Women’s Empowerment Through Music Interview: Tanya Derksen Executive Director, Regina Symphony Orchestra

tanya_derksenTanya Derksen is a woman of the arts. As a solo and collaborative pianist, music tutor, volunteer, teacher, arts administrator, and most recently Executive Director for the Regina Symphony Orchestra (RSO), she’s a woman who has never allowed genderfication to be an issue while pursuing her passion for music. We wanted to find out more about what music means to her, how she’s been influenced by her mentors, and empowered by music.

Tanya remembers being in high school and thinking about her desire to feel passionate and excited about whatever she decided to do with the rest of her life, which at the time was playing the piano. Although she has ventured in a different direction from becoming a concert pianist, she still loves making music and bringing it into people’s lives. Both are something she’s been fortunate enough to have grown up with and communicated over the years in a variety of capacities. Tanya believes in the power of music and introducing it into the lives of others. Following her university music degree, she worked as an accompanist for singers, string players, choirs, musicals, and competitions, which taught her an enormous amount about how to work with others. These experiences have given her a sincere footing as an arts administrator, which is something she embraced when attending business school. She believes that the business of running an arts organization is very exciting, however, “a music degree doesn’t teach you how to run a music organization”. By obtaining her MBA she was able to bridge both worlds and their unique languages, while walking in the shoes of a musician.

While we see more and more women leading arts and non-profit organizations in Canada; overall, females are still not well-represented across all categories of senior business leadership. However, Tanya’s position as Executive Director with the Regina Symphony Orchestra is an exciting success for women working in the arts. Tanya believes the steps in her career path that led to this position were in part due to the support of her peers and mentorship by those she looks up to. Often, women find encouragement from other female mentors. In addition to this, Tanya credits one life changing conversation to the encouragement by a male mentor, “A mentor during my time with Manitoba Music was the first person to say ‘I think you could be an executive director one day’”. With her appointment as Executive Director in December of 2014, she feels valued both within the organization and the community. She is thankful for the promotion of gender equality within the RSO. For example, the gender of musicians is unknown during auditions. Newly appointed RSO Conductor, Gordon Gerrard is of the same thought in making sure repertoire finds its balance between male and female conductors and composers. “Steps we are taking as we pave the way for the next generation”, says Tanya.

When we asked Tanya how music has empowered her, she said, “Music has given me community. I feel I belong. I feel I thrive. I look forward to working with my colleagues, and it comes down to being a part of that community with passion”. Tanya believes that part of her job as Executive Director is empowering others to be the best they can be. Through her work launching the El Sistema program with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Tanya came to understand how much music has the capacity to “set students up for success by creating a place where they can belong, see possibilities beyond what they saw for themselves, and empower them to do more with their lives.” She comments that this doesn’t mean students must obtain a music degree or even become highly proficient, but that it’s about making music for life and living that creativity everyday in an ever changing world.