A statement from ED Mark Turner

The first thought I had in the moment was that I wouldn’t be able to play piano the same way again.  My life did not flash before my eyes (no pun intended), and time neither stood still nor flew by. And while stories like this are usually told in a moment-by-moment retelling of the event, for me the story is more than a series of events. I cannot instantly recall the initial pain, but I can vividly recall the panic that I’d lost a part of my piano playing ability.  

To be very honest I have been attempting, and failing, to write a note to the SSO community since the attack.  I have wanted to share that I am fully recovered. I’ve wanted to share my thanks for the support and love the community showed to me and my staff whose lives were all changed forever that day.  I’ve wanted to talk about how at first I couldn’t listen to music, but now I rely on music to get through the bad days and the just getting by days. I’ve wanted to talk about the steps we’re taking to give the SSO a safe space.  There’s much I’ve wanted to say, but I haven’t had the words.

On July 31st, I was attacked at the SSO offices by a man who we’d never seen before.  In the middle of a meeting with three of the SSO team, he stabbed me in the eye. Thanks to the quick thinking and giant hearts of my team, I was rushed to hospital and I had the emergency care I needed.  The next few weeks were very difficult, very painful, very emotional, and very draining.  

The bruising, swelling, fractures, and eye complications have all gone, and I have made a 100% physical recovery. I am very grateful to medical team at City Hospital and the Eye Clinic for the care I received that made recovery possible.  

But the psychological effects of being the victim of a violent crime don’t disappear like bruises.  So while the scar on my eye is barely noticable, I’m adjusting to life with scars.

Like many people and, as studies show, nearly all musicians, mental health has always played a role in my life and I have struggled with anxiety most of my adult life.  Whether it’s a musician’s innate emotional connection to their soul or the vulnerability that comes with being a music student, musicians and mental health challenges go hand in hand.  I am very lucky that I don’t have performance related anxiety, and I’m not sure I’ve ever really been nervous to play no matter the size of the audience (though, my teachers Sheila and Penny somehow had the ability to make me question if I’d practiced enough….).  In the mid-2000s I began living with anxiety – it took a long time to understand, and accept, and eventually I was able to manage it. I’ve even given a speech on stage at the SSO while I was in the middle of a full-blown panic attack. More than once.

So new scars are just that – they’re new.  I consider myself very lucky that in my life I can turn with an open heart and open mind and open ears to music.  I am a voracious consumer and maker of music – it’s my life’s work, it’s my refuge, its my passion, it’s my research, it’s what I turn to when I need time and space. But this summer made me grateful that beautiful music exists and that whether its Bach or Aretha, there’s something for every feeling and every scar.

Safety is a must for a workplace – and because of that, the SSO Board of Directors and I made the decision to move the SSO to a new space.  

The shock and fear attached to the attack had impact on the staff, musicians, Book Sale volunteers, and even our patrons.  This isn’t about us running away from what happened, or turning our backs on the friends we’ve made in Riversdale – this decision was solely selfish: we needed to provide the team that brings you the SSO a space where they could feel productive again.  While I was the one left with a physical scar, the mental scarring affected many people. We have been able to do our work, but it is taking a toll on us.  

We’re thrilled to have found a great new space that has a great music room, beautiful offices, and a wonderful warehouse for the Book Sale. We’re grateful to our neighbours and landlord for making Riversdale such a rewarding home.  And we’re affirming our commitment to being an orchestra for all members of our community, and in continuing the work that has been so important to us in our time in Riversdale.

I’m behind on my work – we lost a month, and though I am back to work I still have days where concentration is difficult.  But I am loving being back at work. Our first few concerts of the year have refreshed my pride in the musicians of the SSO, and they’ve given me the energy to make the next steps for the SSO to be a catalyst for exceptional music making in our community.  

The next time you see one of my staff, please tell them how grateful you are that they are doing what they do for music in our town and how brave they were in the face of terrifying circumstances.  

A move is a lot of work and costs a lot of money, so don’t be shy about helping out!  Come to lots of concerts – there is no replacement for the healing power of music. It means a lot to us when you come to our concerts.

And I’m back at the piano.
Tune your heart to brave music.

