UBC alumni win at the 2019 Juno Awards

James Parker

James Parker

Congratulations to pianist James Parker (BMus’85) and baritone Tyler Duncan (BMus’98) for their wins at the 2019 Juno Awards!

With his group the Gryphon Trio, Parker won the 2019 Juno Award for Classical Album of the Year: Solo or Chamber for their album The End of Flowers: Works by Clarke and Ravel (Analekta). The Gryphon Trio were also nominated in the Classical Album: Large Ensemble category, for their collaboration with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra on Into the Wonder.

Duncan (BMus’98) appeared as a soloist on the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Vaughan Williams: Piano Concerto; Oboe Concerto; Serenade to Music; Flos Campi (Chandos), which won the Juno Award for Classical Album of the Year: Large Ensemble. The album was earlier nominated for a Grammy Award.

The awards were held in London, Ontario on March 17th, 2019 and hosted by Sarah MacLachlan.

Lost and found

Musician and educator Suzanne Windsor-Liscombe (BMus’80, DipEd’91, MEd’92, EdD’14) talks about how she lost her hearing and found her true calling — as a composer of children’s operas

By Tze Liew

Suzanne Windsor-Liscombe. Photo: Takumi Hayashi/UBC School of Music

Suzanne Windsor-Liscombe. Photo: Takumi Hayashi/UBC School of Music

Suzanne Windsor-Liscombe 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.

The challenge of writing operas for children prompted Windsor-Liscombe to create what she calls musical-operas. “While there’s some recitative in my works” — that is, dialogue which is sung to move the story along — “it’s too challenging and unreasonable to expect untrained elementary students to take on recitative fully. So the pieces I compose have considerably more spoken dialogue than an opera.”

Her first project was based on a children’s book: Mean Jean the Recess Queen, about bullying on the playground. Working in close collaboration with Bonnie Ishii, Confederation Park’s music and dance educator, she adapted the story for grade four and five students to perform.

“Writing the music and re-crafting the story into song lyrics was just a lot of fun – and very gratifying,” she says. “It worked really well for the kids, so I wanted to keep writing more.”

In the following years she wrote the operas Sadako and Kinderzug, integrating the grade seven studies on World War II Japan and Germany, respectively. Sadako, adapted from Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, tells the true story of Sadako Sasiki, a young girl who died from leukemia in 1955 due to radiative exposure from the Hiroshima bomb. Kinderzug is Windsor-Liscombe’s original story, about a teacher who is determined to deliver three Jewish children safely out of Nazi Germany.

“The kids loved them,” she says. “It’s better than just reading a book. When the kids can become the characters in a certain point in history, they live the history more.”

Scene from Kinderzug. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Windsor-Liscombe

Scene from Kinderzug. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Windsor-Liscombe

Besides helping the students learn through experience, Windsor-Liscombe’s operas give them the opportunity to express their talents, and work together in a community.

“It’s great for encouraging self-esteem. Kids who you thought couldn’t carry a tune came forward wanting to do lead roles, and they were wonderful,” she says. “Then there’s always that one kid who just doesn’t want to be onstage. So they do tech or backstage work instead. Everybody gets involved. It’s really rewarding.”

Bringing community together is important to Windsor-Liscombe. Over the years she has invited parents to volunteer as photographers and technicians, as well as guest artists to help with the productions. “It’s about as professional as you can get in a school gym,” she says, laughing. Recently she had Sadako professionally recorded with UBC Opera students Spencer Britten (BMus’15, MMus’17), Andrea Wyllie (BMus’18, MMus student) and alumna Marie Civaterese (MMus’17). For Kinderzug, she hired Civaterese as an artist-in-residence to help teach the students and sing the lead role.

“The Pearl” — a scene from Sadako. Video courtesy of Suzanne Windsor-Liscombe

“Having Marie here took everything up a level, because the kids got to work with a real performer. The kids loved her, and I think she had a good time too,” says Windsor-Liscombe.

