Meet the Cast of Don Giovanni

Get to know the cast of UBC Opera's upcoming production of Don Giovanni! This ambitious production fo the Mozart masterpiece features renowned Canadian conductor Les Dala.

What makes Don Giovanni relevant today? Here are the start of UBC Opera's new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni to tell you!

Let's talk costumes! Here's a look behind the scenes of UBC Opera's upcoming production of Mozart's Don Giovanni!

Join us at the Old Auditorium, UBC Vancouver Campus, June 20-23. Tickets at

Join us at the Old Auditorium, UBC Vancouver Campus, June 20-23. Tickets at



Director's Out-Takes

A Letter, a Soliloquy, two Duets, and a Sextet

Dr. Richard Kurth

Dr. Richard Kurth

As I reach the end of my ten years as Director of the School of Music on June 30, I have much to remember in gratitude. There are so many people to thank, but I ask to be forgiven for not naming names, because it’s a very long list. In myriad ways, large and small, I am grateful to everyone along the way.

Early in my directorship I had the thrill and good fortune to help steer two major renovation projects: Roy Barnett Recital Hall, a renovation made possible by a single generous and visionary donor; and the historic Old Auditorium, a project supported by numerous generous donors and substantial investment from the Faculty of Arts, the University, and the Province. These revitalized facilities both reopened in the Fall of 2010, and along with the marvelous Chan Centre for the Performing Arts (which celebrated its 20th anniversary in April 2017) these performing venues provide students and faculty in the UBC School of Music — and our audiences — with glorious and distinctive spaces in which to hone and appreciate the art of music. Many people made these projects possible, contributing their financial support, insightful design, and constructive skill. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to contribute my own energies and ideas to the revitalization of these spaces, because these collaborations were wonderfully stimulating and deeply rewarding for me. Students, faculty, and audiences engage in learning and artistic expression in these inspiring spaces every day, and I marvel every time I enter them, appreciating how they express and amplify our sense of community. I’m so grateful I was involved in improving these homes for our shared musical experience.

During these ten years I have been wistful at the retirements or resignations of twelve faculty colleagues, friends I admire and who mentored me with their advice and inspired me through their scholarship or artistic activity. And during these years several professori emeriti have passed away. It is impossible to quantify the enormous contributions all these individuals have made to the School, each one sharing their intellect, artistry, and distinctive character in countless unique ways. We are fortunate indeed that the School has long been a community of such dynamic and distinctive individuals, and that each one has made it a better place through many contributions only they could make. I am always mindful of the history of the School not only as a chronicle of the past, but as a living story that reverberates into the future through our deeds today. Our collective creativity in the present always blossoms as an expression of opportunities opened by the deeds of earlier peers who created this community; and our own actions likewise generate a basis on which our future peers will articulate new insights or create beautiful and inspiring music.

It has been enormously gratifying over these years to guide — along with my colleagues — the recruitment of twelve new faculty members who bring new knowledge, talent, and energy to the School. They will contribute significantly to its future shape and sound. There is enormous vitality and ability in this fresh generation, and they will push and pull the School in various directions, and keep it moving dynamically. Each new faculty member recharges everyone in the entire group incrementally, and our collective energy is continuously evolving. Musical culture has always been in constant flux, and this period is no exception. This historical moment must be embraced as a flux of opportunity. It calls for the versatility and readiness to evolve that all of us — the fresh along with the seasoned — can achieve through our collective polyphony.

In short, I’m immensely grateful for the enormously vital energies of all my colleagues, older and younger, and the countless things I have learned or discovered through each of them.

It has been a daily delight to work with the staff in the School, including wonderful additional new staff members recruited along the way. They are like a family, for me, and also for each other. There is real affection throughout this family, and I know perhaps better than anyone that their contributions to the School are an essential reason for our success. I’m grateful to each of them for their assistance and kindness, and their gentle way with my dogged character.

I’m amazed to realize that I have had the good fortune to work in the service of three Presidents and two Acting Presidents, three Provosts and an Acting Provost, two Deans and two Acting Deans, with more than a dozen Associate and Assistant Deans, and in the collegiality of over three dozen other Heads and Directors in the Faculty of Arts, and two wonderful (and resourceful) Music Librarians. I have gained insights from every one of them. And above all I am grateful to all of them for the many different ways in which they supported the work of the School of Music, and have mentored me in all manner of ways in my efforts as Director of the School.

The most rewarding experiences during my directorship include countless gifts of inspiring generosity from hundreds of individuals, across the community, who in diverse ways have supported the accomplishments of students and their faculty mentors. These wonderful gifts have funded scholarships to support students, masterclasses to inspire them artistically, and competitions and prizes to motivate their best efforts. They have included donations of many fine musical instruments that enable students to achieve refined nuances and instill their pursuit of the highest artistic standards. And visionary donors have created or revitalized our beautiful performance venues, in which we hone our musical energies in rehearsal, and share them with our audiences in performance. For me, every one of these gifts, whether large or small, has been a meaningful expression of a shared belief in our mission and efforts. A ticket to attend one of our performances, or a major gift to transform a performance venue, or every form of support for our students: these gestures all share an understanding of the importance of music, and the spirit to nurture it. I am sincerely grateful to all our supporters for their gifts that celebrate our shared belief that making music helps make a better world. You have inspired and motivated me in lasting ways.

