This week, Hamilton Arts Council Board member Bud Roach begins a new video blog series featuring in-depth conversations with members of the arts community. New Arts Council member Alex Grant, cellist at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-On-The-Lake, talks about what attracted him to Hamilton, working at the Shaw Festival, and his favourite moments in the current Shaw production of Sweeney Todd, on stage until October 19th.
September 22, 2016 by Bud Roach
September 1, 2016 by 5 at the First ...
Rachel Mercer is Artistic Director of the 5 at the First Chamber Music Series. She joined the National Arts Centre Orchestra as Associate Principal Cello in January 2016 and is a member of the Mercer-Park Duo and Ensemble Made In Canada. She plays the 1730 Newland Celoniatus Cello graciously on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank. Find her at www.rachelmercercellist.com or Follow 5 at the First on Facebook and Twitter @5attheFirst.
The church sanctuary is filling up as the last audience members take their seats. There is a hum in the air as people chat in low voices, about their day or in anticipation of the concert they are about to hear. Suddenly the house lights dim a bit, the stage lights brighten and there is a hush; a side door opens and in walk the musicians, smiling, with a spring in their step, and ready to give all they can in the couple of hours they share with this audience.
This moment, that lasts to the final applause at the end of the concert, is the moment when the concert presenters finally get to enjoy the fruit of their endless labour. I never realized until I began presenting a series how much goes on behind the scenes to enable those two hours of wonderful music. As a performer, while we communicate for years before the concert about details of programming, fees and travel, the real ground work is being done even earlier with board meetings, fundraising, grant writing, venue booking, programming, fundraising, scheduling, negotiating, promoting, fundraising again...it is a complete labour of love and we performers are so lucky there are those amazing people who love and believe in live music so deeply that they are willing to sacrifice time and financial gain to enable these moments.
While I would never compare myself to these special people, at 5 at the First, my colleague Michele Corbeil and I are the worker bees; me covering the programming, booking, grant writing and financial side, and Michele pounding the pavement with flyers and posters and reaching out to the community for sponsors and volunteers, while being in charge of everything behind the scenes on the concert day. There is always more to do; promotion, finding more money, making sure the artists are taken care of, but that hectic buzz of activity is suspended from the moment the lights go down to the final applause. As a performer, during the concert there are those transporting moments where everything aligns and you lose your self and are just at one with the music, the other musicians and the audience, and time stops; it's an addictive high that feeds our need to perform. But it's another kind of reward, softening and heart-warming, when you sit in the audience and see their smiles, see the heads bobbing, hear your amazing colleagues on stage, hear the audience appreciation in applause and words afterward, knowing that you took part in making it happen.
5 at the First's opening concert features String Extravaganza VI - the return of our audience's favourite string group - in a concert of duos, then all six musicians together for Erich Korngold's gem of a Sextet. Korngold has a large body of work, but is most well-known for his film composition, including the score for Errol Flynn's Robin Hood. The rest of the 2016-17 season features players from across Ontario in programs of beloved and rarely-performed music, including Schubert, Haydn, Vaughan-Williams, Rossini, Canadian works, and an all-original jazz concert of Darren Sigesmund's Strands Ensemble. 5 at the First is grateful for support from the Ontario Arts Council and individual donors.
*Banner Image: Rachel Mercer [Photo: David Leyes]
June 29, 2016 by Mary Ellen Forsyth
Submitted by the John Laing Singers (JLS), on behalf of the JLS Board of Directors. JLS is a 28-voice chamber choir in the Hamilton-Burlington area, established in 1982 by Conductor and former Artistic Director John Laing. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter @JLSingers.
The 2015/16 season of the John Laing Singers (JLS) has given the choir much to celebrate, with two world premiere compositions and several new community collaborations. Adding to our sense of celebration is a new sense of confidence in meeting the challenges of the future. Under the guidance of the Hamilton Arts Council, the choir has been able to step out of its “safe zone” and begin a new journey in its 34-year history.
