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!)

UPCOMING…

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.

Peter Mahon on tour with St Michael’s Choir School in Germany.Peter Mahon lives in Toronto with his wife, Katharine and toy poodle, Molly. Away from music he enjoys sports, both watching (football, hockey and soccer), and as a participant (cycling, tennis and golf). He also enjoys undertaking home renovation projects. This summer, with major help from his son Andrew, he replaced all the hardwood floors in their house.

Toronto-born countertenor Peter Mahon is both a singer and a conductor. Still a member of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir after 36 years, he became the artistic director of the Tallis Choir of Toronto in 2003 after singing with them for many years. Mahon also conducts the Vespers Choir at St Michael's Cathedral, and for the past 11 years, has worked at St. Michael’s Choir School as a rehearsal conductor and voice coach.  Currently the interim Senior Choir director, his duties include selecting the music sung at cathedral services as well as training and conducting the Senior Choir which sings at the Sunday noon Mass.

As a singer Mahon has also performed with La Chapelle de Québec and the Theatre of Early Music, has appeared as a soloist in concerts and on recordings with Toronto Consort, Studio de musique ancienne de Montreal, Aradia Ensemble, Montréal Early Music Festival, Montreal Chamber Music Festival, Toronto Chamber Choir and the Grand River Chorus.

Mahon and his wife, soprano Katharine Pimenoff, have six children: four sopranos, one tenor and one bass.  Four are professional singers and one is an organist.

Andrew, Rachel, Teresa, Paul and Natalie, Katharine, Peter, Tanika, Christopher.Do you remember that childhood photo being taken? It was probably just before the high mass at St. Mary Magdalene’s Church, where we were parishioners. My parents joined the parish and the choirs very shortly after coming to Canada in 1948. My mother was a soprano in the Gallery Choir and my father was the cantor in the Ritual Choir.

Most Sundays we would find ourselves following Dr. David Ouchterlony’s beautiful Bentley as he chauffeured Dr. Willan to SMM. On one of those Sundays when we arrived at the same time, someone asked us to pose with Dr Willan. 

Outside the east door of St. Mary Magdalene on Ulster Street, in May 1963:  Dr. Healey Willan with cantor Albert Mahon and children Peter, Monica, and Catherine. Barbara (age two) was in the nursery. Albert’s wife, Anne, took the photograph.Imagine you could travel back through time and meet the young person in that childhood photo. Is there anything you would like to tell him, or ask him? I cannot think of anything that I would ask, but I would certainly tell myself to keep practising and not give up my piano lessons.  At that age, I had no idea that music would be such an important part of my life.

What would you say to parents hoping their young children will grow up to love and make music? Put them into a choir.  Private lessons are great but practising tends to be a solitary activity.  Singing in a choir is a social activity that can be shared with friends and this will often make taking private lessons, and all the practising that goes with it, easier to take. We never pushed our children into music but we did insist that they all join the church choir when they turned six.  It was part of their education. They were not enthusiastic but neither was I.  Once they started, they really enjoyed it.

Your earliest memory of hearing music? There was never a time when I did not hear music.  Hearing my parents sing every week in church, it was just a part of our life. Hearing a countertenor for the first time made an impression on me.  I remembered being captivated by the sound of Alfred Deller’s voice.

Your first memory of making music yourself? My earliest memory of singing was in school when the itinerant music teacher would visit the class once a week for 30 minutes.  It was always something that the whole class enjoyed. 

Where did you grow up, and go to school? I was born in Toronto and grew up with my four sisters in a small house in Willowdale.  My dad (Albert) was a life insurance salesman and my mother (Anne) was a full-time homemaker when we were younger and then a legal secretary when were grew old enough to take care of ourselves.

Although my parents sang, my sisters all took up instruments in the school orchestra, which they continued through high school. I was the only one who sang on a regular basis and that only happened because Walter MacNutt, the director of music at St. Thomas’s Church on Huron St. made a special trip over to St. Mary Magdalene one Sunday after mass to recruit me.  My dad introduced us and he made his pitch.  I was not very interested until he said all the choristers got paid.  Of course, my next question was, “How much?”

