High Notes | Fall 2017 Edition

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Welcome to the Fall 2017 edition of High Notes

In this issue, we talk to conductor and composer Hussein Janmohamed about using choral music to reframe the conversation about race in Canada; catch up with Professor Emeritus Robert Silverman as he reflects on a lifetime performing Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto”; highlight a new scholarship from the Royal Over-Seas League UK; and introduce On That Note the new School of Music podcast that asks, How does music work? 

Also in the issue:

  • Singer/songwriter Nat Jay on music licensing, grant-writing, and getting her first big break in television 

  • Pianist Lucas Wong on Mostly Debussy and finding new ways to inspire audiences and students

  • Fall ConcertsUBC Symphony Orchestra, Bands, Choirs, and Turning Point Ensemble on Livestream

  • Alumni Making WavesAn outstanding new book, a (very) modern adaptation of Handel, orchestra news, and more 

  • Research & Publications: The American Ballad in Popular Music, the female "citoyenne" in 18th century French opera, rhythm and cognition, and more

  • Beyond the Gates"Northern Star" by Dr. Dorothy Chang, an award for Standing Wave, and many faculty performances and juries

  • Catching Up with Our Students: Awards, publications, and a Metropolitan Opera competition

  • "On Texture" a playlist by Colleen O'Connor

  • Thank you! A piano donation from a graduating student and artwork in remembrance of former faculty member Mary Tickner 

As always, we want to hear from you! Send us your comments and story ideas.


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Composer and conductor Hussein Janmohamed on choral singing, identity, and fostering cultural understanding

As a composer, conductor, and teacher, Hussein Janmohamed (BMus'96, MMus'98, MMus'14) has built a career using choral music to challenge cultural stereotypes and reframe the conversation about race in Canada.

Growing up as an Ismaili Muslim in rural Alberta taught him that discrimination was an unfortunate fact of life, even in a country celebrated for its multiculturalism. And for Muslims and many other groups, he says, the issue is as pressing now as ever.

“[W]e are in a society in which there are a lot of negative representations of Islam, not only from the media but from small minorities within the faith,” he says.

For Janmohamed, challenging these stereotypes starts with combating self-stigma. After graduating from UBC with the first of two Master’s degrees, he founded the Vancouver Ismaili Youth Choir to help Muslim youth understand their dual and often plural identities.

Read the full story

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Photo: Sian Richards

Photo: Sian Richards

“Decades later, you see the whole landscape”: Robert Silverman on performing Beethoven and finding your way as a young musician

On Nov. 10th, renowned pianist and Professor Emeritus Robert Silverman performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 with the UBC Symphony Orchestra to a packed house at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.

Silverman, who first studied the Beethoven concerto as a student nearly 50 years ago, brought a lifetime of knowledge and accomplishment — and a continued sense of wonder — to the legendary work. And it showed.

“I can’t tell you how different the piece is [to me] now,” he says. “Some people who’ve been around for a while, every time they get asked to do something, they just take the music off the shelf, blow the dust off, and play it. Telephone in their last performance. I just can’t do that. I never have. This [concert] gave me the opportunity to relook at this great piece.”

For Silverman, the “Emperor” — as the concerto is popularly known — has lost none of its freshness and excitement. If anything, his appreciation of the concerto has deepened over years of studying, teaching, and performing.

Read the full story

Watch Robert Silverman perform "The Emperor" with UBC Symphony Orchestra

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Oboist and DMA student Kristen Cooke experiences UK music life thanks to new scholarship

Over the summer, Doctor of Musical Arts student Kristen Cooke received an opportunity of a lifetime. 

As the first winner of the Royal Over-Seas League UK Scholarship for a BC Emerging Musician, the UBC oboist got a taste of professional music life in the UK, working with British and Commonwealth musicians, and performing at London's Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and British Isles Music Festival.

The Royal Over-Seas League (ROSL) has had a long history of supporting and nurturing talent from Commonwealth countries. Along with existing scholarships for aspiring professional musicians from Australia and New Zealand, ROSL has now offered their first musical scholarship in Canada. Each scholarship package includes an incredible itinerary of performing concerts at iconic venues and attending coaching sessions with prominent musicians in London. To top it off, recipients enjoy an all-expenses-paid trip with time to explore.

“We are thrilled and grateful that the Royal Over-Seas League has generously offered this opportunity to a UBC student,” said Richard Kurth, director of the UBC School of Music. 

Read the full story

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Dina MacDougall/UBC School of Music

Dina MacDougall/UBC School of Music

Introducing On That Note, the new School of Music podcast

How does music work? Why do we respond to a particular piece of music in a particular way? What can music tell us about ourselves and the world?

These are some of the big questions that the new School of Music podcast grapples with. Now available on iTunes, On That Note is a monthly deep-dive into the music you love — and music you may have never heard of. Join host Graham MacDonald and musicians and scholars from the UBC School of Music as they investigate everything from Beyoncé to Bach to Balinese Gamelan.

In the debut episode, Graham talks to Prof. David Metzer about his new book, The Ballad in American Popular Music: From Elvis to Beyoncé. They discuss how we define ballads, how they change with the times, and why they continue to grab us. Listen to the interview:


Watch Nat Jay perform "What I'm Made Of."

 

Singer-songwriter Nat Jay on music licensing, grant-writing, and getting her first big break on TV

While the rise of Spotify and other music streaming services has been a boon for major artists like Taylor Swift or Drake, this new economic model has arguably made it harder for independent and emerging artists to make a living by selling their music. The alternative, says singer-songwriter Nat Jay (Minor’04) is to diversify.

Jay has won national awards for her lyrical pop-folk songs and shared the stage with top Canadian artists like Juno-winner Dan Mangan. But instead of signing with a record label, Jay followed a less traditional path to musical success. She has built a thriving career by licensing the rights to her songs for use in TV and movie productions.

Her songs have been heard on popular shows and movies across North America, including Heartland on the CBC and Awkward on MTV. And while she performs mostly in local festivals— like Vancouver’s Folk Fest and Spirit of the Sea Fest— she has amassed a following that stretches a lot further because of the exposure from these placements.

“My sync placements made me realize it was actually possible to have a career and generate an income in the music industry,” Jay says. 

Read the full story

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Pianist Lucas Wong on Mostly Debussy and finding new ways to inspire audiences and students

It is difficult to give Lucas Wong (BMus’04) a specific label or title.

The UBC School of Music alumnus is a concert pianist and recording artist, but his career goals extend far beyond performance. He is also a university professor, a collaborator in a computer software project for piano students, a textbook writer, and the founder of the lecture-recital series, Mostly Debussy.

