We won Best Creative Innovation!

We are proud to have been awarded “Best Creative Innovation” at Richmond Hill’s Economic Development Committee’s 7th Creative symposium. Please CLICK HERE to watch the video they created about our Artistic & Executive Director, Ingrid Taheri, to learn more.

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but we all have unique ability to inspire


Ten years after releasing his first self-composed album, I’ll Be Good, Toronto composer and pianist Frank Horvat, has responded musically and personally with an introspective piano album, You Haven’t Been.

Inspired by Frank’s struggles with anxiety and depression the title reflects life hasn’t been all good. Frank, who also released three other completely different albums in September, says “It was sometimes easier to write a piece of music than deal with my moods in a conversation with a loved one or rationalizing them in my head. Most of the 13 pieces are taking the listener into my dark times and moments and translating the feelings into music.” He hopes listeners can relate and also feel less lonely in their own struggles.

Frank will “world premiere” the music live and share his experience at an intimate High Notes Avante Social on November 17. “What High Notes Avante is doing is unique, special and important in using music and art to push forward the agenda of compassion and awareness,” he says. “It makes sense as an artist’s business is about feelings and emotions… we have a natural propensity to relate to this. Everything we do is about setting a mood or a feeling and our art is often created out of those highs and lows we all go through in life.”

Chuckling when asked what ‘normal’ people can do to feel better or make a difference he says

“Artists are not special or superior and I like to think nobody is normal… Every person is special and has a unique ability to contribute. Some people like myself play the piano, some people paint pictures… We all have the ability to inspire. Some write eloquent social media posts. Even if you are a complete introvert you can be a good friend and just be there to listen—words may not be necessary.”

Although talking openly about it now, it took Frank many years to first admit his mental health issues to himself, longer to his loved ones and even longer before opening up to the greater world.

Frank first developed anxiety and suffered from depression during his 20s and early 30s. “Nothing triggered it. Out of the blue I just felt depressed,” he says. “I didn’t want to do anything and didn’t care about anything. I just felt wistful and numb and frustrated. Even more frustrating, I knew I shouldn’t be feeling this way because nothing bad happened, I had a good life and nobody had given me a reason to be upset. I had a loving family. Still, I would keep my feelings bottled up and they would fester inside. This pattern continued for years and years and built up and up until I finally admitted I needed help.”

With the support of long-term partner and wife Lisa, Frank attended psychotherapy sessions twice a week for about a year or so. And it helped.  “Luckily, I have many regular activities that help me deal with my ongoing mental health issues. I eat well, I go for daily walks, I meditate twice a day… I surround myself with good people and I listen to music for inspiration. I am extremely lucky to be able to pursue my passion, my music.”

“Initially I thought writing this music would be therapeutic but it has also helped me gain courage to share my story. It feels great! I wish I had done it sooner.”

Like the majority of us, Frank grew up not discussing mental health issues. “This is completely illogical because mental health issues are just ailments like other diseases. We don’t ignore a broken arm, cancer or heart disease—so why ignore our mental health?”

With half the world suffering from mental health issues right now, he says, “It is a mild catastrophe, frankly. We have to deal with this now. There are other issues that I also feel strongly about, like the environment, climate change, etc.  These are huge massive issues we need to deal with. But how can we deal with them if we also have mental health issues?”

“We need organizations like High Notes Avante and people who are battling the issues to keep sharing and talking. We need to do it for the young people and hope we finally grow out of the ignorance!“

You Haven’t Been was released on September 20th through iTunes and Spotify. All profits from the sale of this album from http://frankhorvat.com/highnotes will be donated to High Notes Avante Productions Inc.

Event tickets (minimum donation of $20 suggested, current mental health clients free) to the November 17th concert hosted by Pearl Pianos on 15 Sims Crescent in Richmond Hill are available on Eventbrite and mandatory to ensure a space.

HIGH NOTES AVANTE is a registered charitable organization using the power of words and music to raise the image of mental illness, educate and reduce social isolation for those touched by mental illness.


