2203-Music_Child_-_Cooper-Adult.jpg For more than 30 years Robert Cooper brought a wealth of music to listeners across the country as CBC Radio’s executive producer of opera and choral music and as producer of the program Choral Concert from 1980 to 2008. This is one shining thread in the extraordinarily rich fabric of an active career which continues to include conducting, teaching and mentoring. Cooper is currently artistic director of the Orpheus Choir of Toronto, and the Ontario Male Chorus. As conductor of Chorus Niagara for 27 years: he’ll conduct his fourth Elijah with them on November 5, followed by Messiah in December. His association with VOICEBOX/Opera in Concert goes back almost 40 years. He created the OIC chorus alongside founding producer/artistic director Stuart Hamilton and continues to prepare the chorus and conduct every opera since then, other than when a guest orchestra and conductor are involved.

In addition to leading the National Youth Choir of Canada the Ontario Youth Choir, and numerous prize-winning choirs at competitions and festivals, Cooper is frequently engaged as guest conductor of choirs and operas and leader of choral clinics across the country. He has taught at the U of T Faculty of Music and has mentored music-loving young people in the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir, Orpheus Choir Sidgwick Scholars program and Chorus Niagara’s Choral Scholars program. A regular member of the jury for the international choral competition Let the Peoples Sing, he has also adjudicated the World Choral Games in Shaoxing China, Cincinnati and most recently in Sochi, Russia.

Cooper is a recipient of several distinguished awards and honours, including the Order of Canada.

Robert Cooper lives in Toronto’s Bloor West Village with his wife Megan – a school principal and singer – along with an effervescent Brittany Spaniel, Sadie. Beyond music…”what little time I have after score study, rehearsals and seemingly endless governance administrivia with choir boards, my down time seems to be filled with reading historical fiction, the loathsome but necessary gym time, walking Sadie and catching up on mindless PVR’d series of PBS dramas.”

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Your thoughts about that childhood photo? I vaguely recall it was in Grade 1 when our Ottawa public school rhythm band brought home the coveted first prize in the Ottawa Kiwanis Music Festival. Life has an uncanny way of fulfilling destinies you never even imagined as a possibility at the time. Not that I am a percussionist ...but my path found its way to a life in music.

Where were you born, and what did your parents do for a living? I am a “herring choker”…born in Fredericton, New Brunswick. My father was in the RCMP and my mother a nurse…disciplined professions and disciplined people. My brother Roger also went on to a career in the RCMP.

While my father was frequently transferred from one city to another, I was lucky that I landed in Ottawa for the majority of my schooling. In those days Ottawa had an active community music scene and I was so fortunate to be involved in superb school music programs which I supplemented with singing as a treble and then tenor in various Anglican church choirs, ending up at the Cathedral with Godfrey Hewitt, father of the renowned pianist, Angela. What wonderful musical experiences and education…free! In fact I even received a monthly honorarium. There were no musicians in my family, but my creative urges were tolerated and eventually encouraged.

Your absolute earliest memories of hearing music? Oh gosh…was it the Reader’s Digest box set of Great Orchestral Favourites? I think it was Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March...it stirred my young soul with such enthusiasm. But curiously I was always singing and that ephemeral quality of massed voices just hooked me. 

We did have a fabulous stereo system and I would listen for hours to those treasured Reader’s Digest box sets of operetta, orchestral fav’s, and Broadway shows. But Ottawa was a hotbed of singing. The high schools every year mounted a magnificent Thousand Voice Choir with special guest conductors “from Toronto.” Of course there were also all the special carol services and state occasions at which I sang as a member of the Christ Church Cathedral Choir. Then, to top it all off, the many celebrations in Ottawa to herald in Centennial Year (1967) produced so many exciting performance opportunities…gala concerts on Parliament Hill, amateur musical theatre shows and fledging opera productions. Heady times!

And of making music? Well, putting my tambourine debut aside in the rhythm band, I recall being trotted about from one classroom to another to sing duets with a pupil friend. Not sure why…but I guess we must have been ok.

What was your first instrument, if any, other than your own voice? Trombone for a while and then piano. Sadly, I was not encouraged to begin piano studies until high school and have always regretted that this skill was not developed at an earlier age.

Do you remember your early experiences of making music with other people?  Too many to mention! Without a doubt it was that collaborative and collegial experience of making music with others, of being part of that total immersive and rich musical encounter with others. This was my safe harbour!

Do you remember when first performed for an audience? I suppose it was in Grade 7 where we put on G&S productions. It was Pirates of Penzance and I was the Major-General and had to learn that lengthy patter song. I had no clue what “the square of the hypotenuse” meant, but I memorized all the verses and sang the role with panache (I think!) and to this day still recall those darn lyrics!

