The Queen and I
Notes from our Artistic Director

October 1, 2022

If you’ve been reading each month’s note right to its very end, you know that I always close with a reminder that music connects us. This very concept came strongly to mind in September when I heard that the Queen had died at her Balmoral Estate in Scotland. Like most of you, I am sure, there were thoughts about the dominance this amazing woman has played in our lives because she was the Queen of Canada and probably the most famous person in the world. As I watched the ceremonies unfold in their impressive British way, I kept thinking about the times where HRH and I crossed connections, in person and otherwise, and it struck me that every single occasion came about because of a musical link. Permit me, please, to share these personal memories and their musical connections as a final tribute to Queen Elizabeth.

me out the rear door, ready to wave to the cheering crowds as her train left the station, but the Queen herself. I’m not sure which of us was more surprised at that moment but I prefer to think that she smiled down at me and was about to chat when a nervous officer kindly moved me away. For those few seconds, thanks to my taking part in Guelph’s musical celebration, it was just Queen Elizabeth and Johnny Miller, alone together at the CNR Station.

July 2, 1959 As a junior in the Guelph Salvation Army Band, I was one of the musicians positioned in St. George’s Square where the Queen’s limousine was to pass on Wyndham Street. (Prince Philip, as I recall, was appearing somewhere else in the province during that summer’s whirlwind Canadian tour to open the St. Lawrence Seaway.) The bandmaster had chosen the Scottish folk tune, Will ye no come back again?, for us to play as an appropriate civic message while Her Majesty waved by. We all did our best, though I doubt that she heard us. As soon as the limousine passed the Square, I handed my euphonium to my mother, tore off my uniform cap, and dashed behind the crowds towards the railway station. With cheering crowds packed on the open platform and nowhere for me to push through for one more royal glimpse, I decided to enter the station by the open, unprotected doors of the waiting room, behind the security lines of the RCMP honour guard along the open platform. Suddenly I was beside the final carriage of the idling royal train. I looked up at the car’s observation deck and who should co

Photo by Freddie Reed

Summer, 2012 This experience started five summers earlier when I promised a young Toronto composer, Mark Richards, that if he would finish a solid draft of his opera, Hamlet, I would give the work a full workshop with singers and musicians at Stratford Summer Music; true to his word and his craft, Mark presented me with the score, the project proceeded, and the workshop finale was a success attended by Mark’s family including his father, the prominent Canadian painter and portrait specialist, Phil Richards. Fast forward five years to 2012, the Queen’s 60th year as monarch, when the federal government chose to commission Phil Richards to paint a Canadian-themed portrait of Her Majesty for a place of honour in the Ballroom where great events take place at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. To reflect our country’s celebration of this royal anniversary year at our music festival, I decided to program some royal-inspired music and to invite Phil to give a lecture about his extraordinary honour to undertake this portrait; all I really needed, however, was a copy of the portrait which Ottawa was carefully keeping under wraps until Her Majesty could unveil it herself at Buckingham Palace.

The artist kindly remembered my support for his son and said he would reciprocate that support by taking part in SSM’s twelfth season, even arranging for us to print a large reproduction of the painting. The lecture, which was hosted by Lloyd Robertson, was a unique presentation because Phil brought along his maquettes to show how he formed the background setting and calculated the lines of light for the portrait. After the season ended, one question remained: what to do with the image in its reduced size (slightly less than 6’ X 4’; the original is 10’ tall). After much persuasion, Andrey agreed that I could buy the copy at full cost from the music festival. That portrait, in much smaller poster-size editions, has been distributed throughout the country while the original has been on a national tour this year to mark Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. The reproduction hangs comfortably in our home office.

(L) The Queen with, l to r, Phil Richards, Prime Minister Harper, Governor General David Johnson in the White Drawing Room, Buckingham Palace. Photo: PM’s Office/Sean Kilpatrick/CP

(R) Queen’s Photo at Rideau Hall by Jason R, on TripAdvisor

June 30, 2010 The Ontario sculptor, Ruth Abernethey, is one of the most wonderful, creative individuals I’ve ever had the joys of working with. Our first project together was the creation of the sculpture, Glenn Gould on the Bench, which sits outside the CBC Building on Front Street West in Toronto and has reportedly become Toronto’s most popular and recognised outdoor artwork. Ruth has consistently and kindly told me that the prominence of that sculpture opened further opportunities for her, one of which was a commission from the National Arts Centre to create a work honouring another great Canadian pianist, Oscar Peterson, for a setting outside the NAC on Albert Street in Ottawa. Ruth completed the work in time for the Queen’s visit to our capital city in 2010 so unveiling the sculpture was included in Her Majesty’s itinerary the day before Canada Day. Among the artist’s personal guests for that occasion were Andrey and I, but this time I’m certain Her Majesty didn’t recognise me, so much had I changed, though the VIP seating Ruth had arranged for her guests placed us just as close to each other as I’d been as a lad beside the royal train forty-one years earlier. In the photo, Ruth is standing between the royal couple, Oscar is happy to be at his keyboard, and if you look carefully, I’m the chap in the third row of the official guests. This visit turned out to be the Queen’s last visit to Canada. To this day, I’m moved to think that I was there for such a significant and proud musical moment as Oscar’s fellow Montrealers from the Jubilation Choir sang Oscar’s own composition, Hymn to Freedom, and we all waved farewell to the royal visitors.

NAC photo by Trevor Lush

Let’s close with a link to that unveiling at the NAC. If you scroll through the video to the 3:00 mark, you’ll come to the Choir singing Oscar’s Hymn, a melody which Canadians have taken to their hearts. One hopes the message of the song similarly moves us all and motivates us with its message of brotherhood!

Here’s the link:

Till we’re together again…remember that Music Connects Us.

John A. Miller, Artistic Director