For more information:







High Notes Avante Social

High Notes Avante Social at Richmond Hill’s Pearl Pianos

An engaging evening of music & stories of mental health recovery



A psychotherapist, speaker and classically trained pianist, Paul Radkowski can tell a recovery story or two—whether his own, his clients’ or that of fellow musicians or well-known composers.

Paul, who also is CEO of LifeRecoveryProgram.com, will present A Musical Journey of Hope at the first ever HIGH NOTES AVANTE SOCIAL at Pearl Piano Studio on 15 Sims Crescent in Richmond Hill, 7:30 pm on September 14. Proceeds benefit High Notes Avante and the registered charity’s efforts to use music to raise the image of mental illness.

“Events like the HIGH NOTES AVANTE SOCIAL inspire and connect people,” says Paul. “We are all affected by these issues and it is OK to say we have them. We need to be more accepting of ourselves and others to begin the journey of healing and hope. By talking, listening and sharing we change the culture.”

Paul created his internationally awarded LifeRecoveryProgram.com, to make mental health resources accessible to everyone. He says “24/7 issues require 24/7 solutions no matter where you are.” Having worked in various counselling roles in remote areas of northern Canada, including the Northwest Territories, he says “The despair was abundant. I was tired of seeing people bleed and die in the service gaps. So… when I came back to southern Ontario we essentially took what worked frontline and put it online.”

Paul’s personal mental health story—as that of many other Canadians—started when he was a socially awkward teenager. “Fifty per cent of mental health issues occur before the age of 14 and 75 per cent occur before we reach age 24. I developed anxiety, and then depression in my early ‘20s,“ he says. “Canadians typically wait between six to 23 years before seeking help—if they seek help at all. Stigma was alive and well back then too.” So quietly, he sought counselling and credits the experience with becoming a better listener in his professional life. “I know how it feels to be raw, exposed and vulnerable. I understand the fear of being judged and wondering if there is something wrong with you… how you hurt inside and how hard it is to overcome the stigma and seek help.”

Journaling and playing the piano gave Paul an outlet to help overcome and accept his own struggles. “Through music I could express my feelings of despair, rage and pain and convert them into passion and conviction,” he says. “The spark and energy helped me transform my feelings and express myself with beautiful music.”

Paul became fascinated by the lives and recovery stories of the composers he played. He was particularly intrigued by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff who dedicated his second piano concerto—one of the most renowned works in the literature—to his therapist Nikolai Dahl. “The fact that Rachmaninoff could recover from depression brought on by the fiasco of the premier of his first symphony and produce music with such passion, poignancy, pain urgency, triumph and hope–encouraged me to keep going as a human being,” he says. Paul moved on to study music therapy and to deepen his understanding of the intrinsic power of music to heal, as well as neuroscience and biology.

The interactive evening at Pearls Pianos includes Paul playing the piano and sharing recovery stories of other composers including Ravel, Gershwin, Beethoven and Tchaikowsky. Vocalist and awarded psychotherapist Monique Peats joins him for a Judy Garland number. Rosa Hei, runner up of the North York Music Festival’s High Notes Gala class, is also performing.

“We are excited to host this important event in support of our community,” says Pearl Chen, manager of Pearl Pianos—an accomplished pianist herself and daughter of Wayne Chen, one of Toronto’s most respected piano technicians. “Mental health affects me every day and nobody I know is immune. We are donating a portion of our September sales to help High Notes Avante continue their valuable work.”

THIS FREE EVENT REQUIRES A TICKET AS SPACE IS LIMITED. PLEASE VISIT EVENTBRITE.ca. to register. A donation is encouraged. For more information visit highnotesavante.ca, liferecoveryprogram.com or http://www.pianokeyboard.com/


Internship…or Mentorship?


Internship… or Mentorship?


When I first began as a summer intern at High Notes Avante, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. The annual main attraction—the High Notes Gala for Mental Health— had just taken place, after months of preparation, blood, sweat and tears. And while the Gala was a smashing success, it meant most of the work for the year was done. Instead of taking a vacation, Ingrid, the Artistic and Executive Director, took me on.

