richard kurth

Comings and Goings

Dr. Valerie Whitney and Dr. Richard Kurth

Dr. Valerie Whitney and Dr. Richard Kurth

This summer, Dr. Richard Kurth completed his second term as Director of the School of Music. In June he published “A Letter, a Soliloquy, two Duets, and a Sextet,” his reflections on the School and his time at the helm.

Following in his footsteps for the 2018-19 academic year is Dr. Alexander Fisher, in the role of Acting Director, and Dr. John Roeder, as Associate Director for term one, and Dr. Keith Hamel, Associate Director for term two.  Thank you, Dr. Kurth, and welcome, Drs. Fisher, Roeder, and Hamel!  

Dr. Valerie Whitney joined the School of Music as Assistant Professor of Horn , starting in the 2018-19 academic year. An accomplished performer and teacher, Dr. Whitney will play a leading role in the brass division at the School of Music. Her duties will include undergraduate and graduate studio instruction, brass chamber music coaching and coordination, and brass curriculum leadership — all while working in partnership with our accomplished team of VSO principals and other top professionals in the city.

Sessional lecturer and alumna Dr. Laurel Parsons (MA’91, PhD’03) recently accepted a full-time position as Associate Teaching Professor of music theory and aural skills at the University of Alberta.

Director's Out-Takes

A Letter, a Soliloquy, two Duets, and a Sextet

Dr. Richard Kurth

Dr. Richard Kurth

As I reach the end of my ten years as Director of the School of Music on June 30, I have much to remember in gratitude. There are so many people to thank, but I ask to be forgiven for not naming names, because it’s a very long list. In myriad ways, large and small, I am grateful to everyone along the way.
 

Early in my directorship I had the thrill and good fortune to help steer two major renovation projects: Roy Barnett Recital Hall, a renovation made possible by a single generous and visionary donor; and the historic Old Auditorium, a project supported by numerous generous donors and substantial investment from the Faculty of Arts, the University, and the Province. These revitalized facilities both reopened in the Fall of 2010, and along with the marvelous Chan Centre for the Performing Arts (which celebrated its 20th anniversary in April 2017) these performing venues provide students and faculty in the UBC School of Music — and our audiences — with glorious and distinctive spaces in which to hone and appreciate the art of music. Many people made these projects possible, contributing their financial support, insightful design, and constructive skill. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to contribute my own energies and ideas to the revitalization of these spaces, because these collaborations were wonderfully stimulating and deeply rewarding for me. Students, faculty, and audiences engage in learning and artistic expression in these inspiring spaces every day, and I marvel every time I enter them, appreciating how they express and amplify our sense of community. I’m so grateful I was involved in improving these homes for our shared musical experience.
 

During these ten years I have been wistful at the retirements or resignations of twelve faculty colleagues, friends I admire and who mentored me with their advice and inspired me through their scholarship or artistic activity. And during these years several professori emeriti have passed away. It is impossible to quantify the enormous contributions all these individuals have made to the School, each one sharing their intellect, artistry, and distinctive character in countless unique ways. We are fortunate indeed that the School has long been a community of such dynamic and distinctive individuals, and that each one has made it a better place through many contributions only they could make. I am always mindful of the history of the School not only as a chronicle of the past, but as a living story that reverberates into the future through our deeds today. Our collective creativity in the present always blossoms as an expression of opportunities opened by the deeds of earlier peers who created this community; and our own actions likewise generate a basis on which our future peers will articulate new insights or create beautiful and inspiring music.
 

It has been enormously gratifying over these years to guide — along with my colleagues — the recruitment of twelve new faculty members who bring new knowledge, talent, and energy to the School. They will contribute significantly to its future shape and sound. There is enormous vitality and ability in this fresh generation, and they will push and pull the School in various directions, and keep it moving dynamically. Each new faculty member recharges everyone in the entire group incrementally, and our collective energy is continuously evolving. Musical culture has always been in constant flux, and this period is no exception. This historical moment must be embraced as a flux of opportunity. It calls for the versatility and readiness to evolve that all of us — the fresh along with the seasoned — can achieve through our collective polyphony.
 

