I've got my degree – now what?

By Dave Robilliard and Brennan Connolly


Fond memories of their time spent at the DWFoM were vivid in the minds of both Dave Robilliard (BMus'04) and Brennan Connolly (BMus'08) of Duo Percussion as they opened the Fridays at 12:30 concert season in September. Along with the Fridays at 12:30 concert, Duo presented a workshop for undergraduate and graduate music students on entrepreneurship, titled “I've Got My Degree…Now What?” Geared towards musicians, the seminar covered topics such as marketing, networking, touring, sponsorship and creating your own opportunities.

Both Robilliard and Connolly completed their MMus degrees in percussion at Oklahoma City University and upon returning to Canada, the pair reconnected to form a chamber percussion ensemble that has taken off over the last couple years. In fact, the group has gone from playing just a few local education con-certs to performing for national and international audiences. They have also gained sponsor-ship from Pearl/ Adams

Drums & Concert Percussion as well as Dream Cymbals & Gongs. Most recently, the duo was nominated for “Best Percussion Ensemble” in 2014 by Drum! Magazine, in which they finished second to the world-renowned Blue Man Group. 

Duo Percussion is a professional percussion pairing known for their eclectic and high-energy performances. Using traditional and non-traditional percussion instruments, they present diverse programs of classical, contemporary and Canadian music. Duo Percussion is dedicated to expanding the percussion duo repertoire and attract-ing new audiences. “We're trying to change the way that people experience a ‘classical' concert, ” said Connolly. “We're trying to approach concerts in a different way. We have a unique sound palette and niche to fill and we are trying to engage audiences of all ages on a level that makes them feel that they are just as much a part of the performance experience as we are. ”  

The pair has appeared as guest artists with the Bell' Arte Singers, the Guelph Chamber Choir and the Oriana Women's Choir. Other solo appearances include the Ontario Percussive Arts Society's Day of Percussion, Toronto's Harbourfront Centre, New Hamburg Live! Festival of the Arts, Bach Music Festival of Canada, and the University of Guelph.

Not only are they busy per-forming public concerts, Duo Percussion also has a pas-sion for fostering creativity in young people. With concerts and workshops tailored to suit various educational levels, Duo Percussion has been able to help inspire and enhance the abilities of many young audiences by exposing them to a unique genre of music and immersing them in the world of percussion. This helps students realize the limitless possibilities of percussion music and motivates them to develop their exploratory and creative skill set, which helps their musician-ship to grow. Duo Percussion was first engaged to perform at a secondary school in Clinton, ON and with an outstanding response, the demand for the group was immediate. Now frequently engaged by schools throughout the province, Duo Percussion has grown to provincial and national recognition as evidenced by their keynote performance at the Ontario Music Educators' Association Conference and their residency at MusicFest Canada ‘The Nationals' .

In addition to their ensemble performances, Robilliard and Connolly are active freelance musicians and educators in Southwestern Ontario. They perform regularly with orchestras in the region, and together comprise the percussion section for the Jeans ‘n' Classics Rock Symphony. They have performed in shows at the Stratford Festival and the Grand Theatre along with many other local theatre groups. As educators, Robilliard has been adjunct faculty at both Western and the University of Windsor, while Connolly is the percussion ensemble director at Wilfrid Laurier University. In addition, they both direct percussion ensembles at local high schools and maintain active private teaching studios in their respective cities.

In the spring of 2016, Duo Percussion will tour the mid-west United States with concert appearances and workshops in Oklahoma and Texas. They are also taking bookings for the education concerts and workshops. For more information, visit: www.duopercussion.ca.

Article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 edition of Ensemble, the alumni magazine of the Don Wright Faculty of Music at Western University.  Reprinted with permission.

Living a Working Poet’s Life: Holly’s Story

By Holly Painter

Facilitated by Elyse Trudell, WorkStory Ambassador

 If you had asked me as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered "teacher". If you had asked me as a teenager what my plans were after high school, I would have answered "teacher's college". If you had asked me as an early twenty-something what my passion and future career was, I would have answered "teaching". So as my 30th birthday approaches, you might naturally assume that I spend my weekdays in a classroom, standing in front of a group of students discussing important topics and curriculum material, preparing them for the next test, essay, exam, grade. If you assumed all of this you'd be half correct, but I bet you'd never guess my job title: I'm a poet.

Poet? I can imagine exactly how your forehead is wrinkling at the thought. Poetry, as in the boring stuff studied in school? Who would decide to do that as a job? How is it even possible to make any money? And how is that in any way related to teaching?

I am a spoken word artist. I perform poetry, writing and rehearsing my poems before sharing them on stages (and in classrooms) across the country. I began performing at poetry slams (after battling my fear of public speaking), and eventually my hobby became my job. Correct that; my hobby became my passion that pays the bills.

I run the London Poetry Slam, a space and stage open and welcoming to creative writers and spoken word artists of all ages. Right now, over fifty percent of our performing poets and audience members are youth under the age of 21. Poetry is alive and well, and it's all the things you never knew from English class: it's energetic and engaging, it packs a room once a month on a Friday night with 150 excited people, eager to share their own and listen to each other's stories. And youth love it.

