In Conversation with Sean Mayes

From Schulich to musical leadership

What can you do with a degree in music education? A lot, it turns out. Sean Mayes earned his undergraduate degrees in music and education at McGill in 2013. And since then, he has taken on projects in Montreal, Toronto, and New York City that both amplify marginalized voices and tell amazing stories, all while sticking to his core values as an educator.

Here’s a little about his career since graduating and what he has to say to students thinking of applying to our school.

Tell us about your career since leaving Schulich. 

It’s been a bit wild! I started pretty hard out of the gate teaching full time. And I’ve since been involved in theater, worked as a conductor in Toronto, and I music supervise a lot of projects now. I’m also working as a composer more and more these days for some projects on the horizon. I’m also still teaching – education has always been and will continue to be my “why.”  

What are some of the projects you’re most proud of? 

There’s so, so much. Right now, it brings me a lot of humility that I’m being trusted to help bring new stories into the forefront. I’m currently working on a new opera that I’m conducting and composing at the Canadian Opera Company in June. It’s about a Nova Scotian called Portia White, who was the first Black Canadian concert singer to achieve international fame. I also did a project called Mandela in London, which was a world premiere of a new musical being developed with the Mandela Estate about his life. I’m also supervising this new musical about Muhammad Ali, that is on track towards Broadway, that we’re doing in his hometown next year in Kentucky. I’m very humbled that I get to use my artistry to put these stories in the forefront. 

How did Schulich set you up for success? 

The music education program really gave me the tools to be a well-rounded musician. We were one of the few programs to actually have courses on conducting, orchestrating, arranging, etc… all of which I use very often and fluidly now in my career. It also gave me the skills to be a leader, both in educational settings and in professional settings as someone who's compassionate and understands how people learn. And I have my time at McGill to thank for that. 

What would you say to a student thinking of applying to the Schulich School of Music? 

Honestly, what are you waiting for! Believe in yourself. Because I didn’t at first, until I got there. I fell in love with the school and Montreal. It almost had this otherworldly magical quality to it. And as a city, Montreal itself is so magical. If you go, you’ll make lifelong friends at your faculty and a lifelong friend in the city. You’ll be investing in a place that you’ll be able to return to as a home for the rest of your life.  

What about to students about to graduate and embark on their musical career? 

It’s a good question. I would say trust in the knowledge and experience you’ve gained in the time that you were there. And, this might sound super cliché: trust in the thing you invested so much time in learning, developing, creating. Also, remember that so many excellent people that graduated before you had the ability to go out into the world and find their way. Trust that you have that in you, too! 

Learn more about the music education area at the Schulich School of Music. 

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