For a decade, he was the municipal solicitor for the City of Flin Flon. Since 2005, he has sat as chief administrative officer for the city.
To Mark Kolt, however, his 21 years in the community has been charmed and musical.
Many know Kolt as the co-founder – with wife Crystal – of the Flin Flon Community Choir, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2016.
Through that organization, Kolt’s talent as a songwriter and playwright were brought forward with productions such as Bombertown in 1999 and Three Brides for Kasos in 2005.
Since then, he’s been writing and arranging music as the bandleader for Johnny’s Social Club, and with the community choir and the Borealis
“I have always enjoyed music in some fashion,” Kolt says. “I’m not the sort of person who is so amazingly talented that they don’t have to work at it. I didn’t come out of the womb composing music, but I hummed tunes as a kid and that sort of thing, and always liked the idea of writing music and performing things. I’ve been very blessed to have had the opportunity to do a lot of that.”
Like many artists, Kolt found his love of music is based in the family values passed down from generation to generation. Both sides of his family had a hand in the arts. His father’s sister was a classically trained pianist and nearly earned a scholarship in England, which was exceptional considering the Kolts were a family living in a poor section of Winnipeg at the time.
Meanwhile, an aunt on his mother’s side played piano for fun. She would simply pull music out of books and try to figure it out, making mistakes along the way and learning from them. Kolt is especially fond of his childhood memories of sitting alongside her as she played.
“Family [influence] was huge and I think the family is a big thing for most people,” he says. “To some extent, it could be a gene pool thing, or just a question of families investing and reinvesting in that sort of thing over a period of generations.”
Both Kolt’s mother’s and his father’s family placed a heavy emphasis on the arts when he was a youth. His grandmother was a painter with some provincial recognition. She had work shown in the Manitoba Art Gallery.
“Art seemed like something worth investing time in,” he says. “For some families, the emphasis is on sports or various other pursuits. In ours, the arts and reading was always a big thing. I did a lot of reading as a youth, and the reading supported the imagination, which influences the literary side of songwriting.”
After graduating from the University of Manitoba with a bachelor of music degree, Kolt worked from 1981 to 1992 as a pianist with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. He returned to school to study law and believed he’d have to leave music behind as he moved toward a new career.
“But I’ve found I’ve been able to do both in Flin Flon, and I’m really grateful for that opportunity,” he says.
After helping to launch the Flin Flon Community Choir, Kolt realized how expensive obtaining the rights to perform stage musicals are, so he decided to write one of his own.
He studied the structure of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a musical the choir had performed in 1997. Through that, he developed Bombertown. The play is a love story set during the Flin Flon Bomber hockey club’s 1957 Memorial Cup victory.
“As a teen, I was doing some songwriting, mostly in French, and as a 20- and 30-something, I began writing songs in a church-music context,” Kolt says. “When we got to Flin Flon, a lot of the music we needed for the community choir was in musical theatre and it cost a lot of money to rent pieces, so I thought I’d save everybody a lot of money and write a piece of my own… [Bombertown] follows the conventions of most historical romances, where you have an event that happened in hand and you work fictional characters into it.”
The production was a hit in Flin Flon. Kolt believes about half of the city’s 7,000 residents at that time saw the play.
Two years later, Kolt was among about two dozen choir members who travelled to New York City to perform in a mass choir concert at Carnegie Hall. This is where he met Elias Kulukundis, a Greek immigrant to America with a large international shipping business. Kulukundis wrote in his spare time to keep his mind off of work.
The pair collaborated on Kulukundis’s Three Brides for Kasos, with Kulukundis writing the play and lyrics while Kolt composed the music. The plot tells the story of a doctor in the late-1800s living on the Greek island of Kasos who is engaged to two women on the same day. The musical was performed in Flin Flon, then the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in 2005.
“It was the second best attended play at the festival,” Kolt says. “It was a really cool adventure that reflected Elias’s Greek culture.”
In the past decade, Kolt has found it difficult to find the time to write another musical with his responsibilities as the chief administrative officer for the City of Flin Flon. He has written a few songs over the years, but primarily focuses on writing and arranging for Johnny’s Social Club’s house band and the community choir.
“The social club really took off a couple of years ago. We have a new show every month and we’ve premiered more than 200 songs there,” he says. “It’s like a mini-university of sorts for all the people involved in that. Instrumentally, we run with the same people as a house band and bring in different singers to perform the music they choose. It’s a great experience. You get to cut your teeth on a whole bunch of material. Someone has said we’re like Celine Dion; we have one venue we work in and the people come to us.”
As far as any further accomplishments he has in mind, Kolt would like to gain greater notoriety for the writing he has completed for the choirs he plays with. They are currently working on a recording of “Star of Bethlehem” he arranged for the Borealis Chamber Choir and another number about the story of the Virgin Mary learning that she was with child. Kolt is particularly proud of this song.
“The Qur’an also has a story about Mary’s annunciation, so I’ve worked in both the Biblical account and the account from the Qur’an,” he says, noting that the performance of the song has a solo vocalist singing the Qur’anic portion, while the chorus sings the Biblical.
“That’s a piece I’m excited about in terms of its theme because this is a world where so many seem to have forgotten that religions like Islam and Christianity share a whole lot of history. Yet they are currently being used as tools of division. This little piece can help us get back to our roots and learn to work together. The two cultures don’t necessarily have to be at odds.”
Although he says obtaining notoriety outside of Flin Flon would be “wonderful,” Kolt does not base either the success of his musical career or his happiness on provincial or national fame. All of his work in Flin Flon has been rewarding enough.
“I have a few pieces that deserve wider attention and we’re taking steps for ‘Star of Bethlehem’ and the Annunciation piece to get more. I hope that sort of breakthrough happens,” he says. “If it doesn’t, I’ve had a very good life and with no complaints. I’ve been able to do music at a very high level involving my own creativity while working with people with various skills and abilities. I take some pride in that. Anything else is gravy at this point.”