Soprano and comedienne Mary Lou Fallis has enjoyed an extraordinary career as a lyric coloratura, choral soloist, teacher and speaker. She has toured extensively with her award winning solo show Primadonna, its various sequels, and several other original one-woman creations. As music producer of the Gemini award winning BRAVO! TV series Bathroom Divas she was part of a jury selecting a winner from hundreds of nation-wide hopefuls. Ms. Fallis continues to perform and teaches privately, having taught at York University, the Royal Hamilton Conservatory of Music, Queen's University and the University of Western Ontario.
Mary Lou Fallis lives in Toronto with her husband - double-bassist and artist Peter Madgett, and a very woolly dog named Percy.
Saturday July 16, 7:15pm
Amherst Island Waterside Summer Series
Mary Lou Fallis, soprano and Peter Tiefenbach, piano
Monday July 25, 3pm
Stratford Summer Music's Serenade to Maureen Forrester
Monday August 22, 7pm
"Opera Highlights" part of Muskoka Opera Festival
Mary Lou Fallis with Peter Tiefenbach
The Rene M. Caisse Memorial Theatre, in Bracebridge
Tell us about your childhood photo?
I'm wearing a corsage - it was my 3rd birthday. My mom smocked that yellow dress for me: smocking was all the rage with 50s mothers, like a competitive sport. She hated sewing so it’s very touching she did that for me. She was a terrible seamstress, and after six kids she doesn't even like to sew on buttons now. But she is, after all 85!
There was always music and singing at birthday parties: Musical Chairs, The Farmer in the Dell, A Tisket a Tasket, a Green-and-Yellow Basket … games where you have to sing and walk around at the same time - and then run like crazy to catch someone or get their spot!
If a little child asked "What do you do?"
I sing for people! I sing music you'd hear at a fancy concert, usually written by people who are dead – not rock and roll or pop music, but I try to make people happier. So I like a lot of music in major keys. That's the music that sounds happy (sings: My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean). Music in minor keys sounds sad (sings Volga Boatmen). I don't wear a black and white suit – usually I wear a long sparkly evening gown. Sometimes I sing with a big orchestra, sometimes with a piano.
If an adult asked?
I am a musical comedienne …do you know about Victor Borge or Anna Russell? I do that sort of thing with opera. I send up the persona of the diva, and prick the balloon of pretension!
Just the basics
Mary Lou Fallis was born in Toronto, and attended nursery school at the Institute for Child Studies. As a small child, she and her parents shared her grandparents' Wychwood Park home on Braemar Gardens until the young family outgrew this arrangement (with a third child), and moved to North Toronto. Young Mary Lou attended Lawrence Park Collegiate, and then the University of Toronto. She later went to New York to study with Daniel Farrell, with funding from the Canada Council, and subsequently to England with her husband Peter Madgett who was studying composition. In London she pursued additional voice studies, and did some coaching. The couple returned to Toronto when Madgett was offered a position with the Toronto Symphony.
What is your absolute earliest musical memory?
Playing the piano with my wonderful grandmother, Jennie Bouck. She was my mum's mum.
I'd have been two or three. She played the bottom and I played the top. At first it was just making nice sounds, like a descant that I made up as she played. A little later I learned to pick out songs that I knew. Eventually we would play duets, and music for 2 pianos. And we always sang – before there were any kind of formal singing lessons.
I think she did this a bit with all of us children, but she spent most the most time with me. I was the first grandchild, and the one who was the hungriest for it.
Other musicians in your family?
My grandmother was, among other things, the conductor of a women's choir at Trinity St Paul's United Church, as well as the junior church choir.
Here's a fun story about her: she conducted the Toronto Symphony at Massey Hall at the age of 80. The whole family chipped in and we bought it for her as a "Dream Auction" item. They did "Pomp and Circumstance" ( with all the repeats!) Andrew (Davis) was so impressed that he asked her back, and she eventually conducted Handel's "The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" at Roy Thomson Hall, at the age of 84.
