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Concordia launches the Kevin Austin Award in Electroacoustic Studies

Named in honour of the dedicated music professor, the new prize received a major boost from Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry
December 2, 2020
An archive photo c. 1982 of a group of musicians on a university lawn, with all their instruments
Kevin Austin (second from right) and friends before a live show on campus, circa 1982: “I learned early on the way to pay back is to pay forward.”

Concordia’s Department of Music officially launched the Electroacoustic Studies program 20 years ago, but like any great record, you can trace its roots through much deeper influences.

Fifty years ago, Kevin Austin co-taught a course called Contemporary Idioms and Media at Sir George Williams University. He remembers 35 students who enthusiastically explored many facets of contemporary music, a handful of whom also made “weird noises” on borrowed audiovisual equipment.

By 1971, 80 per cent of the program’s design was in place — a focus on perception, ear-training, composition, performance, psychoacoustics, history, repertoire and working with other artistic mediums — it just took the rest of the world 30 years to catch up.

On November 25, more than 70 Concordians from around the world virtually gathered to celebrate the anniversary of the department  with the announcement of the Kevin Austin Award in Electroacoustic Studies. It’s a gift that will support many electroacoustics studies students in perpetuity.

Generous contributions

Mark Corwin, chair of the department, organized the award. He calls Austin one of his mentors.

“Working alongside Kevin over the last 30 years, I've come to understand and adopt his vision. His initiatives have made this program so successful.”

Corwin has also been impressed by Austin’s outstanding record of supporting students.

He has funded 11 distinct student awards at Concordia and his gifts have helped more than 70 students over the past 35 years.

“It dawned on me that Kevin had established these numerous awards, but none of them bear his name. So, four years ago, I started contributing to a fund called the Kevin Austin Award,” Corwin explains.

The award is a $35,000 contribution towards the Faculty of Fine Arts and the Campaign for Concordia: Next Gen. Now. Many alumni, faculty and friends in the music community joined him to contribute to this new award, including alumnus Richard Reed Parry (BFA 03) of Arcade Fire.

“It's through Richard’s significant donation that the Kevin Austin Award is now fully funded and ready to support an award for this year, our 20th anniversary,” Corwin notes. “And will continue to support one student per year, in perpetuity.”

‘It totally saved me’

Parry vividly remembers benefitting from one of Austin’s awards during his last year at Concordia.

“I was working very hard on way more things than one person could reasonably attempt to simultaneously accomplish and I was spread very thin.”

On top of his full course load, he played in two bands, curated an art show, performed music for dance classes, edited film, recorded concerts, composed music and took an Independent Study course with Austin.

He was also broke, living on free school lunches and sneaking onto buses with expired transfers. In the midst of this instability, he received the award.

“At that moment, it totally saved me. I felt such relief, such joy that some of my sprawling artistic efforts were being noticed, regardless of how unfocused or interdisciplinary. I could eat, I could take the Metro, I could function. It was a vote of confidence that I desperately needed.”

‘Everyone stands on other people's shoulders’

Austin has a stack of letters and emails on his desk from Concordia students whom his “small gifts” have helped over the years. Many speak of how the recognition opened doors for them they didn’t know existed.

“Everyone stands on other people's shoulders. I stand on those of so many people who I have owed gifts to over the years that I can never pay back,” Austin says.

“I learned early on the way, that to pay back is to pay forward. In 1981, I began building awards named for people who were significant in my own development and who went out of their way to improve the quality of my life.”

The future of a fine arts education is about relationships, making sure energy flows between people, both in and outside the classroom, Austin adds. He sees this award in his name as both an honour and an investment in future music students.

As for Parry, he says he’s proud to be part of creating this award in Austin’s name. “If only everyone who eventually receives this award could somehow take classes with him.”

Find out more about Concordia’s Department of Music.

Contribute to the Kevin Austin Award in Electroacoustic Studies.


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