Ben HeppnerBen Heppner’s unmistakable voice, warm and relaxed, is instantly familiar to CBC listeners as the host of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, and Backstage with Ben Heppner, sharing his great love for this music and a wealth of stories about the musical lives involved. Heppner first gained national attention in 1979 as winner of the CBC Talent Festival and went on to become one of the world’s most celebrated dramatic tenors, renowned for heroic performances in a wide range of the most challenging operatic and concert repertoire – Wagner in particular. A Companion of the Order of Canada, Heppner is the recipient of numerous other awards and honours as a performer and recording artist. The Ben Heppner Vocal Academy, a TDSB elementary school in Scarborough is named for him, as is the main street in Dawson Creek BC – Ben Heppner Way.

Heppner announced his retirement from singing in 2014, but still performs occasionally. This summer he will headline the Lowville Festival on June 9, alongside the Lowville Festival Choir, and he has two summer festival engagements with the Toronto Mass Choir in a gospel program called “O Happy Day,” concerts which return to the music of his childhood. Heppner is the youngest of nine children born in 1956 to a Mennonite farming family in Murrayville BC (now part of the city of Langley).Today he lives in Toronto with his wife, Karen.

"I’ve had a very interesting career as an opera and concert singer. I’ve travelled extensively and got to sing with some of the best singers, conductors and orchestras in the world. Now I’ve gone to the dark side and have a career as a broadcaster. I love riding my Honda Gold Wing motorcycle and spending time with my five grandkids."Where were you born? My passport says I was born in Murrayville BC. Very few people know where that is. It’s actually part of the City of Langley these days.

Were there any working musicians in your childhood family? No. My dad (Ben) worked out in the barn and the fields and my mom (Kae) held down the fort with the kids and domestic concerns.

About your childhood home and family life? I was what people called an “afterthought.” (After, they wished they’d thought.). I’m five years younger than my next sibling. It’s complicated but, by the time I was nine or ten I had the house all to myself. My family moved to the Peace River region of BC when I was two and a half. First we lived in a remote place called Clayhurst. But after I burned down the house we relocated to the bustling hamlet of Doe River. My dad retired from farming when I was eight years old and we moved to the metropolis of Dawson Creek. (Trust me it’s not like the TV show!) I graduated from the South Peace Senior Secondary School in 1973.

How did music fit into your childhood? In my childhood home you would have been given away to another family if you couldn’t sing. We sang in church, doing the dishes and even driving in the car. Music was something that was made not listened to. There was no record player at home: I heard vinyl LPs only at other people’s houses, or the library. It was at the library that I found things to satisfy my music cravings.

First recollections of making music? When I was about three my family was asked to sing in church. I practised with my Mom and my brother and sisters all week long. When it was time for my family to sing – I was told to stay behind in the pew with Dad. I was bummed. But once the music started, I stood like a tin soldier on the church pew and belted out the alto part. I remember a solo with the kids’ choir at church: I stuffed my hands in my pockets and refused to look up.

What was your first instrument, if any, other than your own voice? I started playing trumpet in seventh grade and made my way to the lower-sounding instruments French horn and euphonium.

Do you remember seeing an orchestra for the first time? An opera? I remember standing in front of the TV and imitating the conductor. Remember – I grew up in Dawson Creek – so there were no shows to see. Quite frankly I detested opera. It wasn’t until I started to train at the U of T Opera School that I started to like it.

Do you remember thinking you’d do something else? After the policeman/fireman stage I thought of being a minister. That’s why I went to theological school first. After a year of theology in Regina I mounted my campaign to conquer the world from the University of BC. I thought I would be a high school music teacher.

How did music fit into your own children’s lives? We sang a lot – like when I was growing up. I made the kids take piano lessons and we encouraged any type of music they liked. Country music is forbidden, however.

Does teaching/mentoring fit into your current musical life? No. I did a year subbing in for a sabbatical leave at McGill. I had fun with the students but didn’t feel the urge to do more.

Where does making / hearing music fit into your current personal and family life at home and in your community? A couple of times a year we have a community get-together and sing. Christmas carols and hymns are the main thing.