See you at the symphony,

SSO Executive Director Mark Turner wishes to thank the community, near and far, who reached out in the weeks that followed the unfortunate events of July 31st.

The SSO will be moving its offices during the month of November to 602B 51st Street East.

Share in the Future with Executive Director Mark Turner

Executive Director Mark Turner is away in Rotterdam at Classical:NEXT. In between meeting, collaborating, and learning with his counterparts from across the globe he took a moment to reflect on Share in the Future.

I’ve always been fascinated with the wonderment we experience when hearing live music.  A magic spell that’s cast by artisans and captures the hearts and souls of an audience.  We all sit together, and no matter what our day has held or how much we know about what we’re hearing, in-spite of our differences and because of our ears, we can all fall under the spell.

Even more fascinating is that being spellbound can happen on music you’ve heard 100 times or something you’ve never played before.  It is the truest way that we can all be understood and understand – and because of that live music needs to be fostered and protected and worked at.

As Glenn Gould used to say, music is not a momentary inspiration but rather a life long pursuit of hard work and serenity.  It takes thousands of hours for each concert to come to life so to that the audience can feel the magic.  It’s a labor of practice, research, planning, rehearsing, decision making, perseverance, and a drive to do it.  It takes a lot of time, and a lot of money, and nerves of steal.

But truly, it all comes down to one thing: passion.  The passion of a soloist to suggest a concerto, the passion of our musicians who sacrifice their time for more practice, the passion of producers to take risks and give of their energy, and the passion and audacity of a concert goer who could have stayed home and streamed something.  It takes passion to move us all to the hall for each and every concert – and that is why we can feel the magic.

This year we’re again asking you to make a donation to the SSO before our year end.  The economy is hurting, which means tickets sales are down – it also means that your money is more precious than ever.  So I ask with the knowledge that we are doing everything we can to ensure that your donation to the SSO is put to the best possible use.; whether that’s through investing in our musicians, creating more opportunities for you to come to concerts, or giving our region’s young people a chance for their imagination to collide with live music.

Running an orchestra is difficult work, and while I love my job, it takes a remarkable amount of work from many people – and with four seasons under my belt I can honestly say that some days i feel like I might give up.

But like a musician who is finding one small run of notes nearly impossible, there’s something that keeps us all working towards a remarkable goal – passion.  Eric’s passion for beautiful music, my team’s passion for their work and their orchestra, our musicians’ passion that causes them to need to make music not just listen to it, a subscriber who cannot wait for our next concert.  It defies logic and economics that orchestras still exist and still play music live, but I guarantee you it’s the passion that keeps feeding us to make magic.

So please support your orchestra this May.  Be part of that magic.  And if you’re reading this thinking you that it’s been too long since you’ve been to the symphony, then you need to stir up the bravery to leave the house and be part of magical concert moments.  Trust me, your life is so much deeper when you live passionately.

To make a gift to share in the future click here.

Do I have your attention?

Do I have your attention?

