Son of the Wolf

A Q&A Coffee Chat with “Bash” Hirtenstein

By Alaha Husseinzadah, PR Coordinator

Sebastian “Bash” Hirtenstein is a young dancer passionate about animism and Indigenous rights. He has performed with many choreographers and companies such as BoucharDanse, Micheal Cladwell and the Canadian Opera Company. He has also been on stage with many notable musicians including Ariana Grande, Jason Derulo and Bebe Rexha.

Sebastian’s smashing performance at the High Notes Avante (HNA) November 18th 2021 Concert for Mental Health won the hearts of many audience members. His performance is included in HNA’s Concert of Hope on January 24th, 2022.

I joined Sebastian over Vietnamese coffee recently to talk about his performance, his thoughts on mental health, his work with the Indigenous community and charities like HNA.

Alaha: Your performance in the Concert of Hope is called “Son of the Wolf”. Do you want to talk about the title’s significance?

Sebastian: The dance actually references my mother whose name is Ylva Kristina and Ylva means “She Wolf” in Old Norse, the language of my Swedish ancestors. And the song that I danced to Tròdlabùndin was by Faroese singer-songwriter Eivør Pálsdóttir’s. I chose this song because the movement that I embodied aims to connect to an animistic essence; in the dance, I aimed to embody the essence of the wolf.

Alaha: Is there also a mental health element to the dance specifically for the concert?

Sebastian: When we think about this idea of mental health and we think about the different ailments that befall the mind, I think it all comes back to this idea of a mind-body-spirit balance.

I think the connection to our mind-body-spirit existence can begin by connecting to one’s roots; I think that many, many people would have far less issues with their mental health if they found a sense of belonging.

By reconnecting with our roots, we create identities and foundations to build upon. In this quest, it’s a powerful daily practice; to know that I can treat my body by acknowledging and connecting to my spirit.

Alaha: That’s quite insightful. A more general question: this is your second performance for HNA, so how did you hear about and get involved with the mental health charity?

Sebastian: Ingrid [HNA’s founder] and my mother were actually both part of the {Swedish Women’s Educational Association (SWEA)} and I met Ingrid through her. Ingrid and I connected, and I created my first choreographed work for the 2014 High Notes Gala. The piece was “SOON…Decide” an analysis on suicidal thought process, which I found to be a very interesting topic to manifest into movement.

Alaha: Is that part of your mental health story?

Sebastian: Yes, it has been prevalent in my family; my father and my grandfather unfortunately succumbed to it.

Alaha: I’m so sorry to hear that.

Sebastian: Thank you.

I’ve always considered mental health to be something that is very, very important to always discuss, regardless of our upbringing or background.

I find that the acknowledgement of mental health / vulnerability are not particularly encouraged among cisgender and heterosexual males; we’re often told to sweep our mental health issues under the rug.

Alaha: That’s definitely a very prevalent issue and the associated stigma for men can be incredibly toxic. How does dance affect your own mental health and what do you love most about dance?

Sebastian: First and foremost, we move our bodies when we dance. There’s always a guaranteed mood change when moving the body, even if I’m not having the greatest day. I would say that I’ve maintained my mental health because of the state of my body; I’m incredibly blessed to have my instrument.

Any physical practice can benefit the mind; it echoes (again) what I said earlier about our mind-body-spirit balance. They all affect each other in some way, and dance nourishes the body and enlightens our lives. I very much believe that our bodies are our temples.

Alaha: What do you imagine your life would be like if you weren’t a dancer?

Sebastian: Dance and performance have always been a part of my life… I’ve always had an impulse to move, I can’t imagine my life without it. It’s a part of who I am.

Alaha: How did it all start for you? Have you always wanted to be a dancer?

Sebastian: My mother will always tell everyone that I’ve always been performing from a young age. I think I stepped into my first dance class when I was maybe 11 or 12, and the rest is history.

Going from grade school to high school, it was always something that was a part of my life… When I was about 15 or 16, I had my first audition: a theatre production in downtown Toronto at a studio called O.I.P; it was the hottest dance studio in Toronto in the late 2000s.

Dance wasn’t a priority for me until I was about 19. I spent one year at university, but I took more dance classes than I had actual classes.

Eventually, I discussed it with my mom, and I moved to Toronto, waited tables, trained as much as I could… In 2013, I discovered my school: The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. I trained there for three and a half years, 40 hours a week of modern and contemporary dance, and was hired immediately out of graduation… it was an amazing experience.

Alaha: What are your plans for this year in terms of your dance projects?

Sebastian: In January, I will be visiting Lac La Croix First Nation, an Indigenous reserve about 5 hours west of Thunder Bay. I will be teaching dance to Indigenous youth through Outside Looking In, and help them create a dance piece that they will perform in Toronto in May 2022.