And a first important music teacher? My high school music teacher, Mrs. Bernice Oak…a force of nature! Ebullient, vibrant, supportive, encouraging. Her passion and zeal were palpable. She was my sole inspiration to pursue this odd and uncontrollable yearning I had in me to somehow live a life in music.

And right after high school, what happened next? I headed to the University of Western Ontario where I stayed for both my Bachelor and Master’s degrees. Looking back it was a fortuitous choice. The Music Faculty was in its infancy. Opportunities abounded and I found myself        immersed in musicology, performance, theatre, acting and eventually conducting. After UWO I realized there was much yet to be learned about the craft of conducting and I headed to Germany and the Nordwestdeutsche Musikakademie along with extended periods with Helmuth Rilling in Stuttgart, when he was just at the beginning of his stellar international career.

When and how did conducting become part of the picture? One of my UWO professors, Wesanne McKellar, saw something in me I did not see in myself. While I was taking conducting courses, most of my time as an undergraduate was spent on the stage. She asked me if I might replace her (can hardly believe it as I write this) as music director for the UWO theatre club, Purple Patches, and conduct the next  season’s production of the musical My Fair Lady. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Other experiences from your childhood or teen years that helped you form an appetite for staged works? In elementary school I was enrolled in drama classes…and was hooked! From then on I was performing in everything from amateur musicals and plays in parks to an eventual stint as a professional actor. But I knew somehow this was not the final path. The dark theatre all day and dark bar all night were not for me. I needed a different kind of artistic connection and the fascination of making music with others, moulding your ideas with others and realizing a creative result started to take hold.

Do you remember the point at which you began to think of yourself as a career musician? I had the opportunity as a young teenager to live in London, England, and for a year attended, by myself, many unbelievable concerts and opera productions. When I recall lining up for a concert at Royal Albert Hall with scads of choirs …not realizing until it had started, that I was now hearing my first Mahler Eighth Symphony, I can’t believe I was able to take advantage of those memorable firsts!  I was completely absorbed and knew that on my return to Ottawa there was no turning back. What the future might hold I had no idea…much to my parents dismay…all I knew was that I had to be surrounded by music.  

Curiously, someone recently showed me my Grade 13 year book (remember Grade 13?) in which I wrote that I hoped for a career in radio and television arts. Little did I realize that almost eight years later I would begin a career as an executive producer for CBC Radio Music, where I stayed for 31 years, while still conducting choirs and opera.  

Did you ever think you would do something else? Other than music? The arts? No. I knew this is where I had to be in some capacity.

Where does making/hearing music fit into your current personal family life at home? Since leaving CBC, making music (and all that that entails with programming, endless organizational tasks, personal preparation, rehearsals) is a 24/7 occupation. I know it sounds a bit crazy, but one of my biggest pleasures is opening that new score, marking it, studying it, listening, and beginning that journey of discovery.  

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

Robert Cooper: UPCOMING

October 29 and 30, with the Orpheus Choir and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra: “Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton;”

October 30, with the Opera in Concert Chorus: “Shakespeare 400;”

November 5, with Chorus Niagara: Elijah (Mendelssohn);

November 19, with the Orpheus Choir: “Stories: Myths and Mysteries” – music of Paul Mealor, Eriks Eśenvalds, Jakko Mantyjärvi, Sergey Khvoshchinsky, Paul Halley;

November 20, with Opera in Concert: I Capuleti e i Montecchi (Bellini);

December 10 with Chorus Niagara: Messiah (Handel);

December 13 with the Orpheus Choir: “Traditions: Welcome Christmas!” – seasonal music with guests Jackie Richardson and the Hannaford Street Silver Band.

 

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Canadian cellist Adrian Fung was born in Burlington and grew up in Oakville. His father was an actuary, his mother a concert pianist and later a pedagogue. Fung went to Applewood Heights Secondary School and then to McGill University where he studied cello with Antonio Lysy. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the San Francisco Conservatory and the Juilliard School’s prestigious Artist Diploma, and an MBA from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. He was recently featured in Fortune magazine’s Best and Brightest Executive MBAs in the Class of 2016.

Fung is currently artistic director of Mooredale Concerts and also the Toronto Symphony’s recently appointed vice-president of innovation. A founding member of the Afiara String Quartet, and a winner of numerous awards, Fung has spent ten busy years performing internationally as a solo and chamber musician, collaborating widely and producing a diverse range of print and recorded music.  Fung also performs for Concerts in Care (Health Arts Society of Ontario) He has given more than 30 concerts for frail and/or elderly people in long-term care residences who would otherwise no longer have access to live music. Fung is also active as a writer, music educator, artist and rapper.

