Musical milestones

Peter
Peter Jackson
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The musical pair who took the top artist award at the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Awards this weekend are not exactly household names.

They don't play folk music, or pop, jazz or blues - not as a rule, anyway. They don't write their own music. Heck, they're not even from here.

The musical pair who took the top artist award at the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Awards this weekend are not exactly household names.

They don't play folk music, or pop, jazz or blues - not as a rule, anyway. They don't write their own music. Heck, they're not even from here.

And yet, they're more than worthy of the honour.

They are Nancy Dahn and Timothy Steeves, collectively know as Duo Concertante, a husband-and-wife team who perform music for violin and piano.

Their repertoire includes music from many eras, including Classical, Romantic and modern. They have also commissioned several new works from living, breathing composers.

Both are professors at Memorial University's School of Music - Dahn teaches violin and viola; Steeves, piano.

They formed Duo Concertante in 1997 and have since released four albums - the latest, "It Takes Two," in 2009. They have an enviable international reputation and perform abroad frequently.

But one of their most significant legacies, at least in terms of the local music scene, is the founding of the annual Tuckamore Festival in 2001, which attracts top students and visiting artists from across North America for a weeklong celebration of chamber music.

Significant honour

It's significant that these two took top honours on the weekend, not because they're an unusual choice. On the contrary, the award recognizes the increasingly integral role that formal music training and performance plays in the health of the local music scene generally.

Like many music school faculty and students, Steeves and Dahn don't just sit around in an ivory tower grinding out ear-twisting atonal atrocities.

They are out in the community, bringing music to schools and performance venues around the province.

The School of Music, especially under outgoing director Tom Gordon, has striven to shatter perceived barriers between "classical" and popular music, and to collaborate with other artists in the community.

Knight's tale

And when it comes to breaking down barriers, few could match the pioneering efforts of choral director Susan Knight.

Knight achieved a milestone of her own Saturday night in St. John's, when she took to the stage to conduct her children's choir Shalloway for the last time.

Knight recently announced she'd retire from the post she's held since she founded the choir (formerly the Newfoundland Symphony Youth Choir) in 1992. The choir will continue under the reins of Kellie Walsh.

Knight has always taken great pains to define Shalloway as more than just a children's choir. In fact, she refers to the choir as "a cultural agency that expresses itself through choral music." As well as expecting excellence in musicianship, she wanted her choristers to develop "cultural awareness" in their experience with the choir. In its award-winning performances here and abroad, the children of Shalloway have acted as ambassadors for the province and for its culture - a culture that encompasses both a rich folk tradition as well as broader expressions of the human spirit.

It is this melding of the parochial and the universal that's reflected in the biennial Festival 500 international choral festival, which Knight first envisioned and has co-directed since its inauguration in 1997.

On top of all her public accolades, Knight deserves equal credit for her work behind the scenes. Many will remember her intermittent battles with the provincial government throughout the 1990s, when measures were proposed that would water down the standard of music education in the province's schools. Music was often under threat of being squeezed out of the curriculum, of losing its status as a required course or of being regularly taught by untrained instructors.

Knight always felt she was not only grooming future musicians, but future leaders. It's true, the power of music cannot be overstated in its capacity to produce mature, well-rounded individuals.

Intuitively, it's easy to see how music engenders a greater sense of reasoning and discipline, as well as strong community spirit. The potential of music to nurture innate intellectual and emotional growth has even been demonstrated scientifically.

Today, few would question the value of music in the school curriculum. That, in combination with the important role music has always played in Newfoundland tradition, has solidified the province's position as a powerhouse on any variety of musical fronts.

So thanks, Tim, Nancy and Susan, for the role you've played and continue to play - along with so many others - in bringing beautiful music into our lives.

In good and bad times alike, it is one of our most treasured blessings.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's commentary editor. He can be contacted by e-mail at pjackson@thetelegram.com.


Organizations: School of Music

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, North America, St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Gary
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    Thank you Peter, for highlighting the unique and important contribution to our lives made by these three music educators and visionaries. I feel privileged to know all three of these amazing and talented folks and echo your comment In good and bad times alike, it (music) is one of our most treasured blessings. as are these three people.
    And, a small but important correction... it's Shallaway not Shalloway.

  • John Smith
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    We are fortuate to have these people make NL their home.

  • Andrea
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    Peter,
    Thank you for your wonderfully thoughtful article on these three incredible musicians, educators and contributors to Newfoundland and Labrador, its people and its living history... Susan Knight, Nancy Dahn, Tim Steeves. I will be passing this article along near and afar.

  • Gary
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    Thank you Peter, for highlighting the unique and important contribution to our lives made by these three music educators and visionaries. I feel privileged to know all three of these amazing and talented folks and echo your comment In good and bad times alike, it (music) is one of our most treasured blessings. as are these three people.
    And, a small but important correction... it's Shallaway not Shalloway.

  • John Smith
    July 01, 2010 - 20:12

    We are fortuate to have these people make NL their home.

  • Andrea
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    Peter,
    Thank you for your wonderfully thoughtful article on these three incredible musicians, educators and contributors to Newfoundland and Labrador, its people and its living history... Susan Knight, Nancy Dahn, Tim Steeves. I will be passing this article along near and afar.