Alaha: Do you want to talk a little more about your work with the indigenous community? How did you first get involved with them?

Sebastian: I started working with the community when I first worked with Red Sky Performance around 2017 to 2018.

During the summer of 2019, I auditioned for Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo, a Montreal-based choreographer from the Mohawk nation of Kahnawake; her production is called Sky Dancers, an incredible full-length work commemorating the Mohawk iron workers. I’ve also worked with Santee Smith (who is from Six Nations) on her piece Skén:nen

It has been an incredible journey working with the Indigenous community, and it’s amazing to see how interconnected they are.

Alaha: Any other projects that you feel are worth mentioning?

Sebastian: I’ve worked with choreographers and companies such as the Canadian Opera Company, Anisa Tejpar, Jennifer Nichols, Little Pear Garden Dance Company, Rodney Diverlus, Emilio Collalilo, Kylie Thompson, KasheDance… Of course, there’s also HNA.

It’s great to work with charities like HNA because there are many that are connected to the creative and artistic industries; they help everyday artists. Within not-for-profits, there’s a lot of very important discussions that take place, especially at HNA in regards to things as vital as mental health.

Alaha: That’s some great work you’re doing, Sebastian. I am so excited to see your performance in the Concert of Hope.

Catch Sebastian “Bash” Hirtenstein’s performance virtually this Monday, January 24th 2022 at 8 pm (EST) at the High Notes Avante (HNA) second annual Concert of Hope.

The Concert of Hope also features many other notable artists including singer/songwriter Lily Frost, Grammy award winning singer/songwriter Dan Hill, the Juno-awarded Amici Chamber Ensemble, multiple Native American Music Award nominee Marcia Chum-Gibbons and many others. It is hosted by Luba Goy.

About High Notes Avante

High Notes Avante is a registered charity that uses artistic expression to raise the image of mental illness, inspire, connect and give hope to those touched by mental illness.

We aim to relieve conditions associated with mental illness by offering art productions directed towards reducing loneliness and isolation, and mental illness’ associated stigma.

We also aim to promote mental health by providing information from mental health professionals and testimonials from artists, well-known personalities and others who suffer or have suffered from mental illness.

A quick interview with Dan Hill


Dan Hill will perform at THESE ARE THEIR STORIES on April 4th, 2019

Dan Hill will perform at THESE ARE THEIR STORIES on April 4th, 2019

Legendary Grammy-awarded Singer/Songwriter Dan Hill will headline THESE ARE THEIR STORIES at the Richmond Hill Centre for Performing Arts on April 4th at 7:30 pm. We sent him a short list of questions to find out what his life has been since the last time he appeared at a High Notes Avante event. 

Tell me about something great that has happened to you since our last concert together (May 16, 2017)!  One of the great things that happened to me since May 2017 is touring the Phillippines.  I can’t get over how popular my songs are in Asia and it’s so heartening to watch the audience sing along to my songs during my performances there.  I do a lot of duets in Manila, working with four different female singers.  The fans in Manila love it when I work with Filipina singers and the singers are so good, their emotional power is amazing and I’m constantly moved by how heartfelt their singing is.
What are some of the not so great things that happened to you since we last met? Last May 17th, my mom committed assisted suicide in Switzerland.  She was 90, worked out with a trainer twice a week and was in amazing shape.  But she simply didn’t want to live anymore and wanted to ‘go out’ before her health really degenerated.  Though I respect her decision  her death has really rocked me and I miss her horribly.  I have bought our childhood home so her memory really lingers with me.
How have you been staying well? I’ve been writing and exercising, those are the two components I draw on to keep me healthy.
Have you been doing any writing on the book you were planning about your own mental illness? I’m still working on my book vis a vis my own mental health as well as the mental health issues bedevilling my son and my late sister and my mom.  Our family has a lot of mental health challenges…seems we tiptoe between brilliance and insanity, or, at least, mania.
Kindly tell us about the music that you have been writing and performing I’ve written quite a few songs about losing my mother, though I keep the lyrics vague enough to keep the listeners guessing.
Why do you support what we are doing at High Notes Avante? The great thing about High Notes Avante is that you bring out into the open issues concerning mental health.  I really believe openness about mental illness is the key to rising up and overcoming the various obstacles.  I look forward to performing for your event in April and find that I really learn from the other performers and their various messages.
Feel free to add anything you wish here: I will be performing a mix of old and new songs and really can’t wait.

For tickets call 905.787.8811 or visit Regular tickets are $35 while $60 tickets include a complementary beverage and a $25 tax receipt. There are less than 150 tickets so better get yours today! Luba Goy and Erika Nielsen are also participating.

