When John Harris founded the Harris Institute in Toronto 30 years ago, he had two straightforward goals. He wanted to strengthen the Canadian music industry and give students the tools, knowledge, and skills to have lifelong careers in this sector.
“I had been in the music industry for 25 years,” Harris told the Straight by phone from the school. “I was very fortunate to do quite well and do a lot of things. I managed artists that toured the world and sold millions of records. I started a record company.”
He also built the world’s largest sound system as a consultant for Pope John Paul II when he visited Canada in 1984. Plus, he’s taken a Canadian-written musical to Broadway. But he observed many others having relatively short careers in the music industry because they had trouble adapting.
“I wanted to do something different, something significant,” Harris said. “So I went out and found 22 award-winning leaders in every area of the music industry and started a school.”
In the past two years, he noted, graduates of the Harris Institute have won or been nominated for 247 awards, including Grammys, Emmys, Oscars, Junos, and Canadian Screen Awards.
That, he said, is worth celebrating on the school’s 30th anniversary.
“We’re also celebrating the fact that in the recent statistics released by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities in Ontario, Harris Institute became the first school, I think, anywhere ever to achieve a 100-percent graduate employment rate and a 100-percent graduate satisfaction rate,” Harris said. “There may be another school but I’m not aware of it.”
He also said that the Harris Institute is the only postsecondary school in North America to have recorded zero-percent student-loan-default rates on four occasions.
It’s had two one-year programs since its inception: audio production and arts management. It’s possible to obtain a double diploma by taking both programs over a 20-month period.
Harris said that the audio-production program includes music recording, audio for games, broadcast audio, audio post for film and television, and all the major digital workstations, to give students a broad-based education.
The arts-management program deals with every aspect of the business of music, including venue and tour management, music and digital marketing, international marketing, and concert promotion.
According to Harris, graduates are working at record and film companies, booking agencies, production houses, advertising agencies, and studios, among other areas.
When asked why the Harris Institute has been so successful, the founder didn’t hesitate before responding. “The faculty,” he said. “Over 60 percent of our faculty have won awards for what they teach.”
The chair of the arts-management program and vice president of the school, Bob Roper, is a Juno Award winner and a former executive director of the Juno Awards. Another vice president and the chair of the audio-production program, Doug McClement, is a Gemini Award winner and, according to Harris, arguably Canada’s leading audio engineer.
“Terry Brown, who teaches production, is Canada’s most awarded record producer,” Harris continued. “He did, among many others, 10 Rush albums.”
He said that Martin Pilchner, who teaches studio design, is arguably the world’s leading studio designer.
The Harris Institute is also celebrating the 15th anniversary of a partnership with the University of West Scotland, which is among the top 500 universities in the world, according to Times Higher Education.
Graduates of the Toronto school can go to Scotland and earn a degree for free in eight months. It’s free because students from the Scottish university come to Toronto during their summer break between their third and fourth years, and the Harris Institute helps them find work placements in their fields of study.
Harris Institute graduates who do a double diploma can enroll in a graduate program at the Scottish university.
This can provide a student with two college diplomas and a master’s degree in 32 months. Harris pointed out that students have to pay for that degree.
It’s another way of accelerating the postsecondary-education experience, which was another one of Harris’s original goals.
“We’re planning a reunion of all of our students who’ve gone to Scotland to earn degrees,” Harris said.
Harris takes pride in the role that the school has played in the growth of the Canadian music industry. He said that on a per capita basis, no country in the world approaches Canada in its global impact.
You just have to look at the international appeal of Canadian artists ranging from Drake to Diana Krall, from Michael Bublé to Rihab Chaieb, from the Weeknd to Nickelback, and from Neil Young to Grimes.
“The Canadian music industry is thriving like never before,” Harris declared.More