Our house was located directly across the street from Earl Haig Secondary School. Every year in the fall, before I got to high school, I used to hurry home to watch all the Earl Haig football games. In those days it was not an arts school – it was more of a football factory. They had great teams and always seemed to win their games.  I could not wait to get there. At that time, football was of much more interest than music.

Today, I have a lot of talented friends and colleagues who went to the same school, but the funny thing is that they are all at least 20 years younger than me. They went to Earl Haig after it became an arts school and today are very accomplished professional musicians.

While still in high school, I met the beautiful woman who sat next to my mother in the SMM Gallery Choir, Katharine Pimenoff.  She was in the Festival Singers of Canada and was also the first female member of the Toronto Consort.  In short order, she became the centre of my universe and after that I don’t remember much of anything.

In fact, at this point after nine years away at St. Thomas’s, I returned to SMM, my home parish.  Seeing me on my first Sunday back (and singing in the Gallery Choir) the rector said, “St. Thomas’ may have stolen you away with money, but I knew you would return.  All it took was the lure of the flesh.”

I had spent about five and a half years singing treble, the last two under protest. Although I was head chorister Walter would not let me leave the treble section.  Finally I went to him and said that it was just not right that someone who ran around all week playing high school football had to wear a ruff around his neck on Sunday. At 15, I also had a heavier beard that most of the tenors and basses.Thankfully, he relented and for the next three and a half years, Frank Nakashima and I were the alto section in the men and boys choir.

Hearing a countertenor for the first time made an impression on me.  I remembered being captivated by the sound of Alfred Deller’s voice. This, and then meeting and eventually working with Gary Crighton, long-time member of the Toronto Consort, had a huge impact on me becoming a countertenor. When I stopped singing treble, I was briefly a tenor at St. T’s, but singing in my chest voice was such a strange sensation after all those years singing treble.  I tried alto and Gary literally badgered me on the way into church on Christmas Eve to join the alto section and not continue as a tenor.  He convinced me and that was that.

After high school, I went to university and earned a BA. I had no intention of seeking a career in music but people started hiring me to sing and I just sort of backed into a career.

Did you play an instrument as a child? I took piano lessons up to grade six, but gave up too soon.  Football was all-consuming at the time.

Early experiences of making music with other people?  I remember singing at St. Thomas’s for the first time.  It was marvellous to sing the music that I had grown up hearing at SMM but I remember being disappointed by the awful acoustics.  I had gone from the lush resonance of SMM to the deadening wall-to-wall broadloom of St. Thomas’s.

When did you first conduct? I was asked to take a rehearsal and evensong at Grace Church on-the-Hill in 1983.

As an adult musician your work seems to be significantly focused on early music. What, if any, other kinds of music appeal to you? Being a countertenor, it was natural to gravitate to early music.  That was where the work was to be found and this has not changed. I have no particular favourite kind of music – I like many different styles.  It depends on what is playing on the radio at any one time. 

Can you recall when you began to think of yourself as a career musician?  I began to think of myself as a career musician before I turned 30.  However, I knew that I did not want the life of a soloist, travelling from gig to gig and being on the road eight to ten months a year.  I wanted to see my family grow up.  Consequently, I always had to find ways to supplement my income.  I settled on a career in real estate, retiring two years ago after 27 years in the business.

When did mentoring/educating younger people (other than your own children) become part of your focus?  I have been in a men and boys choir for over half a century.  First at St. Thomas’s, then Grace Church on-the-Hill, St. James Cathedral and now, St. Michael’s Cathedral.  It is just what I do.  As a treble, I remember taking great satisfaction from working with the adults in the choir and being treated as a colleague.  I would not say that we were equals, but we were shown a great deal of respect, which at that age I did not experience anywhere else. As I became an adult, it was just natural to pass on what I had learned.

Where does music fit into your family life today? All of our non-singing relatives hate it but we don’t sing at home. On the other hand, I make music every day at work.