HIGH NOTES AVANTE is a registered charity (827049388rr0001) using artistic expression to inspire, give hope and connect those touched by mental illness. Our objectives include offering art productions directed towards the alleviation of loneliness and isolation as well as reducing any associated stigma. Our dream is to one day produce “THE” mental health concert that will be accessible from coast to coast in Canada and give hope to everyone touched by mental illness, no matter where they live. Read more at

OTF Grant has brought people together during difficult times

In the summer of 2020, High Notes Avante Productions Inc., learned it had received a one-year, $56,700 Seed grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to implement a plan to help isolated people make community connections through music. Given the restrictions the pandemic has brought, its timing hit the right note.

“Social isolation continues to have a profound impact on mental health in our community. This funding support will help many at a time when it is needed most,” said Thornhill MPP Gila Martow.

The grant was originally earmarked for two in-person choirs in Vaughan and Richmond Hill, but the pandemic prompted High Notes Avante to pivot, and develop alternative methods for reaching isolated people with its programs. While, the in-person choir is on hold, a group of 15 people are enjoying meeting through song on Zoom.

“Mental health impacts everyone, of every age, from every walk of life,” said, MPP Logan Kanapathi, Markham-Thornhill. “High Notes Avante Productions Inc connects our community through the wonders of music, giving hope, and raising the spirit of those suffering from loneliness. It’s great to hear they are able to expand their operations, during this difficult time, to help even more people in the community with the $56,700 OTF Seed grant.”

The choir is led by Sina Fallah, who is associated with the Sing Well Foundation at Ryerson University. Funds from the grant have been used to help with staffing, enlisting choir directors, purchasing sheet music and in addition, starting a monthly virtual movie club (led by blogger and illustrator Emmanuel Lopez) and a monthly virtual book club, (led by Ingrid Taheri).

“The news couldn’t come at a better time,” said Ingrid Taheri, Artistic and Executive Director of the small charity she founded in 2014. “With COVID-19, more people than ever are alone at home and looking for something to do while social-distancing. During normal times, pre-COVID, one-in-five were suffering from mental health issues and loneliness. With the pandemic the numbers are rising dangerously and my hope is that those that participate in our free programs will be more resilient and cope better than they would without them,” said Taheri. “So far, it seems to work. Comments such as ‘The choir is the best thing that has happened to me”, “Attending these sessions are the highlight of my week” and “I feel happier after singing” are coming in from participants.”

The sentiments were confirmed over the grant period as researchers from the Sing Well foundation examined cortisol levels (a happiness measure) levels in the singers before, during and after the 30 sessions that are being offered.

You will soon have an opportunity to hear the High Notes Voices choir in a special performance together with Grammy-awarded Canadian Hall of Fame inducted singer/songwriter Dan Hill—in a Concert of Hope concert to be released in January.

High Notes Avante’s mission is to use artistic expression to give hope, connect and inspire those touched by mental illness.

To join the choir email

To join the book club email

To join the movie club email

Click HERE to view our first Concert of Hope on YouTube f478bd88-0ce4-2b8d-072a-93f9dfa787c8

The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) is an agency of the Government of Ontario, and one of Canada’s leading granting foundations. OTF awarded $115 million to 644 projects last year to build healthy and vibrant communities in Ontario.


Erika Nielsen, in her own words about living with bipolar disorder



Erika Nielsen is one of the artists participating at THESE ARE THEIR STORIES. We asked her a couple of questions and she answered them so thoroughly we have decided to publish them unedited. We hope you find her insights helpful!

What can we expect to hear you play on April 4th?

I will perform a selection of movements from the classic and timeless Solo Cello Suites by J.S. Bach. The works evoke everything from a sense of peace, to looking inward, to pure joy. On a personal note, the Cello Suites have always been a sacred healing place where I can turn, musically, and I know many listeners feel the same way.

How would you say living with bipolar disorder affects your life on a day to day basis?

Living with bipolar disorder affects every waking and sleeping moment of my day. It is a full-time job, but I’m now used to my routines and prioritizing my needs.

During the day, I have to be careful to manage my stress levels. I schedule rest points throughout my day, and week. When possible, I schedule at least a 15 minute break between activities, I avoid rushing, and try to leave adequate time for meals, making sure I eat well, and on time. I love to work, so this has truly been a habit I’ve had to cultivate! I also need to limit alcohol to 1 drink, and only if it’s early in the evening.

Bedtime is serious business. It begins with at least an hour or more to wind-down, then making sure I’m near my bed when I take my medication, followed by a 40 minute ‘count down’ to sleep. I use blackout curtains, wear a sleep mask, and unplug all electronics to ensure the best possible sleep I can get. This can be challenging with late concerts, but I make it work. I do not schedule rehearsals or appointments before 10am so I can be sure to get the rest I need to function at my best.

