Experience Candace’s composition excellence as she presents Come to Community, at Grebel’s 60th Anniversary Three Choir Concert, Saturday, November 25.  

She had been practicing for her graduate recital, day in and day out, for months, anticipating the chance to present her polished musical pieces to her friends, family, classmates, and professors. When the pandemic crept up, the recital was suddenly cancelled due to newly imposed public gathering regulations, leaving Conrad Grebel University College music student, Candace Bustard, simply devastated. There were simply too many restrictions in place, so with her head in her hands, she returned to the near-empty Grebel building to return her sheet music. Before she could do so, the Grebel Chapel caught her attention. The silent, empty Chapel. The same Chapel where she was meant to perform, as a pianist. An idea then struck Candace – one that would provide her with the closure she needed from her years at Grebel. 

“When I decided to pursue a minor in Music, it opened a world that I hadn’t realized I needed,” said Candace. “Composing allows me to connect with myself as my pieces often stem from an internal struggle or question. It also stems from a desire for increased connection with my community.” With these driving forces in place, it was out of the question to simply give up on any hope of performing her graduate recital. Making use of the deserted building, Candace sprang into action, calling up a few family members to attend her impromptu show. She threw on the dress she had purchased for the recital, and within an hour, the Chapel was being transformed into a space for her hard work and talent to shine. “I was nervous someone would kick us out,” mused Candace, “but no one did. Instead, I had the pleasure of performing the pieces I had worked so hard on, for my little community. This was the exhilarating closure I needed to move on from this beloved institution." 

candace bustard

After saying her goodbyes to Grebel, Candace furthered her studies in Music through a Master's Degree in Music Composition from the University of Ottawa. Upon graduation last year, she attended the European-American Musical Alliance’s Summer Institute in Paris, where she not only connected with a global network of musicians but had her music read on an international stage. One of Candace’s choral pieces was read and performed by the famous Variant 6 ensemble. During the program, Candace was under the directorship of Dr. Phillip Lasser of the notable Juilliard School of Music. Despite the workload and the scorching Paris heat, there were still opportunities to sneak in a bit of leisure time, as Candace described “walking through the various ornate parks” as a daily activity. Her favourite memory, however, was “singing alongside the historic architecture of Val-de-Grâce Abbey,” - a 17th-century monastery where her group received a special tour and rehearsed among the magnificent pillars and arched ceilings.  

Candace’s talent continued to be recognized, and later that year, she was selected to compose a work for the Chartreuse Ensemble, which premiered at the 2023 Women Composer’s Festival of Hartford. This past April, Candace accepted her candidacy to the University of Toronto’s Doctorate of Music, Composition program - a new and exciting journey she is navigating today.  

Nine years ago, Candace enrolled in a Biology degree at the University of Waterloo. Today, she is pursuing the highest level of music education in one of Canada’s most esteemed universities. The peace and freedom that music provides for Candace is undeniable, and she credits Grebel for much of her musical journey. “The faculty and staff are the heart and soul of the Grebel community, and they genuinely invest in and support each student who passes through their doors,” said Candace. “Accompanying the University choir or working as a Teacher’s Assistant challenged my ability to develop my musicianship and performance skills, and gave me valuable work experience that has made me a more competitive applicant for other opportunities and academic pursuits.”  

“When I started in STEM at the University of Waterloo, I quickly turned to music as a source of comfort and expression,” said Candace, reminiscing on her early days at Grebel. “This outlet quickly turned into a minor, then major, master’s, and finally my doctorate.” Candace spoke of how challenging a profession in the arts can be, and how having a group of understanding individuals around you is irreplaceable. Candace’s best friend and lyricist, Veronika Mikolajewski, is someone she met in her first year of residence at Grebel. Professor Karen Sunabacka inspired her to pursue composition and she notes that former adjunct professor, Catherine Robertson’s mentorship “transcended music and the confines of a degree.”   

“I consider myself an introvert, but I know that my relationships with faculty, staff, and peers have been instrumental to my personal and professional well-being,” said Candace. “So, to current and future students, make connections, draw on and give back to your community. Those relationships are more rewarding and long-lasting than the paper you will graduate with.” 

As Candace works toward her doctorate, the Grebel community continues to act as a foundation of support, constantly rooting for her success. 

See Candace live at Grebel’s Three Choir Concert, on November 25. No better way to spend your Saturday night. Get your tickets now.  

Candace's story is part of Grebel's 60 Stories for 60 Years project. Check out our 60 Stories page for more articles in this series. If you would like to nominate a Grebel alumnus to share about their experiences at Grebel, please submit a nomination form.

By Farhan Saeed