My main reason for applying, like many university students, was simply to gain work experience in my field of study. High Notes Avante immediately stood out. The organization’s mission, “To inspire, give hope and support those touched by mental illness–through artistic expression, storytelling and philanthropy,” intensely resonated with me as I, too, have been deeply touched by the struggles of mental illness. Having personally seen and experienced the powerful role art and music can play in overcoming these obstacles, I was inspired by the work High Notes Avante was doing.

So, even though the big event was over, we went to work. Fortunately, I had been able to attend the Gala, which helped me write my first press release and contribute to editing the video from the videographers. In addition to lots of research on mental health statistics and fundraising opportunities, I was able conduct several interviews and update the website, which encouraged me to practice skills I had acquired through school.

The most challenging—and exciting—opportunities, though, were the ones that I had never encountered at school, like attending networking events, event planning, and participating in board meetings. While some tasks, like designing flyers and donation box cards, were more exciting than others, like proofreading grant applications, everything I learned is a skill I will take with me.

I was able to speak with the designers, sponsors, lawyers, accountants, and volunteers who help make High Notes Avante so successful. I got to meet with artists and musicians who earnestly and generously use their talents to fulfill the organization’s mission and vision to improve the image of mental illness. Best of all, I got to work under the guidance of someone—an employer—who truly considered my opinion, and that has been the biggest lesson.

In her line of work, aiming to break down stigma and encourage those with mental health issues to speak out, Ingrid understands the delicate landscape she must navigate, and it is deeply inspiring to have experienced that same empathy as an employee. Above all the internship opportunities I am grateful to have received, it is her work ethic—the mentorship—I am most glad to take away from this experience.

Unlike interns in the past, I cannot point to one, specific event to prove what I have accomplished in my time here. Rather, it has been a handful of perhaps smaller but equally important activities, including earning the good-graces of Pook, the furry, friendly unofficial chief of High Notes Avante.

While it’s true, I was not sure what to expect when I first began as an intern, I know that I am leaving not just as a better employee or communicator, but community member.

Please send your resume to highnotesavante@gmail.com by August 20th if you would like to be considered for a part-time opportunity starting in September.

Freeing the Pieces… with Words and Music


By: MADISON SIEGER, Communications Intern


Jane Haque_Freeing_the_Pieces

Jane Haque never imagined the High Notes Gala for Mental Health would have such a strong impact on her life.

She was in the process of finishing up her memoir, Freeing the Pieces, but went back and rewrote the last chapters after attending the event on May 6.

Jane, who occasionally suffers from depression, has been an alcoholic for most of her life, though many never knew it. “The only person who had a problem with my drinking was me,” she says, and it was when she declared the addiction and stopped drinking alcohol that she experienced a metamorphosis.

Her memoir is the result of this transformation and she credits the High Notes Gala for helping her free a piece of herself.

Her book launch will take place on Wednesday, July 26, 2017, 7:00 pm, at the Richmond Hill Centre for Performing Arts (Plaza Suite). Jane is very generously donating a portion of the proceeds from her book launch to High Notes Avante’s future efforts.

“What I saw at the Gala was very moving,” she recalls. While touched by the audience listening intensely to the speakers and the exquisite performers, what really struck her was Dan Hill.  “His music evoked something deep within me.”

And she began to weep.

“It was overwhelming,” she remembers. “I could have stopped  crying if I had wanted to, but it was like a release.”

The woman sitting next to her smiled and handed her a tissue. She smiled back and thanked her. The gesture made her feel like her emotions—and her mental illness—were okay.

“High Notes Avante is providing avenues for speakers and performers to share their stories with us and help with that cultural shift. The organization is a leader in the field of erasing the stigma and I wanted to give it a little bit of notoriety,” she says. “Taking away the stigma of mental illness will go a long way towards mental health.”

