Over the past 23 years, producer Karla Berbrayer has organized Music ‘N’ Mavens, a live performance and speaker series hosted at the Rady Jewish Community Centre. Throughout that time, the formula has remained consistent: bring in an eclectic collection of singers and musicians, a wide array of experts on certain topics, and the audience will come.
However, COVID-19 doesn’t care much for traditions, and Berbrayer wanted to make sure the series still happened. So this year, the shows will go on — free of charge online — with live recordings of local musicians including Andrina Turenne (of Juno-winning band Chic Gamine) and Daniel Peloquin-Hopfner (of Polaris Prize-longlisted Red Moon Road) and livestreamed discussions about topics such as culture in the time of COVID-19, the ethics of "vaccine passports" and ageism during the pandemic.
"It was just a matter of getting a little creative," she says. Registration can be done at radyjcc.com to get the links sent to your email the day they go live, but the streams will be available for two weeks on YouTube afterward.
For one thing, many of the musical acts Berbrayer originally planned to include were bands too big to comply with gathering-size restrictions. One band was supposed to feature nine people, for example, but those groups had to be reduced to duos, trios or solo acts.
Performers had to adapt: a revue of Nina Simone songs by the Monika Wall Duo (airing on the RadyJCC’s YouTube channel March 4) required accompanist Jonathan Alexiuk to wear many hats, filling in himself for band members who would have pushed the act above capacity. Singer Joe Curtis was supposed to sing Elvis Costello, Bill Withers and Joe Cocker songs with a full band; instead he’s playing solo on March 9.
Turenne, whose show will air Feb. 25, says her performance with Peloquin-Hopfner, who plays the lap steel, went very smoothly, even though they only got a chance for one full rehearsal beforehand. The duo played a wide-ranging set, including Dolly Parton and Hank Williams standards and franco-Manitobain music by artists such as Ziz, who performed the local anthem Histoire d’antan.
Normally, Turenne would have found herself on the grounds of Festival du Voyageur, where she will also have a livestreamed performance this month. But with this performance, she says she’ll have the opportunity to share local French music with an audience that might not be as familiar with it.
"I think the performance went great," she says. "It felt natural and we had a good time. So I hope the audience does too."
Beyond music, the series will also feature in-depth conversations, Berbrayer says. University of Manitoba political studies professor Bryan Peeler will discuss the travails of a pair of Canadians detained in the People’s Republic of China (Feb. 16); economist Alan Freeman, who sits on the board of Manitobans for the Arts, will discuss the challenges and opportunities presented to the cultural industries during the pandemic (Feb. 18); and University of Manitoba Centre on Aging director Michelle Porter will discuss ageism during the pandemic (March 11).
A full schedule of performances and talks is listed at radyjcc.com. Already aired were conversations with Canadian Museum for Human Rights CEO Isha Khan, and one with justice advocate Ryan Beardy on the over-incarceration of Indigenous people in Canada.
While live events are something she misses, Berbrayer says the new format offers some silver linings: the theatre at the Rady only seats 200 people, and streaming can reach a far bigger audience; the programming is free, making it more accessible; and — this is a big one — viewers don’t have to make the trek to the venue in -43 C cold.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.