My need for sleep is beyond the preferences of someone who might not be a “morning person,” and it is not a luxury. For a person with bipolar, sleep is one of the medicines that our brains require for treatment and management. (This is actually true for everyone, but not everyone can, or chooses to prioritize sleep.) I have also noticed a huge stigma against sleeping adequately as part of treatment, and I hope to help change that, too.

Does it influence your playing? If so, how?

There are many ways that living with bipolar disorder has influenced my playing.

When I lived with untreated bipolar disorder (before I knew I had it), there is no question that it affected my playing negatively, beyond my manic and depressive episodes. I suffered from major performance anxiety, and destructive and ruminating thoughts about my worthiness and ability. I experienced auditory hallucinations and blanking out, problems focusing, suicidal thoughts, and extreme impatience and irritability. Sleeping poorly made all of the above even worse, and vice-versa. I thought it was all a part of being a performer and artist, or a sign that I didn’t deserve to be one.

I didn’t realize how exhausting it was to live in my brain until I finally got a diagnosis and found the right treatment. Interestingly, people with bipolar disorder often also suffer from major anxiety and ADHD, and so did I. I was working extremely hard, all the time to cope with and hide my symptoms, and I am so relieved I received an accurate diagnosis. Amazingly, treating my bipolar also treated the symptoms that affected my playing.

In contrast, living with treated bipolar disorder turned nearly all of the above symptoms on their head. I can now perform with more focus and ease than ever, allowing my true abilities to shine. I still feel nervousness and excitement, but now it is in proportion and manageable, and I can sometimes even use it to my advantage. My thoughts are now organized and non-toxic, as if the volume dial was turned down 40% to a tolerable level. I am no longer scattered, and I can focus, and little things don’t distract or bother me anymore. I never knew it was possible to feel this balanced–I feel like I got my mind back.

I do believe that having a condition where I have experienced every extreme of the mood spectrum from manic psychosis to despair, gives me extra insight into the essence and heart of what makes music move people. I feel it so intensely, even though my illness is treated. Knowing the scary sides of bipolar disorder in some ways magnifies my artistic and creative sense, and gives me a really deep empathy in understanding where a composer or other artist is coming from in their intentions.

I refuse to glorify or romanticize my mental illness, but I can appreciate the insights it has given me. As I wrote in the article Your Mania is Not Your Creativity, having bipolar disorder is not what makes me an artist, or a creative being. If anything, I’m more productive, effective, and expressive than ever because bipolar is no longer holding me back!

WHY did you decide to share your experience, in a blog, a book, live?

When I was first diagnosed, I was beyond frightened. I was in shock, and felt isolated, humiliated, ashamed, and alone. As I madly researched to learn more about my condition, I stumbled across a graphic memoir written by cartoonist Ellen Forney called Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me. Reading about a fellow artist’s experience with bipolar disorder, captured beautifully in her illustrations, was extremely powerful. This illness was real, and someone like me had been there, too. It gave me hope.

Later on, I was sketching out a chronology of what had happened to me to make sense of it all. I saw a narrative appear, including the many steps I was taking toward recovery. I realized that sharing my own story might have the same effect on someone else that Ellen’s book had had on me. I knew right then that I had a book to write.

Creating my blog felt like a safe first step in “coming out” and writing about my mental illness. I was adamant that the blog was not a diary, but well-crafted mental health articles intended to help others, based on what I had learned. Many of those posts were also shared on, the online magazine for people with bipolar.

Was it a difficult decision?

Mental health, and erasing the stigma of mental illness is such important and timely topic. As an educator, the decision to share my experience to help others was unquestionable, but I needed to process through every potential risk so I could feel safe sharing, and trust that I was truly doing a good deed.

A lot of the risks I imagined were part of the growing pains in my coming to terms with having bipolar itself. I was nervous, naturally, about how some family members would react. After I got over that hurdle, some of the biggest fears I had about being open about my condition, (and still have a little, to some extent), is that potential colleagues might make unfair and untrue assumptions, and might be unwilling to work with me. The same goes for parents of students, even though I am a loving, skilled, and competent teacher with over 15 years of experience. I was very discreet when I first published my blog and when I started writing Sound Mind.

I’ll never know what I don’t know, but so far the opposite has been true: I have had so many colleagues, friends and students tell me that what I am doing is an inspiration, and many have opened up and shared their own struggles with me, which has brought us closer. Those who already know and work with me know I am a warm, positive, generous, and empathetic person who is superlatively balanced and organized. It’s hard to think of, but if anyone assumes otherwise, I probably don’t need them in my life. My illness is no different from managing a chronic heart condition or diabetes, and I hope that eventually, all others see it that way, too.

HOW have people around you reacted?

When my blog launched, I received an overwhelming outpouring of support from friends, family, and strangers near and far. Many also shared with me how my articles had helped them personally, or had helped a colleague or peer. When that happened, I knew was on the right track.

