The day Toronto composer Jordan Pal learned he was the National Youth Orchestra of Canada’s 2014 RBC Foundation Emerging Composer-in-Residence was unforgettable: news of his appointment landed just as he was bringing home his newborn child. Several happy, if sleepless, weeks later Pal was deep into writing the NYOC-commissioned work that will premiere and be recorded during the orchestra’s summer 2014 season. With a piece on the summer repertoire of Boris Brott’s National Academy Orchestra of Canada – a composition premiered by the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra in 2012 – Pal is hyper-aware of the integral role so many youth orchestras now play in the life of Canadian composers.

“Our mandate is to bring fresh ideas from young composers to our professional training organization.” – The NYOC’s Barbara Smith

And while Pal has written for prestigious professional ensembles, the NYOC commission is not without challenges. “It’s a 104-person orchestra, so it’s tricky for them to find repertoire that uses everyone – percussionists, two harps, full strings, winds in fours, you name it,” he says. While the NYOC may continue to commission established composers, executive director Barbara Smith says the shift to the composer-in-residence program “fits nicely with our mandate – to bring fresh ideas from young composers to our professional training organization.”

Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra artistic director Dinuk Wijeratne, also an active composer and performer, said the NSYO has long been committed to commissioning works by Atlantic composers; Derek Charke’s Concerto Grosso, for example, “was a fantastic piece, written with a lot of savvy for the youth orchestra,” Wijeratne says.

“When you look at pre-existing works, the majority are written for pro orchestras,” he continues. “I have a list of people whose music I would like to play but have to find pieces that are suitable.” Last year NSYO performed the late Malcolm Forsyth’s Natal Landscapes, and next season’s repertoire includes Andrew Staniland’s Voyageur. Wijeratne is also excited about the NSYO’s emerging composer competition, open to Canadian undergrads enrolled in a degree program: “We really hit the ground running last season with Roydon Tse, who wrote a fresh piece for this past season, and this year’s winner is Joseph Glaser, also from UBC.”

Many youth orchestra conductors also compose. This past May, the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra’s intermediate orchestra premiered a new work by its conductor Jin Zhang, who has written works for previous VYSO seasons. And the West Island Youth Symphony Orchestra (in Montreal) has performed works by the likes of Denis Gougeon and Norman Symonds, as well as compositions by its artistic director Stewart Grant.

The New Brunswick Youth Orchestra, nearing its 50th anniversary, not only records, but also regularly performs internationally. This July, the group delivers the world premiere of the commissioned work A Dream of Dawn by busy Toronto composer Kevin Lau at the Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Competition in Vienna, Austria, on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.

“Our thought was the work needed to commemorate the event,” says NBYO president Ken MacLeod . “The piece will become the theme of our whole season, and we’ll perform it at all our concert locations across New Brunswick.”

“When Blou came into being in the 1990s, people couldn’t figure our music genre out. They were able to make out elements of bluegrass, traditional, rock and folk music, but nobody could put their finger on it. So we coined a word describing our Acadian, Cajun and Zydeco musical roots. The name was ‘Acadico,’ and it stuck.”

That was 20 years ago, but singer-songwriter Patrice Boulianne remembers it as if it were yesterday. The new name was given to Blou’s debut album, Acadico (1998), as well as to the opening cut of the band’s most recent collection, 20 Temps, a witty title referring to Blou’s 20th anniversary. The rapid acceptance of Blou’s coined genre was an indication of the significance of a unique music style that has allowed the musicians to perform in dozens of countries and collect numerous industry honours at home, including as part of the Gala de la chanson de la Nouvelle-Écosse and the East Coast Music Awards.

“Being able to perform your Francophone songs in 36 countries around the world is something that makes you appreciate your native language enormously.”

By now, Blou has become the personal project of frontman and self-appointed Acadian culture ambassador Boulianne, a St. Mary’s Bay (NS) resident. “Being able to perform your Francophone songs in 36 countries around the world is something that makes you appreciate your native language enormously – it’s something you want to keep close to your heart. Sharing your mother tongue with people who can’t speak it can fire you up. And when I look at Radio Radio and Lisa LeBlanc right now, I can see that other artists are now picking up the torch,” says Boulianne, an artist who has steadfastly refused to move to Québec.”

Why? “Because the landscapes and the people of Acadie [a French-speaking area of Eastern Canada comprising roughly the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunscick and PEI] are my main source of inspiration,” he says. “Even if it’s hard, sometimes, with the Harper Government’s cuts in artist travel grants. I don’t think the Conservatives understand the importance of those grants for Francophone artists living outside Quebec. You’d think this was their way of getting you to sing in English, a language that makes exports and distribution easier. And not just for music either. The theatre, creative writing and the visual arts, too, are negatively affected. We are watering down our cultural heritage, that’s what we’re doing.”

