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Vol 38  No 16
June 29, 2006


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Music school a ‘force to be reckoned with’

Coming of age

By Jeff Green

From left, Memorial alumnus Chad Stride, School of Music professor Dr. Doug Dunsmore and Dr. Tom Gordon, director, are all smiles as they sit in the newly-refurbished D. F. Cook Recital Hall. The facility, which has hosted thousands of budding performers and established musicians over the years, was recently re-painted, new carpet was laid and new seats were installed. A grand re-opening of the Cook is set for Sept. 11, 2006. (Photo by Chris Hammond.)

 

The School of Music has been hitting all the right notes lately, making headlines and attracting attention that’s reverberated well beyond the university.

In fact, it’s still riding high after an enthusiastic semester that netted top awards, professional praise and personal achievement for its students, faculty and alumni.

That success underscores the school’s importance in helping energize and contribute to the music scene locally, provincially and internationally, insisted Dr. Tom Gordon, director of the school, the largest of its kind in Atlantic Canada.

He beamed with pride recently as he recalled the seemingly endless list of accomplishments noted within the past few months.

“It really has been an amazing time at the school. The music program is 30 years old this year. We’re the youngest program on the St. John’s campus but we have had a lot of things happen in those years,” he said with a wide smile.

You’d have to look no further than this past semester to appreciate Dr. Gordon’s pride.

For starters, the chamber choir, under the direction of Dr. Doug Dunsmore, took a top prize at the CBC/Radio Canada National Radio Competition for Amateur Choirs; while Lady Cove Women’s Choir, which is directed by Kellie Walsh, the first graduate of the school’s new M.Mus. program in choral conducting, won in a different category at the same event.

Less than a year after their introduction, the school has also attracted 15 students to its new PhD and MA programs in ethnomusicology. These include not only Memorial graduates, but top young scholars from universities from across North America, a fact attested to by their better than 60 per cent success rate in SSHRC Graduate Fellowships.

Alumnus Sean Rice was recently awarded the first prize in the Orchestre symphonique de Québec Canadian Concerto Competition. Mr. Rice is now studying at the Julliard School of Music in New York.

Current students have been making waves, too. Members of the chamber orchestra are gearing up for an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity next year when they will become the first-ever Canadian ensemble to perform at the prestigious Peterhof International Festival of Ensembles.

Meanwhile, seven opera students ­ and one alumnus ­ travelled to Labrador in May and June to take part in the annual Opera RoadShow, performing The Vinland Traveller, a new opera for children commissioned from Newfoundland composer Dean Burry by the School of Music. Under the direction of Dr. Caroline Schiller, director of opera, this was the first year Memorial was able to travel to Labrador to perform for primary and elementary schools.

Faculty members such as Dr. Jane Leibel, an associate professor, and Dr. Gordon are playing a major role in this week’s Magnetic North Theatre Festival. The School of Music has partnered with Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland to present the world premiere of Nightingale at the Petro-Canada Hall. The production stars Dr. Leibel and will also feature Dr. Gordon.

For his part, Dr. Gordon insisted all this success feels like a new era for his school.

“It almost feels like we’re coming of age,” he said. “The groundwork for what we are doing, and for what our students and graduates are ­ and will be ­ doing has been laid over the past 20 years. We’re all now bearing the fruits of that labour. Our reputation has been re-affirmed by all this national and international recognition.”

Dr. Dunsmore, a veteran faculty member, shares those sentiments. He insisted the School of Music has become “a force to be reckoned with” over the past three decades.

“Our students and graduates are going further and doing more things,” he said. “The echo of this recent success will take a little while to generate but it will certainly make it known that Memorial is a place to come to go further. It will encourage people to come to this school where they’ll become great musicians.”

That was the case for Chad Stride, the founder and conductor of the Cantus Vocum Chamber Choir, which received an honourable mention during the CBC/Radio Canada National Radio Competition earlier this year. His group has just released its fifth CD, CV Home. He said the hands-on experience he got at the School of Music, combined with the support of faculty members, helped make him a better musician.

“The success of graduates only comes back to shine on the university,” he said. “I think it’s a great thing when alumni are continuing to grow from the seed planted while at Memorial.”

For his part, Dr. Gordon said he feels like “the proud papa” of a whole new generation of musicians and faculty who are achieving excellence.

“Memorial has attracted the attention of students of the highest calibre and teachers who are giving this school a whole new life,” he said. “I think our future is very bright.”

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