For over 20 years, the Toronto Youth Wind Orchestra has provided a musical experience of pre-professional calibre to talented young musicians in the Greater Toronto Area.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Man With The Horn
TYWO salutes Mikhailo Babiak
by Beryl Macleod

Mikhailo Babiak was also a man with a mission .. from his early days at St. Mike’s – both at the school itself, and in TYWO rehearsals, Mikhailo had his sights firmly set on a career as a professional musician. In this goal, he was encouraged by his father, and a chain of supportive and encouraging mentors.

Born and raised in the GTA, growing up in Oakville and Mississauga before moving downtown for university, his introduction to music came with violin and piano lessons at a relatively young age, before picking up trumpet in Grade 6 and switching to horn in Grade 8. Mikhailo attended St. Michael’s College School – and here’s where Mikhailo picks up the story – “St. Mike’s had a great band program, and I was fortunate to have amazing teachers in Jamie Oatt and Paul Pietrkiewicz who steered me in the right direction musically. Paul was the one who originally suggested I audition for TWYO when I was in Grade 11, after discussing with him my intentions to pursue horn more seriously.”

“Some people have these watershed moments where they hear the sound of their eventual instrument and know right then and there that they will dedicate their life to the craft… When I started to play the trumpet, my father said, “When you get really good at trumpet you can switch to horn. It has a smaller mouthpiece and is more difficult.” Never one to shy away from a challenge, I’d like to think I have figured a couple things out on the instrument.”

(No kidding, Mikhailo – I would say you have!)

“Performing at Carnegie Hall with TYWO is still one of the most memorable moments of my career and life. Sharing the stage with so many wonderful friends, with Colin Clarke at the helm, really inspired me to never let up on my hopes and dreams, and once you play there there’s nowhere else quite like it. I hope I get to go back one day…

The moment I decided to pursue a career in music occurred during the annual Conference of Independent Schools Music Festival in the spring of 2004. I had been selected to perform with the senior wind ensemble, and walking out on the Roy Thomson Hall stage to a packed house cheering and applauding struck me like a lightning bolt and I immediately knew that the only option for my life was going to be performing music.”

Mikhailo went on to continue his studies at the University of Toronto for two years before transferring to the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music. At the Conservatory, he participated in theRebanks Family Fellowship and International Performance Residency Program, a one-year program of the Glenn Gould School for extraordinary artists on the cusp of a professional career. Prior to being selected for this prestigious program, Mikhailo earned an undergraduate-level Professional Diploma from the Glenn Gould School, where he studied under acclaimed horn players Christopher Gongos and fellow TYWO alumnus, Gabriel Radford. Concurrently, Mikhailo joined the ranks of the illustrious musicians who made up the Trillium Brass Quintet.

Upon graduating from the Conservatory, Mikhailo spent two years completing his masters degree with Gail Williams and Jon Boen at Northwestern University in Chicago. Mikhailo hails them as “ .. two of the most outstanding musicians I know, and on top of that they are incredibly kind and honest people that I try to model myself after on and off the stage.”

“Outside of music I love to cook, practise yoga, and play racquet sports (especially ping pong – I have a membership @ SPiN where I play 3 or 4 times a week). I also love to travel; I’m hoping to road trip out to the east coast this summer.”

At age 21, Mikhailo wrote in his profile for the National Youth Orchestra:

Why did you choose your instrument? Because trumpet was too easy.
What are your professional goals? Play in a major North American orchestra.

Just five years later came the published announcement by Johannes Debus of the appointment of Mikhailo Babiak to the position of Principal Horn in the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra. Professional goal realized.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lessons from a Pro!
Spotlight on TYWO alumna Sarah Jeffrey
by Zarina Varley

If you look through the alumni pages of the Toronto Youth Wind Orchestra’s website, you will see pages and pages of young musicians listed. You will also see the names of some of Canada’s finest musicians, both established and up-and-coming. One such name that you’ll find from 1993-1995 is Sarah Jeffrey, TYWO’s Principal Oboe/English horn player for a few seasons, and current Principal Oboe of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

As well as playing with the TSO, Sarah is also part of the faculty of the University of Toronto and the Glenn Gould School of music at the Royal Conservatory of Music, as well as being mother of two young children. Sarah, like many of our current members, studied music at the University of Toronto, before heading to the New England Conservatory of music in Boston to further her studies. Before joining the TSO in 2005, she held Principal Oboe positions with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, the Quebec Symphony Orchestra and the Windsor Symphony.

