'Taking the music to the people': Gordon Gerrard brings Regina symphony outside auditorium walls
Regina Symphony Orchestra conductor Gordon Gerrard takes inclusive approach to classical music
When you picture a symphony conductor, do you imagine a silent (perhaps sombre) maestro stepping on stage, indifferent to a hushed audience, directing a symphony with an intense, autocratic power?
You're probably not alone if you do, according to Gordon Gerrard. The Regina Symphony Orchestra's Music Director said the popular misconception of conductors continues to endure, as does an accompanying dismissive attitude toward classical music in general.
He's working hard to change this.
"People make the assumption that orchestra concerts are just for a certain type of person, with a certain type of education, and even people who wear a certain type of thing to the concert," said Gerrard.
Gerrard takes time before RSO performances to greet the audience, perhaps saying a few words about the music. According to him, it's part of a welcome shift in the role of a conductor from impersonal and hidden to "public-facing" and welcoming.
I want people to feel that we are here and we're coming to you.- Gordon Gerrard
"We're really trying to broaden our reach and include more people in what I think is a life-changing and life-affirming art form," he said. "To realize that some people assume, [classical music] is not for them, is disappointing to me. And it's not on them to change, it's on us to change that."
For the love of 'playing music'
Gerrard fell in love with the piano as a seven-year-old in Rivers, Manitoba.
"There's something that just grabs you inside and I remember, as a kid, just getting carried away in this amazing music and exploring what that felt like and the way that it made me feel," he said. "And when I got a little bit older, realizing you can make other people feel that way by playing music."
Despite his modern approach to classical music, he followed an "old school" path to becoming a conductor, working his way up through the ranks.
After getting his first degree in solo piano at the University of Manitoba, Gerrard began playing for singers during rehearsals.
"The synergy of creating this music together was something that really started to grab hold of me, so, from there I started to specialize in vocals and operatic repertoire and it was from there that I started conducting."
Gerrard said he first tried his hand at conducting at age 21. At the time he was in an operatic training program in Edmonton, AB.
Since then, his work has seen him in various roles, including Associate Conductor of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Resident Conductor and Repetiteur for Calgary Opera, Assistant Conductor for several productions at Opera Lyra Ottawa and guest conductor for Opera McGill.
In 2016, Gerrard was appointed 15th Music Director of the Regina Symphony Orchestra. He has since received acclaim for his innovative approach to presenting classical music and was a 2017 CBC Saskatchewan Future 40 finalist.
Classical music as a community resource
The desire to share music with as many people as possible is at the heart of Gerrard's approach.
"We're here as an orchestra to serve this community, as a resource to this community," he said. "I want people to feel that we are here and we're coming to you."
Gerrard said one of the barriers that exists for people is the physical place itself (usually an auditorium).
In addition to the RSO's nine educational and outreach programs, Gerrard also points to its new, annual festival Forward Currents as a real way he and his team are "taking the music to the people rather than asking them to come to us."
The first edition, Listen and Hear: Towards Prairie Reconciliation, was launched in 2018. Gerrard said the RSO's goal is to choose an issue of social relevance to the community and build musical programming around it. In 2019, the festival will explore mental health.
"We're trying to take a new approach, an approach that people don't necessarily assume the orchestra is thinking about," he said.
Do you know someone like Gordon Gerrard who is working to make positive change in their field? Nominate them to be a CBC Saskatchewan Future 40 finalist today.