Take 5…with John A. Miller, Stratford Summer Music artistic producer

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This Sunday, Stratford Summer Music makes a detour to The London Roundhouse - and everyone is invited along for the ride.

The festival’s artistic producer, John A. Miller, will be on hand to unveil details of this year’s festival line up in a special event that includes live performances by Dan Stacey (of Dan Stacey and the Black Swans) and Dayna Manning (of Trent Seven).

The Beat recently reached out to Miller to learn more about how he has put music on the map at Stratford.

 

Q. Stratford Summer Music is now in its 16th year. With so many arts organizations struggling to attract and retain audiences, what is the secret of the festival’s longevity and continued growth?

One of the things I insisted on when we started this festival was that we grow slowly and steadily. We started as a 10-day festival and over the years, when it felt right, I added one week of programming.

Growing too fast – before you have developed an audience that values what you do - can lead to the downfall of any organisation. Sponsors and supporters need to see you build on strengths, not just grow for the sake of being bigger.  So it was important then, as it is now, to ensure that the growth makes sense and will only add to the community and to the successes we’ve already enjoyed.

Further to that original vision was my desire to offer the highest quality musical experiences possible not only in our home base but also in south-western Ontario.   Of course here we have the Stratford Festival which offers the best in theatre in the region, if not the country.  I feel it is incumbent upon us to do the same musically.  Outside of larger urban areas, it will be difficult for anyone to find musicians of the calibre that we present each summer here.

Additionally, I think variety and affordability are two key components.

From world music on the Barge which sits along the banks of the Avon River, to our International piano series, musical brunches, and Saturday night cabaret series, along with lectures and exhibitions, Stratford Summer Music offers a huge variety of experiences over a six- week period.  At least one third of all the 100 concerts are free to the public, or designated as Pay What You Can.  And for the ticketed concerts we aim to keep prices no higher than $45.

Q. I believe this is the first time you have announced your season outside of Stratford. Why did you decide hold this event at the London Roundhouse?

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Dan Stacey

The upcoming event at the London Roundhouse is only new in location. We have a small but strong corps of attendees from London, and in the past one of our donors, who also happens to be a Board member, would host an event each spring in his home where he would invite friends and colleagues whom he knew had a love of music. We would organise talent from the coming season to play a short concert at these receptions.   We did similar events, our Spring Soirees, in Stratford residences.

This year, we decided we wanted to open things up and appeal to a somewhat younger demographic.  We heard about the Roundhouse, a venue that is both historically significant and a curiosity to many who haven’t had the chance to see it. It seemed like a good fit for us, especially in our quest to reach out to more Londoners. We are excited to be there and to announce our season. The staff have been incredibly helpful too.

This season’s announcement in London will come several days after our announcement in Stratford.  But London is a vibrant community with a keen appreciation of music and we would love to bring more Londoners to Stratford to enjoy all that we have here.

Q. Stratford Summer Music has always offered a mix of free as well as ticketed events. Why is it so important for you to ensure that the festival remains accessible to everyone?

Music matters in everyone’s life. I’ve often said that each of us may not play an instrument or perform before an audience, but there are private moments when we sing to ourselves, because music makes life better. The arts nurture us as individuals; they bring communities together, raise our spirits, express our joys and our sorrows.  But for me, music, like no other art form, infuses us with hope and passion and joy.

Q. A Vocal Academy and the TorQ Percussion Seminar have been part of the festival for the past few years. Why did you decide to add an educational component to the event?

This is our second year offering The Vocal Academy which was hugely successful last year...for everyone. For the emerging professional singers, it offered a unique opportunity to work with some of Canada’s most successful professional vocal performers, like Michael Schade, Philip Addis and Emily Hamper.

And I find the Faculty members are so passionate about passing their knowledge on to what one might call the next generation of opera and recital singers.  It’s inspiring.

The four men of TorQ Percussion Ensemble, who are co-ordinating our week-long Percussion Seminar, have already been part of several seasons with Stratford Summer Music. This is the second year they have offered their biannual Seminar for a younger demographic:  senior high school and university level percussionists aiming for their own professional careers.

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Dayna Manning

We are happy to bring these educational outreach programs to Stratford Summer Music.  It’s very exciting for the participants and for the audiences, especially because all of these master class sessions are open to the public as pay-what-you-can events.

Q. Presenting more than 100 concerts over six weeks is obviously a huge undertaking. Apart from buying concert tickets, how can people support your efforts?

Believe it or not, we self-generate only 22% of our income, partially though ticket sales. The rest is made up of government grants and private sector support.

Private donations are key to our viability. We have an incredible personal support system in our hometown and we are similarly supported very generously from the Canadian corporate sector.   But as with any activity, there are cycles...ups and downs... times when our traditional patrons move on, so we always need to be on the lookout for new funders and supporters.

We constantly we search for ways to welcome new friends who believe in what we are doing. That’s how all of us in the arts keep up our accomplishments.

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What: Announcing 16: Stratford Summer Music
With live performances by Dan Stacey and Dayna Manning
When: Sunday, April 17, 2 – 4 pm
Where: The London Roundhouse (240 Waterloo Street)
Tickets: $20, visit www.stratfordsummermusic.ca

Nicole Laidler has been covering London’s cultural scene for more than a decade and is delighted to be writing for The Beat.

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