Joanna Estelle
is Retiring to her Own Tune

This article by Colleen Boicey originally appeared in
Agriculture Canada Magazine (January 2006).

When most people think of retiring, thoughts of heading south for the winter and playing golf all summer come to mind.

When Joanna Estelle retires from her job as a senior financial policy officer with AAFC's financial policy division in Ottawa, she plans to play a tune of her own.

Already an internationally recognized composer, lyricist and arranger, her second career is well on its way. Since 1996, Ms. Estelle's music has been showcased in Canada, the United States and Europe and featured on Radio Canada. She also returned to school part-time in 2001 to prepare to pursue a master's degree in music.

"Music is a central element of who I am," says Ms. Estelle, who, as a child, sang before she spoke. "Creating quality music has always been what I really want to do with my life."

At age seven, she started taking classic piano and theory lessons. Gradually, she began composing music by writing jazz and folk-inspired pieces, as well as solo voice and piano songs. She eventually taught herself choral arranging.

As she was growing up, the pursuit of music as a career was not encouraged by her parents, so instead, at university, she studied psychology and English, then management accounting. But, the dreams of a music career were always in the back of her mind.

Photo: Joanna Estelle with Gordon Slater

When she heard Gordon Slater, the Dominion Carillonneur, perform one of her compositions, "Faraway Star" at the 2001 International Carillon Festival in Barcelona, Spain, Ms. Estelle knew she could make her dreams a reality. "When you see people around the world are listening to and loving your songs, you know composing is something you should take seriously," she says.

As the Dominion Carillonneur, Mr. Slater plays the Peace Tower Carillon, a series of 53 bells in Parliament's Peace Tower, weighing from 4.5 kg to 10,090 kg. It is played from a keyboard.

Her most recent choral piece, "Canada Forever Free," was premiered by a mass choir at the National Arts Centre at UNISONG 2004, which is part of Canada Day festivities in Ottawa. Hearing her own music performed is an experience second to none, she says. "Sitting in the audience of the NAC with a full house, listening to almost 400 children and youth sing my love for and gratitude to Canada was a thrill that I will never forget."

Three of her choral works are being published by Oceanna Music, a Canadian company which publishes educational music by women composers. One of these pieces, "Child of the Manger," is on a CD of Canadian composers just released by the Cantata Singers of Ottawa. Both "Faraway Star" and another more recent composition are performed on the Peace Tower Carillon.

Before retiring in 2008, Ms. Estelle, plans to keep contributing to the musical community in as many ways as she can. Along with composing music in styles ranging from adult contemporary, to classical and orchestral works, she has established a bequest in her name at the University of Ottawa to encourage young women to become composers. She also serves as the treasurer of the Association of Canadian Women Composers.

Ms. Estelle is excited to pursue her life-long dream in her retirement and she encourages others to take a retirement planning course to do the same. "Look inside your heart for that dream you've always had and realize it is possible to make your dream a reality."