• Meet a Donor: Gillian Cummings

    By COC Staff

    Gillian is the performance manager at The Glenn Gould School in Toronto. With degrees in both music and journalism, she’s worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, freelance writer, and a TV producer for a number of home and design shows before ending up in her current role. This past spring, she supported our Season Matching Campaign, which focused on our COC Orchestra.

    Tell us more about yourself!

    I live here in Toronto and have worked at The Royal Conservatory for the past seven years. I actually studied here in high school and both my kids studied instruments here, as well. One of my two daughters went on to study voice at Dalhousie Univeristy, so there’s a lot of music in our lives! You can also find me digging and clipping in my garden or, when I have downtime, writing fiction. I’ve published one young-adult novel and am working (too slowly) on a second.

    Gillian (centre) with Canadian singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk (right)
    and Glenn Gould School student pianist Rossina Grieco (left) at a gala to honour GGS donors.

    How did you get into opera?

    I would say that probably happened during my RCM music history courses when I was in high school. We learned all about Puccini and Verdi and particularly Don Giovanni. I was 15 or 16 and it immediately became my favourite opera. It’s still one of my favourites, but now it’s all the Wagner operas that I’m craving.

    What do you think is a really good first opera for people?

    Definitely La Bohème. I saw it at the Met with my husband many years ago, and for Mother’s Day this year I thought it might be a great experience for my mom. She saw an opera once, when her high school class in Scotland visited Paris – but she was young and doesn’t remember which one it was. I happened to know Miriam Khalil because of her relationship to our school and I really wanted to hear her sing as Mimì. And my younger daughter Olivia – the one who’s studied voice – obviously wanted to come too; she’d only seen a very small production of it.

    Three generations at the opera.
    (l-r) Gillian with her mother Mary Haggart and daughter Olivia Cummings.

    So we all went together for a Saturday matinee – and I remember that it was packed. Olivia couldn’t get an Opera Under 30 ticket as they had sold out early. My mother LOVED it! She thought it was perfect and I can see why: it’s not too long, it’s easy to understand, and it has these universal themes of being in love, having no money and looming loss. Add the Parisian garrets, some winter snow, and beautiful, beautiful melodies … my mom and I were in tears at the end of it! We had an amazing, emotional experience. My mom later commented on how much there was to see and look at. She had been to this opera house before, but not for an opera and this was just an exceptional experience for her. Olivia, of course, loved it because she knew the music. It was very special: three generations enjoying one of the world’s most beloved operas.

    What compelled you to support our Season Matching Campaign this year?

    I think it was in direct relation to the lovely time we had that Saturday. It all worked out so well and I thought everything was done quite beautifully – it was a very happy day for three generations. And to have your money matched is a great instigator! My work schedule makes it difficult for me to have a subscription even though I think about it every year. But I thought, “You know – this really deserves a ‘thank you’ for making it such a great day.” And to have it matched was fantastic.

    What advice would you have for someone who’s concerned about understanding opera?

    For anyone brand new to opera, you can definitely just go to one and let it wash over you! You don’t have to do any research at all; everyone experiences it slightly differently in the moment, depending if you’re captivated by the vocals, or the orchestral pieces, or the staging. If you do take a little time to dig in a bit, the whole experience takes on another level of meaning and enjoyment. I know the COC website provides a lot of entry points for people to learn about the opera but it’s also easy for anyone to learn things online, even via YouTube. There’s no need for anyone to feel like they should be formally educated in opera to enjoy it - you can educate yourself! And even then, you also still have that option of just choosing to go and simply see how it sounds and feels. It’s whatever you want the experience to be.

    “Seeing Bruce Springsteen live on Broadway in June 2018 was a lifetime highlight!” says Gillian.

    How does music – and the arts in general – factor into your own life?

    I happen to work in the business and it’s an amazing, inspiring place to work; we have 125 gifted students from all over the world here at The Glenn Gould School who all study classical music so I am privy to many great performances by both students and the musical artists we bring in. But I also go to the Danforth Music Hall! I saw Jenn Grant there last week which was so great.  I see indie bands – Tim Baker of Hey Rosetta! just introduced his new solo album at The Great Hall and that was an outstanding concert. I saw Bruce Springsteen live on Broadway last year and Patty Griffin in April. Her opening act, Ruston Kelly, has been playing nonstop in my house for two months. Everyone has their things that they love and I love books and I love art and I love music. There’s often this strange idea that people who like opera only like opera, but great music is great music – and I love it all.

    Please consider making a donation to support up-and-coming young artists, outreach programs that bring the joy of music to audiences across the GTA, and the immense artistic work that goes into every mainstage performance.


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