In short, I’m immensely grateful for the enormously vital energies of all my colleagues, older and younger, and the countless things I have learned or discovered through each of them.
 

It has been a daily delight to work with the staff in the School, including wonderful additional new staff members recruited along the way. They are like a family, for me, and also for each other. There is real affection throughout this family, and I know perhaps better than anyone that their contributions to the School are an essential reason for our success. I’m grateful to each of them for their assistance and kindness, and their gentle way with my dogged character.
 

I’m amazed to realize that I have had the good fortune to work in the service of three Presidents and two Acting Presidents, three Provosts and an Acting Provost, two Deans and two Acting Deans, with more than a dozen Associate and Assistant Deans, and in the collegiality of over three dozen other Heads and Directors in the Faculty of Arts, and two wonderful (and resourceful) Music Librarians. I have gained insights from every one of them. And above all I am grateful to all of them for the many different ways in which they supported the work of the School of Music, and have mentored me in all manner of ways in my efforts as Director of the School.
 

The most rewarding experiences during my directorship include countless gifts of inspiring generosity from hundreds of individuals, across the community, who in diverse ways have supported the accomplishments of students and their faculty mentors. These wonderful gifts have funded scholarships to support students, masterclasses to inspire them artistically, and competitions and prizes to motivate their best efforts. They have included donations of many fine musical instruments that enable students to achieve refined nuances and instill their pursuit of the highest artistic standards. And visionary donors have created or revitalized our beautiful performance venues, in which we hone our musical energies in rehearsal, and share them with our audiences in performance. For me, every one of these gifts, whether large or small, has been a meaningful expression of a shared belief in our mission and efforts. A ticket to attend one of our performances, or a major gift to transform a performance venue, or every form of support for our students: these gestures all share an understanding of the importance of music, and the spirit to nurture it. I am sincerely grateful to all our supporters for their gifts that celebrate our shared belief that making music helps make a better world. You have inspired and motivated me in lasting ways.
 

In the end — and in the beginning and the middle — we are here because of the students. We try to challenge them, and to demonstrate for them different examples of life lived in music, so that they can find their own unique way forward. For ten years I’ve had the simple but meaningful honour of reading the names of almost one thousand graduating music students at their graduation ceremonies. On those days, I’m especially aware of the unique aspirations and sincere hopes of every student; of the excitement and love felt by their families and friends; and that we are a community of individual musical voices magically woven together by music. Each name has a unique sound, each person a unique musicality, each family a unique expression of harmony. The music made in the School arises from and resonates with all these energies. And it feeds us with these same energies.
 

I look forward now to resuming my work as a faculty member in the School, and especially to the joys and rewards of teaching!
 

As a polyphonic valediction including the voices of UBC Music students, both fresh and seasoned, I invite you to watch the videos below, which preserve moments that are memorable for me, all in Roy Barnett Recital Hall: my last remarks to graduating music students a few weeks ago on May 23, 2018; an engaging conversation with alumnus Sharman King, Bachelor of Music Class of 1970 during that same assembly; a delightful conversation with alumna June Goldsmith, Bachelor of Arts Class of 1955 in May 2017; and insightful short presentations by five wonderful music students, who took the stage to share with their peers moments of deep personal musical inspiration. Let the students have the last word!
 

With many happy memories and warm wishes,

Richard Kurth
June 30, 2018

Dr. Richard Kurth, Director, UBC School of Music (2007-2018) Remarks to graduating music students. May 23, 2018.
Dr. Richard Kurth, Director, UBC School of Music. Conversation with alumnus Sharman King, B.Mus. 1970. May 23, 2018.
Dr. Richard Kurth, Director, UBC School of Music. Conversation with alumna June Goldsmith, B.A. 1955. May 24, 2017.
Dr. Richard Kurth, Director, UBC School of Music. Presentations by students Jaelem Bhate, Marina Gallagher, Kristen Cooke, Charlotte Beglinger, and Billie Smith. September 16, 2016.

