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Friday, April 19, 2024
Something to Sing About: Music Niagara launches ChoralFest Saturday

David Israelson

Special to The Lake Report

Music lovers are in for a special treat as Music Niagara launches its first ChoralFest, kicking off Saturday, Nov. 16, with the famed Elmer Iseler Singers performing at the Niagara United Mennonite Church in Virgil.

Voices will reverberate through the rafters at concerts in Virgil, at St. Mark’s Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Our Lady of Peace Church in Niagara Falls throughout the festival, which runs until Nov. 25 and is a new venture for Music Niagara, building on the success of its popular summer concert series.

“We’re presenting eight concerts with participation from nine choirs over 10 days. Singing is one of the very first musical experiences we carry in our memory,” says Atis Bankas, Music Niagara’s artistic director.

To help stir audience memories, ChoralFest includes performances by several children’s choirs as well as the Avanti Chamber Singers, Celaya Conservatory Children’s Choir of Mexico, and Volunge and Vesnivka, renowned Lithuanian and Ukrainian choral groups. There’s also a perennial favourite — Sing-along Messiah, at St. Mark’s on Nov. 23.

ChoralFest will be followed by a return of the fabulous Toronto All-Star Big Band to celebrate A Swingin’ Christmas at St. Mark’s on Dec. 8.

“Music Niagara believes that everyone should have access to high-quality music,” said Margot Hickson, chair of the organization’s board of directors.

“By offering a broad range of music genres with world-class musicians, Music Niagara enhances Niagara-on-the-Lake’s reputation as a destination for music and culture. Our concerts and our Performance Academy, which trains promising young artists, makes it so Niagara-on-the-Lake and our neighbours are, as our slogan says, ‘where the world comes to play.’”

The 2019 Music Niagara festival broke previous ticket-earning records and reached audiences beyond Niagara Region and into southern Ontario and the United States. Nearly six out of 10 people who attended Music Niagara concerts in the summer (57 per cent) came from outside Niagara-on-the-Lake, with 16 per cent from the Greater Toronto Area and 11 per cent from the United States.

Hickson said the festival has benefitted from strong support not only from enthusiastic audiences, but also from area businesses and suppliers – and the audiences respond to this synergy.

“Our research finds that 31 per cent of Music Niagara visitors from out of town stay overnight, supporting our local hotels and the Bed & Breakfast Association — 69 per cent are in town the day of a concert and then enjoy NOTL restaurants and visit other NOTL businesses,” she said.

The festival has boosted interest by bringing in a program of strategic ticket pricing, with a number of lower-priced concerts and incentives for music lovers who buy a series of shows.

“Our six-packs sold out this past summer,” Hickson said.

The other secret to Music Niagara’s success is to make sure the festival is truly a part of Niagara-on-the-Lake and its surrounding region, she added.

“We take advantage of everything the region has to offer, with concerts in historical landmarks, churches, the wineries and brew pubs — even the Legion. Our programming is wide-ranging, too — jazz at the wineries and classical music at St. Mark’s Church,” Hickson said.

“The result is that we successfully sell out concerts ranging from big band music to club-style jazz, in addition to traditional and non-traditional classical concerts.

“We have concerts that showcase all kinds of cultures and backgrounds — at Music Niagara you can hear Afro-Cuban sounds and in our fall series the voices of singers from Lithuania, Ukraine and Mexico. It’s where the world comes to play — and now sing,” she said.

For tickets to Music Niagara ChoralFest concerts, visit www.musicniagara.org or call 1-800-511-7429 or 905-468-2172. Tickets can also be purchased at the Shaw Festival box office at the Festival Theatre and at the concerts (if available).

Journalist David Israelson is a member of Music Niagara’s board of directors.

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