Tania Miller: Music and Community

Tania Miller (photo credit: Gregg Eligh)On April 3, 2014, supporters of the Victoria Foundation were welcomed to Government House by the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, the Honourable Judith Guichon. Our annual Donor Tea is our way of thanking our many supporters and recognizing the impact that their charitable actions have on our communities, now and for years to come. Tania Miller is Music Director of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. Over the past 11 years, Tania has brought a new dynamism to the Symphony, bringing about innovation and artistic growth. We thank Tania for allowing us to share this moving speech she made at our event, and for her ongoing contribution to the arts in Victoria.

Today I begin with an inspiring story that is being commemorated and honoured in a special performance entitled “Lest We Forget” that will be presented by the Victoria Symphony in the Bay Street Armoury this upcoming October. This commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the onset of World War 1, is one example of the extraordinary support that we are privileged to receive from the Victoria Foundation, and an example of a project that we would otherwise not have the means to present without the support of people like you in this room and the Victoria Foundation.

James Cleland Richardson was a piper in our own Canadian Scottish Regiment during World War 1, and he received a Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry that can be awarded. Richardson was born in Scotland but lived in British Columbia. During a battle in 1916 in Somme France, the company was held up by strong wire and came under intense fire. Piper Richardson obtained permission to play the company “over the top” or out of the trench and as he strode up and down outside the wire playing his pipes, he so inspired the company that they rushed upon the enemies and succeeded in capturing the position. Later he was helping back wounded comrades when he insisted on turning back to recover his pipes which he had left behind. He was never seen again.

Music has an important ability to bring beauty to our lives…

Music has an important ability to bring beauty to our lives, and at the times when we need it most. When words are not able to adequately say what is necessary, music is able to communicate its very essence. When Piper Richardson was able to inspire people who desperately needed to be inspired, he used the power of music. And 100 years later, we, too, use music and the arts to tell our stories, to fuel our thoughts, to inspire our emotions, and to form a community. Through a new commission the Victoria Symphony will tell Piper Richardson’s story, but more importantly through the music, we will bring emotion to the surface and impact those who hear its message. We will find a way to mourn and feel and remember. Music and the arts change us. They make our experiences cherished, and bring important beauty to our lives.

Last season, the Victoria Foundation supported another Victoria Symphony initiative – to celebrate our Chinese heritage and the heritage of our city through a celebration of Victoria’s historical Chinatown, the oldest Chinatown in Canada. This project represents to me again the timeless message of music. History, (transported through notes), travels though hundreds of years and still makes its way to our ears. We listen and we understand in an instant – people…cultures…eras…important moments. This project was not only about the music and a new commission of composer Chan Ka Nin, but I think it represents one of the key priorities of the Victoria Foundation, as well as the Victoria Symphony, and that is “to bring our community together”. Together with the Victoria Foundation and supporters, we bring the community together through the arts. And that is one of the greatest inspirations to me in the various projects that we have been doing – is in working with the many wonderful arts organizations in this city to create meaningful and impactful community events together. As a result we are all richer for our collaboration. Together we create a beautiful tapestry which is our community.

I believe that a city is made great by the quality of its arts and the beauty of its people and surroundings.

I believe that a city is made great by the quality of its arts and the beauty of its people and surroundings. And, because of people like you in this room, we have a great city to be proud of – a beautiful city yes, and one that understands that the arts bring colour, rhythm, vibrancy, complexity, spontaneity, and passion to this community. And let’s not forget that they bring people together. Symphony Splash brings people together. The opera, the theatre, the museums – they all shape us into a community that is unique, enriched and blessed.

One of the most difficult things that the Symphony or any arts organization does is to create new projects, presentations and concerts. To present music of our time is to capture who we are, what our culture is, and to have something to share with the future. We very much cherish the roots of classical music, and to perform Brahms and Beethoven is an experience that constantly redefines us and inspires us.

But to challenge ourselves to create performances that might reach new audiences, build new bridges within the community, or to connect to images or events that are important to us during our present lives is of the highest of priorities. With each new festival, commission, special project, new format, we are taking a risk, we are expanding our expertise and our reach. Without the support that we have received from the Victoria Foundation or through the Victoria Foundation, we would not be able to realize these important endeavors. In a few weeks, on our season-ending concert, we experience the fourth movement of composer Michael Oesterle’s “New World” Symphony. With this music, Michael has been taking audiences on a journey of what it is like to be a boy immigrating to Canada – his own true story. This is a story of our own time, a story of Canada’s multiculturalism…and a new voice to add to that of Dvorak’s.

…music, and all of the arts, is for everyone…

I believe that music, and all of the arts, is for everyone. I believe that we need to share the preciousness of the arts with children and young people so that they have this special gift for their lives. I believe we need to continue to focus on our programs for children as present day culture tempts them into directions of electronics and chaos, and in a time when music is less supported in the schools. As the 75th anniversary of the Symphony approaches, this is one of our special goals – to expand our programs for children. Presently we reach approximately 7000 children through our education concerts, kids concerts and special programs, but I feel that there is much more to be done.

The beauty that music and the arts brings to our lives is everlasting, it seems. To support an orchestra or an arts organization is an enormous and expensive responsibility, and one that this community takes seriously, I am so very thankful to say. I think you can say that the Victoria Symphony is the fine orchestra that it is, the opera the amazing company that it is, the theatre, ballet, and our museums all strong and vibrant because of the support they get and in return we endeavor to give back to the community something that is beautiful – certainly, something that is precious. But we must never take this gift for granted – neither the gift of the arts, nor the gift of support. We need each other to thrive and to truly make Victoria a magnificent place to call home.

I would like to say thank you to all of the donors in the community who have supported the arts through their funds held at the Victoria Foundation and to the Foundation for allocating some of its discretionary dollars for specific projects. You have made this a beautiful city to live in and I am honoured to be here speaking to you, and to be a part of the cultural fabric of Victoria.