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Students follow different paths

(December 16, 1999, Gazette)

By David Sorensen

Memorial music students have a long history of excellence.
Thomas Yee won first prize in the national finals of the Canadian Music Competitions and is now working on his doctorate at the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY.

Soprano Mary Bella is a concert artist and her recent performances include her debut with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in Brahms’ Requiem, Handel’s Messiah with Toronto Classical Singers, a benefit gala for Nobel Peace Prize winner Doctors Without Borders and her debut recital at Montreal’s Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur.

Bruce Bonnell plays horn in the Hong Kong Symphony Orchestra.
The Newfoundland music establishment is peppered with Memorial grads: Susan Quinn directs the award-winning Holy Heart of Mary choirs; Grant Etchegary, conducts the honours band of the Avalon East Consolidated Board; and Susan Knight directs the Newfoundland Symphony Youth Choir.

Today’s music students are following their own paths to a career, whether in music or not.

Calvin Powell recently found himself on a regional stage of another sort. The fourth year performance major was Memorial’s representative on the CBC Radio show, Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.

Last year, CBC Radio Two introduced a student opera quiz as part of its intermission for the show. Memorial faculty member Dr. Paul Rice, who has been associated with the show for the past nine years, has generally served as a member of the quiz team for the show.

Memorial was chosen as one of nine centres and three MUN students took part – Carolyn Mackey, Clay Puddester and Mr. Powell. It aired the next day on Radio One in St. John’s.

Mr. Powell headed to Halifax Oct. 22 to take part in the regional semifinal.

But it wasn’t all fun and games. Atlantic finalists took part in a master class with quiz show host Stuart Hamilton, an opera coach who has worked with Canadian tenor superstar Ben Heppner.

While the show was a bit of a lark, Mr. Powell, a baritone, is serious about his pursuit of a career in opera.

“Opera is something that interests me and I hope to pursue opera school at the University of Toronto,” he said.
Memorial music students have often found themselves moving from the concert stage to the cozy stages of the downtown bars and pubs.

Angela Dawe is a piano major who also plays bass in a rock band.
“I started playing bass last Christmas because I decided that I want to be a bass player,” she said. “With that I just played the bass non-stop until I had my chops enough to get in a band.

“I found I could learn the bass quickly because from the knowledge I had from music, I’m piano player, I could bring the knowledge I had from piano into my bass playing.”

Her main gig now is with Sirens, a pop/jazz quartet. In the past she played bass with the Eddy Stevens Quartet, keyboards with the Jeff Winsor Band, and right now she’s rehearsing with a new all-female band called Live Girls, with the first show expected early in the new year.

Balancing school and gigging is a lot of work, she said.

“This semester I’m finding it really difficult to have school and bands at the same time. There’s so many rehearsals with the band and you play so much downtown. And then at school you have so much to do because you have a major, your practical instrument, and mine is piano, so ideally you have to get five hours a day practice in there. Plus there are concerts you have to go to and private teaching that most music students do.”
Every semester students are required to be in a MUN ensemble. This semester she’s playing in the jazz band, where she also plays bass.

But she said she wouldn’t give up the atmosphere of the bar stage.

“The classical music is definitely much more structured and there are expectations there that you have to meet. But with the rock music, I find it’s much more relaxing to go downtown and play in front of a smoky bar because everyone’s enjoying what you’re doing and there’s no better feeling than looking out and seeing people dancing to the music.”

While Newfoundland’s musical tradition is reflected in the quality of music students at Memorial, the school’s director, Dr. Maureen Volk, is quick to praise the faculty for the success of the students.

“A few years ago we had a visiting prof here on sabbatical replacement. At the end of his time we said ‘Tell us what you think,’” she said. “He said what really struck him was we had no deadwood (on faculty).

“There’s also a lot of interest and support for music in the province.”

Ask Dr. Volk to name some outstanding students, and it’s a job to get her off the phone.

In 1998, Memorial music student Michelle Lee finished third in the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra’s Young Artist Competition. Ms. Lee, a second-year piano student, had her performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor interrupted by a fire alarm. She returned 20 minutes later to complete her performance. Fiddle player Danette Eddy won an award from the Music Industry Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Earlier this year, music students Sarah Collins and E. Mark Murphy produced the rock opera Tommy. Paramita Nath is a visual artist and musician who submitted the winning design in the students’ union logo competition.

As the conversation with Dr. Volk draws to a close, she’s still rhyming off names. Danette Dickinson, piano; Rob Thompson, trumpet; Heather Tuach, cellist; Sarah Smith, flutist; Damien Walsh, saxophone; Jennifer Stephen, tuba; Heather Kao; Leah Chisholm; Krista Howell ...

(The School of Music Director’s List for 1998-99 appears on Page 8.)