Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Arts are on the move in downtown St. Catharines

If you need any reminders things are moving ahead on our two arts venues in downtown St. Catharines set to open shortly, they came in a flurry of press releases from both Brock University and the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre this week.

The Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts is set to open this September, and in fact staff are beginning to move in now.  The FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre will also be opening this fall, with work continuing at a brisk pace throughout the summer months.

First let's look at the Performing Arts Centre.  Online job boards started listing positions open for staff needed to help run the facility, and you can also volunteer to help out at various events at the PAC as well.  Just go to the City of St. Catharines website and you'll fine links to information if you want to become a volunteer starting this fall.

It was also announced this week the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre will present its inaugural HOT TICKET professional entertainment season with help from the Government of Canada in the form of $ 50,000 in funding.  The investment will assist the PAC in bringing over 75 music, dance and theatre performances to the new facility, as well as assist in providing accessible engagement initiatives through workshops, school concerts, master classes and other dynamic community forums.

MP Rick Dykstra delivered the news at the PAC site on St. Paul Street this past Thursday, and everyone was all smiles at the news.  That increases the federal government's total investment in the project, but this particular funding is provided through the Canada Arts Presentation Fund (CAPF) of the Department of Canadian Heritage.  The whole idea behind CAPF is to give Canadians access to a variety of professional artistic experiences in their own communities.

The FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre is scheduled to announce its very first HOT TICKET season on July 21st, and we'll be sure to report on the news in this space shortly afterwards.  But doesn't it seem rather odd after all these years to be referring to the upcoming HOT TICKET season someplace other than at the Centre for the Arts at Brock University?  Certainly does to me!

Speaking of Brock, they are on the move downtown as well.  Earlier this week, moving vans started arriving at the University in order to move the Faculty of Humanities departments to the new Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts facility downtown, set to open in September.

The collective move will involve the departments of Dramatic Arts, Music and Visual Arts, and the Centre for Students in Arts and Culture.  The big move began this past week and will continue until this Tuesday, June 30th.  In all, three 34-foot moving vans and a specialty piano truck will be heading up and down the hill on Glenridge until the move is completed.

Brock sent out a list of what will be in those big moving vans this week, and included are over a thousand moving boxes, over 50 computers, a green screen, a printing press and no less than 17 upright, grand and electric pianos.  Oh, and let's not forget about the eight-foot long harpsichord.

Sounds like fun, right?  And you thought moving your parents from their home to a small condo was fun...I've done that, and this sounds like a well-organized plan designed to minimize aggravation and things going missing.

Finally, an official address was named for the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts this week, and it has a fair amount of significance attached to it.  The Brock venue, which includes the old Canada Hair Cloth Company, was located at 198 St. Paul Street for more than a century when the main entrance was on the north side of the building.  But now with the main entrance moving to the south side of the renovated and expanded building, Brock felt an address change was in order.

The City of St. Catharines agreed to grant the campus the address of 15 Artists' Common, referring to the small laneway that comes off of Ice Dogs Way near McGuire Street.  According to Carol Merriam, Interim Dean, the Faculty of Humanities, the new address holds special significance for the University.

Merriam notes the 'Common' derives from the Latin communis, meaning something shared or held by a community together.  Since one of the goals of moving the School to a downtown location is to share the work of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts with the larger community, the word common seems especially relevant.  What's more, Merriam says "common also indicates a meeting place where the community comes together - again, something that Brock is striving to create here."

Then there's the significance of the number 15:  the number commemorates both the year the building opened, and the original $15 million gift to Brock University from Marilyn I. Walker, which made the move possible in the first place.  So you see, lots of thought has gone into the actual address and why the change was needed.

With all this activity happening all of a sudden, are you starting to feel the excitement shared by both the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts and the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre?  I certainly am.

Enjoy your weekend!

June 27th, 2015.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sullivan Mahoney Theatre still a busy place these days

I was down to the old Courthouse in downtown St. Catharines earlier today for a meeting with Monica Dufault, Artistic Director of Essential Collective Theatre, and conversation turned to a production they are mounting tomorrow evening at the Sullivan Mahoney Theatre.

