Arts Organizations

Interview with 
Amy Hillis
Stephen Sitarski Leadership Award


After more than a decade, The Stephen Sitarski Leadership Award ran out of funds to support it in 2018. Amy Hillis has helped to restore this award for future recipients in the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. 

Amy is a professional violinist who is passionate about celebrating music in Canada.  Amy is winner of the Eckhardt-Gramatté Music Competition and the inaugural "Pan-Canadian Recital Tour" featuring 50 concert performances across thirteen Canadian provinces and territories. Her debut album, Roots, demonstrates the connections between select Canadian compositions and works from the traditional canon of classical repertoire. She has a Doctor of Music in Violin Performance from McGill University and Amy is also currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Music at York University’s School of Arts, Media, Performance and Design and is continuing to build community partnerships with her appointment as the Helen Carswell Chair in Community-Engaged Research in the Arts. 


Tell us about the award?

The award is a scholarship given to a student in the National Youth Orchestra of Canada (NYOC) annually who exemplifies the qualities embraced by long-time NYOC faculty member, Stephen Sitarski which include outstanding leadership, perseverance, respect for others and an overall positive attitude. In Sitarski’s words, the recipient exhibits extra qualities that go beyond just musical talent and is someone that others can look up to as an example of a caring, dedicated colleague. For this award, character is as important as ability.

Why is this award so important to you?

When I was a recipient of this award in 2008, it was a vote of confidence in me. While technically, I wasn’t the best violinist or musician in the program, this award convinced me that I still had something to offer to the community. It gave me the self-assurance to pursue music and the violin at university. I felt passionate about the violin, and I enjoyed playing in orchestras, but I don’t think that any of my high school classmates would have guessed that I would choose that path. I believe this is an important award because it recognizes and encourages qualities in young musicians that go beyond technical excellence. NYOC is special because it brings together great people, not just great musicians, and it encourages personal growth alongside teammates from across the country. I think this award embraces the NYOC values of respect, leadership, teamwork, and character as demonstrated by the recipient during the training session itself. Being a part of the NYOC taught me that these values are just as important as technical excellence in the pursuit of artistic goals and dreams.


Weren’t you concerned about technical skills?

Technical skills are very important, and I have worked hard at improving mine over the years. I was privileged to have a dedicated teacher (and NYOC alumnus), Denise Lupien, during my undergraduate studies at McGill who patiently helped me build the technical tools to do what I wanted to do on the violin.  But the violin is very personal to me, and I express that with my whole body. My style is a little at odds with conventional thinking and teaching, but you have to be able to take what you’re taught and combine it with what you feel. That individuality is important.


What would you say to future potential laureates?

You need to seriously consider pursuing your passion because you have something to contribute and because motivation comes from within. It may be hard to see a longer term plan, but don’t think about that too much. When you play music with others, you will absolutely learn skills that are transferable. Whether music becomes a career or remains a hobby, as it did with many of my NYOC colleagues, you will have gained tools that help you elsewhere.

And I’d say thank you for the dedication to music and for your team spirit and character.




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