Monday, January 25, 2010


I just returned from a whirlwind week of singing and fun in New York, where I participated in a vocal competition. I had the pleasure to reconnect with long-lost family and friends both new and old, I got to absorb some art and culture, and I went to a Broadway show - A Little Night Music.

Now, I am a very picky theatre-goer and I tend to hold very high standards as an audience member so pardon me while I simply GUSH: If you are in NYC you must (absolutely, unequivocally MUST) go to see A Little Night Music. It is magnificent! Brilliant in the seamlessness and economical simplicity of it's staging and beautifully crafted, nuanced and wonderful performances from everybody! It's at the Walter Kerr (on 48th St). Even if the only ticket you can get is expensive - it's worth it. It is as close to a perfect production as I have ever witnessed. If I did not have to come back rehearsals and performances of my own, I would have extended my stay over the weekend to see it another two or three times!

While I was away, in response to the horrific crisis in Haiti, I pledged to match dollar-for-dollar the money I spend on myself that week with a donation to Doctors without Borders and Haitian relief efforts - and I challenged everyone on my Facebook page to do the same! I had no secure internet connection while away, so the total will be donated now, and I have to say it's a whopper!

I am also instigating further efforts to raise funds and support for this cause as well as the ONGOING crisis of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where despite the supposed formal cease of hostilities, several armed groups still use sexual violence as a weapon of war. In the DRC it is more dangerous to be woman than a combatant as women and girls remain targets for violence. Physical and economic insecurity still characterize the lives of women and girls and the threat of and the use of violence are constants, discrimination against women and girls underlies the violence perpetrated against them, and the current climate of impunity allows the many forms of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, to flourish.

Some of you may also know me as MezzoDiva the Operatic Knitaholic, as well as the designer of the Campanula for the Cure and Hibiscus for Hope sock patterns, which together with some very sore muscles, blistered feet and 60 km (twice) helped me raise some $13,500.00 for The Weekend to End Breast Cancer in 2007 & 2008.

Well, if I can scrape together some time this week, I intend to reformat and re-release those patterns as Hibiscus for HAITI and Campanula for the CONGO. It may have to wait a few days, though as I just returned from an exciting but strenuous week of vocal endeavours in NYC, I am juggling assorted family crises and medical emergencies (my 90 year-old mother-in-law is due to be released from a 3 week stay in the hospital this week) and I just dove into rehearsals for an upcoming opera and for the Quintimacy concert next weekend.

With the agreement of the artists, all proceeds from Quintimacy's upcoming salon will be donated to Médecins Sans Frontières, whose efforts in Haiti have been in demand both before the catastrophic earthquake> on January 12, 2010 and since then.

MSF's devotion to this calling, despite personal risk and losses, is truly heroic. MSF trauma centres were seriously damaged by the quake. Latest announcements confirm the quake killed 4 Haitian MSF staff; 4 others who'd recently worked with them also died; 6 are still missing. They just rolled up their sleeves and moved their treatment clinics to tents and mobile centres in the open. Their staff has a good sense of what's going to be needed in the short term as well as how much the rehabilitation of emergency and other healthcare in the country will cost in the long term. As the worldwide generosity continues, donations to their Emergency Relief Fund give MSF the maximum flexibility to respond directly where it’s most needed in Haiti, while ensuring they can still act rapidly should another disaster strike.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I just checked the Yarn Harlot's page and see the Knitters without Borders total is soaring. Keep up the good work, fiberistas!

I'm in NYC for a week for a singing competition and to visit friends - and I hope to see a Broadway show. I've pledged to match dollar-for-dollar the money I spend on myself this WEEK with an equal donation to Doctors without Borders and to Haitian relief efforts. I'm looking forward to making one doozy of a donation on Friday (when I get home to a secure connection) - and I hereby challenge everyone who reads this to do similarly:

Pick a day or the weekend or more, and what ever you spend for yourself that day, make a matching donation. Even if it's just lunch at McDonalds, every little bit helps. Just enjoy yourself and pledge to donate an equal amount to a reliable aid organization. The go have some fun and don't hold back - it's for a good cause!

For my Canadian friends, a list of registered charities can be found here.

For US and international friends, check with your local authorities for a registered charity.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year!
An open letter written December 31, 2009 but not posted until today due to technical difficulties.