When I later gathered the strength to share that I had a book on the way, I was even more blown away by the overall reaction. The support I have received has given me the courage to believe that sharing this story and the steps I took toward recovery will truly benefit others, and that maybe it is actually possible to be safely “out” with this condition. I can’t even imagine trying to hide any more!

Yes, it’s been positive so far, but I was recently joking with my mom that I’ll also be celebrating my first troll, when they appear! 😀

WHAT should people who have no experience with bipolar disorder consider when talking to or being friends with someone who does?

I think a big thing to consider is respecting a person with bipolar disorder’s needs surrounding their routine or sleep needs when they tell you about them, and even if they don’t.

For example, not giving the person a hard time when they need to leave a party early to go to bed, or goading them on to drink more alcohol when it’s a trigger for them. Most people in general are pretty good about respecting others’ needs, but you’d be surprised at how prevalent peer pressure can still be among adults.

Why are you participating in the High Notes Avante event? 

I’ve been admiring the work that High Notes Avante has been doing for the past couple of years, which has included performances by a number of my musician friends and colleagues, Frank Horvat, Giles Tomkins and Michael Bridge. Naturally, I was inspired, and reached out to Ingrid to see how I can help support the movement and message.

I hope that sharing my story and my music with the High Notes Avante community will help raise even more awareness and contribute to erasing stigma towards those living with a mental health condition, and show that it is possible to live a full and balanced life, and even thrive with a mental illness.

For tickets call 905.787.8811 or visit Regular tickets are $35 while $60 tickets include a complementary beverage and a $25 tax receipt. There are less than 150 tickets so better get yours today! Dan Hill and Luba Goy are also participating.

HIGH NOTES AVANTE is a registered charity (827049388rr0001) using artistic expression to inspire, give hope and connect those touched by mental illness. Our objectives include offering art productions directed towards the alleviation of loneliness and isolation as well as reducing any associated stigma. Our dream is to one day produce “THE” mental health concert that will be accessible from coast to coast in Canada and give hope to everyone touched by mental illness, no matter where they live. Read more at

She knows drama but prefers comedy




BY Ingrid Taheri

AirFarce veteran and beloved comedian, Luba Goy, will host These Are Their Stories on April 4th at the Richmond Hill Centre for Performing Arts’ Plaza Suite at 7:30 pm.

“I have never experienced anything else like them,” she says about High Notes Avante’s events. “They bring the community—not only in Richmond Hill, but everyone whose lives have been affected by mental illness—together. The performances give the bravest of brave creative people an opportunity to share their stories. They just open up my heart.”

Luba has witnessed a tremendous shift in the public’s ability to understand mental illness. “I know many people with mental health issues but I do not divulge their stories because it is not anyone else’s business to share than their own.”

Luba will however share about her father, Stepan Goy, at this event. In 1951, Stepan began suffering from epilepsy as a result of an accident fracturing his skull in Belgium, shortly before immigrating to Canada, by ship. Stepan, Luba and her mother Olya, settled in Ottawa, in a vibrant Ukrainian community which included church and traditional culture. They didn’t speak English. Luba, who was starting kindergarten, quickly absorbed the language. By age ten she became translator, for her father’s appointments at the Ottawa General Hospital.

Unfortunately, his epilepsy treatment included becoming an Outpatient at the Brockville Mental Institution (opened in 1894). For eight years, Stepan unhappily travelled back and forth, by train between the cities. Being a child, Luba found the occasional visits to the Brockville Hospital terrifying. “My father didn’t belong in a scary old place with all those people suffering with mental illness,” she says. “Some of the treatments were experimental, which caused hallucinations, he got electroshock treatment, and later fell into a dark depression.”

Olya was the primary breadwinner and worked in the bakery at the Lord Elgin Hotel. She was educated and taught Ukrainian School at the parish hall. Stepan, a talented actor, comedian, singer, mandolin player, director and writer participated actively in the community. He did stand-up and was called the Ukrainian Charlie Chaplin!

“My father and I sang and performed on stage together at every Christmas pageant,” says Luba who played the accordion.  “It was the happiest times of our lives. All my friends adored my father, who made up songs about them on his mandolin. ‘Your father is sooo funny!’ they’d laugh. ‘Ya, I just wish he was normal, like everyone else.’ ”

Luba’s father was a secret from her English school friends. “I never told them he spent time in a mental hospital, and that I wrote him letters because we didn’t have a phone. I just wanted everyone to think I was a normal 12-year-old, even though I worried about him.”

When his seizures got worse, Stepan was told he had to undergo a lobotomy. The people at Brockville wouldn’t let him go home to celebrate Ukrainian Christmas like he always did. “His tenor voice was the backbone of the Christmas Eve mass.” says Luba with pride.

