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A ‘Happy’ time inspired by Wellington’s water week

A mass public choir gathered at the gazebo to sing ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Now in its second year, a nine-day arts and music festival themed around water kept fun afloat in the lakeside village of Wellington last week.

Centred at various locations within the village core, all designed to be conveniently walkable, the festival encompassed an adventurous collection of programming encompassing music, visual art, the environment and community. The celebration of water, and all that connects us to it, gives, ‘an artistic voice to water’s ability to mystify, awe, connect, inspire and define us’, said organizers.

While the festival initially based on, and inspired by, Sweden’s Stockholm World Water Week Symposium, the idea to bring the concept to Wellington is from husband-and-wife duo, Johannes Debus, music director with the Canadian Opera Company and violinist Elissa Lee, as well as Maria Gacesa. Debus and Lee were not only involved in the day-to-day planning and organizing, but also found time to share their music.

World-class musicians graced stages from Wellington United Church to Festival Players Studio Theatre to the Drake Devonshire. Programming included harp, harpsichord and Stradivarius and an impressive line-up of both career professionals and emerging talent.

“This year, it’s fun to see slightly more ambitious programming, a big rise in ticket sales and still that amazing community support that we had last year,” said Gacesa. “There’s so much room for creativity when you are talking about water, and that’s exciting for me.”

Presented by the Festival Players of Prince Edward County, organizers skillfully brought together an eclectic mix of talent with broad-ranging programming, along with art, food and wine, and activities for children.

Some events and concerts were thought-provoking, some playful, other enlightening and intriguing, where the schedule included horror, fairy tales, a trip around the world in 80 minutes, and acappella folksongs.

“The week unfolded magically well and we had a lot of fun,” said Debus. “The combination of events and the different styles of artists who came out to Wellington worked quite well I believe.”

Sarah Slean and Johannes Debus and the community mass choir perform Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’.

Sing!, a unique event involving direction by Johannes Debus, saw a mass public choir in the gazebo in Wellington park. Singer/songwriter and three-time Juno-nominee Sarah Slean was responsible for leading the arrangement to facilitate a community singing of Pharrell Williams’ song ‘Happy’.

The fun, relaxed and infectious event saw close to 100 people divided into four voice groups for soprano, bass, tenor and alto. They delivered an impressive rendition of ‘Happy’ where Slean encouraged those standing just outside the gazebo perimeter to come closer as she and Debus worked their magic. “Sing louder than you think is acceptable or in good taste,” encouraged an enthusiastic Slean. “Don’t be shy, sing your heart out.”

Needless to say, everyone went home feeling ‘happy’.

“I was thrilled to see so many happy faces during this event, rehearsing the piece and then performing it,” said Debus. “Something like this really brings people together, it really unites us.”

Immediately following, Slean was in concert at the church next door, along with the Kamareli String Quartet.

Many of the family events were free to attend as children’s programming continued all week at the Wellington branch library, as well as the Wellington Museum. The library saw experiments with water filtration and salt water density.

The Shore Line: a storybook for sustainable future, by Liz Miller was an educational screening outlining in a fun and interactive way, the challenges of rising waters, living shorelines, currents of migration and more. In conjunction, the museum also displayed examples of Prince Edward County wildlife carver, Paul Bryans’ work.

Also at the museum, guest artist Dr. Ryan Scott, a marimba and multi-percussion soloist, performed “Orion Constellation Theory” for the young audience. It demonstrated, and was partly inspired, by the hypothesis there is a correlation between the location of the three largest pyramids of Giza and the three middle stars of the Orion constellation. Scott is married to harpist Sanya Eng who also performed during Wellington Water Week.

Evan Kilroy-Kuske, Lilah Sonneveld, Flora Sonneveld, Lara Lemke, Maeve Kilroy-Kuske, Emily Rossriguez, Tova Rubenstein-Gilhs proudly display the art mural they constructed at an art activity at the museum.

The event also included a workshop for the little ones involving an art activity where the children used paper – crumpled, folded, curled and torn – to make an art mural.

“I like the idea of celebrating Wellington and its natural heritage in the lake,” said Gacesa. “The idea is to turn the whole village into a canvas and have as much participation as possible, and have everyone’s minds turning towards water.”

Musical and Edible Promenade was an unusual combination of musical offerings, food nibbles and four locations, all kept secret until the event. The sold-out event was limited to 25 people who promenaded through Wellington, beginning and ending at Wellington United Church.