Jane 2017 book headshot

Although doctors told Jane she was depressed, she never admitted it. “I hid it, thinking I couldn’t talk about it. Family and friends didn’t even know of my diagnosis.”

Looking back at her story after the Gala, Jane was reminded of her childhood. As a young girl, she had to be asked to smile in photographs and her parents conditioned her to grin at the right moments. The treatment she received for her depression was the same kind of “performance management”—it was as if she was taught to control her sadness like her parents taught her to control her smile.

She realized that her parents, and largely the culture at the time, just didn’t understand. “They didn’t have the right words,” she says. “There was no such thing as ‘depression.’ There was no such thing as ‘childhood mental illness.’”

“People may see when you have a broken arm; but they don’t always want you to talk about it. But they definitely don’t want you to say you have depression,” she states. “When they can see you have a cast, they want to sign it and wish you well—you’re like a hero. But what do they say when someone has a mental illness? They’re speechless.”

Jane says, “It’s time to have the culture shift from one of stigma to one that is honest, upfront and truthful about something that affects so many people.”

From writing her story, she has learned to free herself and wants to help other people free themselves too. “Everyone has a unique story. And many of those stories may come from trauma and sadness and hurt. We can grow from our personal experiences, and by sharing them, others can grow from our experiences too.”

“This is exactly what we strive for,” says Ingrid Taheri, Artistic & Executive Director of High Notes Avante. “We are very grateful for our small role in helping Jane free a piece of herself. Her story touches my heart. And… her financial support will help us continue to spread the message that people with mental illness are wonderful people who deserve the same compassion as those affected by other health issues.”


ABOUT HIGH NOTES AVANTEHigh Notes Avante Productions Inc. is a charitable organization that uses the power of words and music to educate and humanize mental illness. Our ‘TedTalk and Grammy-inspired’ events strive to elevate the image of mental illness and make our audience feel they belong and matter. We aim to erase stigma, give hope and connect with available resources. Perhaps we can start the recovery and healing process with an inspiring evening of music and storytelling. If one in five are affected, we all have a story.

These are their stories…


These are THEIR stories…

Luba GoyDan Hill! Ron Korb! Ballet Jorgen! Robert Kortgaard! David W Barber! Bill MacPhee! Dr. Adam Enchin! What could they have in common?They all have a mental health story and are speaking and performing at the 2017 High Notes Gala for Mental Health on Saturday May 6th.
The High Notes Gala aims to raise the image of mental illness through the power of words and music. We’ve interviewed all participants about their connection to mental illness. In reading their stories we hope also you will want to share your mental health story. Just as with other things in life, we can learn from each other’s experiences and get stronger. (Click on their highlighted names in order to read their full stories). Hope to see you at the Flato Markham Theatre on Saturday! Current mental health clients are entitled to up to 4 tickets for free by calling 905.305.7469 and mentioning the code WE ALL HAVE A STORY.
Dan Hill
David W. Barber
Robert Kortgaard
Ballet Jorgen
Bill MacPhee
Luba Goy
Ron Korb
Dr. Adam Enchin
Comedienne Luba Goy, who will host the event, says “People are afraid and uncertain about what they don’t understand. The topic is seldom discussed. It wasn’t until a good friend was hospitalized—when her world imploded—that I witnessed the serious side of depression.”Grammy nominated virtuoso flutist, Ron Korb, urges everyone to “develop some self awareness” so that when and if mental illness comes, we will be able to seek help instead of shying away from the issue. “If you acknowledge and confront a problem,” he says, “you already have 75 per cent of the problem solved.”Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Adam Enchin, believes music should be used more for its emotion regulation and calming effects.When Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Dan Hill would sing to his manic-depressive mother in the piano room at the hospital other psychiatric patients would come in and sing along. “Music is incredibly soothing,” he says. “It relaxes the brain and increases production of feel good emotions and endorphins.” Two and a half years ago, Hill was diagnosed as bipolar himself. He says: “not talking about mental illness is a bigger problem than the illness itself.”“It is pretty common with dancers [to ignore mental health problems] since we are actors too,” says Ballet Jorgen’s Daniel Da Silva. “We are trained to keep the show going even if we are in pain—and it translates to real life too. We just bottle it up and keep going.” He thinks the hardest thing for someone on the outside looking in is to know how to respond.We all need an outlet for our feelings. For Robert Kortgaard, that outlet is the piano. Being around family and friends with mental health issues has helped Kortgaard develop sensitivity and awareness. “I could also have been very unhappy,” he says, “and the effects could have been disastrous if I didn’t have the piano.”

