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New old piano for Inuvik church
Jazz pianist plays baby grand for first performance

Samantha Stokell
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Northern Arts and Cultural Centre has purchased a baby grand piano and donated it to the Igloo Church to lure quality musicians to Inuvik.

NNSL photo/graphic

Lorraine Desmarais, an accomplished jazz pianist and composer from Montreal, plays the new baby grand piano at the Igloo Church in Inuvik. With her are long-time band members Frederic Alarie on bass and Camil Belisle on drums. - Samantha Stokell/NNSL photo

In a set of fortuitous circumstances, Inuvik's Catholic church will now be home to the 100-year-old piano and any performances scheduled with visiting musicians. At the first show of the 2011/2012 Crossing Bridges season, Montreal jazz pianist Lorraine Desmarais played the baby grand for the first time on Sept. 20.

"It's great. The sound, the natural sound, and the resonance," Desmarais said. "It's old, but it was tuned good. It's tough on the fingers, but beautiful to listen to it."

The centre flew up one of only two known piano technicians in the territory specifically for the performance. Jessica Latour of Hay River is a passionate piano player who studied for a certificate in piano tuning four or five years ago and visited Inuvik to ensure the baby grand played perfectly for Desmarais.

"It was shipped so far and is in pretty decent shape," Latour said. "It's a beautiful piano and the condition it's in is good considering it's 100 years old."

The piano arrived in Inuvik in July and will remain in the Igloo Church until its next performance in March with 15-year-old phenom Jan Lisieki. In between performances, the piano will be available for any pianists to play during Sunday services.

"It wasn't a big decision to accept the piano. We had an upright piano, but it wasn't being used," said Doug Robertson, member of the parish council. "The next time may well be the community Christmas concert."

The NACC didn't actively look for a piano, but took advantage of the situation when a Yellowknife resident who is active in the arts community offered the Canadian-made Heintzman up for sale. A Yellowknife technician assessed and appraised the piano and recommended the organization invest in it. With the help of Canadian North, the baby grand came to Inuvik.

"The NACC has a mandate to support different genres of performing arts, including those that require a piano, so we needed to find a piano," said Ben Nind, executive and artistic director of NACC. "Now we'll be able to host performers such as Lorraine (Desmarais) and Jan (Lisieski) in the Beaufort Delta."

This is the fourth season NACC has brought performers to Inuvik in its 27-year history. The centre plans to hold a few shows in Norman Wells and Fort Simpson for the first time, in addition to Hay River and Yellowknife.

"This is the first time we've had a presence in all five regions," Nind said. "There is a definite social and economic and physical impact for health and well-being when cultural activities are in a community."

The next NACC show in Inuvik will be held on Oct. 11 and will be a solo performance of Hamlet by Raoul Bhaneja. Tickets are available online on NACC's website.

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