Following your muse

“This scholarship helped me to explore the careers and diverse research areas open to musicologists. I’m very grateful to the donors.” - Elsa Marshall

Music student Elsa Marshall has an unusual passion: the musical scores that accompanied early 20th century silent films.

That’s why Marshall, 21, who studies music theory and history, revelled in the chance last year to help fellow students dress up like a 1927 orchestra to accompany a screening of The Cat and the Canary.  Wearing period clothing, Marshall played her viola, reading musical selections based on an 87-year-old cue sheet that provided the score for the classic silent horror film.

“I like the silent film era because it had musicians in the theatre playing live music to the film, and it was unique to every theatre,” Marshall says.

Poring over old musical scores makes Marshall happy. Although she plays both viola and piano, she’s not interested in a performance career.  Thanks to the Shelagh and David Williams Scholarship in Music, Marshall can pursue unconventional career opportunities, like being a music archivist.

In the summer of 2014, Marshall volunteered as an archivist to organize a collection the late Ottawa Citizen critic Jacob Siskind had donated to Carleton University’s archives. The position gave her critical experience that eventually led to paying jobs, including one this summer digitizing and cataloguing the University of Ottawa’s silent film music collection. It was the scholarship that allowed Marshall to volunteer on the Siskind collection in the first place.

“I didn’t have the pressure of having to get a summer job to pay for everything, so I could focus on getting volunteer experience that was more relevant to what I wanted to do,” Marshall explains.

Both Shelagh and David Williams attended university on scholarships in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Despite their own careers in chemistry, their love for music led them to help music students.

“There tend to be scholarships for science, but there do not tend to be scholarships in music,” Shelagh says.

The scholarships are a little selfish, Williams jokes, because they help to ensure a supply of talented musicians and scholars whose performances continue to entertain and delight the couple.

One of the first concerts the Williamses heard at uOttawa was pianist Andrew Tunis’ performance in a Brahms celebration. The concert sparked their love affair with the “marvellous” performances from students, staff and alumni.

Scholarships ensure great talent is not lost to the world, says Shelagh. “A scholarship can make all the difference.”

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