The basic messages of spoken word poetry in London are "Speak Your Truth" and "Show the Love". These messages I carry with me as I speak at schools across the province at assemblies or in classroom workshops. The poetry actually becomes secondary to the themes of being open and willing to share personal experiences, and listening and being respectful and empathetic as people do. You would think high school would be the last place you would see this type of thing happen. But I see it every week. Youth relishing the opportunity to share their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and passions with their peers, to write, create, and speak freely, and to snap their fingers in support and acceptance as they hear and connect with what others are going through.

I may not be a full-time classroom teacher, but I wouldn't trade my job as poet/public speaker/arts educator for the world. What I have learned about youth through listening to their poems are the fundamental things I believed about them when I felt the tug at my heart to be a teacher; young people are artistic, articulate, and altruistic. They are passionate, perceptive, and powerful. They are enthusiastic, empathetic, and engaging. They are artists, advocates, activists, and teachers just as much as they are students when given the chance to open up, speak, and share. Often they just need a way to express all of this and someone to throw them the ropes and listen when they take hold.

If you asked me years ago how to help students become all of the things listed above, I guarantee you I would not have answered poetry. Funny what happens when you try something new, ignore doubts or fears, and encourage young people to realize the power of their words.

For more about Holly’s work check out http://www.hollypainterpoetry.com/

A version of this piece originally appeared in the London Free Press on March 6, 2015 


East Coast Fashion: Amanda & Laura’s Story

       Amanda Kincaid

       Amanda Kincaid

Another fashion story -- this time from Halifax where fashionistas Amanda Kincaid and Laura Corkum have launched Nova Fashion Incubator!    Their goal?   To provide co-operative space, equipment, expertise, ideas, and inspiring support to emerging east coast fashion design talent!  

As Amanda and Laura told Bill Powers:

        Laura Corkum

        Laura Corkum

“…there is a ready market for an incubator in the region, with about 30 people graduating annually from programs like the Centre for Arts and Technology’s fashion design and merchandising program, Dalhousie University’s costume studies program, and the University of New Brunswick’s craft and textile program.

Learn more about the Nova Fashion Incubator here.

Stylerunner: Julie & Sali’s Fashion Story

Another entrepreneurial sibling story!  Australian twins Julie and Sali were looking for workout clothing with fashion and style – all in one online shop.    Finding nothing that fit the bill, they made some decisive career moves and launched Stylerunner!  Sylvia Pennington tells their inspiring fashion story!

“…It was a business opportunity that couldn’t be passed up, says Julie Stevanja, who was living in London at the time. She packed in her job with a film streaming technology start-up and hotfooted it home to Sydney to team up with sister Sali, a recruitment consultant, in getting the venture off the ground.”

For more about Julie and Sali, have a look here and here.

Tasha Cull: Proud Mom and Personal Support Worker

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Tasha Cull has been working as a Personal Support Worker (PSW) for nearly three years in the city of London, Ontario and the surrounding area. She travels every day to and from her clients’ homes to give them the help that they need in order to live as independently as possible. Tasha’s favourite part of the job is building the same type of relationship with her clients that friends would have: “I love taking the time to [get to] know my clients and build a sense of trust and [understanding] with them.”

Tasha was inspired to become a Personal Support Worker after she witnessed the care that a PSW provided to her great-grandmother when she was “going through her final stages of life.... She suffered from dementia and cancer....”

Tasha watched as the PSW’s care and compassion shone through, even when her great-grandmother “was at her worst”. Cull noticed that the Personal Support Worker always “remained composed”, which made a positive impression and  led Tasha onto this career path. “I knew I wanted to set out and be like her. I'll never be as good as she was, but I aim each day to be like her.”

Cull studied to become a Personal Support Worker at Westervelt College in London in 2011 and then graduated in 2012 with honours! She now has a family of her own with her husband, Allan. They became parents in 2014 to their son, Everick who is seen in Tasha’s photo. When asked if being a mom has influenced the way she works or if her job influenced her as a parent, she replied as follows.

“Oh yes! As a PSW, I learned a lot about caring for another person and I feel like being a mom has definitely changed how I treat others. It's most certainly helped me cope knowing I've done this before, just not with such a wee one. I've always cared about others in a compassionate and gentle way; but having a baby makes you so much more emotional to others’ feelings because a baby and most elders can't or won't tell you how they’re feeling. I can now relate to elders on a different level! It doesn't take a mind reader to know when someone's in pain but it's easy to hide it when someone is scared or unsure how you'll react when they tell you. Many elderly people will hide the pain because they don’t want to trouble you, or make you feel obligated to help. Being a mom, I've been more aware and able to see the signs more clearly when my little one is in pain or upset, because obviously a 3 month old can't tell you they can't poop or have an upset tummy.”

At the time this article was written, Cull was still on maternity leave, however, she said, “I can't wait to go back to work and share my stories and hear more about my clients’ memories of their little ones as well!”

Through working with others as a PSW, Tasha has learned that it is not always about the physical care she provides. She trusts that anyone who is looking to become a Personal Support Worker will also be emotionally supportive for their clients. It may seem obvious but being compassionate is a huge part of the job: 

“I hope they have patience and a lot of different experiences in life. You must have a strong heart and a sharp mind because you come across so many interesting people from all walks of life and you need to be kind to every one of them.... They all have their own story and a lot [of them are] heart breaking.” But all in all for Tasha Cull, “It's a very rewarding career!”