Well, while I might have it right now, the reality is that with each passing day your local arts scene has less and less of your attention. 
Every conference I’ve been to in the last 12 months has talked about the concept of disruption. When I was a kid being disrupted meant getting distracted, and that was a bad thing. When I was a young pianist, distraction meant I was not practicing enough or wasn’t really concentrating at the work at hand. As a piano teacher being disrupted by the phone ringing meant that I had to ask the student to play that passage again. 
But in 2017, disruption is the ultimate goal of every thing. Our cell phones have disrupted our lives, but more importantly they’ve disrupted our use of computers, newspaper, even live concerts. Streaming has disrupted the recording industry and nearly brought television as we know it to its knees. Online shopping has disrupted the shopping mall. Our lives are based around the inventions and decisions of a few people who decided they wanted to disrupt our norms and create the new experience.  
Earlier this week there was a fake news story about one of my favourite opera singers, claiming he’d lost his battle with cancer. The twitter-verse exploded and news of his death spread faster than would have been possible just a few years ago. And within 22 minutes his wife had posted to her Facebook page to say that he was in fact not dead, but rather sleeping peacefully beside her in their home. And with the same flurry of social media we all posted to say thank God he was still with us. 
Even news about opera has to be distracting and disruptive to be heard. Which I guess isn’t just global. I had a classical music buff who I’ve known for years here in town say to me they had no idea James Ehnes was just here. This is someone who I know is paying attention, who passionately follows the arts and would never have missed this concert…..but we’re all living in a fast-paced bubble where we have a hard time keeping up with what life has become. 
So at each conference I’ve been at we’ve talked about disrupting the audience’s who we are not connecting with, or disrupting a larger/new audience…but what happens when you’re not being disruptive enough with the people who are your core?
I worry that Saskatoon’s unbelievably vibrant and exciting local arts scene is not going to be disruptive enough. The local classical musical world can’t afford massive marketing budgets – the SSO has by far the largest marketing budget of any classical music group in town, and we feel like we can’t keep up. 
Frequently I look at the line up of upcoming music events in Saskatoon and think to myself “we are living in a golden age in this town”‎, but are we able to connect the audience with the event? Are we able to connect the artists with their fans and people who would be fans? 
Disruption might be trendy, but it’s not new. Beethoven disrupted the Viennese establishment….Debussy disrupted the French school….David Bowie disrupted the musical world and set it on its head. It’s history repeating – but can we as a music community, disrupt your lives enough for you to come and be present in the room when we make music? 
Maybe that’s just it – a concert is one of the few remaining disruptions in our modern lives…..shut your phone off, turn off work-mode, and be really you for a while just enjoying the moment.
See you at the symphony,
Mark Turner
Executive Director

What does being Canadian mean to you?

If you weren’t born Canadian, would you chose to be?

Over the last few years we’ve taken Canadian new music very seriously – concertos, symphonies, chamber music, and brand new works.  Each and every one of them has been memorable: Mozetich’s Affairs of the Heart, Estacio’s Farmers Symphony, Charke’s Cercle du Nord III with Tanya Tagaq, Hatzis’ timeless Lamento with Sarah Slean.  These pieces have made a remarkable imprint on our audience and our orchestra. 

We are in a golden age for Canadian orchestral music.  Each year there seems to be new music being written that touches us profoundly…and I believe it’s because at their root, Canadian composers are expressing those things that speak to us as a people; our commonalities and our differences that have made us a great country.

We are a people who understand the meaning of cold.  We’re a people who love our vast and scenic country with its mountains and rivers and and forests and tundra and plains.  We love our double-doubles, Canadian Tire, holding the door for anyone, and gravy with curds on fries.  We are a patch work quilt of people who have come from all over to a land that has been entrusted to a people who have been here since the raven put the sun in the sky.  We’re not always good to the land, and not always good to its people.  We have some rich and wonderful history, and some history that is so embarrassing.  We try to come to the aid of our neighbours, trying to protect the freedom that we hold incredibly dear.  And we welcome new Canadians with open arms. We’re fascinated by our skies. 

This weekend is going to fill you such incredible pride.  Derek Charke’s new fanfare Elan is pure celebration.  Vincent Ho’s The Shaman is powerful and gripping and showcases one of the best percussionists in Canada, our very own Bryan Allen.  John Oliver’s The Raven Steals the Light, with actress Carol Greyeyes, shares the West Coast First Nation story of the raven placing the light in the sky.  And John Burge’s Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag explores the most basic connection of all Canadians….the weather! 

The music will be profound and wonderful.  But there’s another reason that this concert will be so memorable, and it has nothing at all to do with music.

We become the very first orchestra to host a citizenship ceremony.  At the start of the concert, 15 new Canadian citizens will join the SSO on stage to take their final oath, and sing their new national anthem.  Is there anything like a room full of music lovers singing O Canada, accompanied by an orchestra, to welcome their new neighbours?

It’s going to be an emotional moment that will remind you why it’s important to share the collective experience of our nationality in a setting that is all about being present and connected through music. 

I didn’t have to chose to be Canadian, but if I did I think I’d want to do it where I have a room full of strangers singing O Canada with me.

See you at the symphony,

Mark Turner

You have to be in the room

The thing about live music is that you have to be in the room when it happens.  Its the combination of inspiration and momentary rush of focus and grace.  Even if you tried it won’t be the same a second time.

