The Telegraph-Journal's SALON edition on Saturday, January 9, 2021 published this Q&A interview with Sistema NB Saint John Clarinet Teaching Artist--Andrew George.
How have you had to adjust during the pandemic?
I usually live my life very structured and scheduled, so at first it was very difficult to adjust to changes that can seem drastic and happen overnight. Learning to be more flexible and to laugh at unpredictable circumstances has really helped.
What are you working on right now?
Today's rehearsal was for the CD launch recording of Ventus Machina's upcoming release, Roots. I have the privilege of playing for two tracks on the disk, including my own arrangement of Ian Tyson's Four Strong Winds.
Who were your heroes growing up?
I didn't really know it at the time, but my true hero was and continues to be my mom, Lori George. She carted me around to every rehearsal, concert, competition, chess tournament, tennis practice, cooking class, and who knows what else. She gave me access to private lessons with the best clarinetists in the city and the instruments that I still play all my concerts on today. Not only that, but she was in the audience for each and every one of my events, ready to celebrate my victories as my biggest cheerleader or help me learn and move past my shortcomings as my strongest support. My whole musical career is thanks to her sacrifices and I will forever be in her debt.
Which living Canadian do you admire most and why?
While doing my artist diploma at the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, I had the wonderful opportunity of working with clarinetist and conductor Joaquin Valdepeñas. He completely restructured everything that I knew (or thought I knew) about the clarinet and opened up a level of playing to me that would have otherwise been impossible. I've also never heard him play a note that didn’t sound beautiful and I can't wait to hear him play with the TSO live again after the pandemic subsides.
Which deceased Canadian do you admire most and why?
My McGill clarinet professor and the late principal clarinetist of the OSM, Robert Crowley, was one of the most influential people in my life both as a clarinetist and a person. He was endlessly knowledgeable, patient, light-hearted, and demanding at the same time. He taught me to think for myself, to trust in my own abilities and opinions, and to truly believe that I have something valuable to say musically. His playing and tone concept were also flawless and his recording of Rhapsody in Blue with the OSM continues to be iconic.
What is the toughest job you've done?
In addition to being a performer, I am also the clarinet teaching artist for the Saint John Centre of Sistema New Brunswick. Each year I work with around twenty clarinet students in the program which meets every weekday for three hours a day after school. It is incredibly demanding for the students and the teachers alike, and I would call it the toughest job I have ever done. It is also the most rewarding and invigorating, watching students as young as five years old discover musical concepts years earlier than I ever did.
If you could go back in time, when would you go?
Right now, really anything before 2020 seems pretty tempting. Definitely a time before electricity. Things just seem to have gotten exponentially more complicated every year since then.
Is there one particular place on Earth you enjoy the most?
My first experience in Canada was moving up to Montreal for my undergrad at McGill. From the very first night, I was entranced by the big city, the colourful streets and festivals, the smells of every type of food under the sun, and the quality of the live music in every genre. Every time I return, it feels as magical as that first night and I will always be a Montreal boy at heart.
What’s the thing you made that you’re proudest of?
My quintet, Port City 5, hosted a concert in the summer of 2019 where we paired prohibition-era music genres with cocktails that I designed and mixed myself (another big passion of mine). At one point in the concert, I had just come from mixing drinks behind the bar to grab my clarinet and play my own arrangement on stage with the wonderful musicians of my group. It was a complete creative package of Andrew George, and I'll never forget the feeling of looking out and seeing how much fun the packed audience was having.
How do you relax?
I love to exercise and start most of my days with a 5:00am wake-up call and then straight to the gym to lift weights. I find the early start sets me up for a productive and centred day.
What is your biggest disappointment?
My biggest disappointment is that I allowed my own shyness and self-consciousness get in the way of living a bold, confident, and authentic life when I was younger. Fortunately, over the years my confidence and adventurousness has continued to grow, and I feel more like my true self than ever.
What trait do you admire most about yourself?
I am very much a perfectionist, which can be hard and frustrating at times, but I like that I know people can count on me to deliver a quality product every time I am asked.
What trait do you despise most in others?
Personally, I always try to avoid anyone being able to consider me lazy. Time is a precious commodity and I try to fill my days with productive activities, creating things, and learning as much as I can.
What do you treasure most about Canada?
I love that I have been able to find a place in life here in Canada where I feel valued and fulfilled. I have been given the opportunity to make a livelihood as a clarinetist and a clarinet teacher and, as a soon-to-be Canadian, I am forever grateful for Canada giving me a chance at this life filled with music, art, and community.
What bothers you most about Canada?
Probably the speed of Canada Post. Or getting excited for the price of an item online only to find out that it is the US dollar price.
What is your favourite food?
Sushi. Or ice cream. Or cookies. The list is endless and I think eating might be my one truest joy in life.
What is your favourite Canadian community?
The teaching artists of Sistema New Brunswick make a vibrant community of colleagues, performers, and friends. They are without a doubt some of the most thoughtful, talented, and hardworking people I have ever met, and I am lucky to be a part of their community.
What is the greatest misconception that people have about you?
That I am any good at all at sticking to my diet plans. I eat all the cookies when no one is looking.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
Soon after moving from Toronto to Saint John to work with the Sistema Centre I got called to attend a meeting in Moncton one morning. I had only been in New Brunswick a few weeks and I still had a pay-as-you-go flip phone with no GPS capabilities. I was driving back to Saint John for what seemed like an eternity when my boss called me, "Andrew, it's almost 1:00, are you going to be back soon?" I responded with, "I think so! I just got to Fredericton, how much longer is it now?"
What was your happiest moment?
There are so many, but the most recent would be getting to perform as a soloist Martin Kutnowski's En 1a mar hay una torre with Symphony New Brunswick and Martin himself at the podium. To be able to play such an exciting and imaginative piece with all of my talented and supportive colleagues and friends was truly an honour, and I am smiling again just thinking about it.
When is it OK to tell a lie?
Whenever mysteriously missing sweets are involved.
How would you like to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered as someone who shared more energy with the world than I took from it. Someone who created things and experiences for my community and left it as an even better place than it was before.
Please share a secret with us.
I thought it was a good idea to count the number of Christmas cookies I ate this holiday season to make sure I didn't go too overboard. Once I got to 100, it was really in everyone's best interest that I stop counting ...