Being that 2015 is TYWO’s 25th anniversary season, Artistic Director and Founder Colin Clarke decided that it would be an ideal time to feature some of our esteemed alumni, so for our annual holiday concert ‘A Joyful Noise’, the Wind Orchestra will be featuring Sarah herself with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Variations for Oboe and Wind Ensemble.

Sarah was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule share some of her experiences from her TYWO days, as well as offer up some advice to those hoping to follow in her footsteps.

“The highlight of my time with the Wind Orchestra was definitely the recording session for “The Planets”, but the greatest aspect of TYWO was the general sense of belonging that Colin created, and the confidence he instilled in each of us. Everyone had purpose, and something unique to offer.”

“TYWO taught me that practicing is fun! This is an incredibly important lesson to a budding professional.”

“Colin taught us about perseverance, and that hard work yields success. Pairing that with a positive attitude, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.”

Offering up some advice to our current UofT students Sarah had this to say:

“Keep a positive attitude.  Work hard. Work harder than you thought you could.  Then treat yourself! Above all, be yourself, don’t try to be anybody else.  Lots of people try to copy others, but are only watered-down versions of themselves.  Be your true self, there is so much more depth and colour that way.”

With mentors like Sarah and Colin, it’s only a matter of time before the names of our current members start appearing on the lists of professional symphony orchestras around North America.

Don’t miss Sarah Jeffrey performing with the Toronto Youth Wind Orchestra at its Joyful Noise concert, Saturday December 5 at St Michael’s College Centre for the Performing Arts.

Monday, September 7, 2015

From TYWO to Juilliard
Spotlight on TYWO alumnus Hugo Lee
by Beryl Macleod

Photo Credit: Dan Chmienlinski
Hugo Lee 1 - Photo Dan Chmielinski

It’s not every musician who can recall with certainty that his first musical memory was Mahler! But Hugo Lee is not your average musician.

The road to the renowned Juilliard School of Music has already been paved with considerable successes. Born into a musical family of horn-playing parents, with a sister who played flute, Hugo’s introduction to making music came at the age of 5, when he started piano lessons. Says Hugo “after brief stints on violin, recorder and, even the harmonica, I began learning the oboe because I wanted to look beyond what fourth-grade recorder classes could offer me musically. My sister played the flute, and we wanted me to choose something that complemented her instrument without introducing any transposition”.

Since commencing oboe lessons at the age of 9, Hugo has performed in concert halls across Canada, joining TYWO in his final year of elementary school, where he had already formed his own wind quintet called ‘Winderful’, which included his sister Claire, as well as another TYWO alumna, Jen Fawcett. Hugo recalls his time with TYWO as “the most intensive wind ensemble experience I had. I particularly remember Awayday and Godzilla Eats Las Vegas”.

TYWO became a stepping stone towards appearing as a soloist with the Juilliard Orchestra as well as the Guelph Symphony Orchestra, Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Orchestra, Toronto Sinfonietta and Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra.

In 2014, Hugo won the quadrennial Juilliard Oboe Concerto Competition, and subsequently performed the Vaughan Williams Oboe Concerto in Alice Tully Hall, New York City under the baton of Edward Gardner. He is the winner of the 2015 Michael Measures Prize, an annual $25,000 award presented by the Canada Council for the Arts, recognizing promising talent in the next generation of Canadian classical musicians. Selected by a jury for his “unique tone, technique and sensitivity”‘ the award was presented on-stage at Koerner Hall at the Toronto performance with the 2015 National Youth Orchestra of Canada. Tucking the cheque safely in his pocket, Hugo launched into Richard Strauss’s glorious but deceptively demanding Concerto for Oboe, greeted with a well-deserved standing ovation.

When he’s not making reeds, Hugo is to be found playing board games and is an avid computer artist and programmer.

Hugo will be returning to Juilliard in September to complete the final year of his degree. The future looks to be a bright one indeed for Hugo Lee, whom we’re proud to call a member of the TYWO family.

For more information on Hugo, visit his website at

Friday, April 17, 2015


Taking the ‘A’-Train
Catching up with TYWO alumnus John De Simini
by Beryl Macleod

JohnDeSimini Colour1Photo Credits: Top & bottom: Rachel Laukat Photography. Middle Left-Mark Lappano. Middle Right-Jeremy Daniel.

If you’re a jazz aficionado, you’ve probably already noticed the name John De Simini popping up alongside those of jazz luminaries Don Thompson and Mark Promane, both former teachers and mentors to John who is now happy to call them his friends and to share the stand with them.

Newly married to the lovely and super-talented Kaleigh Cronin, John now calls The Big Apple home. However, he hails from Toronto, starting formal training in piano at age 6.

DeSiminifluteJohn’s love of music grew when he was enrolled at St. Michael’s College School and was given saxophone as his major instrument of study. At the suggestion of Head of Music, Paul Pietrkiewicz, John successfully auditioned for TYWO and spent a year in the first clarinet chair of the Wind Orchestra as well as alto sax in the TYWO Jazz Band.

Upon completion of high school studies, as well as private lessons with teacher and friend Johnny Griffith, John enrolled in Toronto’s prestigious Humber College music program where he earned a degree with honours in Jazz and Contemporary Music, studying under Pat LaBarbera, Don Thompson, Mark Promane, Al Kay, Brian O’Kane, and Jim McGrath and became the recipient of numerous awards from St. John’s Music, The Humber College Scholarship Fund, Jazz FM 91.1, and Yamaha Music Canada. During his time at Humber, John participated in its “Jazz in the Schools” initiative, as well as the opportunity to be featured in Jazz-FM’s Jazzology.Jersey Boys

Turning pro, John soon became sought after as a freelance musician, performing throughout Canada, the Caribbean, and the United States. Favourite gigs have included performances at the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival, TD Canada Trust Ottawa Jazz Festival, and tours of British Columbia and the Bahamas.

As an active woodwind doubler in the musical theatre community, John performed for the Toronto production of JERSEY BOYS (Dancap Productions) COMPANY (Theatre 20) GYPSY, CITY OF ANGELS, touring with the production of LEGALLY BLONDE: The Musical. Musical direction and conducting credits include FOOTLOOSE, URINETOWN, as well as the Canadian Premiere of BARE: A ROCK OPERA at Toronto’s Hart House Theatre.

It is with pride that we count John among our distinguished alumni and part of the TYWO family. I caught up with John between gigs.


BM: Was there a “lightbulb” moment when you realized this was how you wanted to spend your life?

JDS: I remember going to see the Toronto production of THE PRODUCERS, when I was in high school. Paul Pietrkiewicz mentioned to me that his friend from college, Mark Promane, was in the pit orchestra. At intermission, we met Mark and as I looked over the lip into the pit, I saw the woodwind section and their assortment of instruments. Each player had four or five instruments to play. Up to then, I had never seen or understood how a pit orchestra worked. I always thought that there was only one person per instrument. At that point, I began researching other saxophone players and soon realized that most of them also played other woodwinds quite well. This led me to a series of big band recordings and finally to a meeting with Paul Pietrkiewicz to discuss how I should proceed so that I can make music a full-time career. His advice – “Audition for TYWO, they rehearse here once a week, and study with Mark Promane.” That conversation happened about eleven years ago and here we are!

BM: Who were your major musical influences?

