Joanna Estelle’s Legacy of Lifelong Learning: Helping the Musical Fortunes of Others

This article originally appeared in the
University of Ottawa's financial planning newsletter
Heritage (Spring/Summer 2008, pages 1-2).

Photo: Steven Gellman and Joanna Estelle

Joanna Estelle is a critically acclaimed Canadian composer, lyricist and arranger whose work has been arranged and orchestrated for performance and recording by artists and choirs both in Canada and internationally.

Fascinated with music since childhood, Joanna listened to the great composers and spent hours reading about their lives. She also studied classical piano and basic theory with the Royal Conservatory of Music (Toronto) as a young person but her family did not see music as a viable career.

In 1972 she graduated from Brock University in Psychology and English. She then went on to study management accounting through the Certified Management Accountants (Ontario). However, her enthusiasm for music and composition never waned. While building a successful professional career in the federal public service she channeled her creative energies into musical composition and pursued private studies in modern piano, advanced theory and arranging part-time.

Among Joanna’s many accomplishments, she has had her choral works performed by the Cantata Singers of Ottawa, the Ottawa Bach Choir and the UNISONG 2004 massed choir. She was commissioned to write a piece for an operatic recital in London, England and her music was played at an international carillon festival in Barcelona, Spain, as well as many times on Parliament Hill by the Dominion Carillonneur. She has also worked with Broadway composer David Horne to orchestrate and prepare a concert band arrangement of her choral piece Canada Forever Free that was premiered by the Canadian Forces Band of the Ceremonial Guard at the Canadian War Museum in August 2007.

Joanna attributes her success to a genuine love of music, a dedication to quality, the support of people who have believed in her natural talent, and sheer perseverance. “Music has been my faithful companion since childhood. The piano is a devoted friend and is always there when I need it, no matter how much time passes between encounters.”

Joanna continues to challenge herself and is currently enrolled at the University of Ottawa’s Department of Music as a special student. She is studying under the guidance of composer, pianist and professor Steven Gellman and has one year left before completing her part-time undergraduate degree.

She has been greatly influenced by the mentorship of Professor Gellman and the unwavering support of staff at the Department of Music. Their encouragement has pushed her to explore different musical genres, broadening her musical outlook and fuelling her already rich imagination. Upon graduation she plans to move back to Southern Ontario to care for her mother and pursue a graduate degree in music at York University in Toronto.

Joanna has immensely enjoyed her time as a student at the Department of Music and wanted to give back in a meaningful way. She has made a bequest of life insurance to the University of Ottawa, establishing the Joanna Estelle Commemorative Scholarship Fund. Once realized, the scholarship will be awarded every year to a Canadian woman composer studying musical composition. This generous gesture illustrates Joanna’s desire to encourage other talented women to enjoy the same opportunities she has had and to make their voices heard in the world.

Joanna believes that music plays an important role in people’s lives. “Being a composer is like being a small pebble that the Universe throws into a still pond to create ripples. Writing music is an opportunity to intimately express one’s true self at a deep level.” In establishing these scholarships, she is encouraging other women to be uplifted and inspired through music. It is her way of showing that one person can influence culture and education in a concrete, positive way to make the world a better place for everyone