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Monday, August 8, 2022
Music Niagara hostsvirtual classesfor promising young musicians

David Israelson
Special to The Lake Report

With the fall approaching and nobody quite sure about how exactly to reopen the schools safely, many of us are asking: “Is there anything I can do to make a difference for young people?”

At Music Niagara we think so — and if you think so too, you can help.  

Now in our 22nd year, Music Niagara has quickly created two programs that offer hands-on educational and inspirational opportunities aimed at youth.

The first is a partnership with Niagara College broadcasting program students. We’re working with these bright, energetic students, who video and edit for virtual broadcast our Music Niagara’s 2020 At Home concert series. 

The second is our inaugural Virtual Performance Academy. 

We are conducting livestreaming classes, each day for 12 young musicians in Canada and Mexico — again, thanks to our partnership with the broadcasting students from Niagara College.

Each day will consist of piano and violin master classes and instruction with an added signature component called Now Add the Drama — presented by Shaw Festival actors. This curriculum piece inspires music students to integrate the dramatic skills of an actor, interpreting music through imagery, inspiration and words.

All classes will take place via Zoom, from the physical safe distance of the students’ homes, with technical production by Niagara College students.

In addition to the academy curriculum music students will work, practise and interpret at least two pieces during the two-week Virtual Academy, with the repertoire varying from the baroque to the classical, or the romantic to the contemporary, leading to the goal of an online young virtuoso concert.

Emma Meinrenken and Jasmin Lin are confirmed as violin instructors. Both of these brilliant musicians are students of Music Niagara’s founder and artistic director (and Niagara-on-the-Lake resident) Atis Bankas and alumnae of Music Niagara’s Performance Academy. 

Teaching alongside Bankas is good for both the students and their teachers, Emma and Jasmin, who gain invaluable experience. 

“Musicians gain inspiration from each other. We get energy from our students and they gain insight and experience. It’s great to work with Emma and Jasmin too and I think the students also appreciate that they are closer in age to our participants,” said Bankas. 

Both Emma and Jasmin are now enrolled in top world class music schools. 

The virtual learning continues the work of the last two pre-COVID summers, when six Mexican youth between the ages of 17 and 20 travelled for the first time to Canada to attend Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Performance Academy. Hosted by generous families in town and with their travel expenses paid for by a group of Canadians who winter in Mexico, the Music Niagara Performance Academy was a life-changing experience for these promising students. 

“Not only have the classes and concerts left their mark on them, it was the entire experience,” said Aurora Cadenas, director of the Celaya School of Music where the Mexican musicians study during the year. 

“Atis Bankas took so much personal care to make the students’ experience memorable. He did everything from finding instruments to driving. The lives of these high-level musicians who participated — and, of course, the music world — will be better because of Atis and Music Niagara,” Cadenas added.

Up to four of the 12 students enrolled in the 2020 Virtual Performance Academy will be Mexican. One of the added benefits of participating is that they can work on developing their English by taking classes online. 

The 2020 Music Niagara Virtual Performance Academy takes place Aug. 17-19 and Aug. 24-26.

“We think the Virtual Performance Academy is vital because it offers inspiration, encouragement and most of all, hope — not only to our participants but for everyone who loves music,” Bankas says. 

“And of course, we hope people have been enjoying our At Home Festival in this unusual year.”

To donate, go to “Ways to Give” at

* David Israelson is a Niagara-on-the-Lake resident and member of Music Niagara’s board of directors.