The holiday season brought even more musical and cultural events to our wonderful part of the world, and it was tiring to try to keep up. When will the good times end?
Music Niagara, Bravo Niagara, Jazz Niagara, the St. Andrew’s Scottish Society Christmas Dinner and the Yellow Door Theatre. Perhaps next year we might have Punk Niagara and Rap Niagara and Hip-Hop Niagara. Bring on the mosh pits.
A week or so before Christmas, I took my seat at the Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines. Looking around Partridge Hall, I saw a goodly number of friends from Niagara-on-the-Lake who had driven along Niagara Stone Road and over the Homer Bridge to enjoy Chorus Niagara’s performance of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.”
This is the most famous oratorio ever written, composed in 1741, and Handel had determined the public wanted something new and more understandable. So, like a good marketer, did he “dumb it down” for people like me?
Taking our seats in the concert hall, I was blown away by the visual masterpiece on the stage. Some 80 voices of Chorus Niagara, and 16 musicians in the Concordo Orchestra.
Perusing the program, I learned that a concord orchestra is an instrumental ensemble created to specialize in accompanying choirs.
What a visual feast: everyone on stage in black gowns, dresses, shirts and slacks, and all wearing scarves or neckties that for some weird reason transported me to a sunset in Algonquin Park. The red colour seemed to have a tint of orange.
I struggled to identify the colour. The best I could do was “early evening in August, after a campfire dinner on a rocky point facing west, nature’s sunset flaming, seeming to set Lake Louise on fire.”
The Group of Seven would capture the stark brilliance of a northern Ontario sunset. My dad and my friends would gaze for an hour, speechless.
Robert Cooper strode to centre stage, and for over two and a half hours, Chorus Niagara’s artistic director energetically brought the chorus, musicians and six soloists to life with a truly memorable performance.
He managed to “embrace the extraordinary,” overcoming my tendency to mentally wander.
Not once did either of my eyelids threaten to sag, as I was riveted to “Messiah.” We continued the tradition that audience members stand up for the “Hallelujah” chorus towards the end of Handel’s “Messiah.”
Seamlessly, the soloists took centre stage and thrilled us with their vocal brilliance.
At the risk of appearing to be a shill for local musical and cultural offerings, I would like to start 2024 off by imploring Niagara residents to make a New Year’s resolution to get off the couch and expand their musical horizons.
We don’t need to fight traffic to Toronto, Buffalo or New York City. It’s all right here in our backyards, on our stages.
So many types of music, from the many offerings at St. Mark’s Anglican Church and other area churches. Several wineries have become venues for cultural magic, and again, right here in our Niagara.
At the end of each performance I enjoyed in 2023, I felt a tad sad that most of my friends and neighbours had missed out.
This year, make it an afternoon or an evening, with a light bite or a drink to complement the music. So many wonderful and dedicated people work so hard to bring world-class culture to our Niagara Peninsula, and they deserve more support.
Both financially and otherwise. Attend, volunteer, encourage, applaud and show your love for music.
Make 2024 the year we expand our cultural horizons. Let’s get off the couch more often.