If you were all alone and could sing along to ANY recording, what would you choose? Bach, Mass in B Minor

UPCOMING…

  • I conduct the Senior Choir at St. Michael’s Cathedral every Sunday at noon.
  • I conduct the Vespers Choir at St Michael's Cathedral, which sings on the first Sunday evening of every month at 7:00.
  • On November 25, at St. Patrick’s Church on McCaul St, I will be conducting the Tallis Choir in a performance of music by our namesake, including his incomparable 40-part motet, Spem in Alium, and Ecce Beatam Lucem, the 40-part motet by Alessandro Striggio that is said to have inspired Tallis.
  • On December 2 and 3, I will be conducting in the annual Christmas concert by St. Michael’s Choir School at Massey Hall.  This year for the first time, the Senior Choir will present Handel’s Messiah Pt 1, with orchestra and other seasonal favourites.
  • Later in December, I will be singing with the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir in Tafelmusik’s annual presentation of Messiah.

 

Wallis Giunta lives in beautiful Leipzig, in an unnecessarily large flat (hey, it’s East Germany!) with her guitar, Raven, her two bicycles, Tina and Nellie, and about 60 tomato plants. She fosters rabbits around the world, when she is travelling for longer contracts, and has taken in 18 of them over the past six years. She loves cycling, mountains, sunshine, devouring books and exploring the new parts of the world that her wonderful career introduces her to.Wallis Giunta lives in beautiful Leipzig, in an unnecessarily large flat (hey, it’s East Germany!) with her guitar, Raven, her two bicycles, Tina and Nellie, and about 60 tomato plants. She fosters rabbits around the world, when she is travelling for longer contracts, and has taken in 18 of them over the past six years. She loves cycling, mountains, sunshine, devouring books and exploring the new parts of the world that her wonderful career introduces her to.

 

Rabbit rescue 2012Mezzo soprano Wallis Giunta was born and grew up in Ottawa. At 17 she began studies in singing at the University of Ottawa and then transferred to the Glenn Gould School in Toronto to finish her degree. Giunta graduated from the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio in 2011, followed by the Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and The Juilliard School Artist Diploma in Opera Studies.

As Cherubino, in Opera Atelier’s Le Nozze di Figaro (2010)While completing her studies Giunta sang Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro with Toronto’s Opera Atelier, and made a US debut touring with the COC as Pribaoutki in Robert Lepage’ production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables. She sang the role of Zweite Dame in the COC’s Die Zauberflöte, and made her debut at Opera Lyra Ottawa as Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana. In 2013 Giunta returned to the COC as Annio in La Clemenza di Tito (and gave a much-acclaimed substitute performance as Sesto for the second performance) and made her Met mainstage debut as Contessa Ceprano in Rigoletto. Subsequent return engagements include Opera Atelier, COC, Opera Lyra Ottawa and the Met (including Olga in The Merry Widow for their 2015 Live in HD broadcast series), along with debuts in Paris, Rome, Leipzig and Frankfurt.

As Contesa Ceprano in the Met Opera’s Rigoletto (2013)2016/17 has included singing Dido in Opera Atelier’s Dido and Aeneas, debut concerts with the Munich Radio Orchestra and Symphony Nova Scotia, the title role in La Cenerentola at Opera North in Leeds (UK) and a recital debut in Vancouver. Giunta is currently based in Leipzig where she has ongoing engagements with Oper Leipzig in La Cenerentola, Le Nozze di Figaro and Die Walküre, with new roles already in place for next season in Die Fledermaus, Das Rheingold and Lulu. (See below for UPCOMING)

Imagine that a friendly fellow traveller asks what you do for a living? I’m not actually a big fan of explaining my career to strangers, out of context. So unless I get a sense that they are interested in opera/classical music, I usually dodge the question and hope they don’t pry. I love talking to strangers, but I’m more interested in discussing thoughts and ideas, and not so much my own career.

Wally Tulips childAbout that childhood photo? I remember the smell of summer in Ottawa, and how excited I got every year about the tulip festival. I totally loved going out with my family and seeing all the crowds and amazing beds of flowers. It still blows me away, actually.

Who lived with you in your childhood home? My parents, my younger sister and brother, and occasional pet toads.

