Amid a dizzying series of closures and reopenings, the Executive Director of the Sarnia/Port Huron International Symphony Orchestra (ISO) is eager to share some good news.
Despite many setbacks, ISO is launching a new program to provide local children with free violin lessons as soon as pandemic restrictions allow.
“It’s very exciting for us,” said Anthony Wing. “You can’t have a symphony orchestra without strings. If you put a violin in the hands of a child, they will have wonderful memories, whether they become great violinists or not.
The free education program delivered by orchestra professionals will be a boost to the community, Wing said. “And it comes as the provincial school system’s support for music and the arts wanes.”
ISO partners with a highly successful program known as El Sistema Aeolian in London, to provide after-school violin, instrument and music lessons for children aged 6-16.
The Sarnia El Sistema will be a satellite program, offered at the Aamjiwnaang Community Center (call 519-491-2160 to register) and ISO Headquarters on Christina Street (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Sarnia’s Harmony for Youth is also likely to get involved, Wing said.
Young musicians tend to become adult fans of the symphony, and if the local cross-border organization hopes to thrive, it must look to the future, Wing said.
There has not been a live symphony performance in Sarnia since February 2020. ISO’s approximately 55 musicians were unable to rehearse or put on a show together due to complications crossing the border.
Financial support continues to be strong on the American side, Wing said, which he cannot say on the Canadian side.
“We’re much better supported in Michigan and that’s concerning,” he said.
Nonetheless, there have been successes in Sarnia during these difficult COVID days. A well-attended reception was held in downtown ISObar during the South West International Film Festival in November. A First Friday with Jim Chevalier and the ISO Strings, as well as a benefit concert with the Cory James Mitchell Band slipped in somewhere between openings and closings.
A downtown summer concert series called Thru the Looking Glass was well received, and a cross-border symphony project called the Nexus Chamber Series was introduced to an online audience.
ISO is also set to confirm its new Canadian home at Great Lakes High School, where Wing is in talks to use the new 586-seat auditorium after the pandemic.
The use of the Great Lakes Auditorium is appealing because the ISO wants a stronger affiliation with the school system, Wing said. It is also a large and new room where the only flaw is the lack of sound panels.
ISO has offered to raise the $70,000 needed for the sound panels and is about 30% of the way there. Without strong sponsorship, ISO will resume US-focused post-pandemic programming, Wing said.
“But we hope to appeal to the goodwill of the community because we are a unique cross-border entity.”
The ISO has operated on both sides of the border for 64 years and Wing says he refuses to believe that will change.
The Sarnia-Port Huron ISO is one of only three international symphonies in Canada. The others are in Sault Ste. Marie and Fort Frances.
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