Mental Health Recovery Expert Bill MacPhee has lived with schizophrenia from the age of 24 and spent five years in and out of hospitals and group homes. He says mental illness is akin to suffering from “emotional blandness and lack of joy.” Stigma and negative portrayals in the media is one of the greatest barriers to recovery for those affected as they often suffer alone afraid of being judged. Although psychiatrists told him he would never contribute to society, he has moved forward and provides a beacon of hope for everyone else who is currently suffering.




We are not robots

We are not robots… although we practice to be perfect

Photo-print-0086BY INGRID TAHERI

“We might not be as honorable as firefighters or doctors who save lives,“ says Ballet Jorgen’s Daniel Da Silva. “Still, we give a break to people who come to the ballet after a long day of work. We give them joy the way we can with our art, athleticism and storytelling.“ He and Saniya Abilmajineva will dance a pas-de-deux from Swan Lake at the High Notes Gala for Mental Health on May 6th at the Flato Markham Theatre.  “Art and ballet make everyone feel nice and warm and want to do good.  It makes them feel lighter and to forget about war and fighting,“ says Saniya who loves communicating through dance to get a reaction from the audience. “The more applause, the better,” she says.

Both principal dancers are recipients of multiple awards, have worked very hard and come from faraway—Sanyia from Uzbekhistan and Daniel from Brazil—to get to where they are today. Still, they wouldn’t have it any other way. “Ballet is my life. Dancing to the classical masters in different roles such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the White Swan pushes me to feel like I am in another world,” says Saniya. “In real life I would never become a princess but dancing I can take on any character.”

“Although we work hard and want to look good and dance perfectly all the time, we are not machines,” she says.

“During my entire life I’ve had moments where I felt really tired mentally… more than physically.” The pressure of everyone watching can take a toll. “If I have three shows in a row when I don’t do my best, I don’t feel good and it gets into my head.”  Physical injuries can also be stressful. A heel injury once prevented Saniya to put on point shoes for a six-month period. “It was very hard mentally as I didn’t know if I ever would dance again.“

Luckily Saniya now works for a company that treats mental health similar to physical health. “The major difference between mental health issues and other injuries is how dancers are less likely to share with their colleagues. The conversation about mental health issues is always more generalized,“ says Bengt Jorgen, Artistic Director and CEO. “We believe in supporting a more open conversation about mental health issues and encourage those struggling to seek support,“ he says. “In the past we have supported information sharing and conversations about eating disorders, which affect a number of dancers. Participating in the High Notes Gala is a natural extension of this work.”

While touring, Ballet Jorgen’s 25 dancers get to know each other very well. Normally Daniel is an outgoing person who keeps his spirits up—but some of his friends have suffered from depression.

“It is not easy to know what to do. I think sometimes the only thing you can do is to just be there. Loneliness makes it worse so letting them know that you are there for them is important,” he says.

“Stigma contributes to people keeping it to themselves as they don’t think anyone will understand how they feel or know how to help them,” he says. “They think they know how to deal with it best themselves so they don’t let people in. It is pretty common with dancers since we are actors too. We are trained to keep the show going even if we are in pain—and it translates to real life too. We just bottle it up and keep going.“

Although Daniel is guilty of that himself he gets pleasantly surprised “when I somehow let people know I struggle and they show me a different perspective. It is an eye opener.”

Saniya‘s message to anyone suffering is: “Do not cut your dream. Think about it. Talk about it. Read about it. Know that others have been in a similar situation but moved forward and got stronger.”

