[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..

Quebec Takes Notice – La Scena Musicale Interview

Looking at the Stars has garnered some long-awaited media coverage in La Belle Province, Quebec. La Scena Musicale magazine recently published an interview with our Founder, Dmitri Kanovich. The issue will be online in April, but you can read the interview tear sheet here.

Return to Bath Medium April 9, 2018

Andréa Tyniec solo violin at Grand Valley Minimum March 29, 2018

Accolades from Beaver Creek Institution Chaplain

We have enjoyed a stellar event at prison! Yes, classical music has gone behind bars to reach into the inner depths of many men who are incarcerated. And this has happened because of a fairly new foundation called Looking at the Stars, an initiative based on the hope that a quality performance of such world class music can have a profound affect upon the hearts souls and minds of such men, many of whom have never had or taken the opportunity to be moved and inspired by such a musical experience.

Yes, on two separate occasions at both the minimum and medium sites of Beaver Creek Institution during the approach to Christmas when many of “those on the inside” are especially lonely or sad or downhearted, some beautiful and really breathtaking music in the form of a Toronto Symphony Orchestra string trio, captured the attention of two  ‘sold-out’ audiences and transported us to another place. I was there and can attest to the attentiveness of the auditors as they were caught up in a musical odyssey that set them free, so to speak, for the duration of the concert. It was personally enjoyable and uplifting, and as someone working towards what is called ‘the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders’, I can witness to the rapture that many of the men felt and expressed in their own testimony after the event. Yes, it was an odyssey as you can imagine with music from such luminaries as Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Vivaldi – just exceptional.

All the best,

Douglas Parrett
Aumonier catholique / Catholic Chaplain
Établissement de Beaver Creek / Beaver Creek Institution
Service correctionnel du Canada /Correctional Service of Canada
Gravenhurst, Ontario

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.

Our final concert of the year!

Beaver Creek Minimum Security Institution

Our Anniversary (#10!!!) Event at Correctional Services Canada and #4 at Beaver Creek. And it has exceeded every expectation on the final day of Restorative Justice Week.

From soon-to-be-paroled Shawn Walker’s institution-made most delicious cake to Mark’s Skazinetsky’s witty introduction of a composer-turned chemist Borodin, to Katrina’s Chitty’s short story about Beethoven’s gift of hearing music while being deaf to Igor Gefter’s fascinating story about co-existing cultures and Jewish Kol Nidrei by a German composer, to our most dedicated supporter, Nancy Kinsman, BCI Warden’s very personal and deeply emotional closing comments (Nancy’s spontaneous speech was delivered with incredible passion and grace and was truly extraordinary) and finally to a profoundly warm, friendly and genuine conversation period with inmates looking distracted, relaxed, happy, open, and friendly.

String Trio, comprised from the TSO musicians created a unique atmosphere of celebration and joy for an attentive, respectful and fully focused audience. Even Dmitri’s opening and closing remarks (as well as his performance as a dedicated doorman throughout the concert) were effective this evening – short and spontaneous.

Chaplain Douglas Parrett was instrumental in organizing this Event and getting the performance hall packed (over 100 inmates showed up and stayed, some stood throughout the 75 minute show). Familiar and new faces – Helen, Paul, Brian, Branka (staff and volunteers). Mixed, yet very unanimous solid crowd, sharing the same values and the same interests – sharing their spiritual warmth with inmates and looking together with them at the stars.

Fantastic, illuminating atmosphere. Powerful, liberating, distracting impact of classical music on ALL present. It felt like there was not one single inmate there – everyone present was carried away by the melodies…. Everyone was absent from prison, which felt like a home on November 24.

This is an excerpt from the inmates letter I received today. It will best express what I am not able to:

….”The idea of bringing classical music to help us console, heal and reform is ingenious. I was in a complete state of serenity. The magical sounds coming from the trio of strings was so soothing and therapeutic to me. I would close my eyes and find myself in a better place. Other times, I would survey the room and be amazed to see the expressions on the faces of other inmates, ones of astonishment, delight and vitality. A gloomy and dark place was now an illuminating place of hope and promise. Needless to say, your efforts were an astounding success, welcomed and appreciated…”

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