“Music is very powerful and can evoke emotions in people. It lifts our spirits in many ways and can do something good.” ~ Ingrid Taheri

We have featured a lot of independent performing artists on our blog, celebrating the fresh faces and new ideas that create experiences relevant to today’s audiences. This spirit of experimentation and exploration isn’t limited to just independent artists; professionals that service artists are also going through a similar renaissance. Consider Swedish expat Ingrid Taheri, a public relations and corporate communications professional for whom music is an integral part of her life. Taheri has always played piano, and still finds time away from her professional and family obligations to teach a few students.

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Guest speaker Natasha Sharma (left) and Ingrid Taheri (right) during the pre-gala champagne reception.

Recently, Taheri has begun to introduce herself as the founder of High Notes Inc, a burgeoning company that draws on her years of experience in communications in order to help artists and arts organizations navigate the ever-changing media landscape. Starting the business was actually sparked by a very close encounter with mental illness. The difficult experience of seeing a family member go through their struggle sparked a desire to do something to improve the accessibility of care and support in the mental health sector. “As a consumer, I have seen concerts benefiting people in Haiti, people with AIDS in New York, and the aftermath of 9/11. These events brought people together to raise awareness, but they were also entertaining. So when dealing with something as serious as mental health, I wanted to approach it in a way that’s not so intimidating, such as a concert that inspires the audience.”

Once Taheri made up her mind towards the end of 2013 about producing such an event, there was no time to waste. With the Flato Markham Theatre selected as the venue and a date secured in May, she went to work on producing the inaugural High Notes Gala.

Raising money for organizations and health services that focus on mental health was part of the gala, but more fundamentally, Taheri wanted to bring people together and increase public awareness by shining a spotlight on the issue. “People being more aware of mental illness, so they can better support their own children or spouses or friends when they reach out for help; that’s what it really was about. Basically, I want to help avoid the tragic loss of lives by proving help is available and that most people get better.”

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Richard and Lauren Margison performs with Chris Donnelley accompanying on piano.

Put together over five short months, the High Notes Gala on May 16 of this year was a resounding success. Hosted by Jean Stilwell of Classical 96.3, the program featured performances by the Cecilia String Quartet, Richard and Lauren Margison, the Ferretti-Lau Piano Duo, Anastasia Rizikov, Chris Donnelly and Cole Higgins. Music critic and educator Peter Kristian Mose introduced the audience to well-known composers and performers who have struggled with mental health illness. The program also included a dance performance of Decide Soon choreographed by Bash Hirtenstein. In between performances, special speakers inspired the audience with stories of their own encounters with mental health challenges. Among them were Markham Councillor Valerie Burke, who shared her story of losing her pianist mother to suicide; Christine Walter, who spoke about her own struggle with schizophrenia; and Paul Cappuccio, Director of Mental Health at Markham-Stouffville hospital.

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Rebecca Shields (CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Assoc. York-South Simcoe) browsing the silent auction.

It’s not a gala without food and prizes as incentives to raise funds. Village Grocer and Pelee Winery joined forces to serve pre-gala appetizers and champagne for the guests. Jacco Tours put up a tour of China as a door prize for the lucky winner. A number of local businesses offered their gracious support as sponsors, such as Hyundai Stouffville and Chrysler, as well as Bayview Concierge and Stan’s Pools & Yards. “Music is very powerful and can evoke emotions in people. It lifts our spirits in many ways and can do something good. The gala does this while giving opportunities to musicians that they wouldn’t have had otherwise, and connects them to other businesses and community organizations. I think is a really nice thing to be able to do,” says Taheri. The media attention around the High Notes gala in print, on air and on television, and the exceptional experience that Taheri curated, are catching the attention of other charitable organizations and professional musicians, who recognize the value of her unique blend of PR and communication experience with her insider perspective of classical music.

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Music critic and educator Peter Kristian Mose discussing music and its effect on the soul.

“Outside of producing the Gala, High Notes Inc. is providing services to artists who need help with public relations and marketing. We find new communication solutions, places to perform, and connect them with niche markets they haven’t thought about before.” It’s an unusual business model that brings together social causes, stakeholders from the business and charitable sectors, and ultimately inspired by the performing arts’ ability to engage and inspire. Like many social enterprises, success is not measured in months or even years. Profit is a means to sustain operations, not the ultimate purpose. Plans for next year’s High Notes Gala on May 2, 2015 is already underway, and the event promises to be bigger and better with the momentum that High Notes Inc. has already generated. Taheri is recruiting volunteers to join the Gala planning committee, and reaching out to performing artists from all disciplines to be featured on the program. There is power in numbers and there is power in the experience of great performing arts. Get in touch if this sounds like a cause you see yourself being a part of. (Photo credit: diana renelli)