“I always enjoyed talking about music as much as I enjoy playing music,” Wong says. “As pianists, we have to look for new ways to engage the audience in our programs. One of the ways is by interacting with the audience and introducing pieces to them.”

 Mostly Debussy was featured at the Roy Barnett Recital Hall in September, a concert in which Wong performed Debussy’s Pagodes from Estampes, as well as several selections from his collection of Préludes and Etudes. As part of the concert he also explained how the pieces work and what makes them so compelling.

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Fall concerts available on Livestream

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The School of Music’s large and small ensembles staged ambitious concerts and events this autumn. You can watch some of them on Livestream:

Estacio, Respighi, BrahmsUBC Symphony Orchestra with Student Concerto Competition winner Benjamin Hopkins.

anyMOMENTnow: UBC Symphonic Wind Ensemble and Concert Winds perform music inspired by Gabrieli, Sweelinck, Bach, Karrick, Nelson and more.

World premiere of Ana Sokolović’s “Evta”: Turning Point Ensemble and Ensemble Contemporain de Montreal (ECM+) perform the composer’s new violin concerto, along with works by Bauck, Torio, and Pieniek. Featuring UBC faculty and alumni.

We Can Mend the Sky: Canadian premiere! UBC Choirs perform Jake Runestad’s powerful musical depiction of an immigrant’s journey, inspired by the poetry of 14-year-old Warda Mohamed. With a 400+ voice finale!

MOMENTmakers: UBC Symphonic Wind Ensemble and Concert Winds perform Boysen, Lauridsen, Camphouse, Chance, George, Hailstork, Blackshaw, and Grainger. 

For upcoming School of Music performances, check out our concert calendar.

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New research and publications

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Dr. Hedy Law’s essay on the female “citoyenne” in 18th-century French opera — including Sapho (1795) by librettist Constance-Marie de Salm and composer Jean-Paul-Gilles Martini — was published this spring in The Opera Quarterly.

This November, Dr. Ève Poudrier presented a talk entitled “The influence of grouping and tempo on subjective metricization” at the Auditory Perception, Cognition, and Action Meeting (APCAM) in Vancouver, British Columbia. The presentation slides are available here.

Dr. Nathan Hesselink gave three talks in the past year: "The Backbeat as Expressive Device in Popular Music," presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Music Theory in Vancouver; "Korean Drumming and Cosmology: Music Reflecting and Shaping Local Culture," presented at Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon; and "Radiohead’s OK Computer," presented as part of Rain City Chronicles “The Record Club” Series, Macmillan Space Centre, Vancouver. The Korean translation of his first book on Korean folk drumming, P’ungmul: South Korean Drumming and Dance (University of Chicago), was published by the Academy of Korean Studies.

Dr. David Metzer’s new book, The Ballad in American Popular Music: From Elvis to Beyoncé, was published by Cambridge University Press.  It is the first history of the ballad in recent popular music.

Continue reading research and publications news

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On Texture: a playlist by Colleen O'Connor

Our semi-monthly Playlist column features music curated by our faculty, students, and staff around an interesting idea or theme. To celebrate the release of her excellent début, 17 Hoops, we asked singer/songwriter/pianist (and School of Music Communications Assistant) Colleen O'Connor to talk about music and "texture." 

Read the column or load the playlist in Spotify (login required)

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Pictured (left to right): Julie Chien, Debi Wong, and Rose-Ellen Nichols

Pictured (left to right): Julie Chien, Debi Wong, and Rose-Ellen Nichols

 

Alumni Making Waves: An outstanding new book, a (very) modern adaptation of Handel, orchestra news, and more  

This November, Rose-Ellen Nichols (BMus ’05, MMus ’08) performed the role of the Native Mother in Missing, the new Pacific Opera Victoria/City Opera Vancouver co-production that “gives voice to the story of Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous women.” 

This fall, Julia Chien (BMus ’14) won the Principal Percussion position with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra and the Principal Timpani position with the Kamloops Symphony, while Stephanie Bell (BMus ’14) is the new Second Flute with the Victoria Symphony. Catch Julia at Barnett Hall on Feb. 14th, 2018.

Music theorists and editors Laurel Parsons (MA ’91, Ph.D ’03) and Brenda Ravenscroft (Ph.D ’93) won the Society for Music Theory’s 2018 award for the Outstanding Multi-Authored Publication for Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers: Concert Music, 1960-2000 (Oxford University Press, 2016). It is the first of a four-volume series. 

Debi Wong (BMus ’08) debuted Acis & Galatea: A Gender Liberation Opera, her adaption of the Handel opera, in Vancouver this fall. The production also featured performances by UBC alumni Rachel Fenlon (BMus '10, MMus '12) and Peter Monaghan (BMus '14, MMus '15), with Alan Corbishley (BMus ’98) directing. Debi performs in Barnett Hall on March 7th, 2018 as part of the Wednesday Noon Hour series. 

Continue reading alumni news

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Dr. Robert Taylor

Dr. Robert Taylor

 

Beyond the Gates

"Northern Star,” a new composition by Dr. Dorothy Chang, débuted at the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in October. Dr. Chang composed the piece as part of a large-scale work for orchestra and dancers, in collaboration with four other composers, Vince Ho, Dinuk Wijeratne, Maxime McKinley, and Derek Charke, along with choreographer Yukichi Hattori. The performance is available online, along with a documentary that includes interviews with the composers.

Standing Wave won the 2017 Western Canadian Music Award for Classical Artist/Ensemble of the Year at BreakOut West for their album New Wave. The ensemble includes UBC Music faculty members Vern Griffiths and Christie Reside, as well as alumni Allen Stiles (BMus ’84, MMus ’86) and A.K. Coope (BMus ’90). The recording includes contributions from composer Michael Oesterle (BMus ’92) and producer Will Howie (BMus ’04).

Dr. Robert Taylor recently completed a one-week residency at the Singapore American School, where he worked with band students in grades 6-12, provided professional development sessions for music faculty, and guest conducted a program of 13 works with five different ensembles. 

Continue reading faculty news

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Azura Quartet's Mo Miao, Mia Gazeley, and Haley Heinricks.

Azura Quartet's Mo Miao, Mia Gazeley, and Haley Heinricks.

 

Catching up with our students

The Azura Quartet, featuring School of Music students and alumni Mia Gazeley (BMus student), Mo Miao (BMus student), Chinley Hinacay (BMus ’17), and Haley Heinricks (BMus’17), won first prize and $1,500 in the Chamber category at the 2017 National Music Festival in Ottawa, Ontario. Alumnus Ryan Hofman (MMus ’17) won second place and $1,000 in the Voice category. Congratulations to all! 

