Renowned as a rising star in both the worlds of music and academia, University of Lethbridge alumnus Dr. Andrew Staniland (BMus ’00) is the University of Lethbridge Alumni Association’s 2015 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.
“In my experience love and passion for creativity are totally contagious, as is the pursuit of musical mastery,” he says in recognition of the award. “I was moved and inspired by my teachers who had these traits, and I now have the privilege of inspiring others the same way, through my music and my teaching.”
It was as an undergraduate student at the University of Lethbridge where Staniland first discovered his passion for composing, crediting several professors with igniting that flame.
“I remember Brent Lee, who is a great composer; Ed Jurkowski, who shared his huge passion and knowledge; and, of course, Kurt Ellenburger,” he recalls.
After graduating from the U of L, Staniland moved to Toronto for graduate school, where he completed his Master’s degree and Doctor of Musical Arts degree in composition at the University of Toronto.
Even during his master’s studies, Staniland’s compositions were attracting attention and requests for commissions started piling up.
“I’ve been booked solid with commissions since 2002,” he says. “I’m in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose projects that interest me.”
He has also initiated projects by approaching groups for whom he wants to compose.
And while his work speaks for itself, it’s also receiving significant recognition. In 2009 he won the National Grand Prize of the CBC Composers Competition, which placed him in the top tier of Canadian composers very early in his career.
Since then, Staniland has created works for numerous Canadian groups, including the Gryphon Trio and Duo Concertante; international performers including Les Percussions de Strasbourg and the American Opera Projects; and organizations including the CBC, Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council. “Right now I’m working on a song cycle for the Brooklyn Art Song Society, tentatively called The Canadian Songbook, which premieres in New York next year and tours across Canada in 2016 and 2017,” he says. “I’m very excited about it.”
The process of composing music is different for every composer. For Andrew, it’s a deeply solitary process. “I like to keep my composition in my imagination as long as possible,” he says. “Composing is really about creating a work of art.”
He goes on to half-jokingly talk about how much of contemporary classical music dies of ‘premiere-itis.’ “Although you definitely don’t compose to get rich, it is important that my works have a long life with multiple performances,” he says. “Sadly, works are commissioned, performed once and then languish in obscurity.”
That fate has not befallen Staniland’s work. He has amassed more than 100 national and international performances of his work and represented Canada at prestigious festivals in Poland, France and Hong Kong. “I work hard to clearly understand what performers want in a composition and how they plan to use it,” he says. “I try to think like a programmer or conductor and create works that appeal without compromising artistic integrity.”
Staniland has composed work for everything from a solo performer to a full symphony orchestra and finds inspiration everywhere. “I have wide ranging interests, especially in art, science and history and never know what might spark an idea,” he says. “Last year I wrote a work for the Esprit Orchestra inspired by the Large Hadron Collider.”
Staniland credits his wife, Tauna (Hayduk) Staniland (BMgt ’00), for broadening his horizons as an undergraduate student when they first met. “She helped me realize I could be good at courses that were not music – something I was just not interested in at the time,” he reflects. “Based on my experiences, I think the liberal education requirements at the University are critically important.”
After spending time as the affiliate composer with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Staniland and Tauna moved further east. A graduate of the Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, Tauna worked on Bay Street for several years, and in 2010 joined Stewart McKelvey, the largest law firm in Atlantic Canada, where she is now a partner. Staniland is currently a well-respected professor of music at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), where, after only four years, his creative activities earned him the President’s Award for Outstanding Research in 2014. That same year he was elected in the inaugural cohort to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, one of the highest honours for an academic in Canada.
His work in the field of digital music is also garnering attention. With support from a $100,000 RDC Ignite! grant he created the state-of-the art Memorial Electro-Acoustic Music Research lab and his interdisciplinary research with engineering faculty and students has resulted in the development of the Arc, an innovative haptic digital musical instrument for real-timer performance. The Arc is now patented and under commercial development.
Combining a career as a full-time university professor and an in demand composer can be a challenge. “I also have a young family so balancing everything is always tricky,” he admits. “However, teaching something I’m passionate about really helps recharge the creativity. Sharing with my students is an integral part of the creative process.”