[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.

Beaver Creek Minimum Security Institution 2018/11/14

Beaver Creek Medium Security Institution 2018/11/13

A Gift of Music to The York School

Millhaven Maximum Security Institution

Bath Medium Security Institution Centre for Spiritual Development

[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.