Memorial University has a new chancellor. It’s a funny, anachronistic title — chancellor. Like something out of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
And speaking of choruses, MUN’s new chancellor is a prominent choir director and crusader for music education in this province.
Susan Knight was well-known in education circles throughout the 1990s.
Cabinet ministers certainly knew her well. Whenever she got the slightest whiff of an attempt to water down the province’s school music program, she’d pick up the phone.
She dialed politicians. She dialed the media.
She called anyone who’d listen to her explain why keeping a core music program with professionally trained teachers was critically important to our cultural well-being.
Largely through Knight’s efforts, Newfoundland’s school music program remains intact, and is the envy of most other provinces in this country.
To the general public, however, Knight is best known as founder and recently retired co-director of Shallaway, a top-drawer children’s choir that has gained worldwide accolades.
She is also a founding force behind Festival 500, an international celebration of choral music that invades the capital city every other summer.
Knight likes the word “culture.” She uses it a lot. She is virtually obsessed with sharing this province’s culture with the world, and inviting the world to come experience it in person.
Culture, of course, is a many-faceted thing. Musically, it can mean anything from the accordion in the kitchen to the orchestra in the concert hall.
In Knight’s world, it is all those things and more.
We have a rich tradition of folk music in Newfoundland and Labrador, but we’ve also nurtured a strong classical and jazz presence in recent decades. There is a symbiosis at play, an interaction between tradition, natural talent and formal training.
Sometimes it all fuses together into a memorable night of innovation — like a collaboration last year between Gypsy-style guitarist Duane Andrews and members of the Atlantic String Quartet, among others.
It is these kinds of alliances that Susan Knight loves to nurture and promote. And for that, we are all so much the richer.
Yes, Knight is a woman — the first to be appointed chancellor of MUN. But her appointment brings more than gender equality to this honorary title. She brings to the role a long legacy of cultural pride and musical excellence.
That should be music to anyone’s ears.