Manon Mitchell steers the rising stars of the Calgary Civic Symphony into unique and invaluable experiences

Did you ever dream of playing in an orchestra someday? And as you grew up, did that dream sadly begin to feel out of reach?

Well, the good news is, it can be kept alive thanks to the Calgary Civic Symphony, the city’s amateur orchestra. Manon Mitchell is the president of the Civic, and she’s also been a member of the violin section since 1992.

“In my world, if I feel that something can be done better, then I volunteer to do it, so that’s how I got involved in the board work and in the organization of the orchestra,” says Mitchell. “So, after all these years, I’m still there and I’m still on the board … I still love this organization because it does amazing things for both the people who play in it, as well as our audience members who follow us year after year.”

The Civic is made up of individuals with a wide variety of backgrounds, some musical and some not, but they all have one thing in common — the desire to play orchestral repertoire alongside other musicians.

“They’re passionate about music, they’ve studied their instrument for many years as a child or a teenager, and they wanna continue playing in an orchestra,” says Mitchell. “Orchestra is a thing that brings us altogether on Monday night (rehearsals) to produce these amazing concerts.”

One such concert, Rising Stars, is this Sunday, June 10th, at 2:30 p.m. in the Jack Singer Concert Hall and it’s the Civic’s final show of the 2017-18 season. This concert will feature the four winners of the Rotary Calgary Concerto Competition (C3) held earlier this year. These four young musicians — Anna Stube (violin), Anita Hao (piano), Liam Pond (piano), and Tao Zhang (piano) —w ill each perform the first movement of a concerto with the Civic providing the accompaniment.

“We love to give the experience to the kids to play with orchestra, because it’s a completely different thing than sitting there, playing your piece and being accompanied by a piano player,” says Mitchell. “Typically when they play all by themselves, it’s just themselves they have to worry about, but now they have to have all their senses finely tuned to stay in touch with the conductor and the orchestra … It’s an experience that’s absolutely unique and invaluable (for the young musicians).”

In addition to these four concerto performances, audience members also have the option to arrive early at 1:45 p.m. to witness pre-concert performances from some of the runners-up of the competition.

“It’s kind of like the appetizer to the concert … you know, opening your palate to listening to these wonderful kids playing amazing works,” says Mitchell.

The main concert will also be bookended by two North American compositions performed by the orchestra. Canadian Godfrey Ridout’s Fall Fair will open the show, and then the afternoon will conclude with Short Ride in a Fast Machine by John Adams, an up-and-coming American composer.

“(Fall Fair), if there was ever a piece of music dedicated to Alberta, I think this would be it. Because when you hear it, you can imagine standing in the foothills looking on one side to the vast, huge sky, and then looking at the Rocky Mountains … you feel that image,” says Mitchell. “(Short Ride in a Fast Machine), it’s loud, it’s fast, it’s very energizing … it just showcases modern music in a positive light, because it’s a really cool piece!”

Something audiences may not be aware of is that all of the Civic’s musicians are volunteers — which is one of the reasons why the organization offers tickets at a cheaper price than one might expect for orchestral performances.

“We have operating expenses and we also want to keep our ticket price low because we want to make classical orchestra music accessible to most Calgarians,” says Mitchell. “So our members actually contribute to the operations of the orchestra … we pay to play!’

As both a musician and the president, Mitchell is thankful for the existence of the Civic and the opportunities it provides.

“I have the best of both worlds — I can play … symphonies and I can do my day job, and be passionate about both … It’s been pretty special for our musicians to be able to offer that.”

(Photo courtesy Gerald David —

Tickets for this Sunday’s performance by the Calgary Civic Symphony are $30 and can be found at

Jill Girgulis is a student at the University of Calgary and a regular contributor for as well as When she’s not busy studying for her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, she can most often be found in one of the first three rows of the Jack Singer Concert Hall.