“From our first meeting, Suzanne's passion and excitement for her stories was infectious,” Civaterese says. “We discussed the libretto in detail, and once I started learning the music I could immediately feel her connection to the characters. Her operas are a most special educational tool to teach our history to children in a way that helps them connect with the emotional context of the events.”

Since Windsor-Liscombe first helped Confederation Park transition into an arts-integrated school 12 years ago, the school has flourished. It’s filled to capacity today, with students pouring in even from other districts. Her opera productions are an important part of the curriculum.

Windsor-Liscombe says she pieces the music together bit by bit in her head, relying on her knowledge of theory and cadences.

“Even though I can no longer hear music, I can hear it inside my head. It was like my external world became my internal world. Sometimes I think I’m going a little crazy – but now that it’s internalised, I want to get it out.”

It’s a slow and difficult process, but it works. She believes she is lucky to have had good training from teachers such as Stephen Chatman and Cortland Hultberg while studying at UBC in the late 70s and early 80s. But it wasn't until she lost her hearing that composing became profoundly important to her.

“I used to play for ballets, musicals, sing in choir, direct things, teach, go to concerts. All of that was just completely washed out when I couldn’t hear anymore,” she says. “I think composition saved me. It made me feel like I still had some ability after all those years. More than anything else I’ve done in music, this makes me the proudest.”

Windsor-Liscombe continues to teach and to write about issues that matter to her. Currently she is working on another opera: A Letter to Wanda, which focuses on bullying in its many subtle forms, based on the story The One Hundred Dresses by Estelle Estes. It will be performed next spring at Confederation Park Elementary.

Banner image: Takumi Hayashi/UBC School of Music

Composer and conductor Hussein Janmohamed on choral singing, identity, and fostering cultural understanding

Note: This is the third story in a new series that profiles UBC School of Music alumni who have followed interesting and innovative paths to career success.

By Aryn Strickland

Photo: Vincent L. Chan

Photo: Vincent L. Chan

As a composer, conductor, and teacher, Hussein Janmohamed (BMus'96, MMus'98, MMus'14) has built a career using choral music to challenge cultural stereotypes and reframe the conversation about race in Canada. Growing up as an Ismaili Muslim in rural Alberta taught him that discrimination was an unfortunate fact of life, even in a country celebrated for its multiculturalism. And for Muslims and many other groups, he says, the issue is as pressing now as ever.

“[W]e are in a society in which there are a lot of negative representations of Islam, not only from the media but from small minorities within the faith,” he says.

For Janmohamed, challenging these stereotypes starts with combating self-stigma. After graduating from UBC with the first of two Master’s degrees, he founded the Vancouver Ismaili Youth Choir to help Muslim youth understand their dual and often plural identities.

The decision was inspired by his own formative experiences: As a young teen he found that the bridge between his two identities, the Canadian and the Ismaili, was congregational singing. Within the Ismaili community Janmohamed took part in religious devotion through ginan (Indic devotional expressions) and zikr (remembrance of the Divine) — and the experience made him aware of how powerful collective singing can be.

In high school, he found that same feeling through choral singing, an artform traditionally associated with Christian churches. He began to rethink choral music as a more open mode of collective singing and used it to combine the musicality of devotional chants with choral songs.

“In choral music there are so many layers and choral singing actually shows us what harmony can sound like when all the layers of identities come together,” he says. “One of the key elements [of the Ismaili Youth Choir] was to find ways to express cultural diversity of our community because our community is world-wide with members in Syria, Iran, Western China, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the diaspora. Our cultural expression is so diverse, so as a choir we started to explore what that sounded like. There wasn’t a lot of repertoire from that part of the world that spoke to our community, so we started to make arrangements.”


“In choral music there are so many layers and choral singing actually shows us what harmony can sound like when all the layers of identities come together."


