The next nine days are all about the arts in south Muskoka.
The annual Chautuaquafest kicks off today and runs through next week featuring an abundance of events.
Based out of Muskoka Lakes Township, Muskoka Chautauqua was originally part of a larger American movement to help bring education, religion and the arts to communities, most often in beautiful outdoor settings.
The Chautauqua movement has deep root s in Muskoka dating back to the turn of the century, when Muskoka was known as Canada s literary summer capital. In 1916 and 1917 conferences were held at Windermere House and Elgin House to provide study, sport and spiritual uplift.
The goals of Chautauqua haven’t changed that much over the past century and arts and spiritually are a key focus of Chautauquafest, beginning with the Strings and Chords theme, which runs until Sunday.
A three day Harp Class at Muskoka Place Gallery in Port Carling, under the tutelage of Michael and Zsiporah Moon, is one of the main events.
“They have harp schools in Israel, Singapore, Guatemala and in the US but this is the first Muskoka Chautauqua Harp School,” says Gayle Dempsey, one of the event’s organizers.
Dempsey says the Moons took part in one of Chautauqua’s regular Sunday reflection circles several years ago. They recently moved to the Muskoka area and were available to host the classes so Chautauqua jumped at the chance to focus on the “heavenly” instrument, as Dempsey puts it.
The classes culminate on Friday with a concert and poetry salon at the Gallery.
“We’ll be displaying the fruits of the harp school during a recital, and some poetry as well,” says Dempsey. “We’ll also be featuring Robert McAlpine’s poetry in his new book called Wings of Wonder. It ventures towards the heavenly and mystical side as well.”
The backdrop for the show is an exhibition in the gallery, which features paintings and photography that also falls under the theme of strings and chords.
Saturday morning features a faith prayer and meditative labyrinth walk.
“The guide brings along a 20 by 20 foot labyrinth that we’re going to walk,” says Dempsey. “It will be quite a spiritual moment, as will the whole week. Strings and chords have quite a spiritual tie.”
That night, the Port Carling Community Centre plays host to the Toronto All Star Big Band.
“It’s a performing school where the ages are 16 to 23, and they are absolutely fabulous,” says Dempsey. “If you close your eyes you’d think you were back in the big band era with top players.”
Sunday will include the regular Sunday reflection circle, as well as a dramatic performance by Patrick Mulvaney. The actor is also the artist in residence for the entire week at Cleveland’s House and is conducting improve workshops all week as well.
The following week, it’s wall-to-wall opera, as Opera Muskoka comes to town.
The week begins on Tuesday with Daveyd Pepper and the University of Toronto Faculty of Music Group performing Eugene Onegin at the Rene Caisse Theatre. The following day Jennifer Tung will be hosting vocal master classes from 1 until 4.
“She’s an international soprano teacher, pianist accompanist and she works a lot out of the Royal Conservatory, as well as several other places,” says Dempsey. “She’s directed operas and she’s actually been with us since the beginning in the early days of the Muskoka Lakes Music Festival.
Tung will also be performing later that evening.
On Thursday, Moshe Hammer will be hosting a master class in violin, and later that evening the festival wraps up with the annual Stars of Tomorrow concert at the Rene Caisse.