High Notes | Fall 2018 Edition


Welcome to the Fall 2018 edition of High Notes

In this issue, we talk to Juno-nominated pianist John Stetch about his path-breaking career — and his decision to go back to school. We explore the music of glaciers with Director of Orchestras Dr. Jonathan Girard and multimedia artist Deborah Carruthers. And alumna Suzanne Windsor-Liscombe opens up about losing her hearing and finding her true calling as a composer of children's operas.


  • Donor Spotlight: Tom Lee Music provides five new pianos for public use across the UBC campus

  • Fall Concerts: Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, Joel Puckett’s Shadow of Sirius, and slippages — an experimental orchestral work about climate change

  • Research & Publications: Lectures on Korean drumming and cosmology, compositions for piano and voice, and a new book on Monteverdi

  • Alumni Making Waves: A bouncy castle organ, a Volvo commercial, new appointments, and awards galore

  • Beyond the Gates: The Western Canadian Music Awards, a B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame induction, Bands tour, and more

  • Catching Up with Our Students: Strings and wind students tour with the National Youth Orchestra, the Opera ensemble visits the Czech Republic, and the Silverman Piano Competition winners perform

  • Comings and Goings: Prof. Richard Kurth reflects on his second and final term as director of the School of Music

  • New Recordings: Soprano Simone Osborne releases her début album and John Stetch releases his 16th

  • Playlist: Jaelem Bhate chooses music that changed the way we listen to music

As always, we want to hear from you! Send us your comments and story ideas.


Jazz visionary John Stetch goes back to school

Stetch demonstrates his reinterpretation of Chopin's Polonaise in A-flat.


By Tze Liew

Over the past three decades, John Stetch has made a name for himself as one of Canada’s most innovative jazz pianists and composers. He has performed with contemporary greats such as Mark Turner and Chris Cheek and has recorded sixteen albums, including his most recent release, Ballads. Yet in the middle of a successful career that has earned him critical acclaim and half a dozen Juno Award nominations, he made the extraordinary decision to come to UBC to pursue an M.Mus in Composition.

“I wanted to get a Master’s because the nature of work and teaching [in music] has changed in many places, and often requires more than just a Bachelor’s degree. I knew I was going to be living in Vancouver, and I’d heard of UBC and its beautiful campus. There wasn’t really a jazz program around, so I thought a Composition Master’s would be a great fit, since I’ve been starting to write some classical chamber music, not just jazz,” he says.

Read the full story


Improvising the music of glaciers

UBCSO performs slippages on Oct. 5th, 2018

How do you create the music of a glacier?

Artist Deborah Carruthers was grappling with this question when she met Dr. Jonathan Girard, the School of Music’s Director of Orchestras, at a talk last year at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. Carruthers was just emerging from months of intensive research into glaciers, on everything from their topography and ecology to their significance in different cultures and the threat they face from climate change.

In her talk she outlined an idea for a ‘graphic’ score — a sequence of images inspired by these enigmatic and threatened landscapes — that musicians could then interpret and perform.

The project seemed a little crazy, even to her. “I am not a musician, so the score was going to have no actual musical notation,” Carruthers says. “But when I explained all of this to Jonathan, he said—”

“I said, Tell me more!” Girard interjects, laughing.

Read the full story



Lost and found: How Suzanne Windsor-Liscombe lost her hearing and found her true calling

Elementary students perform one of Windsor-Liscombe’s opera-musicals

Elementary students perform one of Windsor-Liscombe’s opera-musicals


By Tze Liew

Suzanne Windsor-Liscombe (BMus’80, DipEd’91, MEd’92, EdD’14) is passionate about music and education. She is also deaf. Having suddenly lost her hearing in 2010, she can no longer hear music or sing in tune, or do many of the things she used to enjoy as a skilled pianist and singer. But in the aftermath of this life-changing event, she has found her unique calling as an educator-composer and librettist, working around her hearing loss to write children’s operas for elementary students in B.C.’s Lower Mainland.

As Head Teacher at Confederation Park Elementary in the Burnaby School District, she and a few colleagues founded an arts-integrated program which saved the school from being shut down – the student body had dropped to only 90 students when they first took over in 2006. She began to compose children’s operas for the curriculum in 2011.

“We were trying to get students to understand what opera was, and also learn something significant about our history [and] society,” she says.

Read the full story


Calling all music lovers: Tom Lee Music donates five new pianos to UBC

BMus student Serina Mui plays one of the donated pianos.  Photo: UBC Library Communications

BMus student Serina Mui plays one of the donated pianos. Photo: UBC Library Communications

By Joel Bentley

A student sits at the new grand piano in the Music, Art and Architecture Library (MAA). She has headphones on, concealing the sound, so all you hear is the tapping of keys, rhythmic patterns. It feels like a pre-concert ritual—the quiet excitement of something about to be born. Behind the piano there are rows upon rows of sheet music, the largest collection of scores in Western Canada, waiting to be played. The library is muted and subdued, but the piano calls out to music lovers—beckoning them into the world of sound.

