For those unaware of Mark Lalama, he is a bonifide Niagara talent. Born in Welland, ON, Lalama found his talents lied on the keyboard. When he’s not performing live, he’s in the studio writing, recording or producing. The list of musicians Lalama has worked with is astounding.
Four years ago, The Mark Lalama Trio started the Hear! Here! Niagara Music Series at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Series.
So for those that don’t understand how the Hear! Here! Niagara Music Series works – would you be able to explain the concept and why you started it?
The Hear! Here! Niagara Music Series is a series of monthly concerts hosted by the Mark Lalama Trio. The trio is myself on keys and vocals, Rich Moore on bass and vocals, and Davide Di Renzo on drums and vocals. The series sprung from my desire to change the concert experience from both the viewpoint of the performer and of the audience. Often playing in a small club or bar creates a very daring atmosphere for musicians to push the envelope of improvising and stretching musically. The things that are lacking in that environment are great sound/lighting/sight lines/production techs etc. So the idea with the Hear!Here! Series is to combine those two ideals; a really intimate setting (The Robertson Theatre is incredible!) with top-notch production values and listening environment. I think the audience enjoys seeing the musicians react in the moment and communicate with one another in a very spontaneous way. We have two special guests every show. Typically’ the guests will send MP3s of the songs they’re going to do before hand and we meet at the venue a few hours before the show to go through them. In some cases, we are meeting for the very first time. It’s very fluid and spontaneous.
Who have been some of your favourite musicians to work with for the series and why?
Part of the feedback we get from our regulars is that they love seeing how Davide, Rich and I react month to month to such a diverse cast of guest artists. And I think that’s a real charm of the series. I don’t know any other series that has such a diverse list of musical guests. I mean we’ve had everyone from Molly Johnson to Kevin Breit to Ian Thomas, Marc Jordan, Tom Wilson, John McDermott… We had Guido Basso and Daniel Romano on the same bill – I don’t think that’s happened before!
Your series has really helped build a musical community here – offering local musicians a chance to play at a venue that may seem unattainable at certain points of their career. What does that mean to you?
It’s twofold. The obvious aspect of this is that it exposes Niagara artists to larger audience and perhaps a new audience. The other aspect is that hopefully it gives these artists a shot in the arm; encouragement to continue doing what they’re doing. I think everyone knows how difficult it is to create a life in the arts. If we can offer some support in that regard then it’s very rewarding. I think more than ever, the world needs artists.
Now in its fourth season, how have you seen the series grow from year 1?
Well the series started as an idea. In the first season especially the first show I had no idea anybody was going to show up. After that first show, the entire season sold out by word of mouth. Some seasons have sold out in a matter of days. And there is a core audience that buys tickets for every season before the guests are even announced. This tells me that they have bought into the culture of the series and they experience it as a series of concerts within a continuum. That’s pretty darn cool.
Hear! Here! Niagara Music Series
Sept. 23 – Harrison Kennedy & The Drumming Fools
Oct. 14 – Dala & Alistair Robertson
Nov. 25 – Luke McMaster & Christine Bougie
Jan. 20 – Susan Aglukark & Gary Borden
Feb. 24 – Sarah Slean & Leroy Emmanuel
March 24 – Stephen Fearing & Jesse Cobb
“Doing the Hear! Here! Series was one of the best musical experiences I’ve ever had to be quite frank, hearing different experienced musicians masterfully accompany my own songs was so personally gratifying as I’m sure it would be to any musician. And as I have been told and as I can attest, the sold out audiences that attend this event are true music lovers and make the experience all the more remarkable. Mark Lalama and his band are complete pros and super great guys. I can’t say enough.”
— Adam Buller, Thunderclap!