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Newcomer to Orillia finding a way to make her mark amid pandemic

Despite a lockdown and stay-at-home orders, local creatives are getting creative to keep working, says arts and entertainment columnist
Marta Solek, a true Canadian now, skating on Bass Lake. Credit Marta Solek
Marta Solek, a true Canadian now, skating on Bass Lake. She has brought her many musical talents to the area after moving to Canada in 2017.

As the lockdown and stay-at-home carries on, different creatives have been contacting me and telling me what they have been up to in these trying times. It is nice to be able to share their stories in this time of cancelled and postponed events.

Musician Marta Solek was kind enough to reach out last week and share some of her story, as a professional musician and recent immigrant to Orillia.

Solek immigrated to Canada in 2017. She was an accomplished musician in her native Poland, studying under a scholarship at the Krakow Academy of Music. She plays the cello, suka from Bilgoray, plock fiddle, Greek lyra, Cretan lyra, morin khuur, kemance, er-hu, folk bass, gadulka, piano and sarangi.

Prior to moving to Orillia, she played with Sinfonietta Cracovia, the Beethoven Academy Orchestra, and the Krakow Royal Chamber Orchestra in such renowned European concert houses as Zurich, Munich, and Frankfurt Philharmonies, the Musikverein in Vienna, and the Berlin Konzerthaus.

Solek was the first student in the Krakow Academy of Music’s World Music faculty, and came out of it 13 years later with two Master’s degrees, in classical cello and world knee fiddles. She is the first musician in the world to hold a Master’s degree in suka from Bilgoray and plock fiddle, which are unique, traditional Polish instruments from the 17th  century.

Solek did not only excel in classical cello in Poland and Europe. Her curiosity and drive led her to explore lots of other music and collaborate with many fine musicians throughout Europe. In her words,

“I collaborated on jazz projects such as 'Chord Nation' and 'Progressive Baroque'' by Nikola Kolodziejczyk, theatre projects alongside the Gardzienice Theater, and film and pop repertoires," said Solek.

"I performed all over Europe, in Egypt, Azerbaijan, Russia, China, Morocco, and Pakistan, and collaborated on fusion between Polish and Middle Eastern music. I was featured on an album Poland-Pakistan with several leading Pakistani musicians," she explained.

“In 2012, I started playing with the Same Suki folk band which won the New Tradition Festival in Poland and the main prize at the Dragon Folk Fest in Poznan. In 2013 I performed with Karolina Cicha at the New Tradition Festival, winning first place and the audience favourite award.

“I founded the knee fiddle duo "InFidelis'' which won second prize at "Nowa Tradycja Festival" and "Mikolajki Folkowe" and our "Projekt Kolberg" CD got 5 stars in Songlines Magazine. I am the winner of several awards and grants including a grant from the Ministry of Culture of Poland to record a traditional Polish CD, the Fryderyk (Polish "Juno' Award) award for the best debut jazz album of the year (2015), and the best jazz album of the year with Nikola Kolodziejczyk (2016).”

Oh yes, and she has also played on a computer game soundtrack, Witcher Tales.

And then, she moved to Orillia. Since moving here, Solek has not rested on her laurels in the slightest. She joined the traditional Polish band Polky, playing some of her traditional instruments and singing.

She is the principal cellist in the Richmond Hill Philharmonic Orchestra, and has performed with most of our performing arts organizations in the area, including The Cellar Singers, Orillia Vocal Ensemble, and Moskitto Bar at the Mariposa Folk Festival. She has also performed with Blair Bailey, Dr. Draw and the Canadian Arabic Orchestra.

Solek is also a music teacher with the Orillia Music Centre, housed in St. Paul’s Centre in Orillia. She teaches cello and piano, and yes, there is room for some more students if you would like to join her studio.

Of course, the pandemic has changed Solek's world and plans for now, but she continues teaching virtually and has founded a new band, Medusa, as well as applying for some grants to get some projects going. She also won the Emerging Artist Award in the 2020 Orillia Regional Arts and Heritage Awards in 2020, a nice nod from her adopted town.

She also hopes, in her own words, “to start a project based on the original and old melodies from the Orillia region. I feel strongly connected to the root music-my instruments were forgotten for many years and I am bringing them back to life again, and I want to do the same with melodies from this region," she said. 

"I am hoping to combine that with videos from the region too, because the Orillia region is full of beauty and I would love to include that in my work and share that beauty with the rest of the world.

“I love photography and I already recorded some videos, but I am hoping to collaborate with professional photographers/videomakers from Orillia," she explained.

“I hope that I will be able to play live, in person concerts, create live music, meet other musicians, artists, people and bring some good energy and hope to everyone in these challenging times. We need arts and music more than ever because music has this power to heal, to lift the spirit, to bring hope, love, and joy and that’s what we need now.”

Amen to that! Thanks for coming to Orillia and sharing your immense talent with all of us.

In other arts news, local musician Zain Campbell’s official video for “Fences” dropped last week. An incredible tribute to his friend and mentor, Jake Beers, who passed away just over a year ago, the video was filmed in Orillia and directed by Jubrillent. It’s haunting, beautiful and full of genuine emotion and regret, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can find it here.

And lastly, I wanted to mention that local charity, Dress for Success Orillia and Barrie, is hosting its annual Power of the Purse fundraiser, virtually this year, on January 30. Registration is FREE and the event is hosted by Dale and Charlie from Kool FM. It features Barrie comedian Andrew Murray (who is HILARIOUS), local musician Tabitha Johnson, who is currently studying classical piano at the Manhattan School of Music, and Layne, The Auctionista.

There are many wonderful events and purses to bid on, both live and silent auctions, and it should just be a really fun night. To sign up, for free, click here.

Enjoy the rest of the week, and stay home and stay safe please!

If you would like to be in this column, email before Tuesday at noon.