“I love playing with and for others and seeing the joy it brings to everyone involved,” says BMus student Zeta Gesme. A third-year double major in Cello Performance and Economics (Honours), Zeta is one of hundreds of students who have discovered joy at the new grand piano in the MAA at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre (IKBLC). It’s all dressed up in black and white, like a butler waiting. At your service. Zeta uses the piano to practice for her piano exams.

It’s one of five new pianos that Tom Lee Music provided to UBC this year. The pianos can be found at the Walter C. Koerner Library, David Lam Management Research Library, Woodward Library, and the Nobel Biocare Oral Health Centre—the dental clinic.

Read the full story


Fall concerts available online: Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, Puckett’s Shadow of Sirius, Poulenc’s Gloria

Watch the latest performances by the School of Music’s large and small ensembles on Livestream and Vimeo:

Poulenc and Vaughan Williams

UBC Symphony Orchestra and Choirs team up for a spectacular, term-ending performance at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.

Scenes II

The UBC Symphonic Wind Ensemble performs works by renowned composer-in-residence Joel Puckett, Giovanni Gabrieli, and Kathryn Salfelder. Featuring DMA student and soloist Paul Hung, flute. Watch

Silverman Winners’ Concert

Benjamin Hopkins, grand prize winner of the Silverman Piano Concerto Competition, performs Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major Op. 58 with UBC Symphony Orchestra. Also featuring competition winners Evgenia Rabinovich, Ayunia Saputro, and Aydan Con. Watch

Mahler, Carruthers and Tsu

UBC Symphony Orchestra perform the Mahler masterpiece Das Lied von der Erde along with Taiwanese composer Tsang-Houei Hsu’s The Splendid Universe, Chinese Festival Overture, Op. 18, and Slippages, an exciting experimental piece based on the graphic scores of artist Deborah Carruthers. Watch

Fall Choral Showcase

The University Singers, Chamber Choir, Choral Union and Combined Choirs sing works by Brahms, Dvořák, Haydn, Schubert, Copland and more. Watch

For upcoming School of Music performances, check out our concert calendar.

Browse more of our recent concerts


Comings and goings

Dr. Valerie Whitney and Dr. Richard Kurth

Dr. Valerie Whitney and Dr. Richard Kurth

This summer, Dr. Richard Kurth completed his second term as Director of the School of Music. In June he published “A Letter, a Soliloquy, two Duets, and a Sextet,” his reflections on the School and his time at the helm.

Following in his footsteps for the 2018-19 academic year is Dr. Alexander Fisher, in the role of Acting Director, and Dr. John Roeder, as Associate Director for term one, and Dr. Keith Hamel, Associate Director for term two.  Thank you, Dr. Kurth, and welcome, Drs. Fisher, Roeder, and Hamel!  

Dr. Valerie Whitney joined the School of Music as Assistant Professor of Horn , starting in the 2018-19 academic year. An accomplished performer and teacher, Dr. Whitney will play a leading role in the brass division at the School of Music. Her duties will include undergraduate and graduate studio instruction, brass chamber music coaching and coordination, and brass curriculum leadership — all while working in partnership with our accomplished team of VSO principals and other top professionals in the city.

Sessional lecturer and alumna Dr. Laurel Parsons (MA’91, PhD’03) recently accepted a full-time position as Associate Teaching Professor of music theory and aural skills at the University of Alberta.


New research and publications

Dr. Claudio Vellutini

Dr. Claudio Vellutini

Dr. Claudio Vellutini has been awarded an Insight Development Grant for his research project “Entangled Histories: Opera and Cultural Networks between Vienna and the Italian States, 1815-1848.” Recently, he presented two conference papers on topics related to this project: “Opera Networks between Vienna and the Italian States: Domenico Barbaja and Der Freischütz” at the 20th Biennial International Conference on Nineteenth-Century Music; and "Donizetti's Italianità and Viennese Publishers" at the third conference of the international research network Re-Imagining Italianità: Opera and Musical Culture in Transnational Perspective.

Prof. Stephen Chatman published two new compositions: “Life Has Loveliness,” a work for SATB choirs and piano, and “Six Preludes” for alto saxophone and piano.

Dr. Brandon Konoval published “Pythagorean Pipe Dreams? Vincenzo Galilei, Marin Mersenne, and the Pneumatic Mysteries of the Pipe Organ” in Perspectives on Science (February 2018), and “Is the Essay Dead? Research and Writing in the Humanities at a Research-Intensive University" in Higher Education Review (50th Anniversary Issue, Spring-Summer 2018).

Continue reading research and publications news


Alumni Making Waves: A bouncy castle organ, a Volvo commercial, new appointments, and awards galore  

Soprano Emily Cheung (BMus’06) in a recent Volvo commercial


This November, Carter Johnson (BMus’18) won the grand prize in the 2018 Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal (OSM) Manulife Piano Competition, with his outstanding performance of Prokofiev's Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26. The prize includes a $10,000 scholarship, a performance with the OSM in January 2019, a professional broadcast on Radio-Canada’s ICI Musique, and other performing opportunities. Carter also won first prize in the Canadian Music Centre’s Stepping Stone National Competition in Montreal.