If you’re been coming to the SSO concerts over the last few months, you’ll know that its becoming impossible to miss a concert – each one seems more of a rush than the one before it.  The sheer thrill of live music has become captivating.

Its with that in mind that we created our 87th season – each concert had to be something special, something that didn’t just express the amazing, but griped you and shook you and inspired you.

Music so good it has to be experienced.  Music that leaves an imprint on you.  Music that shares our joy, our grief, our sadness, our common understanding of the human condition.  The opportunity to come together as a community to reflect, and explore, and come to terms with real emotion.

Eric and I have probably tossed around enough ideas we have 20 seasons in the works!  Whether in a planning meeting or in a text, a musician calls us with a request, or a guest artist shares a desire, the ideas come flying.  But it’s when ideas take shape that you get a season.

With just a week until the launch, I have to say there’s something special about it.  It’s easy to say that about any season…but this one has many ideas and plans that have taken years to realize.
Sometimes a guest we’re wanting isn’t available for our venue date.  Sometimes the symphony we’d planned isn’t the right length, or the wrong instrumentation, or just not a good fit musically for the concert.  Sometimes you have to wait to celebrate a special anniversary. Sometimes the waiting pays off and a season takes shape.  That’s this year.
It goes without saying at this point that the SSO will heavily feature Canadian works next season – in fact, there’s Canadian repertoire on every concert.  This wasn’t something we set out to do, it just happens. There is so much great Canadian music that needs to be heard and that we’re excited to share.
There are master works that we haven’t played in a long time, works you know, and some you’ve never heard but must.  There’s music to showcase our wonderful SSO musicians and celebrate our orchestra.
And a hallmark of the SSO’s brand – the season features all Canadian guests.  Canadians who have become international sensations and those whose star is rising.  And our commitment to Saskatchewan artists is thriving – guest artists, orchestral debuts, and celebrations of artists that have made Saskatoon musically special.  Defining our prairie voice has been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling artistic processes imaginable.
And by accident it’s a season filled with amazing women – without ever discussing or planning for it, the season sees a remarkable female musician playing a crucial role in nearly every concert.  From soloist to podium to composer, it became clear that the season had an underlying theme – each of them picked out of our excitement and respect for their work, their passion, and their art.
There’ll be the usual suspects of Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Dvorak, and some surprises with Faure, Shostakovich, and Barber.  A brand new concerto with an old friend, two iconic violin concertos and a piano concerto we’ve never played before, and a work next February that was written not only as a call for peace but as a way to reflect on the state of our divided world.
After two or three years in the making, this season is set to make an impact.
See you at the symphony,
Mark Turner
SSO Executive Director

We need to close the gap

There is something magical about the rare few artists who really make music.  In an era when the classical “superstars” of our day got famous on their ability to impress, nothing feels better than to see an artist of great integrity truly make music.

While sitting backstage watching Timothy Chooi play beautifully crafted Mozart, it reminded me of last season’s star Jan Lisiecki.  Both young men are certified virtuosos, but both are sensitive to the needs of the music, and both play with such beautiful phrasing that the art is more important than impressing the crowd.

Last year when Jan Lisiecki finished the final notes of Beethoven’s epic 4th concerto, our sold-out crowd gave him the longest standing ovation in SSO history at 9 minutes.

Jan is doing a handful of recitals across Canada this month, and spends two nights in Saskatoon at Convocation Hall.  The concert, in one of the most intimate venues he plays in all year, features the music of Bach, Schubert, and Chopin.  I am fortunate to have seen this recital recently, and I can tell you that the Bach and Schubert were both surprising and thrilling…a young man who has something beautiful and unique to say, and it shook me.  I see many recitals across the continent each year, and I can say with certainty that Jan is the ultimate recital pianist – an artist who wants the audience to experience the music as deeply as he does.  I always think that someday he’ll fail to impress me, and I’m thrilled that each time he proves me wrong.

This concert is important for the SSO, and not just because we should be presenting world class artists to our audience.

