McGill Conservatory: Letters From the Public

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Following the news that one of Montreal’s largest all-ages music ­education institutions, the McGill Conservatory of Music, would permanently close after the summer of 2022, concerned Montreal citizens banded together to find a solution.

The Save McGill ­Conservatory Facebook discussion group has over 800 members, and their petition (The Conservatory must remain open and active) has over 2,500 signatures. The following is a collection of letters ­written by Conservatory students, their parents and influential ­Canadian musicians who wish to keep the 118-year-old institution alive. They have been edited for clarity and length.

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Student Letters

The jazz combos at the Conservatory have opened my eyes to the possibilities of playing music in a group, something that has quite ­literally changed my life and set me on a different path. It’s sort of shocking to me, actually, how much of an impact the Conservatory ­instructors have had on my life. It seems a terrible shame to take that opportunity away from others.
– Ellen Warkentin

I have studied music my entire life, and at the age of 40 decided to take a sabbatical knowing in my heart that I would return one day to studying music again, as I have done this year. I continued to preach how wonderful it was to be back at such an iconic establishment, only to have it taken away. It makes no sense. It is no exaggeration that music touches everyone, and as a musician and current student of McGill’s music program, I know there is no other place I would rather attend.
– N.K.

Pendant plusieurs années, parfois les dimanches, parfois les jeudis, après mes cours, je rôdais vers les grandes fenêtres du quatrième étage du Conservatoire. Je voyais l’avenue Union éclairée dans la nuit. Dans le chaos de la ville, mon âme était apaisée par la musique que j’avais appris à jouer. Aujourd’hui, j’apprends et j’écoute la musique pour ce même sentiment. Ce goût de la musique m’a été donné par cette ­institution, qui repose dans le socle de la prestigieuse Université McGill. Ce goût prend aujourd’hui une odeur amère. Cette si prestigieuse institution, qui prend fierté en sa diversité culturelle et qui vante son excellence académique, annonce la fermeture de ses portes après la session estivale. Malgré tout, mes souvenirs au Conservatoire de McGill me demeureront chers, puis mon petit diplôme en carton qui en atteste mon passage ne sera pas vaincu lui non plus.
– Arman Sarshoghi

I am 14 years old, and I have been a student of the McGill Conservatory since the age of 3. During the pandemic, I lost so many things, but music was the only thing that made me happy. It was devastating to hear on the news that my journey would simply end; I had so many good memories with my friends and my teacher. Music is the most important thing in my life, and I hope that the McGill Administration sees that their actions harmed hundreds of people who love music. I really hope that they will keep the music program open for kids like me to enjoy.
– Llyr Yan-Ho Redweik-Leung

Parent Letters

My daughter attended the Conservatory from the age of 6 until she was 21 years old, and it was the most wonderful experience for her. Now 31, she still plays her violin and has become a teacher in CÉGEP. (The Conservatory was) great for creating a community and (my daughter) has made friends because of this experience. …Music is a universal instrument (that brings) all cultures together.
– A concerned parent

The McGill Conservatory has reliably provided quality musical ­instruction for our family for the past 15 years. Our three daughters variously studied piano, violin, and guitar from the time they were small until the present. Without the Conservatory, it would have been impossible for us to provide them with the quality of musical education that they were able to enjoy.
– Grant Clark

Mon enfant a commencé son cours de violon (Suzuki) en 2020, une année très difficile pour tous où la covid-19 a empêché les cours en présentiel. Ma fille a dû faire ses leçons à distance avec son prof. Elle a pu surmonter ses difficultés avec beaucoup de soutien de son prof ainsi que d’encouragement de la famille. Nous avons appris la ­mauvaise nouvelle que le Conservatoire fermerait sa porte dans le temps qui vient. C’est injuste ! Pourquoi le fermer ? Et nos enfants ? Décevoir les enfants est un acte inacceptable !
– Nhiem Cong Huyen

My children’s musical development was sparked by Jean Grimard and Marcelo Thys. My son, who studied with Jean in 2013 and switched to piano with Marcelo in 2015, is still studying piano and has added guitar. My daughter, who studied with Marcelo from 2013, ­continues to play piano and just completed a year at a boarding school where she focused on piano performance. Our society needs music now more than ever—music helps us express and understand our lives in a very special way.
– G.T.

My eldest daughter took lessons for many years with Irina Syssoeva and is now an accomplished pianist who will pursue music as a career. The curriculum, group lessons and performances through the Conservatory, under Irina’s guidance, also helped my youngest daughter, who is very shy, develop the confidence to perform in front of others. Both girls are a testament to how important the Conservatory is (when it comes) to shaping lives and instilling a love of artistic expression.
– A concerned mother

Musician Letters

I am a conductor and alumni of the Schulich Music School. I was devastated to read about the closure of the McGill Conservatory (and) take this moment to ask you if any alternative is possible to avoid the complete closure of the school. The McGill Conservatory is part of a very precious ecosystem that ensures the viability of classical musique in Quebec. If there is anything I can do to help as a musician, please let me know.
– Nicolas Ellis, Founder, Artistic Director and Conductor of l’Orchestre de l’Agora

I (taught) for several years (at the Conservatory) until my ­conducting ­career led me to being the Resident Conductor of both the Calgary ­Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. I recently worked at the Opéra National de Paris, and I conduct ­regularly across Canada while keeping my base in ­Montreal. Many ­former students of mine at the Conservatory are leading extraordinary lives in all walks of life (and that those) who wish to enrich their lives through music can no longer do so at McGill is a tragic loss. Please ­reconsider, consult, dream and use the lessons of this situation to ­create an even better program and opportunity than previously existed. I believe in you, I believe in the power of music to enrich our ­society, and I believe both the McGill ­Conservatory and ­Montreal ­deserve leaders who will do whatever it takes to keep the music alive.
– Adam Johnson, former Conductor-in-Residence of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and the OSM

In the city of Vienna, the closing of a row of local music schools has led to misery. Thousands of parents can no longer afford music education, or they have to send their children to remote music schools, putting ­unnecessary obstacles in the way of healthy education. Who really wants to tell their kids that they cannot experience the joy of making music because the community does not provide people with ­affordable possibilities?
– René Staar, Artistic Director of Ensemble Wiener ­Collage; member of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

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