Friday, April 25, 2014

Last weekend of April is alive with performances in Niagara!

It may be the end of April and still not quite warm enough for some, but the arts in Niagara are alive and well and thriving in the cool spring air.  Just this weekend, in fact, there is no shortage of things to see and do right here in your own backyard, so let's take a look at a few of the events happening.

Starting this evening (Friday), the annual In The Soil Arts Festival takes over many venues in downtown St. Catharines with three days of entertainment ranging from music, theatre and dance to film and even a street party downtown on St. Paul Street.

The street party is new this year and I suspect it will be a great hit with families this weekend providing the weather cooperates.  The block between James and Carlisle is closed to vehicular traffic, so keep that in mind if you will be driving downtown over the weekend.  St. Catharines Transit buses are being rerouted onto King Street for the weekend to accommodate the festivities, which I am told even includes a ferris wheel.  I don't know if it is an artistic ferris wheel or not, but I aim to find out over the weekend.

Beyond the street party, there are over 100 events spread out over 15 venues in downtown St. Catharines, including original plays, music, dance and so much more.  Events are either free or very affordable to accommodate families, so make some time this weekend to come downtown and dig the arts.

Just one of the many musical acts performing this weekend is young Chloe Rabideau, performing at Mahtay Cafe & Lounge on St. Paul Street Saturday evening at 6 pm.  I was surprised to find a poster for the concert today and realized this was the little girl who grew up next door to us not that many years ago.  Well, things have changed!  All the best to Chloe as she chases her musical dream.  But that is what makes In The Soil so special.  You never know who - or what - will be programmed each year, and there are usually some surprises.

In The Soil has been around for about six years now and I remember attending some of the events in the early years before it really started to take off.  It is a spring ritual for many now and I think it has the potential to become one of our premiere events in Niagara in the future as it expands both in variety and reach.  For more information, log on to

If you like your weekend entertainment to be a little more, uh, sedate, may I suggest the annual spring concert with The Avanti Chamber Singers, entitled "How Sweet and Fair" Saturday evening at 7:30?  The concert is at the acoustically-wonderful St. Barnabas Church on Queenston Street in St. Catharines, and features guest artists Michelle Jacot on clarinet and Karin Di Bella on piano.

Conductor Harris Loewen has programmed choral settings of poetry by the likes of Robert Herrick, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Frost and E. E. Cummings, among others, with much of the music inspired by nature in all its springtime splendour.

Tickets for the concert are available from any Avanti Choir member, at Thorold Music on Glendale Avenue, Booksmart in the Scott-Vine Plaza, or tomorrow evening at the door.

Finally, this weekend the Niagara Symphony Orchestra (NSO) will present their final Family series and Pops! series concerts at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University. The Family series concert is Saturday afternoon at 2:30 with Laura Thomas conducting the orchestra along with guest artist Chris McKhool of Fiddlefire! fame.

Sunday afternoon at 2:30 the NSO joins forces with Sultans of Swing, again conducted by Laura Thomas, and a concert of world rhythms featuring guest artists Chris McKhool, Kevin Laliberte, Eddie Paton, Drew Birston and Chendy Leon.  It should be a fun concert and a rousing end to the Pops! season.

I will be in the lobby once again before, after and at intermission on Sunday with a table full of musical selections available for purchase, so be sure to stop by and say hello and see what I have with me this time.  For tickets to the concert, contact the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or pick them up at the door for either concert.

Enjoy the arts in Niagara this weekend!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Educating children about music

My apologies for not writing last weekend as is my usual routine, but I had spent the better part of the previous week in Toronto for training for my new job, and by the weekend once I got caught up on the home front, the weekend was all but done.  Things are getting a little quieter now, thanks, so I should be able to resume my regular writing routine again, and hopefully by next week I can write the column I've wanted to for job hunters in the same position I was for seven months.

Right now, though, I want to share with you an email I received today from a good friend and wonderful musician from Toronto who appeared last month at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts series at the Centre for the Arts at Brock University, Catherine Wilson.

Catherine, you might recall, performed with her group Ensemble Vivant and I lamented the small turnout for the concert.  Pity, as the concert was exceptional.

Well, if you are in, or plan to be, in Toronto next Friday evening, April 25th, you can catch Catherine and her group of talented musicians including Don Thompson, Norman Hathaway, Steven Sitarski and Sybil Shanahan at Heliconian Hall at 35 Hazelton Avenue.  The concert is a fundraiser for a cause near and dear to Catherine's heart, EUTERPE, a not-for-profit, charitable music organization on a mission to bring live quality music to children.

EUTERPE, named after the Greek Muse of Music, presents live interactive classical and jazz performance programs featuring exceptional artists free of charge to people who might not otherwise be exposed to such music.  The group organizes festivals, seminars and educational workshops as well as promoting the musical arts for those in need through financial and other support.

As the organization states on their website, their mission is "to bring the experience of good music, well played, into the lives of people - especially young people - the vast majority of whom might otherwise never know how much music can enrich their lives, expand their minds and brighten their horizons.  We know from experience how life altering music can be.  We've felt it in our own lives.  We see it shining in the minds, and on the faces of the children participating in our performances."

This is a program I support without hesitation, as the music lovers of tomorrow need to be educated today.  The greying of our symphony concert-goers is testament to the need for programmes such as this to educate younger audiences so they, too, will want to attend classical and jazz performances as they themselves get older.