Wally, bottom left, with parents and younger sister Marley (1989)What did your parents do to earn a living? My dad worked in radio and music programming, and is also a top voice actor/narrator. My mom is a fabulous yoga teacher.

Working musicians in your childhood family? My uncle Patrick is a professional guitarist and bass player, working with several bands in Canada, and we often went to see him perform live. My grandfather was a professional bagpiper in the Canadian military!

Your absolute earliest memories of hearing music? I honestly have no idea! There was so much music playing in my childhood life, with my dad working in the music industry. I imagine my first experience was probably recorded music. We had speakers all over the house and music playing everywhere. I don’t think I could pick out a specific song though – it was most likely classic rock! Music was SUCH a big part of my early life. it was always playing at home, and my parents had fabulous and eclectic taste. There was never any generic Top 40 playing on the radio/tape deck/CD player. Always really cool, alternative, quality artists. The stuff with substance. My parents also took us to lots of live shows...everything from Young People’s Concerts at the symphony, to Sharon, Lois & Bram, to Def Leppard with my dad for his radio station. (There were a lot of rock concerts and festivals that I got to tag along for when my dad was promoting his station.) I started piano lessons at age five and began singing in a choir at age eight, so from then on I was actively making music myself, and have never looked back. I also started performing in musicals when I was nine, and took singing lessons from age 12, with the accompanying Kiwanis competitions, etc. I was pretty well immersed!

What was your first instrument other than your own voice? Oh, definitely the pots and pans in the kitchen. I was an enthusiastic toddler percussionist.

What is your very first recollection of yourself making music? That I do remember. It would be my first piano lesson, where I probably managed a bar or two of Twinkle Twinkle, but spent more time playing under the piano than at it.

1993 Wallis plays Piano 1993What can you remember about a first music teacher? My first piano teacher, Anne, was a sweetheart with the patience of a saint. She had this little glass orb she would place in my palm to remind me to always keep my fingers in a nice, domed position. She called it “spider fingers”! And she let me pick a sticker from her supreme sticker collection at the end of every lesson, no matter how atrociously behaved I had been.

Can you remember any early experiences of making music with other people? Yes! Part of my early piano lessons were group Suzuki music classes where we would each get a wood block or an egg shaker or something, and go to town for some epic baby jam sessions.

Do you remember an event at which you first performed for an audience? My first piano recital, which was, and will remain, the most nervous experience of my life. Let’s just say, it’s a darn good thing I switched instruments! I have never been even close to that nervous singing, but every time I played piano in public, I would lose years of my life.

Can you suggest experiences from your childhood or teen years that helped to form your appetite for staged works? Definitely performing in local musical theatre productions and musicals at my high school. I loved every minute of it! And when I was 15, I started singing in the chorus for Opera Lyra Ottawa, performing in Bohème and Madama Butterfly back to back. This sealed the deal for me.

Where did you attend high school? I went to both Lisgar Collegiate and Glebe Collegiate for high school.

Do you remember when you began to think of yourself as a career musician? Pretty much as soon as I moved to Toronto at 19! I started booking recitals and was a Sidgwick Scholar with the Orpheus Choir, as well as singing with Opera Atelier in the chorus, and eventually small roles. It was quickly starting to really happen for me, even while still in school, and I knew music was going to be my career.

Do you remember a time when you thought you would do something else? If so, what were those things? As a child, I was very interested in architecture. I still love it, but I stopped thinking of it as a possible future option in my early teens, when singing pretty much took over my life.

Does teaching/mentoring fit into your current musical life? Not really, no. I’ve taught one masterclass and I really liked it, but I so far it seems to be full-time performing for me!

Where does making/hearing music fit into your current personal life at home? Well, my current obsession is my new guitar, Raven. She and I were introduced last summer and we have been inseparable ever since. I travel with her and we make music every day! I’ve only been playing guitar for ten months, so I’m still pretty terrible, but I absolutely love it.

