The Saskatchewan Band Association (SBA) has recognized Swift Current musician and conductor Greg McLean's dedication to musical excellence with the 2018 Distinguished Band Director Award.
The SBA presented the award to McLean at the University of Regina Concert Band and Wind Ensemble fall concert, Dec. 4.
“I was just really pleased to be recognized by my peers,” McLean told the Prairie Post. “I love working with them and I loved the opportunity through the years to mentor young people.”
The award is presented to a band director who has made an outstanding contribution to band in Saskatchewan. The award criteria require that a recipient has shown strong musical leadership in the community and the province, and that this person's musical career has been marked by a consistent promotion of musical excellence.
His passion for music was the driving force during his career and in his various roles as a musician, band director, conductor, clinician, and adjudicator.
“That's kind of who I am,” he said. “My love of good music and good wind band music, good jazz band music, kind of led me down that path. I wouldn't have been teaching in the public school system if I'd been teaching other subjects. I admire my other colleagues, they're obviously teaching something that they're passionate about, but I'm really, really passionate about wind bands, jazz bands, chamber choir.”
For McLean a life without music is simply unimaginable and there is a real sense of satisfaction when hours of dedication result in a great musical outcome.
“It just feels really good inside here (referring to his heart) to play almost a perfect performance or to conduct an almost perfect performance,” he said.
He traces his musical talent back to his parents and once he developed a passion for music his career became more than just a job.
“My mom and dad were farmers,” he mentioned. “My mom took a couple of years of violin lessons before she got married and moved to the farm. My dad didn't play any instruments. He sang in the church choir. All I can say is I think that's where I got my musical ability and then I worked at enhancing those through my degree at Calgary and then also my masters degree in Winnipeg. So once you get the taste, once you get bit by it, so to speak, you're hooked for life and you should be passionate about it”
He received a Bachelor of Music degree from Brandon University with a major in trumpet. He continued his studies during his career and earned a Graduate Diploma in conducting and wind repertoire from the University of Calgary as well as a Master of Music degree in conducting from the University of Manitoba.
He was a high school band director for 35 years. His career started in Killarney, Manitoba, but he worked for most of the time in Saskatchewan. He spent 12 years in Esterhazy and then 21 years at the Swift Current Comprehensive High School. The opportunity to instill a love for music in students remains an important highlight of his career.
“Their minds are so open and their hearts are so open,” he said. “You just show them the way and they really embrace it. ... It was a matter of challenging them. I soon learned that if you expect lots from your students, they'll meet and exceed those expectations.”
He required the full attention of students in class and during rehearsals, which were intense and music-centred. Parental support and a great parent group helped him to achieve his goals as a music teacher.
“We asked students to buy in and they did,” he said. “I don't know what I did in particular, other than being very intense and have high expectations, but I think in the long run they understand that.”
A trip to Chicago in December 1977 to attend the midwest band and orchestra conference had a decisive influence on his career as a music educator.
“I remember sitting down there and saying they don't look any different than my kids back home, so what's the difference there, and I realized that I was the difference,” he recalled. “So if I up my game, they will follow, and if I up my game again, they will follow. So I think that was a pivotal moment for me in saying those kids in Indiana don't look any different from the kids I have home in Saskatchewan. It's my job to up my game and so I did training, I went back to do a masters degree, went to conferences, start teaching a jazz camp and learning from somebody like Gord Foote, who was at McGill University.”
The Senior Wind Orchestra and Senior Jazz Ensemble at Swift Current Comprehensive High School received many awards under McLean's direction, including gold medals at MusicFest Canada in 1993, 1995 and 1998. The Wind Orchestra was invited to perform guest showcase concerts at the Rocky Mountain Festival in 1996, 1997, 2007 and 2009 and at the Moose Jaw International Festival in 1999 and 2003. The Senior Jazz Ensemble was featured in a showcase concert at the Rocky Mountain Festival in 2008.
He has contributed to music development in the province as a faculty member of the Prairieland Jazz Camp in Regina and as a clinician and conductor at SBA band camps. He has been an adjudicator at music festivals across Canada and he has conducted honour bands in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island.
He was a charter member when the SBA was established in 1983 and he has served on the board of directors in various roles, including treasurer, vice president and president. In 2016 he served as the SBA interim executive director for just over six months.
He has received a number of awards during his career. In 2001 the Swift Current Rotary Club presented him with the Paul Harris Fellowship for outstanding leadership and community work with young people. In 2006, he was the recipient of the Saskatchewan Music Educators Association's Outstanding Achievement Award, and he was nominated for the Lieutenant Governor's Leadership in the Arts Award.
McLean formally retired as a music teacher in 2010, but he has remained musically active. He continued to teach privately until last spring and he has continued to participate in jazz or band camps. He formed the Swift Current Jazz Orchestra in 2015 and he is still the ensemble's artistic director.
He is the co-artistic director and orchestra conductor for the Swift Current Oratorio Choir, and during the choir's annual spring concert he conducts members of the Regina Symphony Orchestra and soloists.