What do you say to fellow travellers when they ask about your work? My goodness. On the plane, to be honest, they usually point at the seat next to me where my cello sits strapped in. “Is that yours? Are you a musician?” When I respond in the affirmative, the next question is usually either “You must be pretty good!”  or  “Are you any good?” What does one say to this? I usually say, “My mom’s my biggest fan!” I doubt doctors and lawyers have follow-up questions about whether they’re good. 

When you look at the photo today, what does it cause you to think about or remember? The other boy in the picture is my cousin, Jonathan. He came to live with us for a year from New Zealand. At the time WholeNote reached out for this interview, I was travelling and couldn’t fathom going into my mom’s basement rifling through old albums. Just around then, Jonathan sent me a photo out of the blue: “Hey, do you remember this?” It seemed an apt thing to pass along. The photo just reminds me of when Jonathan and I would rush to the basement after school to watch Batman: The Animated Series while pretending we were superheroes. (In our imagined adventures, we were both Batman since neither party wanted to be relegated to being his sidekick, Robin.)

If you could travel back through time is there anything you would like to tell young Adrian? I would want to tell him not to practise the same thing a thousand times, but in a thousand different ways.

Your earliest musical memory? I remember hearing my mother practise piano: great works of the Romantic repertoire floated in the air as I drifted in and out of sleep.

Adrian_Fung_as_child_cellist_-_w_cousin_-_small.jpgWhere did music fit into your childhood? I actually started studying music at four with piano lessons from my mother. I threw daily temper tantrums at the foot of the instrument. But I remember “composing” a piece on the piano when I was four, with the beguiling technique of using two index fingers. I remember pretending there was a volcano and villagers scampering away. Classical music was always on the radio in the car. I remember hearing Handel’s Messiah at church around Christmas time. My mother was very good at taking me to orchestral concerts at both the Toronto Symphony and Hamilton Philharmonic.

Who lived with you in your childhood home? My parents, my sister, at one time a canary named Choo Choo, and at another, two dogs named Cocoa and Timbit. After my father passed on, I lived with my stepfather, mother, sister and, at one time, five dogs. Dogs are the best.

Were there musicians in your childhood family, in addition to your mother?  My great uncle was an operatic singer who taught at the Beijing Conservatory.

If you have brothers or sisters did they also make music?

My sister played flute, piano, and guitar. I tell her the devolution of her flute playing came when she decided she sounded best in the bathroom and spent all her time practising there. But that’s just teasing. When you add the fact that she also has a wonderful singing voice, her talents outstretch mine by certain magnitudes.

Why did you begin playing the cello?

Accounts differ on why I started playing the cello but the general consensus in the household was that the piano was “not my thing.” My mother wanted me to choose my next instrument and suggested either the violin or cello because you can play in orchestra or ensembles and make friends. I thought the violin was for girls and that the cello was a bassoon  – which I still think is such a cool instrument – so I chose the cello. But when my mother turned up with the largest violin I had ever seen, I was initially pretty upset. But perhaps because we had already committed to leasing the instrument, my fate was sealed, for at least a year! And I grew to love the instrument.

What can you remember about a first music teacher? Susan Gagnon was my first cello teacher. She continues to produce cellists whom I hear regularly when I return to The Royal Conservatory’s Taylor Academy to teach masterclasses. I remember her incredible relaxed and wonderful bow hold. The feeling of pulling the string for a rich depth of sound began under her inspiration.

A first experience of making music with other people? My mom would accompany me on the piano as I struggled through cello pieces in the Suzuki method. At first I couldn’t hear anyone or concentrate on anything else but what I was doing. So my first experiences playing with other people were severely marred by my inability to do two things at once!

Do you remember the point at which you began to think of yourself as a career musician? Yes. I remember feeling I was a professional musician when the Afiara Quartet started touring. It was an exhilarating feeling. One hears so much about it growing up: talking with managers, getting on and off flights, warming up in strange new concert halls and fumbling your way through backstage mazes.

Do you remember a time when you thought you would do something else? When I was very little, I thought perhaps I’d be a cowboy. But then I didn’t realize that cowboys actually did very little of what I saw them doing on television (that is, shooting bad guys). The reality of wrangling and herding cows came to a unique stop when I visited a friend’s dairy farm out in Barrie.

 

Where does music fit into your personal family life at home today? My wife is the violinist of the Cecilia String Quartet. So there’s a lot of music (and practising!) in the house. In my artistic planning activities, I do find myself listening to a lot of music as well. But after touring for ten years and listening to many, many concerts, I have found there’s a true luxury in intentional silence. Perhaps it’s the moment to reflect on what you have heard. But neither Min or I like listening to music when we’re driving.

If you were driving alone and could sing along to any recording, what would you choose? Oh, I don’t sing along. Nobody enjoys that – especially not me!