UBC Opera students and alumni made a sweep of the 2017 Metropolitan Opera National Council Western Canada District Auditions, which took place on Nov. 12, 2017 in the Old Auditorium. The winners were BMus student Shane Hanson and alumna Francesca Corrado (BMus ’12, MMus ’14). Honourable mentions went to Marie Civitarese (MMus ’17) and BMus students Yeeun (Yenny) Lee and Ian McCloy. Francesca and Shane move on to the regional auditions in Seattle. Best of luck!

Musicology PhD student Christina Hutten recently began a one-year residency at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, for her dissertation research. She is the recipient of a fellowship from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (German Academic Exchange Service).

Continue reading student news

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Thank you!

Recent graduate Lorna Yeates (BMus’17) has generously donated a new hydraulic piano bench for use in Roy Barnett Recital Hall.

Artist Pnina Granirer has donated a work of mixed media on paper, entitled "Solo (1977)", in memory of piano faculty member Mary Tickner, who dedicated her life to music and her students. It graces the chamber music rehearsal room, located on the 4th floor of the music building. There are two other works created by Ms. Granirer that may be seen in the foyer of the Old Auditorium as well.


Do you have a story? Let us know!

If you're a UBC Music alumnus and you have news to share, please send a note to tyler.stiem@ubc.ca. We're always looking for stories for upcoming editions of High Notes and our other networks.

 

Playlist: On "Texture"

Our semi-monthly Playlist column features music curated by our faculty, students, and staff around an interesting idea or theme. To celebrate the release of her excellent début, 17 Hoops, we asked singer/songwriter/pianist (and School of Music Communications Assistant) Colleen O'Connor to talk about music and "texture." You can listen to the tracks below via Spotify (if you have an account) or YouTube (if you don't). The full playlist is also available here.


By Colleen O'Connor

One of the features I love most about music is texture. Many of my favourite musicians use contrasting textures to create diverse musical landscapes that I find mesmerizing. Here are some of my favourites: 

Bonobo, "Migration" from Migration

In "Migration," electronic layers are blended with piano and sparse percussion, which become more dense and varied in texture as the atmospheric work develops. 

Arvo Pärt Silentium from Tabula Rasa

When I was studying composition, I found Minimalism particularly captivating. In this piece by Arvo Pärt, subtle, progressive alterations to repetitive melodic and harmonic patterns draw the listener's focus toward the changes. Plaintive strings coupled with the unsettling sound of the prepared piano creates an ambiance that is elegantly sad. 

Bokanté, "Jou Ké Ouvè" from Strange Circles

The newly-minted group Bokanté was formed by Michael League of Snarky Puppy, and Malika Tirolien, who sings in French and Créole. Jou Ké Ouvè weaves a tapestry of blues and world fusion.

Prokofiev, Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, iii. Intermezzo

The third movement of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 2 begins with a heavy walking bass theme, punctuated by ominous horns, followed by sneaky, chromatic, descending triplets in the clarinets. The piano enters with thin chromatic flourishes, creating a stark contrast. I imagine a giant stomping and loping back into his castle after a night of carousing.

Bjork, "Stonemilker" from Vulnicura

Björk is an artist who creates masterful electroacoustic arrangements. Stonemilker combines electronic beats with lush strings and Björk's unique vocal tone.

John Stetch, "Zabava" from Green Grove / Ukrainianism

John Stetch recently came to the School of Music to study for a Master’s degree in composition. His piece Zabava is a masterclass on the different textures the piano can create. The piece employs a variety of techniques, including the strumming of the piano strings at the start of the piece, and the muting of the keys at the end.

Radiohead, "Decks Dark" from A Moon Shaped Pool

I'm drawn to the cascading sounds in Radiohead's Decks Dark — broken descending chords in the piano, gently oscillating electronic sounds in the upper register, and the choral effect of the layered vocals.

Aaron Diehl, Le tombeau de couperin iii. Forlane (Ravel) from The Bespoke Man's Narrative

Aaron Diehl re-imagines the Forlane from Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin in a jazz setting.

Super Pyramid, "Devoid"

The aesthetic of this piece includes a juxtaposition of smoky, ethereal vocals with crisp layers of Rhodes and Wurlitzer keyboards, electronic percussion, and other ambient acoustic sounds. The mixture creates a texture that I find both calming and intriguing.

Colleen O’Connor is Marketing and Communications Assistant for the School of Music. She holds a Diploma in Music Writing from MacEwan University and a Bachelor of Arts in Music degree from Portland State University. Colleen just released her first recording, 17 Hoops. Listen on Spotify or at colleensong.com/music.

Banner image by Colleen O'Connor.

Alumni Making Waves: An outstanding new book, a (very) modern adaptation of Handel, orchestra news, and more  

This November, Rose-Ellen Nichols (BMus ’05, MMus ’08) performed the role of the Native Mother in Missing, the new Pacific Opera Victoria/City Opera Vancouver co-production that “gives voice to the story of Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous women.” 

Julia Chien (BMus ’14, MMus student) has won the Principal Percussion position with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra and the Principal Timpani position with the Kamloops Symphony, while Stephanie Bell (BMus ’14) is the new Second Flute with the Victoria Symphony. Catch Julia at Barnett Hall on Feb. 14th, 2018.

Left to right: Julia Chien, Debi Wong, and Rose-Ellen Nichols

Left to right: Julia Chien, Debi Wong, and Rose-Ellen Nichols

Choral composer Matthew Emery (BMus ’14) has been awarded the University of Toronto’s 2017 William and Phyllis Waters Award. The $25,000 award recognizes “graduating students… who are deemed to have the greatest potential to make an important contribution to the field of music.” 

Debi Wong (BMus ’08) debuted Acis & Galatea: A Gender Liberation Opera, her adaption of the Handel opera, in Vancouver this fall. The production also featured performances by UBC alumni Rachel Fenlon (BMus '10, MMus '12) and Peter Monaghan (BMus '14, MMus '15), with Alan Corbishley (BMus ’98) directing. Debi performs in Barnett Hall on March 7th, 2018 as part of the Wednesday Noon Hour series. 

Music theorists and editors Laurel Parsons (MA ’91, Ph.D ’03) and Brenda Ravenscroft (Ph.D ’93) won the Society for Music Theory’s 2018 award for the Outstanding Multi-Authored Publication for Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers: Concert Music, 1960-2000 (Oxford University Press, 2016). It is the first of a four-volume series. 