The Conservatory and the Future: Lessons from the Past, Lessons from the Present

Note: The Shanghai Conservatory of Music was founded in 1927. On November 27, 2017, the Conservatory hosted an International Forum for Directors of Music Institutions, as part of its 90th anniversary celebrations. Directors and other representatives from major conservatories and universities in Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Tokyo, Taipei, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Auckland, Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, London, Paris, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Vienna, and Minsk, gathered together for a lively international dialogue on advanced training in music performance, and a gala concert that showcased the wonderful artistry of the conservatory’s faculty and students. The text below was presented as my contribution to the dialogue. I welcome your comments and responses (richard.kurth@ubc.ca)!
 

Photo courtesy of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, November 2017

Photo courtesy of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, November 2017

By Dr. Richard Kurth
Director, UBC School of Music

 

Dear President Lin Zaiyong, esteemed colleagues here at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and from institutions around the world: I am delighted and honoured to participate with you in this memorable anniversary celebration, and I thank you all for your contributions to our stimulating time together. Above all, I congratulate the Shanghai Conservatory of Music on the many impressive and inspiring achievements of its first 90 years, which attest to the abundant energy and talent of its leaders, faculty members, and students!

My remarks today address the Role of Professional Music Institutions in Contemporary Society. My subtitle, in seeking “lessons from the past,” and “lessons from the present,” considers how conservatories have reacted to historical change in ways that inadvertently limit our current and future vitality. Although I will critique certain practices that impede our energies, I also affirm that we are all introducing innovations into our teaching and artistic practice to address these problems and vitalize our work. 

My aim today is to encourage our efforts in refreshing our pedagogies, by reminding us that some problematic practices have deep roots that are still reinforced every day.  The more clearly we can perceive ingrained habits, the sooner we can liberate our work from their negative impacts.

Let us first consider the global establishment of music conservatories, mainly from about 1870 to 1950, which aimed to preserve privileged modes of music creation that had flourished in golden periods of artistic cultivation. Conservatories were established precisely because the conditions for artistic activity were changing rapidly — with waning and waxing political and economic forces, redistribution of wealth, and large-scale migration into modern cities. The use of pastoral folk music elements in 19th-century art music was not only a means of building national identity, but also a strategy of assimilation related to changing dynamics of urban musical activity.  With migration into the cities, a burgeoning everyday musical life also grew from folkloric traditions, featuring music that was accessible in idiom and content, was heard in everyday performance venues, and was later widely circulated through recording and broadcast technologies. Indeed, these technologies were quickly emerging when the Shanghai Conservatory of Music was founded in 1927, one hundred years after the death of Beethoven. 

Recording and distribution technologies have chiefly amplified the pervasive impact of popular music forms. Conservatories have adjusted slowly and incrementally to technological change, while the popular music industry embraces a constant flow of new production and competitive change, with new styles and idioms replacing old ones, often along with the application of new technologies. To survive in this competitive environment, art music has also adopted recording and distribution technologies, with many positive outcomes, but also some negative impacts on performers, audiences, and training. 

In fact, it is interesting to note that our traditional performance pedagogies are also a kind of proto-recording practice, in the sense that (and to the degree that) they still emphasize imitation and reiteration. Although conservatories now take steps to engage diverse musical idioms, we still devote most of our energy to the standard repertoire. And our pedagogy is still based mainly on constant practice and repetition, which risk an emphasis on echoing and reiteration, and reduce the likelihood of creative re-discovery. Practice is essential, of course, but practice techniques must maximize efficacy and liberate creativity, building reliability without dulling the imagination.

The technologies of recording worsen our addiction to repetition and imitation, by surrounding us with copies.  The ubiquity of edited recordings forces performers to focus on technical precision and consistency in order to match the recorded standard in a live performance. But repetition is dulling our capacity for discovery, and even understanding. Familiarity and repetition are the deadliest foes, lurking everywhere in our deeply-ingrained routines, especially in practice rooms. The risk is that performances become reiterations, to be compared with other reiterations — a circular process of making copies from copies.