“Dancing in general releases stress and is an enriching experience both mentally and physically,” adds Bengt. “Many professional dancers dance because it makes them feel a lot better than if they don’t.”

“We are not robots although we practice to be perfect,” says Daniel. “Our bodies feel different every day but once it is real and we have an audience we try to just have fun. We are doing what we love and getting paid for it, which is very rare. We are very lucky.”

ABOUT THE HIGH NOTES GALA: You can watch Ballet Jorgen’s Sanya and Daniel dance at the High Notes Gala for Mental Health on May 6th at the Flato Markham Theatre. Dan Hill is the headlining artists and speaker. Comedian Luba Goy will host the evening. Pianist Robert Kortgaard, Grammy nominated flutist Ron Korb, author David W. Barber, Mental Health Recovery Expert, Bill MacPhee and Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist Adam Enchin, will join them. Mental health support organizations will display in the lobby. For tickets call 905.305.SHOW or visit highnotesavante.ca.

 ABOUT HIGH NOTES AVANTE: High Notes Avante Productions Inc. is a non-profit organization using the power of words and music to educate and humanize mental illness. We strive to erase stigma and hope those attending our events will understand mental illness better while perhaps also starting the recovery and healing process with an inspiring evening of music and storytelling.


Ingrid Taheri, Artistic & Executive Director






Music and Brain Function

Music and Brain Function


Child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr. Adam Enchin, wears many hats. As a psychiatrist at Southlake Regional Health Centre, he sees patients that are in crisis, children who come in for weekly support services and spends most of his day with the Disruptive Behaviours Program.

During his medical training, Dr. Enchin was taken aback by how many people were visiting the emergency room with mental health complaints. As someone who was always interested in the brain and brain science, Dr. Enchin realized there was an opportunity to educate young people and their families on mental health which would allow him to start intervening early.

“As a psychiatrist, it is hard to make a definitive diagnosis early on, “ he says. “However, the earlier you can intervene the better off the patient will be.”

Dr. Enchin will speak at the High Notes Gala for Mental Health at the Flato Markham Theatre on Saturday May 6th. Comedienne Luba Goy is hosting and Grammy winning artist Dan Hill will sing and talk about his mental health experiences.

“Music has a huge impact on brain function,” says Dr. Enchin who believes music should be used more for its emotion regulation and calming effects. “Music resonates with people on an emotional level.”

Dr. Enchin says that while his clinical work is very fulfilling, he is frustrated by the lack of cohesion between the various organziations and ministries in the province, a problem he attributes to the history of mental health. According to Dr. Enchin, people have historically been afraid of things that are different. “There is a belief that mental illness is about a lack of trying, which of course is wrong. The differences among us are an opportunity to learn. The only way to erase stigma is to remove sensationalism in the media,” he goes on.

The High Notes Gala is achieving this by showcasing artists, celebrities and everyday heroes who are living decent lives despite their mental health problems.

Dr. Enchin supports the initiatives of High Notes Avante Productions Inc, stating that events such as the High Notes Gala incorporate positive messages that bring people from different walks of life together. He will educate the audience on the manifestation of mental illness in youth and the supports that are available to help everyone move forward on higher notes.

ABOUT THE HIGH NOTES GALA: Dr. Adam Enchin will speak at the High Notes Gala for Mental Health on May 6th at the Flato Markham Theatre. Dan Hill is the headlining performer and speaker. Comedian Luba Goy will host the evening. Members of Ballet Jorgen, Grammy nominated flutist Ron Korb, pianist Robert Kortgaard, author David W. Barber and mental health recovery expert Bill MacPhee will join them. Mental health support organizations will display in the lobby. For tickets ($40/$70) call 905.305.SHOW or visit highnotesavante.ca.

ABOUT HIGH NOTES AVANTE: High Notes Avante Productions Inc. is a non-profit organization using the power of words and music to educate and humanize mental illness. We strive to erase stigma and hope those attending our events will understand mental illness better as we create a sense of community and give hope with an inspiring evening of music and storytelling. If one in five are affected we all have a story.


