[REPORT] Beaver Creek Medium Nov. 13 and Beaver Creek Minimum Nov. 14

Andrea Tyniec, Violin

Back again to Beaver Creek Institution – SIX performances at BCI since our first musical gift to CSC.

Following the pre-concert visits to both institutions and meetings with inmate committees, internal advertising, an enthusiastic, and oversubscribed, previous performance at the Medium Institution in November 2017, dozens of letters and testimonials, a group donation, and an unusual program,  finally having our best friend and supporter Douglas Parrett there on the regular basis, following all of the above  – the attendance was very disappointing (approx 70 and 55 inmates respectively). The Minimum Institution was particularly disappointing. Again and again we have noted a frequent absence of prison staff, which is no longer a surprise, but rather a confirmation of a possible gap between the various stakeholders involved. Attendance is beyond our control and we are fully dependant on CSC staff and inmates in this regard. This is a challenge, but we will overcome it eventually.

The men who were present fully compensated for the aforementioned shortcomings by bestowing a cordial, enthusiastic reception on the soloist, Andrea Tyniec. Andrea again (as was the case at Grand Valley Institution for Women earlier this year) offered a program which presented a well-prepared narrative of dramatic moments in her life intertwined with the works of “alternative” composers, such as Biber, Corigliano, and Sokolovic – a musical equivalent of the same personal narrative, but retold by the violin. Her deeply personal message to the inmates was reciprocated with highly emotional and immediate feedback from the inmates. An excerpts from Les Miserables were read by Dmitri – not a great job on the greatest masterpiece of Victor Hugo, but listened to attentively nonetheless. The numerous testimonials and letters we received subsequently speak to the power and impact of Andrea’s ability to connect to the broad audience and touch their hearts and souls. The inmates letters speak for themselves:

“… I thought of giving up and just saying screw it, what’s the use? …But when I heard Andrea talk about her story… I came made to realize I should be embarrassed and ashamed of thinking of giving up… When she started playing Over the Rainbow, I went back to when I was 6 years old into my mother’s living room watching Wizard of Oz with my mother. The feeling was amazing. Felt like she was playing that just for me…”

“..It is the greater deeper mission of your organization – to bring a renewal, to reinvigorate hope to the lives of men who (like me) need it most (who society for the most part, has generally abandoned & wishes to ignore… You however, have essentially chosen to prioritize us – in essence, you are like a fish swimming against the stream – & for that I am eternally grateful… ”.

“..What a beautiful way to relax in mind, as well as body… Do not hesitate to return for another visit…”

“ … before this last visit I was growing depressed and unfocussed. Afterwards, I I have started my journey to crawl [out] of my mood and to cultivate my focus…”

“I will not spend any of this letter showering you with praises … other than saying thank you. This visit was well timed in my life and helped me realize a few flaws I must fix, and fix I shall!”.

“…after I heard Andrea Tyniec play it amazingly brought me my childhood with Over the Rainbow… It brought out my feelings of joy and memories of my family; brought me to feel love.”

In general, it was great to see many familiar faces, expressing active support and interest in our program during two very extensive and very different, but very meaningful Q&A periods. Also, while I was disappointed by the attendance, I am very satisfied with the reception and impact we achieved – classical music again and again has proven to be an effective instrument for building bridges between those on the outside and those on the inside.

Overall this was a nice way to wrap up 2018…. Thanks to everyone at BCI!

[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.

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