If you were driving ALONE and could sing along to ANY recording, what would you choose? Something by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

Taken at a dress fitting – I think it reflects the fun-loving nature in my childhood picture!Andrea Ludwig was born and raised in Regina SK. Her mother was a nurse and her father was a German Lutheran pastor. In her childhood home were three brothers and two sisters who each played an instrument and they all sang. Their mother entered them in the Kiwanis Music Festival as a small ensemble “kind of like the Von Trapps.” After high school Ludwig moved to Toronto with the intent of working for a year or two and then going to U of T for piano but entered the vocal performance program three years later.

Today the JUNO-nominated mezzo-soprano performs in concert with a wide range of presenters and has sung numerous roles with the Canadian Opera Company, Edmonton Opera, Philadelphia Opera, San Francisco Opera and the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence. Recently The Landlady in The Overcoat (Canstage/Tapestry) she’s currently singing the same role at Vancouver Opera. Upcoming recordings include Galicians 2 with the Ukrainian Art Song Project and Ana Sokolovićs Sirens for the ATMA label (summer 2018).

Andrea Ludwig lives in Toronto’s Oakwood Village, with her 12-year-old son Lucas, who is in Grade 7 and sings with the Canadian Children's Opera Company. Beyond music, some of her other pleasures/pastimes include playing the piano, reading, exercising and binge-watching Netflix.

Suppose a friendly fellow asks what you do for a living? This is how it usually goes … Well, I'm an opera/classical singer. They are often really interested but not always understanding how I could possibly make a living doing that. I tell them that I have many contracts throughout the year and that I also am an accompanist for school choirs and a vocal coach.

Do you remember that childhood photo being taken? I do! I loved to dance to records in my living room. My uncle, Gerald Langner, who used to be the head of choral music at the University of Saskatchewan, happened to be visiting that day and saw how much fun I was having. So I danced to his playing the guitar! Feeling carefree, joyful, content.

Were there working musicians in your childhood family? My uncle [in the photo] was a choir director – first at LCBI, a private school in Outlook SK, and then head of music at U of S. I have a cousin in Germany who is a cellist with an orchestra.

Your earliest memories of hearing music? My mom told me that as a baby I would bop my head in precise rhythm to whatever music was playing. It seems as though my childhood centred around music at home, at school and at church. I think we listened to CBC Radio a fair amount but primarily it was through records at home and of course singing in choirs at church and in high school.

First recollection of making music? Playing with my toys and making up songs as the toys went along on their toy business. I also loved sitting at the piano and dreaming about taking lessons. I made my singing debut at age two on audio cassette, singing a German Christmas carol, with my siblings humming in harmony in the background. My Mom taught me basic little songs on the piano and we would play duets together. This was before I started formal lessons.

I started piano lessons at the age of four.

A first music teacher? My piano teacher’s name was Miss Stinson, who also happened to be in the same piano classes with Stuart Hamilton (while they were growing up in Regina). She used to “threaten to sit on me” if I ever forgot my books or if my fingernails were too long! Good memories of her were playing student/teacher duets at Kiwanis and always winning First Place.

When did you first perform for an audience? I started competing at Kiwanis when I was eight-years-old and then started accompanying choirs at church and school when I was 15.

Experiences that helped to form your appetite for staged works? Definitely … going on tours with my high school choir, both as a singer and an accompanist. When I was in Grade 10, I played piano in the band for the school's production of Fiddler on the Roof, and I remember how thrilling it was to be a part of that.

When did you begin to think of music as a career? I was still in high school. I always wanted to be a concert pianist. I loved to sing as well but at the time, piano was my thing. Quite honestly, I thought being a pianist was the be all end all. I never dreamt that one day my vocation would be as a singer. At 19 I started voice lessons and a spark was started.

Does teaching/mentoring fit into your current musical life? Absolutely. I really enjoy working with children's choirs. I currently play for and mentor a few choirs at a public school in the city. Full disclosure: it's how I met my partner, who is the music teacher there. His former accompanist quit last summer and a friend recommended me to him. I am also starting to do more vocal coaching with people of all ages.

Where does music fit into your life at home?. My home is my workspace so making music and hearing music is ever present, both for work and pleasure. Both of my kids have been, and are, involved in music. My 20-year-old daughter used to sing with the CCOC and at our church with Eleanor Daley. She also enjoys composing music on her guitar. My son sings with the CCOC and has the lead role in the world premiere of The Monkiest King, written by Alice Ping Ho. He also plays the trumpet in his school band.