If you were driving alone and could sing along to any recording, what would you choose? Patty Griffin – Living With Ghosts

UPCOMING…

Songs for LuluMy next (very exciting) project will be Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins with the Toronto Symphony. It’s a piece I’ve been dying to perform in its original version for about, oh...a decade. And it’s finally happening this June! The bonus is, just a couple weeks later I’ll get to do it again, in a new production in Spain. It never rains, but it pours... In July, I’ll be in Ottawa singing a recital for Music and Beyond, where I’m excited to perform Rufus Wainwright’s cycle Songs For Lulu with my wonderful colleague, Steven Philcox. Steven and I gave the Canadian premiere of this cycle a few years ago in Toronto, and now it’s Ottawa’s turn! In August, I’ll be back in the UK for two new productions, singing the title role in L’Enfant et les Sortilèges, and Dinah in Trouble in Tahiti. Then most of the rest of this year I’ll be in Germany, singing La Cenerentola, Lulu, Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Die Fledermaus and Le Nozze di Figaro. I’ll also be back at Koerner Hall next season to celebrate the Bernstein centenary (April 6, 2018).

Adult JohnBeckwith#1_with-bicycle.jpgFor about 40 years John Beckwith has lived with his life-partner, Kathleen McMorrow – more than 30 of those years in an Annex semi they love.  Beyond his musical career his strong interests include cycle-touring and Scottish country dancing.  As a contribution to environmental preservation he collects elastic bands which he donates to a local supermarket.April’s child was in fact born in March, in 1927. There is something nearly poetic that his 90th birthday is the same year as Canada’s 150th.

“What I would love to see in Canadian music and probably never will, but still hope, is that there would be pieces from the Canadian repertoire that Canadians would feel they possessed, the way they possess the novels of Margaret Laurence or the paintings of A.Y. Jackson."

– John Beckwith, the self-described “optimistic pessimist” in conversation with Eitan Cornfield – Canadian Composers Portrait: John Beckwith.

Composer, writer, pianist, teacher, administrator, cyclist and consummate Canadian, John Beckwith was born and grew up in Victoria, BC. His father, whose family settled in Nova Scotia in the 1760s, was a lawyer and his mother was a teacher and a school trustee. Beckwith first came to Toronto at the age of 17 on a piano scholarship, to study with Alberto Guerrero.

An alumnus of the University of Toronto Faculty of Music and an instructor there, he was dean from 1970 to 1977, and founder of the U of T Institute for Canadian Music. At a time when the “serious” music in our relatively young country was largely Eurocentric and classical, Beckwith’s composition students were encouraged to additionally explore all the music of North America –aboriginal music and folksongs, hymns and jazz.

Beckwith’s own oeuvre includes opera and lyric theatre, orchestral and chamber music, choral works and many songs for solo voice. These reflect collaborations too numerous to list – but particularly notable among them is his longtime association with the poet and playwright James Reaney. A former reviewer for the Toronto Star and a CBC scriptwriter and programmer in the 1950s and 1960s, Beckwith has written many articles and books on musical topics. In 1987 he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.

Unheard Of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2012) is Beckwith in his own candid, lively and humourful words: detail-rich reading for anyone interested not only in its writer but also in the Canadian music scene of his lifetime.  Eitan Cornfield’s documentary Canadian Composer Portraits: John Beckwith (Centrediscs) features Beckwith himself, but also reflects the colourful fabric of his world, including contributions from family, friends and associates.

”At the Toronto performance of Wendake/Huronia in early February I was presented with this bolo by our two First Nations drummers, Shirley Hay and Marilyn George. It was a pleasure working with them and I was very touched to receive this gift.”Suppose a friendly fellow traveller asks what you do for a living? When people asked Violet Archer what she did, she would say she wrote music, and the next question always was, “Yes, but I mean what is your occupation?”  When Harry Somers told friendly fellow travellers he wrote music, they always asked “What kind?” to which his reply was “Unpopular music.”  Would I reply with one of those composer sarcasms? Yes, probably.

Tell us about that childhood photo. I think it depicts my first bike, but that seems unlikely: the first real bike, maybe. The background is a new home my family moved into in the spring of 1936, which means I had just turned nine.

