Dr. Mark Sirett, a world-renowned conductor and composer based in Kingston, has been named to the Order of Canada. On Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, Governor General Mary Simon announced 99 new appointments to the Order, with Sirett being named a Member of the Order of Canada, the first level of recognition. Other new members include decorated Canadian curler and broadcaster Colleen Jones, as well as Lorraine Segato, lead singer of The Parachute Club.
According to an announcement issued by the office of the Governor General, Sirett was named to the Order of Canada “for his steadfast commitment to the field of choral music as a renowned composer, conductor and community leader.”
“It was a complete surprise to me,” Sirett said. “I had no idea that it was in the works, but nonetheless, really delighted and also humbled by the appointment.”
While the announcement was made official last week, Sirett first learned the news back in November. “I received notification from the Office of the Governor General in early November with a follow-up phone call, and I was completely surprised,” he shared.
The Order of Canada is one of the country’s highest honours, with appointments made by the Governor General on the recommendation of a special advisory council.
Sirett is an accomplished conductor and composer, having won two prestigious international awards in conducting: the Jury Prize for Imaginative Programming and Artistry at the 2022 Cork International Choral Festival, and the Outstanding Conductor Award at the 2004 Young Prague Festival. In 2019, Sirett was honoured as one of the recipients of the Mayor’s Arts Award.
In Kingston, Sirett is best known as the Founding Artistic Director of Cantabile Choirs, one of the region’s most popular and decorated choral groups. Sirett founded Cantabile in 1996, providing musical education and performance opportunities for singers across three different choirs. In his more than two decades with the organization, Sirett mentored countless choral performers, eventually expanding Cantabile’s roster to seven choirs with over 250 choristers.
In late 2019, Sirett retired as artistic director of Cantabile, handing the reins to his son Geoffrey Sirett. However, given that his retirement coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sirett said last week’s announcement “was such a wonderful way to finish the year and launch me into retirement.”
Among this year’s Order of Canada honourees are numerous athletes, comedians, activists, and academics. Sirett said it’s “wonderful” to see the choral music community recognized alongside other deserving groups.
“I certainly noticed many familiar names in the performing arts area, but also to be in the midst of such amazing talent in so many other different fields. For me, it’s quite humbling,” Sirett expressed.
Not only was Sirett honoured for his work as a composer and conductor, but the Governor General’s announcement also cited his involvement as a community leader as one of the reasons for his appointment. Sirett was born and raised in Kingston but moved to the United States for graduate school, ultimately earning a Doctorate of Musical Arts in choral conducting and pedagogy from the University of Iowa in 1990. Sirett eventually returned to his home town in the 1990s, working in various capacities at Queen’s University and establishing Cantabile Choirs.
“There’s something very special about Kingston and the cultural life that’s offered here,” Sirett said. “I think it’s exemplary for a city of this size, in terms of the performing arts and visual arts, and the amazing support that the population gives to the arts. So I knew that I wanted to stay here and give back.”
Since the appointment was made public last week, Sirett said he has heard from numerous colleagues and former choristers, congratulating him on the remarkable achievement.
“It’s been quite overwhelming and, to be honest, quite emotional, to receive notes of congratulation from people I’ve worked with over the years, not just here in Kingston, but across the country — some former students of mine and colleagues,” he said.
Sirett will receive his Order of Canada insignia at an investiture ceremony, the date of which has yet to be announced.