Island ivory tinklers enthrall Holy Cross audience at Candlelight Concert

The candlelit ambience added greatly to the atmosphere.

WIIKWEMKOONG—A sold out Candlelight Concert featuring pianists from across Manitoulin and beyond captured the hearts and ears of the audience gathered at Holy Cross Church in Wiikwemkoong on Saturday evening. There was something for just about any tastes during the two-and-a-half-hour program as performed pieces ranged from standard classical and homegrown compositions to pop, country and blues.

The ambiance in the historic church was picture perfect, featuring hundreds, if not thousands, of LED candles some perched on ledges high above the sanctum space. Co-host Audrey Osawabineshi noted the candles were remotely activated. “Thank goodness,” she laughed. “I don’t know how we would have gotten them all turned on if they weren’t. It was a long way up the ladder to put some of them up.”

Ms. Osawabineshi shared hosting duties with her son Joe Osawabine and the duo provided an entertaining banter between the evening’s performances.

The first performer was 16-year-old virtuoso Mason Animikwan, a Grade 11 student at Manitoulin Secondary school who studies classical piano virtually with Robert Horwath, a Liszt Ferenec Academy of Music Budapest graduate—a school Mason hopes to one day attend following a degree from the Glenn Gould School of Music. Mason’s repertoire for the evening included a number of original compositions.

Mason requested the audience stand for his rendition of ‘God Save the Queen,’ noting that although he recognized the sometimes strained relations between Indigenous peoples and the monarchy, he offered his condolences to the Royal Family and hoped for better relations in the future.

The young composer had an engaging persona onstage, but when his fingers set upon the keys of the piano there was no mistaking Mason’s professional grade focus.

Rounding out the youth segment of the evening were 16-year-old Aidan Leedham, who was inspired to take up the piano after seeing the movies ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Rocket Man.’ Aiden played an instrumental version of an Elton John piece.

Then 21-year-old Cruz Manitowabi took to the stage, playing a piece dedicated to his mother Victoria baa, his Nana and his old homestead on Willow Street.

After a short 15-minute intermission, the adult segment of the evening got underway with a performance by former Debajehmujig Storytellers WOOFER Mike Evin of Toronto. Mr. Evin has been on tour opening for the Barenaked Ladies and provided some of his original compositions. Although straying from the avowed “instrumental” focus of the evening, there was no complaint to be had from the audience. In a hilarious sidebar with Mr. Osawabine on vocals, Mr. Evin played a tribute to the late Hank Williams, who would have been 99 on Saturday.

Rick Mauti then stepped onto the stage with a formidable presence that belied his delicate command of the ivories. Mr. Mauti thanked the Wiikwemkoong community for the warm welcome he has enjoyed since coming to the Island and made an unusual request of the audience to not applaud following a piece he had composed in tribute to an unborn baby girl, but to rather reflect with a moment of silence for the many children who never came home from residential school.

Well-known self-taught pianist and entertainer Elijah Manitowabi closed out the evening’s performances with some original instrumental blues and jazz inspired pieces, as well as songs from the country genre which he has come to appreciate more in his adult life. Mr. Manitowabi’s command of the keyboard and dexterity led one concert-goer to compare the flutter of his fingers to that of the wings of a hummingbird.

The concert was a fundraiser for a number of projects being undertaken by Holy Cross, explained Ms. Osawabineshi. The church is 170 years old this year, she noted, and has recently been graced with a new steel roof and interior renovations made necessary by an act of vandalism two years ago. The improvements to the church include a new altar (which had been moved to the inner chapel to make way for the candle display). The new altar incorporates a stone insert from the previous altar and was available for viewing during intermission. The altar was blessed by Bishop Tom Dowd on August 28 who came to celebrate the sacrament of confirmation.

“The idea for the Candlelight Concert came from Dawn-Marie Jacko when she went to Ottawa and attended a piano concert there and was amazed at it and wanted to try one here as a fundraiser,” said Ms. Osawabineshi.

Ms. Jacko noted that when she and her daughter Trinity attended an event in Toronto they thought it was a great idea. “We thought, ‘we should do this for our community’,” she said. “We thought about the church. We hadn’t even thought about a fundraiser.”

With guidance and support from Holy Cross’ Father Paul and Audrey Osawabineshi the event was soon organized and became a great success.

“We had an amazing group of volunteers, including Janelle Dokum, Sirena Trudeau, Ellie-Anna Leedham, Pheonix Hoy, Terrence Jacko, Sierra Lewis and Marjorie Trudeau.”