Award-winning Schulich student riffs on trumpet music

Amy Horvey: From small Saskatchewan town to world stage. / Photo courtesy Amy Horvey
Amy Horvey: From small Saskatchewan town to world stage. / Photo courtesy Amy Horvey

Saskatchewan native explores historic, contemporary sounds

By Chris Chipello

Amy Horvey has come a long way since she started playing the trumpet as a 6-year-old on her family’s farm in Saskatchewan.

The Schulich School doctoral student was recently named the National Arts Centre Richard Li Young Artist Chair – an honour awarded annually to an exceptional young Canadian musician under the age of 35.

And in her first set of appearances under the program, Horvey is going home this month for a series of outreach sessions aimed at inspiring other youngsters to take up music.

Horvey, now 28, grew up in Cabri, Sask., a farming community with a population of about 500 – and a surprising tradition of high-quality brass bands.

“The Cabri brass band has been around for over 80 years,” Horvey said in an interview. Trumpeter Bobby Gimby, who composed Canada’s 1967 Centennial song, was “the most famous person ever to come out of Cabri.”

Horvey’s parents, her two sisters and her brother all played brass instruments.

“Being able to play with your family at home is really an incredible thing. You really push each other. Nobody challenges you as much as your siblings,” she said, laughing, “especially if you knew my


On Tuesday nights, the family played with the community band. At nearby regional festivals, they performed as a six-member brass ensemble.

From Grade 8, Horvey’s parents drove her and her sisters to school in Swift Current, 45 minutes from home, to take advantage of music and drama programs at the high school there. Starting in Grade 10, she also travelled every weekend to Regina – two and a half  hours away – for private lessons with the symphony’s principal trumpet, a “quintessential professional musician who set me very strongly on this track.”

After earning her undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria in 2002, Horvey studied for a year at the Glenn Gould School in Toronto.  From 2003 to 2005, she studied contemporary music at the Rotterdam Conservatory in the Netherlands, where she began working with dancers and choreographers at an academy in the same building.

At a festival in Lithuania this September, Horvey performed a piece she wrote for solo trumpet and solo dancer.  “What I’d really like to do as much as possible in my career is interdisciplinary projects, working with dancers or theatre groups or puppet companies.”

Because trumpeters suffer from playing the same classical pieces over and over, “part of my mission is to get more pieces written,” she said, “so we can really explore the trumpet in a 21st-century manner.”  She has commissioned pieces for the trumpet from several composers.

Horvey was drawn to McGill because of Edward Carroll, a trumpeter and teacher who is “really open to contemporary music. Most schools have a much more conservative approach.”  Now in the second year of a four-year performance-doctoral program, she is a student member of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music, Media and Technology – an “amazing facility” with state-of-the-art equipment and software for experimenting with electronic music.  She plans to work with a fellow doctoral composer and a technician to create a piece for trumpet and electronics which may become part of her dissertation.

Horvey also plays the baroque trumpet – an instrument without valves that composers such as Bach and Beethoven wrote for.

“Montreal is just the perfect place to be,” she said.  The city has “a very strong contemporary music scene and is really the only early-music scene in Canada.”

Contemporary and early music “are very complementary,” she said, since early music involves recreating sounds from the past. At the same time, Hovey remains interested in “everything in the middle,” and travels frequently to Ottawa to play with the National Arts Centre (NAC) Orchestra, whose principal trumpet is a former McGill student from Regina.

Horvey has performed at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, too. “Creative music is creative music. The lines blur. And I don’t think the lines are necessary. The more they blur, the better.”

When the NAC Orchestra tours western Canada this month, Horvey will perform a trumpet recital in Regina. She will also put on educational shows at six rural schools near Swift Current, including those where one of her sisters now teaches music.

“Arts and music education are vital to maintaining and protecting the cultural fabric of Canada’s rural areas. This is a major priority for me.”