Janmohamed led the compositional work, often combining texts from the Ismaili culture with melodic structures from traditional choral songs. Janmohamed had already made a name for himself writing pieces that reflected multicultural perspectives. In 2004, he was asked by the Westcoast Sacred Arts Society in Vancouver to compose a piece with Russell Wallace from the Lil’wat nation to explore how Ismaili and Indigenous cultures could be harmonized.

Janmohamed’s unique focus on multicultural choral singing garnered success early on in his career, and led to high-profile performances and opportunities to found other diverse choirs. The piece he co-wrote with Wallace was performed for His Holiness the Dalai Lama during his visit to Vancouver in 2004. More recently he led two global Ismaili music ensembles to commemorate the 80th birthday and Diamond Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan.

Since assembling the Vancouver Ismaili Youth Choir, Janmohamed has gone on to be a founding co-conductor of Cor Flammae, Canada’s first queer professional choir in Vancouver, and the Awaaz Ensemble, a cross-cultural a cappella choral ensemble in Toronto.

“[The indigenous scholar and elder] Lee Maracle says that if we’re not at the table together, we can’t shape a shared future, and I think for me, how I come to the table is by bringing choral music to the cultures and traditions that I belong to,” Janmohamed says.

He says that while many audiences members tell him that they feel inspired by the interweaving of music from different cultures in his work — as in the songs currently performed by the Awaaz Ensemble — he has noticed that some people still don’t understand what his music tries to achieve. They will come to him and request songs that are less spiritual or, on the flip side, songs that sound more ‘Arabic.’

“There is not a great understanding of how music of the Muslim world is diverse or how historically Jews, Muslims, Christians and many other religious communities intersected harmoniously,” he explains.

Now working on a PhD at the University of Toronto, Janmohamed continues to explore this cultural divide in music through scholarship, while at the same time trying to close that divide through his work as a composer, conductor and singer of choral music. It is a slow, ongoing process, but Janmohamed believes we all have a desire to get there.

“We desire connection, we desire unity and healing. There is a therapeutic element to my work that tries to do that.”

Singer-songwriter Nat Jay on music licensing, grant-writing, and getting her first big break on The L-Word

Note: This is the second story in a new series that profiles UBC School of Music alumni who have followed interesting and innovative paths to career success.

By Aryn Strickland

Nat Jay performing live at the Rickshaw Theatre

Nat Jay performing live at the Rickshaw Theatre

While the rise of Spotify and other music streaming services has been a boon for major artists like Taylor Swift or Drake, this new economic model has arguably made it harder for independent and emerging artists to make a living by selling their music. The alternative, says singer-songwriter Nat Jay (Minor’04) is to diversify.

Jay has won national awards for her lyrical pop-folk songs and shared the stage with top Canadian artists like Juno-winner Dan Mangan. But instead of signing with a record label, Jay followed a less traditional path to musical success. She has built a thriving career by licensing the rights to her songs for use in TV and movie productions.

Her songs have been heard on popular shows and movies across North America, including Heartland on the CBC and Awkward on MTV. And while she performs mostly in local festivals— like Vancouver’s Folk Fest and Spirit of the Sea Fest— she has amassed a following that stretches a lot further because of the exposure from these placements.

“My sync placements made me realize it was actually possible to have a career and generate an income in the music industry,” Jay says. “It has given me an international fan base that I could never have built otherwise,” she says.

But it was while working on the other side of television production that Jay learned about music licensing.

“I didn’t know [licensing] was a thing until it happened. I had just done my first demo, I had a bunch of burned CDs Sharpied with my name on it. I was in between jobs and I was doing some extra work on the show called The L word and I made a friend who was like, ‘I know the assistant director to a show called Men in Trees on ABC, I am going to pass your demo on to her,’” she explains. To Jay’s surprise, she received a message soon after from the show’s supervisor in L.A. asking to use one of the tracks during a big end-of-episode scene.