What would you say to parents hoping their young children will grow up to love and make music? Nurture their love for music. Be encouraging and supportive. Know that music is a universal language, that everything we do in life is interconnected and music always ties into every facet of our lives. Whether they decide to be a performer or a music educator, know that it is a worthy vocation.

If you were all ALONE (in the shower, driving) and could sing along to ANY recording, what would you choose? Oh boy that's a tough one. I would say that I would sing along like a crazy woman to anything by Heart or Billy Joel. If it's classical, Susan Graham singing the songs of Reynaldo Hahn and pretty much anything with Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson.


Andrea Ludwig will be the soprano soloist for Handel's Israel in Egypt with the Bach Elgar Choir May 26 and 27

Then she’ll be performing in The Overcoat with Vancouver Opera.

Ukrainian Art Song Project’s Spring Salon Concert is May 24 at Gallery 345: "From the Roots of Ukrainian Art Song to a Galician Experience.” – work by six composers sung by Andrea Ludwig, Laura McAlpine and Andrew Skitho, with Robert Kortgaard at the piano.

Then she’ll be singing with Soundstreams on June 6 and 7 - Little Match Girl Passion by David Lang and I Think We Are Angels by James Rolfe.

Ludwig’s most recent recording is Schubert Orchestrations with Symphony Nova Scotia under the direction of Bernhard Gueller, which recently won Best Classical Recording at the Nova Scotia Music Awards and is up for Best Classical at East Coast Music Awards.

Her upcoming release is Galicians 2 with the Ukrainian Art Song Project (for August 2018). This summer she will record Ana Sokolovićs Sirens for the ATMA label.

Kiyoshi Nagata lives in Scarborough, but spends most of his time in Richmond Hill caring for his mother, or in downtown Toronto with his musician girlfriend. Besides living and breathing taiko music, Kiyoshi religiously goes to the gym each morning to work out and clear his head and prepare for each day. During the school year, he teaches taiko drumming at U of T's Faculty of Music. Kiyoshi loves drinking sake, red wine and craft beer on a nightly basis (not all three at the same time), and enjoys trying new local restaurants usually on Sunday evenings. On his off days, which are rare, his favourite things to do are to walk along Toronto Islands, or catch a small independent movie with his girlfriend.

Kiyoshi NagataKiyoshi Nagata is the artistic director of the taiko drum ensemble Nagata Shachu, formed in 1998. Rooted in the folk-drumming traditions of Japan the ensemble makes innovative and exciting music that continues to create a new voice for the taiko. These are physically demanding, spirited performances that feature diverse repertoire for taiko (including the massive O-Daiko drum), bamboo flutes, the three-stringed shamisen, gongs, cymbals, shakers and wood blocks.

Nagata’s own 35-year journey includes studies in both Canada and Japan. He has taught a credit course in taiko at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music since 1998. He also established a public taiko course at the RCM in Toronto and is regularly invited by universities and community taiko groups to conduct workshops and present lectures, Nagata composes and performs taiko music for dance, theatre, film and radio and continues to collaborate with artists from all genres of music including traditional Japanese instrumentalists.

Born and raised in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Nagata’s father worked in the auto fleet department of Ontario Hydro and his mother was a secretary/bookkeeper. He says that his parents always listened to Japanese enka music (a popular traditional/ballad style) but his father also liked to Nat King Cole and Benny Goodman. He attended Bayview Secondary school in Richmond Hill, graduated in political science from U of T, and then moved to Japan to further his taiko training.

Kiyoshi NagataAbout your childhood photo…? This was definitely taken at Halloween. I guess I was a banjo-playing Mountie! I never played the banjo but it was probably the very first instrument that I ever owned. The photo reminds me of a very happy childhood with loving parents. Coming from a working-class family, we didn’t have much, but we had a lot of fun.

First memories of hearing music? My parents had one of those large furniture phonograph consoles that I would always play records on. I do specifically remember listening to 78 rpm records of Old MacDonald and Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head by BJ Thomas. My grandmother played the three-stringed shamisen, and my mother and three sisters did Japanese dance with it.

Where did hearing music generally fit into your life as a child? I was always listening to the radio especially 1050 CHUM (when they were still a pop station) and would set up my portable tape recorder against the speakers to record my favourite songs. In high school, vinyl was king and I had a great sound system in my room in which I would escape from the rest of the world listening to Supertramp, Rush, Led Zepplin and AC/DC! My musical tastes changed over the years, listening to more new romantic 80s music as well as attending many Toronto Symphony Orchestra concerts throughout university.

