Why I give to the performing arts: Dasha Shenkman

Two smiling people stand close to each other in a warm, friendly manner.
Music Director Alexander Shelley and Dasha Shenkman during the 2019 NACO European Tour. © Fred Cattroll
An orchestral string section plays on stage.
NACO Mentorship Program string participants rehearse with their NACO mentors. © Curtis Perry
A smiling tuba player and their mentor review notes on a music stand.
Peter Sullivan, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra principal trombone, coaches tuba player Brandon Figueroa in a brass masterclass. © Curtis Perry
Two conductors consult sheet music at a podium.
NACO Music Director Alexander Shelley guides conducting participant Soo Jin Chung. © Curtis Perry

I’m delighted to be supporting the NACO Mentorship Program, something that is very close to my heart. Although I have lived most of my life in England, I was born in Ottawa and have always felt Canadian, as opposed to British. So, there is a very strong connection for me to this city.

My mother was a great supporter of Canadian performing arts throughout her life, promoting various Canadian arts organizations in the UK and elsewhere. She wanted the world to see the excellence of Canadian performers and artists in all disciplines and to help them understand just how talented they were.

My brother and I were very fortunate to have parents who exposed us from a very young age to all of the arts. They both loved music and were skilled musicians, so we grew up surrounded by it. They shared two very important characteristics: curiosity about everything and a strong sense of giving back in any way you were able to.

In the UK, I served as a Trustee of the Concordia Foundation, a music foundation. Our Young Audiences programs, aimed at primary school children, brought together children from diverse nationalities and faiths, inspiring a new generation of musicians and artists. We organized productions that integrated music and visual arts, actively encouraging participation from the children in the audience.

We encouraged, supported, and provided platforms for young musicians at the beginning of their careers. This support took the form of a concert series held in prestigious London venues, as well as abroad. We also initiated and developed exchange visits and educational partnerships between the UK and other countries through opera productions, concerts, masterclasses, and educational workshops. In our work in hospitals, we were among the first to see how stroke victims and sufferers of dementia benefitted from listening to live music and forming relationships with our musicians.

I have watched and listened to many musicians greatly benefit from the NAC Orchestra Mentorship Program, where they learn from Alexander Shelley, the Music Director, as well as from members of the Orchestra and their fellow participants. There's a unique camaraderie that forms when making music together, and they all show remarkable generosity towards each other.

Listening to each other, being part of a team, a sense of being part of something intangible, the idea of ‘it takes a village’ and that everyone has something to contribute — be it musically or otherwise — is so valuable in life. Music can speak across divides and unite people from all walks of life and other apparent barriers. Its power is very evident in an educational atmosphere, such as the Mentorship Program, where music serves as a strong common denominator.  Especially in today's world, we need more programs like the NACO Mentorship Program to exchange views, learn from each other and nourish our communal lives. 

Dasha Shenkman has been a generous supporter of the NAC Orchestra and its music education programs for more than a decade.

Join more than 6,500 champions of performance, creation and learning by supporting Canadian artists, educators and students through the NAC Foundation.

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