A Musical Life: Remembering Sandra Munn

The Edmonton virtuoso leaves behind a legacy of care and camaraderie

Trailblazer. Inspiring. Motivating. These were just a few of the words used to describe Alexandra (Sandra) Munn by those who knew her. A lifelong musical prodigy and changemaker in the Alberta music scene, Munn built an incredible legacy based on education and excellence. She passed away on September 30th, aged 89.

“Sandra leaves a legacy through her students,” says Mary-Lou Cleveland, her colleague and close friend. “Her gift of loving music has been seeded across Canada and the United States through students who are conductors, performers, accompanists, singers, teachers, composers, and many are just people who want to enjoy playing and supporting the arts.”

Sandra Munn

Munn was born in Calgary in 1934 and her musical talent was quickly apparent in her perfect pitch and exceptional sight-reading. She moved to Edmonton to study further before leaving to attend Juilliard in 1953, where she completed a four-year program in two years, graduating at 21.

Following her graduation from Juilliard, Munn returned to Alberta to be with her family. She then began teaching at the University of Alberta, the only woman in a music faculty filled with men.

Her engagement with Edmonton’s music community also extended far beyond campus borders. She conducted the Richard Eaton Singers as well as Da Camera Singers, taught privately, and was a dedicated patron of local arts.

Her teachings have reached countless students in the Edmonton area who have now also found success in the music world. She also founded the Alexandra M. Munn Scholarship Fund at Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) to support highly talented Edmonton area students studying classical music in the area of voice and traditional orchestral instruments.

The singular purpose of the fund is to encourage students ages 11 to 15 in need of financial aid to pursue studies leading to a potential career. This program was just one of Munn’s ways of giving back to her community after having received scholarships herself early in her career.

“Sandra was an absolute joy to work with on our student awards for music,” Anna Opryshko, ECF’s Student Awards Associate says. “Edmonton’s classical music community was fortunate to have such a tireless supporter both on stage and behind the scenes.”

During her life, Munn also volunteered on other committees at ECF including the Winspear Fund Scholarships for Advanced Classical Music and the Ranald & Vera Shean Memorial Scholarships.

In total, these three programs have provided $2.6 million through 654 student awards to nearly 200 students — and it was always about the students for Munn.

“She would talk about the music and play through things with me and just get me excited about the pieces I was playing,” says Amanda Andrishak, a student of Munn’s and two-time recipient of the Alexandra M. Munn Scholarship. “I’m a musician now – I play piano for a living.”

Munn was well known for her commitment to building community. She often hosted gatherings to play music and kept in touch with a wide range of people from across the globe. A chance to see some of her impact came last fall with a trip out of town to hear a concerto.

“Everybody who knew her came over and chatted with her and reminisced and it was the best gift she could have ever had,” says Cleveland. “She realized that she did make a difference to a lot of people.”

While the impact of this loss will be felt tremendously by the Edmonton music community, Munn’s work lives on through the many musicians she mentored over the course of her life.

“I don’t think I would be here without her,” says Andrishak.