Blog

  • A Labour of Love

    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.

    Audiences at the Oct 2015 concert. Photo by 5 at the First

    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.

    Payadora Tango Ensemble in Nov 2015. Photo by 5 at the First

    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 Artistic Director Rachel Mercer. Photo by Nikki Wesley

    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]

  • Singing the Praises of Business Volunteer for the Arts

    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.

    John Laing Singers in concert

    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.

    Changing logos for JLS over the years.

    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.

    The John Laing Singers

    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.

     

  • Tips to Help "Fit-In" Practicing Into A Busy Schedule

    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.

     

  • Finding a Rhapsody of Colour

    February 26, 2016 by Eva Ivanov

    On right now, at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, is something a bit different. Rhapsody in Colour is a Members' Show for the Central Ontario Art Association.  After a very robust Opening Reception and Awards Ceremony in late January, this unique show runs to April 24, 2016 and is on display at the Jean and Ross Fischer Gallery.

    COAA President Brenda Turnour and myself at Rhapsody in Colour Opening Reception

    This show came about because I am a member of the COAA and have been since 2012. In the  fall of 2014, the Association’s President set me to task on seeking a venue for the Members' Show in 2016.  My personal contact at Hamilton City Hall suggested I contact Bridget MacIntosh at the City’s Tourism and Culture division. We had a great meeting over coffee where we discussed a variety of venues for the show as well as the history of the COAA organization. I'd asked for her help approaching some venues and, after she suggested the Art Gallery of Hamilton, I sent a message to Melissa Bennett, the Curator of Modern Art at the Gallery. I prepped for my meeting with Melissa with a proposal in hand and came away with an offer of a three month exhibition space for COAA Members’ Show.

    COAA Members Diane Maranger and Kelly Drennan at Rhapsody in Colour Opening Reception

    The variety of artistic styles on display as part of Rhapsody in Colour is truly wondrous. Many Hamilton artists are featured and been juried into the show, including Paul Elia, Diane Maranger, Sandee Ewasiuk, Nikola Wojewoda-Patti, Lesley Cordero, Kristina Kirkwood, Leslie Furness, Jodi Kitto-Ward, Marten Visser, Tim Francis, John Storey, Tzvia Devor, Sylvia Simpson, Naomi Frolich,  Lorraine Coakley and Claudette Losier. To see the work of these artists all on display under the same roof is both humbling and inspiring. Juried by Andy Fabo and Kelly Drennan, the show high-lights selected works that not only demonstrate technical skill but also works that take different creative approaches. From the 178 pieces of fine art that were submitted for consideration only 57 works were accepted into the final exhibition.

    A jam-packed Jean and Ross Fischer Gallery hosts Rhapsody in Colour Opening Reception and Awards ceremony

    There are over 180 members currently in the COAA spanning all across the province from London to Orillia to Toronto to Niagara Falls and, of course, Hamilton. This exhibition marks an unprecedented milestone for the profile of the Association. We hope you’ll take the time to see the work and share this event with us.

    -Eva Ivanov

    Eva Ivanov runs the Gooderham Gallery and Fine Art Studio. She is the recipient of several awards in juried exhibitions in the GTHA, with memberships in Central Ontario Artists Association (COAA), Franklin Carmichael Group, Associate CSPWC, CARFAC,  Women's Art Association of Hamilton, Hamilton Arts Council, and Hamilton Artists Inc. Find her on Facebook at facebook.com/eva.ivanov.31 and follow her on Twitter @EvaArtist.

  • What and Why Site-Specific?

    January 28, 2016 by Claire Calnan

    (Rose Hopkins is a Hamilton playwright and performer. She is a founding member of Mooncalf Theatre and a member of the Hamilton Fringe Festival'ALERT Program )

    By Rose Hopkins

    Hamilton’s first winter performance festival, Frost Bites, will be kicking off this February 11th to 14th at the Cotton Factory (270 Sherman St.) This is good news. With one ticket you have access to the work of seven different Hamilton companies and over thirty site-specific performances a night. So, what is site-specific theatre? It’s performance that engages a space typically not used for performance. And it’s become a bit of a “thing.”

