FeaturedInterviewsIssuesMay 2024

Gillian Derer Artist Interview

Canadian flutist Gillian Derer is an imaginative emerging artist known for her passion, innovation, and dazzling on-stage energy. Gillian inspires as a soloist, chamber musician, orchestral flutist, and guest clinician, and obtained her Bachelor of Music with high distinction from Western University in 2022 under the tutelage of Sharon Kahan. Gillian currently studies with Nora Shulman and Susan Hoeppner in her final year of the Artist Diploma program at the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory on full scholarship, and maintains a large social media presence where she details her life as a musician and posts practice tips for thousands of flutists and musicians alike around the world.

Can you give us 5 career highlights?

One: Playing for and learning from Emmanuel Pahud and Julien Beaudiment at the beautiful Domaine Forget music festival in Charlevoix, Quebec. I met some of my most favourite and dearest friends here, and spent my birthday at this festival three years in a row! Such sweet memories!

Two: Performing with the Pit Band of the Musical, ‘A Perfect Bowl of Pho’ by Nam Nguyen and Wilfred Moeschter. I was called to play just before opening night of the show’s run at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2022 because their flutist unfortunately had contracted Covid-19. With extremely little rehearsal time, I joined the cast and band for a 4/4 star rating show run, made some of my favourite memories as a musician, and was lucky enough to join the cast and crew again for our tour to Kingston the following Summer! This ignited my love for theatre, and I am forever grateful.

Three: Performing Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra as Principal Flute with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra, culminating my first year as an Artist Diploma student at the Glenn Gould School. My family, friends, and many of my former music teachers attended this performance- it was so meaningful!

Four: Performing second flute in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade to incredible player and teacher Patricia Creighton at the Scotia Festival of Music last June (2023). Sitting next to such an inventive, passionate, and vibrant player has left such a lasting effect on me. I will never hear the Schehazarade solos the same!

Five: Joining my Alma Mater, Western University, for their “Flute Day,” in October 2022 as a Guest Instructor. I met so many amazing flutists and humans this day and it was so meaningful to teach in the very room where I received lessons with my wonderful teacher during my undergraduate studies, Sharon Kahan, for four years!

What is life as a Flute Major like in Toronto?

Life as a Flute Major in Toronto is SO MUCH FUN. There are so many flutists here, and you feel part of such an awesome community! There are also so many orchestras in the area- gigging is plenty, and there are so many musicians to meet and play with. Everyone is willing to help each other out and pass each other’s names along. World-renowned orchestras, soloists and chamber groups come to Toronto all the time. For a flutist, this really feels like the place to be right now. I love it here!

You have a lovely following on Instagram, what do you think is key in developing a thriving channel? Five tips?

I am so lucky to be in the position to share my life as a flutist & happy human to over 36 thousand people online every day. I never imagined that my Instagram page would become what it has, and I love the community that we’ve all built, so, SO much! I think the key for developing a thriving channel is consistency and authenticity. Authenticity is not easy sometimes- especially for musicians, who are so used to perfectionism and criticizing themselves! It can be extremely hard to share all sides of being a musician, not just the great ones, and I do my best to be honest about where I’m at. I draw inspiration from Hilary Hahn for this, who shares such vulnerable, raw practice and thoughts. This is something I hope to improve in the coming months!

Gill’s Five Tips to Thriving Online (synopsis from post): 

  1. Share your life consistently- notice I did not say constantly!
  2. Engage with your community. Get to know them… make friends! Music is not a solitary sport. We need each other. The connections I’ve made through my Instagram community have not only provided so much work in recent years, but also such a solid support system and foundation to lift me up.
  3. If there’s a brand or musician you want to collaborate with, reach out. Don’t wait around for them to reach out to you! The worst they can say is no… right?!
  4. Use hashtags! Make sure they aren’t so general that they could apply to any topic, but also that they aren’t so niche that nobody will be looking them up. Ideas might be: #Classicalmusic #Flutist #MusicMajor #MusicSchool #MusicTeacher. Check out other creator’s hashtags for ideas!
  5. Share the most special parts of you. What makes you unique? What special skill do you have? What makes you you?
  6. Bonus Tip: Share a good mix of content! reels, photos, carousel posts, stories, you name it!

What are your plans/dreams for the future? Personally? Professionally?

Professionally, the goal I’m focusing on right now is winning an orchestral position. I’m not too picky about what that might be… but I’d LOVE to play piccolo somewhere! I currently teach and hope to continue doing so forever and ever, whether that be with my own private students or as a university professor. I’d LOVE to have my own studio at a college or university one day!