Dear friends and colleagues,

Tonight we take a soul-cleansing breath, release what is past, appreciate what remains, and look forward with new wisdom to what comes next. As this interesting year draws to a close, I'm both grateful for all the life-lessons of 2009 and very glad they are past. Most of all, I am very excited about embarking upon a brand new year. The coming weeks and months are burgeoning with so much goodness, both new beginnings and seeds sewn coming to fruition - my only complaint is that there are still only 7 days in a week and 24 hours in each of them, and I do need to sleep and attend to the mundane necessities of life (and laundry) sometimes. Here are just a few highlights:

I have been invited to return to my alma mater as a guest artist, the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music (one of the foremost musical training programs in Canada), to perform a leading role in the first opera to be presented in the new acoustically perfect and exquisitely designed Koerner Hall. I look forward to start rehearsals for Le Cendrillon (Cinderella) by Massenet in the New Year, performances coming up in March 2010 with conductor Uri Mayer and the Royal Conservatory Orchestra.

I’m taking a brief hiatus from these rehearsals in mid-January for a trip to New York City to compete in the Liederkranz Foundation’s vocal competition (Wagner Division). Strange, but true: I have never been to New York (other than briefly crossing the tarmac at La Guardia while changing planes), so I am very excited about this trip and look forward to spending a few days after the competition seeing the sights and visiting with friends and family.

In the meantime, I am also preparing for a very special concert with Quintimacy on January 31st. Quintimacy, a Toronto-based group I co-founded in 2008 with musicologist Eleanor Johnston, composer Chad Martin and pianists Joseph Ferretti and Elaine Lau, has become very dear to me. We are dedicated to rebuilding a close working relationship between performers, composers and personal engagement with the audience through intimate salon-style performance of new, rare and beautiful piano, vocal and chamber works in settings which foster a sense of immediacy and connection. You can hear highlights from Quintimacy’s first season online at Instant Encore.

Titled "Expressionists in the Melting Pot," the first concert of our second season will trace the impact of historical events on music from the early 20th century in Vienna to the strange realities of the new world, after the escape or expulsion of many composers from the Nazi regime, in a program which includes music by Berg, Scriabin, Schoenberg, Korngold, Weill. As always with Quintimacy, our concert includes entertaining informative anecdotes mixed with the music and will be followed by a reception with the artists. After our almost excessively intimate event of last season had our guests rubbing shoulders, with many at our very knees sharing cushions on the floor, we are delighted to announce that we’re moving into the more spacious yet still intimate Gallery 345, a beautiful space of over 2,000 square feet with 12 foot wood ceilings and plaster and brick walls, designed and lit for the display of art.

I’m also preparing for other engagements later in the year, including a tour with my alter-ego, Emily. Canadian composer Jana Skarecky’s one-woman opera about Emily Carr, EMILY, THE WAY YOU ARE, with libretto by renowned Canadian poet Di Brandt, premiered on April 20, 2008. I had the profoundly gratifying experience of giving voice to this boldly visionary and nonconformist Canadian artist and writer, as well as to several key figures in her life - her sisters, a spurned suitor, art critics and the Group of Seven’s Lawren Harris. (This performance, with pianist Joseph Ferretti and members of The Talisker Players chamber ensemble under conductor Gary Kulesha, was presented at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg, Ontario, through the New Music in New Places program of the Canadian Music Centre, and may be heard online at the CMC archives.)

On top of all this, in response to continual requests by audiences at various concerts for a recording (and I am truly honoured and not a little surprised every time this occurs), I will be entering the studio this year to fulfill my promises and record a CD. To that end, I am preparing a sublime selection of vocal works by contemporary Canadian composers, including oeuvres by Chad Martin and Maria Case, as well as Alex Eddington, and Catherine Magowan and Ian McAndrew (Note to composers who may still be working on or dreaming about their compositions for this project - and you know who you are – start your engines!)

I also have several interesting teaching engagements later in the year in assorted eclectic places, including a personal project about which I am very passionate: developing an inter-disciplinary creativity workshop by applying the performance-related techniques I use with singing students in group master-classes and cross-pollinating from there, using the true inner voice to facilitate free authentic expression for artists in other media, such as painting/sculpture/fibre-arts/writing, and more.

I send you all blessings for this New Year and ever beyond: Don't wait for someone else to elevate you to your potential. Make your own magic in the Universe. Captain your journey. Risk something. Trust your power, and most importantly ... believe!

Wishing you and all your loved ones a wonderful holiday and a life filled with love and laughter, health and happiness, peace and prosperity, and many happy returns!

XO – Ramona