With all the talk about the opening this fall of the new First Ontario Performing Arts Centre, it's easy to forget the fact many of the arts organizations hoping to use that new facility when it opens are still quietly working away as they always have in their cozy if not slightly shopworn space in the old Courthouse downtown.

In the case of ECT, they are well positioned to make the move to the new space this fall, but of course, it will be more expensive to rent than the current digs, so they are busy working on ways to bridge that financial gap before the move actually takes place.  Most of the groups still using the Sullivan Mahoney Theatre upstairs in the old Courthouse are doing the same thing, with varying degrees of success, it seems.

One of the nice aspects of ECT is they also head out on the road when they can to present productions outside their home space, and that will be the case again through late June and early July when they open a new production entitled Senior Stories - Songs of Our Youth.  The short (about 40 mins.) show is directed by Monica Default and is an original play based on stories told by older adults across the Niagara Region.

In all, over 60 interviews were conducted with seniors all across the region, and those stories have been combined with music familiar to many of the seniors whose stories are told in the play, including selections by Louis Armstrong, Bob Crosby, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and a host of others.

As Monica says in the program notes for the production, "Senior Stories was developed to give voice to older adults in our area, and at the same time offer emerging young theatre artists an opportunity to apply their training in a real-world theatre situation."  She goes on to say "Our troupe of actors will have travelled to long-term care facilities, community centres and older adult centres in every municipality in the Niagara Region by the end of their tour, totalling 33 performances."

If nothing else, this production should help to bridge at least part of the generation gap between the younger actors and the older adults interviewed for the storyline.

Actors involved in the production Emily Ferrier, Alex Franks, Taylor Grant and Raylene Turner.

The production opens tomorrow evening at 7 at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines at 7 pm.  Admission is free to the public.  After that, the tour will take the company to the Thorold Community Activities Group on Friday afternoon, Wainfleet Township Library July 3rd and July 7th at the Dunlop Drive Older Adult Centre in St. Catharines.  All those performances are at 2 pm.

This is the kind of community outreach you want to see from our local arts groups, sort of a "we'll come to you" approach in order to reach audiences they might not otherwise connect with.  I suspect more of this will happen in the future as these same organizations work hard to develop their audiences beyond their present numbers.

One such group quite familiar with community outreach, and another tenant at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre, is Carousel Players.

They have a great programme for children coming up in July and August at the Courthouse Theatre to teach them about live theatre, story telling and even puppetry.  The age range, depending on the programme, is from 5 to 8 years to 10 to 13 years of age.

The first week, for ages 5 to 8 years, is Creative Drama with Jessica Carmichael, running July 6 to 10.  The new Artistic Director for Carousel Players along with guest instructors will offer the children a creative theatre experience.

The second week, from July 13 to 17, also for ages 5 to 8 years, is Storybook Adventures with Katherine Dubois, as children watch the story and characters come to life on stage from the pages of popular children's books.

The week of July 20 to 24 is an Acting experience with Jennifer Balen for ages 9 to 12 years, where kids can explore their creative side and improve their acting skills, while working on a play.

A Musical Theatre Camp with Melanie Ash and Betsy Tauro is up next from July 27 to 31 for ages 9 to 12 years, incorporating music with choreography.

August kicks off with a Shaw Acting Camp from August 4 to 14, for ages 10 to 13 years.  The intensive programme pairs youth with ECT Artistic Director Monica Dufault and many Shaw Festival professionals to sharpen their acting skills through workshops and scene study.  Also included is a trip to the Shaw Festival for a matinee performance of Peter and the Starcatcher on August 5 as well as other activities while at Shaw.

Finally, Gemma James Smith will teach kids ages 5 to 8 years about puppetry, as the children learn to make their own puppets out of everyday objects and adapt a classic story for the stage.  The Puppetry week runs from August 17 to 21.

There are registration fees for these events, and more information can be had by going to, or calling their office at 905-682-8326, ext. 22.

The Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre is certainly not gone; nor is it forgotten, either.

Enjoy the rest of the week!

June 24, 2015.