UPCOMING…

Art of Time Ensemble; November 3, 4 and 5, “That’s Not Funny –  An Evening of Comedy in Music and Dance “;

Mooredale Concerts. November 6, “Noel Coward: A Talent to Amuse “alongside singers Benjamin Butterfield, Monica Whicher, Norinne Burgess, Alexander Dobson, pianist John Greer, and violinist Barry Shiffman;

The Spin Cycle project – with Afiara Quartet and Skratch Bastid – is featured in the documentary What Would Beethoven Do? and includes composer Dinuk Wijeratne, Bobby McFerrin and Benjamin Zander. It will screen February 28 (2017) at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema;

Afiara is also playing in Miami (Spin Cycle) and at The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi (Nufonia Must Fall with Kid Koala).

My role at the TSO as vice-president of innovation has me leading the Canada Mosaic project, which is a year-long celebration of Canada’s 150th. I am in charge of artistic, social and economic innovation and funnel most of my energy through leading this project. There are 20 programs commissioned and shared across the nation with over 40 other orchestras, bolstered by a digital microsite and e-learning platform that will help the TSO reach over 8.23 million Canadians.

Alex Pangman lives in Toronto, Ontario, with her musician husband “Colonel” Tom Parker. When she's not singing or attending to music business she's likely to be at the farm, horseback riding.

Alex at Louis Armstrong Park, New Orleans

“Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing,” Alex Pangman is a singer whose love for popular music from 1920 to 1940 charms people in a graciously old-fashioned way. Her sparkly energy seems to come from some limitless source. People love her beautifully wrought covers of older standards – her smooth warm delivery will remind you a little of your own favourite singer from that time. But Pangman’s voice is truly her own, and she makes a specialty of breathing life into lesser-known music from the period. The style may sound familiar but “new” old songs have to be offered with first-rate diction and this, along with her special way of letting the song’s own narrative shine, makes for pretty irresistible listening. She’s proving to be a fine period-informed songwriter as well. She has led her regular swing band, the Alleycats, since 1998.

Pangman was born with cystic fibrosis: an incurable genetic disease which destroys the lungs. and in many cases ultimately requires lung transplantation. Pangman’s first double lung transplant in 2008 was considered successful, but she continued to have infections and by early 2013 her health was failing. Only the people closest to her knew – she continued to sing (sitting down) and opened for Willie Nelson at Massey Hall in June 2013 while waiting to hear if a second transplant donor could be found – the call came six weeks later.

Pangman’s courage, energy and capacity to seize every moment is deeply inspiring. Maybe it has something to do with choosing to live a life where you truly love what you do.

UPCOMING

  • June 4: Saturday Swing Night at Dovercourt House Swing Dance Ballroom. (9:15pm, Toronto);
  • June 16 Manhattans Pizza Bistro and Music Club. (7 to 10pm,Guelph);
  • June 24 TD Toronto Jazz Festival presents “Heather Bambrick & Friends” with the Russ Little Quartet at The Old Mill Home Smith Jazz Bar. Bambrick will trade songs and duets with guest Alex Pangman. (7:30pm, Toronto);
  • June 25 TD Toronto Jazz Festival presents Alex Pangman and her Alleycats. The sextet will take over The Rex for 90 minutes of pure swing. (8pm, Toronto).
  • ALSO: July 30 at the Niagara Jazz Festival, August 5/6 Oakville Jazz Festival, and Sept 2 and 3 at the CNE (Toronto).

May-MysteryChild_PANGMAN_childhood-image_hairbrush.jpgDo you remember that childhood photo being taken?  I remember the smell of the wooden record player – when record players were still furniture!  I can still smell the wood as I would have when I opened the lid, and feel the shag carpet under my feet.

Anything you’d like to say to young Alex in that photo? I might encourage her to write more songs. I think the most original songs I ever wrote were as a child! Ha! That, and don’t drop the needle!

Where did you grow up? I was born/raised in Mississauga Ontario to John and Connie Pangman. Dad worked in finance and for a time Mom was a V.O.N. nurse. My big sister, Jennifer, was into music via ballet. We both attended Froebel [independent] school where we learned to be self-active and creative. I was terrible at math (and music theory) even into high school. So bad in fact, that instead of studying post-secondary music, I went to UofT for art history! To be honest, my jazz education happened listening to thousands of old records, mostly driving to and from the stables. Horses have brought me many good things in life to offset having been born with lung disease. I still ride today.