Your very first recollection of making music? I remember clearly, the first time I made music was playing the taiko drum at age 12 at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. I learned a simple song called Don Doko Bayashi, which was a simple four-bar pattern repeated over and over again. It was exhilarating. Later I played tenor sax in the school band: my first music teacher in high school, Mr. Flemming, was very encouraging and kind. In fact, he tried to persuade me to audition for the National Youth Orchestra. I really enjoyed playing in the high school band where the main objective was to be unified and sound as one. This was a very appealing concept for me. When I started learning taiko, I became obsessed with the philosophy of working together to create something new, exciting and in the moment.

Do you remember an event at which you first performed for an audience? My very first performance was at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square in 1982 where the Japanese community held its annual Obon Festival (to honor the dead). That’s when the performing bug hit me!

Can you think of experiences that helped to form your appetite for staged performance, and for the multi-genre collaborative music which is part of what you do today? My first time seeing the Kodo drummers from Japan in the early 1980s really set the stage for me (no pun intended) to consider the possibilities of making music and performing as a career. I was entranced by the fact that these drummers were making music using their entire bodies. The combination of physical strength, spirit and musicality had a lasting impression on me. Another concert which really opened my mind was to see John Wyre’s (NEXUS) concert of World Drums. That helped me to understand the potential of making music together without the need of spoken language or a score.

Do you remember when you began to think of yourself as a career musician? When I returned from studying with the Kodo drummers in 1994, I set out to become a freelance taiko drummer. It was the first time where I actually understood that my livelihood depended on how much work I could get from performing, teaching and composing. It was a little scary, but I was young at the time and I guess a little bit fearless or naïve. I’ve never seriously considered doing anything else. In my early 40s, I felt like I reached the point of no return. I had no other skill sets besides drumming and could think of nothing else that I wanted to do.

How does teaching/mentoring fit into your current musical life? Teaching has always kept me grounded. It gets me back to the fundamentals which is so important for what I do. I very much enjoy sharing my passion and knowledge to the next generation of taiko drummers as well as recreational beginners as well!

Where music fit into your current personal life at home? After a very stressful day, there is nothing more I enjoy than coming home and playing music (anything from Sade, Van Morrison, Neil Young, David Sylvian etc) on my system while sipping a glass of red wine!

What could you say to parents hoping their young children will grow up to love and make music? Be encouraging and supportive. I could not have become the musician I am today without my parents’ help and some financial support along the way. Your child will not necessarily choose to become a professional musician, but will be much more rounded and fulfilled by learning and playing music.

If you were all ALONE (in the shower, driving) and could sing along with complete abandon to ANY recording, what would you choose? Nessun Dorma (Puccini)!

Kiyoshi NagataUPCOMING Nagata Shachu engagements

April 15, 8pm: guest artists with the Esprit Orchestra performing the Canadian premiere of Maki Ishii’s Mono-Prism for taiko and orchestra at Koerner Hall;

May 4, 7pm: performance at Toronto Public Library – Parkdale branch;

May 24, 6:30pm: performance at Toronto Public Library – Palmerston branch;

May 28, 7pm: performance at Toronto Public Library – Fairview branch;

June 2, 8pm: Harboufront Theatre Centre: Nagata Shachu’s 2017-2018 season finale concert “Shamisen X Taiko,” a collaboration with shamisen virtuoso Masahiro Nitta (Japan).

His ensembles and projects include: The Flying Bulgars, The David Buchbinder Quartet, Nomadica, Odessa/ Havana, and KUNÉ – Canada’s Global Orchestra. He is the creator of multidisciplinary spectacles “The Ward”, “Shurum Burum Jazz Circus”, “Tumbling Into Light” and “Andalusia.” He is also a co-founder of Toronto’s Ashkenaz Festival, and founder and director of Diasporic Genius. 


March 17: David Buchbinder Quartet at Home Smith Bar, The Old Mill, Toronto;
March 23: Odessa/Havana at The Jazz Room, Waterloo;
April 7: Odessa/Havana in a double bill at Koerner Hall, Toronto – a CD release for KUNÉ – Canada’s Global Orchestra – a project of the Royal Conservatory. Buchbinder is the artistic director;
April 17: “5 David Buchbinder Ensembles in 5 Nights” at The Stone, The New School, New York City;
June 21 & 22 “The Ward Cabaret” at a major culture festival, details and ticket release date April 10.

AND JUST RELEASED: a third CD for David Buchbinder’s Odessa/Havana – Conversations of the Birds – available at Soundscapes on College St. or contact

David Buchbinder (middle/back) with Lucas McNeely, Maggie Tang and Roula Said, last summer during a festival in Thorncliffe Park (a Diasporic Genius project.)

DAVID BUCHBINDER (in his own words) lives in Toronto’s Trinity-Bellwoods neighbourhood, with his wife – teacher, musician and dancer Roula Said – their daughter Laila, and their communicative cat Calliope. In their basement apartment lives a very busy costume designer. Besides creating and playing music, producing shows and recordings for his own projects and a growing number of unique artists, not to mention his involvement with story as an engine of creative transformation and connection across boundaries, David is a student of art, cities and the power of direct experience. He loves to cook and garden (when he has time), and after many years as a baseball fan, he’s recently fallen in love with the Raptors.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Buchbinder grew up in St. Louis and then Toronto. His father was a social worker, community organizer, and then a university professor. His mother worked at home, went back to university to finish her degree, then worked in social services when the family moved to Toronto in 1969. Buchbinder’s father had an amateur folk-singing group that played at meetings, community events, even at a few demonstrations. “He played and sang in a rough but committed way.” David’s brother Amnon who played bassoon for a few years, is a film director and writer who teaches screenwriting at York University. After attending “a weird alternative public school called M.A.G.U. (I kid you not)” young David flew to London and spent the next few months hitchhiking alone around Europe, then lived on a kibbutz for eight months.

About your childhood photo … I have total recall of the whole long weekend we were up there, including the photo session (done by one of the fathers). Seeing this photo just connects me to the strength of that group and the power of having a crew of boys to run with at that age [eight]. This particular group overlapped with another “gang” that had free reign throughout our St. Louis neighbourhood, where we came and went with very little parental oversight. It was a great way to grow up.

David Buchbinder

Your earliest memories of hearing music? Likely recorded music, with biggest impact first from American folk music (Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger), and then 60s rock (Beatles, Stones, Frank Zappa). By the time I was seven I was attending events, concerts and 60s-style Happenings where I was always entranced by the band and the musicians; some classical concerts (St; Louis Symphony); my father singing and playing guitar and my mother singing, protest songs (the organizers of the St. Louis SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) lived in our house. We went to synagogue intermittently and we sang Jewish Sabbath and holiday songs regularly.

First experiences making music? Beside lots of singing in various contexts, I remember playing music at some early piano lessons (didn’t last long, I was kind of scared of the very old teacher and her house smelled funny). My public school teacher connected me with my first trumpet teacher because I got into playing right away, in Grade 3. He was co-principal trombone in the St. Louis Symphony and I wish I could remember his name because he was an amazing teacher. He was warm, effective, and he encouraged me to write some music.

The roots of your appetite for jazz and world music? All the experiences of hearing live music along the way: I was always entranced by it, regardless of the genre. When we moved to Toronto I stopped playing trumpet until I was almost 20 – during that time I got pulled into the folk/country blues world. Those source recordings of the amazing African American musicians who were the pioneers of the music had a profound impact on me. In my mid-teens I got into jazz, with the bridge from the blues being Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Their music was a revelation because I could grasp what they were communicating, in sound and story both. This all led me to many concerts (very underage) at the Colonial Tavern on Yonge St.: Mingus, Yusef Lateef, Dizzy and many others. World music came much later.

Do you remember when you began to think of yourself as a career musician? I was kind of disdainful of the idea of career and striving towards that, since my orientation was direct experience of life in situations where one could test oneself (I started hitchhiking to New York when I was 15), looking for adventure.

Did you ever think you’d do something else? The only other idea I had was live fast and die young.

Does teaching/mentoring fit into your current musical life? Not in the usual way,, for the most part. In the last seven years I have done a bunch of leading and mentoring of non-artists from diverse backgrounds using a suite of creativity tools I developed and adapted. Recently I’ve done some workshops with elite musicians introducing new creative concepts for their own development.

Where does making / hearing music fit into your current personal and family life at home?

My wife and I have a band together, and have done many gigs together. Our daughter has been fairly resistant to doing music together, though she’s quite talented and plays some instruments. Sometimes we go to concerts together.

