsored by The Lincoln and Welland Regiment Foundation, and takes place at 7:30 pm at Calvary Church in St. Catharines.  Tickets will be available at the door or in advance by calling the Brock Centre for the Arts box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or by going to

You can find out more about the concert and the entire Chorus Niagara season by going to their website at

In Hamilton, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra presents In Remembrance:  Fanfare for the Common Man this evening at 7:30 as well.  The reflective and memorable programme will display the honour, valour and innate beauty of symphonic music in a tribute to the community's veterans and military families.  It will have special meaning for many Hamiltonians as Cpl. Cirillo lived in Hamilton.

The concert features Samuel Barber's eloquent Adagio for Strings, Elgar's moving Enigma Variations, and the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich, featuring cellist Yegor Dychkov.  Guest conductor Gregory Vajda leads the orchestra as well in the familiar and majestic Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland, as a way of paying tribute to so many uncommon men AND women in the military the world over.

Tickets for tonight's concert at the Great Hall of Hamilton Place will be available at the door prior to the concert, or you can call ahead to book yours if you have not already done so.  The box office number is 905-526-7756, and online you can book at

We should always show our gratitude and appreciation for our members of the military every day of the year, but this year especially, this weekend is even more important.  Please make an effort to show you care and appreciate the work they do throughout the year.

Have a good weekend!

November 8th, 2014.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Winding down the Shaw and Stratford Festivals for another season

On a Saturday evening, some news and notes as our two major theatre festivals in Ontario wind down for another season, but first, a thank you to readers for comments I have received for my posts recently.

I love writing this blog every week and sometimes more often than that.  It all depends on what's on my mind, actually.  If you are a faithful reader of this space, you know my thoughts run the gamut from civic affairs to the arts to fashion to...well just about anything, really.  But having said that, I find sometimes the brain power just isn't there in order to produce the quality content I like to present week in and week out.  So if I miss an occasional week, please forgive me, and check back soon for another post.

I love receiving comments on my posts, either in the comments section of my blog or through my Twitter and Facebook postings of the blog, so feel free to send your comments - good, bad or indifferent - to me at any time.  I read them all and am always grateful for the feedback.

Recent posts that have garnered comments from you include my posting on the 9th Annual Walk a Mile in HER Shoes for Gillian's Place down at The Pen in St. Catharines.  By way of an update on that, I doubled my total pledges raised from last year for which I am extremely grateful to all of you for your support.  More importantly, all of the men who participated in the walk last Saturday collectively raised $88,000 for Gillian's Place, and that is great news.

My choice of shoes, incidentally, were a dressy little set of wedge heals with small bows and a chisel toe which proved quite comfortable, actually.  Quite stylish too, as my far better half said she'd wear them if they were her size!  That made me stop and ponder the gravity of that comment for a moment, by the way.

My most recent post from last weekend on people dropping the ball on presenting themselves in public in a professional way garnered comments too.  I didn't know if anyone else would share my concerns society as a whole is starting to look, well, sloppy these days but apparently I struck a chord with some readers and that's great.

The funny thing is after I ranted last weekend, I pulled out a pair of trusty Kenneth Cole shoes from my closet I often wear with casual outfits and found the upper and sole were starting to separate on one and the heel was falling apart on the other, so the irony of the situation was not lost on me personally this week.

Today I remedied the situation by visiting Kristine at The Boot Shop in downtown St. Catharines (great store with a great staff) and came away with a nice new pair of black Blundstone chisel-toe boots from Tasmania.  They will take some getting used to, but they are a classic and apparently last forever, so that's what I am looking for.

Okay, now on to a couple of notes on the arts this weekend that bear mentioning, as both the Shaw Festival and Stratford Festival wind down their respective seasons this weekend.  It hardly seems possible the openings in the spring are but a distant memory now, but the time has come to drop the final curtain on both Festivals and look towards the next season.

The final performances of the season at Shaw are tomorrow afternoon, as the dark and rather sinister take on Kander & Ebb's musical Cabaret wraps up at the Festival Theatre, and J.B. Priestley's comedy When We Are Married concludes at the Royal George Theatre.  I saw the Priestley play this summer and it is quite a lot of fun, but rather dated frankly.  As long as you head in knowing the era of the play, you'll be just fine.

I didn't get to see Cabaret, unfortunately, but most reports are favourable I have found.  It might not be everyone's cup of tea for a musical, but the Shaw Festival is used to taking risks and this might have been a rather big one that seems to have paid off handsomely for them this season.

If you want tickets to either performance tomorrow, call the Shaw box office at 1-800-511-7429 or go to

Over at the Stratford Festival, their season wrapped up this evening with the final performance at the Festival Theatre of their marquee show, Shakespeare's King Lear starring Colm Feore in the title role.  By all accounts it was a magical performance surrounded by a very strong cast, and again, I am sorry I missed it.

The new reality of my employment situation and working right through the summer this year prevented me from getting down to Stratford as I do most years, so this will be an off year for me.  Hopefully that will change next season, but we'll have to see in the spring.

There was some sad news out of Stratford this week, though, involving the passing of one of their long-time cast members.  Bernard Hopkins, a 24-year veteran of the Festival and an actor whose career spanned half a century passed away on Wednesday of this week.

Bernard was a great comic actor to be sure, but he also provided some memorable moments in many of Shakespeare's greatest plays, including Friar Laurence in the 1992 production of Romeo & Juliet and Gonzalo in the 2005 production of The Tempest.  Hopkins also appeared as Robert Cecil in Timothy Findley's Elizabeth Rex, which received its stage premiere at Stratford in 2000 and was later filmed, again with Hopkins in the cast.

All of those productions and many more I had the pleasure of seeing over the years at Stratford, and I always admired his work as an actor.  I found some of his directing projects to be a little off the mark, but even they had memorable moments to savour.

Bernard Hopkins was born in Liverpool, England in 1937 and made his Stratford debut in The Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1975.  I understand he retired from the company only within the last few years.

It is always sad to say goodbye to a person you may never have known personally, yet felt you somehow knew through their work on stage over the years.  Hopkins was about as comfortable as a pair of old shoes on stage, and a welcome addition to any cast anywhere he appeared.  He will be sadly missed.

Have a great weekend!

October 25th, 2014.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Have we lost the ability to present ourselves professionally in public?

I'm veering off the arts beat this weekend to address a pet peeve of mine simmering on the back burner for several months now, and prompted by a post I saw on Facebook today.

The newspaper clipping in the illustration quotes a woman as saying she prefers to shop at a popular dollar store in the area, since she doesn't have to "dress up like when you go to Wal-Mart."  Pardon me?

The last time I was at Wal-Mart I was totally unawares people dress up to go there.  Dress down is more like it, like just about everywhere else these days.

I know I will probably paint myself as an old fogie or something worse when I say I miss the days when people actually cared enough about their appearance when out in public rather than care less.  Time was, even flying on an airplane meant you dressed up for the flight rather than look like you are ready to hit the beach at the end of the flight.

That may be considered extreme in this day and age even by me, as I like to be comfortable on a long flight, too, but do you have to try so hard to be casual?  Can't you put even a little effort into looking good when others see you?

Lest you think I have worked in a profession where everyone dressed nicely, I should point out for the first 40 years of my career I worked in radio, where it is assumed so long as you are not in pyjamas you are dressed for work.  More often than not, I was in the minority as I always tried to look my best no matter what the job was.

Even last winter when I led a more bohemian lifestyle working part-time at the Brock radio station CFBU-FM, although I was more often than not in jeans and a casual shirt, I usually dressed more presentably when interviewing guests for my show, even though they often were very casually dressed themselves.

