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Cultural Mosaic: Unifying People By Celebrating Diversity


On October 14th, Club Et Cetera, an arts and science club based in Toronto, celebrated its 5th anniversary with its Canada 150 - Cultural Mosaic event. Cultural Mosaic is an ongoing initiative by Club Et Cetera. Its goal is to bring people together with the belief that a person does not need to be of a certain race or nationality in order to appreciate that culture, and in fact, learning about and being exposed to other cultures can not only help preserve their rich history and traditions, but also unify people and encourage diversity. The Canada 150 - Cultural Mosaic event, held on October 14th, was one such celebration of diverse culture and rich history, as a gathering of performers took the audience around the world with a variety of music from all corners of Europe and beyond.

      First on the bill was Nico Mira, who sang two Italian songs accompanied by Serge Taliansky on guitar. The acoustic set was pleasant and mellow, and served well to start off the event and establish the warm atmosphere.

      Club Et Cetera’s founder Vita Shtivelman followed, reciting a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca, while Jack Alexander played a guitar flamenco as accompaniment. The poem was recited in three different languages, English and Russian by Vita, and Spanish by Jack.

      Judith Cohen alone brought music from a vast assortment of places and periods. Her repertoire included songs in a Judeo-Spanish language called Ladino, as well as French Canadian, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Yiddish, and Medieval Spanish, comprised of material dating as far back as the medieval period. An educator at York University and a self-proclaimed “traveling hippie”, Judith shared many anecdotes of her travels around the world, as well as stories behind the songs she performed. She also gave background information about the obscure and fascinating musical instruments she used in her performances, including her Vielle -- a medieval string instrument resembling a violin -- various frame drums from Portugal and Morocco, and a medieval style recorder. For much of her performance, Judith invited audience participation, which was met with great enthusiasm, including singing along and clapping. It set the mood and energy for all subsequent performers.

      Matti Palonen played a set of songs from Finland. He also gave background information on the songs and his unconventional, traditional Finnish musical instruments. For some of his songs, he used a Kantele, a plucked string instrument that he crafted himself. For other songs, he used a Jouhikko, a type of bowed lyre. These instruments gave his Finnish folk songs a very unique, hauntingly melancholic tone.

      Alexandra Berlyand delighted the audience with her virtuosic violin playing. She delivered an all instrumental set of beautiful renditions of Hungarian, Gypsy, Russian, Romanian and Ukrainian folk songs, all the while donning a colourful Gypsy style dress and jewelery to match.

      The evening concluded with Polky Village Band, a four piece collective playing songs from Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. Matti Palonen is also a member of this band and brought in another obscure instrument, Tsymbaly -- a Ukrainian string percussion instrument similar to a hammer dulcimer. The band played a primarily Polish repertoire of upbeat folk and wedding songs, and toward the end of their set, got a group of people to dance along with them.

      This event wasn’t quite a concert, or a history lesson, or a big family banquet, but combined elements of all three--a multicultural experience. The atmosphere was friendly and welcoming as people of different cultures got immersed into this evening of musical diversity. This was the goal behind the Cultural Mosaic. Vita Shtivelman explained, “We believe that preserving our native language and music does not have to mean isolation in a cultural bubble. On the contrary, the interaction of different cultures produces an inspiring and creative environment.”

      Vita founded Club Et Cetera in 2012. She was inspired by seminars in Israel, led by her father, Karl Shtivelman, and a particular school of thought that believes that science and the arts do not have to be mutually exclusive. More importantly, to have the exposure to both can inspire further creative growth and allow each to achieve greater benefit through sheer exposure to the other. This, combined with Vita’s own experience of organizing poetry based theatrical productions in the USSR and Israel, drove her to create a means for intellectual and creative people to get together and share in their love and passion for the arts by exploring the works of culturally significant creators throughout history, as well as sharing works of their own.

      What started as a small, humble gathering of a handful of people in Vita’s home soon grew into a significant organization set on furthering this goal of unifying the arts and the sciences. As the number of people grew, Club Et Cetera gatherings moved to bigger venues, such as party rooms and conference halls.

      Since its establishment, Club Et Cetera has organized dozens of events, including “Ot Azoj!”, the international festival of Jewish Culture, and gained support from various sponsors and partners within Toronto, including the City of Toronto itself.

      With the growth of the organization came new goals and aspirations, leading to the idea for the Cultural Mosaic. Much like the concept that arts and sciences could encourage creative growth, so too, came the belief that exposure to other cultures could have the same effect.

      Inspired partially by the Quilt of Belonging project, and partially by the rising tensions and conflicts throughout the world, Vita set out to unify the people of different backgrounds and communities in Toronto. After all, the city in itself is a mosaic of people from all around the globe.

     The Cultural Mosaic is not about religion, or nationality, but about diversity, culture, and history. Every Cultural Mosaic event thus far has reached out further and further in expanding the scope of its participants, but Vita’s ambitions for this initiative are greater still.

     The ultimate goal is to establish the Cultural Mosaic Center, a place for people to explore cultural diversity in various forms, including seminars, workshops, and school programs. And the material explored would not be limited to music, but all aspects of any given culture, including visual arts, traditional attire, cuisine and history.

     As Vita continues to reach for this tremendous goal, the next milestone in the growth of the Cultural Mosaic is to organize a festival. Toronto is home to many well established cultural festivals. However, the Cultural Mosaic aims to have no borders and to maximize the diversity of its contributors and attendees.

     Club Et Cetera has accomplished a lot in its 5 years of existence, and as it continues to grow, so does the potential to achieve its increasingly ambitious goals. In order for Canada’s Cultural Mosaic to become reality and achieve its goals, all that is needed is active participation and the open minds of Toronto’s citizens who strive to learn about one another, to break down the borders that divide us, and to enrich our minds and lives all at once.

Valery Kovalevskyy

October 2017

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