In the end — and in the beginning and the middle — we are here because of the students. We try to challenge them, and to demonstrate for them different examples of life lived in music, so that they can find their own unique way forward. For ten years I’ve had the simple but meaningful honour of reading the names of almost one thousand graduating music students at their graduation ceremonies. On those days, I’m especially aware of the unique aspirations and sincere hopes of every student; of the excitement and love felt by their families and friends; and that we are a community of individual musical voices magically woven together by music. Each name has a unique sound, each person a unique musicality, each family a unique expression of harmony. The music made in the School arises from and resonates with all these energies. And it feeds us with these same energies.

I look forward now to resuming my work as a faculty member in the School, and especially to the joys and rewards of teaching!

As a polyphonic valediction including the voices of UBC Music students, both fresh and seasoned, I invite you to watch the videos below, which preserve moments that are memorable for me, all in Roy Barnett Recital Hall: my last remarks to graduating music students a few weeks ago on May 23, 2018; an engaging conversation with alumnus Sharman King, Bachelor of Music Class of 1970 during that same assembly; a delightful conversation with alumna June Goldsmith, Bachelor of Arts Class of 1955 in May 2017; and insightful short presentations by five wonderful music students, who took the stage to share with their peers moments of deep personal musical inspiration. Let the students have the last word!

With many happy memories and warm wishes,

Richard Kurth
June 30, 2018

Dr. Richard Kurth, Director, UBC School of Music (2007-2018) Remarks to graduating music students. May 23, 2018.
Dr. Richard Kurth, Director, UBC School of Music. Conversation with alumnus Sharman King, B.Mus. 1970. May 23, 2018.
Dr. Richard Kurth, Director, UBC School of Music. Conversation with alumna June Goldsmith, B.A. 1955. May 24, 2017.
Dr. Richard Kurth, Director, UBC School of Music. Presentations by students Jaelem Bhate, Marina Gallagher, Kristen Cooke, Charlotte Beglinger, and Billie Smith. September 16, 2016.

How to build a cathedral

Dr. Robert Taylor (right) 

Dr. Robert Taylor (right) 

Recently, Dr. Robert Taylor, Director of UBC Bands, was selected as conductor of the Minnesota All-State Symphonic Band — an exciting opportunity to work with the state’s most talented young musicians and their teachers.

But while he has conducted a number of state and provincial honour ensembles in the past, Dr. Taylor notes that the approach in Minnesota is unique: “Normally, these events are “one-offs,” where the guest conductor spends a few days with the ensemble leading to a concert. However, in Minnesota they do a weeklong camp in the summer, followed by a feature performance at the state music educators conference the following spring.” 

This emphasis on continuity allows for the conductor and coaches to take a more ambitious approach both to teaching and performance, with inspiring results.

In August, Dr. Taylor spent a week rehearsing the ensemble with a team of coaches. The students spent time in large ensemble rehearsals, sectional coachings, master classes, and doing other camp activities, such as a talent night where they all showed off their other talents. The week concluded with a recording session and two performances.



LISTEN: The Minnesota All-State Symphonic Band performs Bach's "Prelude and Fugue in G Minor." 



The program was entitled “Cathedrals,” and included works inspired by the music of Pérotin, Bach, Debussy, and Wagner. The program concluded with a performance of Frank Ticheli’s “Angels in the Architecture,” a creative work that includes harmonic whirlies, a solo vocalist, and surround-sound elements.

“For the performance, we surprised the audience with students from both bands performing the climactic chorale from all corners of the auditorium,” Dr. Taylor says of the summer concert.

Then, in February 2017, Dr. Taylor returned to Minnesota to work with the same group of students and to present a session for teachers at the MMEA conference. The weekend concluded with a performance of the “Cathedrals” program at Orchestral Hall, a superb acoustic, for a large and enthusiastic audience of music educators.

"The model is also interesting because there are layers of mentorship in the approach," Dr. Taylor says. "I worked with a number of high school band directors in a conducting workshop, who were at camp doing professional development sessions while their students were attending the camp, and presented a session on rehearsal techniques at the state conference, which I was able to demonstrate during rehearsals with the band.”



WATCH: The Minnesota All-State Symphonic Band performs Ticheli's "Angels in the Architecture."

Turning Point Ensemble on Thirst, community, and the business of making a living in music

Jeremy Berkman.  Photo: UBC Music

Jeremy Berkman. Photo: UBC Music

When trombonist and School of Music lecturer Jeremy Berkman formed Turning Point Ensemble (TPE) with a group of like-minded musicians in 2002, their ambition was to raise the profile of the music they loved.

“We were all busy in our lives professionally, but we were rarely being engaged to perform music of the 20th century that we thought important to play,” Berkman says.