Alex and GypsyEarliest memory of hearing music?  My first memories are foggy. Mom had a guitar and I’m sure she sang to me, but I think my first memories of music were at Gramma and Grampa’s house in London (Ontario). Gramma had an electric organ (with all the foot pedals!). Grampa played the uke and the spoons.  Grampa used to strum on his uke and sing “Five foot two, eyes of blue … ”

Pangman_child_organ-console.jpgWhere did hearing music, both formal and informal, generally fit into your life as a child? Mom and Dad liked the oldies, and we listened to them on a weekend (Saturday?) oldies show over dinner.  That record player in the photo was stocked with a lot of my folks’ LPs: ABBA, Buddy Holly, Cats, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Dave Brubeck, My Fair Lady, Sound of Music, West Side Story, Arlo Guthrie. We weren’t churchgoers but we sang “Oh Canada”  every day at school (oh my, I just dated myself!)

A first recollection of yourself making music? Again, my memory of firsts is gruesomely bad, but I remember getting those Mini Pops albums and singing along a lot.  I got my first uke quite young and would —wait for it— wake up early on weekends to sneak downstairs and play it quietly to myself. Keener! And I remember singing along to Judds recordings with my mom.  Mom was worried I shouldn’t do wind instruments with my lung disease, so it was mostly rhythm instruments for me. Ukulele being the first of those! Go tell Aunt Rhody, go tell Aunt Rhody, go tell Aunt Rhody, the old grey goose is dead …!

Any early first music teachers who made an impression?  I remember being quite knocked out when a kindergarten teacher could play guitar. I mean, it was maybe only a three-chord song, but she was pretty awesome in my eyes. There was a lot of music and singing at Froebel. Oh -- and a choir teacher who told me that to sing in a section I needed to hear the girl on either side of me. Which was perhaps a polite observation pointing out I was more suited to solo singing.

How about making music with other people? I had play dates with my school chum Suzie McNeil and I would love to find the recordings we made -- such fun!  When I met the guys who would become my early jazz mentors and first band -– musicians from around the GTA –- they lent me all sort of jazz records and invited me to sing with them at the Schnitzel House!

First performances for an audience? I was Annie for our school musical. I was nervous enough my first night at the Swiss Marmite that I believe I sang with my back to the audience. And I sang at the aforementioned Schnitzel House in Port Credit (again, atrocious memory for details, unless it’s a song lyric or melody!)

When did you begin to think of yourself as a career musician?  I got sick and lost my university year. When I got better I realized I didn’t want a career in academia or a museum. Life is short (when you have a serious lung disease, more so!) and I decided to do something immediately thrilling: music! I didn’t want to spend years writing essays. I wanted to be on stage singing, and I pretty much did just that! I didn’t think of it as a career — it was just living in the moment.

Ever think you would do something else? Museum curator –- or so the aptitude test had me believe!

Where does music fit into your personal/family life at home today?  It fits right in perfectly! There is a stack of 78 rpms (old jazz and old country) in the kitchen I share with husband “Colonel” Tom Parker.  He’s a music teacher for the TDSB and I met him at the Cameron House where he has played country music forever. He gave me mandolin lessons. And then we got married, to summarize. Hahaha! I love having a singing partner across the breakfast table from me, and a guitar not far away.

If you were driving ALONE and could sing along to ANY recording, what would you choose? The Boswell Sisters spring to mind.

Any new or recent recordings, DVD or film projects?  Our recent album, New, received a 2016 JUNO nomination for Vocal Jazz Album. Currently I’m in between recording projects and inviting inspiration in a world where recordings seem to earn less and less.  I’ll be singing a song for the Canadian Music Hall of Fame soon, so, stay tuned! It’s a beautiful old song (perfect for my predilections!) And I recently performed a duet on the upcoming Nat King Cole album with Ori Dagan.

 

Now in his sixth year as artistic director of the Toronto Summer Music Festival and Academy. violist Douglas McNabney was born and raised in Toronto. He’s a busy chamber musician with an international career, also an educator – currently professor of Chamber Music at the Schulich School of Music of McGill. Prior to TSM he was artistic director of the Domaine Forget Music Festival and Academy (2001-2005), and chair of the Department of Performance of McGill University (2004-2008). In 2009, he was responsible for the artistic direction of the Haydn 2009 project at the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal where the complete cycle of all 68 String Quartets was performed in one week. McNabney lives in Le Plateau in downtown Montreal, with his wife, Isolde Lagacé. Some of his other passions include architecture,building things, and good food and wine with friends.

McNabney, with his wife, Isolde Lagacé

Suppose you're chatting with a friendly fellow traveler. After they tell you about their career in pest control or medical imaging, they ask what you do for a living. How might you reply?

Telling people you play the viola is a good conversation stopper. They’re either embarrassed or don’t want to reveal their ignorance!

April_Mystery-Child.jpgWhen you look at your childhood photo today, what does it cause you to think about or remember?

The TV series Mad Men. To a kid growing up in the 60s, things were never quite what they seemed to be. Watching the adults misbehave in Mad Men explained some of the awkward situations I witnessed as an innocent child!

Where did you grow up?

Rexdale, playing on the banks of the Humber River – when it was wild, not a park!

How did your family earn a living?

I come from a large family of Irish immigrants. My father had 11 siblings who were all modest labourers and workers and few of their children (my cousins) went to university. Except the Eaglesons – Alan Eagleson is my cousin. An infamous one.

Were there musicians in your childhood family?

No – I was the black sheep. I am the only musician, only doctorate. My sister played the French horn – very well. She’s a successful CEO of an insurance company in Ontario now.

Your absolute earliest memories of music?

My father listening to marching bands and Irish and Scottish tenors: the band of the Coldstream Guards and John McCormack or Kenneth McKellar singing “Oh Danny Boy.” I did sing in a church choir. My parents would drive my sister and me to choir practice Thursdays and services on Sunday. They rarely stayed for the service, though. (Mad Men-style hypocrisy!)

What is your very first recollection of yourself making music (any kind of music)?

Piano lessons on a folding cardboard keyboard in Grade 1 at public school.

What was your first instrument?

Piano, which I stopped at age 13 to take up the drums, which in turn I sold to buy my first violin at age 16.

Where did you attend high school?

Richview Collegiate. I am a musician because of a high school music program in Toronto - I wouldn’t be a musician otherwise! It distresses me to think that the opportunities I enjoyed as a young person are no longer offered to young people today. I had my first violin lesson with my high school music teacher, Pat Burroughs, at 16-years old. He took our high school chamber orchestra to Charlottetown, PEI, the following year to Banff and in my last year to Paris, France (hence my lifelong fascination with, and appreciation of, French culture). I also played in the Etobicoke Youth Orchestra and met extraordinary musicians associated with the public school system like Barry Goss and Mario DeSotto. If it wasn’t for those wonderful, dedicated and inspiring teachers, I’d probably be a lawyer or an architect. Not that there would be anything wrong with that! But I’m sure I’m a lot happier as a musician – and more fortunate.

Can you remember a first experience of making music with other people?

Playing Beethoven Op. 18 no. 1 with high school friends and being totally, completely and madly intoxicated by the discovery of an intensity of communication like no other on this earth. At least for me!

Do you remember when you first performed for an audience (other than your family or a teacher)?

Not really. Performing in the church choir every week, piano class recitals, and especially high school orchestra concerts, the idea, or rather routine, of public performance seemed a natural part of playing music.

McNabney at 20What did you right after high school?

University of Toronto -- bachelor in music; University of Western Ontario ---master in music; my first job (and real education) as a chamber musician in the Galliard Ensemble; met Isolde, got engaged to be married ten days later; then moved to Montréal and attended Université de Montréal for a DMus en Interprétation; hired as principal viola of Orchestre Symphonique de Québec; left that position three years later to become a professor at McGill.

How did you begin playing the viola?

I always say the viola chose me, not the other way around. When I was in university, one summer a string quartet needed a violist and I volunteered. I immediately fell in love with the dark, sensual sound of the instrument, and perhaps more importantly, with the role it plays in a quartet. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, all relished playing the viola. It is the quintessential chamber music instrument, not really a solo instrument. The inner voices in a string quartet add richness and character to the group and the viola provides colour and depth to the sound. It helps bridge the melodic line of the violin and the harmonic and rhythmic line of the cello. To be a violist is to take on the supporting role. The violist is the ultimate team player!

When did you begin to think of yourself as a career musician?

Very late – in my mid-20s. I was intending to go to law school after my music degrees My then fiancée, Isolde, looked at me after I had done very well on my LSAT exams and said she had no intention of marrying a lawyer. She came from a family of musicians and had agreed to marry a musician, not a lawyer. And that was that.

Do you remember a time when you thought you would do something else?

See above. And I’m still toying with the idea of doing a degree in architecture once (if ever!) I retire. Not to actually practice as an architect, of course, but to satisfy a deep curiosity about our relation as human beings to the spaces we occupy, the tensions between form and function etc.

McNabney with his grandchildren, Clara and Arthur

Where does music fit into your family life today?

Music is everywhere! And always will be. My wife runs a magnificent concert series in Montréal at the Salle Bourgie of the Musée des beaux arts. Both my children are professional musicians -- my son, Raphael, is the bass player with Les Violons du Roy and my daughter Mélisande, a harpsichord and fortepiano player, also plays with Les Violons du Roy. Her partner, Isaac Chalk, is principal viola with Les Violons. My son’s wife, Leila, a psychiatrist, keeps us all in line and ensures that it all functions smoothly. That’s a joke of course, but as Danny Kaye once said: “it’s a joke, but it’s true!”