Its hard to believe I’ve been with the SSO for three years – its amazing to look back at how far the organization has come in that time.  I am incredibly proud of the organization’s many accomplishments in that time.  In that short time we’ve retired our debt, restructured the organization and ushered in new fiscal responsibility, and achieved a new artistic standard for the orchestra.  We’ve welcomed Eric Paetkau to our stage, increased our programming, fostered the careers of many Saskatchewan artists, and shared the stage with some of the world’s finest musicians.  While we’ve achieved so much, keeping the SSO afloat is still hard work.

The SSO is underfunded.

When compared to other orchestras our size, we receive roughly anywhere from $60,000 to $200,000 less in funding. That gap that large stifles the organization.  It leaves us unstable and, more importantly, unsustainable.

We need more staff before our current staff burn out; we need to invest in our musicians, in our guests, in our audience, and in new education initiatives.  We are working with our funders and dialoguing with them about how we need addressing our funding gap.  The reality is, that may take years.

We want to bring performances like Jan Lisiecki’s recital to Saskatoon in hopes to do a few things – new revenues streams help stabilize the SSO, music lovers get the chance to hear world class artists, and it means we’re not going to ask you to buy tickets to a “rubber chicken dinner”.   We have exceptional respect for our supporters, and a concert like Jan’s shows that we want to offer you something special in return for your support of the SSO.

I promise that this is a performance you cannot miss.  Something special is going to happen on stage…real artistry up close and personal.

I hope to see you at Jan’s recital,

Mark Turner

Can you hear it?

The other day I was visiting with an SSO donor.  I thoroughly enjoy talking with people who have played a part in this new era of Saskatoon’s orchestra.  I always learn something about the SSO when I talk to our patrons – some come because they are passionate about classical music, some come because it’s a great social outing, others because they love live music, others still who want to be musically adventurous.

sso3On this particular day, I was asked an important question.  She asked me what my plans were.   

Since coming to the SSO nearly three years ago, I’m very proud to say that this is a different organization – and it has been an incredible collective effort: a dedicated board with ideas, a hard working staff, musicians who are doing incredible work, a great musical leader, and an audience who love coming along for the ride.  We have changed the way we operate, the way we program, the way we function, the way we budget, and the way we connect with the community.  We have a lot of things that still need to be changed, but it amazing how far we’ve come. 


But one thing has not changed.  The drive for artistic excellence. 


If you were at our first concert this season, you sat up in your seat for the last movement of the Beethoven.  I’m certain of it.  It was full of life.  It was why we have a symphony.

I’m proud to say that we’re not the only ones taking notice of this new era of the SSO.  A recent peer assessment from Canada Council noted the “energetic performances” that “demonstrated much emotional commitment”.  They noted our clear sense of direction.  At a recent meeting where Eric and I shared the peers’ comments with the board, Eric said something that summed it all up: “we’re just getting started.”

We have some big plans in the works, but like a good symphony they’ll take a team effort.  The reality is that the SSO is surviving, but it needs to flourish…and I believe that our audience wants us to flourish, and is ready to help with that. 

We are thrilled about this season – we have some incredible artistic projects and programs underway….but just wait to see what is in the works for the future!  We have some of world’s greatest musicians lined up to come to Saskatoon in the upcoming years…and we have a few remarkable community partnerships.  We want a vibrant musical community that looks to the SSO for inspiration. time-for-toddlers

We want to start a music literacy program – the future of our music community relies on planting the seed of musical interest in the minds of our youth.  We have a chance to bring Carnegie Hall’s Link Up program to Saskatoon, and we want to launch a new musical mentorship program Kitocikewin for students who presently don’t have access to any music education.  We are ready and waiting to launch these programs…but with our current situation of being under funded, we don’t have an Education Coordinator.  We need one. Soon. 

We want to record.  Nope, scratch that.  I think the SSO has the potential to produce an award winning record, and because I like to dream big I’m going to say I’d like us to win a JUNO.  We have some guest artists who are wanting and excited to work with us on recordings.  Recording creates more work for our musicians.  Recording allows people across this country to hear what is happening in Saskatoon.  

We want to do more to be an incubator in our music community – we want to encourage the development of young musicians, create opportunities for emerging artists, create opportunities for collaborations, performances, and ideas to come to life.  We want to create artistic bridges that enrich and inspire and close the gaps.  We want to be a space where the musical eco-system thrives and grows.  Big dreams are important. 