Instruments and singing are very, very difficult to master, and we must meet that challenge.  But artworks are deeply complex and can only be grasped if approached from many angles. If we believe in the works in the legacy, we must always rediscover each one through changing perspectives, and adjust our learning processes so that each encounter and performance makes the musical work unfold with vivid presence, as though emerging for the first time.  Every student and teacher must guard against the unnoticed habits of repetition, by finding ways to make daily work more spontaneous, but still informed by understanding and taste.

Photo courtesy of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, November 2017

Photo courtesy of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, November 2017

How can we change our training methods to break the pernicious cycle of repetition, but still sustain the repertoire as a living legacy? I believe we can profit greatly by rethinking aspects of our lessons and performance training, to change the energy, character, and purpose of daily work.

The individual lesson is both sacrosanct and necessary, but the advantages of one-to-one mentorship come with drawbacks and complications that are familiar to every student and teacher. In addition to the complex interpersonal dynamics, emphasis on individual training reinforces ideas about career development and professional identity that isolate the individual, rather than cultivate an ethos of collaborative music making. The individual lesson will remain essential, but should play a less dominant role, and be complemented by numerous opportunities for active collaborative learning and peer mentoring. 

Until students acquire a toolbox of targeted and efficient practicing techniques, unsupervised practising can simply reinforce unwanted habits. A new daily regimen that includes guided group practice, sight-reading, and coaching could help steer students clear of pitfalls, and would foster peer-mentoring, collaboration, and more rapid acquisition of confidence. Team-sports training can provide models for new approaches to skills acquisition in group contexts. Students need careful guidance in effective practice routines, and a hands-on approach involving advanced students as mentors can have benefits for all.

Teamwork is even more important in collaborative co-creation of musical interpretations. Here too, responsiveness and spontaneity should play a larger role in daily training, through coached sight-reading and fully-engaged peer learning, so that more repertoire is played, and stylistic differences are actively learned. A young quartet can make more progress through mentored reading of all six of Beethoven’s Op. 18 quartets, than by preparing just one of them for performance. With more teamwork, engagement in the spirit of the moment, and immediate learning from mistakes and misfires, students can more quickly achieve confidence and success, and recognize that it comes from collaboration.

By reducing unnecessary repetition in our daily work, we can hone skills that bring music to life anew each time, thriving on spontaneous responsiveness and living presence.  We can liberate ourselves from pernicious effects of recording and repetition, by learning to make unreproducibility a vital element of every performance, while of course still striving to be faithful to the work and stylistically cultivated.

Recordings will not go away, but we will show that they cannot substitute for a much richer and livelier concert experience.  Above all, our performances will not imitate recordings.  Of course, the great artists already achieve this.  Our students must cultivate this ability.

Many concerts, and the majority of student recitals, are still curated in outmoded ways that involve dated assumptions about the knowledge and interest of the audience, and about the performer’s role and persona. Audiences are thirsty to learn about the music, and to understand the experience and insight of the performer. Performers can find liberation and new authenticity when they embrace the role of communicator, and don’t limit themselves to mere reproduction. Happily, new performance formats are emerging everywhere, bringing richer immediacy and multifaceted understanding to audiences. Peter Sellars’s concert stagings come to mind, including their lively use of supplementary video images. At the Konzerthaus in Berlin, the “Hear it Twice” Series (Zweimal Hören) features two performances of a major work, surrounding an interview with the performer. At Le Poisson Rouge in New York, classical and contemporary chamber music are part of a wider-ranging musical menu, and the setting allows performers and audience members to interact more. 

Conservatories and universities are perfect crucibles for developing new formats of musical presentation. In my own institution, my colleagues are presenting themed ensemble programs with a variety of multimedia components; symposia to complement opera productions; and art song programs that use projected video and subtle elements of staging, to weave songs and cycles into an insightful larger narrative conception. I’m sure new approaches are likewise developing at your institutions. There is much we can share, and also broad momentum in our collective efforts. 