What would you say to parents hoping their young children will grow up to love and make music?

Mostly to just expose them to it in many different ways, If they pick it up or get interested, get them some instruction and be fairly committed to keeping them going with it. Definitely do your best to make it part of their everyday life.

If you were all ALONE (in the shower, driving) and could sing along with complete abandon to ANY recording, what would you choose? But it’s All Over Now by Dr. John and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Great road trip music.

Born in Truro, Nova Scotia, soprano Jane Archibald’s 2017/18 season includes three productions with the Canadian Opera Company; also Carmina Burana with the Joven Orquesta Nacional d’Espana in Madrid, and Rinaldo with the English Concert. Recent engagements have taken her to major opera houses in Zurich, Paris, Milan, Berlin, London and the Metropolitan Opera.

Jane Archibald at Diane’s Clams in Five Islands, Nova Scotia.Jane Archibald lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with her husband (tenor Kurt Streit), her children and multiple dust-bunnies. Beyond music, some of her other hobbies include reading, bargain hunting, baking, sleeping-in and DIY projects.

Suppose you're chatting with a friendly fellow traveller who asks what you do for a living? I usually try to avoid actually talking about it at all costs! I can be a bit of an introvert and I like to go to my zen place when travelling. I try to give a friendly smile, a bit of small talk and then get immersed in a book! :-) Sorry, fellow travellers, if I’ve offended over the years!

Jane ArchibaldAbout your childhood photo …? I don’t remember that day – I believe I would have only been about two and a-half in this pic, but I remember many days like it in my early childhood. We often went to Victoria Park -- a beautiful park gifted to the town of Truro, in NS, with trails, waterfalls, a playground and pool. It makes me think of the smell of fall, the rustle of leaves and all the beautiful colours we get at that time of year in Nova Scotia. And being on a swing is the quintessential carefree childhood experience.

Where did you attend high school? Cobequid Educational Centre, Truro NS

And right after high school? I did a B. Mus in voice performance at Wilfrid Laurier University.

What’s your earliest childhood memory of music?  I imagine it must have been hearing singing, as all parents sing to their babies, but I don’t recall a specific moment. My father played the piano daily, and I imagine I heard that even in utero!

What did your parents do? My father was a physician (GP) and my mother worked for the government before (Consumer Affairs) and after (Dept. of Agriculture) we were born, and was a homemaker for 15 years during our childhood.

Who lived with you in your childhood home? Me, my mother and father, and my younger sister and brother, plus several cats (all named Smokey -- we were really original!)

Musicians in your family? My father probably should have been a musician – he was a talented amateur jazz pianist and it gave him great joy to play. My younger brother and sister both played in the school band. My mother doesn’t consider herself musical, but she is very artistic and creative.

 Where did hearing music generally fit into your life as a child? Daily piano music from my father. Not much radio at home. I know my parents had records, and tapes, but I don’t have a strong memory of them being played regularly. I did so much performing as a child that I don’t think there was much time left to attend concerts as an audience member, other than listening to other people in the same events in which I was singing.

Your first recollection of yourself making music? Singing to myself! I took piano lessons and group cello lessons for a few years and played trumpet in the school band. I never progressed beyond a beginner level of playing in any of those instruments. My favourite of the three was trumpet!

A first music teacher? My first music teacher was my school music teacher, Mary Shephard. She was intense and I adored her classes. Every spring, when the local music festival took place, all other classes took a decidedly second seat to preparing to compete in the local festival – it was a point of pride to win first place. Mary’s grand-daughters, by the way, are all big Canadian talents: Britta, Anika and Eliza Johnson!

Early experiences of making music with other people? I started taking solo voice lessons at age 11 and I loved that (obviously!!). But most of my time was actually spent making music in groups, which was very fulfilling. I played in the school band in elementary school and junior high (trumpet) and I sang in every choir around; I was in a nationally recognized girls’ choir called the First Baptist Girls’ Choir which exposed me to lots of choral works, Bach being a particular favourite. I also performed in school musicals in junior high and high school. All that kept me very busy and mostly very happy and engaged. It taught me so many life lessons and prepared me extremely well for my future career.

