Leading the Way: Part 4 of 5 — Melissa Tardif

Gain insight into Schulich conductors and directors. These women are Leading the Way.
We’re excited to see women taking the lead on the podium and in the director’s chair. With that in mind, we’ve asked some of our graduate students in conducting and directing a few questions about who they are, and what they do.  

Join us over the next few weeks and get to know these formidable talents as they build their careers and shape our musical landscape.  

Melissa Tardif

Melissa Tardif (BMus'19, BEd'19, MMus'21) is currently completing her degree in Conducting at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University. Having been trained as a jazz saxophonist, she has performed in and around Montreal throughout her schooling. In addition to performing, she has a passion for both conducting and education. With a particular interest in film and video game music scores, she hopes to one day direct an orchestra that records these works, where she can be a part of the creative process. 
In addition to conducting and teaching, Melissa has also recently begun composing and arranging her own music. In 2019, she founded her own orchestra, L'Orchestre d'Anime de Montreal. The orchestra specializes in Japanese anime music and performs at conventions around the Montreal area. Melissa's entrepreneurial spirit and fervent drive for leading others makes her a viable asset to any teaching team.

Melissa's master’s recital leading members of the McGill Wind Orchestra took place on February 19, 2021.

GUSTAV HOLST Second Suite in F for Military Band, Op. 28, No. 2
JEAN FRANÇAIX Huit danses exotiques
DAVID GILLINGHAM Serenade for Winds and Percussion

What do you see as the role and responsibility of a conductor/director?   

The role of the conductor, in my opinion, is to lead and inspire the ensemble in a positive and engaging manner. There are many conductors who believe that being overly demanding and to some extent, “mean” to the ensemble is the way to direct. I absolutely disagree with this. Musicians want to make music with the conductor and not for the conductor. The conductor’s role in my opinion is to inspire and work with the musicians to create music as a collective. A conductor may have their own vision for the work, but it must always be shared with the orchestra in a way that is collaborative. Using the word “we” instead of “I” is incredibly important when rehearsing. It brings a sense of collaboration within the ensemble. 

What’s the toughest thing about conducting? What’s the easiest or most fun?  

For me, the most difficult thing about conducting is working with groups of all levels. When you are tasked to work with a group that you have never worked with before, it is always a stressful experience. The part of conducting that I find to be the most fun is the score studying aspect. Taking your time with a score and getting yourself lost in the mind of the composer is always a very relaxing and exciting thing for me. Finding hidden elements in the music and discovering the composer’s style is an absolute blast. As an arranger and composer myself, I find it quite fascinating to analyze and jump into the mind of a composer. It helps me with my own composition work.

What advice would you give to your starting-at-university self?   

  Attend a lot more concerts and get the instrument injury prevention treatment you needed earlier!  

What was the most surprising thing you learned during your degree?   

How much I love teaching. While doing my degree, I spent a lot of time working with other aspiring conductors and hearing about the career paths they wanted to take. Through those discussions and my studies, I grew to realize that as much as I loved the orchestral performance world, I preferred to give back — to teach and guide aspiring conductors the art of conducting. As an educator first, getting the chance to co-teach MUIT 315 — Instrumental Conducting with Professor Alain Cazes — has truly been an empowering and wonderful opportunity. Teaching conducting and educational techniques to future teachers brings me so much joy! It's a field I would absolutely love to be a part of in the future. 

Tell me a little about your recent Master’s recital.  What made you most excited about it?

I had an absolute blast! The challenging part about this concert, in particular, was finding repertoire for a smaller group because of the COVID restrictions. I had always told Professor Cazes that I wanted to conduct both of Holst’s suites, and I am very fortunate that I got to conduct both during the two years of my master’s degree. Professor Cazes helped me choose the other two pieces by using my own personal musical taste. My interest in film scores and my background in jazz studies guided me to the Françaix and Gillingham pieces. The repertoire was my favorite part of the concert, for sure. 

If you had a mantra/philosophy/phrase that sums up where you are now, what would it be?   

“The only solution to anything is hard work.” I got this quote tattooed to my ankle, and it has been my mantra since the beginning of my studies at McGill in 2014. 

Dream piece to conduct/direct?   

This will come as a surprise to many since it is not a classical composer, but I am absolutely in love with the work of Max Richter, a British minimalist composer. Getting to conduct any of his works would be an absolute dream. My runner up would be an Australian composer by the name of Kevin Penkin who is famous for scoring the music for various Japanese animation films. It would be a dream to conduct any of his works. 

Conductor(s)/leaders you admire?  

One of my favorite conductors is Alondra de le Parra. She is a very positive and inspirational leader whose energy and enthusiasm is incredibly contagious. I base a lot of my conducting and rehearsing style off of her. 

What do you want to see/hear more of in your field?  

To be frank, I think there should be an emphasis / importance placed on learning to conduct various genres of music besides classical or contemporary. I am someone who has a vast interest in music, which falls outside of the realm of classical or contemporary. As conductors, we sometimes get gigs in studios or we conduct the pit orchestra for musical theatre productions. When learning about conducting, we seldom talk about these aspects of the profession, and they are often overlooked or treated as “not as important”. I have conducted a musical theatre production and I must say, it requires an entirely different set of skills that I did not find myself prepared for. The school of conducting prepares you to become a maestro or meastra in front of a symphony orchestra. They don’t prepare you for the CEGEP or community youth group that you will face in your career. So what I would love to see in the field is bringing to light these OTHER aspects of conducting, so that careers as studio conductors or pit orchestra conductors are not looked down upon.  

Though we're unable to share clips from her recital, Melissa is true to her word, engaging in and with a variety of ensembles and styles of music!

This video was recorded in Clara Lichtenstein Hall in 2016.
Somnium Fantasy: "A Dream Fantasy", composed and conducted by Melissa Tardif, explores the various steps that one must take in order to achieve their dreams. Each movement, rich in beautiful timbres and a tenacious tone, delves into the hardships, determination, and perseverance that come with realizing one’s hopes and dreams. 

A Kingdom Hearts III Mashup: “Face my Fears, Don’t think Twice and Simple and Clean”
Original Music by Utada Hikaru Orchestral
Arrangement by Melissa Tardif

The Montreal New Horizons Band is a bilingual and intergenerational wind and percussion ensemble open to all, offering the opportunity to learn (or relearn) how to play a musical instrument in a friendly and dynamic environment.


Stay tuned...
Next week you'll meet Nila Rajagopal.

Read Leading the Way: Part 1 of 5 — Kelly Lin here
Read Leading the Way: Part 2 of 5 — Angela Hemingway here
Read Leading the Way: Part 3 of 5 — Sawyer Craig here
Read Leading the Way: Part 5 of 5 — Nila Rajagopal here

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