Soprano Emily Cheung (BMus’06) was recently featured in television ads for Volvo’s 2019 SUV campaign.

In August, composer Michael Park (DMA’15) staged a wildly creative concert fundraiser for the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Vancouver. With the help of organ builder David Quinton, he combined a bouncy castle with organ parts to create a one-of-a-kind instrument that makes music as kids jump inside it. It’s also, Park notes, a “proof of concept” for further musical experiments. In August, Michael also performed a one-man recital of music for speaking pianist, narrating stories about love, death and everything in between at the historic Roedde House Museum in Vancouver’s West End.

Tina Wang (BMus’15) received a Teacher of Distinction award from the Royal Conservatory of Music, in recognition of her work training young saxophonists. She teaches at the Vancouver Academy of Music and co-directs a saxophone ensemble with fellow alumnus Michael Morimoto (MMus’14), in addition to running her own teaching studio.

Continue reading alumni news


Beyond the Gates: The Western Canadian Music Awards, a BC Entertainment Hall of Fame induction, Bands tour

Left to right: Dr. Robert Taylor, Prof. Nancy Hermiston, Jeremy Berkman

Left to right: Dr. Robert Taylor, Prof. Nancy Hermiston, Jeremy Berkman

This November, Prof. Nancy Hermiston was inducted into the British Columbia Entertainment Hall of Fame alongside renowned tenor and School of Music alumnus Ben Heppner (BMus’79). Prof. Hermiston this year also received the Faculty of Arts 2017-18 Dean of Arts Award, the most prestigious award that the Faculty bestows on a colleague, in recognition of her outstanding contributions to creative research, teaching, and service to UBC and the broader community.

In March, Director of Bands Dr. Robert Taylor and the UBC Symphonic Wind Ensemble were invited by peers to perform at the College Band Directors National Association regional conference held at Sonoma State University. The tour included residencies with several of the San Francisco Bay Area’s top high school bands, and culminated in a featured performance at the Green Music Centre’s acoustically-stunning Weill Hall.

In June, the award-winning Turning Point Ensemble — which features UBC faculty members Brenda Fedoruk (flute), Jeremy Berkman (trombone), Ingrid Chiang (bassoon), and School of Music admissions manager Katherine Evans (trumpet) — toured Asia, performing concerts in Taiwan, Beijing, and Singapore. Turning Point also performed this year at the New Opera Days Ostrava Festival in the Czech Republic, where they premiered The Mute Canary by composer Rudolf Komourous.

Continue reading faculty news


Catching up with our students: UBC students tour with the National Youth Orchestra, the Opera ensemble visits the Czech Republic, and more

Simran Claire

Simran Claire

Six School of Music students and alumni, including Eva Toncheva (BMus’18), violin; Madelynn Erickson, violin; Nina Weber, viola; Emily Richardson, flute; Carlos Savall-Guardiola, clarinet; and Lukas Hildebrandt (BMus’18), percussion, have been accepted to the 2018 National Youth Orchestra of Canada. This summer they embarked on an exciting Canada-European tour, with stops in Ontario and Quebec and in Germany and Scotland.

Mezzo soprano Simran Claire (BMus'18, current MMus student) has won a position with the Glimmerglass Ensemble and will begin performing with the ensemble in June 2019.

The UBC Opera Ensemble had a successful tour to the Czech Republic this past summer, where they performed Rossini’s Italian Girl in Algiers in Teplice, Decin and Jablonec. They returned to Vancouver in August to performed an evening of opera and operetta excerpts at Bard on the Beach. They were joined by members of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra. 

Continue reading student news


New Recordings

Alumna Simone Osborne (DMPS'09) released her debut album, Simone Osborne: Live in Concert with Anne Larlee. A classical song recital by Osborne, a celebrated Canadian soprano, including works by Mozart, Fauré, Schumann and Canadian composer Matthew Emery (BMus’14). Available on CDBaby, iTunes and Spotify.

Graduate composition student John Stetch released his 16th record, Ballads, an album of “quiet classics from the 1930's to the 1950's that never get louder than mezzo forte. Perfect for non-intrusive background ambience, but also for discerning listeners and tough critics of creative music. All tracks are complete takes with no editing.” Available on CD Baby, iTunes and Spotify.


Playlist: Music that changed the way we listen to music

By Jaelem Bhate

I’m in my final year of the graduate conducting program here at the School of Music, so I spend a lot of time thinking about big, important pieces of music. The ironic thing about masterpieces is that, over time, they grow so familiar to our ears that they actually become hard to appreciate. We begin to lose sight of what made them so great and so influential in their own time. So even as we celebrate them, we take them for granted.

With that in mind, I thought it might be fun and illuminating to put together a playlist of music that in some way changed how we listen to and experience music. These are works that were pivotal in the evolution of music through the ages, and in many cases were also landmark works for the composers themselves. It has been more than difficult to narrow down this list to only a few works, but here are some tracks and artists in my regular rotation.

Listen to the complete playlist


Do you have a story? Let us know!

If you're a UBC Music alumnus and you have news to share, please send a note to tyler.stiem@ubc.ca. We're always looking for stories for upcoming editions of High Notes and our other networks.