It is such a great pleasure for me to be here today to pay tribute to one of the great founding members of our School of Music. And it is an honour to be doing so from the very room where he was heard so frequently over the years, performing so brilliantly, and inspiring a whole generation of music-lovers.
It would be easy to give a biographical sketch of the astonishing life and career of Jean-Paul Sevilla and to run down the many honours and achievements he has garnered over the years - the Premiers Prix and the Prix d'honneur from the Conservatoire de Paris; a unanimous first prize from the 1959 Geneva International Competition (and this at a time when piano competitions were few and far between, and when winning one really meant something important in the musical world); the hundreds, if not thousands, of concerts performed throughout the world; and the numerous acclaimed recordings, including a coveted "Diapason d'Or" awarded by the French classical music magazine Diapason. His repertoire is vast and varied, from the Baroque masters right up to the most current of living composers, and he has performed and taught it extensively; the engaging and entertaining master classes given to piano students throughout the world and the Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres awarded by the French government. Yes it would be easy, (though time-consuming!) to list his accomplishments, yet I would still not really get to the essence of this remarkable man.
You see, Jean-Paul Sevilla has devoted his life to music and the piano, but he is so much more than a pianist. From the time of his arrival at the University of Ottawa in the late 1960's, until his retirement in the 1990's, Jean-Paul personified what a true master should be. He took it upon himself to take students under his wing, and commit himself to educating them to the fullest. It was not just a question of taking a weekly piano lesson, but rather becoming part of a cultural circle - attending concerts and discussing them afterwards; visiting art galleries; attending theatre. Jean-Paul was committed to passing on his vast knowledge of the arts and culture to another generation. For a good many years, he would organize summer courses in various parts of France, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, involving intensive piano study, visits to historic and cultural sites, excursions to exotic locales, concerts, dinners, etc. For the lucky young music student able to take part, these were incredibly enriching experiences, all brought about by Jean-Paul's energy and dedication. Here in Ottawa, his piano students would become like a family, and enjoy dinners, music listening sessions, and social events, just as much as the hard work of practicing for lessons or recitals.
That he is a very fundamental pillar of the University of Ottawa is clear. From the time I arrived in Ottawa as a youngster, and began to frequent the then Department of Music, it became clear that Jean-Paul was the soul and the personality of the Department. I remember as soon as one arrived in the quaint little house on Nicholas St. that housed the piano faculty, one could hear - shall I call it singing? - the sound emanating from Jean-Paul's studio. That low growling sound seemed curious to me at first, but gradually it became a very reassuring symbol of the concentration and musical dedication that was Jean-Paul. It signified that, yes, Jean-Paul was present, and deep in musical thought. Through three consecutive music buildings, Jean-Paul's presence was always deeply felt by all music students, and not just his own. He was present from early morning until late evening, practicing, teaching, attending as many concerts, (student and professional) as he could, often bringing students along to the concerts and then inviting them to dine with him afterwards.
Jean-Paul Sevilla was absolutely dedicated to his art; fully invested in passing along his knowledge and principles to a future generation of artists; and genuinely caring and concerned for the overall well-being of his students.
Some of Jean-Paul's students went on to become successful, professional - even world-renowned - musicians. This gave him great pleasure. What gave him just as much pleasure, however, were those who were not destined to become great musicians, yet who demonstrated a love and dedication to music and to learning. To these students, Jean-Paul would give tirelessly of himself, to make them deeper, more understanding musicians and human beings, and this invariably helped them achieve success in their chosen fields. He would take great pride in their accomplishments and would often remain a lifelong friend. His dedication to guiding his students towards greater understanding is really what made him such an inspiring professor.
As one who benefitted tremendously from Jean-Paul's generosity of spirit, (and I think there are many others like me here today), it gives me the greatest pleasure to be able to acknowledge in person his lasting contribution to the University of Ottawa, which will live on in future through the generous scholarship fund that is set up in his name.
Testimonial presented by Professor Andrew Tunis on February 6, 2012.