These days, though, I work weekdays at a job where you are in the public eye in a corporate environment where you are expected to present a proper image on behalf of the company.  I welcome this change in my lifestyle, as I rather enjoy wearing a suit or sports jacket and slacks and a shirt and tie.

Both in my work environment and in my off hours, I often see people making poor wardrobe choices that with a little more thought on their part, could easily present them in a better light.  Not everyone needs to nor should dress up to the extent some like myself take pleasure in doing on a daily basis.  But if they could just look at themselves in the mirror before heading out the door, they might see a person staring back at them who isn't well put-together.

Two examples come to mind from the past couple of weeks for me:  the first was a young woman in yoga pants and a bare midriff who should clearly have taken that extra look in the mirror before heading out.  Now I like a young lady in yoga pants as much as they next red-blooded male, but not when said person's midsection overflows like a muffin top.  It was mind boggling to me she could not see this for herself.

The second example was during a recent visit to a local grocery store and I was preparing to pay for my purchases that had just been rung through.  I happen to glance behind me to the cashier working the lane next to me and couldn't help but notice this person, while at work, had her baggy jeans slung below her butt-cheeks, exposing a wide swath of black cotton underwear nobody needs to see.  Where was the work decorum here, and more importantly, where was her boss?

I resisted the temptation to ask my cashier if she was receiving danger-pay for having to look at this sight all day while she was working, but the thought did cross my mind.  The drive home was fraught with images of what this woman might do if she had to make a mad dash to catch someone who had perhaps forgotten an item they had just paid for.

Men, you are not immune, either.  The notion of taking your hat off (more often than not it is a backwards-facing ball cap now anyways) while indoors seems to be lost on most men these days, even if they are in a nice restaurant and their lady companion is making an effort to present herself nicely.  And the number of men who either intentionally or unintentionally let their pants hang far too low on them, exposing more than anyone needs to see, is troubling to say the least.

I imagine one day one of these souls showing digital images to their grandchildren of when they were younger, and the child wonders aloud why they look so darn goofy in the picture.  Better prepare your snappy comeback now, while you have the time...

What it all comes down to is this:  it doesn't take a lot of effort or even money to look good while out in public, just a little common sense.  And it might even make you look more professional if indeed you are out looking for work at the moment.  But whether you are working now or not, looking good in public should not be looked upon as a chore or even a necessary evil.  Take pride in your appearance and you'll find you have a better outlook on life.

If you are at a public event, be it a symphony concert or even a sporting event, it won't hurt to try a little "event" dressing to show you care about your appearance.

And while I would never advocate judging anyone on their dress, good, bad or indifferent, leaving a more favourable impression on those you meet is never a bad thing.  You never know where things can lead.

There, I have gotten that off my chest.  Now a new work week awaits, so let's see how we can change people's outlook on life...

October 19th, 2014.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Random thoughts on good news stories in Niagara this week

If you live here in Niagara, you hear your share of negative stories about the Region far too often, as I often do.  So I thought this evening I would share a couple of good news stories about Niagara in general and St. Catharines in particular, and offer congratulations on a job well done.

This past weekend, the new Meridian Centre opened to the public with a free open house on Saturday, and by all accounts it was very well attended and everyone was suitably impressed.  I waited until the second open house on Tuesday evening, as I was able to include my sister, down from Kenora for a family visit.  They are hockey mad in Northern Ontario as you can imagine, and she expressed sheer delight such a magnificent facility was right here in our own backyards.

Me?  Well, I've not spent too much time in hockey arenas, but I have enough to know this place is very special indeed.  First of all, the name, of course.  What better way to show a commitment to the community than to pay for the naming rights to an exceptional new facility that will benefit all of Niagara?  Meridian, you've done us all proud by showing your support for the new spectator facility.

Touring the new digs on Tuesday, I was pleased to see such wide walkways and good spacing for the seats, and of course those necessary cup holders on the seats.  But more than that, I was pleased to see the smiling faces and approving nods of those who love what they see.

