Latest sad note at Laurentian: Northern Ontario university cuts its music program

Students and faculty are in despair at the loss of the four-year music program at Laurentian University, with department chair Yoko Hirota saying it took more than 20 years to build, and students and faculty contributed to the northern Ontario arts scene.

'To lose this program here in Sudbury is a huge, huge mistake,' says department chair

Yoko Hirota is losing her job as chair of Laurentian University's music department. The four-year program is the latest casualty as the Sudbury, Ont., school restructures. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

The music program at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. has been cut — the latest casualty as the Sudbury school restructures.

The program was built over more than 20 years, and contributed far more to the arts community than its small size might have suggested, said department chair Yoko Hirota.

"They just brutally cut everything," she said.

Hirota and her husband, composer and fellow professor Robert Lemay, will lose their jobs.

She's a trained concert pianist and plans to return to her artistic career.

"I think they should have left at least a minor in music, which is just a small portion of the music program, at least, so that they can rebuild in a couple of years back to major when the financial crisis has gone," said Hirota. 

"To lose this program here in Sudbury is a huge, huge mistake." 

Laurentian began cutting staff and programs earlier this month. The moves have put the university under intense criticism as it manoeuvres the insolvency process under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), which allows an organization to operate while working to deal with its financial problems.

Students and instructors in Laurentian's music program — which covers theory, history, and classical or jazz performance — have played an important role in entertainment in the North.

"We are the hub of the North and also the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra," said Hirota.

"Our students and faculty members play for the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra, Jazz Festival, our jazz instructor Alan Walsh is a key person for the jazz festival, and our students play in that festival."

Rebecca Simser will graduate with a bachelor of music degree from Laurentian this year, and has one more year to finish her bachelor of education, which she hopes to do at the school. (Supplied by Rebecca Simser)

Rebecca Simser, who's from Toronto, could have enrolled in a big university to study music.

It was the small classes and the one-on-one experiences that I got with my professors that really made me want to go to Laurentian.- Rebecca Simser, music program student

"But it was the small classes and the one-on-one experiences that I got with my professors that really made me want to go to Laurentian," the voice major said.

Simser will graduate from the bachelor of music program this year, and is looking at options to complete her bachelor of education.

She's hopeful it can be completed at Laurentian.

"I'm constantly checking my emails to see if there's any updates because the information that we get is very far and few between, and it's not very in-depth information."

But Simser is concerned for the friends she's made on campus.

"A lot of my peers are so worried and they're very confused, because no information is really being shared."

Helping navigate transfers

Hirota is trying to ensure the students will be able to finish their music degrees at other institutions.

She said an agreement is being hammered out with Ottawa's Carleton University, where Laurentian students could transfer.

"I'm really grateful that all my colleagues at the other institutions are really reaching out to me and helping our students," said Hirota.

Her other worry is the department's expensive instruments will be liquidated.

"That's going to break my heart, definitely.

"If we lose them we cannot rebuild the music program here at Laurentian, or here in Sudbury," she said. 

"We worked so hard to buy a grand piano. There were also donations from people. Each upright piano would cost $10,000 and a grand piano would cost $30,000.

"Losing this music program in the North, that's the biggest mistake that I just cannot digest right now."


  • A previous version of this story stated that Laurentian's music program was the only four-year music program in northern Ontario. In fact, Lakehead University in Thunder Bay also offers a four-year music program.
    Apr 22, 2021 2:21 PM ET

With files from Markus Schwabe and Kate Rutherford