JDS: I’ll try to narrow it down, as there are so many. As far as saxophone players go, I would say that my three main influences would be Kenny Garrett, Cannonball Adderley, and Dick Oatts. Specific teachers who have influenced my playing and writing are Mark Promane, Al Kay, Brian O’Kane, Pat LaBarbera, and of course Don Thompson. Lastly, I grew up with music in my home from a very young age. My father is a pianist, accordionist and organist. Music was always playing in my home when I was growing up and he and I would often play at family functions. I think the biggest musical influence, for whom I always want to do well and succeed, is my father!
BM: What has been your most memorable gig to date?

JDS: I’ve been lucky that there have been a few. Touring with both LEGALLY BLONDE and JERSEY BOYS allowed me to meet some incredibly talented people. I also did a gig last year at the Sony Centre for the Luminato Festival with Rufus Wainwright and a 40 piece orchestra. The orchestra was comprised of many of my former teachers. To play professionally with musicians I so admire, was one of the most rewarding experiences in my career thus far.

BM: What were some of the other ‘Wow!” moments – apart, of course, from meeting and marrying the woman of your dreams?

JDS: Most of my wow moments have come from travelling. Being able to watch the sunrise over the Canyondlands National Park, in Utah was surreal. Also, having the opportunity to drive through and experience the American and Canadian Rockies was pretty special. I had a moment, while on tour, where I was sitting on a rock at a lookout point in Banff and realized how lucky I was that my job allowed me to see and experience so many incredible places!

BM: And what lies ahead .. ? Any long-term goals and dreams?

JDS: I’d like to eventually put out an album of my own music. I’m not sure in what musical direction it will be but I’m looking forward to getting to do some writing this summer and beginning the process. Other than that, I am looking forward to being back in Toronto on May 21 and 22 to perform at Massey Hall for the first time. I’ll be playing with a full orchestra backing up Diana Krall. In June and July I will be travelling to Tokyo, Japan with JERSEY BOYS. I feel very thankful to be able to do what I do and I’m looking forward to the surprises and events that will pop up in the future!

BM: Thank you, John – and the very best of luck to you!

John is a Cannonball Saxophone Artist. For more information on John, visit his website at

Friday, August 1, 2014

From TYWO’s Concert Winds to the World’s Concert Stages

An interview with TYWO alumna Christine Carter
by Zarina Varley

IMGM4154_ppPhoto Credits: Top-Matt Dine. Middle-Clarisse Caron-Biou. Bottom-Aestheticize Media.

Canadian clarinetist, Christine Carter, has performed with orchestras around the world, including concerts with the Montréal Symphony Orchestra under Kent Nagano, the National Arts Centre Orchestra under Pinchas Zukerman, performances at the Sydney Opera House with Michael Tilson Thomas and the 2011 YouTube Symphony Orchestra. In 2011, she completed her third season with Maestro Lorin Maazel’s Castleton Festival, including over twenty concerts Clarisse Caron-Biou 2 2009-2 copyand a tour with Academy Award winners, Dame Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons. Most recently, she was invited to play bass clarinet for gala performances with the New World Symphony in Miami and as a substitute with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
In addition to her orchestral pursuits, Christine has performed extensively as a chamber musician. Engagements have ranged from contemporary music at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall to performances of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat with Lorin Maazel and violinist, Jennifer Koh. In 2012, Christine gave the New York premiere of her interdisciplinary “Quartet for the End of Time Project,” involving a four-actor play and photography exhibit, telling the story of Olivier Messiaen’s Prisoner of War Camp masterpiece. She is currently the clarinetist of the Dark by Five Ensemble, which just completed its second season in residence at the Gros Morne Summer Music Festival in Newfoundland. Recent chamber music highlights include performances at the Nicholas Roerich Museum and Opera America Center in New York City, as well as residencies at the Málaga Clásica festival in Spain and the Mozartfest in Würzburg, Germany.