WATCH: Nat Jay performs her song "What I'm made of"



Following the experience, Jay connected with music supervisors at other networks to make sure they knew about her music. She also began offering seminars on the process to other musicians. It’s all part of her holistic approach to the business of music, which has since expanded to include writing grants to support her work and helping other musicians to do the same. As with sync licensing, she knew very little about grant writing going in but has turned this into another major source of income.

“Grants are an awesome source of income that we have in Canada that they don’t have in every country. It’s been the difference between doing and not doing [music] a lot of the time.”

Depending on the funder, the application process can require a marketing plan, a budget and a career history. Often the process scares off artists, Jay says. Jay has made a point of learning the ins-and-outs to the point where now she gets hired to write grants for friends in the industry like the band The Fugitives.

According to Jay, upcoming artists need to learn to diversify their means of income. “It’s naïve to think that you can just write music, play and people will come to your show and buy your music,” she says. “I think these days artists have to be entrepreneurs… I think that they need to learn about the different streams of income.”

Follow Nat Jay on Twitter and Instagram.

Pianist Lucas Wong on finding new ways to inspire audiences and students

Note: This is the first story in a new series that profiles UBC School of Music alumni who have followed interesting and innovative paths to career success.

By Andrew Hung

Lucas Wong - 4.jpg

It is difficult to give Lucas Wong (BMus’04) a specific label or title.

The UBC School of Music alumnus is a concert pianist and recording artist, but his career goals extend far beyond performance. He is also a university professor, a collaborator in a computer software project for piano students, a textbook writer, and the founder of the lecture-recital series, Mostly Debussy.

“I always enjoyed talking about music as much as I enjoy playing music,” Wong says. “As pianists, we have to look for new ways to engage the audience in our programs. One of the ways is by interacting with the audience and introducing pieces to them.”

 Mostly Debussy was featured at the Roy Barnett Recital Hall in September, a concert in which Wong performed Debussy’s Pagodes from Estampes, as well as several selections from his collection of Préludes and Etudes. As part of the concert he also explained how the pieces work and what makes them so compelling.

The lecture-recital series is currently in its fourth year, and has featured the works of Debussy and Stravinsky, as well as Chopin and the French Romantic composer Emmanuel Chabrier.

Next year, the final year of Mostly Debussy, will be an important one. It is the 100th anniversary of Debussy’s passing, and to commemorate the event, Wong has commissioned three composers to each write a work for the series.  One of the objectives of these compositions is to reflect Debussy’s late work, the Cello Sonata. 

Just a year before starting Mostly Debussy, Wong began collaborating with computer science students and professors at the Chinese University of Hong Kong to create a software that will make piano reductions — that is, simplified arrangements or transcriptions of an original score or composition — more accessible for performers, educators, or anyone who simply enjoys music.

“It will be cool if one day, if someone pulls out the iPad, and says, ‘I feel like playing the second movement of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony on the piano,” Wong says. “‘And maybe my technique isn’t too great, so give me a very simple version.’ And if that can be done in five seconds, that would change a lot of how people can appreciate music.”

Wong expects that the final product will be the first software of its kind on the market. In the meantime, the project poses interesting challenges.

“It’s more complicated than we actually expected.  Even the word ‘harmony’ opens up so many different things that one still tries to accomplish.  What is the harmony?  Or what are the possibilities?  Computers don’t usually like the word ‘possibilities.’” 



LISTEN: Lucas Wong performs Debussy and Chabrier

In the same year that the software project began, Wong also began work on a textbook for keyboard harmony students, although he didn’t realize it at first.  As one of the first faculty members in the Soochow University School of Music’s performance program, he had the opportunity to create a course from scratch, which was eventually named “Advanced Musicianship and Improvisation Skills for Keyboard.”  Wong began writing the course outline and syllabus, originally without the intention of creating a textbook.  But as the worksheets he wrote for his students grew in number, he realized that he had a textbook in the making.