Artistic excellence takes time, and it takes hard work, and it takes passion, and we’re going to need your help.  The next steps of our artistic excellence are within reach, can you hear it?


See you at the symphony,
Mark Turner

Tis the season

2015 comes to a close and with an incredible Messiah behind us, I’ve had a chance to sit down and take stock of the year.  What a year this has been – we bid a fond farewell to Victor, we paid off all of our debt, we welcomed Eric to the podium, and we had some truly remarkable musical moments.  When I look back at 2015 I hope I remember Marc Bouchkov sitting at the back of the violin section for Sibelius, the thrill of Nathan Berg singing the Faure Requiem, the excitement over Estacio’s Farmers Symphony, and the power we all felt hearing the chorus at Messiah.

I’ve been in my job two years now, and before I joined the SSO I have to admit that I felt that the city didn’t create enough quality musical experiences for me.  I’m a concert junky, and I used to have to do a lot of traveling to find musical outings that satisfied me artistically.  I am really proud to say that we’re getting to the point where each SSO concert presents the music lover in me with something to get shivers about.  In fact, I think everyone in our city should be proud that our orchestra is now bringing world class performances to the stage.

This year was also remarkable as it is no small feat to celebrate an 85th anniversary and pay off your debt all at the same time!  We literally could not have done it without the support of our donors – whether you have been giving all your life or were a first time donor, please know that your gift enabled the SSO to experience transformative change this year.  And I hope that you feel that you got out more than what you put in.

On top of some last minute Christmas gifts, this week I’ll be making a donation to the SSO.  I donated to the campaign, and at other times of the year, but as a supporter of live classical music in my community it’s as important that I donate at Christmas.  And I hope you’ll join me.

It is important to understand the power of donation to the SSO – while we have paid off our debts, we still need donations to maintain our programming.  At the 85th anniversary gala I said that I hoped that 2015 would not be the high-point for the SSO.  To maintain operations we constantly need donations and new revenues.  It is not because we’re greedy; it is because what we do requires a certain amount of infrastructure and resources, and to keep ticket prices low we need to fund raise.

When I first started working in arts management, I found it very difficult to ask for money – but I enjoyed giving money.  I enjoyed giving to organization’s whose purpose and mandate I really believed in.  And as a donor I understood that one gift was never enough.  If I really believed in an organization I needed to support them.  I now find it very easy to ask for support – because I truly believe in the cause that I’m asking for.

I believe that it is essential that we create work for the city’s musicians, and that it should be work that challenges them and grows their skills.  I believe that we should be an incubator of Saskatchewan artists, giving them a chance to find their prairie voice.  I believe that it is important that we go to perform at seniors centres and schools even though it costs us money – it is how we pay back some dividends.  I believe that we have a duty to not only offer concerts but to ensure that we are striving to set the new artistic standard for the city.  And I firmly believe that we have a roll to play within our music community through partnerships, relationships, and resources.

So join me in making a donation to the SSO this Christmas – you get a tax receipt and the knowledge that you’re playing a part in something pretty special that’s happening with music in Saskatoon right now.  Trust me, every gift helps.

On behalf of the musicians, staff, board of directors, and Eric, I’d like to wish all of our supporters a wonderful holiday season and I look forward to seeing you at the symphony in 2016!

Mark Turner
Executive Director

To make a donation visit: http://saskatoonsymphony.org/support-the-sso/donate/

What does the SSO mean to you


Over the last few months I’ve been too busy to blog, but recently while working on a future project I had to identify what made the SSO vital and it made me think.  I joined the SSO almost two years ago and began the process of defining what it meant to be an orchestra on the prairie.  It is remarkable to see the state of the organization today…and while it may well be one of the fastest turnarounds in orchestral history, it has not been easy.

Much of my extra brain space these days is taken up by conceiving and dreaming about the journey to our 100th anniversary.  Being only 15 years away from that incredible milestone means that it is time for us to start thinking about the SSO’s identity – what part does it play in our society, what role does it fill in the community, and where are we going…

The SSO is the oldest professional arts organization in Saskatoon – think about it…it was started by Arthur Collingwood in 1931.  An orchestra.  Here, in the heart of the depression era dust bowl.  Through some of our province’s most difficult days, Saskatoon was building an orchestra.  I can only imagine that for the people who wanted an orchestra it was about culture and collective knowledge and civilization and the need for something to help them deal emotionally with struggles far bigger than they had imagined when they moved west.

