Tech firm Lixar is all about making music matter at Megaphono and beyond

City Fidelia, centre, and Lixar CEO Bill Syrros far right.

Music moves many in our community. Sometimes folks get up and dance and sometimes they contribute. The Ottawa-based artificial intelligence and data company Lixar does a lot of both.

Lixar has been a patron of the music industry conference and showcase called Megaphono for the past three years. The firm is back again this year.

For Shelley Fraser, the company’s director of marketing and communications, it’s really all about community.

“I just got back from Italy recently. I’m not a knowledgable classical music person but we did see a piece by Vivaldi performed in a church in Venice. It was one of the most jaw-dropping experiences I have had in my life.

“There was a reverence to the music and an understanding of the value of music. It does connect so many different people without words. It was interesting to look at the audience and see so many from different walks of life. We all had this collective experience and there was hardly a dry eye in the place.

“When you think about music from that perspective, the meaning of it and what it does, (you realize) it gives a city a bit of soul.”

From the left: Jon Bartlett of Megaphono, Colleen Mooney of the Ottawa Boys and Girls Club, Shelley Fraser of Lixar, Dan Reese of Ottawa Boys and Girls Club and Jessica Pancoe of Kids Help Phone.

That realization is behind Lixar’s decision to get behind Megaphono, she said.

“It was from an authentic and genuine perspective. We felt it was a non-verbal communication that brought people together.

“In the tech realm we think with one part of our brain, the logical part, quite a bit. It is important to step outside our comfort zone and think in a different way and hear things in a different way. That inspires the creative side. When those synapses start to fire amazing things can happen.

“That is why we feel the arts are important. We have been a supporter for quite awhile.”

Lixar is primarily a data company, Fraser explained, with some 20 plus years on the technical industry. These days it’s all about software and connectivity but in the 1990s, Lixar designed its first mobile app. It was for the Halifax Pop Explosion music festival.

The festival wanted an app and was willing to be a beta for Lixar.

“We have never forgotten that opportunity. We feel like we can use tech to make a difference.” The company’s second app was for Camp Fortune, by the way.

Lixar has moved on from the app business but the memory is still there.

Fraser said Lixar as a company is aware that a vibrant culture in a city is a way to attract and keep top talent.

“That said, however, that never was the beacon that got us involved in music. We felt that culturally it was the right thing for us. We have always loved music. It’s a passion within the company.

At Megaphono, “brave souls will go out into the cold night to hear a show, but aren’t we the lucky ones. There is such rich musical talent here, you just have to step outside even when it’s cold.”

Other cities encourage culture, she said, pointing to Dublin where music is everywhere.

She thinks that Ottawa is now moving in the right direction in its policy on music exemplified by the recently adopted music strategy. Getting Light Rail on stream so people can come downtown from the suburbs more easily and changing bylaws to allow for more live performance will help encourage activity, she believes.

“All these things give a city energy, but that’s not the leading beacon for us. Music has always been the reason.”

And the company’s involvement is “out of a passion and real respect for those who bring people together through creativity and the arts.”

Lixar got involved with Megaphono after seeing a small ad on Facebook, Fraser said.

“I just sent a message to Jon (Bartlett) that said ‘Hey we are a company in Ottawa and we love music of there is any way we could help in the future … give us a shout’. He eventually did.”

Lixar has also been a strong supporter of the Ottawa Boys and Girls Club and they actively connect the club with Megaphono.

“We support the Boys and Girls Club over on McArthur. Six times a year folks from office go over and help out. As part of Megaphono we ensure that there is an artist who goes over and performs for the kids. Our CEO Bill Syrros goes over too. The musicians jam with the kids. On (Feb. 6)  Kimberley Sunstrum and City Fidelia are performing. City is a great guy and he’s an alumni of the Boys and Girls Club. He always talks about how important the club was in his life.”

Another thing that Lixar recognizes, Fraser said, is the importance of musicians being paid to perform.

“We believe it’s important for artists to be paid and it’s important for the event to generate a good experience. When we get involved we are mindful that the cash is going to where it needs to go.”

So Lixar sponsors shows on specific nights. This year they will present Andy Shauf at the Bronson Centre and a Friday night lineup that includes Snotty Nose Rez Kids, The Sorority, City Fidelia, Kimberley Sunstrum, Haley Hendricksx and Rita Carter & Aspects.

“We feel lucky to be able to showcase such talent and diversity,” Fraser said.

The music is even part of the work environment at Lixar.

“Sometimes the music gets going in the office. It depends on what projects we are doing. There are headphones everywhere, as you can imagine, and we have an area where we can play playlists. Generally that tends to happen more on Thursday and Friday at the end of the week.”

Lixar is trying to showcase a little bit of Canadian pride, Fraser said. The effort gets the name around and it gets the city’s name around.

“Part of it is saying ‘Welcome to our house’. It’s a hospitality and a warmth that we want to share.

“As the city continues to emerge and offer the kind of dynamism that has a music in it, we all have an opportunity to experience something that moves us. How lucky are we.”

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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.