Oh sure, there has been harping since the beginning about the cost, the location, whether we need the thing at all, and so on.  Listen, from my vantage point, things are just fine, thank you very much.  The thing was built on time and on budget, and it possesses enough of a 'wow' factor to silence many of the critics, I suspect.

Putting the Meridian Centre in the centre of town is important and will prove a good choice over time.  It will draw people downtown for many events, not just hockey, and that is significant.  I could quibble about how William Street was not converted to two-way traffic in time for the opening, as I suggested in an earlier post, but I am hoping a new Council after the forthcoming election will see to it that issue is dealt with.  It will make parking a lot easier, I suspect.

Speaking of which, congrats to St. Catharines Transit for coming up with a clever promotion to get people to take the bus to and from events at the Meridian Centre.  If you have a ticket that day, you can ride free up to three hours before and then again after the event.  Not perfect if you just miss a bus and have to wait for the next one, but if you work on your own personal schedule and can make it happen, this is a great way to avoid parking problems at events downtown.

As for the game tonight, the first-ever at the new Meridian Centre, the Niagara Ice Dogs win the game along with the hearts of a sold-out Meridian Centre crowd.  Well done, team, on all levels.

So, the place is up and running and now we can anticipate next year's opening of the new Performing Arts Centre and the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts Centre, making downtown St. Catharines an exciting place to be in years to come.  Hold on to your hats, folks, the ride is just beginning!

I ask you:  when was the last time you saw so much optimism on the future of downtown St. Catharines?  It is not perfect of course, but in time we'll find the investments in the downtown core will pay significant dividends both financially and in terms of quality of life in Niagara.

The second good news story comes from an event I attended at the lovely Keefer Mansion Inn up on the hill in Thorold last evening, hosted by Phil Ritchie, the man behind the extensive rebuild of the old place a few years ago.  Phil and his lovely fiancee have hosted a dinner/speaker series at Keefer for a few years now, and last evening was a celebration of the past, present and future of not only the speaker series, but of Niagara itself.

Phil invited back several past speakers as well as the general public to attend an informal discussion on how Niagara has changed since each speaker had last appeared at the Keefer Inn, as well as what they see necessary in the future.  It was a fundraiser for Community Care of St. Catharines & Thorold, a local resource near and dear to my heart.

Some of the guests who attended last evening were Brock University President Jack Lightstone; Niagara College President Dan Patterson; Community Care CEO Betty-Lou Souter; Tom Rankin of Rankin Construction; Sun Media Niagara Publisher Mark Cressman; former Niagara Falls Review head honcho Frank Leslie and many others.  Everyone provided enlightening conversation on what they see as the needs to be filled in Niagara as well as what has been done so far.  All in all, it was an inspiring evening.

Look, there is far too much negative news reaching us on a daily basis.  Last evening at the Keefer Inn and this evening at the Meridian Centre provided Niagara with reasons to smile, celebrate, be optimistic for the future, and say collectively:  "This really is a special place we call home!"

What could be better than a week like that?

October 16th, 2014.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Are YOU man (or woman) enough to sponsor me for Walk a Mile in HER Shoes next weekend?

As your Thanksgiving weekend events continue on, I want you to think what you are thankful for this weekend.  Friends?  Family?  A safe home to call your own?  That's great.

Now, consider those who are not thankful this weekend, except perhaps they are still alive in spite of being in an abusive relationship.  Think about that for a moment, because there are more than you think in that very situation right now.

Every year, countless women leave abusive relationships and seek shelter and help from Gillian's Place in St. Catharines.  For over 35 years now, Gillian's Place has protected and served abused women and their children in St. Catharines and North Niagara.  Whether women need the safety of the shelter or access to the many programs offered on an outreach basis, Gillian's Place is there to help.