Fiona Blackburn (BMus ’82, BEd (Sec) ’02, MMus ’10) was recently appointed as Conductor of Pacifica Singers, a select vocal ensemble that exists as part of the Vancouver Chamber Choir organization. Fiona's eclectic musical career has included performing as a classically trained soloist and recording artist, teaching voice, adjudicating festivals, conducting choirs, and educating in classrooms.

Natalie Calhoun (BMus ’95) was nominated for an East Coast Music Award as part of the ensemble Atlantic String Machine. Their album, Lost Time, was nominated in the category of Classical Recording of the Year.

Shang Ko (Sunny) Chan (BMus ’16) was named as a finalist in the Shean Strings Competition. The finals were held May 18–20, 2017 in Edmonton, Alberta. 

Nicole Linaksita (BMus ’15) has had a busy few months. She was Guest Artist for Music Without Borders, performed Moszkowski’s Piano Concerto Op. 59 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, and won a Silver Medal and Best Performance of a Canadian Work at the Vancouver International Music Competition. She also performed numerous concerts with Musica Moderna Camerata and others.

In May, world-renowned pianist and former School of Music student Jon Kimura Parker, O.C, received an honorary Doctorate of Lettershonoris causa, from the University of British Columbia in recognition of his countless contributions to the world of classical music. 

Jocelyn Morlock (MMus ’96, DMA ’02) and John Estacio (MMus '91) were among four composers commissioned by the National Arts Centre Orchestra for Life Reflected, an “immersive symphonic experience” that celebrated four exceptional Canadian women. Jocelyn’s piece, “My Name is Amanda Todd” tells the story of the vibrant 15-year-old who, after suffering for years from cyber abuse, spoke out against harassment and bullying on YouTube. For his piece, “I Lost My Talk,” John draws inspiration from the life and work of acclaimed Mi'kmaw elder and poet Rita Joe. Life Reflected premiered in Vancouver in October.  

Violist Sarah Kwok (MMus ’11, DMA student) and percussionist Julia Chien made their debuts with the award-winning Turning Point Ensemble during International World Music Days in November. You can watch their performance here

New research and publications

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Dr. Hedy Law’s essay on the female “citoyenne” in 18th-century French opera — including Sapho (1795) by librettist Constance-Marie de Salm and composer Jean-Paul-Gilles Martini — was published this spring in The Opera Quarterly.

This November, Dr. Ève Poudrier presented a talk entitled “The influence of grouping and tempo on subjective metricization” at the Auditory Perception, Cognition, and Action Meeting (APCAM) in Vancouver, British Columbia. The presentation slides are available here.

Dr. David Metzer’s new book, The Ballad in American Popular Music: From Elvis to Beyoncé, was published by Cambridge University Press.  It is the first history of the ballad in recent popular music. Prof. Metzer chronicles a musical history of the ballad, looking at how such celebrated singers as Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Barry Manilow, and Whitney Houston have shaped the genre. He also offers a history of emotions in popular culture, showing how ballads capture the changing ways in which feelings have been understood and experienced. You can listen to Prof. Metzer talk about his book on the School of Music podcast.

Music theorists and editors Dr. Laurel Parsons (MA ’91, Ph.D ’03) and Dr. Brenda Ravenscroft (Ph.D ’93) won the Society for Music Theory’s 2018 award for the Outstanding Multi-Authored Publication for Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers: Concert Music, 1960-2000 (Oxford University Press, 2016). It is the first of a four-volume series.

Dr. John Roeder gave the keynote address at a conference in London about the operas of Thomas Adès. At the Society for Music Theory annual meeting in November, he also presented papers on music of Chen Yi, and on teaching musical meter.

P’ungmul: South Korean Drumming and Dance

P’ungmul: South Korean Drumming and Dance

Dr. Nathan Hesselink gave three talks in the past year: "The Backbeat as Expressive Device in Popular Music," presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Music Theory in Vancouver; "Korean Drumming and Cosmology: Music Reflecting and Shaping Local Culture," presented at Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon; and "Radiohead’s OK Computer," presented as part of Rain City Chronicles “The Record Club” Series, Macmillan Space Centre, Vancouver. The Korean translation of his first book on Korean folk drumming, P’ungmul: South Korean Drumming and Dance (University of Chicago), was published by the Academy of Korean Studies.

The School of Music’s Rhythm Research Cluster hosted its first symposium, "Entrainment and the Human-Technology Interface," in September. UBC faculty, students, and guest lecturers together explored the history and nature of interactions between live human agents (performers and composers) and an externalizing and regulating entraining agent (both metronomes and click tracks). The next symposium, titled "Modeling Rhythmic Complexity," will focus on the cognition and production of complex rhythmic structures (such as polyrhythm and syncopation) using tools and methods from fields as diverse as linguistics, music information retrieval, behavioural psychology and neuroscience. It is scheduled for January 2018.

Elizabeth Volpé Bligh published a new article in the November issue of Harp Column

During his first year at UBC, Dr. Claudio Vellutini was invited to present at the conference London Voices, 1820-1840 hosted by King's College London and at the Rossini 2017 Conference organized by the Rossini Foundation in Pesaro, Italy. He also gave a paper at the Second Transnational Opera Studies Conference in Bern, Switzerland. His article "Opera and Monuments: Verdi's Ernani in Vienna and the Construction of Dynastic Memory" has been accepted for publication and is forthcoming in the Cambridge Opera Journal. In Vancouver, he was a guest of the radio programme Place à l'opéra on Radio Canada), and gave pre-concert talks on Verdi's Macbeth and Otello at the Italian Cultural Institute and at the Vancouver Opera Festival.

Prof. Stephen Chatman published four new books of sheet music: Shine! shine! shine! from A Song of Joys, Dawn of Night, Forever, Remember Me, and O Clap Your Hands. All are available via Morningstar Music

In May, Dr. Brandon Konoval presented a conference paper for the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science: "The Disenchanted Flute? Music, Max Weber, and Early Modern Science." He also published an article in Modern Intellectual History: "Between Aristotle and Lucretius: Discourses of Nature and Rousseau's Discours sur l'inégalité."

Catching up with our students

Azura Quartet, winners of a National Music Festival award

Azura Quartet, winners of a National Music Festival award

Musicology PhD student Christina Hutten recently began a one-year residency at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, for her dissertation research. She is the recipient of a fellowship from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (German Academic Exchange Service).

