“Music in his veins”: native of Holland Marsh, composer named to the Order of Canada


John Estacio grew up in the Holland Marsh with his farming family, but music has always been his true passion

John Estacio, originally from Holland Marsh, was recently awarded the Order of Canada for his work as a composer and his contribution to Canadian opera.

On December 29, 2021, Governor General of Canada Mary Simon announced 135 appointments to the Order of Canada.

The Order of Canada is one of the country’s highest civilian honours, which was established in 1967 to recognize outstanding achievement in the community and service to the nation.

“Canada is defined by the people who make up this great country. These most recent appointments to the Order of Canada are shining examples of the exceptional commitment and contributions of Canadians to the well-being of communities across the country, whether social, environmental, scientific, economic, cultural or related to mental and physical health. health. To all the nominees, congratulations and thank you,” said Simon.

Those appointed to the Order of Canada wear a striking six-pointed white enamel insignia that symbolizes the heritage and diversity of Canada’s North, as no two snowflakes are alike.

Estacio has lived in Edmonton, Alberta since 1992 as a composer, but grew up in the Holland Marsh with his family, growing carrots and vegetables on the family farm.

His passion for music and the arts began at a young age.

“As a young kid, I was always drawn to it, always curious about it,” he said. Living in a farming community, most of the exposure he had to music came from television and radio.

“I knew back then that I loved making music and listening to live music,” he said.

His sister Mary Marques, who still lives in the area, says she always knew her brother was talented and had “music in his veins”. She recalled a summer when the family was on the farm together, when John “disappeared”, only to be found in the middle of the carrot patch later playing his toy guitar, singing.

“I can still see my mom with her hands up, worried about where her kid was, and here he was singing his little heart out and playing his guitar,” Marques said. “From an early age, he was born with music in his system, and that continues to this day.”

The first instrument he learned to play was the accordion, in 1977. Classes were held in the basement of John Street Presbyterian Church in Bradford.

His parents bought him the accordion for school, but it was the church organ that he really wanted to play. He then learned to play the instrument on his own, then began playing the organ during Sunday mass at Holy Martyrs of Japan Church in Bradford.

From there, he learned to play the piano. At the time, his family couldn’t afford a piano, so he went to the neighbor’s house to use theirs twice a week after school.

“The touch of a piano is different from any other keyboard instrument…you have to develop that touch with your fingers and develop your dexterity,” he explained.

He worked and saved enough money to buy his own piano and eventually attended Wilfrid Laurier University majoring in music composition and then the University of British Columbia for his Masters of Music.

He returned to Ontario for a year after completing his master’s degree, before accepting a residency position with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

He has composed music for the Calgary Philharmonic, Calgary Opera and Pro Coro Canada and enjoys writing his own operas.

Some of his works have even been performed in New York at the famous Carnegie Hall. Throughout his career, he has also received countless awards, including the National Arts Center Awards for Composers and the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Award. He was also nominated for a Juno Award in 2015 for his composition Triple Concerto.

Estacio said he was surprised when he learned of his appointment.

“I thought it was a telemarketer,” he laughed, recalling the first time he got the call about it back in the fall.

“It’s exciting and disconcerting at the same time,” he said of the recognition. “It’s work, it’s work that I love to do. Making music and doing opera and telling stories relevant to the operatic stage are all things that I love to do.”

He is committed to continuing to tell stories of history and current events through opera.

“I feel like I have to earn this honor,” he said.

As the performing arts sector has been severely impacted by COVID, Estacio has been busy with virtual performances and some in-person, as permitted.

His inspiration for his works comes from relevant stories that he feels should be shared with the world. Her first opera was about the last woman in Alberta who was executed. His current opera is about Igor Gouzenko, the Russian intelligence officer who defected to the Canadian government his country had spied on, along with Britain and the United States, leading to the start of the Cold War.

“If you look at politics today and what’s happening in the world today, it’s still a relevant story,” he said. “I want to make sure that the thoughtful music of storytelling is still an integral part of our culture.”

Estacio still makes occasional trips to his home in the Holland Marsh to visit his sister, family and friends. His last visit was in August for his mother’s birthday. The family farm is now owned and managed by his nephew, Robert Marques, and his wife Shannon.

Estacio looks forward to receiving his award at the official in-person Order of Canada ceremony, which has been postponed to a later date due to COVID restrictions.

To learn more about Estacio and his work, visit his website here.

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