Before the start of our 34th season last fall, the feeling in the JLS Board was one of discouragement as we pondered our disappointing grant application results, a challenging budget and dwindling audience size. Like many arts organizations, the choir was struggling to find funding and support among the ever-growing and competitive Hamilton area arts community. Over the years, the JLS had evolved using a variety of resources from box office revenues, grants, community sponsors and memberships, but with the increasing competition for funds among local growing arts groups, it became evident that we needed to adapt to the changing arts environment or face our final curtain call.
Realizing that as an organization we had fallen into a comfortable but ultimately unsustainable pattern of relatively predictable performances, we reached out to our friends at the Hamilton Arts Council (HAC). Aware too that we needed a strategic plan to guide the choir on a new road of sustainability and growth, we requested a meeting to explore resources that might be available to us as a community partner.
Choir representatives met with Stephen Near, Operations Officer of the HAC, with no expectations other than to walk away with a few ideas to try out. We never expected to be offered a resource that would have such a profound impact on our organization, and could not have predicted that the outcome of this meeting would reshape our identity so completely.
Stephen introduced us to a new HAC initiative, the Business Volunteers for the Arts (BVA) program, which partners local business experts with struggling arts organizations. He had a candidate in mind who would be willing to work with us and act as a guide and mentor. Through Stephen, we arranged to meet with BVA consultant Dawn Cattapan to discuss our group and our plans for the next season, hoping to make an impression that would encourage her to partner and help us with our strategic plan.
Dawn’s résumé reflects extensive experience in community arts administration, communication, customer engagement and creative program development in the music sector. Our cordial initial meeting at a local café, to chat and discuss our choir’s successes and challenges, augured well for a great partnership. Dawn responded with warmth and empathy to the challenges that we described. She accepted our invitation to meet in early September with the JLS Board, where we presented our Strategy Document. The document gave an overview of the challenges we were facing and what we hoped to accomplish over the next year to address them. We had many projects outlined, which needed both business expertise and an objective eye.
Dawn provided a wealth of information regarding funding opportunities and strategic planning processes. With this information we developed and refined the strategic plan for rebranding and marketing for the next year. Dawn then recommended grants that would be beneficial to review, based on our strategic plan and objectives for the next year. She reviewed our grant responses and provided feedback that was extremely helpful in focusing our strengths and clarifying how we viewed ourselves as an organization requesting funding. For example, Dawn encouraged us to emphasize the choir’s “sweat equity” in planning extra concerts to increase our community presence; to stress vital points such as accessibility, visibility and community enrichment; and always to discern and reflect back the tone used by grantors in their mandate. With Dawn’s input, our application for an Ontario Arts Council (OAC) Compass grant, requesting an Arts Consultant to support our strategic plan implementation, was successful – a major step forward for the choir.
Dawn also helped to keep us questioning what we were asking and refocusing on the important elements such as community outreach, using local musicians and partnering with local businesses. With each new grant application, Dawn has made us more aware of the importance of these partnerships. She has taught us to be consistent, honest and focused in reaching further for the growth of our organization. Her input has been invaluable to us.
Through the BVA, we now have far more confidence in our ability to submit a strong application, knowing we have put our best efforts forward with a focus on our strategic plan, rebranding and community partnerships. A renewed vision, an increase in grant funds, the expertise of a strategic planning consultant and the confidence to rebrand and rebuild our choir: the BVA initiative has provided the JLS with all of these.
Plans for our next season (2016/17) include a new name launch; celebrating 35 years as a community choir; a choral celebration of Canada’s Sesquicentennial; and a studio recording that will include local and national composers and musical artists. Thanks to the HAC and Dawn’s guidance, we have much to celebrate now and as we head into the future under our new name: Musicata - Hamilton's Voices.