He was to be kept under ‘observation’. “He must have felt very alone and scared, being apart from everyone he loved.” That Christmas Eve, January 6th, Luba and her mother did not decorate a tree. Stepan had never missed a Christmas celebration. “He was a devout Catholic.”

A month before he was to have the brutal procedure that could have left him in a vegetative state, or killed him—Stepan died instead by suicide. It was Ukrainian Christmas Eve. He was 34 years old. The news was delivered by telegram on Christmas Day. Luba read the dreadful message to her mother. “You can only imagine how devastated we were”.

“Our heartbroken community rallied and collected money for the funeral and also sent me to summer camp,” says Luba. “However, there was no counselling and I didn’t talk about it with my English friends. Nowadays doctors would have told me that it wasn’t my fault and to talk. Back then, society didn’t know how to handle the ripple effect on families. Thankfully we have come far since then.”

Luba always adored her father and credits him with her own talent. “Although I only had him for 12 years, my father gave me everything I needed in life,” she says.

“I’ve had such a rich life, and have so many stories to tell.” Stepan was also a Freedom Fighter and wanted to liberate Ukraine. “I was afraid he would choose Ukraine over Mama and me. I hated politics and swore I would never have anything to do with it!” she says. ”Ironic, when you think about the career I’ve had, making fun of politicians.”

Luba knows drama—in life and on stage—but prefers comedy.

“Why make people cry when you can make them laugh? Laughter makes you feel better about everything. It’s like music to your soul.”

The queen of comedy will have you roaring with laughter in between the wonderful music and storytelling that cellist Erika Nielsen and singer/songwriter Dan Hill will provide. April 4th, 7:30 pm at Richmond Hill Centre for Performing Arts. For tickets call 905.787.8811 or visit Regular tickets are $35 while $60 tickets include a complementary beverage and a $25 tax receipt. There are less than 150 tickets so better get yours today!

HIGH NOTES AVANTE is a registered charity (827049388rr0001) using artistic expression to inspire, give hope and connect those touched by mental illness.

Our objectives include offering art productions directed towards the alleviation of loneliness and isolation as well as reducing any associated stigma.

Our dream is to one day produce “THE” mental health concert that will be accessible from coast to coast in Canada and give hope to everyone touched by mental illness, no matter where they live. Read more at



Q&A with Joanna Grace and Ingrid Taheri

Q&A with Joanna Grace and Ingrid Taheri

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We are SO looking forward to share music of Beethoven, Schumann and Rachmaninoff at our upcoming concerts. You can learn a little more about us in the “mutual” Q&A below. We hope you can come to our concerts, enjoy the music and continue the conversation! GET TICKETS HERE


Do you have any experience with mental health challenges in yourself or loved ones?
I’ve had three friends pass away due to mental health complications and have several friends now with mental health challenges.I appreciate the awareness and depth of sharing about emotions: authenticity and acceptance.

Why is there so much stigma around mental illness?
I think the stigma around mental illness is maximized because there is a desire and belief that the mind can be influenced to improve someone’s experience. This can be possible, however, different perceptions of feelings and behaviour contribute to complex relationships and (mis)understandings of how help is best utilized.

Why do you think music is therapeutic?
Music is vibration in motion and reaches the depths of the human soul and cells in the body. Most everyone enjoys some type of music, even though people’s musical tastes and preferences vary widely. Music can be self-created or simply received without any explanation at all.

Why are you a musician?
Music is my greatest passion, along with bringing people together in shared, connected experiences. In my musical endeavours, I have felt the spectrum of human emotion including personal struggle & challenge, triumph, loss, acceptance, love and community.

Why the French Horn?
I first wanted to play the tuba (at age 4). At age 8, my mom took me to on operetta and I became fixated on the two horn players in the orchestra. Immediately after the performance I declared I wanted to play the horn and, thankfully, my mom secured me a teacher and paid for all those lessons!

What would you be if you were not a musician?
I might be a tour guide. I like getting people aware and excited about what’s around them. Or I might be a stand-up comedian. I love to get people laughing and enjoying the moment. Perhaps I could be a comedic tour guide?



Why are you passionate about sharing stories regarding mental health? 
I believe we all have a mental health story one way or another. Mental health issues are difficult to deal with on our own. By sharing experiences we can learn from each other and give each other hope and support. Knowing you are not alone goes a long way. Way too many lives have been lost due to mental health issues. Let’s work together to change that.

What do you feel is the link between mental health and musical compositions?
I don’t know if I can answer that well. What I do know is that we all need and outlet in order to have good mental health. For composers one way they may improve their mental health is to put down in notes what can’t be expressed in words.
Musical compositions, for the listener, is a way to escape and acknowledge their feelings, perhaps realize someone else shares them.