Monday, June 22, 2015

It's a wrap for 2015 NIFF

The second annual NIFF (Niagara Integrated Film Festival) is now in the books and by all accounts, it appears to be growing nicely here in Niagara.  After a weekend covering the Festival, some thoughts as we move forward towards next year.

We began with a nice little reception at Festival headquarters at the always-accommodating White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa, where I got to meet the founder and CEO of NIFF and also founder of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) many years ago, Bill Marshall.  To say Bill is a visionary is not understating the case, I think, as he always seems to have his hand on the pulse of cinema lovers in the country.

I waited until Friday evening before attending any films as I wanted to clear the decks and just relax and enjoy the weekend, so I waited until the World Premiere of Colossal Failure of the Modern Relationship at the Landmark Cinemas at the Pen Centre.  This was well attended and really set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

Directed by Sergio Navarretta and filmed almost entirely in Niagara, the film doesn't really break from the familiar Rom-Com mould, but doesn't actually have a typical happy ending, either.  The story deals with wine writer Freddy and his neglected wife Cat, who decide to accept an invitation to visit Niagara wine-country and end up sharing the trip with Freddy's boss and his new girl-friend.

Not wanting to give too much of the plot away, suffice it to say things don't go as planned.  But the food looks terrific and there is plenty of Niagara wine being celebrated, and for me, the best part is this is Niagara portraying...Niagara.  It's not masquerading as say, Napa Valley.  There are several Niagara locales and wineries proudly on display, which will please us locals and not take away from the story for others outside the area watching the film.

If anything, this is a 100-minute advertisement for all we have to offer in Niagara, and that can never be a bad thing.  The cast is great and the camera shots are exceptional.  Definitely one of the highlights of NIFF 2015.

Saturday at noon I returned to the Pen Centre for the Niagara Rises Shorts compilation, bringing together seven shorts all produced by Niagara-area film-makers.  The shortest was five minutes and was absolutely delightful:  Henny's Opus in B Minor, set to Bach's wonderful Mass in B Minor.  Others in the collection were The Day Santa Didn't Come, which co-starred Tara Spencer-Nairn from Corner Gas fame;  Down by the Waterside; High T.N.T; Made in Bali; Pitka Koirat:  A Horse in the Folds; and Stranger.  I found one or two not really to my liking, but all were creative and interesting to watch.  The variety of talent displayed in the Niagara Rises Shorts programme was impressive.

Saturday evening proved particularly interesting, and not necessarily for the right reasons.  My wife and I thought we had better get down to the Landmark Cinemas early for the 6:30 screening of the documentary Sergio Herman, F**king Perfect, but when we arrived there were maybe one or two people already in the theatre.  When things got underway, including us there were at most ten people watching the film.  Disheartening to say the least.

The documentary, directed by Willemiek Kluijfhout and filmed in Dutch with English subtitles, tells the story of three Michelin-star chef Sergio Herman, who always strives for perfection.  But he decides at the height of his fame to close his iconic restaurant and start anew in Antwerp.  The story is well told and clearly shows the obsessive nature of successful chefs in today's day and age.

The second film Saturday evening was not much better attended, frankly, The Falling, directed by Carol Morley.  Set in 1969 at a strict English girls' school, the film tells the story of a mysterious fainting epidemic that overtakes almost everyone at the school.  It is dark and brooding, with an ending that makes you wonder just where the main protagonists left go from here.

Sunday afternoon we didn't make it down to Landmark Cinemas until late afternoon, when we decided to take in the delightful Rom-Com I'll See You in My Dreams, directed by Brett Haley and starring Blythe Danner in a rare leading role.  The film tells the story of Carol, a widow in her 70s who finally decides to start dating again after living alone for many years following the death of her husband.  But not just one, but two men...things get complicated.  It was a feel-good movie and the large audience came away quite pleased at the end.

The final film we attended was another documentary, and it was riveting.  Best of Enemies, directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon, looks back to the acrimonious televised debates on ABC during both the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions that year.  But the debates were not with the Presidential hopefuls, but rather between liberal Gore Vidal and conservative William F. Buckley Jr. as they heatedly discussed and disagreed on politics, God and sex.  It was fascinating seeing how television networks were handling politics back then, long before CNN and round-the-clock coverage of events became common-place.