UBC Opera students and alumni made a sweep of the 2017 Metropolitan Opera National Council Western Canada District Auditions, which took place on Nov. 12, 2017 in the Old Auditorium. The winners were BMus student Shane Hanson and alumna Francesca Corrado (BMus ’12, MMus ’14). Honourable mentions went to Marie Civitarese (MMus ’17) and BMus students Yeeun (Yenny) Lee and Ian McCloy. Francesca and Shane move on to the regional auditions in Seattle. Best of luck!

In October, DMA student and 2017 UBC Concerto Competition winner Benjamin Hopkins performed Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15 with the UBC Symphony Orchestra at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts. You can watch the performance online. Benjamin also participated in the Aspen Music Festival, Van Cliburn Institute, performed numerous concerts with Concerts in Care, and won a Bronze Medal at the Vancouver International Music Competition. 

Two students and five alumni presented papers at the Society for Music Theory annual meeting in November: PhD students Antares Boyle and Grant Sawatzky and alumni James Palmer (PhD '15), Daniel Goldberg (MA '10), Chantal Lemire (BMus '06, MA '13), Caleb Mutch (BMus '08), and Eric Smialek (BA '06).

Shane Hanson and Francesca Corrado

Shane Hanson and Francesca Corrado

DMA student Aaron Graham recently joined the Scholarly Research Committee of the Percussive Arts Society. Instrumentalist Magazine recently published his article "Proper Playing Areas — Instantly Improve the Sound of Your Percussion Section,” while another article, “Practicing Tabla Without the Tabla: A Place to Begin for the Interested Student,” will be published in the January 2018 edition of the journal Percussive Notes. Aaron gave a percussion clinic at the recent B.C. Music Educators Association conference and won recognition for his composition “Manifesto,” which will be performed at Colorado State University as part of the 2018 Aries Composers Festival.   

The Azura Quartet, featuring School of Music students and alumni Mia Gazley (BMus student), Mo Miao (BMus student), Chinley Hinacay (BMus ’17), and Haley Heinricks (BMus’17), won first prize and $1,500 in the Chamber category at the 2017 National Music Festival in Ottawa, Ontario. Alumnus Ryan Hofman (MMus ’17) won second place and $1,000 in the Voice category. Congratulations to all! 

Beyond the Gates

The latest news from School of Music faculty

Dr. Robert Taylor

Dr. Robert Taylor

"Northern Star,” a new composition by Dr. Dorothy Chang, débuted at the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in October. Dr. Chang composed the piece as part of a large-scale work for orchestra and dancers, in collaboration with four other composers, Vince Ho, Dinuk Wijeratne, Maxime McKinley, and Derek Charke, along with choreographer Yukichi Hattori. The performance is available online, along with a documentary that includes interviews with the composers.

In November, Vern Griffiths performed as soloist and host in his kids’ show Wall to Wall Percussion with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In the coming months, he will perform the same show with the Edmonton Symphony and Calgary Philharmonic.

Prof. Nancy Hermiston received the Honorary Alumni Award for 2017 from Alumni UBC, recognizing her as “a devoted and enthusiastic educator. She has nurtured the development of many promising young singers, and her willingness to share her love of classical music with the wider community has enriched the cultural life of Vancouver.”

Dr. Robert Taylor recently completed a one-week residency at the Singapore American School, where he worked with band students in grades 6–12, provided professional development sessions for music faculty, and guest conducted a program of 13 works with five different ensembles. 

Standing Wave won the 2017 Western Canadian Music Award for Classical Artist/Ensemble of the Year at BreakOut West for their album New Wave. The ensemble includes UBC Music faculty members Vern Griffiths and Christie Reside, as well as alumni Allen Stiles (BMus ’84, MMus ’86) and A.K. Coope (BMus ’90). The recording includes contributions from composer Michael Oesterle (BMus ’92) and producer Will Howie (BMus ’04).

Turning Point Ensemble

Turning Point Ensemble

As part of World New Music Days, Turning Point Ensemble and Ensemble Contemporain de Montreal (ECM+) performed “Evta,” a new violin concerto by Canadian composer Ana Sokolović, along with works by Bauck, Torio, and Pieniek. The performance featured School of Music Faculty Jeremy Berkman (trombone), Ingrid Chiang (bassoon), and Brenda Fedoruk (flute), as well as alumnus Nick Anderson (horn), and alumni/current students Julia Chien (percussion, BMus ’14) and Sarah Kwok (viola). Watch the performance online

In September, Prof. Terence Dawson was the soloist for a Wednesday Noon Hour performance of Poulenc's "Aubade", with a chamber orchestra comprised of faculty and students, and conducted by Dr. Jonathan Girard. The concert, which also featured Popper's "Requiem for Three Cellos and Piano" (Prof. Eric Wilson, plus DMA students Laine Longton and Oskar Falta) was dedicated to the memory of Prof. Emeritus John Sawyer, and was a celebration of 50 years of concerts in the Music Building. Professor Dawson also sat on the piano jury for the 2017 Federation of Canadian Music Festivals National Competition in Ottawa this summer, where he gave a masterclass. Finally, he was a faculty member at the VSO Summer Institute in Whistler for the third consecutive year.

As a soloist, Dr. Corey Hamm performed Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26 with the Vancouver Island Symphony, and had engagements with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Nu:BC Collective, Vancouver Chamber Music Society, and Turning Point Ensemble. With PEP (Piano and Erhu Project, with Nicole Li) he presented four World Premieres and three Canadian Premieres at ISCM World New Music Days, and performed at the Shanghai Conservatory. He was a judge for the inaugural Vancouver International Music Competition and Boesendorfer Piano Competition. 

Composer and conductor Hussein Janmohamed on choral singing, identity, and fostering cultural understanding

Note: This is the third story in a new series that profiles UBC School of Music alumni who have followed interesting and innovative paths to career success.

By Aryn Strickland

Photo: Vincent L. Chan

Photo: Vincent L. Chan

As a composer, conductor, and teacher, Hussein Janmohamed (BMus'96, MMus'98, MMus'14) has built a career using choral music to challenge cultural stereotypes and reframe the conversation about race in Canada. Growing up as an Ismaili Muslim in rural Alberta taught him that discrimination was an unfortunate fact of life, even in a country celebrated for its multiculturalism. And for Muslims and many other groups, he says, the issue is as pressing now as ever.

“[W]e are in a society in which there are a lot of negative representations of Islam, not only from the media but from small minorities within the faith,” he says.

For Janmohamed, challenging these stereotypes starts with combating self-stigma. After graduating from UBC with the first of two Master’s degrees, he founded the Vancouver Ismaili Youth Choir to help Muslim youth understand their dual and often plural identities.