What fascinates you most about Beethoven and playing his music?
Beethoven was pushing established limits and constantly asking more from the piano(manufacturers) in terms of dynamics and sound. I admire his resilience despite childhood abuse and various health issues. Although he could be grumpy, he put his art before himself as he felt he had a duty to humanity. His music is not sentimental but still expresses a wide range of sounds and emotions. His music is still fresh and satisfactory to play 250 years later.

What can you share with us about the challenges of playing different pianos in different concerts?
When we play at a high level there is much precision involved and because each piano has a different touch and sound it can be challenging to adapt quickly in order to get the sounds exactly the way you would like it. The pianos at these venues are all wonderful although quite different in sound and touch.

What is the take away you hope people experience from attending this event?
Mental illness has been around for a long time, and will be around for a long time still. Together we can raise its image and give those who suffer the respect they deserve. There are extraordinary humans amongst the people with mental illness. Let’s give them the support they need so they can shine in whatever way they are able.


Watch Our Video & Smile!

Watch Our Video & Smile!

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(Press image above to watch excerpts from the High Notes Gala for Mental Health on Feb 1, 2018)

We have come a long way

We are proud of what we have done.
But there is still so much more to do.
We need help to survive.
We need volunteers and influencers to help out in various capacities. You can chat with us at CosmoFest on June 2nd and support us at the ClutterBugsCharity Garage sale at 46 Nahanni Drive, Richmond Hill on June 16th.
You can email us at if you want to get involved more deeply.
We have survived on a shoestring…and now it is up to YOU whether we continue past 2018. Thanks for watching and reading. Financial donations (with instant tax receipt provided) can be made at Canada Helps.

JENNIFER WALLS in her own words

JENNIFER WALLS in her own words


We are thrilled that singer/actress Jennifer Walls will be part of the HIGH NOTES GALA on Feb. 1st. Luba Goy, Lloyd Robertson, Michael Landsberg, Orlando Da Silva and many other musical friends are coming together for an evening of hope and to raise the image of mental illness. Thanks Jennifer for answering our questions so honestly and openly.

How has mental illness affected your life? I’ve had anxiety for much of my life.  I was also diagnosed with severe depression a few years ago.  While I don’t so much experience depression anymore, thanks to medication, personal work and removing toxic aspects from my life, I still deal with my anxiety on a regular basis. It started when I was younger but I didn’t realize that’s what I had because we did’t talk about it back then. That anxiety then manifested into an eating disorder which I dealt with for almost half of my life.  I’m very proud to say that I am more in control of my mental health now than I’ve ever been.

Did you ever feel ashamed about the subject and avoid talking about it? Of course. Especially when telling my parents because I didn’t want them to feel like it was their fault. I also didn’t want people to think I was weak or unstable and wasn’t capable, because I knew I was in spite of my challenges.  Now that we are more open as a society about mental health, I feel much less ashamed and much more empowered by being able to talk about my experiences. I am not my mental illness. I am a strong person who deals with challenges but has worked to learn how to over come them. 

Why do you think there is so much stigma towards mental illness but not (for example) cancer, diabetes and heart disease? I think there is much less stigma than there used to be, because we are much more open about it. But we still have a long way to go.  I think the stigma exists because it’s much less tangible or obvious than say cancer or heart disease.  The “physical symptoms” aren’t there in the way other diseases show themselves.  

How and why does music have power to change that? 

I’ve always taken comfort in music. I was always fascinated by the way that an artist’s lyrics said exactly what I was feeling and I took comfort in feeling that I wasn’t alone. That someone has been where I am and they got through it and so can I. I also find music to be very cathartic.  If I’m feeling anxious I’ll put on something loud and fast and I’ll go for a run and work out that energy. Or, if I need to calm my mind and genre myself, some quiet meditative music helps me tune into my breath.  Music has surrounded me my entire life and it has always helped me through the good and the bad.

How can we ALL help change that? I think we have come a long way in speaking up about mental illness.  Research is being done and people are more able to understand what it is.  We are also talking more, which is amazing.  I think by being open and being compassionate, whether we are affected directly or indirectly–mental illness effects the people closest to those who live with it just as much, and I know this first hand–and continue to talk and learn and be kind to each other.   

Why should we? 

So many people are affected by mental illness–most people, really, whether directly or indirectly–so it effects all of us. I really think the world in general needs a bit more kindness and compassion.  People are fighting wars inside their heads everyday. A little kindness and understanding goes a long way.  We need to empower each other.

Why did you agree to participate in the High Notes Gala for Mental Health? I have been a very vocal advocate for mental health since I was diagnosed with depression in 2013.  After my diagnoses, I performed a Cabaret in which I said in public for the first time “I have anxiety and depression.” The music I performed in the show gave me the strength and courage to say it out loud. I couldn’t believe the support I was met with.  Music has played a huge part of my healing journey. Being part of this night that celebrates mental health and music is so special because I know first hand the healing power of music and the power of speaking up and speaking out.