“I’ve revised the format of the book many times, internally.  I’m on the fourth or fifth edition, without publishing it.  Hopefully, someday we’ll have it done,” he laughs.

Wong was once a student reading textbooks, not writing them. He was a very busy student. He played chamber music, collaborated with singers, and played for UBC Opera’s rehearsals.  In his first year, Wong also played cello in the UBC Symphony.

He recalls the instructors who made an impact on him as a student at the UBC School of Music – Bob Pritchard, Rena Sharon, and Bruce Pullan.

With 2018 shaping up to be a big year, Wong appreciates the insights he picked up in his piano lessons and Piano Pedagogy courses at UBC, lessons about efficient practicing that has also translated to other areas of his career.

“When you have less and less time, you’ll find out that the only way to do it right is to do it efficiently. You have to always be very well with time management.” 

He pauses for a second.

“But most musicians are naturally very good with time management — onstage with rhythm!”

UBC Music Alumni and Students Receive 2016 SOCAN Young Composer Awards

UBC Music alumni with degrees in composition were awarded Young Composer Awards from the SOCAN Foundation (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada).

The Sir Ernest MacMillan Awards

1st Place: Hoi Chak Roydon Tse (BMus’13) – Genesis 2015
3rd Place: Joseph Glaser (BMus’14) – Ecstasis

The Serge Garant Awards

2nd Place: David Storen (MMus’16) – Mångata

The Pierre Mercure Awards

3rd Place: Hoi Chak Roydon Tse (BMus’13) – Meditation

The Godfrey Ridout Awards

1st Place: Katerina Gimon (current MMus student) – Elements


Recent Wins from the Keyboard Division

Nicole Linaksita (BMus’16) was chosen as one of six semi-finalists (out of twenty-eight accepted to the competition from across Canada) at the prestigious Stepping Stones Competition in Québec, and won a $1,000 scholarship. Nicole was also chosen to represent Vancouver at the BCRMTA Provincial competition in September 2016. Nicole is a student of Corey Hamm.

Susan Xia (BMus Piano Performance 2nd year) was runner up at the Musicians Dream Aid Competition. Susan is a student of Corey Hamm

Natalie Lo (BMus’16) won 4th prize at the 2016 Shean Piano Competition in Edmonton. She also won the prize for Best Performance of the Required Work. Natalie won first prize (senior category) in the Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra Clef Concerto Competition held May 30-31, 2016. Natalie was chosen as the Senior winner at the Vancouver Kiwanis Festival, and was also Runner Up for the Provincial National Class. Natalie is a student of Corey Hamm.

Carter Johnson (BMus Piano Performance 2nd year) won 3rd prize at the 2016 Shean Piano Competition in Edmonton. Carter was also the winner at the Vancouver Kiwanis Music Festival, and runner-up in the Provincial Music Festival – National Class. Carter is a student of Mark Anderson.

UBC Music alumna Jocelyn Lai (BMus’13) was awarded 2nd place at the 2016 Shean Piano Competition.

Former UBC Music student Gene Emerson won first prize at the Yarilo Piano Competition. Gene will have the opportunity to play with an orchestra in the coming season.

Davy Lau was chosen as Intermediate winner at the Vancouver Kiwanis Music Festival

Jaeden Izik-Dzurko won first place at the Provincial Music Festival – National Class and will represent BC at the Nationals.

Gene, Davy and Jaeden are all students in Corey Hamm‘s piano studio. Jaeden also studies with Ian Parker.

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.

UBC Music nominations from 2016 Western Canadian Music Awards

Congratulations to UBC School of Music faculty and alumni for their 2016 Western Canadian Music Award Nominations!

