Kathleen Allan (BMus ‘11) talks about her love of singing, conducting, and writing music; the three-headed monster that is her career; and her return to the West Coast
By Emma Lancaster
Math and science whiz Kathleen Allan was anticipating a career in engineering when she stumbled across the composition program at the UBC School of Music. “I had all but accepted a full scholarship to Waterloo for electrical engineering,” she says, but decided to apply to UBC and “get music out of my system for four years. Yeah… That didn’t work at all.” The busy grad is an in-demand singer, conductor, and composer, with a growing reputation throughout North America.
“UBC was fantastic, in that it allowed me the flexibility to do a lot of different things.” Bruce Pullan was an early choral mentor, and when he retired Graeme Langager proved a wonderful teacher and mentor. Studying composition with Stephen Chatman, whose music Allan performed growing up in Newfoundland, was very exciting for her. Later, Dorothy Chang supervised her first orchestral compositions. “It was a place that allowed me to do it all. It really gave me the platform to do what I wanted to do,” she says.
After UBC, she attended Yale University for her MMus in Conducting, and then relocated to Toronto, where she was managing a busy career. But then she got a call from the Vancouver Academy of Music with a unique opportunity: the position of Director of Choral Studies and Associate Conductor of Orchestras. Allan jumped at the chance to run the new, privately endowed choral program. “I’m really looking forward to having a set of ensembles of my own, to working on creating my sound as a conductor with the same group on a regular basis; really exploring that relationship,” she enthused.
In addition to her duties at the Academy, Allan maintains a thriving career as a soloist and choral singer, and manages numerous commissions as a composer. “It sort of works itself out,” she says of balancing singing, writing, and conducting. “I enjoy all three, and I feel that each provides a respite from and informs the other. When I conduct I like to put myself in the composer’s shoes and think about why the composer may have written certain things, and likewise as a conductor and singer I get to study all these incredible works that have been written and allow that to influence, either subconsciously or consciously, the works that I compose.”
Upcoming for Allan is the premiere of a piece by the Vancouver Cantata Singers, commissioned by Redshift Music. This concert takes place at the Planetarium, which Allan is very excited about. “They’ll actually fire up the projectors and have an exploration of outer space during the concert in the observatory. The theme of the concert is otherworldly ideas, and my piece is a setting of the Ave Maris Stella, which is a very ancient Latin prayer. It is based on the chant melody and is written in six parts, so the choir will ideally be spread around the auditorium and surrounding the audience. I think it will be really cool.”
Allan will not be able to attend the concert, as it is during her tenure as Apprentice Conductor with the National Youth Choir in May. She is also off to Austin, Texas with Arkora, the new music ensemble she co-directs with her husband Benton Roark (DMA’13). Allan is also conducting her first full length opera, The Barber of Seville, and serving as Assistant Conductor of the Bach Choir. She is busy, and she would not have it any other way.