Three University of Victoria faculty members have received the country’s highest academic honour, named 2018 fellows of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC).
Among those elected to the RSC’s distinguished ranks are School of Music professor Benjamin Butterfield, one of Canada’s finest tenors; Eike-Henner Kluge, a leading ethicist and philosopher whose scholarship and theoretical analysis have influenced Canada’s right-to-die legislation and the legalities of abortion; and Tim Stockwell, who has pioneered research in substance abuse and public health policy, in an announcement made on September 11.
The title has been bestowed on more than 2,000 Canadians in the 134-year history of the RSC and has just one criterion: excellence. The peer-elected fellows of the society are chosen for making “remarkable contributions” in the arts, humanities and sciences, and Canadian public life.
While Butterfield has won international plaudits as one of Canada’s best operatic tenors, he is equally passionate about his role as head of voice for UVic’s School of Music.
“With a performance career, the more you’re in the game, the more you’ll be asked to be in the game,” he explains. “But my obligation is really to teaching . . . for me, it’s less about pursuing my ‘career’ and more about being here for students who sing, and who want to learn to sing—that’s my day job, that’s my real life, that’s what’s most important.”
A global presence
Butterfield made his debut in 1994 as Tamino in Mozart’s Magic Flute with the New York City Opera while in the midst of an exciting tenure with Canada’s baroque opera company, Opera Atelier. At this same time, he joined the rosters of IMG Artists in New York City, Organisation Internationale Artistique in Paris and later Athole Still in London.
Having since performed throughout North America and Europe, as well as in Ukraine, the Middle East and Asia, Butterfield’s repertoire ranges from the Renaissance to present day, singing in English, French, Latin, Italian, German, Polish, Czech, Russian and Ukrainian. Over the past three decades, he has performed in many of the world’s most historic venues with the finest ensembles, has been featured on over 30 recordings and even gave Rick Mercer a 10-minute opera lesson at UVic last year.
But while performance demands could be seen as a distraction from his teaching, Butterfield — who joined the Music faculty in 2006 — only sees it as a benefit for his students. “Being part of the singing community means I not only get to work with international professionals, but also bring that knowledge back to my students: the hope, the experience, the pedagogy. It’s an amazing dialogue . . . I’m in a perpetual state of learning from everybody. It also becomes a great recruiting tool, to be able to teach masterclasses and meet young students all over the world.”
Over his past 12 years at UVic, Butterfield has been inspired by the success of many former undergraduate and graduate students — like alumna soprano Eve Daniell, who performed for Queen Elizabeth II as part of the Canada 150 celebrations in 2017. “It’s all about the tools you give them,” he says. “As long as they want to seek things, find the joy and delight in the world, that’s all I need.”
From stages to CEOs
As for the benefits of music performance itself, Butterfield firmly believes that singing should be an essential practice for anyone stepping onto the world stage.
“I’ve long said that any politician or CEO needs to be able to sing a three-minute song,” he insists. “That three-minute song will provide you with everything from succinct text, a clear point-of-view and a sense of history to a knowledge of harmony, melody, language, style and how your body works. Only then can you get up and say what you mean, and mean what you say; if you can’t do that, don’t think you can run a country or a company. The world is bigger than that, and that’s why I sing.”
Butterfield is now the eighth Fine Arts faculty member to be inducted into the RSC, including Fellows Mary Kerr (Theatre), Harald Krebs (Music), Tim Lilburn (Writing), Joan MacLeod (Writing) and Sandra Meigs (Visual Arts), as well as RSC College member Dániel Péter Biró (Music) and RSC Medal winner Jack Hodgins (Writing, retired).
Kluge — a professor in UVic’s Department of Philosophy — has been at the forefront of some of today’s most important medical debates, from access to abortion to the ethics of deliberate death, and has written 13 books and authored 90 journal articles.
Stockwell is a knowledge translator and advocate for strong public health policies to prevent illness, injuries and death from alcohol and drug misuse. He has made key contributions that have shaped substance use policies in several countries, including Canada, Scotland, Ireland and Australia.
The RSC was established in 1883 as Canada’s national academy for distinguished scholars, artists and scientists. Its primary objective is to promote learning and research in the arts, humanities, and natural and social sciences. The society has named 75 current, former and adjunct UVic faculty members as fellows over the years.