The West Broadway Community Ministry was buzzing with activity Wednesday at noon. Lunch hour had started, and there was loud chatting among the guests, many of them underprivileged and struggling with mental-health issues and poverty.
When John Ehde and Paul Marleyn sat down and started playing Bartok's Midsummer Night Song, the chatter stopped. A concert hall would have been louder.
The cellists performed one of about 30 "cello interventions" across the city as part of the International Cello Festival, which started in Winnipeg on Wednesday and goes until Sunday. While the two played at the meal ministry, cellists from the festival were playing at cafés, museums and other locations throughout the city.
Marleyn, artistic director of the festival and a former University of Manitoba professor, said performing for the community is a refreshing change from the usual circuit of concert halls and universities.
"Sometimes music in universities gets into a sort of ivory tower. That's not what music is about... Music should speak to everybody, it should be accessible to everybody," Marleyn said.
Lynda Trono, community minister with the ministry, said it's important for her to bring music to the visitors and regulars at the soup kitchen.
"People here love music. When someone plays here, it changes the atmosphere. I think people need music, and they need beauty just as much as they need food," Trono said.
Intervention usually denotes some form of addiction, which Trono says she sees a lot of, but in this case it has a more positive meaning.
"I think it's an intervention into everyday life. When your everyday life is a struggle, it's nice to have a positive moment of beauty," she said.
Andrew Allary, one of the regulars at the ministry, said he doesn't often see musical events at the ministry apart from when some of the in-house guitars get taken out for a song or two. He always enjoys the chance to listen to music when he gets it.
"Music takes me away to a different world. It's my way to get away from everything," Allary said.
Ehde and Marleyn knew each other long before the festival. The two used to busk together in Scotland as young musicians.
"We tend to relax a little more, which makes you play better. You're not tensed, you're not nervous, you're just playing your heart out," Ehde said.
When the cellists had finished their repertoire, they were quietly told it was the birthday of one resident, so they launched into an improvised version of Happy Birthday.