Jesse Morrison Viola

The newest member of the Calgary Philharmonic’s viola section, Jesse Morrison grew up playing the violin and attended an arts program at his Toronto high school. “For Grades 9 and 10, I was actually a visual arts major, instead of going into music — I was losing inspiration for practising violin all the time,” he says. “I went through a different phase for a little bit, and then eventually, towards the second half of high school, I switched back to music, but still on violin.”

It wasn’t until later that Morrison tried the instrument he now plays in the Orchestra. “The first piece I ever played on viola was the third movement of the Ravel string quartet,” he says. “For violists, it showcases the instrument so beautifully.” After that, it didn’t take long for Morrison to realize the viola was a better fit for him than violin. “It was a fantastic introduction — I got into the little community of violists, I fell in love with the instrument when I made the switch, and it took off from there,” he says. “The idea of picking up the violin again and practising and competing against all the kids who could play so incredibly was quite stressful and scary for me, but playing viola was less so — I was happy to have something like viola that was my saving grace in all of it.”

Viola became the avenue for Morrison to rediscover his love of music, and he ended up focusing on the instrument for his subsequent post-secondary education in Toronto and Boston. In January of 2019, he arrived in Calgary for a viola audition. “Auditions have never really been my forte, in terms of standing behind a screen and trying to play in the ways that people like, so I’ve always found that a bit of an internal struggle,” Morrison says. “I much prefer the idea of just being onstage and playing a chamber concert, but auditions are what they are.”

Nevertheless, Morrison emerged successful, winning his position with the Calgary Phil and joining the Orchestra in September of 2019. Of course, his first Season in Calgary was cut short this past March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but one of the highlights took place at a concert in mid-February. “I really enjoyed performing the second Beethoven symphony with a reduced orchestra this season. I was sitting up at the front for this concert, which is incredible with Beethoven symphonies as it feels like playing his string quartets.”

It’s now been nearly three months since Morrison’s last performance in front of a live audience. “I miss seeing everyone and sharing the stage with our musicians. As we’re continuing this lockdown, I realize that I’ve taken for granted a lot of things, including what it means to be onstage with people who are all there because we love what we do.”

With all this time away from the Jack Singer Concert Hall, he’s been keeping busy as best he can. “I now have 10 plants in my apartment that have become nice friends to have around. I’ve also been painting, cooking a lot, exercising, sitting on my balcony with tequila Negronis in the sun, and virtual teaching — not quite in that order,” he adds. “I’ve also been planning some concerts and recording ideas. Without having any Calgary Phil performances to prepare for, I’ve been so free in choosing what to play based on what music comes into my head. We musicians are so fortunate to have such a variety of musical flavours!”

Despite the unusual circumstances, Morrison feels like he experienced a positive first year. “I was immediately welcomed into a warm and friendly environment of colleagues and I am so grateful to share the stage with these fine musicians.”

Written by guest contributor Jill Girgulis

Jill Girgulis is a student at the University of Calgary and a regular contributor for as well as When she’s not busy studying for her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, she can most often be found in one of the first three rows of the Jack Singer Concert Hall.