Having worked in both neuroimaging and music cognition labs, Christine has co-authored several music psychology journal articles and was commissioned to write articles on practice techniques for both The Strad Magazine and Bulletproof Musician Blog. She has presented performance psychology workshops at universities and conservatories across Canada and the US and is currently pursuing research as a visiting scholar at the University of Western Ontario’s Brain and Mind Institute. She holds a Master of Music degree from McGill University and a Doctor of Musical Arts from Manhattan School of Music, where she taught the Woodwind Lab for four years. She was recently appointed Assistant Professor of Single Reeds at Memorial University in St. Johns, Newfoundland.Carter Headshot 2011


How long were you in TYWO?
I started playing with the Concert Winds when I was in Grade 12 and with the Wind Orchestra the next two years. For the second year, I was living in London Ontario, commuting every Sunday. A number of us at Western University weren’t willing to give up the ensemble after leaving Toronto. The weekly rides became ritual.

What was your favourite piece from your TYWO days?
There were many. Colin always had a way of picking these epic pieces that lit us all on fire. I remember doing the Pines of Rome (and panicking at the thought of covering the rapid violin lines in the clarinet section!), and Colin’s brilliant arrangement of Holst’s The Planets. But perhaps the one that stands out the most is Ghost Train Triptych. We took this to the recording studio – the first time I had ever recorded anything – and I remember listening to it over and over again. It was so exciting to feel that we had really created something tangible as a group.

What was the overall highlight of being a part of TYWO?
I always felt like we were treated as professional musicians in TYWO. We played challenging repertoire in exciting venues, and our voices mattered. For young students who aren’t always taken seriously, this experience gave such a powerful sense of purpose and belonging.

Do you feel that TYWO helped your development as a musician and choice of career?
It is hard to predict how my life would have turned out without TYWO; I don’t know if I would have pursued music professionally. Music would have always been important, as it was from the time I started piano lessons at age four. But TYWO gave me my first glimpse of what can happen when an entire ensemble of dozens of passionate people comes together. It was an experience of community and spark that I had never experienced to this extent before. I wanted more and knew that the only way I could continue having these moments would be to pursue music wholeheartedly. Of course TYWO also made me a better musician in many important technical ways, but it is this inspiration I remember most.

Any advice for musicians wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Tap into why you want to do this on a daily basis. Listen to great performances of great pieces and stay inspired. Knowing your spark will motivate you to put in the hours. Then work very very hard. If you think you are not talented, work harder. And if you think you are talented, also work harder. Talent is subjective, regardless of who is making the judgement. No one can tell you what you will ultimately be capable of, including yourself. Only time will tell. The nice reality is that the harder you work, the luckier you will be. Most importantly, think of how you can make an impact. The world needs your voice, so use it.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

TV’s Newest Crime-Fighter
Renee Willmon: TYWO piccolo player turned crime-fighting biological anthropologist.
by Sarah Langdon

Killer shot

Forget NCIS. The new term to remember is VROC: Virtual Researcher on Call. Enter Renee Willmon. A flute player with TYWO from 2003 to 2008 and the ensemble’s Personnel Manager for the 2009/10 season, Renee can now add TV star to her growing list of credentials. Renee, along with colleagues from in and around the Greater Toronto Area, is now part of To Catch a Killer, a new documentary series that premiered on March 1st 2014 on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Canada Network. As a cold case TCAK_Publicity_0821 (2) investigator, Renee is one of five civilian investigators working under the direction of Dr. Michael Arntfield from Ontario’s Western University. Renee is a PhD Candidate at Western.

In the TV series, the multidisciplinary team consults with victims’ families and loved ones to renew public interest in cold cases. They then apply their knowledge and experience from various professional backgrounds to identify new areas of inquiry and to generate new leads. “We aren’t working in a vacuum,” Renee explains, “We engage worldwide experts to peer review our team’s findings, and we report them to the investigating police agency. My role on the team is to provide consultation in the analysis and interpretation of the forensic evidence. My experience working in forensic laboratories, processing outdoor crime scenes, participating in forensic autopsies, and my knowledge of human anatomy – in particular, the skeleton – provides important context for these investigations.”

