Classical concert pianist recalls time on Manitoulin in new autobiography

Concert pianist Janina Fialkowska instructs children during a workshop she held on Manitoulin Island in the 1990s. Ms. Fialkowska has penned ’A Note in Time,’ about her career that includes a chapter about her time on Manitoulin Island, having toured Canada as a member of Piano Six for 10 years.

GERMANY – Concert pianist Janina Fialkowska spent 10 years touring Canada with recital company Piano Six in the 1990s and 2000s, playing concerts and hosting workshops for children in small communities, and the enchanting Manitoulin Island ranks high in her memories. Ms. Fialkowska has penned A Note in Time, a book about her career that includes a chapter about her time on the Island.

It was through the efforts of Manitoulin’s own illustrious accompanist, Holly Scott, that Ms. Fialkowska first played on Manitoulin Island. “I visited the Island twice and loved it,” she said. “I would stay about 10 days and would put on eight or nine concerts all over the Island and hold workshops with children.”

The Islanders attending the concerts were always very attentive, the pianist remembered. “People would be in their seats and quiet 10 minutes before the concert was to start. You would never hear a sound. It was magical. They were very well behaved. 

“I felt, and my colleagues always felt, appreciated by Island audiences,” Ms. Fialkowska continued. “It was a two-way thing. The audience enjoyed beautiful classical music and loved and understood what I was doing. It was always gratifying coming to the Island.”

In her book, Ms. Fialkkowska wrote, “Holly Scott, a local resident, pianist and teacher, was the woman behind our first tour on the Island and she poured her heart and soul into the project, coordinating a four-day tour consisting of three recitals, six school concerts, several receptions and all of our meals.”

“Holly had to also work out all the logistics, as Manitoulin is big and she didn’t want to tire me out with long drives,” she wrote. “As always, the tour was sandwiched between other engagements. I had already been to Europe twice that year so I was my usual tired self. Holly turned up at the Wedgewood Inn, where we were staying, to greet us and all the pent-up emotions, nerves and excitement of the pre-tour preparations suddenly became too much for her and she burst into tears – though mostly tears of relief and joy that we had actually turned up, and that from now on nothing dreadful would happen that couldn’t be dealt with relatively easily. Soon we were all sitting around the dining room table, eating cake. Holly, now fully recovered, told me that my first recital had sold out within hours of its announcement.”

Ms. Fialkowska was asked to play a repeat recital the following evening; that event sold out quickly. A third recital was planned, this one to be held at the home of Holly Scott. It, too, was another immediate sell out. 

She was teaching piano at that time, Ms. Scott told The Expositor. “Most students had never heard professional musicians and it was good to be inspired by gorgeous piano music. Piano Six had decided to donate some of their time to visiting rural, remote areas to hold concerts and workshops, where the students would play for the professionals.”

School workshops were far more nerve-wracking than evening recitals, Ms. Fialkowska shared. “Children are potentially a ruthless audience,” she said. “I felt a tremendous responsibility for making this early – sometimes first – encounter with classical music a happy one.” 

Concert pianist Janina Fialkowska, who spent 10 years touring Canada as a member of Piano Six, has penned A Note in Time, a book about her career that includes a chapter about her time on Manitoulin Island.

Her fears were generally alleviated, however, as it was “invariably the case in the rural or smaller, isolated communities that the children were well behaved.”

“The particularly lovely part of my school concerts was the handful of children for whom something in my performance really sparked their imagination,” she wrote. “They never seemed to get enough of the music and of my explanations and would hang around bombarding me with questions until they were led away by their teachers.”

It was her mother who inspired her to choose music, explained Ms. Fialkowska. She later studied in Montreal, Paris and New York before being discovered by Arthur Rubenstein when she was representing Canada in an international competition being held in Tel Aviv, Israel. 

Mr. Rubenstein was an adjudicator for the competition. “Up until that time, I hadn’t played a concert,” Ms. Fialkowska said. “Through his influence, I spent a year on a 44-concert world tour.” 

In the 1990s, Ms. Fialkowska realized that a lot of the small recital companies were disappearing. She helped create Piano Six with five of her friends. “It was all very Canada-based,” she said. “For 10 years, we carved up Canada playing concerts and ten days a year, we would play and hold workshops for children in small communities. That is how I came to visit Manitoulin Island.”

In the book, Ms. Fialkowska describes Manitoulin Island as “an enchanted island,” with its “rugged landscape, pristine lakes, sugar maple groves, evergreen forests, stone-fenced meadows, gentle beaches and wilderness trails.” 

When she arrived on the Island in April 2000, “spring was just about to burst forth, and little pink spring beauties, bright yellow dogtooth violets, crocuses and deep purple grape hyacinths were already in bloom.”

After a gruelling 10 years traveling all over Canada, “we all got older,” she said. “After 10 years we (Piano Six) stopped touring. But it provided some of the most remarkable times of my career, and places like Manitoulin Island and Squamish, British Columbia stood out.”

A Note in Time is an autobiography told mostly through anecdotes and includes entries on Piano Six. “It was such an important part of my role in life,” she said. 

Ms. Fialkowska’s career has taken her all over the world. She was a member of the English Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and played in Poland prior to 1990. “In the beginnings of my career, women pianists were supposed to be teachers,” Ms. Fialkowska pointed out. “I guess I was sort of a trailblazer. I was probably one of the first female North American pianists.”

A bout with cancer in her left shoulder nearly stopped everything but, she promised, “The ending of my book is cheerful, a positive note before COVID.” 

If not for COVID, she would be performing now, Ms. Filkowska told The Expositor. “I’ve had five concerts in the past two years, which has certainly not been helpful financially.” If all goes well, she will be coming to Canada in January on a tour. “Who knows?” she said from Germany, where she now resides. “Here in Germany, we are in another lockdown.”

‘A Note in Time’ is available at bookdepository.com.