Personally, a dream for the future is to learn more Celtic music and acquire an Irish flute. I’d also love to improve my skills outdoors, such as outdoor gardening, canoeing/kayaking, and I’d love to learn to ski and snowboard!

What does your schedule look like for the next 6 months?  

What a question!! I’m so grateful to have a pretty exciting 6 months coming up as I finish my Artist Diploma at the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory and begin the next chapter.

As of right now, the biggest thing coming up on April 11th is my “Super-Mock,” which is my end of year exam in lieu of a recital. I’ve opted to do a “Super-Mock” instead, which is an hour and a half mock-audition for a panel from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Preparing for this exam has been such a valuable experience, and I’m so excited (and a little nervous!) to share the huge list of excerpts that I’ve been working on. After my “Super-Mock,” I have a few outreach concerts and clinics around the Greater Toronto Area for high school students which I am SO pumped for, and I’ll also be joining the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra for Mendelssohn’s 4th “Italian” Symphony alongside my dear friend Jaye Marsh on April 13th. A few days after that on April 17th, I’ll be performing for the incredible Jeffrey Kahner, who is giving us a masterclass at the Royal Conservatory!

The fun doesn’t stop there, as I am performing as Principal Flute in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra in Koerner Hall on May 3rd at 8PM, and then making my Carnegie Hall Debut (!!!!) alongside the Royal Conservatory Orchestra, Stewart Goodyear, and Peter Ouinjdian on May 7th at 8PM. Following my graduation and some much needed travelling, outdoorsy time, and family time, I’ll be joining the National Academy Orchestra of Canada for the Summer and then leaving the country to pursue my Master’s of Music Degree….but where I’m going for that is still a secret!!!!!!!

What inspires you the most in life?

The impact that music has on lives. We see it every day-  The first time a kid hears the classical guitar, or hears an orchestra, or sees just how many keys the bassoon has. It isn’t just always kids either- people of all ages experience music for the first time and just seeing the wonder and curiosity it brings them is endlessly inspiring to me. I really believe that music changes and saves lives.

Gillian Derer

What has been your professional greatest challenge?

For me, performance anxiety has been a massive obstacle! I have made lots of improvement through tons of hard work over the past few years- I find it’s really rooted in Imposter Syndrome for me. I tried everything- Beta Blockers, therapy, even hypnosis! What’s worked best for me is working to reign in my negative self-talk and learning to “Center-Down.”

What has been your personal greatest challenge?

In recent years, I’ve had a good deal of trouble with social anxiety. It feels a little bit like performance anxiety for me- waiting to go to a social function is pretty comparable to sitting in the orchestra and waiting for a big solo to come up. Most people assume that I’m extroverted because I love people- which is true, I do LOVE people and being social, but I’d actually identify more as an introvert, because I recharge when I’m alone. I can be really nervous and anxious for social functions, even with my friends, and find that once the function is over, I go over everything I did the entire event and criticize myself for how I was acting. I think I’m just a little bit terrified of not being liked… but I’m working on it!

Who were your music mentors?  and what did you learn from them?

I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the entire world because I’ve had incredible music mentors at all different stages of my life, and yet all of them still play a very active role in my life. Firstly, John and Sarah Lam, my high school music teachers, who introduced me to the world of music and showed me, first hand, the impact that music has on a community. Next is Sharon Kahan, my undergraduate teacher at Western University, who sparked my curiosity every week in our lessons and pushed me to be a great flute player and even greater human, and still answers every question I have, and finally, my current teachers at the Glenn Gould School, Susan Hoeppner and Nora Shulman, who have helped me re-define my concept of sound and step into my professional career!

Can you give us 5 quirky, secret, fun, (don't think too much about this) hobbies or passions?  

I place a lot of importance on having hobbies in addition to my classical flute playing, and try my very best to make time for it. A musician’s life is very focused and very busy, and having additional hobbies and passions is SO important to having a well-rounded life and mental well-being!

Five little hobbies that I’ve been enjoying recently are caring for my houseplants, learning to play chess, playing Celtic music (by ear!) going to the gym, and playing Animal Crossing!

What 3 things would you offer as advice for a young flutist?

One: Listen to other players, all the time. Listen to everyone- even if you don’t like their interpretation of a piece, or if you think you can’t learn anything from them… YOU CAN. Listen to everyone with a curious mind and let yourself be inspired by them. You can learn something new from everyone.

Two: Take the time, every single day, to search for a sound on the flute that you truly love. Long tones are essential for this. Eventually, your flute playing will become your most expressive voice!

Three: Be open to failure. Failure is an EXCELLENT teacher, and someone to make friends with! Not fearing failure helps us to be more creative, solve more problems, and allows us to take more risks and learn new things. No matter what, you can always try again. Be curious, open, experimental, inventive… be you!


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