Do you remember an event at which you first performed for an audience (other than your family or a teacher)? I LOVED to sing but I was extremely self-conscious as a young child. People often mistook that shyness for a lack of self-esteem, but actually I was very confident in my abilities as a singer, even at a young age. I just didn’t enjoy the pressure of people staring at me, especially in a small room. I absolutely HATED (and still do!) being asked to sing for people in a casual setting. I was much more comfortable in a situation where the roles were clear and defined: performer and audience member. Not to say I didn’t have stage fright or nerves – most of us have to cope with that in the beginning – but I was much more at ease singing on a stage than, say, for a neighbour or jamming around a campfire. I remember the feeling of power, actually stepping onstage in my early years and being grateful the wait was over and it was time to actually sing.There was a thrill in striding confidently onto the stage to show what I could do, even as a kid!

Can you suggest experiences from your childhood or teen years that helped to form your appetite for staged works? Not really, though looking back, maybe I should have realized it with my school musical experiences (Mrs. Molloy in Hello Dolly and Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof) But really, most of my early performing experience was in a stand-and-sing setting, which lends itself more easily to concert and recital repertoire. I hadn’t had that much exposure to performing in staged (directed!) productions.

Presenting an opera aria or showtune in a concert setting is actually a real challenge, as you have to sort of act it out, but not do too much staging; plus you’re not in costume and you’re onstage as yourself, not as the character… and and and… I used to find that very awkward, though I’ve learned the knack of it over time. It’s MUCH easier to actually present a staged scene! Then I can really lose all inhibitions and sink my teeth into it, which I love!

Do you remember when you began to think of yourself as a career musician? Probably the second I graduated from high school!  My goal was always very clear and I never had any second thoughts about it. I was lucky to get continuous signs saying “keep going” as I progressed and I started to get work soon after graduating with my B.Mus.from WLU.

Do you remember a time when you thought you would do something else? As a young teenager, I was very interested in writing/English and also history. I thought archeology sounded cool, but it was a passing fascination. Honestly, by the time I was 16, I was pretty sure that I wanted to be a singer. I didn’t know what that really meant at that time, but I knew I needed to sing and I knew that was my talent. I had not narrowed it down beyond that, really, and for a time in my early training, I thought perhaps I could have a career doing only recital/concert work. It’s funny to think of that now because my career has actually been extremely opera-heavy. I’m attempting to balance that a bit now!

Does teaching/mentoring fit into your current musical life? Teaching is not part of my life at the moment. My performing career is in full swing (and requires constant travel), as is life as mother to a young child; those two jobs create a life of deep complexity and deep joy. I would not be able to devote enough time to teaching at this stage. But I have dipped my toe in the water with some masterclasses and have enjoyed that. I’m still gaining a vocabulary in that arena and have been blessed to hear some amazing students at McGill and U of T. I am doing some mentoring of the young artists of the COC Ensemble Studio as part of my artist-in-residence term with the COC.

What would you say to parents hoping their young children will grow up to love and make music? Encourage it, however it comes! First off, turn on the radio and sing around the house. Buy tickets to live events instead of – or in addition to – another toy. Then help them find an outlet to make music, especially in a group (choir/orchestra/band.) It’s such a thrilling experience and truly teaches so many important life skills, in addition to the sheer joy they will feel when they play/sing. If they continue to want to pursue it on a serious level as a soloist, they will let you know. You can use those community contacts you’ve made to help you navigate finding teachers and opportunities

Where does making / hearing music fit into your current personal/family life at home? It’s not as present as you might think in our downtime. My husband and I are both strict about setting aside time each day to learn new repertoire and practise for upcoming contracts. We do this Monday to Friday if we are home for any length of time and can actually pretend to be “normal” people with weekends off! (Ha!). But we often tend to set music aside in favour of other pursuits when we have time off for fun. If we do listen to music, it tends to be jazz, pop, R&B… I especially love 70s music -- both disco and rock ’n’ roll!

If you were all ALONE (in the shower, driving) and could sing along to ANY recording, what would you choose? Probably Messiah (the 1988 Trevor Pinnock disc with The English Concert), singing all parts, of course! I covet all the other singers’ arias! I should do a one-woman Messiah someday! Ha! They’d drag me off to the madhouse, but it sure would be fun. I’ve always liked this recording (especially John Tomlinson’s rumbly and powerful bass arias!)


I’m thrilled to be performing onstage at the COC twice more this season: in The Abduction from the Seraglio in February and The Nightingale in the spring. I’m also very excited about a noon recital on February 20 as part of the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre series.

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