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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 19, No. 3

Manon Lafrance: Backstage with the new director of the Converatoire de Musique de Montreal

by Emilie White / November 1, 2013

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In June 2012, Manon Lafrance welcomed her new role with ease. The new director of the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal feels at home in the office. Her job as a performer with the renowned Canadian Brass and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal has not kept her away from her vocation at the Conservatoire. She has spent most of her life there: she studied at the Conservatoire from the ages of 13 to 27 before becoming a trumpet teacher and serving as the head of the brass section for some fifteen years. It’s easy to see why the role comes naturally to her. Says Lafrance, “I want the Conservatoire to keep its primary mission to train students, and to see our students shine as much as possible on the world’s greatest stages. As a student, I myself had this dream, and I achieved it. And finally, I am the most fulfilled person because I have reached my goal, my dreams, and now I’m in a position to help others.”

She has still managed to make her mark since her arrival. Driven by nostalgia, she wanted to reinstate the Big Band program at the Conservatoire. When she was an adolescent, she experimented with jazz under the direction of leader Nick Ayoub, who has since passed away. Lafrance has seen the Big Band program reborn under the direction of Jean-Nicolas Trottier.

“I think it’s important that students do this type of music, because whatever happens at the Orchestre symphonique, there’s always work in popular music or in the studio. It’s a language that everyone should learn, especially brass players, naturally, because it’s a very, very important component,” she explains.

On the financial side of things – a thorny issue for the Conservatoire – the fundraising event was a resounding success. Lafrance set a modest goal to raise $100,000.

“Tickets were sold out a week before the event,” she says. “We raised $140,000, and that goes directly to helping students: to go and do professional auditions, internships, master classes, and competitions. I’m very proud of that.”

The gala fundraiser was hosted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, spokesperson for the Conservatoire de musique, and Albert Millaire, spokesperson for the Conservatoire d’art dramatique.

She added that the funds would be used to help students buy musical instruments. “We have a very good instrument bank at the Conservatoire, but once students leave the program, they no longer have access and they need some financial assistance,” she says.

Lafrance worries about budget cuts to music programs at secondary schools throughout the province. She hopes to establish partnerships with music schools to remedy the situation.

“We know all too well that music schools are closing quickly with a capital Q,” says Lafrance. “Orchestras and harmonies become a meeting place for youth, and an intellectual and emotional communication is created. It’s a place that brings youth together so that they aren’t loitering in the streets. Making music is good for concentration, it’s pro-social, and it’s good for the emotions. Maintaining music schools is a cause close to my heart.”

“Heartbreaking” is her word for the recent budget cuts, which cancelled $500,000 for music programs in secondary schools in Laval. She remains delicate in her approach and attentive to the needs of teachers and students. She concludes, “I think that I’m doing the best I can in this role; I try to carry out the mission of the Conservatoire.”

Translation: Rebecca Anne Clark


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