"Wayne Gretzky, was arguably the best hockey player ever..." Alain Trudel the critically acclaimed trombonist and musical director of L'Orchestre Symphonique de Laval paused for dramatic effect before adding, “after Mario Lemieux." Everyone at the table, including Trudel, broke out into laughter.

The internationally celebrated musician, composer, and conductor was employing a hockey analogy to answer a question about a musician's skill set and how it translates into an ability to conduct and manage a symphony. "Gretzky was a great player, but look what happened when he coached the Coyotes. What a disaster! Clearly playing and coaching are different jobs. But I don't think Jacques Demers was the best skater ever."

Demers, who coached the bleu blanc et rouge to their last Stanley Cup in 1993, is one of Trudel's idols. "The two professions are much the same... coaching and conducting are both about managing human resources. My job is to build the proper context for the musicians to succeed... much like Demers and the Canadiens. Sometimes a person has a skill set for a leadership role; sometimes it's about being a soloist. I have a skill set that fits a little bit of both."

While talking to the renowned trombonist and conductor who has appeared at the helm of both major Canadian and international orchestras, it becomes quickly evident that the maestro is more interested in contributing positively to his community than receiving accolades. During the interview, Trudel spoke passionately about the three pillars that L’Orchestra Symphonque de Laval's is built upon: community, excellence and education. "I see the orchestra as a citizen of our city and surrounding community. We want to provide a service that reaches as many people as possible."

As he described the orchestra's role within the community, the musical director spoke in a tenor that resonated with hope and enthusiasm, insisting that one of his goals is to change the perceptions that the public has regarding the publicly funded orchestra. "I don't want us to be seen as a luxury good designed solely for the pleasure of the elite; I see our symphony as a community service that is meant to be accessible to everyone."

When asked to elaborate on how the symphony's three pillars translate into greater accessibility, Trudel didn't miss a beat. "Right now, as we speak, our composer in residence, Nicholas Gilbert, is writing a musical score with a bunch of kids at the Cosmodome." Trudel beamed as he described an ongoing enterprise that involves students actively composing music that will be premiered by the orchestra.

A concert on February 17th that features a performance of British composer, Gustav Holst's critically acclaimed The Planets, as well as John William’s celebrated soundtrack to the movie Star Wars, will also include the score about space that Gilbert and the children at the Cosmodome are collaborating on.

Trudel insisted that inspiring teenagers is important to him. “That is why we have been sending out our composers in residence to schools so they can work with young people. By writing music together, we open their minds to creation.”

It's not just innovations with schools and young people that make L’Orchestre Symphonique de Laval such an engaged part of the community. On December 2nd, the orchestra paid tribute to Laval's own Dr. François Reeves, a cardiologist at the Cité-de-la-Santé and author of Planète Coeur. The evening was titled Music of the Heart and is part of an ongoing series of events that pay homage to exceptional citizens of Laval.

To ensure that the orchestra continues to be accessible to the community, Trudel has also introduced the Music, Maestro! Memoria Series, which takes place on Wednesday afternoons at 1:30, four times a year. The 70-minute program provides a dynamic opportunity to get up close and personal with the orchestra, or as Trudel likes to describe it, an invitation into the orchestra's kitchen.

The afternoon run-through provides the audience with a glimpse of the orchestra as the finishing touches are finalized for the evening performance. The conductor wears a wireless mic, and the audience is welcome into Trudel's galley. “It's like a cooking show where the host talks you through the creation of a wonderful dish. I believe that at the evening performance, the experience is akin to visiting a wonderful restaurant where you have a great meal. And although the chef may come out and talk to you about his creation, he will never reveal the secrets that you might have discovered had you come to the afternoon show and taken a peak into our kitchen.”

Throughout the interview, Trudel returned to the theme of community spirit and how that drive for excellence begins with the way that the orchestra is being perceived. When asked to articulate about the origins of his grassroots ideology, Trudel smiled and reflected upon his youth. “I came from a very humble family... it was just my mom and me. She was a single mom, we were on welfare, and we were very poor.”

Although both of his parents were jazz musicians, he insists that he would have never learned to play an instrument if it wasn't for a community-based band, Les Rhythmique, where brass and percussion instruments were taught for free. “It was run by volunteers; there was a police officer, a man who owned a trophy engraving shop, another who had an ice cream parlour. They had this profound love for music and a desire to do something positive for kids. So that commitment to community is engrained in my DNA.”