Southminster United Church is Upbeat! with music

Roland Graham is making music happen in Old Ottawa South.

For past several years, Southminster United Church has emerged as a centre for music in Ottawa South. Much of that is due to the church’s energetic music director Roland Graham. Graham has programmed a lively once a week noon hour concert series called Doors Open For Music along with two other series that run in the evenings. One is the Master Piano Recital Series and the other is Concerts by the Canal. Both showcase talent from Ottawa and beyond. In an interview with ARTSFILE Graham explained his motivation for all these musical adventures and the creation of Upbeat! Productions as a way to manage all the balls he has up in the air.

Q. What is Upbeat! Productions?

A. I created the Master Piano Recital Series six years ago as a way to promote exceptional pianists, especially emerging artists and elite Canadian performers, as I saw a niche to fill in the local arts scene. Concerts by the Canal followed a few years later as a sibling to Southminster’s popular noon hour series, offering that same variety and high standard with longer programs of music. Over time, the two projects have grown beyond the scope of what I could manage as a solo operator. To mature and thrive over the long term, the two projects needed the support of a dedicated arts organization. Upbeat! Productions was formed by supporters of the work I’m doing at Southminster, regular concert attendees and music lovers. As an incorporated not for profit music production company (with charitable status pending) Upbeat! Productions is dedicated to the development of the MPRS and CBTC, and other projects that will develop in time. They’ll present in independent streams, like the various programs offered at a major arts venue, but all be managed by the same organization.

Q. Is this changing your programming intentions and philosophy?

A. No new philosophy … all of my projects are about filling the community with music, supporting performing artists, connecting them with new and existing fans in the National Capital Region and developing the profile of Southminster United Church (which has been incredibly supportive of my work for a decade) as an arts venue. 

Q. Your programs include a variety of musical styles: jazz, blues and classical, it’s an eclectic mix. Explain?

A. The variety is about breaking barriers between musical genres and introducing people to experiences they might not otherwise seek out. Presenting jazz and classics in the same lineup for example encourages people to try something outside their comfort zone. My long term dream is to present programming that’s as representative and reflective as possible of the people that comprise our community. That’s a lofty ambition, so I have I start with what I know.

Q. Music in Ottawa is always well represented. Can you offer your take on the people who live here and play here? 

A. This would take an essay to adequately respond to (because) Ottawa has an incredibly high standard of musicians and music making. I’m humbled to work here, frankly. The NAC sets the bar as an internationally respected music centre that draws the highest calibre of musicians internationally to our city. Organizations like Music and Beyond and Chamberfest maintain a top level of music made in the community, presenting in churches and smaller venues in the area. A host of resident ensembles including (off the top of my head) Thirteen Strings, the Ottawa Bach Choir, the Ottawa Symphony, Matthew Larkin’s new Caelis Academy Ensemble, 17 Voyces, the Ottawa Baroque Concert and many others I’ve not thought of are all comprised of exceptionally talented and trained musicians offer untold additional programming of considerable quality.

There’s also the University of Ottawa, and Carleton and the Gatineau Conservatory, to attract world-class faculty and produce superb young musicians. Lara Deutsch and Emily Belvedere (who will open the Concerts By the Canal season) are examples of the new generation of extremely talented musicians that are emerging here and seeking places to play. What I do is try to fill in the tiny gaps here and there to make sure that there’s something happening in Ottawa as close to every night of the week as possible.

Q. There are always some real gems in your lineup. I know every concert matters, but are there some must sees? New rising stars?

A. The Piaf concert on Nov 2 is going to be a high point in the season. Pandora Topp and her accordionist are a tour-de-force bringing the legendary French cabaret singers music to life. The MPRS series finale concert of entirely American piano music with Drew Petesen promises to be wholly original and refreshing as well. And you can’t beat the complete set of Brandenburg Concertos. My last MPRS artist, Eric Lu, just won gold at the Leeds competition; by coincidence my next pianist, Sofya Gulak, is also a Leeds gold medalist. Then there are the Grammy-award winning Anderson Twins from New York who are back again this season. It’s hard to pick a favourite.

