[REPORT] Bath Medium Security Institution 20181019

Bath Medium Security Institution, October 19, 2018

String Trio, Katrina Chitty, viola: Igor Gefter, cello: Mark Skazinetsky, violin

Our fourth performance at Bath followed three hours after the historic event at Millhaven. The difference in the environment and the reception was striking. Warden Ryan Beattie personally greeted our group at the gate.  Ryan then gave a brief presentation about the institution to our group, which was smaller than at Millhaven (5 volunteers had to leave), but stronger, because Mr. & Mrs. Bob Rae had joined us for this performance.

The place was packed with our “regular” fans and some newcomers – about 80 inmates filled the chapel. Interaction with them started as soon as we entered the premises and continued throughout the evening.  I was looking for a familiar face of an inmate, whom I was corresponding with for almost a year, and finally managed to find him at prayer in the chapel. He was happy to see me, but refused to join the event, respecting the religious tradition of Shabbat. My argument of him being a sick man, needing care (giving him exemption from the rule of Jewish law) has convinced him to come. “Don’t improve on Mozart. Mozart is perfection!” he said. His mother used to admonish him when he was playing flute in his young happier days in Vienna, Austria. Good advice to many professional musicians.

After a short introduction from Ryan and without the usual opening remarks from Dmitri, who has chosen to read from Les Miserables as opposed to speak about his own falls that evening, our musicians started the program, which was presented at Millhaven earlier that day. Stan has created one of his best works ever – bright and optimistic – I think the general positive atmosphere played the role. But you really never know, what and when inspires artists. The atmosphere was as always relaxed, but dignified, respectful and engaged. Again and again we could hear the dust settle as the audience listened:

“I always thought only snobby, educated, rich people listened to classical music. That’s why I could not identify or enjoy it immensely. I realize now, that music is a universal language, lifting us up above our circumstances and our isolated negative feelings…Sometimes this place (prison – dk) is so hopeless and doing a life sentence I was resigned to dying here. This music gave me hope and faith in someday getting out of here permanently.””

“…I have known federal incarceration for forty three years…..Tonight, my eyes witnessed for the first time in my life , classical music being played alive. My ears heard the gift of soul, which felt as if divine caress manifested all limitation of mortal restrictions. How can words reflect such joining of meaning?Intersecting to reveal truth in its purest conception. Your gift surpassed all perimeters of what may define music. Grace, elegance, passion, all fail to encompass the infinite reality experienced.”

“..This may sound silly to some people but the truth is that your…. sound of music seems to give me a sense OF HOPE. … I wish everyone in this world could have the opportunity to hear just a little of your music, I truly believe it could help heal and mend pain and sorrow, and even hate !”

“ …I am doing concurrent life and indeterminate sentences…My optimism increased after the concert, especially for having Hon. Bob Rae in the audience. It was unbelievable that I would be shaking hands with Hon. Mr. Rae… The last time I saw him was on TV at the time when he delivered his report for the UN about the Myanmar Rohingas.””

“ …Don’t improve on Mozart. Mozart is perfection! – my mother used to admonish, when I was 10 and played flute in Vienna…”

A standing ovation and a and enthusiastic encore – the deeply emotional and electrifying Hungarian Dance by Brahms, requested earlier by one of the inmates – concluded the performance and interaction with our inmate audience continued intensely for another 30 minutes. People just wanted to express themselves and be heard. There were so many… Ryan videotaped the entire event – I am hoping to receive the first ever video record of one of our concerts at a CSC facility.

Numerous testimonials continue to pour into my P.O. Box. – our music gift has reached the hearts of many men at Bath Institution.

    

[REPORT] Millhaven Maximum Security 20181019

Millhaven Maximum Security Institution

String Trio, Katrina Chitty, viola: Igor Gefter, cello: Mark Skazinetsky, violin

According to Bill Rasmus, Director Reintegration Services at CSC NHQ in Ottawa and an attendee of the October 19 event at Millhaven, Looking at the Stars may have made history on October 19, 2018. We presented the FIRST classical music concert in a maximum security prison in Canada.

