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Photos and Music Celebrate the Thousand Islands

Beijing, China -  Vancouver and Whistler, BC’s 2010 Winter Olympics -  Colorado Springs -  Ann Arbor -  Chicago – Brockville - Clayton.

These are just a few of the stops on The Great Lake Swimmers’ 2010 Tour. And, yes - you read it right – the Juno Award-nominated group (in the Roots & Traditional Group Album of the Year category) is coming to Brockville, Ontario and Clayton, New York for two extraordinary performances.

The Toronto-based band is racking up attention and awards such as Favorite Folk/Roots Group at the 2010 Indies Awards and a 2009 nomination for the Short List Polaris Music Prize. They have been hailed by celebrities such as Lance Armstrong and NBC’s Brian Williams. Listen for yourself at; song after song is streaming on the site.

They have chosen to record in the Thousand Islands, a landscape the band considers marvelously inspirational. And they will perform in two relatively small yet sophisticated venues, the Brockville Arts Centre and the Clayton Opera House.

You can thank author and photographer Ian Coristine for that.

About three years ago someone took 50 images from Coristine’s web site, not maliciously, but to show where they lived. The images were posted on a web site hosted in Latvia (, initially with no credit. Within a week they were showing up on web sites all around the world, with posted comments reflecting the amazement of viewers upon learning that such a place existed. The photos then began circling the Internet in schmaltzy French, English and Spanish Powerpoint presentations in emails, but with no link back, little good came of it.

Coristine saw an opportunity: “My thought was that it might be useful to do this again, as professionally as possible, but with links back [to the original artists and the region] so some good might come of it, but I lacked the rights to appropriate music that would do justice to the place.”

In 2008, Coristine contacted Tony Dekker, lead singer of Great Lake Swimmers; he believed the band’s traditional yet engagingly beautiful music would marry perfectly to this beautiful place - which coincidentally is an extension of a Great Lake. Tony Dekker accepted Coristine’s invitation and recorded music for the band’s CD Lost Channels at Singer Castle just off Chippewa Bay, St. Brendan's Church in Rockport and the Brockville Arts Centre. The group returned in 2009 to film a video for the song “Palmistry” aboard the tall ship Fair Jeanne, while she sailed through the islands.

Yep, they like it here - or as Coristine likes to say, they “get it.” As the River flows, so do the creative juices of artists who encounter it. Dekker says, “[The Saint Lawrence River had] a definite artistic influence on my songwriting, and it continues to be a living, breathing influence. Throughout our musical output, there have always been themes of the natural world and approaching a sort of spirituality in it, and, as river people know, there is no shortage of that in the Thousand Islands. Collectively we absorbed and internalized some of the great mythology of it.”

To the music he composed for the collaboration, Dekker added what Coristine calls “the River's natural music,” three days worth of recorded River sounds.

A deep mutual admiration has developed between the photographer and musicians; Dekker offers, “I think there are similarities with what we're doing musically to what Ian has been doing for years now through his photographs, and that is exploring some of the special hidden corners of the landscape, and trying to document singular glimpses of it. With this particular project, the hope was that we could channel some of the sounds of the Thousand Islands and also create a piece of music that was wholly inspired by, written, and recorded in the region.”

This specially-created music, according to Dekker, “was meant as a complement to Ian's photographs and his unique perspective of the Thousand Islands area.” The new music, married to a presentation of photos from Coristine’s fifth book, The Very Best of Ian Coristine's 1000 Islands, and a full GLS concert is what audiences in Brockville and Clayton will enjoy on Friday, June 4, and Saturday, June 26, respectively.

Both the Brockville and Clayton venues will offer an up-close-and-personal musical and visual experience. The Great Lake Swimmers fill large performance halls around the world on a regular basis, but Tony Dekker says of the upcoming River events, “In some ways I think our music is best represented in small, intimate venues, especially if there is a historical relevance there. I find that there's a greater connection with the audience, and we really see these kinds of concerts as special events. There's an intangible quality about playing in these settings that we are really thrilled by as musicians.”

The Brockville event, Tall Ships Landing Presents: A Special Evening with Great Lake Swimmers and Ian Coristine, will be held at the Brockville Arts Centre. Ian Coristine calls the 710-seat Brockville Arts Centre “a treasure reborn.” The recent two million dollar renovation of the theater has made it a first-class arts venue presenting performers such as Harry Connick, Jr., Blue Rodeo, and Great Big Sea.

The performance, which is free with advance reservations, is sponsored by Tall Ships Landing. Tickets can be reserved by email at; further information on this event and the entire season is available at

The Clayton program, Lost Channels: An Evening with Great Lake Swimmers and Ian Coristine, will take place at the Clayton Opera House. The Opera House, with 424 seats, is owned by the Town of Clayton and managed by the Thousand Islands Performing Arts Fund (TIPAF). In 2007, TIPAF renovated the Opera House to its current elegant state after a $3.2 million Capital Campaign.

The event’s sponsor is Burdick Driver’s Village. TIPAF patrons who contribute at least $1000 for the season will be invited to an “Artist’s Reception” at an elegant River location; they will be treated to a light buffet meal in the company of Ian Coristine and The Great Lake Swimmers two hours prior to the event. After the performance, Coristine and the Swimmers will remain at the Opera House for a book, CD and DVD signing.

Amy Flack, TIPAF’s Executive Director, echoes Tony Dekker’s sentiments when she talks about The Great Lake Swimmers playing in the Opera House, “Their music is soft and thoughtful; some of their songs have an ethereal feel that matches the emotions generated by Ian’s artwork. The setting at the Clayton Opera House is an excellent environment for both artists because the audience will be able to connect intimately with what they are seeing and hearing. And I know the Great Lake Swimmers will sound beautiful in the hall because the acoustics are perfect.”

As to how a typical Opera House audience will welcome Ian Coristine and the Great Lake Swimmers, Flack added, “Even though we are a venue in the U.S. and they are Canadian artists, the border does not mean a barrier. They have become River artists; therefore, they are everyone’s artists.”

Ticket prices for the Clayton event are $20 and can be reserved after May 25 by calling 315-686-2200 or by email at Opera House Patrons at any level can reserve tickets prior to May 25. Complete information on becoming a Patron and other Opera House performances is available at

Lost Channels is one of many events scheduled for Clayton’s River Festival, which runs from June 24 to June 27. Information on all weekend events is available at Clayton’s Chamber of Commerce website,

Ian Coristine, who understands the value of artists working collaboratively, hopes that art and music lovers along the River will come out in full force to each of the two performances, although he seems more inclined to promote the music-makers than himself: “[Great Lake Swimmers] have been very generous with the River and I'm hoping the River community treats them accordingly.”

No doubt, those in attendance will appreciate – and applaud - this marriage of music and photography celebrating our River.

By Erin McCarthy Brick

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