If you were driving alone and could sing along to any recording, what would you choose?

Brahms G Major Viola Quintet Op. 111. Although it’s a bit of a challenge to sing that opening theme of the cello.

UPCOMING

May 1: Viola quintets with Scott St John, Solomiya Ivakhiv, Sharon Wei and Tom Wiebe at Heliconian Hall.

May 18: Schubert Rosamunde Quartet and Webern’s Langsamer Satz, with Axel Strauss and Toronto Summer Music Academy alumni Joshua Peters and Marc Labranche at the Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

New or recent recordings, DVD or film projects?

I have had a lifelong relationship with the Beethoven string trios beginning with my first professional engagements with the Galliard Ensemble. With colleagues Axel Strauss and Matt Haimovitz, we are planning to record the complete cycle over the next two years. For me, there is a sense of completing the circle in this project that is immensely satisfying!

McNabney with his Viola CREDIT Bo Huang

Music's Children gratefully acknowledges André and Morgana

Mireille Asselin lives in Riverdale with her partner Chris Enns. Some of her other pastimes include fawning over cute dogs in the park, taking math classes for fun, baking unnecessary treats and passionately advocating for Toronto's east end.

Mireille Asselin was born in Ottawa, and grew up in St. John, New Brunswick, and the Ottawa Valley. She attended école secondaire publique De La Salle, Ottawa, and moved to Toronto to begin her bachelor of music at the Glenn Gould School.

Now in her third season with the Metropolitan Opera, Asselin made her Met debut in the 2014/15 season in Manon, in the role of Poussette. This season, as cover for the role of Adele in Die Fledermaus, conducted by James Levine, she was called upon to perform when soprano Lucy Crow became ill. Asselin sang the role on opening night (last December 4) – by all accounts to the delight of those who attended. (There’s a great interview with Asselin at schmopera.com about how the Met’s understudies prepare.)

“ … Possessed of a beautiful crystalline voice with a cool, bright middle register and clear-as-a-bell top, Asselin has a natural charm in her voice and in her bearing. … “(Eric C. Simpson. New York Classical Review, December 5, 2015)

Asselin Fledermaus Met Opera by Marty SohlLast October in Toronto you may have heard her in Mahler's Symphony No.4 with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra, or more recently in a Songmasters Series recital at Mazzoleni Hall called “Le Travail du Peintre,” with baritone Brett Polegato.  April 7 to 16 Asselin will sing the role of Celia in Opera Atelier’s much-anticipated production of Lucio Silla.  In May she will sing the title role in Handel’s Berenice with La Nuova Musica (London, UK) at the Göttingen International Handel Festival, and in June she’ll sing Mahler's Symphony No.8 with the Calgary Philharmonic, followed by Cosi Fan Tutte at Ashlawn Opera (Charlottesville VA).

Asselin earned her master’s from Yale University’s opera program. She was a member of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio (2011 to 2013), and a Toronto Summer Music Academy Fellow (Art of Song) in 2012.  Prior to her studies at Yale, she completed a B.Mus. at the RCM Glenn Gould School in Toronto.

Suppose you're travelling, and chatting with a friendly fellow traveler who asks what you do for a living? This one is easy, because this scenario actually plays out quite frequently! I usually say, "Oh, um, I'm an opera singer. I mean, I sing classical music with opera companies and orchestras and things." And then that either sparks an interesting conversation, or my travelling companion will go back to his or her book.

REPEAT_Mystery-Child_March_holding_a_star.jpgTell us about your childhood photo? I don't have a specific memory of that photo being taken, but I do have very clear memories of that day -- it was the dress rehearsal for our ballet school's year-end show and my class was dancing to a medley of... well, I don't quite remember!.. What I do remember is that my mom and I had put great care in the making of my cardboard tin-foil star and I was quite proud of it. We always performed our shows in the local high school auditorium. I remember my classmates and the test of my patience having to wait for (what seemed like) hours in my costume until it was our turn to practise our scene on the stage. I was fascinated with the older ballerinas who seemed so graceful and talented.

Anything you would like to tell young Mireille? I don't think I would give young me any special advice, because every hurdle I encountered growing up taught me a hard lesson that I am grateful for today. I think kids have a beautiful curiosity and lack of self-consciousness that should be left alone for as long as possible. I would, however, love to have a casual chat with her... I think it would be hilarious! I was a precocious, headstrong kid, and I'm sure I'd profess opinions and make categorical statements that would give me quite a chuckle now. But you know, come to think of it, I'd probably just tell her that she was a lucky kid to have such a great family and that she should give her mom an extra kiss for bringing her to ballet classes.

