WYO_westmountmag

The Westmount Youth Orchestra and Victoria Hall

Misguided city resolution bars the WYO from rehearsal in community hall

By Roger Joachym

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of WestmountMag.ca, its publishers or editors.

On July 5, the Westmount Youth Orchestra (WYO) was told that they were no longer welcomed to rehearse in Victoria Hall after a 23-year history with our city. It is based on an August 2017 resolution of 50% Westmount participation in all Westmount cultural activities. This resolution should be seen as a simplistic formula passed by an outgoing Council just before elections.

Cultural endeavours do not work in such a shallow ledger sheet fashion. They require a generosity of spirit, of going beyond one’s locality, of being able to nourish an artistic dream through time.

The WYO is our cultural contribution to the island of Montreal. We are surrounded by other communities that take cultural performances to be vital to urban living. It is quite impossible to properly describe the city of Montreal’s contribution as it is so wide and deep. Culture is integral to the nature of the city of Montreal. But if we even look at the small locality of Lachine we must be impressed.

Cultural endeavours do not work in such a shallow ledger sheet fashion. They require a generosity of spirit, of going beyond one’s locality, of being able to nourish an artistic dream through time.

In this same month of July my wife and I went to a Lachine concert in their performance hall. It featured the renowned Charles Richard-Hamelin on piano with the equally renowned Alcan Quartet enhanced by a double bassist in the first two concerti of Chopin. Wonderful, simply wonderful. More than that, at intermission we were introduced to Richard Turp, the artistic director for the Lachine concerts. What was astounding was the generous spirit that he projected to all and every in his company. He is the figurehead of a spirit in Lachine that goes beyond its boundaries. The concert, as all concerts in Lachine since 1997, was offered to everyone who showed up at the door for free, a donation could be given if one wished.

Now if we consider the dollar value of real estate in Lachine compared to Westmount, we are rather rich. But when one considers cultural generosity, they might very well be seen as the richer. And if Westmount nixes the 23-year history of cultural generosity that the Westmount Youth Orchestra represents, our contribution to the cultural milieu will certainly be the poorer. And this will be a shame for it is a cultural contribution of which Westmounters have been proud.

An orchestra does not happen in isolation. It cannot be formed with 50% of its players coming from any one locality, be it Verdun, le Plateau, Ville Saint-Laurent, or Westmount. The spectrum of instruments that are required in an orchestra is so large that no one small locality can provide the players. It is simply impossible.

‘An orchestra does not happen in isolation. It cannot be formed with 50% of its players coming from any one locality, be it Verdun, le Plateau, Ville Saint-Laurent, or Westmount.’

Our son played cello with the orchestra a little over 15 years ago. Besides concerts given at Victoria Hall they represented Westmount at the Festival de Lanaudière. They performed a joint concert featuring Dvorak’s New World Symphony with the youth orchestra of the Saguenay in the east end church l’Église du Très-Saint-Nom-de-Jésus. They represented Westmount at numerous music festivals, one being in the concert hall of Laval, another at Vanier CEGEP.

It is an inestimable gift to be able to play orchestral music at a young age. Our son now as a post-doctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena continues to play cello in their orchestra. He mentions how after every concert members of the community come up to the players and mention how grateful they are to have such a concert.

The great music of Western civilization exists in performance. Music sheets, even the best recordings, do not fully convey its meaning. Orchestral musicians under the baton of conductor are essential. Elgar, Bernstein, Dvorak, Beethoven and all return to life through them. It is not instantaneous. It requires the dedication of rehearsal and the emotive force of a conductor. And although it is difficult to verbally describe its effect no one would contest that orchestral music is a cornerstone of civilization. What a gift Westmount has been giving to our milieu. And the present vintage of the Westmount Youth Orchestra is a flourishing one as I can attest from having attended their Spring Concert. It is an orchestra in full flight.

‘What a gift Westmount has been giving to our milieu. And the present vintage of the Westmount Youth Orchestra is a flourishing one as I can attest from having attended their Spring Concert.’

It is worrisome that this fantastic cultural contribution could even be considered an unwelcomed part of Victoria Hall and for this announcement to be made in mid-summer just as the local paper goes on vacation for three weeks. And it is hurtful to all those associated with the orchestra. Serious questions should be asked as to how this wrong decision arose, from what quarter. This is not a minor gaff, but rather a major failing. Inquiries must be held, major adjustments made. It is so very unfortunate that this has happened.

Read the WMA’s stance on the subject of groups using community resources:
Supporting fair access to community resources for a plethora of groupsBouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre – WestmountMag.caFeature image: courtesy of the Westmount Youth Orchestra

Read also: Southeast Redevelopment: essential considerations


Roger Jochym WestmountMag.ca

Roger Jochym is a 25+ year resident of Westmount. He is the founder of the Ry Arp Studio, a firm dedicated to generating 21st century planning ideas that are engaged in regaining the city for the human scale, interlacing it with nature, and invigorating it by culture, the arts, and sciences. His background is that of architecture from McGill and many built projects, notably the trans-border and international wings of Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport.


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  1. Ruth & Jerry Portner

    Bravo Roger for your clarity and eloquence in defending musical culture in the city.

    We and many Westmount residents have often attended free concerts at Montreal Cultural centers.
    Westmount should contribute to the city-wide culture by embracing the WYO.


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