As a large, nontraditional chamber orchestra dedicated to performing new and underappreciated works by the likes of Luciano Berio, Barbara Pentland, and Paul Hindemith, they knew that passion alone wouldn’t be enough to sustain them. They needed to take an entrepreneurial approach to their project.

“What's very important to realize as a student of musical performance,” Berkman says, “is that you are not only a potential employee, but also a future employer and entrepreneur and can create the work you wish for. That's what we did — we developed a business plan, attracted a Board of Directors, and created an organization that would support the musical activity we wished to engage in.”

Their approach has led to big things. The ensemble, whose members have included UBC faculty Brenda Fedoruk (flute), Vern Griffiths (percussion), Benjamin Kinsman (horn), Heidi Krutzen (harp), and Jim Littleford (trumpet) has released four albums, scored films and multimedia projects, and been recognized with a number of awards.

TPE's fourth album,  Thirst , has been nominated for a Juno Award (Classical Composition of the Year).  Image: Redshift Records

TPE's fourth album, Thirst, has been nominated for a Juno Award (Classical Composition of the Year). Image: Redshift Records

This year, TPE is nominated for a Juno Award (Classical Composition of the Year) for their recording of Ana Sokolović’s “And I need a room to receive five thousand people with raised glasses…or…what a glorious day, the birds are singing ‘halleluia.’” The song appears on the ensemble’s new album Thirst, a collaboration with the vocal chamber group musica intima and several different composers, released by Redshift Records.

“The success we've achieved has been beyond expectations — and yet what we had hoped for,” Berkman says.

Along the way TPE has helped build a community of musicians and collaborators across disciplines: “If musicians can be their best selves, I believe they are community service workers, enriching their resident community and by expansion, the community of listeners… making music that takes us as participants and listeners on a journey where we feel differently and more connected at the end,” he says.   

TPE is an ensemble-in-residence at the UBC School of Music, and in that role Berkman hopes to create “unique opportunities for UBC students as well as for TPE players to be part of the special UBC musical community. I welcome any input from readers as what they would like that to look like!”


How and when did Turning Point Ensemble form? There’s a strong UBC connection, isn’t there?

Turning Point Ensemble was formed by its musician members in 2002 with a curatorial mandate. We were all busy in our lives professionally, but we were rarely being engaged to perform music of the 20th century that we thought important to play. What's very important to realize as a student of musical performance is that you are not only a potential employee, but also a future employer and entrepreneur and can create the work you wish for. 

That's what we did — we developed a business plan, attracted a Board of Directors (an early President of our Board was Dr. Kurth [Director of UBC School of Music]!), and created an organization that would support the musical activity we wished to engage in, and help fill what we felt was a gap in the musical offerings in Vancouver. The success we've achieved has been beyond expectations — and yet what we had hoped for. 



"As a student of musical performance... you are not only a potential employee, but also a future employer and entrepreneur"

– Jeremy Berkman


Many of the TPE instrumentalists teach at UBC, so early on we asked whether we could develop a relationship with UBC as an Ensemble in Residence. Though TPE has held this title, what it means is frankly still under discussion, and as the Director of Education and Community Engagement (and a trombone instructor at UBC) I am hoping to move that discussion along in the next couple years to craft a partnership with UBC that is vital, that provides unique opportunities for UBC students as well as for TPE players to be part of the special UBC musical community. I welcome any input from readers as what they would like that to look like!

Your latest album, Thirst, is a collaboration with the choral group musica intima and two composers, Julia Wolfe and Ana Sokolović. How did the project come together?

Turning Point Ensemble is a chamber orchestra in a sense, but with one instrument on a part, we strive for a chamber music sensibility, which really means a different relationship with our conductor than might be traditional in a [more traditional] orchestral culture.  

A model for us early on was musica intima, a conductorless chamber vocal ensemble, and it only took us — what, 12 years? — to collaborate on a project! But we had talked about it for a while,  but it was the artistic management of the Chan Centre that actually inspired the realization of our desired collaboration when they were planning to host a series of "new music" concerts and asked three ensembles who had performed there to develop the programming — musica intima, Turning Point, and Nu:BC

The Telus Studio Theatre at the Chan Centre is a fantastic venue for music-making, and so when we imagined our concert, we began to also ponder how we could create a legacy of our collaboration. Ana Sokolović had composed an amazing piece for us, and musica intima asked her to revise a great vocal piece of hers, “Dring, dring...” We added a solo cello piece to almost create an entire program of Ana's wonderful music. But, wanting to share in the making of this album (a pretty innovative collaboration for a co-produced album of a professional choir andchamber orchestra), we decided we also wanted to include composer Julia Wolfe's “Thirst” — the title cut, so to speak.

Now who to produce it?  One of our favourite, award-winning producers, Karen Wilson, lives in Vancouver — she’s a UBC alumna — so we engaged her, and clearly she and engineer Will Howie worked their magic on the recorded sound, putting the music on the Juno radar.

Thirst has the fingerprints of UBC faculty and alumni all over the album, from the musicians to the producer and recording engineer. Can you talk about the role community plays in a project like this one?

 If musicians can be their best selves, I believe they are community service workers, enriching their resident community and by expansion, the community of listeners, with realizations of examples of what humanity does at its best — making music that takes us as participants and listeners on a journey where we feel differently and more connected at the end. That can't be done or effective without a supportive and welcoming community. In the case of this project,  a diverse set of stakeholders that share a desire to join forces to build something none of us could do ourselves alone. 

With that in mind, the communities we worked with on this project — composers, instrumentalists, vocalists, organization administrators, educators, record company managers, venue staff, government and foundation and individual financial supporters (Thirst could not have happened without support from the British Columbia Arts Council and the Chan and Martha Lou Henley Charitable Foundations) — all made it easier.

There's a great saying that it's amazing how much can get done if it doesn't matter who gets the credit — [Thirst] is yet another example of that saying's wisdom.

 What’s next for Turning Point?

 The ensemble will be performing two concerts as part of the Coastal Jazz and Blues Festival in late June. We're thrilled to perform music for a chamber orchestra informed by the language of jazz with premieres of new compositions, and a revised composition from Turning Point Ensemble clarinetist, Francois Houle. More information on these performances are on our website.

Turning Point is also heavily involved in educational programming, leading composition residencies in Surrey at L.A. Matheson Secondary, and this summer in Smithers, B.C., as part of Orchestra North and the Spirit of the North Festivals.

Banner photo: Chris Randle

Engineering’s loss is music’s gain

Photo: Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Photo: Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

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.

A partnership forged in music

Frances Roberts  Photo: Don Erhardt

Frances Roberts
Photo: Don Erhardt

By Emma Lancaster

High Notes talked to current MMus (choral conducting, graduating December ’16) student Frances Roberts (BMus’86), and her husband, Geordie Roberts (BMus’85) about their music (and life) partnership, which began at UBC as students when Geordie was assigned as Frances’ voice recitals and lessons accompanist. Currently, Frances also runs the choral program at Argyle Secondary in North Vancouver, and Geordie is Director of Music Ministry at Highlands United Church, teaches singing at Capilano University, and sings with the Vancouver Chamber Choir on top of their individual musical projects and family life.

How do you juggle or meld two busy music careers? Or do you?

Juggle is a good word. We take it day by day, and use a family calendar a lot. Both being musicians makes it a lot easier to be empathetic when one career or another takes one of us away from home for a couple of weeks at a time. We also understand the stresses that come in this line of work. It has been a test of our ability to cover for one another and it was very challenging when our children were small. Geordie took time off to be more of Mr. Mom after our second child was born so I could go back to teaching full time. Most of the time we have been able to juggle and cover for one another in a parent role and sometimes in a professional role.

What sparked your return to school, Frances?

I got interested in taking my Masters after 20 years of teaching secondary music and having three boys who were now at a stage where I might be able to get away without too much disruption to the family. I was in a secure position in the North Van school district, at the same school for 20 years, where my choral program was thriving and all was generally good. I was concerned about staying motivated and fresh as a teacher. While teaching at a BC Choral Federation Choral Directorship course in the summer with Dr. Graeme Langager, I spoke with him about the prospects of doing a Masters at UBC and how it might work for me in my current position, where I could only get a one year’s leave from my school district. I also spoke with some trusted colleagues and friends, Fiona Blackburn (BMus’82, BEd Secondary’02, MMus’10), Carrie Tennant (MMus’12), and Frank Lee (MMus’14), about the program and what to expect. Then it was a matter of timing with all the other elements of my life.

Has the Masters program presented any unique opportunities for you?

In this, my second year of the program I have learned and mastered the art of balancing two lives/jobs between my five choir classes at Argyle every morning and my three choirs, TA work, and Choral Literature course at UBC, which take place over four afternoons and evenings per week.

I have also re-examined my conducting gestures and connect more physically with all aspects of singing, breathing, and hearing. It’s heightened all my senses and been a very inspiring, soulful experience.

It has also made me re-examine how I work with and treat my students. There is nothing like being a student again, sweating about midterm exams and doing your first presentation before your peers and professor. It has helped me renew and bolster my vocal technique and inspired my own personal singing, as well as given me the opportunity to sing some major choral works. I was able to organize the tour to New York for the members of the University Singers and UBC Choral Union, who sang the Berliner Messe by Arvo Pärt at Carnegie Hall in March of 2015 with Dr. Langager conducting. The MMus program enabled me to go to the Canadian Rocky Mountain Festival in Banff to participate in their Professional Development program, as the U Singers were in a showcase concert the first night of the festival. Working with Dr. Langager has also led to other professional opportunities as we started a summer choral directors workshop, “Inspirare”, that we held for the first time at Highlands United Church in August of 2015. Dr. Langager led the workshop and I, along with two other colleagues (Janet Warren and Natassja By), organized the event for choir directors who came from around BC, Washington state, and Saskatchewan. It has also been a treat to sing in the choir with the VSO and Bramwell Tovey a few times now—Britten’s War Requiem, Faure’s Requiem, and Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms.

What are some recent highlights of your working life in music?

Frances: Seeing how music transforms people’s lives and the incredible lasting memories we take away from sharing our music in practice and performance. I have been doing two or three tours for music groups at Argyle every year for the past 25 years and a few have been EXCEPTIONAL. The most interesting cultural tour that was full of new experiences was our tour to China in 2010 (125 musicians and 10 teacher chaperones); the most musically exciting and eye opening tour was to the Baltics in 2012 (Finland, Estonia, and Latvia).

I just returned from a 10-day tour of Netherlands and Germany with five concerts for the Argyle Secondary Concert Choir and four for the school’s Concert Band. We were in Amsterdam, Valkenburg, The Hague, Delft, Maastricht, and Cologne, Germany, with 70 student musicians, primarily grade 11 and 12, and seven teacher/chaperones—a 53-piece band and 24-voice choir.

We performed at NedPho in Amsterdam, where the Phillharmonic regularly perform—a wonderful concert hall and acoustic space, an old renovated church. We also connected with an inner city school with a vibrant music program, we had an afternoon of sharing with them and they hosted us to a dinner after our concert. It was delightful to make these connections and be a part of a school day in Amsterdam. Singing in a mid-day prayer service at Cologne cathedral was a highlight for the choir also. We were met with gracious words of welcome from the priest after climbing the 507 stairs to the bell tower of the cathedral and assembling to sing.

The town of Maastricht was full of Romanesque structures and is a University base for two thirds of its population; a wonderful place to be a student. While on tour we visited Anne Frank House, Kroller Mueller museum, the International Flower market, the Canadian War cemetery, Air Force museum, and the Delft factory along with visiting working windmills. It is a holistic educational experience when you go on an Argyle Music Tour.

Each tour has its own character, provides many learning opportunities for the students, and leaves a long, lasting impact on them.

Did your undergrad at UBC prepare you for the reality of a life in music?

Frances: My undergrad degree gave me some good foundations for what I still do as a music educator. My first conducting classes with James Fankhauser sparked my passion for choral directing. My passion for singing in choirs came from him and Cortland Hultberg. Organizing my first European choir tour with fellow U Singers & Chamber Singers student Ramona Luengen (BMus’83, MMus’86) in 1985 made a huge impact on me. The relationships with other musicians was also instrumental (no pun intended) and are the professional connections that Geordie and I still use today.

What I figured out on my own was then the story of my life as I evolved as a music educator. I picked up leads from all the mentors I met along the way. I also participated in every professional development opportunity that came my way.

Geordie: UBC in the ‘80s definitely prepared me for the reality of life in music, because it provided me with a comprehensive education in voice, piano, arranging, orchestration, languages, and ensembles that has been the ABCs of my career ever since. The thing I had to un-learn was judging myself whenever I was in performance—I had to re-learn the fun of music-making.

You are both educators. How do you feel music education has changed/adapted since your undergrad days?

Frances: The biggest changes in music education is that music educators have to be a music advocate, fund raiser, and fighter for the life of your music program. Being in public education, the music advocacy and support for the arts is a part of life. We have to continually be out in the public displaying the great work our students do to reinforce the value of music education. We need to be leaders in our communities to rally the support to keep music an integral part of every child’s education.

What do you think the future holds for music students in general, and singers in particular?

Geordie Roberts    Photo: Cindy Goodman

Geordie Roberts
Photo: Cindy Goodman

Geordie: The internet means EVERYBODY has an audience of one kind or another. The big challenge has always been, and will always, be finding someone who will PAY you to make your music. I think the days of being a niche singer are not necessarily numbered, but I do believe that versatility will be a much bigger selling point in the future, where specialization has been the making of careers in the past. I think that is a result of the globalization of voice culture—there are as many genres of teaching as there are cultures in the world, and we have access to all of them now.

What advice would you give young people studying music today?

Geordie: No matter how boring you might find music theory, ear-training, sight singing, suck it up and learn it. With a lack of arts funding, the musicians who will be hired are the ones who can learn music on their own, including style, language, musicianship challenges, collaborative skills, and ensemble skills—and be concert-ready without hours and hours of paid rehearsal. Go to piano class too.

Frances: For students pursuing music at the post-secondary level, it is so important to be versed in all styles of music. The more diverse and flexible, the better. The more intelligent and skilled a music reader and interpreter you are, the better also. Keeping doors open, being positive and respectful with everyone you encounter and work with makes a huge difference. Create your own destiny, be an entrepreneur… dream and go where it takes you.

Celebrating the Centennial

Students’ Fanfares Celebrate 100 Years at UBC

From September 2015 to May 2016, UBC has been celebrating its Centennial year, and the School of Music has played a part in the festivities. Centennial activities at the School (and beyond) included UBC Opera Ensemble’s Centennial Tour of BC and collaborations with the Beijing Central Conservatory’s Opera Centre; roundtable discussions with distinguished alumni; a free public conversation with jazz great Branford Marsalis; and ten new fanfares commissioned from alumni and current students performed by the School’s large and small ensembles. Nova Pon (MMus’15, current DMA student) and Aidan Wong (current BMus student) were among the student composers chosen to write a fanfare; Nova for saxophone quartet and Aidan for brass quintet.

Nova Pon  Photo: Nova Pon

Nova Pon
Photo: Nova Pon

For Aidan, the commission was a new experience. “I’ve composed for hire before, but those pieces weren’t necessarily commissioned works for a set ensemble. I’ve composed music for student films and art student animatics where I was given ‘more or less’ free reign. I’ve also had many friends request I compose pieces for them. Typically I’m just grateful that as a student, I have performers willing to ask for pieces and perform them at a high level and so I don’t charge for those works,” he says, considering his Fanfare his first “real” commission. For Nova it was old hat. For eight years she taught music privately and freelanced as a composer in the Calgary area, generally working on one commission or other for various musicians and ensembles.

Both composers took the commission in stride. For Aidan, the stressful thing was not composing to a deadline, but writing for brass quintet for the first time. Nova felt the pressure, but, “it’s a nice sort of pressure; like a springboard to bounce off of for ideas,” she said. “Most of my projects are like that so I’m used to it by now, and the deadline was reasonable.”

Both also found the Centennial theme inspiring. Nova researched the history of the university and took her inspiration from its coat of arms and early motto, finding the heraldic language poetic. The title of her piece, Waves azure, a sun in splendour, an open book, springs from that. “At the surface level, the piece has textures of waves that ebb and flow out of each other contrasted with bright “sunny” harmonies in shimmering textures. The idea of the open book, and phrase ‘Tuum Est’ in the coat of arms, translated as “it’s up to you” was also part of the work’s inspiration,” she says. Aidan’s Fanfare for Brass Quintet is a jovial, high energy, and triumphant fanfare, as he sought to create a celebratory energy in honour of this event.

With the ongoing Chan fanfares, UBC Contemporary Players ensemble, orchestra and wind ensemble reading sessions, and other composer’s seminar opportunities, there is no shortage of chances for students to hear their work performed at UBC and beyond. “Additionally, I find that many of the performances of my pieces have come from the connections I’ve made within the school,” says Aidan. “Opportunities come up in that manner as well, as long as you look for them!”

Other recent publicly performed works by the pair include Aidan’s several works in the final UBC Composer Concert of the school year in April, and Nova’s recent pieces for the Sonic Boom and Sound of Dragon Festivals. She’s also working on some operatic collaborations with Renaissance Opera’s re:Write workshop.

Concerts in Care

Purdy Pavillion Photo: Brian Hawkes

Purdy Pavillion
Photo: Brian Hawkes

By Anna Collins and Michelle Keong

Since 2008, the School of Music has partnered with the Health Arts Society to deliver the Concerts in Care UBC Ambassadors program. This outstanding program benefits community members by sharing accomplished student performances with audiences in residential care and retirement homes. To date, 112 graduate and undergraduate students have been selected by audition to participate in the program and presented 498 concerts throughout the Lower Mainland and BC interior.

“We see the Concerts in Care UBC Ambassadors program as a wonderfully inspiring and effective way to train musician citizens who contribute compassionately to the community,” says Dr. Richard Kurth, director of the UBC School of Music. “Their Concerts in Care performances teach them to connect as directly as possible with their audiences, and to be communicative and eloquent in their playing and their conversation with the audience.”

Hands-on learning opportunities such as this are vital for students’ training. They provide opportunities for students to refine their craft—teaching performance and communication skills, perseverance, confidence and professionalism—in addition to illustrating the transformative and restorative power of music.

“I truly believe that this program demonstrates the power of music and its healing qualities,” says soprano Eva Tavares, a 2016 UBC Ambassador. “Music makes an impact on human beings, and that impact stays with you throughout life. It marks the highs and lows of life in ways that nothing else can. This program proves that, and proved to me why my job as an artist is vital.”

In the coming year, the School of Music and the Health Arts Society aim to double the number of music students in the program as well as the number of concerts they perform. They will also integrate Concerts in Care into the curriculum, offering course credit and instruction focused on performance and communication skills attuned to this context. The tailored feedback, direction and guidance will help students redefine the goals of their performances and give them presentation skills to maximize the benefits they can share with their audiences in healthcare settings.

“Every year we witness how the Ambassadors grow and blossom as artist-citizens through their Concerts in Care performances,” says Kurth, noting the robust program has presented approximately 60 Concerts in Care events every year. “We would like many more students to be nourished by this transformative experience, and we aim for many more people and healthcare centres to be delighted and fortified by their concerts!”

We invite you to join us to help expand the program as much as possible. Over the summer, alumni will receive a special appeal from UBC requesting support. Every donation will help us to increase student involvement, local performances and tours. We hope that you will consider making a gift to this important program.

To get involved today, please visit our online donation page.

Opera alumna’s success rooted in mentorship

By Michelle Keong

Simone Osborne in Vancouver Opera’s production of Rigoletto  Photo: Tim Matheson

Simone Osborne in Vancouver Opera’s production of Rigoletto
Photo: Tim Matheson

Simone Osborne’s (DMPS’09) star continues to rise. The soprano recently reunited with Professor Nancy Hermiston who directed Vancouver Opera’s Rigoletto. It was their first time working together since she graduated in 2009.

