The cliché is that classical music is enjoyed only by a small, urban elite. The truth, however, is that finances and geography are no impediment to developing a taste for the style—as violinist, educator, and conductor Janna Sailor is happy to testify.
Born into a musical but “disadvantaged” family in rural Elbow, Saskatchewan, she’s since become a bright light on Vancouver’s busy concert scene—even though her early training involved regular 300-kilometre round trips to Saskatoon.
“I grew up in a pretty poor family, but I also had teachers who taught me for free and made sure I always had scholarships and things like that,” the 30-year-old musician says in a telephone interview from the Vancouver Academy of Music, where she teaches violin. “People really believed in me and invested in me all along.”
Teaching is a way of repaying some of that interest.
“It’s never about just playing the violin,” Sailor contends. “There’s always something bigger going on there, and deeper. Stringed instruments are so revealing, too: you can tell right away if there’s tension in the body or the mind.
“I feel like I have a holistic approach,” she continues. “I mean, I also teach yoga, and I incorporate that into my teaching quite a lot. It helps me to find what works in each individual student’s body.”
For an intimate look at Sailor’s own temperament, try to see her in concert with her frequent musical partner, harpist Albertina Chan. Their Cordei duo will play a noon recital at the Vancouver Art Gallery on October 16, before teaming up with soprano Heather Pawsey for a program of Canadian music at the BlueShore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts on February 19.
“I love the fact that the harp is so colourful, and that I can explore the quieter register of my instrument without having to worry about constantly churning out sound over a piano—which I also love,” Sailor says.
Increasingly, Sailor finds herself fronting larger ensembles, without a violin in hand. Having come to conducting almost by accident—she first took the podium with the Vancouver Youth Symphony when its scheduled leader went on emergency leave—she’s found a mentor in the National Academy Orchestra’s Boris Brott.
Yoga helps there, too. “To me, it’s become more and more apparent that conducting is so much more than just your stick technique. You really have to embody the music, and a lot of that has to do with the energy that you put out—and with your intention.”
This fall, Sailor takes on the role of assistant conductor with the Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra.