High Notes Gala for Mental Health lifts spirits

Story by Christie Day, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

If you crave an uplifting experience in a lively setting, mark March 27 on your calendar and plan to attend an evening of music and storytelling in Markham, starting at 8 p.m.

Last held in 2018, the High Notes Gala for Mental Health returns to an in-person format at Markham Theatre. It is hosted by High Notes Avante, a registered charitable organization dedicated to using music and storytelling to inspire, connect and help people cope with times of mental or emotional struggle – in their lives or in the lives of someone close to them.

The gala’s 2023 program features short music and dance performances mixed with spoken pieces. The bill is chock full of professional musicians who lend their talents and support to the charity. Each has had their own moments of mental hardship at some point.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra principal cellist David Hetherington returns to play. Other artists include violinist Yolanda Bruno, newly Grammy-winning flutist Ron Korb, and star tenor Ernesto Ramirez. Michael Bridge plays the digital accordion. Pianist Shulamit Mor, a director on the High Notes board, is also a clinical psychologist. Vocalist and Zoomer radio host Lily Frost is featured, as are Ballet Jörgen and segments by actor Jamie Robinson, professor Frank Russo and composer Alan Shiner.

After three fatiguing years of pandemic-induced fear and uncertainty, High Notes founder Ingrid Taheri believes mental health support couldn’t be more vital.

“Everyone has been touched by mental illness in some way,” says Taheri. “Everyone has a story. We want to convey the message that you are not alone – to create a community where you can belong and be inspired.”

Taheri knows first-hand the need for hope. As a teen in her native Sweden, she struggled with her own mental health issues. She was also deeply attracted to music from an early age, playing the piano whenever she could, and the viola in ensembles and orchestras.

Yet, language and storytelling were important to young Taheri as well. She came to Canada in 1987 to sort out her direction – music or writing – when fate stepped in with a mate. She and her husband stayed in Canada and started a family while she studied communication and worked in a variety of fields.

A dire family mental health crisis shifted Taheri’s focus abruptly. She discovered other family members had suffered and went on to live joyful, healthy lives. She vowed to help others move forward from difficult times. The idea of an inspiring concert combined with talks began to take shape, and in 2014 she launched the first High Notes gala event.

During the pandemic, High Notes Avante has added other initiatives. The High Notes Movie Club is a free, virtual session regularly offering discussions, tips and movie recommendations for coping with conditions such as depression and seasonal affective disorder. The High Notes Voice virtual choir meets every Friday morning; the in-person choir restarts in the spring. An expanded online book club is in development.

People can also sign up for free music lessons, both in person and online.

“Right now, we teach piano and guitar,” Taheri explains. “I’m hoping to add other instruments and group sessions as we expand.”

The gala doubles as a fundraising effort for the organization’s programs. Tickets for the March 27 event are selling well. Taheri couldn’t be more pleased.

“Music is incredibly important for mental health. It floods your brain with positive hormones –even more so when you sing. And, it brings people together in a shared experience of joy. What could be better than that?”

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Photo: High Notes Avante founder Ingrid Taheri, left, welcomes back Zoomer radio host Lily Frost and pianist Shulamit Mor to perform at the 2023 High Notes Gala for Mental Health on March 27 at Markham Theatre. (Alaha Husseinzadah photo)



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