We must thank Warden Crystal Thompson for making it happen. Crystal witnessed our performance at Collins Bay Medium Institution last year, where the same String Trio presented a different program (Crystal was then a Warden there and she liked what she saw). So we did not have to hard-sell our proposal to Millhaven.

The real challenge was to get the inmates to show up. I took two advance trips to Millhaven trying to solicit interest. The prospects looked bleak – I was unsuccessful in meeting inmates and Paul Chaves, Social Program Officer assigned to manage the event was not very optimistic either. “…in 27 years of my work at CSC I have never seen anyone even attempting to do something similar and I do not think it will fly…”. Paul was trying to prepare me for an unpleasant  surprise, but after communicating the news about the upcoming event to inmates, 54 (!) signed up. Paul was shocked. My second visit on October 17, coincided with Paul Bernardo’s parole hearings at the same location, at the same time, but we did not notice Mr. Bernardo in the audience two days later.

So on the day of the event I arrived at Millhaven pretty optimistic. Then just about few minutes prior to starting the programme we were told that the event may be cancelled, because of an internal incident. All of us  – six volunteers, the trio of musicians, the painter, Bill Rasmus, Peter Bennett, Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Ontario and myself were caught completely off guard by the news. Fortunately, at about 3:30 pm 26 inmates showed up. While we only had 60 minutes left for our performance, we did succeed in delivering our message, the music and… the painting.

Our String Trio was under enormous pressure, hence was at its best, presenting an absolutely special program, prepared for this particular occasion – starting with feisty Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmuzik, then continuing with Bach, then with profoundly sad and beautiful Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, sombre and philosophical Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, magnificently melodic and unforgettable Shostakovich’s Romance from the Gadfly, unexpected unforgettable Eagles hit Desperado and wrapping up with remarkably unique melodic and folksy Jay Unger’s Farewell.

The program was simply extremely generous and outstanding and each of the musicians was phenomenal – I seldom use these adjectives, but believe me,  they are well deserved.

The audience, which consisted of mostly young men, was attentive, quiet and ultimately very positive. All the men listened very intensively, with interest and rewarded the musicians with genuine admiration and applause. Several testimonials speak for themselves:

“I loved classical music before your visit and I love classical music after your visit;  I had no future before your visit and I have no future after your visit…”

“I always hope for a better future and your visit made me feel, like I am headed in the right direction…It was a splendid vacation on the other side of the tracks.”

”It’s very touching, inspiring, beautiful… I am very grateful to have experienced it…”

”The rhythm of my hope beats like a drum, For I believe the best is yet to come.”

The prison, empty and grim, its gym with naked walls with hidden severe surprises, gloomy silence, tension in the air, and then an invisible, but easily felt wall separating us-visitors (“the winners”) and them-inmates (“the losers”) and a profound understanding of the uniqueness of this once-in-a-lifetime experience of trying to knock this wall down in less than an hour and creating a common space – a bridge to cross.

The prison bell rang and inmates were sent back to their cells just as this wall started to come down.

     

[REPORT] Sunnybrook Veterans Centre 20180926

Sunnybrook Veteran’s Centre, September 26, 2018

Piano Quartet – Katrina Chitty, viola;  Lukas Geniušas, piano;  Joseph Johnson cello; Andrea Tyniec, violin

Our third musical gift to Sunnybrook Veteran’s Centre brought together a record audience of about 250 persons. The huge performance area was packed. We underestimated the value of the microphones and speakers – next time we will most definitely take advantage of technology to allow the music to fully reach everyone present.

Sunnybrook administration was well prepared to receive us. We felt respected and taken care of. The introduction delivered by one of the Centreès senior managers was surprisingly informative and complimentary of our past performances at the Centre.

The program, which consisted of the works of Brahms, Bruch, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, and Mozart was presented by Katrina Chitty, Lukas Geniušas, Joseph Johnson, and Andrea Tyniec. It was their first very successful joint performance.  TSO’s principal cellist Joseph Johnson took the helm as quartet leader and masterfully directed the entire performance – both musically and informationally.

The audience at Sunnybrook, which included veterans, their caregivers, families, and staff, in its majority was not in a position to produce thunderous applause due to their age and disabilities, however each and every one of them appeared happy at the end of the performance – smiling faces, although the audience was very quiet. When the President of the Veterans committee suggested that they might express their appreciation to the musicians by raising one hand, hundreds of hands went up immediately. It was a most gratifying response.