The agency has grown to provide a range of services for women, including a 24-hour support line, safe shelter, safety planning and counselling, emotional support, legal advice, transitional assistance and public education.  All services are free, completely confidential and available to all women 16 years of age and over.  What's more, they don't actually have to stay in the shelter to access the services of Gillian's Place.

All these services, however, cost money.  Gillian's Place, like many other social agencies, needs public fundraising in order to keep going and provide vital services to the community.  And that is where us guys come in.

For eight years now, the men of Niagara have gathered on one Saturday in October to take a stand against violence towards women and children and participate in a fun event that raises much-needed funds and awareness for Gillian's Place.  Every year it grows bigger and better, and although ideally we wish there were no need for Gillian's Place, the grim reality of the situation indicates otherwise.

For the 9th Annual Walk this year, we're pulling out all the stops and hoping to surpass the $125,000 goal next Saturday, October 18th.  The event takes place again this year at the Pen Centre in the Sears Court.  Registration begins at 10 am and the walk begins at 12 noon.  There will be guest speakers, entertainment, an awards ceremony and lunch afterwards.

Now here's how you can help.  If you are a man who feels as we do violence has no place in society on any level, but in particular in the domestic environment, why don't you consider joining us?  It's still not too late to register to walk and raise funds for Gillian's Place; just go to and click on the Register Now button to get started.

No matter what your gender, you also have a part to play even if you are not walking next Saturday.  You can - and we hope you will - sponsor a walker and show you support an end to violence against women in Niagara specifically and elsewhere as a whole.

For my part, I registered again this year this very weekend, and I am actively looking for pledges for my walk again this year.  This will be my 7th walk; I observed the very first one downtown and a few years ago following an operation in September, I was persuaded not to walk in heels that year.  But every other year I have been there, heels on, showing my support for Gillian's Place.

Last year was also my first year walking as an individual, and although I am registered again this year as an individual, I will be joining my esteemed colleagues at Meridian Credit Union in the walk next Saturday.

My choice of footwear will be determined when I arrive the morning of the walk, and I see what is available on the shoe rack.  Last year I chose a nice strappy number with a rather high heel, and I survived the walk, so who knows how adventurous I'll get this year!  Hey, the more donations, the higher the heel...does that work for you?  Wait a minute, what am I saying?

Anyway, will you support me?  All it takes is an online pledge by going to and click on the Participant button in order to select a particular participate to pledge for.  You can also message or email me directly if you want to make an in-person pledge.  It can be in any amount, by the way, and don't think your donation is too small to matter.  It all matters, and we gratefully accept all donations, big or small.

Next Saturday, several hundred men will strap on heels and join local celebrities and public figures in a walk to end violence against women and children in Niagara.  But we can't do it without you, so make a pledge, and come out to watch us strut our, er, stuff at the Pen Centre next Saturday.  It's fun, and a great cause.

See you next Saturday!

October 12th, 2014.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Two great theatrical losses in Niagara

I was saddened to hear of two losses in the local theatrical world in recent weeks, the most recent coming just the other night with news of the passing of actress, director and choreographer Diane Nyland-Proctor.  But before I reminisce a bit about "Di", as everyone called her, a few words on the passing of Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects, announced last month.

Kelly Daniels, Artistic Director of Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects, started the local theatrical company nine years ago with her husband, Shaw actor Ric Reid, and together they forged a solid reputation for quality theatre in Niagara during the off-season.

They produced shows for several years at the MainStage space in the Sullivan-Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines, and although getting audiences to come out to support local theatre in the winter months has always been a challenge, they seemed to have found a niche that needed filling and they appeared to do well enough.

Many of the productions, some of which I wrote about in this space over the years, employed several Shaw Festival actors in key roles.  These Shaw actors added a bit of cache, if you will, to many of the productions, with local actors taking supporting roles in many cases.  Often, Daniels herself would appear on stage and/or direct the productions.

