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An image from Canadian composer and pianist David Braid's Sept. 16, 2020 virtual FARLS talk in the USask Department of Music. (Photo: K52 Music / YouTube)

Virtual USask music events bring musical community closer

The USask Department of Music had to find a creative approach to its outreach events during the COVID-19 pandemic


By Chris Putnam

Music concerts at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) look different this year, but the USask Department of Music is working hard to maintain community connection through its events.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the USask music ensembles to move to a virtual format last summer, the Department of Music also looked for a creative approach to its outreach events.

Each year, the department hosts the Fine Arts Lecture Series (FARLS)—a blend of words and musical performances by guest artists—and the Faculty and Friends Concert Series, a set of public performances by faculty members and musicians close to the department.

Canadian composer and pianist David Braid gave a FARLS talk through Zoom on Sept. 16, 2020.

Music is about connection, said Dean McNeill, head of the Department of Music. The isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic hit the musical community hard.

“We wanted to reclaim a small piece of that togetherness aspect of music,” McNeill said.

The department’s solution was to host its fall and winter events through the videoconferencing app Zoom.

“Instead of just saying ‘here’s a link; go watch it on your own,’ we have a meeting. We bring the department together. We invite friends and family,” said McNeill.

The Department of Music has so far hosted about a dozen lectures and concerts in the 2020/21 academic year, and more are scheduled throughout the Winter Term.

“It’s not the same as doing live concerts, and we’re not pretending that it is. But it has been value added to our department,” said McNeill.

The Duo Gillis Cunningham—USask professor of music Dr. Glen Gillis (PhD) and collaborator Dr. James E. Cunningham (PhD)—performed a virtual Faculty and Friends concert on Nov. 25, 2020.

The online format has even opened up some new opportunities. This year, the department hosted events with prominent artists who might not otherwise have been able to travel to Saskatchewan. Hollywood percussionist Satnam Ramgotra’s Jan. 27 FARLS talk was a recent example of an event that drew audience members from around the world.

The free concerts are a way for the Department of Music to give back, said McNeill.

“It’s just a good thing to do—to get out there and make a little bit of music in the community and for the community.”

Upcoming public events from the Department of Music

Visit for the most up-to-date listing of events in the College of Arts and Science.

Faculty and Friends Concerts

Feb. 10
Outside Voices
Dean McNeill and Richard Carnegie explore the transparency of two-part musical counterpoint between the soprano and bass registers, with repertoire spanning contemporary, classical and jazz-influenced genres.

Feb. 24
Exploring Harmoniemusik
A concert exploring the instrumentation and compositions of Harmoniemusik, a style of music popular in European courts of the 18th and 19th centuries.

March 3
Elixir Ensemble
The Elixir Chamber Ensemble performs Brahms' Quintet for Piano and Strings.

(The March 3 event has been cancelled)

Fine Arts Research Lecture Series (FARLS)

March 10
Operatic Misfittings, or Misfitting Opera
Dr. Colleen Renihan (PhD) of Queen’s University examines the ways in which opera contributes to misfitting.

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