June 3, 2016 by Stephanie Vegh
Some of our more loyal readers will have no doubt noticed a distinct lack of new LivingArts blog posts these past couple months; I, for one, have definitely missed reading the smart, rashly honest and sometimes downright funny observations of our six amazing artist-writers during this time. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
The end, in this case, was the conclusion of a generous two-year grant from the Province of Ontario. The Culture Development Fund enabled us to launch LivingArts Hamilton and explore new ways of providing professional development for artists: not only through workshops and panel discussions delivered through our Symposium last October, but also by creating an online platform for artists to share their stories and create their own solutions through conversations. Both our blog and podcast flourished under the leadership of our incredible Community Outreach Officer, Lesley Loksi Chan - so much so that they have become an integral part of our identity as a community arts council.
Even as we say farewell to Lesley and our CDF funding, the Hamilton Arts Council remain committed to ensuring the core conversation of LivingArts Hamilton endures in a sustainable format that will also enable us to expand our reach to a wider circle of arts workers.
The new LivingArts Hamilton will be familiar in many ways, but with some significant changes:
- the LivingArts Podcast will continue to record a new season of episodes with the same great team of Lesley Loksi Chan (producer) and Christopher James Denise (recording technician) behind the scenes
- the LivingArts Blog will relaunch later this summer with an expanded roster of twelve writers who will each write quarterly articles on their area of artistic practice; this means you'll have four LivingArts blog posts to look forward to each month
- while our six LivingArts Blog contributors - Tor Lukasik-Foss, Brandon Vickerd, Jessica Rose, Laurie Kilgour-Walsh, Crystal Jonasson-Haygarth and Steve McKay - will be resuming their blogging duties, we are also seeking six new LivingArts Blog contributors to write on six new subject areas
I encourage you to check out and pass along our current Call for Writers as we commence the hunt for our next six LivingArts Blog contributors. We have enjoyed extensive coverage from our current writers on the Visual Arts, Public Art, Literary Arts, Arts Education (Visual Arts), Theatre and Music respectively, but are now looking to expand the conversation to include the following:
- Fine Craft (ceramic, textile, glass, jewelry, woodworking - any or all practicioners welcome)
- Dance (any and all genres and traditions)
- Film & Media Arts (filmmakers, digital artists, electronic soundmakers - you get the idea)
- Arts Education focusing on Music
- Arts Education focusing on Theatre & Performing Arts
- Arts Administration (yes, it's time to have a conversation about the organizers behind the scenes - any arts focus welcome)
The deadline for expressions of interest from new writers is Monday June 20th - I look forward to hearing from all the new voices who will add to the richness of our conversations about living and working in Hamilton.
May 19, 2016 by Ian Green
By Ian Green
I am the first to admit: we are all very busy! We all have challenges (some more than others) with managing time. In our busy lives, we have to make time for a lot of the various activities that we enjoy. Some of us find the sense of being organized an easy task, some of us find this a challenging task to overcome. Based on personal experience, I would like to share some tips and tricks that will result in successful practice time at home.
1. Set up a regular schedule
To help make things easy to everyone, set up practicing into the schedule just like setting up an appointment. This tactic will help you to find time in your schedule instead of putting practicing at the bottom of the list.
2. Play fun pieces at the beginning and end of a practice session
By starting and/or finishing a practice with something fun, students will stay engaged throughout the practice session. Keep the mind sharp by learning and working on new material, however, let your brain rest after processing a healthy dose of new materials.
3. Quality vs. quantity
Many of us consider a successful practice session to be a lengthy marathon in which the student works hard at various tasks for hours and hours at a time. Success does not come in large packages. Rather, quality comes in smaller bundles. Instead of looking for quantity of time, look for quality of time as students focus on materials that are challenging to them. This will create a successful experience as well as a successful practice session.
4. Try to practice every day of the week
Even though this is a lofty goal, it is a similar theme to that of point #1: consistent practicing (daily is always preferred) will create the best long-tern results. Consider it from this perspective: if a student works hard at the lesson and makes great progress in a particular area and then does not look at their musical material for 2-3 days, when the student revisits the materials later in the week, 80% or more of the new material that had experienced progress will be lost. If a student looks at new materials the same day as the lesson or the following day, the progress will stay with them 100% due to the “fresh” feeling that the new information has over the student’s mind.