The concert features a variety of what is termed "sensuous Latin music" so, presumably, the tango will figure prominently in the musical selections, of which Catherine and her group are particularly adept.  There will also be a photography exhibition by Mary Perdue, an award-winning photographer showing 30 images of life in old Havana, a city I have yet to visit but someday would very much like to.  I'm told the colourful exterior of the city hides decay that is allowing the city to literally crumble away.

So, if I have whetted your appetite to attend, the concert is next Friday night, April 25th at 7:30 at Heliconian Hall at 35 Hazelton Avenue in downtown Toronto, and tickets are available in advance by contacting  General seating is $ 25.00 and premium seating is also available for $ 100.00.  Tickets can also be purchased at the door, of course.

For more information, call 416-885-0535 or 416-465-8856, or go to

It looks like a nice way to spend a spring evening, and support a very worthwhile cause at the same time.  Educating the young to become the concert-goers of tomorrow starts with all of us, and innovative programmes such as this.

Enjoy the music!

April 18th, 2014.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Great theatre and music on tap this weekend

There is lots going on in the arts in Niagara and beyond at this time of year, and I thought I would round up three events you might just want to make time for if you possibly can, even as the weather warms up and the snow continues to melt.

Before I do, though, my apologies for not writing quite as frequently as I would like at the moment, but with training for my new job and all, I don't always have as much time available as I would like for other pursuits, so bear with me and I will be a more frequent writer in another couple of weeks.  And in fact, next week I will give you a progress report on how things are going thus far.

Now back to the subject at hand.  This weekend sees the swan-song of sorts for the husband-and-wife team of Jason Cadieux and Stephanie Jones as they begin to let go the strings that bind them to their theatrical baby, Essential Collective Theatre.  The pair launched their little theatre company that could several years ago now, performing these days out of the MainStage space in the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines.

Letting go of something that becomes a labour of love is never easy, but the pair have decided to let go and hand the artistic reigns over to Monica Dufault, now Co-Artistic Director of ECT and a part time instructor in drama at Brock University.  I had Monica guest with me on my show, Inquisitive Minds on CFBU-FM  this past week, talking about plans for the future once she assumes the full artistic control of the company later this year.  It promises to be an exciting year for ECT and in their own way, for Jason and Stephanie as well.  I hope they enjoy a bit of a rest from the footlights for a little while at least.

But not this weekend.  There is one final performance left of their play Scenic View, written by the pair about 15 years ago and since updated with a Niagara connection, literally and figuratively.  The last show is Sunday afternoon at 2 and it is a pay-as-you-can performance and it is certainly worth catching.

I attended the Friday evening performance and although the audience was relatively small, it was exceptionally appreciative.  The play itself is engaging and light, and will appeal to anyone with a theatrical bent and creativity coursing in their veins.  That's not to say you have to be a theatre insider to fully enjoy the play; far from it.  But other theatre types will certainly see a bit of themselves in this short one-act play.

For tickets, pick them up at the door tomorrow afternoon before the show.

Meantime in Niagara Falls, the other theatre company that could, also a one-time tenant at the downtown St. Catharines Courthouse Theatre, Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects continues to blaze trails with some innovative, some would say daring theatrical fare at the Seneca Queen Theatre in downtown Niagara Falls.

Artistic Director Kelly Daniels moved the company to the Niagara Falls venue prior to last season and seems to be doing just fine, thank you very much, occupying a theatre space with a storied past.  This was, of course, the theatre that many years ago premiered the Marilyn Monroe film Niagara, shot on location at the famous cataracts.

Lyndesfarne is making a little bit of history this month themselves as they staged the world-premiere performance of George F. Walker's The Ravine on March 28th.  The play continues until April 13th at  7:30 pm Wednesday to Saturday, with matinee performances Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm.

Walker is a Canadian playwright with impressive credentials, and he has a proven track record of theatrical successes on his resume.  The Ravine likely will be another popular item in his repertoire, dealing as it does with political intrigue and corruption involving the mayor, Oscar Wallace.  Sounds like it might be hitting a little close to home these days, doesn't it?

The cast makes use of some great local talent, including the husband-and-wife team of William Vickers and Karen Wood, along with Bruce Gooch and Sarah Murphy-Dyson among others.

Tickets are still available for the remainder of the run at the Seneca Queen.  You can call the box office at 905-374-7469 or purchase them at the door.

Finally, if you don't mind a bit of a drive on a Sunday afternoon, I have a suggestion for some great music in one of my favourite small Ontario towns, Elora, where the celebrated Elora Festival wraps up their winter season this weekend with a Sunday afternoon performance of J.S. Bach's St. John Passion, just in time for the Easter season, performed by the Elora Festival Singers directed by Noel Edison.

As I have written in this space many times before, the Elora Festival Singers are far and away one of the finest chamber choirs you'll hear anywhere, and when you can hear them perform the powerful music of Bach at Eastertime, all the better.  They have a clarity of sound that is simply breathtaking to behold, no matter what the musical programme.

This performance will be not at their regular home in Elora at St. John's Church, but the larger St. Joseph's Church in nearby Fergus, also a lovely town to visit any time of the year.  For tickets, call the box office at 519-846-0331 or go to

By the way, the Elora Festival announced their summer line up about a week ago, and I will be writing about that very soon as well, as it promised to be an exciting three weeks this July and August.  There will even be a Last Night of the Proms concert this year, and that is just one of the highlights.  More to come in this space very soon.

So there you go.  No shortage of ways to ignore the lingering winter and celebrate spring with some great music and theatre not very far away.

Enjoy your weekend!

April 5th, 2014