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(Alissa Zilber / The McGill Tribune)

Rethinking classical music at McGill

Arts & Entertainment/Music by

Classical music doesn’t seem to get much popular attention these days, but that doesn’t mean that young people aren’t interested. McGill students of all faculties and majors have been seeking out alternative groups to channel their classical music creativity.  

At McGill, classical music is popular among music majors due to the variety of faculty choirs and orchestras available to Schulich students. However, there are still many non-music students with an appreciation for the genre. These students may have a musical background, but many choose to opt out of the music faculty’s ensembles due to their highly competitive nature and restricted rehearsal times. Clubs such as the Symphonic Band, Les Muses Chorale, and McGill Choral Society offer a much more relaxed approach while still appealing to amateur classical music lovers. 

“When I was in grade seven, my art teacher […] had us list our instruments [in a scale], like which ones we wanted to play. And I picked euphonium on the list because the name sounded cool, I [didn’t even know] what it looked like,” said Georgia Douglas, U0 Science and euphonium player in McGill’s Symphonic Band. 

But that seemingly random decision developed into a love for both classical music and the instrument,   as she’s played both euphonium and horns in high school and joined the Youth Orchestra in Toronto. Douglas brought her euphonium to McGill from her hometown Toronto, despite misgivings from teachers and friends; her passion for music led her to audition for the Symphonic Band.

“We’re playing ‘Second Suiteby Holst right now,” said Douglas. “I love classical music, [especially] Romantic period stuff. I think Holst is included in that. He’s probably one of my favourites, like the ‘Planets’ [Holst’s 1914 orchestral suite].”

Another club that attracts non-Schulich classical music lovers is Les Muses Chorale, a women’s chorale ensemble conducted by Xavier Broussard-Ménard. Diana Little, U2 English and the president of Les Muses, spoke of their predominantly classical repertoire. 

“Right now, we’re doing a lot of Russian […] romantic and contemporary music,” she said. “We’re doing a whole set by Rachmaninoff, his ‘Six Choruses,’ which is [like] the one big thing that we do every semester. We’re also doing some Tchaikovsky, Poulenc, Brahms.”

Unlike the McGill Chorale Society, Les Muses is known for its intimate size of 25 singers, as well as being accessible for francophones. 

“A good portion of what we sing is in French,” said Little. “Our conductor is French-Canadian, so it’s really important that a lot of our program is in French to incorporate the heritage of the city. We also participate a lot in the choral community in Montreal, so there are a lot of other choirs that we collaborate with.”

For Little, what attracted her to Les Muses was the style of music they offered, as she wasn’t interested in the contemporary styles played by most a capella groups on campus.

“Most a capella groups on campus are very flashy, but that wasn’t what I was looking for. I knew that I wanted to do a classical ensemble,” she explained. 

At her Toronto high school, Little was a vocal major in the arts program. Her classes focused on singing in choirs such as Toronto Children’s Choir. At McGill, she hoped to continue with her musical interests but also meet like-minded people, a sentiment echoed by Douglas. 

“I want, like, music friends,” said Douglas. “In high school, my main group of friends were all in band together [….] The band I’m in now is all non-music students, so it’s nice that we have music in common even though we’re all in [different programs].”

Unlike Les Muses, Symphonic Band Club and McGill Choral Society do not hold auditions, making them even more accessible to the rest of the student body. Timothy Sung, U0 Management and concert manager for the McGill Choral Society, explained how important it is to make classical music more accessible. 

“I think it’s something that everyone should be able to enjoy, not just people who’ve been trained in music,” he said. 

Sung is also a part of McGill’s Classical Music Club, although MCMC is less focussed on performing, but rather attending concerts and appreciating music in general. 

For Sung, his favourite composer is easy to name. “I really like Bach. I like the angst in his music,” he said.  

Interest in classical music isn’t always conspicuous, but the culture at McGill is alive and well. Clubs across campus keep the lesser-known joys of Bach, Copland, and Poulenc in the hearts of minds of students and enthusiasts alike. 

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