Again, the audience was rather small for Best of Enemies, but it turned out to be one of the most satisfying of the films we saw on the weekend.

So we didn't get to see anywhere near the full complement of films available during NIFF, but we saw enough to know this is a Festival worth supporting, and will only continue to grow and expand in the years to come.

Sure, there were some technical glitches to deal with on occasion, but overall, the entire Festival ran smoothly and on track from start to finish.  Everyone involved from founder and CEO Bill Marshall down to the large team of volunteers on hand should all be commended for their hard work and dedication.

Next year, things will be even more interesting at NIFF, and movie fans in Niagara and beyond are probably already looking forward to Round 3.

Have a good week!

June 22nd, 2015.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Foster Festival coming to downtown St. Catharines

Earlier this week I had an opportunity to attend a media event to announce a new summer theatre festival for next year in downtown St. Catharines.  In fact, a year from this week is when the festival is going to kick off.

Anyone who has attended just about any summer theatre festival anywhere in Canada is familiar with the name Norm Foster, as his witty and avuncular plays grace many a playbill during the summer months.  In fact, on average there are about 150 productions of his plays in any given year.  But not until now has there been an entire theatre festival dedicated to his plays, and for many the response will certainly be "It's about time!"

Foster, just wrapping up a two-week-and-a-bit run of his play On a First Name Basis with Patricia Vanstone at Port Hope's historic Cameco Capitol Arts Centre this weekend, was on hand Monday afternoon at the new Foster Festival offices on St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines.  He says he's both humbled and thrilled to finally have a festival named after him.

Calling himself the "lipstick on the pig", Foster knows full well there is lots to do between now and when the Festival officially launches next summer at the brand-spanking new First Ontario Performing Arts Centre downtown.  That work will be left to two "very strong women" as Foster put it in a release, Executive Director Emily Oriold and Artistic Director Patricia Vanstone; yes the same Patricia Vanstone with whom Foster is appearing alongside in Port Hope at the moment.   Foster quips "I'm just riding on their coattails, doing what they tell me to do."

For one thing, funding now has to be raised to put on the festival which will have a budget of nearly $550,000 in its first year.  The Festival hopes to raise $300,000 through sponsorship, corporate donations and a crowd-funding campaign with Indiegogo that went online earlier this week.

The full 2016 season along with principal artists and creative teams will be announced in October, with tickets going on sale shortly afterwards.

Right now what is known is the Foster Festival will produce three of Foster's plays over a nine-week run of three weeks each starting in June of 2016.  Personally I would have opted for four plays with a two-week run each for a total of eight weeks, but time will tell if three weeks per play is doable in the 200-seat Robertson Theatre.

There will be no shortage of Foster plays from which to choose for the inaugural season:  Foster has written close to 60 plays thus far and has three currently in development, all at the same time.  What's more, the Festival will hold exclusive rights to the world premieres of all of his future work.

It was also announced earlier this week plans for local job creation and educational outreach through the Foster Festival with a planned relationship to be established with Brock University's Department of Dramatic Arts.  The new Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts will be right next door to the Performing Arts Centre, of course, and the Foster Festival will have access to a state-of-the-art production facility along with providing summer employment and educational opportunities to the Department's current and graduating students.  This is important, as they will be able to get that first crucial work experience in a professional environment when they need it most.

The Foster Festival will also offer an innovative Drama Club, designed to provide a drama component to existing after-school arts programming by partnering with The Kristen French Child Advocacy Centre of Niagara.  In addition, they plan to "foster talent" through the Festival, as emerging playwrights will be invited to develop their writing under the mentorship of Norm Foster himself.

There will also be the establishment of an annual playwriting competition for area youth.

So what can we expect this time next year?  Hopefully full houses in the Robertson Theatre, of course.  With eight performances per week for three weeks each play, that works out to about 4800 seats available for each run with a regular inclusive ticket price of $42.  That certainly falls into the ballpark of what summer theatre patrons are expected to pay elsewhere, and let's face it the Robertson Theatre will be a far nicer venue than many of the summer theatre locations I've visited over the years.