Some of the responses from the audience:

“…heart happy…”

“…reminded me of the old days…”

“…relaxing afternoon.”

“very professional”

“…brought back memories.”

   

[REPORT] Warkworth 20180925

Warkworth Medium Security Institution, September 25, 2018

Lukas Geniušas, Piano

Our second event at this institution once again featured Lukas Geniušas, performing the works of Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Desyatnikov and speaking about them during the programme. Lukas played remarkably well that evening, bringing yours truly to his feet very inappropriately in the middle of Chopin’s Sonata No.3. I violated the sacred etiquette of performance and interrupted it jumping to my feet and expressing my feelings of admiration to both the pianist and the most remarkable, respectful and thankful audience of inmates.

The audience of about 80 inmates and staff included Warden Kathy Hinch, our guests and supporters.  Regrettably, we have not received very many copies of the many photographs taken at this very successful Event as we normally do. Although we observed many inmates handling the feedback forms we circulate after every performance, the institution has not forwarded those to us as of this posting. Three testimonial responses were received by postal mail directly from the inmates:

“…music took me on the journey of emotions that I have not felt in a long time, it also gave me hope for the future.”

“The event, which I have now experienced twice, took me for a journey to freedom. I could feel this freedom inside my body as well as deep into my psyche…”

“…This form of music is spiritual… its like a well of water in a secret place, that pours out freedom and a cool breeze to a troubled soul.”

   

The grand piano was delivered from Montreal by our partners from Esmonde-White Pianos.

[UPDATE] Bath Medium Security Institution – April 9, 2018

 

Audience:
45

Artists:
TSO String Trio (Katrina Chitty, viola; Mark Skazinetsky,  violin; Igor Gefter, cello)

Volunteers:
1

CSC Staff:
3

Duration:
120 minutes

Our third (!) Event at Bath, one of the biggest Medium Security Institutions in the country (hosts almost 500 inmates) was very different from the previous two. The majority of this more mature and more sophisticated audience was already familiar with us and has been anticipating our visit. Everyone present was genuinely and deeply engaged throughout the event – some almost exceedingly emotional. The interaction was intense and meaningful.

It was provoked by yours truly, who in my opening remarks reminded everyone present – in addition to about 40+ inmates attending, Nancy Kinsman, Warden; Gord Zuber, Assistant Warden and a chaplain there – about Syria, Myanmar, Ukraine as well as those in the hospitals, terminally ill… Later in the show I spoke again about Humboldt Broncos and Canada, reminding everyone, including myself about our joint good luck of BEING a part of this incredible country…

Men behind bars seem to be fond of people, who come across as imperfect and uncomfortably honest with themselves (no fake news). What does not work outside prison, works exceptionally well inside – you must be an actor outside… No wonder I feel at home in prison.

The “moment of truth” was a quiz about my tweed jacket and an associated inspirational story, originating in a flea market in Rome in 1983.

In the meantime, a Hungarian Dance by Brahms was acknowledged with appreciation by a member in the audience with roots in Austria and another member with roots in Hungary. The former was exposed to music by his strict aristocratic Viennese mother, who would follow him, when he practised piano, suggesting, that “You should not try to play better, than Mozart”… The latter was overwhelmed with the memories of his tragically lost father, listening to gypsys in a Budapest café… Another member of the audience, who has spent 57 of his 77 years on this earth in prison stood up and told everyone, that he can share a story about this exact same jacket and that he now is optimistic about the future.

In the meantime, an inspired and fully focused Stan Harwood created his No.4 painting, which will now become Looking at the Stars Bath Trademark and shared his thoughts about the process with the audience.

As in Collins Bay Medium case, yours truly gifted the Inmate Committee Chairman with his father’s inspirational autobiography. At the end we did manage to schmooze with those dozen, who wanted to speak with us all. They have all asked us to return as soon as possible.

A few days later I got a call from Bath staff verifying our mailing address and advising me of the reason – Bath Inmate Committee will be sending us another donation! I guess we are doing something right…