The graduating recital offers another opportunity for liberating change. Students should of course encounter a wide repertoire across their studies, but their graduating recitals should showcase projects that express their individuality, and their ability to collaborate and communicate.  Each recital should be unique, so that we no longer train every performer on a single model.  One size does not fit all.

Our conservatory curricula and professional institutions are evolving, and there are many exciting new practices to be emulated.  We are gradually casting off obsolete economic, technological, and pedagogical conditions that were already becoming outdated in 1927. To ensure our future vitality, let us liberate our pedagogy from the suffocating effects of repetition, and design fresh ways to learn. Let us teach our students to be engaging communicators, and give listeners as many points of contact as possible, so that the concert experience excites a lively collective present. Let us actively forge a new sustainable economics of live concert music, featuring the unreproducible uniqueness of the shared moment. Let us cultivate the joys and energies of shared active experience — the most vital, universal, meaningful, and unreproducible aspect of our shared musical spirit.  Our profession can then shape its destiny with renewed vitality.

Photo courtesy of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, November 2017

Photo courtesy of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, November 2017

Banner image: Interior view (architect's rendering) of the new opera house currently under construction at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. 

© Richard Kurth 2017

The Chan Centre at 20

Conductors James Fankhauser (left) and Jesse Read (centre) meet with Chan Centre architect Bing Thom backstage at the inaugural concert.  Photo: Daryl Kahn Cline

Conductors James Fankhauser (left) and Jesse Read (centre) meet with Chan Centre architect Bing Thom backstage at the inaugural concert. Photo: Daryl Kahn Cline

Celebrating one of Canada’s premier launching pads for talented young musicians

On April 8th, 2017, the UBC School of Music celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts with a special performance of Mozart’s Requiem and Dr. Stephen Chatman’s A Song of Joys, featuring UBC Choirs and Symphony Orchestra. The concert will be broadcast live on CBC Music at 8 p.m. PT / 11 p.m. EST as well.

Designed by renowned Vancouver architect Bing Thom, D.Litt. Honoris Causa (UBC), the Chan Centre is recognized as one of Canada’s premier musical venues thanks to its bold architecture and state-of-the-art acoustics. Over the past two decades it has also become an important launching pad for ambitious and talented student musicians.

“Without question, the Chan Centre experience is at the heart of our learning and artistic enterprise for everyone in the School. With this celebratory concert we want to thank the Chan family for their extraordinary vision and generosity, and to showcase the abundant talents of our students,” says Dr. Richard Kurth, Director of the UBC School of Music. 

For percussionist and M.Mus. student Julia Chien, performing at the Chan Centre is exciting — and a little terrifying. “It’s such a privilege. I’m always challenged beyond the limits of what I think I am capable of!” she says. Chien will perform the timpani solo in A Song of Joys.

Dozens of UBC Music students have parlayed their experiences at the Chan into exciting careers. Baritone Tyler Duncan (BMus ’98) credits the Chan with setting the stage (so to speak) for a life in music that has taken him around the world, with stints at the Metropolitan Opera, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and Carnegie Hall.

“I remember singing in the choir [at the inaugural concert] and being in awe of the amazing acoustics. I walked across that stage to receive my Bachelor of Music degree and one of my first professional jobs as a singer with Early Music Vancouver was there… the Chan feels like home to me,” Duncan says.

M.Mus student Julia Chien is the timpani soloist for  A Song of Joys .  Photo courtesy of Julia Chien

M.Mus student Julia Chien is the timpani soloist for A Song of Joys. Photo courtesy of Julia Chien

Other notable alumni include Cynthia Yeh, principal percussionist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, soprano Shirin Eskandani, who this year made her debut with the Met in Carmen, cellist Luke Kim of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and up-and-coming pianist Bogdan Dulu.

The Song of Joys concert features the next generation of incredible student musicians performing under the direction of School of Music conducting faculty Dr. Graeme Langager and Dr. Jonathan Girard.

The concert is dedicated to the memory of Bing Thom, who passed away suddenly in 2016. Thom’s vision and his attention to acoustic detail — he was an amateur musician, and an aspiring conductor before he decided to pursue architecture — are what made the Chan Centre the world-class facility it is today.

