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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kiyoshi NagataUPCOMING Nagata Shachu engagements

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

David Buchbinder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


  • 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


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).

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