The SSO is a part of our history – whether from those early days at the Bessborough to the opening night of the Centennial Auditorium, no other organization has seen as many milestones for Saskatoon as the SSO.  Musically present for so many important achievements, the SSO has created a soundtrack for the city to build its memories on.

The SSO is versatile – there have been many road blocks placed in the path of professional music in Saskatoon, but here today stands an orchestra in a state of growth.  When a strike shut down the venue, the SSO set up shop in a church to keep the music going.  When the time has come, multiple times, to make a shift in programming, the SSO has been right there to keep offering incredible experiences.

The SSO has a large artistic footprint – we have a very large audience with wide appeal, we have a lot of concerts, and we employ professional musicians.  Better than just employing them, we give them a chance to hone their skills and make their music and still call Saskatchewan home.  Our musicians are an essential part of the city’s human capital.  Our musicians have impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people whether through their performing or their teaching.  It is staggering to think of the number of youngsters who have learned the skills of hard work, dedication, practice, and self-awareness from our musicians.

The SSO is more than just concerts – the SSO Book and Music sale has set the standard across the country for book sale fundraisers.  Hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of books have been sold for pocket change to book lovers and avid readers for decades.  Beyond the shelves of books there are hundreds of volunteers who give selflessly of their time to create one of the most unique curated sales in all of Canada.

The SSO is underfunded – if I think about how to get this organization to its 100th anniversary, one very large piece of our identity is that we are underfunded.  I almost said we are understaffed, but reality is that we have a very small staff because we are underfunded.  Ticket prices keep having to go up because it is intrinsically difficult to justify why music matters as much as social and wellness issues.  I will not argue that the SSO is more worthy a cause than any other as it would devalue the exceptional work of the non-profits that make a community.  And that’s it, non-profits do just that: make a community.  As part of the intricate web of social services and public needs, music is as important as all other causes – I hope that we are past a time when I have to explain why music matters.  It has immense value and it is time we all started saying that out loud.

The SSO is a survivor.  The history of the financial state of the SSO is like a rollercoaster that only ever goes downhill.  Yet with the support of nearly 2000 of you, the SSO is debt free.  That is no small accomplishment.  We’re not out of the woods but we are on the surest footing we’ve ever had.  It allows us to look clearly at the future.

The SSO is relevant – in the next 7 months we perform with leading classical artists, including superstar Jan Lisiecki.  We perform with throat singer Tanya Tagaq in a concert that explores the music of the great white north.  We even are dipping our hand into scientific research, economic development, workshops, and outreach.

The SSO is a teacher – each year we make music for school children, even toddlers now, and it may well be their only exposure to classical music.  Educational programming costs us a lot of money, and is always a huge financial loss…but it’s worth every penny.  It would be impossible to quantify the impact one school show could make.  Maybe it’s the kid who fell hopelessly in love with the sound of a flute and decided that when they get in to band they’re going to play the flute.  Or the kid who just needed to hear a piece of music that took their imagination on a journey away from reality.  We want even more students, and adults, to learn about music because frankly we freaking love music and you should too.

The SSO should be a leader – now to be clear, I firmly believe we are.  Our work enables many other organizations to exist, we set a tone and trend for the local music community.  But I think we can do a better job of those things.  We are great at making partnerships and creating cool projects, but we could do more.  I want to see a future where the SSO has the capacity to help musicians in town bring their musical dreams to life; where we can be the rehearsal space, the musical resource, an artistic voice for our community.

The SSO should be an artistic incubator – the thrill of having a good guest artist is so much more than just putting on a performance where the soloist blows everyone away.  As the SSO brings world class soloists to our stage, we want to have them interact with the music community to share what they know, and trust me that magic will trickle down to young people.  Even more importantly, we should be a place where Saskatchewan artists have their “first time” – we have been gifted in our province with some very special musical minds that for far too long have had to go away to find their voice.  It is so much fun to turn that around and help them explore their art at home.  We get to bring them back home to show us what they know, and help the next generation here discover what it is they have to say with their music.