What other projects are you working on… before and after Feb 1? I am the host/producer of a weekly show in downtown Toronto called SINGular Sensation.  It’s a weekly musical theatre open stage every night at Statlers on Church Street.  We’re in our 7th year and offer a safe, supportive environment for performers of all ages and skill levels.  It’s a big party where everyone celebrate music and personal authenticity. You never know who our special guests will be. Everyone from touring Mirvish shows to love community groups.  I am also the voice of the Family Jr. channel.

Please feel free to add anything you like or feel is important! I so appreciate this event and everyone who is coming together to make it happen and give it a face/voice.  The more people that are in the public eye, that people look up to, that speak up and share their stories, the more people will feel empowered to speak up themselves.  I’m honoured to be part of it.

Tickets to hear Jennifer at the High Notes Gala on February 1 at the Richmond Hill Centre for Performing Arts can be purchased by calling 905.787.8811 or online HERE.

HIGH NOTES AVANTE is a registered charity (827049388rr0001) working to raise the image of mental illness. Our objectives include offering art productions (such as this High Notes Gala for Mental Health, Feb 1, 2018) directed towards the alleviation of loneliness and isolation as well as reducing any associated stigma. We promote mental health education by providing information from mental health professionals and testimonials from artists and other well-known personalities.

Our dream is to one day produce “THE” mental health concert that will be accessible from coast to coast in Canada and give hope to everyone touched by mental illness, whether they live in Nunavut, PEI or BC–or just are too ill to get off their couch in Richmond Hill.

This year’s Gala will be live-streamed on


BASS-BARITONE GILES TOMKINS about singing for mental health

giles_tomkins_headshot_500px_colorBASS-BARITONE GILES TOMKINS about singing for mental health

Historically music has been powerful in bringing attention to issues needing attention—so why not mental illness?

“Music is such a powerful tool,” says bass baritone Giles Tomkins (latest heard in Tosca at the COC and with many interesting upcoming performances including Tapestry Opera’s The Overcoat and Bach’s Peasant Cantata.) “It is a responsibility and privilege to be a musician and be able to profoundly impact a person. The better we are as artists, hone our craft and communicate our music … the more we can make a difference.”

On February 1st Tomkins is participating in the 5th High Notes Gala for Mental Health—a charitable event using music and words to raise the image of mental illness, to educate and spread the message that we all have a (mental health) story.

Tomkins is singing in support of some of his closest friends diagnosed and living with mental illness. “I feel passionate about helping more people become aware, accepting of and talking about mental illness. Maybe artists are a bit less ashamed about the subject as we are somewhat more attached to our emotional sensitivity… Our highs are really high and our lows really low…”

Unfortunately, in society in general there is still much stigma. “We celebrate survivors of cancer by ringing a bell for survivors. Gosh wouldn’t it be great if there was something similar for mental illness survivors!?!” says Tomkins.

With cancer and diabetes, you can pinpoint the cause. “With mental illness, most people don’t understand. They fear it,” says Tomkins. “We need to take away all the misinterpretations and create awareness of what you can pinpoint with mental illnesses.”

“Whether you or a family member is suffering, it is important to recognize it is an illness and treatable as such. The more open we are, the more people will come forward to seek treatment. It is so important not to try to hide it…because If you don’t get help it spirals and gets worse.”

Tomkins will sing The Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha, O del Mio Amato Ben by S. Donaudy and Stars from Les Miserables on Thursday February 1 at the Richmond Hill Centre for Performing Arts. 

The star-studded program is hosted by Luba Goy and also include talks by media personalities Lloyd Robertson and Michael Landsberg, former OBA president Orlando Da Silva and Dr. Steven Youssoufian of Mackenzie Health. Many musical personalities from the national and international music scene are contributing their talents. Amongst them pianist Frank Horvat, concert accordionist Michael Bridge, musical theatre performer Jennifer Walls and pianists Mark Selby and Kathryn  Tremills.

For more details visit

Tickets can be purchased by calling 905.787.8811 or online HERE.


HIGH NOTES AVANTE is a registered charity (827049388rr0001) working to raise the image of mental illness. Our objectives include offering art productions (such as this High Notes Gala for Mental Health, Feb 1, 2018) directed towards the alleviation of loneliness and isolation as well as reducing any associated stigma. We promote mental health education by providing information from mental health professionals and testimonials from artists and other well-known personalities.

Our dream is to one day produce “THE” mental health concert that will be accessible from coast to coast in Canada and give hope to everyone touched by mental illness, whether they live in Nunavut, PEI or BC–or just are too ill to get off their couch in Richmond Hill. The Gala will be livestreamed on




Ingrid Taheri, Artistic & Executive Director,