In April 2016, the Victoria Conservatory of Music [VCM] satellite facility moved into the Westhills neighbourhood on the West Shore. Since then the staff has been dedicated to serving children, families and adults in our community with classes in a variety of disciplines including piano, strings, brass, wind, voice, jazz, percussion, composition, theory, and music therapy each taught by a highly respected and acclaimed faculty—many of whom are world-renowned performers.
I’ve spoken to several of the VCM Westhills staff and parents. All shared an unmistakable appreciation for the ‘magic of music’ that is now a part of their lives. The following interview with Stephen Green, Dean at VCM is a case in point. It’s hard to miss the excitement Stephen exudes as a participant “in a place where music [is] being brought to life every day.” Join us for our lively conversation about love, passion and music!
Q: How has the love of music influenced your life?
A: You’ve heard the saying: music is not a living, it’s a way of life. Well, that includes me. Music is my life! The great thing about it for me—even though my position now is primarily administrative—music is around me all the time and I have the opportunity to participate in it. Music is a part of my family life. All my children are musicians and my wife enjoys it, too. I can’t imagine a day without it!
And music fuels romance! It’s there for when love starts and there for when it ends! It’s basically an essential ingredient for any occasion. Music is there to support any emotion.
Q: When I was teaching, I used to tell children in my art classes, “If you can see, you can draw.” What would you say to students about music?
A: I’d say a person doesn’t have to see themselves as artistic or musical to make music. Making music, technically speaking, is the organization of sound. So, if you can make a sound of any kind and have the ability to organize, you can make music.
Q: What were your musical influences growing up?
A: It began in elementary school. Suzuki violin in kindergarten, Orff instruments, singing in choirs, plays and band programs. Because I lived in a
rural area outside Toronto growing up, I didn’t really have much experience with live music beyond that. My first instrument was a very old piano. Eventually I had enough courage and money to journey to Toronto and take lessons at the Royal Conservatory of Music, where I started playing the viola, too. Once I completed my studies and my degrees in Salzburg, Austria, I was extremely fortunate, as a young, budding Canadian conductor in Europe, to land a position as Opera Chorus Director and Conductor at the Opera in Salzburg. So, I guess my path was inspired through exposure to the different types of music at school. It awakened an interest in me and all I did was follow it.
On second thought, I would say music has been more than an ‘interest’ actually. It’s been a love affair. That’s what it is. My life has been a continuous love affair with music.
Q: You are blessed, Stephen! Did you grow up listening to any particular type of music?
A: Well, my parents had a lot of old records they used to play all the time. A lot of Frank Sinatra. My first live, musical experience was in Toronto’s Massey Hall for a production of ‘The Barber of Seville’. That was the first time I was ever exposed to what opera was—and I actually hated it. But then, oddly enough, it’s one of the first operas I ended up conducting later on!
Q: When school boards budgets get squeezed, it seems at times that the Arts get cut in some way. What is it that school boards are missing if they make decisions like that?
A: It’s part of an older mindset, I think. Music and the Arts are not considered core subjects in school as are reading, writing and arithmetic. There’s plenty of research on the benefits of keeping the Arts. It really does impact the academic ability of students, their ability to focus, their spatial thinking, their emotional and cognitive development.
I want to congratulate the Sooke School District #62. Thanks to their Superintendent, Jim Cambridge, they implemented a policy about 4 years ago to include music in every elementary school. VCM works with these West Shore schools and we really see a difference. That’s the kind of thing other school districts need to see.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who’s considering a musical career?
A: That’s a question that often comes up in VCM’s post-secondary ‘Diploma in Music Performance’ program delivered through a 45-year-old partnership with Camosun College.
The music industry has changed enormously from how it was even ten years ago. Anyone considering a career in music needs to look beyond what’s being offered in schools. There are so many career opportunities out there that involve music: recording, producing, legal, distribution. And, of course, it’s important that we actually have excellent music teachers for the future. Not everyone has to be a performer.
Since 2014, VCM has broadened its perspective through the successful launch of the ‘Chwyl Family School of Contemporary Music’ that embraces popular-contemporary genres, including folk, jazz, indie, funk, soul, R and B, and rock. That makes a big difference for students who are coming to study music as a career. They are sitting in the same classroom with students interested in music spanning many different genres: be it as an aspiring opera singer, rock star, or jazz pianist. They learn how to collaborate. These days, collaboration is the key—and a mind open to possibilities and an appreciation for all types of music.
We did a few recording projects here last year. One of the groups was from our Rock Band program who had written a song and wanted to record it. Another group was involved in classical music recording. When these two groups came together, the idea came up to enhance the recording of rock music with a classical quartet. The end result was thrilling. It made a very big difference in the sound of the recording. The students were ecstatic at how successfully they had collaborated with each other.
Q: Generally, what do you think the future looks like for musicians today? Is there growth in this field?
A: There is. I think the key thing there is to resist monopolization. The indie movement is probably one of the best catalysts that has come along to
influence the music industry and turn the focus back on to the individual. Nothing against the big music industry players, but it’s very important to remember that music starts with the individual. Technology today has made it possible for individuals to grow a successful career through artistic collaboration, crowd-funding for recording projects, concerts, tours, and low-cost promotion through social media.
Q: In your opinion, what would it take to establish the West Shore as a community known for its commitment to music and arts?
A: Basically, it would start with a commitment to the Arts at all the levels of government. It doesn’t have to be put on a pedestal; it just needs to be given equal treatment. Right now, the West Shore is known more for its interest in sports—which is great; it’s good for health. Yet the Arts have many health benefits too, and can play an important role in our community’s well being and culture.
Having said that, VCM wouldn’t be here in this new Westhills location without the generous support of local businesses and philanthropic individuals. This shows that there is community commitment on the West Shore for the Arts and we are already moving in the right direction. For example, the development of a performance hall on the West Shore has been a topic of discussion for some time. Although progress might seem very slow, I am confident that it will happen in the near future. It’s not a matter of ‘if ’ any more, it’s a matter of ‘when’. Also, take a look at the two new high schools that were built recently [Belmont and Royal Bay]. Performance venues were purpose-built into the schools, both offering great spaces for professional-level productions.
To engage in the Arts takes courage because it involves one’s emotions and engagement with others on an emotional level. That can be scary—just like falling in love! And yet, we do that, don’t we, and just hope for the best. So, perhaps on Valentine’s Day this year, take a leap of faith and, as the song says, “Let’s Fall in Love”, but with music!
You’ll be pleasantly surprised. It just might change your life!