Your absolute earliest memory of music? Absolute? I wish I could make an interesting answer, but I can’t. I’ve read about “earliest specific memories of music” and once composed a work for children’s voices trying to depict the evolution of musical awareness – it’s called Basic Music. My very early memories (from age five or so): playing in a rhythm band in our living room, organized as a neighbourhood project by my mother; singing and dancing with my young sister to the accompaniment of a wind-up Edison phonograph. The half-inch-thick discs included things like the Coronation March from Le prophète (Meyerbeer) and The Whistler and His Dog.

Musicians in your family?  Both my parents sang, played the piano and were active in musical organizations; all my children are musical, two of them professionally. Two of my granddaughters are outstandingly musical but it's early to say whether they will pursue musical careers.

Where did hearing music fit into your life as a child? I listened to radio constantly and uncritically but came to enjoy specially the orchestral concerts of Toscanini and others, and the Saturday broadcasts from the Met Opera. Thanks to my parents, I attended many live concerts and as a child heard many renowned performers – Rubinstein, Elman, Marian Anderson; astonishing to think that Victoria hosted so many in those rich touring years. I took piano lessons from age six, and sang in a church choir from ages 8 to13; there was not much of a regular music program at school.

What do you remember about a first music teacher? My first piano teacher was Ogreta McNeil, who later moved to Toronto and became the head of the Toronto Public Library’s music division, and one of the founders of the Canadian Association of Music Libraries.  Later I studied with Gwendoline Harper, who later moved to Spokane, Washington to a position with the Teachers’ College there. I feel fortunate that they were both excellent musicians and gave me a solid grounding not just in piano but in music in a broader sense.

What were your first experiences of making music with other people? The piano was my only instrument, so I didn’t have any orchestral experience. I played duets and two-piano pieces with fellow students, and later accompanied many singers.

Do you remember any early performances for an audience? There were some occasions in Victoria, including a few radio recitals. Mostly my performing experiences (soloist, accompanist, chamber musician) happened later in Toronto, again with several on radio.

What experiences helped to form your appetite for staged works? I was active in theatre and as a teenager won a scholarship to a summer acting course at the Banff School of Fine Arts. One of the teachers said I was talented and could have a career in professional theatre. I also acted in Toronto during student years and came to know a number of theatre personalities of my generation. This background, yes, was influential for the various stage projects I later worked on. 

When and how did composing become part of the picture? It just seemed more and more important starting when I was about eight and increasing gradually through my teens. 

Do you remember when you began to think of yourself as a career musician? Impossible to be exact about this.

When did teaching and mentoring become part of your plans? Well, I had to eat.  Composers have to have a day job. Besides academic life I also did a lot of professional writing (criticism, research) and editing. The central part of the “plan” was to be able to keep composing.  In fact I never regarded myself as much of a planner. I was lucky.

Where does music fit into your family life at home today? Live piano and chamber music at home whenever possible, though I practise piano less than I used to. Not a great deal of listening to recorded music or radio. Frequent attendance at live performances (concerts, opera).   

If you were ALONE and could sing along to ANY recording, what would you choose? I don’t have a great singing voice and my hearing these days is feeble.  Besides all that, I’m no good at imagining desert-isle paradises. There’s a lot of music that I absolutely adore but some that I can’t stand: many music lovers would say the same, I’m sure.

Did you ever think you would do something else? You must be kidding.

UPCOMING

On 28 April New Music Concerts is presenting a concert at Trinity-St Paul’s, for which I was invited to curate the program, including some of my own music. The list includes works by Stravinsky and Weinzweig (two strong influences on me in early composing days) and three works by me, two of which are quite recent (2015, 2016) and have not been played before.

A new Music’s Children contest will appear next month in our May edition.

Julia Wedman lives in Toronto’s Bloordale Village, in the beautiful main floor apartment of a house owned by her dear friends Sue and Jubal and their adorable two-year-old son Oskar, who live upstairs. She enjoys spending time with her beloved family and friends, teaching, travelling, going to beaches, gardens and museums, learning about art and history, summer backyard parties that include dear friends eating at a long table filled with delicious food, and days that start out horribly but take unexpectedly wonderful turns.