Classical Artist/Ensemble of the Year

  • Couloir: Ariel Barnes and Heidi Krutzen (faculty)
  • Turning Point Ensemble and musica intima
  • Paolo Bortolussi (faculty)

Turning Point Ensemble includes several UBC Music faculty:
Jeremy Berkman trombone
Brenda Fedoruk flute
Vern Griffiths percussion
François Houle clarinet
Benjamin Kinsman horn
Heidi Krutzen harp

The nominated recording, Thirst (Redshift Records), includes Karen Wilson (BMus’74), producer and Will Howie (BMus’04), recording engineer and digital editor.

Classical Composition of the Year

  • Songs from the Rainshadow’s Edge – Benton Roark (MMus’07, DMA’13)
  • Birds of Paradise Lost – John Oliver (BMus’82)
  • 15 for Piano – Howard Bashaw (MMus’84 and DMA’89)

World Artist of the Year

  • Mazacote

Malcolm Aiken (MMus’09) is a member of Mazacote.

The 14th annual Western Canadian Music Awards show will be hosted on Thursday, October 13th, 2016 at Casino Regina.

Congratulations to all our friends nominated by BreakOut West!

Students & Alumni Awards Digest: Winter 2016

UBC Music Students Lo, Linaksita and Johnson Advance in 2016 Piano Competitions

January 27, 2016

Nicole Linaksita is the winner of the Vancouver chapter of the BCRMTA Piano Competition and will represent Vancouver in the Provincial Competition in Fall 2016.

Natalie Lo and Carter Johnson have been chosen as finalists in the Shean Piano Competition, which will be held May 19-21, 2016 in Edmonton, Alberta.

Natalie and Nicole are both 5th year piano majors in the BMus program and study with Corey Hamm. Carter is a 2nd year piano major in the BMus program and studies with Mark Anderson.

2016 UBC Concerto Competition Results

February 1, 2016

WINNER: Melody Yuan violin – Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major
1st Runner-Up: Keira Chapman voice – Glière Concerto for Coloratura and Orchestra
2nd Runner-Up: Charlotte Beglinger voice – Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen

The final round of the 2016 UBC Concerto Competition took place on Saturday, January 30, 2016.

UBC Music Students & Alumni Win at VWMS 2016 Voice Competition

February 10, 2016

The results of the Vancouver Women’s Musical Society (VWMS) 2016 Voice Competition are in. UBC Music student Camille Holland (MMus’16) soprano received 1st Place and the Ann Vaisbord Scholarship.

Honourable mentions went to current students Chandra-Lee Curry (BMus’17), Jason Klippenstein (DMA’18) and UBC Music alumna Taylor Pardell (MMus’13). More information


Chelsea Rus wins $25K Wirth Vocal Prize


February 10, 2016
Excerpt from CBC Music Blog by Robert Rowat

Chelsea Rus, soprano, is the winner of the 2016 Wirth Vocal Prize. The announcement was made Sunday, Feb. 7, at Tanna Schulich Hall in Montreal, following a public performance by four finalists.

Rus is from Abbotsford, B.C., and is enrolled in a master’s program at the Schulich School of Music, a student of Joanne Kolomyjec. She impressed the jury with a performance of music by Puccini, Massenet, Gounod and Richard Strauss.

“I’m shocked, thrilled and excited for what this means and honoured to have been chosen as the winner,” said Rus to CBC Music following Sunday’s announcement. She said she views the $25,000 prize as a start-up fund for the company that is her young career. “This money will go toward future auditions, coachings, lessons and for the months when I don’t have contracts.”

Awarded for the first time, the Wirth Vocal Prize was established last year and will be given annually to an exceptional voice student at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University. It comes with a cash prize of $25,000 and a number of performance opportunities, including a recital at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.

Megan Thibeault named semi-finalist in Eckhardt-Gramatté Piano Competition

March 15, 2016

UBC Music student Megan Thibeault was chosen as a semi-finalist in the Eckhardt-Gramatté National Music Competition (piano), which will be held May 6-8, 2016 in Brandon, Manitoba. Megan is a 1st-year diploma student (piano) and studies with Corey Hamm.