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Niagara Falls
Friday, September 29, 2023
Ross’s Ramblings: Iconic cultural object makes beautiful music in our wee NOTL
Emma Meinrenken played a violin made in 1717 during a Music Niagara show. (SUPPLIED)

My musical career more or less peaked in the 1960s with Elvis, the Beatles and the Beach Boys. But even then, I had heard of the mystical Stradivarius violin.

Last weekend, a violin made in 1717 by Antonio Stradivari was played by Emma Meinrenken as part of Music Niagara’s concert called Kiri Quartet and Friends.

Yes, 1717. Meinrenken recently attained possession of this jewel, on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts.

The content of the program, at Grace United Church on Victoria Avenue in Old Town, the enthusiasm of the musicians and the indescribable thrill of finding something new to love all combined to change my life.

I hope this ramble encourages more NOTLers to venture out of their comfort zones.

Walking the dog and gardening and watching TV and reading are all noble activities.

But, there is so much world-class music being created right here in our wee corner of the world at a shockingly low price for the level of talent.

My life has been centred around sports, with hockey usually taking centre stage when I was younger.

Now, not so much, with all the tangential problems swirling around professional and kids’ sports.

Just last weekend in Toronto, the winners of the Canadian Open tennis championships took home well over a million bucks.

And the organizers can’t find a couple of thousand dollars to pay the expenses of the kids who retrieve the balls for the prima donna players?

The time commitment, the cost of gas and other expenses could easily be reimbursed to the parents and kids, but only if there is a big change in the mindsets of our celebrity culture.

But I digress.

What an enlightening evening I spent at Grace United Church, marvelling at the sounds produced by a group of young people, friends from their school days at the Taylor Academy at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

They delight in playing music for people like me, obviously pushing each other to even greater levels of achievement.

Over the years my pals and I would get together for shinny hockey, a canoe trip in Algonquin Park or a fun afternoon of tennis. Perhaps some touch football and beers, or an early Sunday morning training run.

But wait: there are fabulous Canadians whose lives revolve around music and the joys of creating magic from their imaginations.

They have devoted their lives to music and their talents provide normal people like me with magical moments in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

For 25 years, Music Niagara has been produced by artistic director Atis Bankas and the volunteer board of directors. They do a spectacular job.

Somebody, please tell me how they organize these musicians to perform in various venues in our town and how we can get more of our neighbours off our duffs to attend the concerts: in churches, at wineries and cideries, priced so fairly.

What opportunities for us to open up our minds. My life has been made so much more full.

Musical phenoms as young as 14-year-old Sora Sato-Mound, who confidently introduced his music and then dazzled the audience with his energetic and histrionic creation on his violin.

The Kiri Quartet’s conductor was Maria Fuller, a proud and radiant farm girl from Saskatchewan. She explained the music in a way even I could understand.

Her stage presence and obvious mastery of her craft captivated the gathered assemblage. During the musical pieces, she coaxed the best from the violin and cello players, deftly bringing each of them into the songs.

And, she reminded us that over the years, the word contemporary has almost always made people say, “I don’t like it.”

Change and new stuff are never easy, and as I learned somewhere along my life’s line, “today’s traditions were yesterday’s changes.”

Now, let me ramble back to the cultural delights I enjoyed at Grace United and the Ironwood Cider House.

Bankas explained to us how important it is for performers to learn the art of performing, not just playing the notes. On this evening, their delight in being on stage with friends came through loud and clear.

The enthusiastic and macho bowing sometimes threatened to “saw the instruments in half,” as Music Niagara director Ed Barisa opined over snacks during intermission.

We sat in historic church pews at Grace United or St. Mark’s Anglican Church, or a seat at the salon that Music Niagara has created at the Ironwood Cider House out on Lakeshore Road, enthralled by such talented and passionate and tattooless musicians. (Now that was an unnecessary, shallow comment, eh?)

And not a single online gambling ad in our faces all evening.

Dear readers, may I encourage y’all to spread your wings and step out of your comfort zones to support the works of Music Niagara and Jazz Niagara and Bravo! Niagara and the other cultural organizations in our wonderful Niagara Peninsula?

Subscribe, or buy a ticket, or attend a free concert in the park.

We are so fortunate to live in Canada in 2023.

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