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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 17, No. 2 October 2011

Dean McLean’s Four Wishes

by Crystal Chan / October 1, 2011

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Don McLean is back in his home province of Ontario after 20 years in Quebec, the last 10 of which he was the Dean of Music at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music. He stepped into the Dean’s shoes at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music on January 1, 2011.

Don McLean:
Toronto is not at the level it should be in terms of performance and music research. The idea was to come back and see what could be done about that. I came with four things in mind

Develop better collaboration between the Royal Conservatory of Music and the U of T
I taught for both places. I’m a graduate from both. What I’m hoping for is a series of complementary relationships between the two institutions that will allow them to function across a wide range of professional, artistic, educational, and research initiatives. One of the more modest things I’ve just done is offload our U of T box office operations to the RCM. In the current global context of limited resources the need for these kinds of partnerships seems pretty inevitable. But there are no high-level “merger” talks going on at this time. I fully understand the RCM’s need to protect its hard-won independence. At the same time, U of T has one of the most federated structures around— a college system, affiliated hospitals, and so on—which suggests it might not be that difficult over time to find a model that would allow the RCM to remain a pretty autonomous entity yet linked back to the U of T universe. Meanwhile, there is much to be done in both places.

Develop a number of interdisciplinary research initiatives
A big thing for us is a whole variety of activities in music, health and society. Toronto’s very strong in various rehab and clinical research related to music and sound. I’ll give you a couple of examples: I have a number of people doing cochlear implant research here involving hospitals. That’s just one of maybe a dozen areas of health-related research. In the musicology department, for example, there are people doing research on music and violence. So there’s a lot of stuff related to music’s role in society.

Develop professional partnerships
Links to the professional community so far include singers Wendy Nielsen and Dan Taylor coming on board; we’ve begun to put into place a number of partnerships between the Canadian Opera Company and the U of T. The idea is to really build the vocal department.

Space, the final frontier
We’re doing some renovation here and we’re also looking at the planetarium site of the Royal Ontario Museum; the U of T has acquired that site now. There may be several partners involved in building that site but one of them will be the music department. As you know I’m a crazy man; the idea of doing another building project is a big challenge [McLean’s tenure as McGill music dean saw a new building inaugurated in 2005]. There are two different aspects to this: the Faculty of Music was built in 1960-1962. It’s antiquated; there hasn’t been that much by way of renovation.

The MacMillan Theatre has a full fly tower that’s fantastic; it has a huge stage. There isn’t another music school in the country that has access to that. That’s a phenomenal thing. But the theatre itself has all kinds of structural problems. The seating is on the wrong angle; the balcony is not helpful from an acoustic perspective and has bad sight lines. The sound’s a bit dead; it doesn’t resonate. So what I’m doing now, at the planning stage, is working with Marianne McKenna—who did the great Koerner Hall here—and several of her team members [at KPMB Architects]. The objective is: can we significantly renovate the MacMillan to make it the lead opera-training house that it can be? Right now it has about 815 seats. If we do a renovation we want to move to 1,000.

The concert hall here, Walter Hall, also needs some work. One of the things is that you can detect a quite strong subway rumble in there. Fixing that is almost impossible, so we are looking for more modest changes or a new facility that would bring in another medium-sized hall. The question is: is it cheaper to renovate or to build new? If we can upgrade that one then the idea of a new 150-250-seat lecture and recital hall is also possible. Right now a lot of large music classes are being taught elsewhere on the campus.

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