Ronald Royer is a composer, a high school teacher at the University of Toronto Schools and music director for the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra. We spoke to him about his career, his thoughts on the industry and his new piece, Dances with Percussion (Dedicated to Jean Norman Iadeluca) for Timpani, Drum Set and Orchestra, commissioned by the Ernest and Laurie Porthouse and to be premiered by the HPO on May 12.

Like many composers, Royer stepped into the music industry as a musician. He grew up in a family of professional musicians and was encouraged to pick up an instrument. “I chose the cello and enjoyed it, but I also thought about composing and conducting,” Royer says. He made his decision to go back to school, completing his Master’s Degree in Composition at the University of Toronto, and at this time, he started conducting as well.

Before Royer decided to compose or conduct, he was a freelance cellist, working with amazing musicians such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Sarah Vaughan. He describes these musicians as inspiring, and having an incredible passion for music.

He’s also had a chance to work with top film composers like John Williams (Star Wars), James Horner (Titanic), and Henry Mancini (Pink Panther). “These are highly skilled musicians who can compose in a variety of styles, including contemporary classical music,” Royer says. He goes on to say that composition is not just putting notes on a page, but it is working collaboratively with others, and making sure that the music can connect emotionally with audiences.

When first beginning to compose a new work, Royer comes up with an idea and works in collaboration with the commissioner to expand the concept. He also does research to get some inspiration, “If there are any musical, cultural, or historical areas I can learn about to be better prepared to realize my concept. I am happy to pursue this stage.” One of his works, Travels with Mozart, Variations on a Theme from The Magic Flute, required some research about Mozart’s travels. He found the book In Mozart’s Footsteps by Wignall useful in his study.

Dances with Percussion required considerable research and collaboration with the commissioner and soloists, HPO’s Ernie Porthouse and Jean Norman Iadeluca. As Royer is a cellist and not a percussionist, he worked closely with Porthouse and Iadeluca to learn about techniques that he could use in his composition. Porthouse also wanted to include Latin American, Afro-Cuban and North American jazz rhythms, which required research so that he could work that into a primarily classical composition.

As a musician, composer, teacher and music director who’s been in the industry for many years, Royer definitely has some thoughts on the world of music, and how it is changing. As a teacher who is often around younger musicians, composers and conductors, he says that if you want to make a living in music, “you must be highly skilled, highly motivated, be an entrepreneur, have good interpersonal skills, and be flexible.” Royer states that if you truly love music, you will find a way to be involved, as well as make a living.

Royer also speaks on the changes that are happening in the music industry regarding orchestral music. People’s tastes in music have changed, and Royer feels that many people prefer the sound of electric instruments over acoustic ones. He believes that orchestras and music teachers need to continue to advocate for acoustic instruments as part of the music world.

So how do we keep orchestral music alive in the ever-changing world of music? The internet may have a negative impact on the music industry, taking away sources of income for musicians through pirated recordings and online publishing, but it also has a positive impact, allowing people from around the world access to orchestral music.

Also, as a musician that has worked in the film and movie industry previously, he looks upon great film composers and reiterates the importance of orchestral film scores. “Great orchestra music (e.g. by John Williams) deserves to be played in the concert hall as well as in movie theatres,” says Royer. He also looks to organizations like the HPO that work to promote orchestral music and keep it relevant, especially in today’s society. “We need to advocate and promote orchestras to the public, students, and Arts Councils to keep this art form alive and well.”

You can meet Ron Royer at our season closing concert on May 12th. Bernstein & Music of the Americas, featuring Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, and the world premiere of Royer’s Dances with Percussion (Dedicated to Jean Norman Iadeluca) for Timpani, Drum Set, and Orchestra, featuring soloists Ernie Porthouse and Jean Norman Iadeluca, will take place at the FirstOntario Concert Hall.


Blog written by Tiffany Biu, co-op student Westmount Secondary School.