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Juno-winning Orillia musician receives degree 44 years after leaving university

Lance Anderson had 'quite a surprise' when he learned he didn't have to return to school to finish program
2021-07-23 Lance Anderson graduate
Lance Anderson is shown with his bachelor of music degree from Western University.

Forty-four years after a bad experience led Lance Anderson to walk away from his bachelor’s program at Western University, the Orillia man has received his degree.

The musician, writer, producer and composer was at the end of his four-year bachelor of music program at the London university, and the fate of his degree hinged on the final minutes.

He and his piano classmates each had to perform for 20 minutes. It was a juried performance, and the school had brought in a professor from the United States to adjudicate. She failed everyone.

“It did make me a little mad that they would hire a professor and just decide, in my last 20 minutes of the program, that we weren’t up to that standard,” Anderson said. “I was really quite insulted. I took it very personally.”

He was told he could have a “redo” of the juried performance or play a concert as a second chance.

“No way,” he said.

Everyone else took up the offer and passed, but Anderson — who had been playing live shows before he enrolled at Western — decided to hit the road and keep performing.

He admits his stubbornness played a role. This is coming from a guy who has never eaten at McDonald’s because, after ranting about the U.S. chain’s arrival in Canada decades ago, someone said to him, “Don’t eat there, then.” So, he hasn’t.

The final experience at Western left a lasting impression on Anderson. He despises juried performances to this day. He has watched as young musicians have performed for adjudicators and has seen the nervous looks on faces as notes are scribbled when they “squeak.”

“If you listened to Charlie Parker or Oscar Peterson, they crunched sometimes,” he said.

Not having a degree hasn’t held Anderson back. He has worked with musical greats — including the late Peterson — over the decades.

“At every juncture of my career, even when I was asked to conduct an orchestra, no one ever asked if I had a degree,” he said.

Now, if the question does get asked, he can say he does.

Anderson contacted Western University after coming across his student card. He thought he might be able to complete his degree. Someone from the Faculty of Music got back to him and told him the university got rid of the juried performance requirement 15 years ago, and he was told he could graduate in the spring of 2021.

“It was quite a surprise,” he said.

Anderson took part in a virtual convocation, listening as Western officials wished the young students the best as they launched their careers.

“That was kind of funny,” said the Juno award winner.

His honours bachelor of music (composition) degree, along with a graduation cap and a Western University pin, arrived in the mail earlier this month.

While those final 20 minutes at Western in 1977 “left a sour taste” in his mouth, his time at the school wasn’t all for naught.

“It wasn’t a waste of time,” he said. “I learned a lot in those four years that I’ve applied to my career.”