The decision was inspired by his own formative experiences: As a young teen he found that the bridge between his two identities, the Canadian and the Ismaili, was congregational singing. Within the Ismaili community Janmohamed took part in religious devotion through ginan (Indic devotional expressions) and zikr (remembrance of the Divine) — and the experience made him aware of how powerful collective singing can be.

In high school, he found that same feeling through choral singing, an artform traditionally associated with Christian churches. He began to rethink choral music as a more open mode of collective singing and used it to combine the musicality of devotional chants with choral songs.

“In choral music there are so many layers and choral singing actually shows us what harmony can sound like when all the layers of identities come together,” he says. “One of the key elements [of the Ismaili Youth Choir] was to find ways to express cultural diversity of our community because our community is world-wide with members in Syria, Iran, Western China, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the diaspora. Our cultural expression is so diverse, so as a choir we started to explore what that sounded like. There wasn’t a lot of repertoire from that part of the world that spoke to our community, so we started to make arrangements.”

 

“In choral music there are so many layers and choral singing actually shows us what harmony can sound like when all the layers of identities come together."


 

Janmohamed led the compositional work, often combining texts from the Ismaili culture with melodic structures from traditional choral songs. Janmohamed had already made a name for himself writing pieces that reflected multicultural perspectives. In 2004, he was asked by the Westcoast Sacred Arts Society in Vancouver to compose a piece with Russell Wallace from the Lil’wat nation to explore how Ismaili and Indigenous cultures could be harmonized.

Janmohamed’s unique focus on multicultural choral singing garnered success early on in his career, and led to high-profile performances and opportunities to found other diverse choirs. The piece he co-wrote with Wallace was performed for His Holiness the Dalai Lama during his visit to Vancouver in 2004. More recently he led two global Ismaili music ensembles to commemorate the 80th birthday and Diamond Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan.

Since assembling the Vancouver Ismaili Youth Choir, Janmohamed has gone on to be a founding co-conductor of Cor Flammae, Canada’s first queer professional choir in Vancouver, and the Awaaz Ensemble, a cross-cultural a cappella choral ensemble in Toronto.

“[The indigenous scholar and elder] Lee Maracle says that if we’re not at the table together, we can’t shape a shared future, and I think for me, how I come to the table is by bringing choral music to the cultures and traditions that I belong to,” Janmohamed says.

He says that while many audiences members tell him that they feel inspired by the interweaving of music from different cultures in his work — as in the songs currently performed by the Awaaz Ensemble — he has noticed that some people still don’t understand what his music tries to achieve. They will come to him and request songs that are less spiritual or, on the flip side, songs that sound more ‘Arabic.’

“There is not a great understanding of how music of the Muslim world is diverse or how historically Jews, Muslims, Christians and many other religious communities intersected harmoniously,” he explains.

Now working on a PhD at the University of Toronto, Janmohamed continues to explore this cultural divide in music through scholarship, while at the same time trying to close that divide through his work as a composer, conductor and singer of choral music. It is a slow, ongoing process, but Janmohamed believes we all have a desire to get there.

“We desire connection, we desire unity and healing. There is a therapeutic element to my work that tries to do that.”

Announcing the UBC Chamber Orchestra Festival

Maestro Jonathan Girard

Maestro Jonathan Girard

The UBC School of Music is excited to announce the inaugural UBC Chamber Orchestra Festival, scheduled for July 3–8, 2018.

The Festival is an exciting opportunity for musicians who are participating in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestral Institute at Whistler (VSOIW) to continue their orchestral experience in Vancouver on UBC's stunning campus. 

The VSOIW will culminate in a performance at the Chan Centre on July 3. For the five days following, participants in the Chamber Orchestra Festival will comprise an elite ensemble, performing masterworks of the chamber orchestra repertoire.

Selected conducting fellows will work with the orchestra and Maestro Jonathan Girard in a rich collaboration.  Students who have been selected as ranked winners in the VSOIW concerto competition will also have an opportunity to perform movements of their concerto with selected conducting fellows. 

Apply online or visit the festival page for more information. 

Oboist and DMA student Kristen Cooke experiences UK music life thanks to new scholarship

Kristen Cooke

Kristen Cooke

By Michelle Keong
 

Over the summer, Doctor of Musical Arts student Kristen Cooke received an opportunity of a lifetime. 

As the first winner of the Royal Over-Seas League UK Scholarship for a BC Emerging Musician, the UBC oboist got a taste of professional music life in the UK, working with British and Commonwealth musicians, and performing at London's Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and British Isles Music Festival.

The Royal Over-Seas League (ROSL) has had a long history of supporting and nurturing talent from Commonwealth countries. Along with existing scholarships for aspiring professional musicians from Australia and New Zealand, ROSL has now offered their first musical scholarship in Canada. Each scholarship package includes an incredible itinerary of performing concerts at iconic venues and attending coaching sessions with prominent musicians in London. To top it off, recipients enjoy an all-expenses-paid trip with time to explore.

“We are thrilled and grateful that the Royal Over-Seas League has generously offered this opportunity to a UBC student,” said Richard Kurth, director of the UBC School of Music. 

“ROSL provided Kristen with a wealth of artistic experiences that were wonderfully multi-faceted, carefully tailored to her needs, and comprehensively transformative for her professional development. The ROSL Arts programs, under the leadership of Geoff Parkin, are very impressive indeed. And much credit goes to Elizabeth Murray, president of the BC ROSL chapter, and to local members, for creating this wonderful opportunity for UBC Music students!"

In addition, Cooke received complimentary tickets to attend some of the finest concerts of the season, including a BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall, featuring a new work by Mark Simpson.

“It was a reminder that classical music is relevant to our time and appreciated by millions of people around the world,” said Cooke of Simpson’s The Immortal. “The combination of the crowd’s energy, the brilliant performance, the iconic, massive beauty of the hall is something I will never forget.” 

Here are excerpts from an interview with Cooke, fresh from her month-long UK tour: 
 

How has the ROSL UK Scholarship for a BC Emerging Musician supported your learning as a doctor of musical arts (DMA) candidate and prepared you for a career after graduation?

Going to the UK as a BC Emerging Musician contributed to my confidence as a performer, my awareness of the greater musical world, and my development as an artist. As a DMA candidate in oboe performance, I have spent the last several years refining my playing while deepening my understanding of my instrument in a historical and cultural context. 

