Turning our ear to community


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There’s nothing more music to my ears than actual music.

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There’s nothing more music to my ears than actual music.

Brandon University is privileged to host so many talented musicians here in our School of Music, and to welcome many more at visiting concerts throughout the year. The QE II Music Building remains one of the finest performance spaces in Canada — and this week we celebrated a new piano that will help keep BU at the forefront of community concerts for years to come.

The occasion was a long-delayed donor thank-you for those who had supported a new Steinway grand piano for the School of Music. Organized in the name of Liz Grant, the founder of our renowned Brandon Conservatory Chorale, the evening was well worth the wait. In the words of Greg Gatien, dean of the School of Music, BU now has “a piano called Liz.”

Though celebrating the piano called Liz, the concert featured a number of choirs of all ages from our Conservatory. As huge fans of choral music, Kris and I were delighted to attend. The Lorne Watson Hall was the perfect venue.

Perhaps the most moving comment I heard was from a woman entering the Lorne Watson, who recalled that Liz Grant had taught her children and it was an odd feeling for her to be here without her kids. This drove home to me the generational impact our music program has, and the importance of BU to supporting the arts in western Manitoba.

While this evening was special, it was not unique. Concerts and cultural events are part of the mission at Brandon University. Hosting gatherings and convening events, bringing together interesting people for interesting experiences is embedded in our culture.

I had that same feeling when I attended part of the Bobcat awards banquet during Homecoming. It underscored the role BU varsity sports play in building spirit within the community. It also demonstrated the axiom of sports banquets — make sure the athletes are the last at the buffet table! (Of course, unlike me, they’ll have worked it off by the end of the day.)

This coming week, ceramics students will be selling bowls and mugs in our “mingling area.” I’ll be on the lookout for some ceramic plates (oops, sorry I ruined your Christmas present, honey). We host service club meetings. We screen movies and show plays that might not get an audience elsewhere. BU professors offer public talks and seminars. We welcome everyone to our library and we host community history in our archives. BU researchers tackle Westman questions. In short, as Canada’s finest regional university, we pride ourselves on being an economic, cultural, recreational and community hub.

That’s all pretty much rote from Mamaawii-atooshke aakihkiwiin, our new strategic plan. But isn’t that only one side of the story? Sure, we do a lot — but one thing we’re trying to do more is listen.

During the recent municipal election campaign, The Brandon Sun reached out to see if we would be able to help them host a candidates’ debate, for council and for mayor. We were an enthusiastic “yes.” The events were well attended, well received, and got great participation from all candidates as well as from the public. It was an essential forum to hear directly from candidates as they presented their views, their platforms, and their perspectives.

It was so successful, in fact, that we’re going to try to do it more often — and not just during elections. We’re pleased to continue our partnership with the Sun to present regular citizen forums where we will host our elected representatives for updates, questions and suggestions.

The Sun has been a great community partner in Brandon. I was surprised to learn that they are older than the city itself. A few weeks back our archivist Christy Henry showed me the Sun’s donation of more than 50,000 pictures and negatives. They tell the story of Brandon through pictures and they really are worth a thousand words each. We are humbled and honoured to be trusted to digitize, preserve and of course make them available to others.

The Sun is only one of the university’s many community partnerships. If I listed every business that had benefitted from the astounding growth in our Co-op Learning program, this column would spill onto the next page, and maybe right into your lap. Co-op, which helps pair businesses and other organizations with eager students for a work term placement, brings the latest learning right to the shop floor or the store door, while also helping students cement their lessons through direct work experience.

As another example, two years ago, just before Remembrance Day, we signed an agreement with the Department of National Defence to make it easier for military personnel — especially those posted to CFB Shilo — to earn BU credit for their military experience.

Recognizing and supporting learning that happens outside of the classroom is a growing part of what we do at BU. We will have a new one to announce very soon. And beyond formal agreements, this recognition also has important implications for how we welcome Indigenous knowledge on campus.

But what it all comes back to is community. As Canada’s finest regional university, community is what matters most to us. When we celebrate with a concert, as we did this week, when we welcome fans to exiting Bobcats action, when we partner students with local business, and when we open our doors to students of diverse and varied backgrounds, we are always here to serve our region, and be accountable to you.

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