But with the planned move of many artistic endeavours to the new Performing Arts Centre looming on the horizon, most likely increasing production costs in the process, Lyndesfarne decided to abandon their downtown St. Catharines home in favour of a new location at the refurbished and underused Seneca Queen Theatre in downtown Niagara Falls a couple of seasons back.

Initially, the move showed promise with Lyndesfarne staging ambitious shows and garnering positive reviews.  Unfortunately, the positive press didn't translate into bums in seats, as they say, and once again Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects faced the proverbial fork in the road.  Should they keep going, or pull the plug if people just won't come out to their shows?

Daniels and her board decided recently to pull the plug and let go of the theatrical dream that kept Kelly and her entourage in business for almost a decade.  That decision came, incidentally, after Lyndesfarne decided earlier this year to vacate their downtown Niagara Falls digs on Queen Street due to low attendance, and just rent the space when they needed it.

I am very saddened by the loss of Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects.  They almost consistently produced exceptional local theatre and deserved a better fate.  Why audiences didn't materialize is a bit of a mystery, although the downtown Niagara Falls location didn't help matters much.

There remains a stigma to coming downtown in Niagara Falls, and I am not quite sure what can be done to alleviate that sentiment.  St. Catharines' downtown, on the other hand, is on the upswing with the forthcoming Performing Arts Centre, the Marilyn I.Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts and of course this weekend, the first public tours of the new Meridian Centre in the former lower level parking lot.

But in Niagara Falls, in spite of the best efforts of private and public-sector investments, people still stay away.  It's too bad, really, as the space at the Seneca was quite nice, really, and the shows I saw there were very good quality.

This past spring George F. Walker's The Ravine received its premiere there, and although reviews appeared to be good, the audiences still did not materialize.  It proved to be the camel that broke the theatrical back.

I hope Kelly and Ric can find another way in the future to gift us with some quality theatre, but I can't blame them if they wonder to themselves, "Why bother?"  Why indeed if audiences don't come out.  Pity.

Often at Lyndefarne shows in downtown St. Catharines, I would run in to my old colleagues Frank and Di Proctor, showing their support for Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects many times over the years.

Diane Nyland Proctor, known simply as "Di" to everyone she worked with, passed away this week at the age of 70 at Toronto Western Hospital of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Di is a local theatre legend for her work for Garden City Productions over the years and earlier, her own theatre company Press Theatre, which performed at The Playhouse at Centre for the Arts at Brock University for many years.  The theatre, now known as the David S. Howes Theatre, was usually full for productions I attended back in the 80s, but again, there was not enough support to carry on, even back then.

I loved Press Theatre, a local company that pushed the boundaries of local, live theatre long before Lyndesfarne came on the scene, but Di and Kelly appeared to be kindred spirits in a way.

Diane, born in Kitchener, began her career as a dancer with the National Ballet of Canada before finding her true calling with musical theatre, producing over 100 shows locally and throughout the country.  Her two biggest claims to fame were as choreographer of Nunsense, for which she won a Dora Award in 1986, and earlier than that creating the role of Josie Pye in the world premiere production of Anne of Green Gables at the Charlettown Festival.

But many Canadians know her as Tracey Young, the hapless young bride in the 70s sitcom The Trouble With Tracy on CTV.  That was at a time when Canadian sitcoms were still rare, and this particular one was produced five days a week for two seasons with practically no budget to speak of.  The show has been the butt of many jokes over the years, but it was a television pioneer in its day.

Di was married for 44 years to Frank Proctor, with whom I worked at CKTB Radio when I first came to St. Catharines in 1981 and Frank was the popular morning man at the station.  While Frank did the morning show, Di handled all sorts of projects locally and beyond, including a short-lived cooking feature on CKTB I think was called Cooking with Di.  It was a fun little feature I remember fondly from those early years in radio in St. Catharines.

Both Di and Frank did more than their share to support local theatre, and Di especially nurtured many a local performer who would go on to bigger and better things on larger stages elsewhere.