October 2016 with the Saskatoon Symphony, with family in the audience, dear friends and former teachers onstage and off.  A wonderful concert, surrounded by love.  PHOTO: MATTHEW SMITH

Violinist Julia Wedman first caught the attention of Southern Ontario audiences in a 1998 concert with the innovative I FURIOSI Baroque Ensemble. A core member of that ensemble from 1999 to this day, she joined the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in 2005. Wedman is regularly featured as a soloist in Tafelmusik’s home concerts as well as their North American and  international tours, and she contributes her skills and creative thinking as an occasional leader and collaborator in the development of new programming. Wedman is also a member of the Eybler Quartet, a period-instrument ensemble that plays well-known but also often relatively unknown classical repertoire. Increasingly busy performing outside of Canada, Wedman is also a sought-after teacher and coach in Canada and abroad.

Born in Prince George, BC, Wedman and her family moved to Saskatoon when she was six. After high school, a former violin teacher helped Wedman move to London, Ontario, where she enrolled at Western University, followed by studies at Indiana University and the University of Toronto.

Suppose you're chatting with a friendly fellow traveller who asks what you do for a living? I always say I am one of those lucky people who makes a living doing exactly what I want to do – I get to spend my days playing incredible music with dear friends.

Tell us about your violins? I play two different violins....One is a 1694 Hendrik Jacobs (Amsterdam). Jacobs was one of the most famous Dutch violin makers, and the sound of the instrument is deep and beautiful. This instrument likes being at low pitch (A=415 or lower).

My second violin is from about 1860 and is from an unknown maker in Milan, Italy. Its sound is brighter and very sweet. This violin likes to be at a higher pitch (A=430 and up). So I generally use the Jacobs for Baroque music (Tafelmusik and I Furiosi) and the other one for later music (Eybler Quartet, etc.)

2206- BBB - March's Child - As Child.jpgDo you remember that childhood photo being taken? No, but I definitely remember practising as a child and those pajamas were my favourite ones! My earliest memory of playing violin was that I had a little box and a stick. We had to wait for a violin to be ordered because I was too small for the ones available. I remember the excitement of my first real instrument. It was so beautiful, and it made a sound!

Your absolute earliest musical memory? Probably my dad playing some tunes on his violin – he would take out his violin and play from a book with old folk songs like Amazing Grace and Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair. I loved that book.

What did your parents do to earn a living? My father is a financial advisor (I know – that part didn't rub off). But the workaholic qualities may have! And he sings in the Victoria Choral Society choir. My mother is retired, but worked as the administration person for the Lutheran bishop of Saskatchewan for many years. She started piano lessons last year!

Why the violin? One day driving home in the car, my dad said to my older brother and me, "Ok kids, would you like to play violin or cello?" Already I had a wacky sense of humour, and I thought he said "jello" and started laughing hysterically. "How can you play jello? I can't play such a silly instrument! I'll take the violin!"

Music in your childhood home? Home was mom, dad, my older brother Chris, my younger brother Mark, my younger sister Naomi and our little cockapoo dog Rusty. We all had to take music lessons for ten years. Chris is an accountant now but still plays percussion in the Saskatoon Concert Band. Mark was more interested in sports and is a mechanical engineer, but now he puts his musical training to use practising with his two daughters who both take music lessons. Naomi is an English teacher in Barcelona and a wonderful violinist, composer and improviser. She plays more contemporary music - country, folk, rock, blues, etc.

My mom used to put on recordings of music at 6:15am, then bring hot chocolate up to our rooms at 6:30 to get all of the kids up to practise before school. My sister and I often produced recitals, complete with programs, for our dolls. We all played or sang at church and sometimes under great duress played for guests that came to the house. My siblings and I would often raid our parents’ record collection and dance around the living room. Favourites were Mini-Pops, Grease and Jascha Heifetz playing the Tchaikovsky violin concerto …

Julia with teacher Ellen Lundberg.jpgWhat can you remember about a first music teacher? One of my first music teachers used to cut my fingernails with these horrible rabbit scissors with beady red ruby eyes. They were so short they hurt and I would cry. She wasn't a warm person either and I complained a lot. My mom one day said, "Do you want to quit?" I looked at her in surprise “Of course not! Why would I want to quit?" Instead she found a wonderful teacher (Ellen) who suited me a lot more, and became one of the biggest influences in my life.

