Daniel Mills - Trumpet Player and Arts Administrator

He/His - Currently based in Calgary, Daniel Mills is an active freelance classical trumpet player and full-time arts administrator. With music degrees from McGill University and the University of Ottawa, Daniel has had the chance to study with many of Canada’s leading classical trumpet players. As an orchestral musician, he has performed with the National Arts Centre, Calgary Philharmonic and National Academy orchestras. Daniel also toured with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada for three consecutive summers and was selected to represent the orchestra in a cultural exchange to India in May 2013. As a soloist and collaborator exploring multidisciplinary performance art, Daniel has created and performed less ‘traditional’ for Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre and The Alberta Dance Festival material with Calgary choreographer Jennifer DeWolf.

As an administrator, Daniel currently works for Arts Commons, Calgary’s major performing arts centre, and has previously held positions for Honens, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, and One Yellow Rabbit Theatre. He is currently pursuing his Masters of Business Administration at the University of Calgary, and serves on the board of Altius Brass, a Calgary-based brass choir.

 I met Daniel about a decade ago. We we’re in the same masters program at the University of Ottawa. Although we were in different disciplines (myself in Musicology and Daniel in Performance), we formed a quick bond. Certainly, part of that bond is due to the fact that Daniel has a strong bond with many people. In the years I have known him, he has continually proven to be one of the most genuinely nice and honest people I’ve ever met. It is no wonder that he makes great connections wherever he goes. We also became friends because of a mutual love of new music, challenging performance expectations, and the need to be always busy and doing something new and exciting. Over the years, Daniel and I have stayed in touch, and when I began thinking about this project, he was the first person I reached out to. Enjoy our chat!

{Jacob} - Good morning, Daniel! It’s been so long since we’ve had a chance to talk. I think the last time I saw you was when we ran into each other in Banff a few years ago.

{Daniel} - I think that’s right, yes. We had lunch and went to the orchestral Beatles concert at the outdoor stage at the Banff Centre!

{Jacob} - Yes, I remember now. Thank-you so much for taking a few minutes to chat about queer identities and working in the classical arts. You currently work at Arts Commons based in Calgary, Alberta. How would you describe the diversity and representation in your office?

{Daniel} - Queer-wise, I feel very fortunate to be in a relatively supportive environment. Of my team of five development staff, three of us identify somewhere on the queer spectrum. I have always felt that we can talk with each other openly about life and who we are. I've never had to hide who I am. As far as diversity in other ways, I think there are still strides to make with other minority groups in the office. There is an effort with having a racially diverse staff. Especially on our board, having more than multiple “pale males” is very much in the minds of people.

{Jacob} - I think that is a conversation among many groups at the moment - arts non-exclusive but certainly in the arts. People are thinking about what diversity hires mean for the advancement of the community in general. I think it is an interesting conversation to have among different generations of artists as well. To talk to people who really see diversity as a huge asset where others see it as an obligation and mandated necessity.

{Daniel} - It is a conversation I think a lot of arts groups are, thankfully, having. We’re still figuring out what that looks like in practice though. What barriers and impediments do we have to remove from our staff qualifications to make that a reality. How to level that playing field. Though, at board levels, I think there are more challenges that we are still working through. Unfortunately, some of the requirements of who board members need to be, who they work with, and who they know outside of the board they sit on, is still a product of the society we live in. By nature of being on a board, you’re someone who is high up in a company, or knows many people who are socially connected to those people. In Calgary at least, the majority of those people are, for the time being, predominantly white straight males.

{Jacob} - That is the case here as well. Organisations and boards are obviously trying, but it is a long game that they need to play.

{Daniel} - Yes, it is. I hate to say it - I do think there are changes happening, but we need to be patient. To keep on the path but let it happen over time. Nothing changes over night. I really hope that in 20 years that we won’t be having this conversation, but it might take us 20 years to get there. Arts organisations are just struggling to survive in general. Most of the time, we’re all just trying to keep our heads above water. So, it will take time.

{Jacob} - You’ve also spent a lot of time playing in orchestras. Is the performance side of music doing better? It is certainly a very different hiring practice when you audition for an orchestra. Probably one of the most unique hiring systems of any job in the world.

{Daniel} - Yeah, if all the practices are followed correctly, it is a fully screened and unbiased hiring process. It isn’t without flaws, but it theory, getting a job in an orchestra should have very little to do with anything other than how someone plays. Which all stems from an attempt in the 80s and 90s to correct a gender bias in who makes it through the rounds in professional auditions. That has been proven to work. Though, after they’ve been hired, there is still a probationary period and their interaction with the orchestra to determine if they get tenure. At least at the beginning of the process, those social barriers are attempted to be taken away. It is a better system than just handing in a resumé.

{Jacob} - You and I have talked before about being a trumpeter and being queer. It’s no secret that brass is always a bit of a boys club and being queer in that space is sometimes a little less comfortable than maybe other places. I’m a big believer in queer solidarity. If I walk into a room full of people i’ve never met, I feel most comfortable and safest with the other queer people more readily. I know that was the case for when we met! I distinctly remember walking into the graduate student offices at the University of Ottawa and meeting about 5-6 first year masters students at once. But, of the group of people I met, I immediately sat down and talked with you for probably 40 minutes. There was an instant camaraderie. Beyond that first meeting, we ended up working together a lot over the next few years. I think you played for every Sesquisharp show I produced, and I was in your graduate recital. I don’t think at the time I would have attributed our identities to that connection, but as I get older and work with more and more people, I feel that it has more influence than I thought it did. Do you feel the same way when you work with other queer musicians?

{Daniel} - I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it! I think I notice it more in other art forms. When I see a largely queer cast in a show or production I do think I have a deeper response to those people. Though, as I say that, the list of composers that I have an affinity for is mostly queer. I love Copland, Bernstein, Britten, Poulenc. Maybe I think of it just as an added pro to a composer I would probably like anyway! If I was watching an opera and it had a queer story, I would feel more connected to it, absolutely. The stories and narrative would resonate differently for me. There is starting to be more queer stories in performance as well as some queer opera. Or, at least classical music or opera told through a queer lens. I do think I’m more immediately drawn to those performances.

{Jacob} - Totally. It’s not that I feel like I can’t listen to Schumann, or that I don’t understand his music, but I do feel that I might understand Copland better. That might be entirely in my own head, but I think it’s fine if it is. It doesn’t really matter if it makes a difference to anyone else. The fact that I hear things differently and potentially play or conduct them differently if it’s queer is good enough for me. Even if no one else notices or cares! But, if I care, and the people I’m working with care, then I think it makes an actual, sonic, performative difference. Something the audience may not be able to put their finger on, but something.

{Daniel} - Yes! Having a connection with other musicians is crucial. Being able to connect with them as deeply as possible is really important to how the music sounds. Regardless of what that connection is. At least it is for me. I remember being in a first year brass quintet at McGIll where all of us either identified as a minority or queer and it did bond us together quite strongly. We became really close friends. We socialized together, and because we did, we played better together.

{Jacob} - Here’s to more queer music making! Thank-you again for the chat. It was very nice to talk with you about being a queer artist and administrator.

{Daniel} - My pleasure!