The SSO is putting on incredible performances – I know it’s my job to tell you to come to concerts…but I truly want people to experience what I’m witnessing.  We have the opportunity to enjoy wonderful live music…not just good programming and good guest artists, but we are presently witnessing the renaissance of a group of musicians.  That first concert of the season – it is incredible what some great rehearsals can do, and great fun to see our new conductor at work!  This weekend webring you an incredibly demanding Mozart symphony, a composer we’ve avoided for a long time.  We bring you a Canadian symphony, not because we want Canadian content but because it’s gorgeous music that you should hear.  We partner with the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra to have a Christmas concert that is all about great music and fun times.  And we bring Eric’s exceptional baroque expertize to Handel’s Messiah…new tempi, new bowings, a fresh breathe of air to a 300 year old masterwork.

Maybe that is exactly why the SSO is vital…bringing new life to old music.  It’s not a miracle.  It is just what good orchestras do.

See you at the symphony this weekend,

Mark Turner
Executive Director

What makes Eileen great

A new season has begun – we announced our best season ever, and our new conductor took the podium and gave the orchestra new life in our first concert.  Its remarkable how many people have come to tell me that the first concert of the year was some of the best playing the orchestra has ever done!  I am excited to blog about what’s next for the SSO, and I’m looking forward to hearing the orchestra play this year – but I wanted to have my first blog of the season be about how thrilled I am for the upcoming concert.

About 8 years ago I sent a Facebook message to Eileen Laverty – I knew who she was, I’d heard her music on the radio and even caught a concert, but I didn’t really know much about her.  I asked her to join me in a performance of a John Mayer cover.  Over the next little while I had the most wonderful back-and-forth about the event with her.  Rehearsal was so energizing, and the performance was fantastic.  What I learned was behind a great song writer was also a wonderful person.

And I wasn’t alone in feeling like that.  Former students and coworkers all talk about how much they love working with Lav.

Her generous spirit shines through in her song writing…she’s strung together a catalogue of songs that are tuneful and deeply heartfelt.  Her songs are never flashy, and in the long tradition of Canadian singer-songwriters she explores language and prose with a simple singable melody that brings a song to life.

A couple of years back I was visiting with Dean McNeil who mentioned that he had been working with Eileen to put together an orchestral show.  He mentioned Allan Gilliland was involved and it was no surprise to me that a cool project like this would come together…but I had grown to know Eileen’s songs through her performances and recordings and had no idea how a composer would recreate that experience.

Shortly after I joined the SSO we needed to put together a performance for the Mayor’s Cultural Gala – Dean brought up the idea of working with Eileen and it was clearly the perfect fit.

It came time for that first rehearsal last fall with Eileen and I still wasn’t sure what to expect.  I guess I expected it to be like a normal pops orchestra arrangement – charts that make the orchestra the clichéd back-up band.  A few of the musicians had noted to me before the rehearsal that they really liked the arrangements and quipped that it was obvious that Allan knew how to write for their instrument (which is not always the case in pops show….).

What I heard that afternoon completely blew me away.  The orchestra was anything but a back-up band…in fact, these songs were now orchestral gems.  Modern orchestral master pieces for Eileen and orchestra.  Allan was able to create musical landscapes for each of Eileen’s lyrics.  And then there was the smile on Eileen’s face.

This was the exact artistic statement we needed to make with the Pops series this year – I’ve been very public about my pledge to bring Saskatoon musicians to be front and centre with the orchestra, and while we’ve done a great job of that with classical programming we have to acknowledge our prairie pop stars.  People are still talking about Jeffery Straker’s show from a few seasons back…and I’m certain that people will be talking about Eileen’s show for a long time.

I think that every music lover in this city needs to be at this show.  If you have never heard Eileen before then now is the perfect time to artistically experiment and you’ll find yourself falling in love with the music.  If you are like me and a fan of Eileen’s then you are in for a special treat.

What makes Eileen great?  Her natural ability to speak honestly through her songs – you can’t help but love the experience.

Her voice, her songs, her lyrics…the night will paint prairie skies with sound and songs.

See you at the symphony,

Executive Director