“It’s pretty surreal for me,” says Osborne, 29, who first learned Gilda’s aria in Hermiston’s studio during her student days. “The truth is, about half of the roles that I’ve done professionally, I already did at UBC. I’m a singer because of UBC and I’m a singer because of Nancy.”

For Hermiston, who founded the UBC Opera Ensemble in 1995, working professionally with a former student marks a major accomplishment.

“It’s especially wonderful for me to be working with Simone on a role like this. It’s one of the great soprano roles of the repertoire,” says Hermiston, chair of the voice and opera divisions. “I have known her since she was 15 years old and it has just been so great to see this wonderful development.”

Based in Toronto, Osborne has maintained close ties with Hermiston over the years; she has even sung a line or two over the phone, asking for advice. Hermiston has flown to see her former student in career-defining performances, including Osborne’s debut at Carnegie Hall, her performances as Pamina and Gilda in Toronto, and her debut as the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor at Edmonton Opera.

“Nancy has always been a point person for me in my career,” says Osborne, who relies heavily on what she calls a personal board of directors. “That board is very small for me but Nancy has a prominent seat. So to do any kind of project with her is just a gift.”

A trusted circle of advisors plays a huge role in the program that Hermiston has built from the ground up. During her career and tenure at the prestigious Nürnberg Opera, her mentors—including James Craig, Constance Fisher, Irving Guttman and Herman Geiger-Torel, founder of the Canadian Opera Company—saw her potential as a singer and director.

“It’s because of them that I do what I do at UBC and I can give Simone and all those students that kind of training,” says Hermiston, who was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada for her achievements as an opera singer, stage director and educator. “It’s like a direct heritage from the founder of the Canadian Opera Company—that’s the heritage from which I came.”

In the final year of her studies, Osborne already had a contract with Wexford Opera and engagements in the USA and Europe. She then landed a coveted spot in the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio.

“I went right from UBC to an operatic career, which I feel so grateful for, and it’s a testament to the training that I got at UBC and to the time I spent with Nancy,” says Osborne, whose 2015-2016 season includes returning to the Canadian Opera Company to debut the role of Micaela in Bizet’s Carmen and crossing the USA, appearing in 14 cities with the Metropolitan Opera’s Rising Stars Concert Series.

“My UBC opera family of Irving Guttmann, Judi Forst, and most importantly Nancy, is just as influential to this day. Everything they told me is true, and everything they prepared me for has happened.”

Our faculty: mastering Rzewski’s De Profundis

By Michelle Keong

Watch Dr. Terence Dawson’s performance of De Profundis, March 4, 2015
at Barnett Hall, UBC School of Music.

Pianists do not often play and speak at the same time—let alone whistle, sing, play a Harpo horn, and use their body and the piano as percussion instruments. Terence Dawson decided to take on the challenge and perform Frederic Rzewski’s De Profundis as a career milestone marker.

Oscar Wilde Photo: Napoleon Sarony

Oscar Wilde
Photo: Napoleon Sarony

Rzewski’s De Profundis has been described as a melodramatic oratorio, in which the pianist recites text consisting of portions of Oscar Wilde’s letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, which was written during the author’s imprisonment in Reading Gaol “I feel overwhelming empathy when I try to simply get my head around the idea that this creative artist was denied books, denied writing material, placed in solitary confinement and sentenced to hard labour for two years,” says Dawson, chair of the keyboard division. “That in and of itself would bring an ordinary man to their knees.”

Eight sections of rhythmically notated recitation are preceded by eight preludes, with the pianist directed to perform simultaneously as speaker, singer, whistler and percussionist. At approximately 30 minutes in length, this performance is no small feat.

“It took patience. And it took a lot of experimentation to figure out what I needed to do to absorb the physicality of playing as well as the emotional demands of the piece,” says Dawson, who read Wilde’s work (De Profundis) in its entirety, as well as biographies and critical works in order to explore more fully what the prolific author went through during those desolate years in prison.

After six weeks of practicing up to seven hours a day, Dawson felt comfortable with the idea of scheduling a date for his first performance of De Profundis.



Dr. Terence Dawson Photo: Joshua McVeity

Dr. Terence Dawson
Photo: Joshua McVeity

“I don’t think I’ve ever put as many hours into a piece to just to figure out how to actually physically play it. You would think that after 50 years, you would know how to practice,” says Dawson. “Learning De Profundis was a different experience because of the writing itself. Rzewski demands it all; variety and drama magnified by the intensity generated by Wilde’s words. The fusion of the music and speech takes the pianist and audience to a new plane.”

Dawson first performed De Profundis at UBC in March, 2015 after returning from a year-long sabbatical. Now he is taking this work on tour, with invitations from universities and colleges from coast to coast including Mount Allison University, and closer to home at Douglas College, Capilano University, and the Universities of Victoria, Calgary and Lethbridge. An encore performance at UBC on October 29thwas preceded by a panel discussion with faculty colleagues focusing on the words of Wilde, the music of Rzewski and the fusion of the two.