Ingrid Taheri, Artistic & Executive Director





Creating a Spark


Bill MacPhee’s Journey through Mental Illness 


A charismatic business owner, husband and father of three children, Bill MacPhee is the last person you would ever think struggled with mental illness. However, at the age of 24, MacPhee was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent the subsequent five years of his life in and out of hospitals and group homes, struggling with a suicide attempt and sitting on his parents’ couch watching daytime television.MacPhee will be speaking about his experiences at the High Notes Gala for Mental Health at the Flato Markham Theatre on May 6, 2017. “I was scared to death that five years would turn into seven years and seven would turn into 10 years,” says MacPhee, as he reminisces about that difficult time. “I needed to create a spark in my life.”

That spark came from attending community events, library programs and meeting Executive Director of Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Martha Mason. MacPhee remembers something his grade seven teacher told him: “If you don’t know how to write properly in life, you’ll never amount to anything.”

This harsh lesson led MacPhee to contact the literacy foundation, where he connected with Martha Mason, who would go on to give him weekly lessons and eventually refer him to college. Reluctant at first, MacPhee agreed to let Martha drive him to his course. Although he was still dealing with “emotional blandness and lack of joy” as he puts it, he went through the motions, bought a camera, attended the field trips and eventually things started looking up.

It was in 1993, at a local library, that MacPhee stumbled across a book on 101 ways to start a business with little or no capital. At that moment, a light bulb went off. He realized he could start a business relating to schizophrenia. In March 1994, his magazine, Schizophrenia Digest, was incorporated. Due to the stigma surrounding mental health and the embarrassment his subscribers felt in receiving the magazine to their homes, he changed the name to SZ Magazine.

MacPhee says he was never ashamed about his story and never shied away from talking about it. From the moment he first started speaking about his experience, he realized how much he enjoyed it and how much it could help other people. He has been speaking for 25 years now.

He attributes mental health stigma to two things. The first is the isolation people feel when they are struggling. They think they are the only ones struggling and try to suppress it. The second reason is that the field of psychiatry is relatively young. He says, historically, psychiatrists in the ‘50s and ‘60s blamed illnesses like schizophrenia on how parents raised their children.

“When you have doctors telling you you’re the reason for your son or daughter’s schizophrenia, you don’t want to tell anyone. Doctors today know that it’s a chemical imbalance, but back then it had stigma because the medical model played a role in that.”

In order to erase the stigma, MacPhee suggests that people focus on the positive, just as the speakers and performers at the High Notes Gala do. He is absolutely amazed at the talent and how musicians and artists are able to move forward. MacPhee thinks the participants of the 2017 High Notes Gala for Mental Health prove that “people are more than their mental illness.” According to MacPhee, removing the stigma it is a barrier to getting help. Sensationalism on the news is running rampant and people tend to focus on what they do not understand. “They are afraid to get help because they don’t know what to expect—they are afraid to be institutionalized forever.” He believes one of the biggest things society can do is to educate journalists on the “myths and truths” of mental illness. For MacPhee, “to educate a generation of journalists is to change the whole generation of the population.”

The 2017 High Notes Gala for Mental Health at the Flato Markham Theatre is doing just that. “It’s a great event and a fun night,” says MacPhee who defines recovery as the moment when “you wouldn’t want to be anyone else other than who you are today.”

We all need an outlet for our feelings


Robert Kortgaard has toured and recorded extensively with soprano Jean Stilwell. Here they are performing together at the April 28th, High Notes Gala

When pianist Robert Kortgaard first performed at the High Notes Gala for Mental Health in 2014, he agreed because tenor Richard Margison, an artist he respected, asked him.

“Once there, I was moved by the fascinating and gripping stories told by both the presenters and performers—people I didn’t know—and there has been no question in my mind that I would participate beyond that first one,” says Kortgaard. “The caliber of the artists is inspiring and so is the cause.”