But the close proximity of the Shaw Festival and other summer entertainment fare in the area cannot be ignored, so a lot of preparation and planning will have to go into making the Foster Festival both a financial and an artistic success.  It can be done, and I think we have a formidable artistic team already in place, but as always, the devil will be in the details.

These are indeed exciting times in downtown St. Catharines, and the thought of a summer theatre festival in the first season of the PAC is certainly welcome news.  Who better to be the "lipstick" on the theatrical pig than Norm Foster?

If anyone is bankable in the summertime, it's Mr. Foster.  Get writing those plays, sir!

June 19th, 2015.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Cinema lovers unite - NIFF is back in town next weekend!

It's hard to believe a year has gone by since the inaugural Niagara Integrated Film Festival took place,  but here we are a year later and already the excitement is starting to build for Round 2.

I must admit I was a little blasé about it myself last year, not being a great movie-goer myself anyways, so I remember reading about it at the time but nothing seemed to grab me last year.  Maybe I was in the minority, since everyone else got rather excited about the whole thing and it appears to have taken off in Niagara.

So here we are a few days away from the launch of the second season, and I must admit, I am excited this year by some of the offerings.  Going on the NIFF website, you can access a full list of films to be screened, and in some cases even view trailers for some of them.

I watched the trailer for one that caught my eye and it worked - I want to see that film!  It's called Posthumous, starring Jack Huston, Brit Marling, Lambert Wilson, Tom Schilling and Alexander Fehling, and it receives its Canadian premiere at NIFF.  The story deals with an artist who discovers his art is probably worth more when he's dead rather than alive.  There are two screenings of the film, as part of the clever Filmalicious series where dinner is served prior to the screening at Southbrook Vineyards on Saturday evening, and the film alone at the Landmark Cinemas at Pen Centre on Sunday morning at 10.

It's important to note the Filmalicious series, as well as the Gala screenings take place at various wineries around the Region and although you can book both dinner and screening together, you can also opt just for the screening.  Dinners start at 7 pm and the screenings follow at 9:30 pm.  Other wineries hosting screenings include Peller Estates, Henry of Pelham, Redstone and Jackson-Triggs.

This is one of the great hooks for NIFF - where else can you go for an evening of great food and a great film in such a magnificent setting than right here in Niagara wine country.  As the film festival grows over the years, it is hoped this really becomes one of the key selling points for people outside and inside the area to come out and take part.

The opening night Gala is Thursday evening at Peller Estates winery and features the Canadian premiere of Testament of Youth, featuring Emily Watson, Hayley Attwell, Taron Egerton, Kit Harington, Alicia Vikander and Dominic West.  The dinner and screening will be followed by an after party and I am told director James Kent will be attending the event that evening.

There's several local connections to some of the films being screened as well.

The British Invasion pop musical movie called The Cocksure Lads Movie screens Thursday evening at 9:30 at Landmark Cinemas at Pen Centre, and then there's an after party at the Oast Brewery and the band will actually be on hand Thursday evening to play live.  The producer of the film lives here in Niagara, in fact.

Another film with a local connection is The Colossal Failure of the Modern Relationship, about a wine writer coming to Niagara to review the wines here.  Again, the filmmakers are from Niagara.  It receives its World Premiere Friday evening at 6:30 at the Landmark Cinemas.

Then there's one of several short films being screened as part of the Niagara Rises Shorts programme, June 20th at 12 noon at Landmark.  Entitled Henny's Opus in B Minor and starring Henny Nixon, it tells the story of an aging woman struggling with dementia who reconnects with the music of J.S. Bach.  The film is only 5 minutes long and is directed by Andrea Conte, another Niagara resident.

Perhaps one of the most interesting films to be screened is a documentary called Festival Express, directed by Bob Smeaton and Frank Cvitanovich.  It retells the story of the brief but historic train ride between Toronto, Calgary and Winnipeg in 1970, when Janis Joplin, The Band and The Grateful Dead rode the rails on the customized train and played at several stops along the way.  The only Canadian band on the tour was Mashmakhan, and one of the musicians from the band lives in the area and will be attending the screening on Friday afternoon at 4 at the Landmark Cinemas.