Mireille ballerinaWhat’s your absolute earliest memory of hearing music? My mom says I first kicked in her tummy during the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy at a performance of The Nutcracker! My own strongest memory is my father picking me up and dancing me around our living room to The Temptations:

I've got sunshine on a cloudy day.

When it's cold outside I've got the month of May.

 I guess you'd say  – what can make me feel this way?

 My girl (my girl, my girl) Talkin' 'bout my girl …

 

I've got so much honey the bees envy me.

I've got a sweeter song than the birds in the trees.

Well, I guess you'd say What can make me feel this way?

My girl (my girl, my girl) Talkin' 'bout my girl (my girl).

 

Hey hey hey

Hey hey hey

Ooooh.

 

I don't need no money, fortune or fame.

I've got all the riches, baby, one man can claim.

Well, I guess you'd say What can make me feel this way?

My girl (my girl, my girl)  Talkin' 'bout my girl (my girl)."

Other musicians in your childhood family? On my mom's side I have a cousin who is a conductor and pianist, and an aunt who is a pianist who leads a contemporary ensemble in Philadelphia. There are also many naturally gifted singers on my dad's side: my dad himself has a great big voice, so do my godmother and my cousin. My mom nearly went to college for cello performance, but decided on an English Lit degree instead. :)

Where did hearing music fit into your childhood? Growing up in a small-town I heard music mostly at home (CBC was always on in our kitchen), and in my community at church, camps and in my school choir.

A first memory of making music? Endlessly singing Disney songs into a little tape recorder which I'm sure my parents regretted giving me immediately. I was also very gifted at my little xylophone!

Mireille toddlerMaking music with others? I joined choir in first grade because I was new at school and wanted to make friends. I remember our choir director telling us to feel like Chia Pets, with grass growing out of our heads in order to get us to sing with more head voice and a nice straight posture.

When did you first sing by yourself for an audience other than your family? I believe it was when my school choir sang some Christmas carols at the local mall and I had a solo! A big day!

A first music teacher? I first studied piano with a very nice girl in New Brunswick who was quite good at motivating me to want to learn. But it was a later teacher, Mrs. Goud who was the most special of my early piano instructors. She had a beautiful house in the country, she was glamorous and kind, and encouraged me to compose. She made playing piano about making music, not just getting all the right notes.

The origins of your appetite for staged works? I was always a theatrical kid, putting on little pageants for my family and performing in lots of different capacities, but I was also quite terrified of playing piano and singing in front of people. It was a skill I really had to learn and I think that my stubborn nature ensured that I couldn't quit it just because it made me uncomfortable. Ironically, I feel that it was precisely because performing in public was such a challenge for me that I took to it and ultimately made it my career.

Do you remember the point at which you began to think of yourself as a career musician? I truly didn't know that a career in music was a possibility until I transferred to an arts school in Grade 10. It was then that I saw the girls in the years ahead of me preparing for their music school auditions and I first gave real thought to the idea. Music had always been my primary and all-consuming extra-curricular activity, but I always thought of singing as my main hobby and non-academic pursuit. It wasn't until I saw that people my age were doing it that I thought "Wait, can I really do this as my job?? How amazing would that be!".

Did you ever think you would do something else? Oh, absolutely! I was always big into the sciences and my career goals varied from astronaut (which fizzled after I couldn't go to space camp), to biochemist, to infectious diseases specialist (I loved Robin Cook books!).

Where does music fit into your day-to-day home/ family life today? My partner Chris is very good at making up completely improvised songs on the spot, so we have fun sending ridiculous lyrics back and forth at each other to whatever tune comes to mind. Because music is something that surrounds me every day and in my work, I find it important to decompress with something "palate cleansing" if you will.. and so when I'm at home I mainly listen to talk radio and podcasts instead of music. That being said, when I need an emotional release I will blast something cathartic like Britten's War Requiem, or play Glenn Gould's recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations when I need to recharge my soul.

If you were driving/walking absolutely all alone where nobody could hear you and could sing along to anything at all what would you choose? I can’t resist singing along to Bohemian Rhapsody when it comes on the radio.. but who can??

UPCOMING…

- April: Mozart's Lucio Silla with Opera Atelier (role of Celia)

- May: Handel's Berenice at the Göttingen International Handel Festival in Germany (role of Berenice)

- June: Mahler's Symphony No.8 with the Calgary Philharmonic

- June/July: Così fan tutte (role of Despina) and a recital at Ashlawn Opera in Charlottesville, VA

- Sept.-Nov.: Rossini's William Tell at the et (covering Jemmy)

- Nov.: Versailles Project with Boston Early Music Festival in Boston and NYC

- Dec.: the Amici Ensemble's “Gala Event”

- Dec.: Messiah with the Minnesota Orchestra

- Dec-Feb: Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Met (covering Rosina)

 

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