She had not been well in recent years but kept as active as possible, working with Garden City Productions as recently as a couple of seasons ago.

A celebration of Di's life will take place at Toronto's Metropolitan Community Church at 115 Simpson Avenue on Monday, October 20th.  Many theatres are traditionally dark on Monday evenings, so that is the perfect time to celebrate a woman who gave so much to the theatrical community throughout the country for so long.

Both Diane Nyland-Proctor and Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects will be sorely missed here and beyond.

October 9th, 2014.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Great kickoff to the Walker Cultural Leader series at Brock University

I wrote last April about the final performance in the Walker Cultural Leader series, featuring Catherine Wilson and her ensemble from Toronto in a delightful performance at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre.  At the time I wrote the concert was great; the audience was rather pitiful as turnout was very low.

That was a shame, as the series, and in fact everything offered through the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock is of a uniformly high calibre, yet attendance always seems low, at least those I have attended in the past.

This past Friday evening the new season got underway with the Department of Music presenting renowned Canadian baritone Brett Polegato in recital at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre.  The recital was just part of the contribution Brett made to the Walker Cultural Leader series:  he also offered group coaching with Voice Students at Brock on Thursday; and a Voice Masterclass for Music Students on Saturday morning.

The Friday evening recital, open to the general public, was better attended this time than I have seen in the past, and perhaps that reflects the fact Brett is a Niagara boy coming back home to perform for a home-town crowd.  Or perhaps he simply generated more interest due to his stature as one Canada's premiere operatic baritones.  No matter.  Those who did attend were treated to an exceptional performance by an exceptional talent.

Brett, joined by pianist Robert Kortgaard, provided a recital full of some of his favourite music, some of it well-known and a lot of it quite the opposite.  The programme ranged from Poulenc's Le Bestiaire song-cycle to three settings of Shakespeare sonnets to Ravel's rarely-heard Histoires Naturelles.  Rounding out the programme were three familiar songs by American composer Aaron Copeland, including his upbeat Ching-a-ring Chaw.

Several encore pieces included a wonderfully humorous piece by Ivor Novello, and it has been a very long time since I heard anything by Novello on any recital programme, let alone a bring-down-the- house encore piece.

All in all, it was a great evening, and a great start to the Walker Cultural Leader series, which continues next Spring with a public presentation and exhibitions by acclaimed Canadian painter Janet Werner.

The series is being funded thanks to the Marilyn I. Walker Fund, an endowment created in 2008 when Marilyn Walker donated $15-million to Brock's School of Fine and Performing Arts.

Meantime the Department of Music performance calendar has finally been released, and it features once again the Encore! Professional Concert Series.  The four-concert series begins November 21st with the Madawaska Ensemble; continues January 30th with Quartetto Gelato; February 27th with Sarah Jerrom and Friends performing The Yeats Project; and concludes March 27th with Trio Surgite.

The Viva Voce! series under the direction of Harris Loewen continues as well, with performances November 15th by the Avanti Chamber Singers and November 29th by the Brock University Choirs.  The Choral Series features those same two groups in performances in February, March and April.

The University Wind Ensemble conducted by Zoltan Kalman performs on two Tuesday evenings:  December 2nd and March 31st.  And the music@noon series, sponsored by the RBC Foundation, offers recitals by faculty, special guests and students and alumni at Brock in free concerts open to the public.

I will be posting the entire series of events coming up with the Department of Music this week on the Calendar page of my website, at

In the meantime, you can find out more about the great music coming up this season by going to  You can find out about other MIWSFPA programmes and events by going to

I wrote last spring about the lack of information out there on just what great work is being done at the School of Fine & Performing Arts, and the fact a more concerted effort needs to be made to get the word out prior to the entire series being moved next season to the new downtown venue currently under construction.  While I still think more needs to be done in that regard, at least there appears to be a little more information out there this season.  Let's hope that continues.

Let's celebrate the arts in Niagara with the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock University!

September 28th, 2014