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Northern Debut Nord: Sudbury couple start new group aimed at bringing classical music 'to the people'

Jennifer and Peter McGillivray starting by putting on events in Sudbury while organization getting off the ground
Peter and Jennifer McGillivray have started a new arts organization called Northern Debut Nord. (Heidi Ulrichsen/

A Sudbury couple who have made their living working in the arts have started an organization called Northern Debut Nord with the ultimate goal of bringing classical music to communities across Northern Ontario.
Jennifer McGillivray, a native of Elliot Lake, has worked in administration for organizations such as Sudbury Symphony Orchestra and Parry Sound's Festival of the Sound.

She's currently working for a local car dealership as her day job as she gets this project off the ground.

Her husband, Peter McGillivray, is a professional opera singer originally from Saskatchewan who travels across Canada and North America to perform.

They say the idea is not to bring full-scale productions by symphony orchestras, opera companies or choirs to Northern Ontario communities, as this would be cost prohibitive, but rather smaller groups of professionals.

Jennifer said the new organization is based on similar organizations located in other parts of Canada, including Prairie Debut and Debut Atlantic.

“Those both do a marvellous job getting emerging and early mid-career artists out on these tours to these small communities,” she said.

“The reason it works so, so very well is most of these smaller communities have fantastic, engaged, exciting arts councils who are trying to present these fantastic entertainment series.

“But there's a bit of a knowledge gap when it comes to classical music … These organizations bridge that. What they do through a juried process is they select artists for the season.

“They present those artists to these smaller communities, and they provide these communities with the opportunity to have really, really superior artists obviously at a much lower rate.”

Peter said their goal is to “bring the art form to the people,” in familiar and smaller-scale venues. 

He said one of the alienating things about classical music is that it has been taken out of people's homes, where it used to reside — everybody used to have a piano — and put in big concert halls where you're expected to dress up.

“People want to have intimate experiences with this music, and it's something that live performance can give them that you can't get from Spotify," Peter said.

“I think there's a community of people that want to hear what a true professional sounds like in live performance, and be close and have that experience.”

The McGillivrays recently received a start-up grant from the Ontario Arts Council.

“We wrote a grant thinking maybe they'll give us 25 or 30 per cent of what we asked for and some constructive criticism,” Jennifer said. “They came back with 'Here's 100 per cent of your request, and we think what you're doing is great.'”

But the couple say it's going to take about two years to get everything in place, including their charitable status. So in the meantime, they're going to stick close to Sudbury in putting on events. 

A fundraising launch for Northern Debut Nord takes place Sunday, Oct. 6 at The Alibi Room on Durham Street.

The event, which starts at 4 p.m., features performances by harpist Kristan Toczko, Sault soprano Joni Henson, pianists Topher Mokrzewski and Yoko Hirota and Peter McGillivray, who's a baritone.

Tickets cost $75 each, and not only make you a signatory member of the fledgling organization, but will also include a cocktail, charcuterie and tapas.

Buy tickets at or phone 705-346-2134. 

Jennifer and Peter say they also have two concerts in the planning stages for here in Sudbury, one in mid-February and the other at the end of March.


Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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