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"Music is really a combination of emotion, colour, light, sound, silence, intellectual grasping and seeing the whole picture. All of those things come together in great works of art. This is one of the reasons that music is so important. It helps with the thinking process and brain development and emotional development and skill development in every field, not just in music. That’s why it's so important and that’s why we still advocate strongly for the inclusion of music education in public schools."
Michael Massey has been a fixture in Edmonton’s classical music scene for over 45 years. He has inspired thousands of young musicians through the Edmonton Youth Orchestra and countless others through musical performance. Michael is an accomplished and versatile musician. He is a pianist, a conductor, an orchestrator, a programmer and a teacher — but most of all, he is a mentor and role model for young musicians in Alberta.
Michael was born in London, England, in July 1945. At age 12, he moved with his family to Canada and started a new life in Edmonton. Two years later, he began formal piano studies under Jean-Pierre Vetter. This relationship was foundational in his development as a musician and in his appreciation of the power of a good teacher. Vetter had a way of bringing music to life for him. From then on, he recalls, it was “all music.” Vetter’s influence would change and shape Michael’s life, not only as a pianist, but as a mentor to other musicians.
After earning a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Alberta under the guidance of Professor Alexandra Munn, Michael moved to Switzerland, spending two years at the Geneva Conservatory studying with the renowned pedagogue Louis Hiltbrand. While getting his Diplôme de Virtuosité, he was awarded the Premier Prix de Virtuosité and performed twice as soloist with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Michael would go on to establish himself as a soloist, accompanist, and chamber musician throughout Canada.
Once, on a dare, Michael successfully auditioned for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO) on cello, which had been his second study instrument while at university. This initial position with the ESO spawned a relationship that has lasted more than 45 years. After playing cello for two years, Michael moved into the role of ESO pianist, a position he continues to hold. Michael has also been a frequent soloist and occasional conductor with the ESO.
Michael emphasizes that it was the experience of being an orchestral player, both as a cellist and a pianist that would determine his musical path and define his lasting legacy.
In 1977, Michael became Music Director of the Edmonton Youth Orchestra (EYO). Since that time, the orchestra has flourished and grown, doubling from one to two orchestras: an Intermediate Orchestra for musicians aged 11 to 16 and a Senior Orchestra which starts musicians at age 14 and sees them play up to age 25. The EYO, which is comprised of the top players from northern Alberta, is considered to be among the best in Canada.
After four decades of heading the youth orchestras, Michael has been a conductor, teacher and mentor to over 6,000 young musicians. His innovative, wide-ranging, and demanding repertoire selections challenge and stretch his students’ abilities. Michael’s time, energy and dedication to the Edmonton Youth Orchestra have resulted in wide acclaim and drawn large and diverse audiences. The Senior Orchestra played for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 2005, and has toured to Australia, Austria, Great Britain, Los Angeles, Ontario, Quebec and throughout Alberta.
Even while leading the orchestras, Michael continues to perform and instruct. As a piano teacher, he has taught classes large and small. He finds teaching deeply rewarding: “You learn a lot about yourself and you learn a lot about music when you teach it.”
Michael also continues to make himself generously available to young musicians to refine pieces, prepare for auditions and master advanced skills. This continued dedication to mentorship of the next generation has distinguished Michael as one of Alberta’s most influential classical musicians.
Michael encourages his students to strive for excellence and to develop an individual style. He is passionate about mentorship and considers it the best way to pass down not just knowledge but enthusiasm. He has fervently advocated for the continued inclusion of music in schools, citing his own experience of being exposed to music at a young age. Despite having no children of his own, Michael jokes that, through the Edmonton Youth Orchestra, he’s had thousands of kids for whom his job has been to pass on the love of music.
Michael’s passion has influenced orchestras, groups and universities across Canada and around the world. Edmonton Youth Orchestra alumni have held positions in the Canadian Brass, the St. Lawrence Quartet, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to name a few. Many of his students are now teachers themselves, and can be found at universities and conservatories across Canada, the United States and Europe.
Michael’s accomplishments span a 45-year career. This includes the founding of the Northern Alberta Concerto Competition in 1980, which continues to provide valuable experience for young soloists. In 1984 and 1996 he wrote and published The Canadian Repertoire Manual, a source book and analysis of Canadian music suitable for youth orchestras. Michael has appeared as a guest conductor and piano soloist with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Scottish National Orchestra. Michael continues to be active as a pianist and performs regularly as a soloist and accompanist.
Michael was inducted into Edmonton’s Cultural Hall of Fame as an Artist-Builder and awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002.
When he’s not busy practising, rehearsing, performing, orchestrating, teaching or being otherwise engaged in music-related activities, Michael spends time enjoying some of his other passions. These include creating and caring for his beautiful English garden, golfing, cooking, reading, watching classic movies and spending time in the mountains with his wife, Elaine.
Michael remains one of Edmonton’s most influential artists. He continues to perform with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra while mentoring students and leading both Edmonton Youth Orchestras. Michael’s influence on the musicians of today and tomorrow will only continue to grow, as his students and the alumni of the EYO pass their love of music on to others, in Alberta and beyond.