Q. It’s hard work being a father of two young kids, the music director of a busy church, choir director, performer. Beyond just paying bills, which I hope it helps with, why do you do it?

A. It’s only partly for the money. You do what comes naturally and it’s lucky to find something you do well and that people appreciate. I love to play music, but producing allows me to generate a lot more music in the world than I ever could as a performer. I’m a bit of a jack or all trades (master of none) and I guess that what turns my crank.


When: All concerts at 7:30 p.m., doors at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Southminster United Church 15 Aylmer Ave.

More information:

Sounds and Scenery (Sept. 28)

Duo Kalysta is Emily Belvedere on harp and Lara Deutsch on flute. They will present works by Canadian composers such as R. Murray Schafer and Jocelyn Morlock.

Cafe Piaf with Pandora Topp (Nov. 2)

The cabaret singer Pandora Topp offers her own take on the music made famous by the French chanteuse Édith Piaf. She performs with Iona Reed on accordion, Ron Kelly on guitar and Brian Quebec on bass.

Communion: Featuring tenor Álvaro Zambrano and pianist Felipe Verdugo (Dec. 14)

This program of art song and opera arias aims to explore human communion, from subdued and prayerful introspection to romantic love. Music by  Adam, Debussy, Donizetti, Liszt, Puccini and Vaughan Williams, to name some, is featured.

The Anderson Brothers play Gershwin (Feb. 22)

Grammy-award winning identical twins Pete and Will Anderson honour George Gershwin with arrangements of Rhapsody in Blue, I Got Rhythm, Summertime and much more. The Andersons play clarinet, saxophone and flute. They are accompanied by guitarist Felix Lemerle.

Charles-Richard Hamelin and Andrew Wan are back with more Beethoven (May 3).

Charles Richard-Hamelin, a rising Canadian superstar on the piano and and Andrew Wan, the concertmaster of l’Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal. Both men have been on a musical journey together performing and recording Beethoven’s Sonatas for Violin and Piano.

The Brandenburg Concertos (June 28)

J. S. Bach’s Six Brandenburg Concertos will be presented in one evening. Graham will lead Renz Adame, Angela Casagrande, Ben Glossop, Fred  Hodgson, Dakota Martin, Adam Nelson and Roberto Rivera in this Bach-a-thon.


Kaleidoscope featuring Sofya Gulyak (Oct. 12)

On the Program

Bach-Busoni Chaconne

Clara Schumann Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann Op. 20

Chopin Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brillante Op. 22

Rachmaninoff 5 pieces Op. 3

Prokofiev Sonata No. 7

The Poet’s Pilgrimage with Jeanne Amièle (Nov. 16) 

On the Program

Beethoven Sonata No. 31 in A flat major Op. 110

Liszt Years of Pilgrimage, First Year (Switzerland)

Janacek Sonata I.X.1905 ‘From the Street’

Ravel Gaspard de la nuit

Fore Play features Claire Huangci (Jan. 18, 2019)

On the Program

Chopin 24 preludes Op. 28

Rachmaninov Preludes Op. 2 No. 3; Op. 23 Nos. 1–7; Op. 32 Nos. 12 & 13

Sonatas of the East with Carson Becke (March 29)

On the Program

Chopin Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 35, ‘Funeral March’

Scriabin Piano Sonata No. 3 Op. 23

Szymanowski Piano Sonata No. 2 in A-major Op. 21

Home of the Brave with Drew Petersen (May 31)

On the Program

Ives ‘The Alcotts’ from Concord Sonata

Griffes Fantasy Pieces Op. 6

Carter Piano Sonata

Cerrone Hoyt-Schermerhorn

Barber Sonata for piano Op. 26

More information on Concerts by the Canal and the Master Piano Recital Series:
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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.