Kortgaard will perform both solo and collaboratively with Grammy-nominated flutist Ron Korb at the Flato Markham Theatre on May 6th for the 4th High Notes Gala.

Kortgaard grew up in Alberta where he remembers playing by ear at an upright piano that was neglected by his older sister but adored by him. With a natural gift for music he was drawn to the piano and couldn’t imagine doing anything else than playing piano—which he has done ever since. Today, he is one of Canada’s most respected concert- and collaborative pianists.

“I feel fortunate that I had then—and still have today—an internal instinct to create. It has kept me grounded. I feel the same pride and joy now, as I did when I was 9 or 10, when I see the results of my accomplishments and the reaction it causes in other people. It is a tough career to get going. You need all the right elements: support from parents, the right teachers… love. You need within your soul to do it or it won’t happen,” he says from his downtown Toronto home between tours with soprano Rebecca Caine in the Maritimes and baritone Brett Polegato in BC.

“I really value my time spent working towards what I feel deep in my soul that I need to do…. I think other people in the arts community feel the same way—and that the process of creating and participating in the arts is a way to avoid therapy,” he continues. “Playing piano is what I revert to for solace.”

“I might have been a very confused and unhappy person today if we had not had that little piano and I had not found a way to become a musician. It could have had a very disastrous effect on me,” says Kortgaard who has several friends as well as an uncle affected by various forms of mental illness. “They have all helped me develop a sensitivity and awareness to the difficulties people with mental illness suffer from.”

“Although I realized as a young child that my uncle wasn’t what was considered a ‘normal person’—he was just an uncle to me, and I loved him as such,” Kortgaard says. “I quickly overcame the shame and the stigma brought upon us by a generally narrow view of what is normal until our horizons are widened and we gain life experience. I’ve learned a lot about the world by witnessing the way my uncle functions within it. I like to think—I know—I am a better person because it has made me realize that we are not all the same, and that is OK,” he says. Undiagnosed, the now 90-year-old uncle (whom Korgaard recently became a guardian of) worked on the family farm when it became obvious he couldn’t function well in school. “My uncle still managed to have a reasonable good life.”

Kortgaard, whose biggest ongoing project is the Indian River Festival (a summer festival in the PEI he has been artistic director of for 20 years), believes some people are drawn to music because they don’t quite fit into the world. He and long-term partner pianist Peter Tiefenbach have witnessed the effect of music in a young man on the autism spectrum that they have known for about 15 years.

“Many things fascinate him, music in particular. Watching him react to live music and musical recordings is a wonderful thing to observe, “ he says. “To be on stage playing music, creating art that others admire and enjoy, to be able to pass on my joy for music my whole life has been a wonderful thing.”

He believes we all need an outlet for our feelings and it can have a devastating effect and creates a lot of turmoil if we don’t find one. “As musicians we hope to inspire others. Shining a light on mental illness with music is bound to affect a lot of people. I hope giving back with music and bringing arts into other people’s lives may help them heal,” he concludes. “Music and arts is just good for humanity in general.“


ABOUT THE HIGH NOTES GALA: You can hear Robert Kortgaard perform at the High Notes Gala for Mental Health on May 6th at the Flato Markham Theatre. Dan Hill is the headlining performer and speaker. Comedian Luba Goy will host the evening. Members of Ballet Jorgen, Grammy nominated flutist Ron Korb, author David W. Barber, Mental Health Recovery Expert Bill MacPhee and Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist Adam Enchin, will join them. Mental health support organizations will display in the lobby. For tickets call 905.305.SHOW or visit highnotesavante.ca.

ABOUT HIGH NOTES AVANTE: High Notes Avante Productions Inc. is a non-profit organization using the power of words and music to educate and humanize mental illness. We strive to erase stigma and hope those attending our events will understand mental illness better while perhaps also starting the recovery and healing process with an inspiring evening of music and storytelling.


Ingrid Taheri, Artistic & Executive Director