Stepping into the spotlight

Photographs by Julie Oliver
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The dogs rule in Deneau’s open-concept living and dining area as all three spread out in the airy, modern space.

Simone Deneau is a woman behind the scenes at the National Arts Centre, but if you’ve heard any good contemporary music there lately, it’s probably because of her. As the NAC Presents producer, she brings Canadian talent to the capital’s doorstep. Gordon Lightfoot, Sam Roberts, Sarah Slean and Rufus Wainwright were just a few of the names in last year’s series.

Deneau, 52, started her career at the NAC as an 18-year-old usher before becoming a lawyer — a career path she never followed after an early opportunity to program Broadway shows and big-name artists.

Although a mother of three (now grown) and a “reluctant” grandmother, Deneau’s energy belies her age. So, perhaps it was only natural that she and her guitar-loving husband, Robert, recently downsized from their home in Riverside South to a funky townhouse/loft in Hintonburg. She suits the city.

1. What does “home” mean to you?

Home is a refuge and a place where I can be with my family and my beloved dogs.

2. What is your favourite room/nook in your home and why?

Right where we’re sitting (the living room). I love the streetscape outside the huge wall of windows. I love the little fireplace. We use it probably 300 out of 365 days a year. The room is cosy, but spacious. It has an open loft feeling and I love nothing better than sitting here reading a book or listening to some music or watching the trees outside the window.

You downsized here from Riverside South?

It’s a big difference moving from a suburban neighbourhood with double the square footage, but the trade-off here is the fabulous space that we live in — although much smaller — and a fantastic neighbourhood just full of incredible food, lovely shops and neighbours and parks, close to everything. We’re really loving Hintonburg.

3. What is on your bedside table?

I read a lot on my iPad. I’m reading The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje on that. But I also always have Alice Munro. So there’s always a book of Alice Munro short stories that I’ll read over and over again. I’m reading Mary McCarthy’s The Group as well now, too.

4. If your home could be anywhere else, where would you like it to be and why?

I would love to have a house by the ocean. So, whether it’s Nova Scotia or Maine, where I vacation a lot, I would be very happy (there). I love the smell, the sounds. I’m an outdoors person. I just love the feel of the ocean.

5. Your business is Canadian music, but what are the top five artists (from anywhere) on your iPod? And, additionally, best artist/band of all time?

It’s hard … But top five? I cannot say enough good things about Gordon Lightfoot. I put on a Gordon Lightfoot song and I marvel continuously about the beauty of his music. I love Robert Charlebois. When I moved to Canada in 1969, it was the middle of the FLQ Crisis, but my parents played Robert Charlebois and it’s ingrained in me. I love his music. I think he’s a brilliant, brilliant singer/songwriter. Gram Parsons. I don’t even have to say anything more. Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and, of course, I’m a huge Jack White fan.

And, best of all time?

Leonard Cohen … He’s just brilliant. His music’s evocative. It’s the only music that I just play over and over again all the time and never ever tire of it.

6. What is your idea of happiness?

That’s a difficult question. A perfect day for me would involve being outdoors, maybe playing golf, playing a sport. I love playing basketball. A beautiful dinner with my family and then an evening watching a fantastic performance.

7. What is your idea of misery?

Misery for me would be not being able to deal with the challenges life puts before us. So, for instance, we take our health for granted. But I would always like to think that if I had major health issues that I would be able to take what I can from that and be able to continue to enjoy the beautiful life that I have with the people that I love. So, misery for me would be to be in a position where I wouldn’t be able to appreciate all the great things that I have in my life.

8. Who are your heroes?

I’m a big environmentalist, so people like Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall … You think of her as working with gorillas, but she transcends that. It’s so much more than that. It’s her whole perspective on why that’s important. Why these animals, and all animals, are important.

These people have put themselves out there for things that most people don’t think about. I’m tremendously concerned about the planet, animal species and how we treat everything on this planet. So those two people stand out for me.

9. Your favourite qualities in a man?

Sense of humour. I know, everybody says that, but it’s so important that people have a sense of humour and I like people who are self-reliant, have a generosity of spirit and (are) curious and interested.

10. Your favourite qualities in a woman?

I love women who are intelligent and who like to talk … I’m a talker, but I like listening, too.

11. Except children, who has been the great love of your life and when/where did you first meet?

Easy. My husband, Robert. We met at the National Arts Centre. He’s been the sound engineer in Southam Hall there for close to 40 years. We met about 25 years ago and we’ve been inseparable ever since. He’s the love of my life.

Was it love at first sight?

I think I kind of sensed. I think it took him a while … I had to work on it (laughs).

12. How would you like to be remembered?

Difficult question for me. I’m a person who lives in the present. I have a hard time thinking about how I’d like to be remembered because I don’t want to think that far ahead. But I would just hope that I would be remembered by the people in my life — my family — fondly.


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