A St. Albert conductor and artistic director is feeling "very proud" after receiving one of the countries highest honours.
Michael Massey, 77, conductor and artistic director of Edmonton Youth Orchestra (EYO), who lives in St. Albert, has been named to the Order of Canada. The announcement was made in Dec. 2022 by Gov. Gen. Mary Simon.
Massey is being honoured “for his consummate dedication to Alberta’s youth orchestras, and for his transformational mentorship of generations of Canadian musicians," read a release from the Governor General’s office.
“I was very proud," Massey said from his St. Albert home.
"The last five years have been great and receiving the Order of Canada is like receiving an order of excellence. It goes to show you that if you stick with something long enough, you will get recognized for the good work you do.”
His career at EYO spans 45 years and he added, “I’m extremely grateful for having found a job that is my life’s work. Not many people get to say that. The recognition especially on the national level is quite exciting.”
EYO nominated Massey for Order of Canada and general manager Heather Dolman, who assisted in spearheading the drive for his appointment, provided context in an email to the Gazette.
Dolman said Massey has given so much to the organization for many years.
"His leadership, dedication and mentorship has positively impacted and influenced the lives of thousands of young musicians over the course of his career – and continues to do so. Many have stated they would not be where they are today had they not met, worked with, and been encouraged by Michael," Dolman said.
Even his students who don't choose music as their career path have been impacted positively from his leadership, which in turn leaves a positive impact on the communities they live in.
"The scope of Michael’s influence is broad and far-reaching. His appointment to the Order of Canada is so well deserved,” said Dolman.
Born in London, England Massey immigrated to Canada when he was 12 years old. Deeply passionate about music, he took formal piano lessons under Jean-Pierre Vetter and later earned a Bachelor of Music at the University of Alberta.
After a dare from a friend, he auditioned for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO) on cello, his second instrument, and was accepted. After two years, he transitioned from cello to ESO’s pianist, a position he holds today in addition to composing and conducting for the world-class orchestra.
Throughout his career, Massey has mentored and taught thousands of young musicians who have gone on to professional music careers as well as illustrious jobs in other industries. His innovative approach, wide-ranging and demanding repertoire combined with a gentle, sensitive yet firm style has been a major contributor to his personal success and that of his students.
Trumpet player Jens Lindeman, Montreal concert-master Andrew Wan, ESO cellist Ronda Metzies, horn player Jeff Nelson, former ESO bassist John Taylor and Raymond Baril, artistic and principal conductor of the Edmonton Winds are only a small fraction of musicians who have gone on to successful music careers.
In a recently published book that celebrates the EYO’s 70th anniversary, professional violinist Alissa Cheung (1998 to 2005) writes, “Everyone came with different ambitions in life and that’s also what made EYO really colourful. Not all of us became professional musicians, but everyone came away with a deep appreciation for classical music, for orchestral or chamber music, and I think that’s really part of the legacy that EYO has.”
Generous to a fault, Massey sees his student’s success as a success for all.
“I want to open their eyes to certain things, and the youth orchestra is a source of a great experience in their formative years. And that’s highly important. That’s what I try to give everyone – new experiences. The idea of practicing, listening and participating. These are all great life skills, and it pays off wherever they go."
Long recognized for his achievements, Massey was also inducted into Edmonton’s Cultural Hall of Fame as an Artist Builder. In 2016, he received the Alberta Order of Excellence, the highest honour our province confers on a resident. A year later, Massey received the Lifetime Achievement Award during the St. Albert Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts.
Other regional Order of Canada recipients are former Senator Tommy Banks, trumpeter Jens Lindeman, conductor Leonard Ratzlaff and Adriana Davies, science, technology, culture and crafts for The Canadian Encyclopedia.