Well composed

June 15, 2015


Accomplished composer and MacEwan University Music program chair named first recipient of Distinguished Research Award

By Stephen Vincent

While MacEwan University boasts some truly world-class scientists, scholars and historians, the first-ever recipient of the Dr. Sherrill Brown Distinguished Research Award is more at home in a concert hall than in a lab. Yet Dr. Allan Gilliland, chair of the music program and head of composition, could not be a more fitting recipient of this great honour.

The selection committee was compelled by Allan’s status as one of the most well-respected composers in Canada, and his passion for education and mentorship. “The world is enriched by Allan’s music, his scholarship, his teaching and his collegial contributions to the university,” says provost John Corlett.

“When I first heard I was nominated, I was completely humbled,” says Allan. And as personally rewarding as such recognition is, Allan feels that the award also makes an important statement to students of the arts. “Granting this award to someone from the performing and visual arts shows these students that what they do is truly valued by the university.”

Highlights reel

Allan’s compositions have been played by some of the finest musicians in venues all over the world—he just returned from hearing one of his pieces performed in St. Petersburg, Russia—and his many career highlights include having his compositions played by the New York Philharmonic brass section, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and even on stage at Carnegie Hall.

A history of composition

Allan knew he wanted to be a professional musician the moment he first played the trumpet in junior high school. After years of practicing, finishing his master’s in composition and performing live countless times, Allan was offered the position of composer in residence for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in 1999. “Being with the symphony let me make music full time, which is when I decided to really focus my career on composition.”

Inspiring another generation

In 2004, Allan became a full-time faculty member in MacEwan University’s music program, sharing his knowledge and passion for music with the next generation of composers. His commitment to honing his craft continued when he began working on his PhD at the University of Edinburgh. After balancing both his studies and teaching commitments, Allan earned his doctorate in composition in 2012.

All about the music

Even with such an impressive list of professional achievements, Allan is continuously inspired to create. “I really love the whole process of writing, playing and listening to music,” he says. “It is just such an honour to hear musicians bring my little black dots to life, and I am humbled by it every time.”

In honour of Dr. Sherrill Brown

The new Distinguished Research Award is named in honour of the late Dr. Sherrill Brown, a former faculty member of the Early Learning and Child Care program and prominent child education advocate. Dr. Brown’s ceaseless passion for learning, teaching and bettering the lives of others left a profound mark on the university and the wider community. Allan’s contribution to the local and international arts community reflects this spirit, making him the perfect choice as the first recipient of this award.

(Originally appeared in M Alumni News — Spring 2015.)

Allan Gilliland is currently featured in MacEwan University's "Connected. Engaged. Inspired" campaign. Read his full story here.


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