“I’ve also found that despite spending countless hours immersed in De Profundis, it still feels fresh every time I play it because the words are so heartfelt,” says Dawson, who was inspired to tackle the work after hearing a performance by New York-based pianist Lisa Moore in 2000. “I think of it as a piece that demonstrates the resilience and the power of the human spirit.”

From Abu Dhabi to Vancouver: UBC alumnus builds international teaching career

By Michelle Keong

Chris Ward Photo: David Ward

Chris Ward
Photo: David Ward

Chris Ward (MMus’13) teaches one of two band programs in the United Arab Emirates. Despite the distance, he continually returns to his old stomping grounds at UBC. Ward, who holds a master’s degree in saxophone, recently participated in the 2015 UBC Summer Music Institute and helped Robert Taylor, director of bands, organize the third annual Wind Conducting Symposium.

In this issue of High Notes, Ward and Taylor reflect on international career building opportunities and the value of staying connected.

How was the Wind Conducting Symposium?

Robert Taylor: Chris was a graduate student here when we started the symposium in 2012, so he has been involved in the project since the beginning. The way it works is that we provide an ensemble, mostly of UBC students and alumni. Participants conduct the ensemble from the podium and they receive feedback live and on video. It’s a very intense environment, and Chris has been critical in his role to create a comfortable space for teachers to take risks and grow during the workshop.

Chris Ward: The sense of community this year was incredible. People said they felt so supported and felt comfortable to try new things. You can see that people were getting way out of the comfort zone and experimenting with new ways of moving and communicating.

What has it been like working at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi?

CW: From the classroom perspective, it’s similar to my first job as a music teacher in the state of Washington, except I’m not doing marching band or pep band. But one of the big differences is the opportunity to travel to really exotic locations all around the world, whether on holiday or for class trips. Service is a very big part of the school, so in my first year, I went on a service trip to Borneo and this last year during spring break, I went with students to Jordan for Habitat for Humanity. There are also conferences all around the Middle East, in Singapore, India, and other locations far from home. This upcoming year I have back-to-back trips, one to the Netherlands for an international jazz band and vocal jazz ensemble festival and the other to Qatar for an arts trip with my middle school band students.

What do you gain from these travel opportunities that are directly related to your job?

CW: Travel for personal and professional reasons has been a big part of my growth as an educator. Many music teachers can feel isolated because they are the only instrumental music specialist at their school. In Washington State, I took personal days to watch other band directors in the state teach so I could learn new rehearsal strategies. In Abu Dhabi, there’s no other band program in the city. The only other one is in Dubai, and those are the only two in the UAE. I have to fly somewhere else to speak with someone in person and share ideas about music and teaching. So getting the chance to go to Singapore or London for AMIS honor band festivals (Association for Music in International Schools) or to New Delhi to spend a week watching a friend teach and connect with these other international music teachers is amazing.

The international teaching experience is the perfect marriage of personal and professional goals. In my first year, I went to Vienna and saw the Vienna Philharmonic perform. It was unbelievable. When I was teaching in the states, you would never think to do something like that, to fly to another country during one of your breaks. But that’s the mindset for most of the teachers in the international scene. Here’s a three-day weekend, let’s go to New Delhi!

RT: If you’re teaching in North America, you have a lot of opportunities for professional development. Our symposium is one. But when you’re farther away, it’s a lot of effort to get to a professional conference. That’s one of the reasons it was really great that Chris brought me out to the UAE. I was able to spend a full week at each school working with the students and observing all of the classes, giving feedback to the teachers about the structure of their programs, doing several lessons, and maybe helping to send the program into some new directions or finding ways to support those teachers. Chris also set up evening sessions, and we had music teachers come from all over UAE for the professional development opportunity.

It was a very exciting trip for me. One of the most exciting things was to watch Chris in action and see how he was integrating—very thoughtfully—so many of the ideas we had explored during his UBC studies in his curriculum and classroom. It’s inspiring to see generations of students teaching their students!

Chris, how have your UBC studies prepared you for what you are doing now?

CW: When I taught after my undergraduate degree, I became frustrated because I didn’t know how to make my group better. I knew there were things I was doing that caused my students to not perform at their best, and I didn’t know why.

After working with Dr. Julia Nolan and Dr. Taylor, I feel like I have the skills to help my ensemble get better, but more importantly I have the knowledge to teach myself to continue my own growth without needing a teacher to guide me.

How important is it to have global experiences and connections with other musicians and peers in the field?

RT: Last year was a sabbatical year for me and I literally flew around the world doing 29 different residencies in four months. Several of them were in the UAE with Chris, then in Australia and New Zealand. I was able to reconnect with several UBC alumni who are out in the global community teaching, performing, making a difference. Going to those places offered incredible perspective and context that I can bring back and share with the other students here. So those global connections have influenced how I think about, plan, and deliver the curriculum in our program here at UBC.

CW: I look at it two ways: there’s the personal side where it recharges you, as well as the professional side. When I’m out of my city and in this entirely new (foreign) space, it allows more creativity to flow, and for me to continue growing and learning.

Banner image by Kin Szeto