If that quote now has you thinking of another TV series, Bones, and its brilliant protagonist Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan, you may not be too far off the mark. Roseanna Grelo, Assistant Director at Ocean Entertainment, which produces To Catch a Killer, notes that “The crew would often jest that Renee (as part of a team of five) could solve most of the cases on her own.”

Originally from Calgary, AB, Renee found that being involved with TYWO helped her settle in Toronto when she moved here for university in 2003. “Making the decision not to pursue flute performance professionally was a tough one, but TYWO allowed me to continue to play, continue to develop as a musician, and introduced me to some incredible people who continue to be among my closest friends.”

Renee credits TYWO for helping her along her path to success. “Playing in an ensemble of TYWO’s calibre really helped develop my leadership skills, and ability to work with a team toward a common goal” Renee continued. That leadership ability recently helped her earn recognition as a Vanier Canada Scholar, when she was awarded Canada’s most prestigious graduate scholarship to support her PhD. “The TYWO musicians, alumni and administrators truly are like a family, and their support has really helped me to appreciate the bigger picture along my journey.”

To Catch a Killer airs on Saturdays at 8pm on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network.

Click here for more information on the OWN Network’s To Catch a Killer, as well as Renee’s website.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Musicians Honoured
Prominent orchestra recognizes TYWO talents in 1st annual composer competition
by Zarina Varley

EPO Award Winners

TYWO is proud of its role in encouraging the development of some of Toronto’s most talented up and coming musicians and composers who have passed through the organization in the course of its 23-year history. Some have gone on to make their mark in the music world as performers, others as teachers, while many hundreds of TYWO Alumni have taken their place in other areas of society, richer for their musical experience.

Today we salute two such TYWO musicians: one a member of our current Wind Orchestra, the other an alumnus, both recent award winners in the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra’s (EPO) Inaugural Young Composers Competition.

Recognized as Promising High School Composer is Blaise Gratton, a 15-year-old tuba player who started out on clarinet in grade five, switching to tenor saxophone in grade seven to fill the void at his school. With a passion for brass, he moved to tuba when he commenced his studies at the Etobicoke School of the Arts. At the time of his audition and acceptance into TYWO in September 2013, Blaise had been playing tuba for just over a year.

Blaise first started composing at the age of ten at the encouragement of his piano teacher. “My teacher gives this assignment to all of her students, which involves composing a piece and writing a story that goes along with it,” explained Blaise. “I then started composing on my own time just to see what I could do and after taking some theory courses over the summer, I realized I really like composing so I just never stopped.” One of his compositions, “The Perfect Storm”, was selected for performance by a Toronto area community band last season.

Blaise’s prize-winning entry “Tritones and Semitones” is a modern piece written in just two months specifically for the competition. “One of my biggest influences was Armenian Dances by Alfred Reed. I’ve played this piece in two bands and I have always loved it. I even arranged it for solo piano.” he said. Armenian Dances was performed by TYWO for the first concert of the 2013/2014 season. “I enjoy playing with TYWO, as the Wind Orchestra is more advanced than many of the other ensembles I’ve played with. It’s such a big band with a big sound, and I love listening to everyone. I also love the repertoire.”

Runner-up for the grand prize of the competition was double bassist Sean King, with his composition “Demon Dance.” Sean played with TYWO for the 2005-2006 season, participating in TYWO’s first-ever tour, travelling to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto with a Masters in Music degree in Music Composition.

The Young Composers’ Competition was launched last year by the EPO and spearheaded by double bassist Jessica Monk and her husband, violinist Chris Van Loan, with the aim of encouraging young classical composers.

Click to see Inside Toronto article by journalist Cynthia Reason. Photo by Cynthia Reason.

Toronto Youth Wind Orchestra

48 Ridgevale Drive,
Toronto, Ontario
M6A 1L1

Telephone/Fax: 416-321-TYWO (416-321-8996)
Charitable Organization Registration No. 14073 7966 RR0001

With respect and gratitude,

The Toronto Youth Wind Orchestra acknowledges that we are on the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples. We also acknowledge that Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the Williams Treaties signed with multiple Mississaugas and Chippewa bands.