    A quick Google search pulls up companies across North America and Europe who specialize in this work. Consider Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play, produced in 2013 by Outside the March, Convergence Theatre & Sheep No Wool. Performed in Toronto’s Withrow Park and Eastminster United Church, it examines a group of actors putting on a passion play in three distinct eras, utilizing outdoor spaces and the Church’s architecture to contextualize the story.

    Passion Play by Outside the March Theatre Company

    Okay, so right now some of you may be thinking, “That’s great, but why do I want to pull myself out of my warm house to hang out in an old cotton factory in the middle of February to see Frost Bites?” Because site-specific theatre is the new black. Here’s why.

     

    ARTISTIC OPTIONS

    Site-specific theatre offers creative options that other performance doesn’t. As part of Mooncalf Theatre, a company participating in Frost Bites, my imagination ran wild when we chose the parking lot as our performance space. Did we want to use the space literally as a parking lot, or could we transform it to take on a new meaning? Would the whole piece take place in a car? Would we build a completely different set within the lot? How many audience members would watch the piece at once? In a proscenium theatre, these choices aren’t always available.

    Flip side: Big dreams require work to become a reality. There were some realities of the parking lot that had to take some creative problem solving to make work. For example, how would we get power to the playing space so we could have some lighting? What would we do if a car drove through during performance? How would we keep the actors warm while performing outdoors in the middle of February? What happens if it snows? These were all things that had to be taken into consideration.

     

    AUDIENCE EXPERIENCE

    Site-specific performance can take you to some pretty unexpected places. Abandoned churches, backyard sheds, strangers’ cars, and shipping containers have all served as venues for this kind of performance, and they all lend themselves to create a very specific experience for the audience.  Mooncalf Theatre’s piece, The Distance Between Us and the Sun, has the audience looking down into the parking lot from a second story window. Only eight people can watch the piece at a time, so there is a sense of intimacy even though the audience is fifty-something feet away from the performers. This contrast of distance and closeness creates a feeling for the audience that perfectly serves the story we are trying to tell.

    The flip-side: It’s not for everyone. British company Blast Theory ran a piece in 1998 called Kidnap. In Kidnap, two lottery winners were taken prisoner (literally snatched in broad daylight) and held for 48 hours while their kidnapping experience was broadcasted online for others to watch. Definitely a specific participant experience, but not one that everyone might enjoy.

    Kidnap by Blast Theory

    **they have a pretty cool archival website, you can tour the safe house and stuff: BLAST THEORY

    ECONOMICS

    Site-specific theatre can be more affordable. If a piece calls for a specific set, going to an existing living room can be less expensive than building one onstage. And often, found performance spaces can be less expensive to rent than traditional venues. This is great for new artists without a ton of resources, and even better for audience members whose ticket price will be lower because of it.

    The flip side: It can also be more expensive. Sleep No Moreby U.K. company Punchdrunk, has had a long run in New York. The film-noir re-imagining of Macbeth has masked audience members exploring the fictitious McKittrick Hotel - actually three adjoining warehouses in Chelsea that span over 100,000 square feet. One can assume their rent isn’t pocket change.

    Sleep No More by Punchdrunk

    SO. WHY HERE, WHY NOW?

    We all love Hamilton. From Gore Park to Albion Falls, the vintage shops on Ottawa Street to the waterfront trail by Cootes Paradise, this is the place where we work, play, and create. The architecture of our buildings, the history of our parks all serve as valuable inspiration for performances about the place we call home.

    This is exactly the type of work that the growing ‘indie-theatre’ community in Hamilton is producing, at festivals like Frost Bites and the Fringe. Performance that breaks convention, and isn’t contained inside the walls of the Players Guild or Theatre Aquarius, but meets the audience in the communities where they live. Performance that speaks to our identity as Hamiltonians. What more could you want?

    -Rose

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