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THE SCOOP | Musicians Tackle Homelessness With Musical Acts of Kindness

By Brian Chang on January 29, 2019

(Photo: Flickr (brownpau) / Creative Commons)

“It was New Years Day that I came across this article on Facebook,” says conductor David Bowser. The Toronto Star reported 70 deaths in the homeless community by October of 2017. A frigid winter was already underway in Toronto with temperatures reaching into the negative twenties when David felt the urge to call his fellow musicians to action.

“The number was just overwhelming to me,” he said of the deaths being reported at the time. “I live downtown, and I’m aware of shelters and the needs of those who are homeless or precariously housed. I had a venue and a need and put out a call to music — like a call to arms, but for music. I put a call out on Facebook.”


The initial post got over 90 comments and 40 shares. With a plethora of pro-bono musical offers, the event started to take shape. Once repertoire was secured and players found, it was only a couple of weeks of notice to really get the church filled. The group was successful in raising funds for Sistering and Fred Victor in 2018.

This year some of the key leaders started to talk about putting on another concert six months ago. Their work led to the creation of a foundation called “Musical Acts of Kindness.”

For 2019, the Bloor-Yonge Outreach Network will benefit from the concert. The need for increased investment in emergency shelters is at a critical point in Toronto. With shelters constantly running at capacity, a system stretched to the limits can’t abide emergency situations. As temperatures drop, the already over-burdened systems is failing in Canada’s wealthiest city.

Early last week,  as CP24  reported, Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and dozens of advocates called for a state of emergency to be called to deal with the crisis. Between January 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018, 145 people died on the streets of Toronto.

The need is clear and present. In January 2018, putting the concert together happened quick and fast. Bowser wasn’t surprised at the response and rose to the occasion to help get the concert organized. “It’s a tonne of work,” he says, “the organization, getting the music, getting the resources.” But it was all worth it to meet the needs of the wider community with what he, and other musicians had to offer. “There was a real sense of willingness, of cause, to activism and take it a step further.”

“We’ve got a great roster of 18 singers and a full orchestra who are donating their time. We felt that this is an event to be light and fun. It’s to have a fun night and drink some delicious hot chocolate from Presidential Gourmet. Last year, we did “Brindisi” from La Traviata, “Va Pensiero” from Aida, known operatic numbers and the final act of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.”

“This year, in the same vein of creating something attractive and fun, the first half are individual arias, solo piano, and chamber music. The second half will be excerpts from the Magic Flute and Carmen. We tried to pick the funnier, uplifting songs so that none of us take ourselves too seriously and we have fun raising money for a really excellent cause.”

Amidst the musical offerings, there were also non-musical offerings of help. Jaye Marsh, who isn’t able to make the concert, has been instrumental in organizing the orchestra musicians. Rick Rowe, President of catering company Presidential Gourmet stepped in to offer hot chocolate for the event. Lawrence Peddie created the design and logo work for Musical Acts of Kindness. “This is a community; everyone’s contribution is equally valuable,” says Bowser.

Toronto’s sizable classical music community is coming out for these performances. Many different organizations are represented with players and support from the Pax Christi Chorale, the Toronto Mozart Players, Cantabile Chamber Singers, Hart House Chorus, the Church of the Redeemer Choir, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and many of the top-notch freelancers working in Toronto. “I’ve worked with all of these groups before, to have that generosity is really lovely,” says Bowser. Musicians already give a lot in their daily lives. For these concerts, in support of the street-involved, they’re happy to give a bit more.

A roster of Toronto musicians come together to present Musical Acts of Kindness. Pay what you can with proceeds going to the Bloor-Yonge Outreach Network February 2, 7:30 p.m. Church of the Redeemer, Toronto. Info here.

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