Starting on the church lawn by the lake, it moved inside the church to hear violinist Elissa Lee play Max Richter “Mercy”, accompanied by Johannes Debus on piano.

Violinist Elissa Lee plays J.S. Bach Partita no.2 “Ciaconne” at Sybil Frank Gallery.

The next venue on the whistle-stop tour was Sybil Frank Gallery where participants were once more met by the sounds of violinist Elissa Lee, this time to J.S. Bach Partita no.2 “Ciaconne”.

Lee explained that the piece goes to every possible range, similar to the range in water.

“Some days it’s really calm, some days it’s just violent angry, some days it’s peaceful, and this piece goes through all of that,” said Lee, who described it as a 15-minute masterpiece.

At Sybil Frank Gallery, Chef Chris Byrne introduced the first of four plant-based creations, each themed on water, beginning with ‘Waves’, which included waves of cucumber, zucchini, carrot, kohlrabi, cashew queso, drunken berries and soy foam, all exquisitely presented on a wood shingle.

Chef Chris Byrne served black and white noodles as part of the Musical and Edible Promenade.

Next stop was the Festival Players Studio Theatre where participants were met with the beautiful sound of a harpist. Here Byrne played with black and white noodles which were ‘cut to release the tension in the strings to create a symphony in your bowl’.

 

Harpist Sanya Eng performs “Scintillation” at the Festival Players Studio Theatre.

What followed was an enchanting shadowed performance written by French-born harpist Carlos Salzedo. “Scintillation” was performed by harpist Sanya Eng, who was silhouetted behind a white sheet. “It’s one of my favourite pieces to play,” said Eng, “It just takes advantage of what only a harp can do.”

A special treat, just steps from the Studio Theatre, the doors were opened to reveal the raw beauty of the cavernous former Masonic Hall. Now in private hands, and having undergone some restoration, under complete darkness, save a path of artificial candles, Dr. Ryan Scott dazzled his circled audience with an unusual hypnotic ‘sound sculpture’ to the backdrop of Erik Griswold’s “Spill”.

Dr. Ryan Scott performed “Orion Constellation Theory” for the young audience at Wellington Museum.

The impressive performance included a giant swinging vessel filled with rice, where Scott used the falling funnelled grains in conjunction with an ever-changing number of vessels, placed on the floor underneath, to demonstrate the many changing expressions of sound, not only through the different sizes and mediums of vessels, but to show how the speed of the swinging pendulum changes sound. The mesmerizing performance ended once the large pendulum, suspended from the very high ceiling, emptied of rice.

In the beautiful gardens behind the old Masonic hall, Byrne once again presented his latest creation ‘inspired by the very cool performance’. This time, a sticky rice and shitake mushroom, walnut and miso package wrapped in a steamed lotus leaf with a black sesame sauce and tagarashi, designed to mimic the swinging pendulum witnessed minutes earlier.

The afternoon of intrigue, grains of stellar musical programming, a touch of the unexpected and exquisite food samplings concluded at the church where Joe Brown (Karihwawihson is his Mohawk name) from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory demonstrated a traditional water drum.

Joe Brown (Karihwawihson) from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory demonstrated a traditional water drum.

Brown explained how the drum was made from a basswood log, hollowed out and the inside burned which is then sealed, and it has a plug to keep the water in and is covered with buckskin and a black ash ring.

“It has all the elements that sustain us as people,” said Brown. “It has wood, water and the animals hides that all sustain us; when we give our thanks, we give thanks to the animals.” Brown, who played a few verses of a couple of different songs, began with the Women’s Dance, describing how water is important to women in his culture. “Women and water go hand-in-hand in our culture at all times,” he said.

“People’s reactions after the concerts have been overwhelming; people have reacted very emotionally to the performances, which as artists, it’s why we do what we do to touch people’s hearts, to open their minds and to change and bring in a personal transformation, sometimes within a couple of hours,” said Lee.

For the second year, Wellington Water Week also included an art exhibit inspired by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper’s mandate to create a “swimmable, drinkable, fishable future”. The art exhibition and sale, ‘Swim, Drink, Fish’ held at Midtown Brewing Company, was organized by Wellington artist Stew Jones and featured a number of County artists who each produced a square foot painting themed around water.

Some of the water-themed art work on display at Midtown Brewing Company.

“We tried to create with every event, every concert, something people would remember, to recreate an experience of some sort,” said Debus. “It’s important for us to offer something that has a high quality and engages them in various ways.”

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