Elton John and country artists like Kenny Rogers were the soundtrack of Derek Oger's early childhood—his parents often played their albums on the family's record player. That changed at the age of seven when Derek began studying piano at Thunder Bay's Avila Music School and found his true passion, classical music.
His icons would become musical giants like Ludwig van Beethoven and Bela Bartok.
"Beethoven bridged the gap between the classical and the romantic periods of music," Derek says. "He composed for the growing middle class of the 1800s, instead of the aristocracy, and you can feel the social upheaval of the times in his music. Bartok, an early 20th-century Hungarian composer, had a fascination with folk music that led him to become one of the world's first ethno-musicologists. His work is filled with authentic ethnic nuances from the regions he visited."
Derek's connection to music was strengthened by the twice-weekly singing and ear training classes his elementary school offered.
"We were one of the last cohorts of students in the 1970s to have those programs available to us," Derek says.
He would go on to earn an Honours Bachelor of Music from Lakehead in 1998 and become an important advocate for classical music, especially since taking on the role of executive director of Conservatory Canada in 2014.
"Conservatory Canada fosters talent and potential in music through an accredited system of musical exams across Canada," Derek says. "Its roots go back to 1891 in Ontario."
Derek has showcased his own musical talent with two solo performances with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra and with performances in Lakehead University's Lumina Concert series and at venues around Northwestern Ontario. He also played on three tracks of a CD entitled First Recording featuring the work of New Music North, a collective organized by Lakehead music professors Dr. Aris Carastathis and Dr. Darlene Chepil Reid.
At this point in his career, though, Derek's primary focus is Conservatory Canada. As the Conservatory's director, he oversees the organization's marketing and administration work, develops curriculum, and trains examiners—something that entails travelling across the country to meet with teachers and conduct exams.
His teaching work, however, isn't confined solely to Conservatory Canada. Derek instructs students both at his own music studio and as a contract lecturer with Lakehead University's Department of Music. He finds it fulfilling to nurture young people's talent and love of music, while making it clear that the life of a musician isn't an easy one.
"You need a lot of determination and a willingness to be flexible and open to possibilities. Developing skills in other disciplines is crucial, too."
In return, his students are keen to share their musical discoveries with him.
"The nice thing about YouTube is that you can find all kinds of musical subgenres," Derek says. "My students are always bringing me new works that I'd never have heard of if they hadn't."
Still, classical music has the greatest power to move him.
"It gives us a glimpse into something beyond ourselves—beyond human existence. It's magical the way a piece of music will hit us, yet strike other people differently, and we don't know why."