Go, go, go to the OPO! ~ Arpita Ghosal



Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.

OPO Carlos

The Ontario Pops Orchestra, led by conductor and musical director Carlos Bastidas; photo courtesy of Ontario Pops Orchestra

November 28 will be a be a history-making day for the Ontario Pops Orchestra: their first performance.


What began as a glimmer to bring together experienced musicians from across the Toronto-area to play for the joy of it has since developed into a living, breathing orchestra, whose debut is just a day away. No doubt, founder and musical director Carlos Bastidas, who conceived and nurtures this “baby” must feel like a proud yet anxious parent.

We caught up with Bastidas and the Ontario Pops Orchestra (OPO) at one of their Monday-night rehearsals. They rehearse in a quaint church in northwest Toronto, and the busy-ness was palpable before we entered the building. The clock was approaching rehearsal time, and the usually quiet residential street became bordered as musicians pulled up in their cars. One-by-one, they streamed in to the rehearsal hall, instrument in one hand, and music stand in the other.

Photo courtesy of Ontario Pops Orchestra

Photo courtesy of Ontario Pops Orchestra

The orderly bustle continued inside, with musicians setting up, warming up and tuning their instruments. As they placed themselves into their sections, Conductor Bastidas circulated among them, consulting, answering questions, and conferring with sections. At 7 pm, with one stroke of his baton, a hush fell and music swelled.

Whether it was the stunning acoustics or the gripping pieces, I can’t say . . . but the atmosphere became almost hypnotic. What I intended to be an hour-long visit to gather information for this article turned into a much longer stay. It seemed unnatural to leave that space, filled with the unified sound of this volunteer orchestra…only to venture out into the cold November night for the long drive home.

Photo courtesy of Ontario Pops Orchestra

Photo courtesy of Ontario Pops Orchestra

“There is a lovely atmosphere when all the members are together,” acknowledges Dea Saldanha, one of two youth violinists in the OPO. Having played in an orchestra in the UK, she wanted to join one here in Toronto, in order to put her musical skills to use beyond her lessons. For her, the most rewarding aspect of being an orchestra member is finally “understanding” the music: “You are not worrying about hitting that note. You are enjoying the music as you play it.” Prior to reaching this point, she avers, the complexity of the music itself can be daunting.”I have never played anything to this level before,” admitted Dea. “But once I practiced, and I got used to the way things worked in the orchestra, it was fine.”

The OPO welcomes artists of all ages. Though membership requires an audition process, Bastidas’ mandate–and the inherent good will of the OPO– unite to welcome as many dedicated musicians as possible. This camaraderie — and the genial atmosphere it promotes — appeal to Dea: “We all get along well and will have our share of jokes with our conductor. When people first look at us, they’re not likely to spot two kids in the rows. But when you look closely, you’ll see many different ages and personalities that make up our orchestra. At first, the experience of playing with all these various ages can be daunting, but when you spend time and play with them, it’s wonderful!”

Photos courtesy of Ontario Pops Orchestra

Photos courtesy of Ontario Pops Orchestra

What also distinguishes the OPO is the sheer variety of music it performs, ranging from Star Wars to “William Tell”…from Carmen to Adele. Nothing stodgy or staid here! Dea’s fellow violinist Jeannie Chung is a teacher by day, musician by night and a Sesaya faculty member. A classically-trained violinist since childhood, she had been looking for an outlet for her skills when a chance conversation with a friend revealed information about the OPO. Though she admits to grappling with John Williams’ intricate film scores, her efforts to master them are well worth it. What’s more, the blend of classical and contemporary music in Saturday’s performance offers opportunities for youth to experience orchestral music and its instruments in a fun, interactive way: “Concerts such as ours, that offer familiar tunes and popular film music, are a great way to connect youth in the community.” She predicts that Saturday’s audience will connect to the music that the OPO will play, and will “leave the concert feeling energized. When else would you get the chance to see 70-100 musicians and all the different instruments at once?”

Dea echoes Jeannie’s sentiments: “Our orchestra produces a brilliant sound, and it will bring shivers down your spine to hear the music, so this is the place to be. . . Our members have worked hard, and it will be exhilarating for others to hear what we have prepared for. This will be a good, no…an amazing performance as well as an experience!”

Both Dea and Jeannie hope for a large turnout on Saturday. However, for Bastidas, it’s more than just a debut. The fact that “I Dreamed a Dream” is on the program is prophetic . . . as his dream of this orchestra is about to become real. Beyond this concert, he believes that over the next few years, the OPO will grow from a volunteer orchestra into a professional offering, all with the help of musicians, businesses, and communities around Ontario. His ultimate dream for his “baby”? “The orchestra will perform in these communities throughout the summer months, bringing your favourites to local venues and the joy of music for everyone to learn and share culture.”

Judging by my experience at their rehearsal, it will be hard for artists and audience alike to leave after the last concert note has been played.

Photo courtesy of Ontario Pops Orchestra

Photo courtesy of Ontario Pops Orchestra

What: “Welcome to the Pops” Concert Highlights

  1. “William Tell Overture” (Theme music for the Lone Ranger) by Rossini
  2. “Skyfall” by Adele (featuring vocals by Shannon Butcher)
  3. “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables (featuring vocals by Stephanie Vega)
  4. “Habanera” from Carmen by Bizet (featuring vocals by Marianne Zin)
  5. A Tribute to John Williams: Themes from the films Star Wars, Jaws, Superman, Harry Potter, Raiders of the Lost Arc and E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
  6. Beethoven’s Symphony #5, 1st movement

When: Saturday November 28, 2015, 8:00 pm

Where: Humber Valley United Church, 76 Anglesey Blvd, Toronto, ON

FYI: ontariopopsorchestra.com or 416-231-2263

© 2015 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

Posted in Interviews, Theatre and tagged , , , , , .


  1. It is going to be an amazing night at the Ontariopops Orchestra concert. My daughter Dea is so excited about her entire experience with the orchestra.
    I think the balance in performing pop and classical music kept our thirteen year old engaged. Although Dea partakes formal training in the piano and violin, she enjoys playing popular tunes and making her own formulations.
    The atmosphere at the orchestra is friendly and relaxed, yet focused and dedicated to music. There seems to be a harmony in the different ages and talents.
    Our gratitude to Mr. Carlos Bastidas to offer children like Dea an opportunity to enjoy and share their love and talent for music.

    • Thank you for your comment, sharing your enthusiasm for the OPO and tonight’s inaugural concert. Looking forward to hearing Dea and all the musicians tonight!

Comments are closed.