The Canadian Arabic Orchestra and Chorus onstage in Stratford
The Canadian Arabic Orchestra and Chorus onstage in Stratford

Stratford Summer Music Festival Is Launched In Moving Fashion

There is much more to music and Stratford than Justin Bieber. The Stratford Summer Music Festival is an annual concert series that continues to grow in stature and popularity. It launched this past Monday with a remarkable performance that typified the very best that Canada can be.

The festival’s artistic producer, John A. Miller, selected The Canadian Arabic Orchestra and Chorus as the featured performers on Opening Night, and invited recently arrived Syrian families in the Stratford area to be part of the proceedings.

In an e-mail interview yesterday, Miller informed us that “the arrival of the Syrian families in our country has made all Canadians more conscious of that area of the world and so I thought it would be appropriate to present the Canadian Arabic Orchestra and Chorus as our featured performers, but all the more so because we could invite the local Syrian families to be part of the evening and use music as a further way to show them how welcome they are in our city and country. Two goals served by one event!”

The evening was a triumph, he notes. “The performance exceeded my expectations with both our general, local audience (made up of our volunteers, senior patrons, directors, and corporate sponsors) and with the special guests (the Syrian families).  Clearly, when the new visitors heard their familiar music sung in Arabic and performed on traditional instruments, they were overjoyed;  many of them actually had their cameras and cell phones in hand to record the performance and even transmit it (we’re told) back to their homeland. Our local friends were touched by the music (some were seen in tears as they saw the joy of the Syrians) and all have been commenting on how wonderful the evening was.”

Lamees Audeh is Vice President and Music Director of The Canadian Arabic Orchestra. She informed FYI yesterday that “we are a relatively new orchestra and to be part of such an important event as the Stratford Summer Music Festival is both a great honor and a great pleasure.”

She recalls that “John Miller left me a voice message on my phone one day in February. He was asking about the orchestra and whether we would be interested in taking part in the Stratford Festival, a place we haven't been to before let alone performed in. The good thing was that we were scheduled to have a performance in March, which was an opportunity for him to see us live and get a feel of our music up close, so he came all the way to Toronto to attend.”

Audeh was thrilled at the response to their Stratford concert. “From the start we were told that there will be a few Syrian families who have settled in Stratford among the audience. We also have a few members of our choir who are also Syrian newcomers. The energy flowing from the stage to those audience members was quite moving. 

We were also approached by some of the Syrians in the audience who told me how uplifting it was for them to hear this music for the first time in Canada, they were also moved that I addressed them in Arabic while dedicating one of the Syrian songs to them.”

The Stratford Summer Music Festival runs from July 18 to Aug. 28, and is now in its 16th year.

According to a report in the Stratford Beacon-Herald, advance ticket sales are already over $120,000, ahead of last year’s tally at this time. Shows by The Harlem Gospel Choir with Measha Brueggergosman, 13 year old jazz prodigy Joey Alexander and Canadian Patricia O’Callaghan are already sold out. He calls booking Alexander “a major coup,” recalling that “I first saw a feature about him on Sixty Minutes when Anderson Cooper hosted the segment profiling Joey. After that, I turned to the amazing resources of the internet to connect with him...and the process was underway.”  

Miller tells FYI that the declining loonie means “It definitely is more expensive to book international visitors but we’ve seen our audiences respond well to the presence of these people who tend to have higher profiles before the public. Ticket sales for these international artists have kept apace with the dollar costs.”

"What I sense, year by year, is that more and more people are looking to Stratford Summer Music for significant activities during July and August, and it’s especially good to see how they support Canadian musicians as readily as international stars.”

For a full Stratford Summer Music Festival festival lineup, go here 



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