SHARING THE GIFT OF MUSIC TO HELP OTHERS
Ingrid has created a fulfilling life for herself in Canada. Originally from Sweden, she had wanted to attend Oxford University after highschool. Instead, inspired by a friend, she came to Canada to improve her language skills in both English and French while working as a nanny.
She then earned a number of academic credentials, including a diploma in Corporate Communications from Centennial College and a BA in Canadian Studies from Glendon College, York University. She rounded out her training with a YEDI (York Educational Development Institute) certificate in non-profit management. Her early career trajectory included corporate communications, proofreading and editing.
A common thread throughout her varied educational and career moves has been music. Ingrid earned an ARCT designation in piano performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto: the Associate Diploma awarded by the RCM is roughly equivalent to a Bachelor Degree. It was a nod to her many years of studying both piano and viola in Sweden. Ingrid has also taught piano for many years, and even worked briefly in sales for Steinway. More recently, Ingrid’s passion for music has led her to focus on helping others enjoy the benefits of learning to play a musical instrument through local charity High Notes Avante (HNA), which she founded in 2013.
“Originally, we put on events that were intended to give hope to and inspire people who have been touched by mental illness,”says Ingrid. Although initially the registered charity only produced events, HNA now also offers free music lessons to people experiencing mental health challenges. Many of the participants would otherwise find it challenging to afford musical training. While most of the classes focus on piano or guitar, other instruments are offered.
The program started in the fall of 2022, has had 100 applicants and boasts roughly 10 instructors and 30 students today in York Region.
The name High Notes Avante refers to the registered charity’s mission of using music to communicate that it is possible to move forward on ‘higher notes’ despite a past or current mental health issue. The organization’s motto is, “music can change the world because it can change people.” Music and the arts are a powerful way to call attention to important social issues.
Ingrid’s commitment to accessibility stems from her own childhood as one of six children. She feels lucky that her parents were able to offer her music lessons during those early years, with so many mouths to feed.
What inspired her to embark on this journey?
“Mental illness is something that affects us all. We all know someone who has been affected so it is important to know how to help each other,” says Ingrid. “Our charity aims to create a community where everyone feels safe and can make connections with others who also may have been touched by mental illness. Music is very therapeutic in nature and is something we believe everyone should have a right to partake in.”
She also acknowledges that several of her own family members have experienced mental health issues, and prevailed.
Fundraising is essential to keep the program going, allowing High Notes Avante to offer music lessons to as many people as possible. The Richmond Hill Hall Charitable Association provides funds from its affiliation with Bingo World Richmond Hill. High Notes Avante also received a Quick Action Grant last fall to start the music program in recognition of the many people who experienced mental health issues during the pandemic. Additional funds come from individual donors and sponsors.
High Notes Avante holds regular image-raising and fundraising events. The charity has attracted the attention of many high profile people, including actress Luba Goy; retired CTV News Anchor Lloyd Robertson; Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Dan Hill; the Juno-awarded Amici Chamber Ensemble and many more at their events.
Their 10-year Anniversary High Notes Gala at the Richmond Hill Centre for Performing Arts on Monday May 6. 2024 will be extra special. It will feature Dan Hill and other performers in a 600-seat concert venue, plus a VIP reception. Ingrid is writing a Mental Health Anthem called “We All Have a Story” together with composer Alan Shiner for the occasion. HNA hopes to have some notable artists record it in time for the holidays.
Ingrid believes the events and music lessons championed by High Notes Avante have had a positive impact on thousands of people over the years. She says it is never too early or too late to offer music lessons. “Parents should make sure their kids are given creative outlets so they will be more resilient to life’s ups and downs.” To that end, her hopes for High Notes Avante include expanding the program to other parts of the GTA and beyond, and working closely with local school boards to ensure that students – teens, in particular, who are often prone to mental health struggles – can participate.
High Notes Avante has even found its way to Ottawa and Prince Edward Island, where someone heard about the York Region programs and reached out for information. As Ingrid believe it’s important to offer this programming across Canada, she found them local instructors. The music charity also runs a Group Wellness Music class on Saturdays. The free monthly High Notes Movie Club is a virtual movie meet-up that offers people with mental health and mood disorders another way to connect. It features hour long interactive discussions about films with uplifting tips on increasing resilience and optimism.
Ingrid and her husband, Kamran, have two grown daughters; Rachelle, 30, and Theresa, 27. The couple first met in 1987 through a friend when Ingrid was working as a nanny and Kamran was a recent immigrant from Iran. They married in July 1990 in the Danish Lutheran Church. Kamran recently retired after a career in the car-rental business, and relishes his free time.
Ingrid’s other interests include travel, yoga and playing music; she also enjoys watching a good World Cup soccer match, Netflix and figure skating, as well as taking long walks.
Their favourite shared memories include camping when their kids were little, and
other travel adventures later on as a couple, they enjoy working on home improvements and celebrating milestones with their children.
Ingrid is proud of her daughters, both whom are great swimmers and have a terrific sense of humour. “They are social butterflies, my reason for being, and my pride and joy,” she says. Rachelle, who earned an MA from the Munk School of Global Affairs, is a research officer with OPSEU. Theresa studied Hospitality and Tourism at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson), and currently works as a freelance event planner.
The couple has lived in their current home since the birth of their youngest daughter.
“We love the neighbourhood, the diversity and the greenery,” Ingrid says. “It’s a green oasis between the suburbs and the city, with friendly neighbours. It’s a wonderful place to raise a family. We are very lucky.”
STORY BY HEATHER ROSEN PHOTOS BY MERK PHOTOGRAPHY
Posted with permission from Michael Galloway, publisher of Mill Pond Magazine.