So that should whet your appetite for what's to come next weekend.  There is no way you can catch them all, but you could have a lot of fun trying to see as many as you can between Thursday and Sunday!  And just think, all this fun is happening right here in Niagara.

For detailed film descriptions and to order tickets, visit or call 1-800-656-0713.  Some of the films are already sold out, so it is suggested you get your tickets sooner rather than later.  And as a special bonus for my blog readers, NIFF is offering a 25% discount on your ticket purchase by using the promo code COMMUNITY.  How cool is that?

Now I'm excited!

June 13, 2015.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Micah Barnes launches new CD and Ontario tour dates

Being as I follow the Canadian music business rather closely, I often get CDs in the mail for reviewing purposes or to feature on the website at  So it is my blog post this time out looks at a new release by a Canadian jazz singer-songwriter making quite a name for himself these days.

I can't say I was familiar with the name Micah Barnes before the CD New York Stories arrived in the mail last month.  I have no idea why, but better late than never, I always say.

Micah released the first single from his new CD in April of last year, entitled New York Story, and it quickly rose on the charts, resulting in Barnes being named by the Toronto Indie Music Awards as Best Jazz Act of 2014.  A couple of music videos have since been released on YouTube and are garnering plenty of attention in their own right.

The new CD pays homage to the City That Never Sleeps, where the story goes Micah was romancing his partner who was working on Broadway at the time.  They shared an apartment in Harlem on the site of the legendary Savoy Ballroom, in fact.

If you hear the influences of the likes of Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim and others in the CD, it is no accident.  Micah rented the same piano studio used by those and many other songwriters over the years to begin work on this musical project.

So who is this Micah Barnes, anyway?  Music and the arts come naturally to him, as his grandmother was a Russian pianist and his father a classical composer in his own right.  In fact, Milton Barnes has quite a connection to Niagara, having written a composition about Niagara Falls years ago and having an association with our own Niagara Symphony Orchestra as well.  His mother was an author and in fact head writer for the acclaimed CBC TV show Mr. Dressup.

Micah joined The Nylons in 1989, then launching his solo career in Los Angeles several years later.  He worked in the United States for quite some time, before returning to Canada to join Molly Johnson's Canadian tour, opening the show and singing harmony vocals.  In 2014, he launched Stand By Me:  The Music of the Brill Building, a show featuring Micah and musical friends, including fellow Nylons alumnus Billy Newton Davis.

May 3rd of this year saw Micah launch his new recording at the Glenn Gould Studio in downtown Toronto, in concert with special guest Jackie Richardson.

The CD has an intimate feel not unlike a performance in a small bistro somewhere, with Micah and his musicians presenting the original material in clean, nicely-ornamented arrangements.  Micah's voice reminds me a little of another New York singing icon, Harry Connick Jr. in the voice quality and delivery.

That's certainly not a bad thing, but Micah will have to look beyond his New York inspiration for the first disc in order to broaden his musical horizons and audience base if he is to grow in popularity in the future.  He shows great talent as a songwriter on the first disc, penning such original tunes as I Came Back,  Starting Tomorrow and of course the title track.

This summer, Micah and his band will hit the road, touring two different shows across Ontario.  To support the new disc, Micah and friends will perform songs from the new CD as well as other New York favourites at the Jazz Bistro on Victoria Street in downtown Toronto throughout the month of June.  For reservations, call 1-416-363-5299 or email

On June 27, Micah will join Jackie Richardson and The Russ Little Quartet for a Toronto Jazz Festival performance at the Home Smith Bar in The Old Mill.  Tickets can be ordered through

Micah will also perform a little closer to Niagara on July 10th when he takes the stage at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre before heading to the Midland Cultural Centre from July 22nd to 25th.  Tickets can be ordered through the box offices for those respective venues.

Meantime, Micah will present the Stand By Me show in Huntsville at the Algonquin Theatre on July 16th and as part of the Stratford Summer Music schedule in Stratford on August 29th.  Again, contact both of those locations for tickets and more information.

If you like what you hear online or at the show and want a copy of the CD for yourself, you can go to his website at or order it through A Web of Fine Music by going to  You can also email me directly at

Enjoy a musical journey to New York City without even leaving the comfort of your living room!

June 10th, 2015.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Looking for something to do in Niagara this weekend?

This is the perfect weekend to get out and celebrate all we have to enjoy in Niagara, from music and arts to food and just being who we are.  So here's a roundup of some of the more popular events I - and perhaps you - might want to attend at some point this weekend.

First off, if you plan to visit our St. Catharines Farmers' Market at Market Square in downtown St. Catharines tomorrow morning, keep an eye out for the Garden City Food Co-Op tent set up just outside the north entrance to Market Square.  The tent is set up every Saturday morning from 9 until about 1:15, and in fact this weekend will also be there for Niagara Vegfest on Sunday.  This Saturday morning I will be one of the volunteers on hand to let you know about the benefits of joining the Garden City Food Co-Op.

The goal now is to reach the 800-member mark, and we are getting closer by the day.  So if you have considered becoming a founding member like I have but not done so yet, what are you waiting for?  We'll fill you in at the market in the morning and just how important this community venture will be to the quality of life not just in St. Catharines but throughout the Region as well.

Pride Niagara week is in full swing, and the big day is tomorrow at Montebello Park where Pride in the Park will take place from 12 noon to 11 pm.  Along with food, displays and lots of fun in the best park in Niagara, there will be plenty of music on tap throughout the day as well.  Musical highlights include Canadian Indie-Rock artists Rae Spoon and Fox Trail, and country artist Brad Battle.

This is the 4th annual Pride in the Park Festival and it promises to be even bigger and better this year, and admission to the park is free.  Weather should be good for the entire day tomorrow, too.

Tomorrow evening in Thorold, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church presents the pride of Thorold, organist Andrew Henderson in concert at the church at 24 Clairmont Street, downtown.  The concert is a fundraiser to support the restoration of the Historic Beaverdams Church.

Henderson's roots run deep in Thorold, as he grew up in the city and of course is the son of John and Cathy Henderson, the proprietors of the iconic Henderson's Pharmacy at 15 Front Street.  Andrew is now organist at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City, so this is a rare chance to hear one of the most acclaimed organists of our generation who just happens to hail from Niagara.

I enjoyed hearing Andrew at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church for a similar recital about 15 years ago, and his technique is breathtaking.  The requisite barn-burner finale is always worth the price of admission itself.

From what I hear, the concert is entirely sold out, but you might want to check at Henderson's Pharmacy tomorrow to see if there are any stray tickets left.  I didn't even get a ticket for the concert, so if you are going, I'll live it vicariously through you.  Welcome home, Andrew!

On Sunday, Niagara Vegfest takes place at Market Square in downtown St. Catharines from 11 am to 6 pm.  This free event brings together a wide array of vendors, speakers and others interested in a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle for a day full of food, fun and information.

Looking at the line up of vendors, there will be something for everyone, from vegan doughnuts from Beechwood Doughnuts to Niagara's premiere vegan restaurant, Rise Above.

A nice added touch will be a food drive for Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold, so be sure to bring something to add to the Community Care food drums.  Given the fact it is the Niagara Vegfest, it would be nice to see some vegetarian and vegan food donations as well.  When you think about it, those who rely on Community Care to make ends meet should also have access to different food options if at all possible as well, so do keep that in mind this weekend.

Tied in with Niagara Vegfest is a three-day special three-course vegan dinner being offered at La Scala Restaurant on Queen Street downtown.  The price is fixed at just $25 and the menu looks quite interesting.  My far better half and I are celebrating a special event at La Scala Sunday evening, so we'll be partaking of the three-course dinner special as well.  You can call them for reservations.

Finally, just over the river in Lewiston, New York, the 7th Annual Lewiston Region Tour of Kitchens takes place from 10 am to 4 pm both Saturday and Sunday this weekend.  My far better half and I did this for the first time last year and loved it; we plan to visit again this year and tour a number of lovely homes in the Lewiston/Youngstown area and taste some of the food samples created by some of Upstate New York's finest chefs.

Tickets will be available each day of the event at the festival tent set up at the corner of North First Street and Centre Street in Lewiston, just outside the Barton House Hotel.  Get there early so you have lots of time to tour the several homes and sample the food prepared on location.

So there you go:  food, music, community involvement, food, food and more food this weekend.  What more could you ask for in Niagara on the first weekend in June?

Enjoy your weekend!

June 5th, 2015.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Once again as one door closes, another will certainly open...

I wasn't quite expecting to be writing this particular post this evening, but given the events of the last couple of days, this is what is on my mind at the moment.  As always, I will share it with you in this space.

Yesterday my tenure with Meridian Credit Union, where I held the position of Member Services Representative for just over a year, came to an end.  I wrote at the time I took the position I was very lucky to be given a chance at a second career, and I still feel that way today.

Let me explain.

The position of Member Services Representative is not an easy job, nor did I expect it to be.  It was for me, at least, a tremendously steep learning curve, coming as I did from an entirely different career path for about 40 years.

But I wanted a challenge and I wanted a new career, so Meridian in their collective wisdom took the gutsy move to hire me for their downtown St. Catharines branch in March of last year.  I went through the extensive training programme and took all the required courses, doing rather well all things considered.

But progress can be a fickle passenger on the road to success, and for me at least, progress was not coming as quickly as the company would have liked.  I tried, oh I tried.  And so did they.  On both sides we worked diligently to close the gap from where I was and where I needed to be for the position I held, but in the end the decision was made to end the association yesterday.

I was not totally surprised by the decision given the events leading up to it, but I was somewhat surprised by the timing.  But no matter.  I accept responsibility totally for what happened and wish it could have turned out differently.

Don't get me wrong here.  It was an amazingly gratifying experience and I worked with a great team of financial professionals, all of whom I hold in very high regard.  I would not trade this valuable learning experience for anything in the world.

The Meridian vision is still one I share and I will continue to be a proud Meridian Member even though I will no longer be working there.  The commitment to community values they champion are my values as well, so in that regard, nothing changes.

What did I learn from all this?  Basically, the front-line position I held is much more important and complicated than most people realize when they visit their favourite financial institution.  Certainly that was the case for me, at least.  Having said that, I feel I adapted to the new reality to the best of my ability and successfully transferred my considerable people skills to another, totally new area of expertise.

But in the final analysis when you don't measure up not only in their eyes but your own as well, something has to give, as it did yesterday.

So as they say, as one door closes, another opens...

I am on the hunt once more for my next Big Adventure, and the search is now underway.  But not before taking a little bit of time to rest and recover from what ultimately I believe will be a temporary setback to my second career goals.

I don't mind telling you I am a little tired and in need of some down time to recharge.  It has been about two years since I last took any time off at all, and given the events since that last break, a little bit of a rest right now is not such a bad thing.

I have had time to go to the Y.  I slept this morning about an hour later than I usually do.  I am walking more and enjoying some sunshine in the process.  This afternoon I cleaned up my bike and filled the tires so I can enjoy a little time cycling around this amazing part of the country we live in.

I also plan to spend a little more time becoming more active in this space along with social media posts once again.

However, as time marches on I don't want to fall behind, so an active job search is currently underway even while enjoying a little bit of down time.  If I were needed right away for a new position, I would be ready in an instant.

I have no particular career trajectory at the moment, other than find something that will utilize my people skills and relationship-building talents honed over many years dealing with the public on many levels.  But other than that, I am open to any and all opportunities I am able to seek out in the coming days and weeks.

If you know of something or someone I should talk to by all means let me know.  But rest assured I have no intention of sitting on the sidelines for long with this temporary setback.  I have too much to offer and too great a desire to succeed in a new, challenging career path.

Opportunity doesn't always knock; you go and seek it out often in the unlikeliest of places.  That's the challenge I intend to rise to going forward.

I am excited by the prospects I might uncover and the rewards that will come with them.  The task now is to remain positive and confident.

I think I can handle that.

Wish me luck!

June 3rd, 2015.