A first experience of making music with other people? I went to group classes when I started violin and often played with family members at home.  A particularly vivid memory of an early chamber music experience is of a friend and I playing a little piece called After you, My Dear Gaston. It was a little jazzy and I loved it. I don't remember my first time playing in an orchestra - it feels like I have always played in them! I do remember a spectacular blue spring coat that I received as a celebratory gift for playing in the music festival when I was about eight.

Little Julie_Jamming on porch.jpgWhere did you attend high school? And right after high school, what happened next? After high school (Holy Cross High School, in Saskatoon), I took a few months off until my former violin teacher decided I needed to get off my butt (she was right!) so she helped organize a move to London, Ontario. I lived with her family and babysat to help pay rent, and enrolled as at music student at the University of Western Ontario.  Ellen is like a second mom. She kicked my butt in university and opened her home and heart to me when my family was falling apart and my parents were separating. She is still one of the most treasured people in my life.

 

Do you remember the point at which you began to think of yourself as a career musician? I think I was about six, watching a Saskatoon Symphony concert, thinking "That's what I'm going to do!"

Did you ever think you would do something else? Sometimes I think about what else I would do... It would probably involve education or psychology, but I can't imagine not making music every day. It's the only thing I am happy to do even when I am sick or completely exhausted. I am not sure how I could survive without my daily sojourns to the magical world of music where real life fades away... 

Where does music fit into your personal/family life at home today? I don't listen to a lot of music at home because I play so many hours every day - I like to have some quiet time at the end of a day. I find it difficult not to give any music my full concentration. I don't really like background music - it's very distracting!

I do a lot of singing with Oskar, my two-year-old friend who lives upstairs, and we also like to dance and play avant garde recorder duos. 

If you were driving or showering (and all by yourself) and could sing along to ANY recording, what would you choose? I am terrible at remembering words, and I play so much music it's a bit of a "love the one you're with" kind of a situation....I sing the music that is in my head at the moment!  I always sing whatever I am trying to memorize! Right now a lot of Bach for Tafelmusik’s “Circle of Creation” program that goes on tour to the USA February 28. During I Furiosi weeks I am inevitably singing our encores...I would say the biggest ear worms have been songs by Coldplay, Adele, Prince and Kurt Cobain. I often sing walking to the subway...I don't drive!

UPCOMING…

Please mention engagements you’re excited about coming up in Toronto, in Southern Ontario and elsewhere in the next few months

~ March 18: Biber with Lucas Harris and Toronto Chamber Choir. I love Biber and this will be my first time getting to play some of his choral music – I can’t wait!

~ March 20: my beloved Bach Project at Gallery 345. I love this project! It’s a six-year cycle of producing the Bach Solo Sonatas and Partitas once a year with six different violinists, and each year we rotate and learn a new (super difficult) piece, so that at the end of six years we will have learned all of them. It is an incredible, character-building, humbling, inspiring journey!  

Also – concerts coming up with I Furiosi (April 21), Eybler Quartet (April 27), Tafelmusik - lots of concerts here and on tour, Opera Atelier (April 22-29 in Toronto, May 19-21 at Versailles) , Toronto Consort (May 12-14)

The first week of May I will be doing something a little out of the ordinary… I get to travel to London, England to be guest concertmaster with Academy of Ancient Music in a program of Mozart and Haydn piano concertos with Richard Egarr.

Any new or recent recordings, DVD or film projects?

We just finished the final edits on a new Eybler Quartet Vanhal CD!  It will be available at our April 27 concert at the Heliconian Club. I can’t wait for people to hear it! This music is so happy and beautiful and deserves a voice! We are also working on the edits for our upcoming Beethoven Op,18 Quartets CD which will be coming out next year.

Edits are also underway for the release next year of Tafelmusik’s incredible Tale of Two Cities: Leipzig and Damascus CD/DVD. I just saw some video extras the other day and it is going to be beautiful!

It’s a busy spring!

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