December 09, 2009: Latest
(Article written by Lisa Johnson, courtesy of MacEwan Alumni News)
Mixing Musical Colours: Music grad builds on success by embracing diversity
Composer/trumpet player Dean McNeill describes his newest CD, Mélange, as a musical mosaic. An eclectic blend of jazz and classical influences and experiences, it includes a collaboration with two-time Juno award winning pianist Jon Ballantyne.
But McNeill's work and his life could also be described as a mosaic. After a quick glance at his accomplishments it becomes obvious that he has woven together an impressive musical career out of some diverse threads.
McNeill has graduated from the University of North Texas (MMus, 1997), McGill University (BMus, 1991), and Grant MacEwan University (Dip, 1987). He has served as an external reviewer for MacEwan's upcoming Bachelor of Music program and most recently premiered a new piece for solo trumpet and wind ensemble entitled "Kalla", composed by MacEwan's Head of Composition, Allan Gilliland. "Kalla" was premiered by McNeill and the National Youth Band of Canada in May of 2009. McNeill has also arranged, composed, and performed with a long list of acclaimed musicians. He currently serves as the Head of the Department of Music at the University of Saskatchewan.
A two-time winner of the U of S Dwaine Nelson teaching award, McNeill understands what constitutes a good teacher and a good education.
It should come as no surprise that when McNeill talks about the education and experience that have helped him to succeed, he comes back to the word diversity more than once, and to the varied education he received at MacEwan.The school taught him "that to succeed as a professional musician, one needs to excel in more than one area; one needs to be prepared for many potential opportunities. This means having many 'irons in the fire.' All of the faculty at MacEwan were very good, very committed, and very versatile, both as teachers and professional musicians. I am certain that this remains the case to this day."
He explains that the music industry has always been characterized by big changes. In technology such as music distribution, for example, there continues to be revivals, revolutions, and rapid shifts. Because of this, music students can expect to see more than one major sea change during the course of their career, and maybe even their studies. In this day and age it is as important to train students in adaptability and resourcefulness, as it is to equip them with an essential music skill set.
McNeill goes back to the work of Sir Ken Robinson who says it best when he notes "that in the 21st century creativity is as important as literacy."
Thanks in no small part to the influential teachers who also made an indelible mark on McNeill's subsequent career, MacEwan has stood for decades now as an important and seminal institution, especially in sustaining and rejuvenating the musical community central to Edmonton, a cultural capital of Canada. People McNeill list as strong mentors while studying at MacEwan include Dr. Tommy Banks O.C., Raymond Baril, Gary Guthman, Bobby Cairns, Charlie Austin, and the late Rick Garn.
McNeill credits the program at MacEwan with cultivating a good appreciation for diversity and a very strong commitment to supplying their students with a quality education. According to him, the university gave him an invaluable set of practical skills and cemented a broad range of abilities that he has only built upon as his career has progressed.
The songs on McNeill's Mélange flitter back and forth between jazz and classical influences. They stand as a good testament not only to McNeill's ability, but to his lifelong appreciation for variety, range, and rich musical diversity.
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