Music Connects Us.
Notes from our Artistic Director
~ January 6, 2021 ~
Happy New Year! Everyone I know, everyone I’ve spoken with over the past couple of weeks, everyone says the same thing: 2020 was a year unlike any other I’ve ever lived through. Personally, I’m finding it difficult to know exactly how to begin this message for a new year; in fact, this is my seventh attempt to strike the right tone about a future where I just don’t know is what I’m hearing all around me.

Seeking that exact note of inspiration, I’ve been keenly tuned to what friends and colleagues have been saying or what I’ve been reading and viewing. If 100% optimism is the right approach, then I should heed what Peter Ustinov said during a fascinating video summary of his life that I recently watched: “I am not a pessimist. I believe we have an obligation in life to be optimistic!”

But there was also that late-December Globe & Mail essay by the theatre critic, Kelly Nestruck, that  reminded us of the continuing challenges Canada’s artistic community is enduring and his urging governments not to forget artistic struggles and needs. That’s a tone I’ve met several times in my own annual tradition of replacing holiday cards with personal calls to colleagues and friends around the country whom I’ve seldom, if ever, seen in the past twelve months.

Honestly, it’s most often been to the arts that I’ve continued to turn for inspiration, for hope, and so it’s in that spirit that I do write to you today with thoughts that might seem more appropriate for Thanksgiving than Christmas…an appreciation of what we have, rather than what we do not have…what we likely can accomplish rather than what seems unlikely in the days ahead. That’s the quality I want to bring to Huron Waves as much as I need it for myself. So, here we come, 2021…watch out for us!
Celebrate the Season … our Huron Waves online auction + video were born out of the frustration we carried when our long-planned Spring debut was cancelled, as was a second round of live programs proposed for later in the year. We turned to video, not for the usual sort of programming where a camera records an otherwise lonely performance without an audience, but rather to the challenge of giving our audience a genuine, fresh music and visual experience. The Celebrate the Season video became quite a hit, already attracting over 12,500 showings among its various virtual platforms. In fact, the interest is so high that we’ve extended its availability till the end of January…and we’re considering leaving it permanently on our website: (Someone even dubbed it an artsologue – a combination of talent and geography that represented and promoted Huron County and Ontario’s West Coast rather well.)

BRAVO and THANKS to Graham Greene, our narrator/host; to The Sunset Drummers and to Hailey, Jaylynn and Tacoma, the three wonderful young First Nations dancers; to cellist Thomas Beard, soprano Christina Bell and accompanist Andrea Grant; to ballerina Antonella Martinelli; to the Hussey Family Singers and photographer Bonnie Sitter; to the sponsors whose generosity enabled us to undertake this project, and to the hosts, locales and businesses like Iceculture that welcomed the filming. 

And let me recognise the creative leadership of our director, Mark Hussey, with his team from FauxPop Media; these people and this company are a resource to be appreciated and valued from their base in Goderich.

Celebrate the Season, the auction, added to our festival treasury thanks to those donors who gave us a unique variety of items and experiences for the bidders whose successes became gifts under a good number of Christmas trees throughout southwestern Ontario. Special thanks go to our General Manager, Heather Boa, and to Bre Thompson, the auction co-ordinator, who, together, did so much to construct and run the auction, thus helping Huron Waves build our donor base as well as our general, wider outreach.

My personal prediction for 2021 is that our Celebrate the Season experiment could become a continuing special event for Huron Waves in future Decembers. And so even now, I’d welcome ideas about how, with whom and where we can begin preparing for Celebrate the Season, 2021. My festival email is
And now to some music… What I’d like to share with you this month are suggestions that focus on how and where wonderful musical presentations are taking place. These are links that I’ve come upon during December, mostly when I’ve been alone with my computer screen reflecting on locations and artists with whom I’ve personally had the honour, the thrill, of working, or responding to what others have shared with me.

Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. I remember once sitting in the serenity of that great church to hear an organist practising for some upcoming ceremony or service; this eventually led to my engaging one of the cathedral’s organists for a series of programs in Stratford. What I particularly recall was my concern over how this blind musician would adjust to our local instrument yet I need not have worried because his musicianship was superb and the concerts quite dramatic and moving. But I’m anxious to know just what is happening right now with the restoration of the Cathedral and what is the state of the great musical instrument I’d found so inspiring.

Watch this video report about the Cathedral’s current conditions here.
Musikverein concert hall in Vienna. It’s a New Year’s Day tradition in our house to watch the annual concert from one of the world’s greatest concert settings. All this started some years ago when I was in Vienna and had the good fortune to buy two last-minute tickets for a Vienna Philharmonic rehearsal conducted by Gustavo Dudamel who, at that time, was emerging as a superstar maestro on international podiums. The January 2021 concert is currently available only for paid download or CD purchase, but here’s Maestro Dudamel conducting the Vienna Phil on another occasion.

Perhaps your enjoyment of this short selection will lead you to explore more such videos on YouTube with this conductor and this superb orchestra. Listen here.
The Peace Tower Carillon in Ottawa. Our Parliament Buildings are currently under a renovation that could take up to a decade to complete so parliamentary proceedings have moved elsewhere in the capital. But the one force that continues in the building is music, thanks to the national carillon. Though I’ve never squeezed into the tiny quarters where Dr. Andrea McCrady, our Dominion Carillonneur, plays the 53 bells, I do know Dr. McCrady and to my pleasure, I’ve recently found the sounds of her playing this great instrument live online as the bells resound over downtown Ottawa while construction continues directly underneath her keyboard.

Programs are announced in advance, many with particular and quite varied themes, such as the anniversary of the French composer, Francis Poulenc, this Thursday (January 7) or a carillon tribute to Elvis Presley on Friday (January 8) because that’s his birthday. The concerts begin at noon, generally three times at midweek, here.

Basilica of the Holy Cross in Barcelona. This cathedral is one of the great Gothic buildings of Europe and a spot I’d like to visit, in part because of its history but definitely because of this unique presentation of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus which was set there in December.

Let’s conclude January’s newsletter where we began, with news about virtual programming in the face of the pandemic, though, I do admit, in a much grander way for Spain than what Huron Waves accomplished for our communities.

I could listen to the Hallelujah Chorus any time of the year but never have I experienced it the way these 350 singers and musicians from cities throughout Spain and Portugal were presented by an innovative virtual media company. For me, this presentation brings together the past – Handel’s score, sung in an historic basilica setting – and the future – 21st century virtual techniques – for a stunning experience that gives me optimism worthy, I hope, of Sir Peter Ustinov.

You simply must watch this amazing presentation and know that it’s what lies ahead for our arts experiences in Canada and worldwide here.
Till we’re together again, stay safe and healthy.  And remember that Music Connects Us.

John A. Miller, Artistic Director                                                                       January 6, 2021