My mum was a singer – taught singing, and went around to different schools teaching Orff music. She was in the Elmer Iseler Singers: in fact we sang together in that choir. She was also in the Mendelssohn Choir.
At the age of 50, when we were all out of the house, she went back to teacher's college and then taught in the public school system – they were living in Tottenham by then. She also has written three books for children – each one is a whole little opera.
My dad was a doctor – he was also in the Mendelssohn Choir.
My grandmother's sister was rehearsal pianist for the Mendelssohn Choir for a number of years.
David Fallis, artistic director of the Toronto Consort , is my first cousin. But to me he was always just "little David in the junior choir." It's funny to think of him being any kind of big conductor, but one sees him all the time now conducting all sorts of things.
In terms of my siblings: mostly not really musicians, although enjoying music was something we all have from all sides, and singing was just a normal thing to do. My sister Loie Fallis, who played the french horn at university, has been on the administrative staff of the TSO for decades – she's now the director of artistic planning.
What do you remember from those days about hearing music, formally or informally?
What's your first memory of singing?
Besides singing with my grandmother there was always lots of singing at church. My grandfather, Colonel Fallis was the minister there. (That’s where my mum and dad met). And I was in the junior choir there. At the cottage we sang songs around the campfire: My Paddle's Keen and Bright, She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain, Kumbaya. Driving in the car with my parents – the younger kids would sleep and we sang to stay awake so I learned to sing their songs: Just a Song at Twilight, It's a Long Way to Tiperarry.
What do you remember about early music lessons, and your first instrument?
I didn't have formal piano lessons, or voice lessons, other than with my grandmother until I was older. But my first piano teacher was Mrs. Kennedy. She and her husband Peter Kennedy were connected with the Royal Conservatory and wrote piano books for children "The Kennedy Method". I used to get out of school early at age nine or ten for piano lessons.
By the time I was about twelve I would go to the conservatory for theory on Saturday, and then for voice with my grandmother her at Trinity-St. Paul's. Then we'd have an outing – the ballet, an opera, some sort of a show in the afternoon, and then home to their farm (which was where Ross Lord Park is now). We would have supper and play piano duets and sing, and I could stay up late by myself and watch old movies and drink orange crush. That's when I first saw Deanna Durbin – I was about 16. There was one called Spring Parade, and she sang "Waltzing in the Clouds"
(sings) "Waltzing, waltzing high in the clouds, drifting, dreaming far from the crowds…."
There were these marvellous entire movies around her. Sometimes I think I became a singer because of Deanna Durbin. (She was a Canadian.)
The first time you sang alone for an audience?
What were your first experiences of making music with other people?
I have very faint memories of a garden party for The Institute of Child Study, where I attended Nursery school. I was three, and I sang "Oh isn't it a bit of luck that I was born a YELLOW DUCK, with yellow socks and yellow shoes, that I may wander where I choose, quack, quack, quack, quack...."
I remember that I performed as a soloist with my grandmother's choir at Trinity-St. Paul's when I was about 11 or 12. I sang "The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Music" and some waltz or other.
But more memorable: when I was 17 I won the rose bowl in the Kiwanis Festival and the prize was singing at Massey Hall – a kind of "Stars of the Festival" concert. I sang the "Bell Song" from Lackmé, with piano. I don't know how good I was but oh boy did I feel like I was Metropolitan Opera bound - almost a diva. That was the year I was in grade 13.
Do you remember when you first thought of yourself as a career musician?