I gained a greater appreciation for the history of classical music; it’s one thing to read a textbook and quite another to stand in the church frequented by Handel! I made connections that I hope to maintain with colleagues from 70 different countries. Most of all, I was reminded that art has the ability to cross the borders of countries, languages, beliefs, and even time to bring the world closer together.

What was the most memorable experience from the tour?

My most memorable moment was warming up before my final recital of the tour at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church. I was nervous for this performance: it would be my biggest audience by far, and the venue was so iconic (St Martin’s is a popular tourist destination and a big name in the classical music world, famous for its acoustics, architecture and central location in Trafalgar Square).

As I ran through the repertoire with fellow ROSL scholars, people from all over the world began filtering in. I was struck, in that moment, by the absolute beauty of what we do as musicians. It’s easy to forget, given the often competitive nature of our field and the solitary hours spent in the practice room, but the main point of all of this is to connect with our shared humanity. It was this connection that I felt at St. Martin’s that day, and I hope to remember it as I go forward in my career.

Any final thoughts?

I would first and foremost like to thank the BC chapter of the Royal Over-Seas League, and in particular Elizabeth Murray, president of ROSL’s BC branch, for starting this excellent scholarship program. I’m also grateful for the ROSL ARTS team in London. They were the primary organizing force behind my visit. I felt warmly welcomed at every stage of the trip, from offers of concert tickets to suggestions of what to eat in Scotland! Finally, a big thank you to Dr. Richard Kurth, director of the UBC School of Music, for helping to bring this opportunity to UBC performers. I sincerely hope that the UBC-ROSL relationship can continue for many years in the future.

Auditions for the 2018 Royal Over-Seas UK scholarship happen on Jan. 20th, 2018. They are open to the public.

To learn more about ROSL, visit https://www.rosl.org.uk/rosl-arts

“Decades later, you see the whole landscape”: Robert Silverman on performing Beethoven and finding your way as a young musician

By Andrew Hung

Robert Silverman

Robert Silverman

On Nov. 10th, renowned pianist and Professor Emeritus Robert Silverman performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 with the UBC Symphony Orchestra  to a packed house at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.

Silverman, who first studied the Beethoven concerto as a student nearly 50 years ago, brought a lifetime of knowledge and accomplishment — and a continued sense of wonder — to the legendary work. And it showed.

“I can’t tell you how different the piece is [to me] now,” he says. “Some people who’ve been around for a while, every time they get asked to do something, they just take the music off the shelf, blow the dust off, and play it. Telephone in their last performance. I just can’t do that. I never have. This [concert] gave me the opportunity to relook at this great piece.”

For Silverman, the “Emperor” — as the concerto is popularly known — has lost none of its freshness and excitement. If anything, his appreciation of the concerto has deepened over years of studying, teaching, and performing.

“When one studies a piece for the first time, there are so many notes. Decades later, you just see the whole landscape. When you’re a pensioner, you don’t have the chops that you had when you were younger. But there are other things that are easier. Just understanding the piece, and how this fits in.”

Silverman’s “chops” are still formidable. The pianist pulled off the thunderous chords and virtuosic flourishes of the Beethoven masterwork with brilliant fluency. You can watch the performance online at https://livestream.com/ubcschoolofmusic. Here's a clip from a practice session:

There was a time, however, when Silverman could only dream of mastering a concerto like the “Emperor,” let alone performing with a symphony orchestra. Though he played piano throughout his childhood and youth, his parents never encouraged him to pursue music professionally. Instead, Silverman studied engineering at McGill and arts at Concordia. Making a living as a pianist seemed to be out of the question.

On finding his way as a young pianist

Even after he dropped out of engineering and headed to the Vienna Academy of Music to study piano, Silverman was unsure of the career possibilities that lay ahead. One day, he brought up the dilemma to his friend – what were they supposed to do once they returned to North America?

His friend’s answer was simple: “You’re going to go back, go to the States, get a doctorate and teach somewhere.”

“It was around then, in the early 1950s, that Silverman’s future alma mater, the Eastman School of Music launched its groundbreaking-at-the-time Doctorate of Musical Arts degree.” For the first time, musicians could graduate from school with hopes of obtaining a position at a university that would allow them to both teach and perform.

“That’s when I learned that there was some light at the end of the tunnel. I was lucky that I was talented and good, and also that the competition was not quite what it is today.”

That is not to say that Silverman didn’t face any competition at all. While at the Vienna Academy, he studied in the same class as future luminaries such as Mitsuko Uchida, known today for her interpretations of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann. He remembers being daunted by the much younger virtuoso (she was 13, he was in his twenties).

Still, he persevered and returned to North America with a newfound sense of purpose. At Eastman Silverman studied with Cecile Genhart and Leonard Shure, the former assistant to Artur Schnabel, one of the great pianists of the 20th century. He absorbed the philosophies of both Genhart and Shure, who influenced him in different but significant ways. Genhart was all about “polishing and listening, getting the nitty gritty of it.” Shure, on the other hand, taught him how to play Beethoven in a way that stood out from other pianists. He remembers a masterclass that Shure gave on the piano sonatas as a life-changing experience. He also studied the “Emperor” concerto under Shure’s guidance.

It was these teachers who impressed upon him the value of a diverse and varied musical education — something that informed his own approach to teaching.

“It’s very important, I think, for everyone to be exposed to many different teachers,” he says. “I never felt that, when I taught, the students were my property. I tried to ensure that all my students got certain basic things that I understand, [such as] melody shaping and technique. On the other hand, I didn’t want them to sound like each other.”

The Robert and Ellen Silverman Piano Concerto Competition

One thing Silverman firmly believes is that all serious piano students, regardless of their teacher, should have the chance to play with a symphony orchestra.

“Professionally, if any pianist is going to “make it” as a career, playing a concerto and knowing how to do it is very important.  There are only so many opportunities to play with the orchestra. So my wife and I thought, rather than offer yet another scholarship, what can we do that would be good for the students and a good feature for the school?”

And so, the Robert and Ellen Silverman Piano Concerto Competition was born. Open to all UBC School of Music piano students, the first competition takes place in March 2018 and will run every two years thereafter. The grand prize? An opportunity to perform a concerto with the UBC Symphony Orchestra at the Chan Centre.

“[Maestro] Jonathan Girard is a great guy and a fabulous conductor. He doesn’t only conduct what he wants, but also considers the students’ needs,” Silverman says.

Learn more about the Robert and Ellen Silverman Piano Concerto Competition.

 

Singer-songwriter Nat Jay on music licensing, grant-writing, and getting her first big break on The L-Word

Note: This is the second story in a new series that profiles UBC School of Music alumni who have followed interesting and innovative paths to career success.


By Aryn Strickland

Nat Jay performing live at the Rickshaw Theatre

Nat Jay performing live at the Rickshaw Theatre

While the rise of Spotify and other music streaming services has been a boon for major artists like Taylor Swift or Drake, this new economic model has arguably made it harder for independent and emerging artists to make a living by selling their music. The alternative, says singer-songwriter Nat Jay (Minor’04) is to diversify.

Jay has won national awards for her lyrical pop-folk songs and shared the stage with top Canadian artists like Juno-winner Dan Mangan. But instead of signing with a record label, Jay followed a less traditional path to musical success. She has built a thriving career by licensing the rights to her songs for use in TV and movie productions.

Her songs have been heard on popular shows and movies across North America, including Heartland on the CBC and Awkward on MTV. And while she performs mostly in local festivals— like Vancouver’s Folk Fest and Spirit of the Sea Fest— she has amassed a following that stretches a lot further because of the exposure from these placements.

“My sync placements made me realize it was actually possible to have a career and generate an income in the music industry,” Jay says. “It has given me an international fan base that I could never have built otherwise,” she says.

But it was while working on the other side of television production that Jay learned about music licensing.

“I didn’t know [licensing] was a thing until it happened. I had just done my first demo, I had a bunch of burned CDs Sharpied with my name on it. I was in between jobs and I was doing some extra work on the show called The L word and I made a friend who was like, ‘I know the assistant director to a show called Men in Trees on ABC, I am going to pass your demo on to her,’” she explains. To Jay’s surprise, she received a message soon after from the show’s supervisor in L.A. asking to use one of the tracks during a big end-of-episode scene.

 

 

WATCH: Nat Jay performs her song "What I'm made of"

 

 

Following the experience, Jay connected with music supervisors at other networks to make sure they knew about her music. She also began offering seminars on the process to other musicians. It’s all part of her holistic approach to the business of music, which has since expanded to include writing grants to support her work and helping other musicians to do the same. As with sync licensing, she knew very little about grant writing going in but has turned this into another major source of income.

“Grants are an awesome source of income that we have in Canada that they don’t have in every country. It’s been the difference between doing and not doing [music] a lot of the time.”

Depending on the funder, the application process can require a marketing plan, a budget and a career history. Often the process scares off artists, Jay says. Jay has made a point of learning the ins-and-outs to the point where now she gets hired to write grants for friends in the industry like the band The Fugitives.

According to Jay, upcoming artists need to learn to diversify their means of income. “It’s naïve to think that you can just write music, play and people will come to your show and buy your music,” she says. “I think these days artists have to be entrepreneurs… I think that they need to learn about the different streams of income.”

Follow Nat Jay on Twitter and Instagram.

Pianist Lucas Wong on finding new ways to inspire audiences and students

Note: This is the first story in a new series that profiles UBC School of Music alumni who have followed interesting and innovative paths to career success.
 

By Andrew Hung

Lucas Wong - 4.jpg

It is difficult to give Lucas Wong (BMus’04) a specific label or title.

The UBC School of Music alumnus is a concert pianist and recording artist, but his career goals extend far beyond performance. He is also a university professor, a collaborator in a computer software project for piano students, a textbook writer, and the founder of the lecture-recital series, Mostly Debussy.

“I always enjoyed talking about music as much as I enjoy playing music,” Wong says. “As pianists, we have to look for new ways to engage the audience in our programs. One of the ways is by interacting with the audience and introducing pieces to them.”

 Mostly Debussy was featured at the Roy Barnett Recital Hall in September, a concert in which Wong performed Debussy’s Pagodes from Estampes, as well as several selections from his collection of Préludes and Etudes. As part of the concert he also explained how the pieces work and what makes them so compelling.

The lecture-recital series is currently in its fourth year, and has featured the works of Debussy and Stravinsky, as well as Chopin and the French Romantic composer Emmanuel Chabrier.

Next year, the final year of Mostly Debussy, will be an important one. It is the 100th anniversary of Debussy’s passing, and to commemorate the event, Wong has commissioned three composers to each write a work for the series.  One of the objectives of these compositions is to reflect Debussy’s late work, the Cello Sonata. 

Just a year before starting Mostly Debussy, Wong began collaborating with computer science students and professors at the Chinese University of Hong Kong to create a software that will make piano reductions — that is, simplified arrangements or transcriptions of an original score or composition — more accessible for performers, educators, or anyone who simply enjoys music.

“It will be cool if one day, if someone pulls out the iPad, and says, ‘I feel like playing the second movement of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony on the piano,” Wong says. “‘And maybe my technique isn’t too great, so give me a very simple version.’ And if that can be done in five seconds, that would change a lot of how people can appreciate music.”

Wong expects that the final product will be the first software of its kind on the market. In the meantime, the project poses interesting challenges.

“It’s more complicated than we actually expected.  Even the word ‘harmony’ opens up so many different things that one still tries to accomplish.  What is the harmony?  Or what are the possibilities?  Computers don’t usually like the word ‘possibilities.’” 

 

 

LISTEN: Lucas Wong performs Debussy and Chabrier


In the same year that the software project began, Wong also began work on a textbook for keyboard harmony students, although he didn’t realize it at first.  As one of the first faculty members in the Soochow University School of Music’s performance program, he had the opportunity to create a course from scratch, which was eventually named “Advanced Musicianship and Improvisation Skills for Keyboard.”  Wong began writing the course outline and syllabus, originally without the intention of creating a textbook.  But as the worksheets he wrote for his students grew in number, he realized that he had a textbook in the making.

“I’ve revised the format of the book many times, internally.  I’m on the fourth or fifth edition, without publishing it.  Hopefully, someday we’ll have it done,” he laughs.

Wong was once a student reading textbooks, not writing them. He was a very busy student. He played chamber music, collaborated with singers, and played for UBC Opera’s rehearsals.  In his first year, Wong also played cello in the UBC Symphony.

He recalls the instructors who made an impact on him as a student at the UBC School of Music – Bob Pritchard, Rena Sharon, and Bruce Pullan.

With 2018 shaping up to be a big year, Wong appreciates the insights he picked up in his piano lessons and Piano Pedagogy courses at UBC, lessons about efficient practicing that has also translated to other areas of his career.

“When you have less and less time, you’ll find out that the only way to do it right is to do it efficiently. You have to always be very well with time management.” 

He pauses for a second.

“But most musicians are naturally very good with time management — onstage with rhythm!”