Welcome to the latest episode of the Great NOTL Summer Walkabout, a summer-long series of stories that will take you to all corners of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Our reporters will trek around the community to meet residents and visitors, attend events, visit area landmarks and tell stories about what they find. Enjoy the Walkabout.
Music transcends language and barriers, and it brought people together from different parts of the world Sunday for the opening night of the annual Music Niagara festival.
The 21st music season kicked off at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake with the opening reception followed by a nearly two-hour performance by Countermeasure.
The four-week Music Niagara festival brings a variety of musicians to NOTL from all over the world to perform a wide range of genres.
The 13-member a cappella group Countermeasure, based in Toronto, was founded in 2009 by J-M Erlendson, his now-wife Elana Steingart, Aaron Jensen and his wife Tara Park. The group performs a variety of genres with most of their repertoire being original music. Jensen composes and arranges all music in the group.
Some of the arranged tunes performed Sunday included “Long Road to Freedom,” which pays tribute to Nelson Mandela, “One More Time” by Britney Spears and “Fox in the Field,” which is based on Antoine de St.-Exupéry’s story “The Little Prince.”
The community response from Niagara-on-the-Lake was “fantastic,” said Erlendson, and the public was “really receptive, really engaged.”
“Great venue, great audience. We had a lot of fun on stage and we hope everyone did too in the audience,” he said in a phone interview.
Between the performances, the group was interacting with the audience by sharing some background stories and telling jokes. One act involved three random audience members – including a reporter from The Lake Report – brought on stage where they were asked to sing, dance and beatbox.
Engaging with the audience and providing entertainment is different with each show, said Erlendson.
“More and more these days, we’re finding as a group our best shows and the things we love the most is when we have an opportunity to meet the audience,” Erlendson told The Lake Report. “We really evolved ourselves, from a group that plays music, to a group that creates an interactive show.“
With the group performing in Japan next month, Erlendson said it is important for the ensemble to represent Canada and Canadian art on international stages.
The festival’s founder and artistic director, Atis Batikas, said he wants to provide a range of genres to the public.
“I do not want to present bad music,” he told The Lake Report, noting the community as well as volunteers and the organization’s board of directors has been very supportive in allowing the festival to flourish.
Two American visitors, Barbara Zuch and Beth Timmerman, were in town for the weekend and said they decided to spend Sunday afternoon at the festival.
“When you sing straight a cappella, it can be very boring. This, at least, they throw some precaution, they imitate some of the instruments. You’re getting a full effect but it’s using human voice,” said Timmerman.
Steingart’s parents, Madoka and Allan Steingart, were on hand.
“I think in some ways it’s uniquely Canadian,” said Allan Steingart. “Because it’s a mixture of every kind of person but together they create a beautiful sound.”
Before the ensemble performed “Love Letter from Canada,” by Masaaki Hirao, Madoka addressed the audience to briefly explain the history behind the song and to translate the lyrics.
Judy Wright and Larry Bruce from Toronto won their tickets to the performance through a radio station. Bruce was the third caller who correctly guessed a song and he had a chance to choose which Music Niagara show and venue to go to.
“We picked the first show because it was the opening show … and just because of a cappella,” he said. Wright said she liked the group’s diversity with Bruce adding there was “an international flavour.”
Other guests, from NOTL and St. Catharines, complimented the group’s close harmony and how effortlessly they make it look.
NOTL resident Didi Wilson said she’s always loved a cappella and she was left “speechless” after the show.
“It was shockingly good. And I know what close harmony is like to sing, too, and they’re so, so intricate and so close and so well-rehearsed.”
The festival’s other venues in town include Pondview Estate Winery, The Hare Wine Co., Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, Niagara United Mennonite Church, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 124, Oast House Brewers, Grace United Church, Simcoe Park and NOTL library.
The next scheduled event features The “Jeru” Quartet at Pondview Estate Winery on Friday, July 19, starting at 7 p.m.