That would have been when I was rescued by the Faculty of Music. At that time, there was still grade 13 but the (U of T) Faculty had a "quiet policy" of accepting students with a performance major after grade 12. And I really wanted to do that but my parents said no, I had to do grade 13. They wanted me to do a general arts degree first. So I duly enrolled at Victoria College in philosophy and sociology. This lasted 6 exactly six weeks. My good friend Gaynor Jones (who I went to high school with) was in the performance diploma programme. She was supposed to sing "Et Incartatus Est" (with all those high Cs) from the Mozart Mass in C minor (with a clarinet choir, if you can imagine that!) Gaynor became terribly sick and asked me to fill in at the last minute. So I went along to Ezra Schabas, who was at the Faculty Of Music, and sang for him. And he said "For goodness sake what on earth are you doing across the road there? Do you want to go back to Vic?" And of course I said no, and he pulled some strings around there, and by the middle of October I was enrolled at the Faculty of Music. From then on I knew I wanted to be a singer, and perhaps even thought I'd be world famous immediately.
I had a strong opinion of how good I was, I knew my background was good – sight-reading, theory, musicianship. But this does not make up for hard work and there were lots of very talented people there. It was very, very good for me to realize I wasn't the only one. It was a really good experience.
Do you remember ever thinking you would do anything else?
I think I thought about being a high school teacher.
I know I thought about medicine, after all my father was a doctor and I really admired what he did. There were already lots of doctors who were women, and who were really admired by society in general. I liked chemistry, but was not good at math.
If you could travel back through time and have a visit with the little person in your childhood photograph, is there anything you'd like to tell her, or ask?
I'd I want to tell her, somehow, that her gut instincts on important issues are where to go.
You can't always think things through. Some plan may look all logical and you can say something should work, but if your gut still says it's not quite right, then just don't do it.
I'd want to ask her something like "Do you think you've been given a script to play that isn't exactly yours?"
One is so loved when you're very little. One takes in so many things, unconsciously, from everybody who wants the best for you.
But in the end with all best will in the world one has to find their own way. Someone (was it Joyce?) said something about how one has to step back at some point from church, school, and country, and find out who he is in relation to all those things so they don’t have control over him.
Even if you have support, brains, and talent, you still have to separate your own path from what is expected of you, and maybe even overcome some of those things, to really shine as an artist.
for a complete biography, schedule, and discography, visit maryloufallis.com
Who is September’s Child?
“Growing up with my father’s record collection, which had tens of thousands of recordings, I could listen to thirty interpretations of the same piece …”
Who played her professional debut at age ten with the Boyd Neel Orchestra, in Toronto, has a Canadian engagement for the first time in a decade this September in Toronto, and still prefers to play from memory, with her eyes closed?
Think you know who our mystery child is? Send your best guess to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please provide your mailing address just in case your name is drawn! Winners will be selected by random draw among correct replies received by August 20, 2011.
CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR WINNERS! HERE’S WHAT THEY WON
Sandra Newton (Pickering) and Margie Bernal (London) each won a pair of tickets to A Serenade for Maureen Forrester (July 25) presented by Stratford Summer Music, celebrating the life and career of the late Canadian contralto. With production support from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, where Ms. Forrester played characters she considered among the highlights of her career, this tribute will include live performances by Mary Lous Fallis and many other Canadian singers and musicians of note, seldom seen video excerpts of Ms. Forrester, and personal reflections on her life. stratfordsummermusic.ca
Rita MacKinnon (Oakville) won the CD More or Less Live at the Gould — Mary Lou Fallis with frequent musical co-conspirator, pianist Peter Tiefenbach. Recorded at the Glenn Gould Studio this performance includes “Why Isn’t Love Like It Is In the Opera,” “Bingo Night In Berlin,” a medley from Nebraska, and “I’ve Got Faust Under My Skin” (2009).
Joe Orlando (Toronto) won the CD Primadonna on a Moose featuring music from one of Mary Lou Fallis’ immensely popular one-woman Primadonna shows. These Canadian popular songs from 1840–1930, with members of the TSO and the Victoria Scholars, are arranged and conducted by John Greer and include “Paddle Your Own Canoe,” “Take Your Girl Out to the Rink” and “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise”