ISO live streaming concerts to keep musical beat going

Downtown Sarnia has been a quiet place since Ontario declared a state of emergency last week. Troy Shantz

Cathy Dobson

Sarnia’s downtown has been a quiet place since the COVID-19 state of emergency was declared.

“It’s like a tumbleweed scene,” said Anthony Wing, executive director of the International Symphony Orchestra.

The ISO’s March concerts were cancelled and the April 24-25 finale is uncertain. To make matters worse, Wing’s office phone and the furnace at the Christina Street headquarters broke down the same day.

Despite all that, he’s excited about a new project the ISO is launching to help local music fans feeling bored or isolated by the virus.

“As a cultural agency our response needs to be to provide performance, so people can turn to that while in quarantine,” he said.

“Music becomes twice as important in desperate times. It becomes even more vital.”

To that end, the ISO is preparing to live stream a series of concerts featuring one or two musicians at a time.

Sarnia’s Bil Eldridge will sing and play guitar together with Wing on piano during the first Live from the Empty Isobar performance, likely this week. It will be live streamed on Facebook and then uploaded to the ISO’s YouTube channel.

“I personally have not turned off the music since this (pandemic) thing started,” Wing said. “We should never be isolated from music.”

He also wants to provide work for the ISO’s professional players and hopes to include some chamber music with three or four musicians positioned a healthy distance apart in the empty Isobar.

Lambton County last week ordered all its libraries, museums and art galleries closed until April 5, and all cultural programs cancelled.

The Imperial Theatre marquee in downtown Sarnia has an enormous POSTPONED sign across it. The JNAAG public art gallery is closed, as is The Lawrence House Centre for the Arts.

The sudden disappearance of all plays, music, exhibitions and shows feels surreal, said Brian Austin Jr., executive director at the Imperial Theatre.

“These are unprecedented times. Never did I think we’d have a closure caused by disease.”

The theatre went dark March 12 and some shows – Rolling Stones, Mat Good, Gerry Dee, Brent Butt and Johnny Cash – were nearly sold out.

“We hope to reschedule all of them so it’s not lost revenue but deferred revenue,” said Austin Jr.  “Hopefully we will have a very busy fall.”

He expects ongoing theatre renovations to be delayed.

“It’s so stressful for everyone. In total, there are 16 performances postponed, plus Theatre Sarnia’s Fox on the Fairway,” Austin Jr. said.

“But if we make these difficult decisions, we can flatten the curve.”

Over at the Lawrence House, vice-chair Leonard Segall said volunteers had hoped to keep the gift shop open before the city-owned building was shut down.

Many March events were cancelled anyway while the turret room is under renovation, Segall said, although a couple of art exhibitions are impacted.

The monthly First Friday cultural walkabout on April 3 was cancelled, a first in 14 years.

“These are very unusual times,” said Segall, one of its organizers.

“I never thought we’d have to make these choices. But with all these things closed it didn’t make sense to have everyone walking up and down the streets for First Friday.”