The Ottawa Pops Orchestra, like almost every arts organization in Canada, had to cancel the rest of its performances for 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions started. Just three years old, the OPO’s mission is to connect classical and popular music and bring the orchestral experience to new audiences. They provide educational programming and grants to young musicians in the Ottawa area. Although they cannot perform right now, the OPO wants to continue engaging patrons and other musicians. That’s how the Stories Through Music online series came about.
OPO’s Artistic and Executive Director, Mathieu Roy, says the series evolved organically from a need to do something into a platform for people’s voices. “In the beginning it was just going to be about the music, but as things evolved, with Blackout Tuesday, and all of these discussions related to important social issues, it was important for us to use whatever small platform we have to give a voice to people who needed it.”
The idea is to offer space on the OPO’s website for local musicians and other community members, particularly those from under-prioritized groups, to share their thoughts and feelings about music, accompanied by a curated playlist of songs that have affected their lives and work in some way. A new story and playlist will appear on the website every other week, and Roy says they hope to continue the series even after the pandemic is over.
“It gives us a way to use music to dig into these stories. [The writers can] use the playlist to communicate that message. It’s a two-pronged approach. The music ideally will speak for itself, to see how that music has changed these people’s lives.”
Roy says they started off with a long list of potential subjects, most of whom they knew through their work in the community. “A lot of our audience are first-time orchestra-goers, so it’s important to introduce these folks who are really changing the music scene in Ottawa and beyond. First and foremost, we’re trying to find people who need a voice the most.”
When National Indigenous Peoples’ Day on June 21 was selected as the launch date, musical duo Twin Flames were the ideal choice for the first entry in the series. The next two stories come from Raywat Deonandan, a local epidemiologist, author, and University of Ottawa professor, and city councillor Jeff Leiper, who is a strong proponent of Ottawa’s music scene. Future stories will feature other musicians and people working in the arts and culture sector.
The Stories Through Music will vary in format: sometimes they’ll be an interview (as with Twin Flames), while others will take the form of a first-person essay (as Deonandan and Leiper both did). “They all have such a unique view on things. If we were to restrict it, some of these things would be eclipsed. Our team might not have the expertise to address all the important issues that need to be addressed. It lets their individuality shine through,” says Roy.
The series is a reminder of the importance of music and art even during challenging times, Roy says: “Art is always the first thing to go, but where would we be without it? It’s such an important thing to build a community that can create that, but also consume it. We live better lives because of it.”
You can subscribe to the Stories Through Music newsletter to receive new stories as they are posted, or read them on the OPO’s website.