[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…

[UPDATE] Collins Bay Medium Security Institution – April 9, 2018

Audience:
50

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

Volunteers:
5

CSC Staff:
5

Duration:
105 minutes

Collins Bay is one of the oldest and biggest prisons in Canada and hosts three institutions – minimum, medium and maximum. We have performed in the minimum in 2017, so were somewhat familiar with the environment.  Our hosts (Nikki Smith and Janice Saunders) were extremely well prepared – the chapel was set up perfectly. We felt the excitement in the air.

Prison staff was numerous and enthusiastic, which was unusual and gratifying to observe. The chapel was packed. Men and the rest of the audience, which also included volunteers welcomed us very warmly. Only a handful have listened or attended a classical music concert in the past, all engaged in a lively conversation with performers and yours truly throughout the afternoon.  It was nice to see Crystal Thomson, Acting Warden sneaking in for about 15 minutes and blending with the crowd. Rev. Gary Reynolds and Rev. Paul Kern were joined by Neil and Gertie Minnema, chapel volunteers.

As usual Stan has created an unusual painting. Once again we witnessed a remarkable and powerful synthesis of a music instrument, paint brush and the audience – creative, uplifting, optimistic, distracting. Katrina confessed, that as she played, she could not resist the temptation of “spying” on the painting creation process and that it emotionally positively affected her performance.  Now only Collins Bay Maximum is missing a painting…

In his traditional “moment of truth” speech, yours truly delivered a message about being ALIVE and BEING in Canada in the context of the Humboldt Broncos tragedy. He also shared a story about the darker period of his emigration in Italy, when he was pretty close to committing a crime…

The Q&A period demonstrated clearly, that our audience the majority of which was under 35, have enjoyed the event and were actively curious to find as much as possible about the music, the performers and their instruments – composers, bow structure, childhood and much more. I only regret we did not have enough time for a traditional “post-event” cup of tea. Next time, perhaps as they want us back.

Our unanimous impression of this visit was extremely positive and optimistic – classical music has hit the right chord in men’s minds and hearts..

BCI Medium concert was one of our most gratifying!

This final musical gift of the year was not part of our original schedule, but the overwhelming response to the November 24 event at the BCI Minimum facility reinforced the need to present this gift to their neighbours at the Medium facility. The String Trio from the TSO not only agreed to come back to Gravenhurst two weeks after the Minimum facility concert, but considerably enhanced the program.

The expected turnout of at least 150 inmates was promising. We decided to do the event in the gym as a result (chapel would not have accommodated such a large crowd), but an unforeseen last minute accident with the water supply and fire alarm system forced us to perform in the chapel – a great place for a chamber performance, but limited in space. A snowstorm warning was yet another reason to reconsider the idea, but we were already on our way to the event.

We ended up with approximately 100 inmates packed like sardines in the main chapel and another 20 standing in the kitchen.  Another 50 would keep coming in and out the front doors until the guards had to close them.

Prison world is very complex – relationships, clans, interests and power groups, habits, communications culture, tense and complicated relationships with staff. No different from the world outside, but not easy to detect and understand during such a short visit. As I performed a function of doorman, I could feel it all around me – suspicion and animosity, curiosity and frustration, anger and sarcasm, mistrust and exasperation. Very different from being a part of the audience inside the performance area… and a great lesson to learn. These observations relate to those inmates whose hearts we have yet to reach. There are many.

The extraordinarily rich program (from Mozart to Vivaldi, from Borodin to Bruch, from Tchaikovsky to Beatles and Carlos Gardel) was eclectic, but consistently a first class repertoire. I was later told, that the entire Muskoka region seldom (if ever) gets a chance to experience it. As always, the music was complemented by comments, stories and anecdotes – all about classical music.

Q&A was content rich. Inmates were well prepared. The conversation between musicians and the crowd was long and quite excellent. Katrina Chitty explained why she switched from violin to viola during the performance, and Mark Skazinetsky disclosed the origins of his medieval Italian violin. The inmates were fascinated by these stories.

As the snowflakes were elegantly falling and covering the ground, the encores – sounds from Nutcracker (Tchaikovsky) and Four Seasons (Vivaldi) – were transporting the prison and inmates to a New Years celebration party in tsarist Russia, closer to the magic of the Christmas tree and to the sunny Italian vineyards on the Mediterranean. It was a magical experience.

Happy Holidays to all.

Exciting Fall/Winter Season Announcement

This exciting schedule introduces a number of new artists to the Looking at the Stars roster. We are delighted to present the Glenn Gould School String Quartet as well as star performers Jonathan Crow (violin) and Joseph Johnson (cello) from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO).

We are also pleased to announce our first Looking at the Stars public concert; an evening of Chopin etudes presented by the international award-wining pianist, Lukas Geniušas, at the delightful Heliconian Hall in Yorkville Village, Toronto. Ticket info coming soon!

November 18

Correctional Services Institution
Glenn Gould School String Quartet – Barry Shiffman (violin), Jeongmin Lee (violin), Jacob Clewell (viola), Amy Lee (cello)
Bach, Mozart, Pachelbel, more

December 1
Correctional Services Institution
Lukas Geniušas (piano)

December  2
Helikonian Hall, Yorkville, Toronto
Fundraising Performance
Lukas Geniušas (piano)
Chopin (27 Etudes)

December 4
Baycrest Centre
Lukas Geniušas (piano), Jonathan Crow (violin), Joseph Johnson (cello)
Program TBD

Enthusiastic reception from inmates at Bath

We were so gratified and humbled to receive this letter from Mr. Joseph Joseph, the Inmate Committee Chairman at Bath Institution, part of Correctional Services Canada, in response to our Looking at the Stars event on December 29, 2015.

“Your event was an overwhelming success at Bath. As the Inmate Committee Chairman, I have heard nothing but positive reports, and the impacts on the men’s lives which were immediately visible will only be fully measured over the weeks, months and years to come.

“I must admit I attended your event with some skepticism, however, the overall night was a wonderful combination of music, and vision sharing.”

Letter from Bath (PDF 82Kb)

Thank you to our first recipients

We are truly humbled and most appreciative of the reception we received during our preliminary event series during the last week of 2015. Our sincere thanks to St. Joseph’s Health Centre, Baycrest Health Centre, Sunnybrook Veterans Centre , SickKids Hospital, and Bath Institution Correctional Services.

Our featured performer, Mr. Lukas Geniušas, was overwhelmed by the intense emotional connection he experienced with so many audience members during and after each recital. He’s excited to visit us again in April, 2016, for another event series.

To stay informed about our Spring Series, please sign up for our occasional newsletter, which will bring you news and updates about our organization and the amazing events we are planning for the year ahead.