By way of paying tribute to his Francophone roots, Boulianne recorded duos with Daniel Lavoie, Lina Boudreau and Mary Jane Lamond on the 20 Temps album. “I picked Daniel Lavoie as a way of celebrating my Manitoba origins,” he says. “Before moving to the Maritimes, I spent my early years on the Great Plains in the small town of St. Claude, where my father went out of his way to buy Francophone recordings by Beau Dommage, Paul Piché, Francis Cabrel and many more. I also brought Lina Boudreau into the project because she represents Acadie with one of the region’s finest singing voices. As for Mary Jane Lamond, she embodies Nova Scotia’s Celtic music influences.”

A true blending of influences, the 20 Temps compositions fall into two categories. Some of the songs – namely “Sors tes souliers de danse” [“Get Out Your Dancing Shoes»], “Oh! Madeleine” and “Anna et Louise », a tribute to Louisiana – reflect the upbeat spirit of the Acadico style. But Blou’s sixth album also reflects a more intimate folk style on “Là où on s’aime” (“Where Love Is”), a song on Bouliane’s mother’s struggle with Alzheimers, and on “Lettre pour Annette,” written in memory of friend who died suddenly in her early forties.

“It took me a long time to find the courage to include more personal songs in the Blou repertoire for fear that they may not fit into the band’s more energetic style,” says Bouliane. “A balance had to be sought, and I also had to find the right words and the proper phrasing to convey the feel of these personal songs.” Written as an attempt to bring out his personal pain and anxiety – admittedly, a kind of therapy – “Là où on s’aime” is now the theme song of  Nova Scotia’s Alzheimers Society.

Released just a few months ago, 20 Temps brings out another side of Patrice Boulianne’s personality that Blou fans in other countries will soon be able to discover for themselves. “Thanks to RIDEAU’s networking program as well as to the ECMAs and FrancoFête en Acadie, my booking agency (À l’infini) has been able to develop an impressive network of contacts that help me keep an eye on our European connection,” says the tireless Acadian culture ambassador. “I’m going to be back there soon.”

Chad Richardson never doubted that his life would be in music. “I always knew that if I got a job doing something else, I would wither away,” he says with a laugh.

Still, it was cooking – not music – that lured Richardson, SOCAN’s new General Manager, Los Angeles Division (and lifetime SOCAN member), away from his hometown in Newfoundland after he graduated from high school.  “I left because of my B-plan,” he admits, describing a two-year stint at chef school in Paris that left him just enough spare time to begin writing songs. “By the time I was done in France, I knew music was what I had to do.”

“My two favourite things in the world are songwriters and Canadians!”

Richardson headed home to Canada, where he briefly studied music in Montreal. He began singing in karaoke competitions to support himself, once winning $2,000 worth of oversized tires (which ended up as furniture in his apartment). Soon Richardson cut his first demo tape. Misunderstanding a form rejection letter from a major label, he then moved to Toronto, convinced he was about to break big. “I interpreted the letter as ‘I will give you a record deal,’” Richardson laughs.

In Toronto, Richardson actually did begin to have his breaks. After releasing his first album independently, he won the Q107 Homegrown contest, which provided the funding for album number two. When he signed a record deal with Aquarius/EMI, this album, The Legends Of Brud, came out. During the making of Brud, Richardson spontaneously auditioned for the Canadian production of the Broadway hit Rent. “My bass player dared me to do it,” says Richardson, admitting he’d never acted before and was unfamiliar with the show. “15,000 people auditioned and I got the lead.”

Richardson was transferred to New York to spend several years starring in the Broadway production of Rent, but he knew it was music, not acting, that still had his heart. He moved to Los Angeles to focus on writing and producing music, as well as managing other songwriters under his company Arrive At Eleven Productions. A gig with independent music publisher ole followed, during which Richardson played an instrumental role in signing such high-profile artists as Steven Tyler and Timbaland.

He also re-vamped a series of international songwriting camps, making it easier to scout and support new talent, and resulting in more camp-crated songs being recorded by high-profile artists. Some of those camps actually changed songwriters’ lives. For example, a friend told Richardson about Edmonton-based soul-roots artist Scotty Hills; after Richardson checked out his music, he invited Hills to try his hand writing for Rihanna at a camp in Los Angeles. “I felt he honestly believed in what I was doing and wanted to see me succeed,” says Hills. “I thought, ‘Here’s a guy who’s passionate about music and willing to take chances.’”

Richardson is excited about embarking on this next phase of his career – particularly the chance to seek out opportunities for Canadian songwriters while helping them do their best work.

“When SOCAN called and said, ‘You’ll go from supporting your own roster to helping all Canadian songwriters,’ that was it for me,” he recalls. “My two favourite things in the world are songwriters and Canadians!”–