Visit http://music.ubc.ca/song-of-joys to read more about the anniversary concert and the history of the Chan Centre, including memories from School of Music faculty and alumni.

New research and publications

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Dr. John Roeder presented two conference papers recently:  “Formative processes of durational projection in 'free rhythm' world music” at the Fourth International Analytical Approaches to World Music Conference in New York last June; and “Durational process and affect in a Papua New Guinea song” at the SMT World Music Analysis interest group meeting, in Vancouver in November. Dr. Roeder also published "Superposition in Saariaho's 'The claw of the magnolia….'" in Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers: Concert Music, 1960-2000, ed. Laurel Parsons and Brenda Ravenscroft, 156-175. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Drs. Alan Dodson, Nathan Hesselink and Ève Poudrier were awarded a grant from the Grants for Catalyzing Research Clusters: Performing & Creative Arts for a series of three symposium on the theme “Exploring Musical Time” during the academic year 2017-2018. The newly formed Rhythm Research Cluster brings together the research interests of six UBC faculty members (including Drs. Richard Kurth, John Roeder, and Michael Tenzer) in the fields of music theory and ethnomusicology that converge on the study of musical time and the production and experience of musical rhythm, timing, and periodicity. The first symposium on “Entrainment and the Human-Technology Interface” is planned to take place in September 2017; stay tuned for more details in the next issue!

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Dr. Brandon Konoval published a chapter entitled "Discipline and Pianist: Foucault and the Genealogy of the Etude" in Foucault on the Arts and Letters: Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century (Rowman & Littlefield, October 2016). In July, he presented a paper at St. Anne's College, Oxford, "Pythagorean Pipe Dreams? Ratios of Pipe Scaling from Vincenzo Galilei through Marin Mersenne," for the international conference in early modern science, Scientiae. In December, he was a panelist at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies for 'Foucault on the Arts and Letters.'

Sessional lecturer Elizabeth Volpé Bligh published “From Solo to Section,” a new article in Harp Column magazine about the role of harpists in an orchestra.

Dr. Stephen Chatman published three new educational books for piano at part of Canticle Publishing’s “Mix and Match” series. His compositions offer “an array of stylistically varied pieces, all paired with harmonically rich duets” for beginning students to learn from. 

Sessional lecturer James Palmer published “Humorous Script Oppositions in Classical Instrumental Music,” an article about humour in the works of Joseph Haydn, Michael Haydn, and Mozart, in the latest issue of Music Theory Online.

Introducing the new-look School of Music website

By Dr. Richard Kurth and Tyler Stiem


Welcome to the new and improved UBC School of Music website!

Designed to work beautifully on all your devices, with eye-popping photos and video, streamlined navigation, and robust search tools, it's the culmination of many months of planning and development.

Our goal was to create a platform that amply showcases all the artistic vitality of our students and faculty, and the breadth and dynamism of our academic programs. 

We encourage you to explore the site, beginning with these highlights:

Prospective students will find inspiring stories and multimedia features as well as a new and easier to use undergraduate and graduate application guidelines. Current students will discover a new career development section and more opportunities to promote and publish their work online. Concert-goers will enjoy a much improved events calendar that offers seamless integration with iCal and Google Calendar, and social media. Alumni and supporters can find inspiring stories about recent and past graduates who are making a splash in the music world and beyond.

We hope you’ll agree that the new website projects our energies and projects more vividly. We’d love to receive your comments about the new site, and any suggestions you have for making it even more responsive to your needs and interests. Please send your ideas to Tyler Stiem, Communications Manager, at tyler.stiem@ubc.ca.

Your valuable input will help us make music.ubc.ca as inspiring and accessible at it can possibly be!

 

Music is the furnace of your being

Photo: Brian Hawkes

Photo: Brian Hawkes

High Notes talks to Dr. Richard Kurth, Director of UBC School of Music, about music, music education, and society at large.
 

By Emma Lancaster

In a world where technology and science are moving forward at an incredible pace, and education is increasingly focused on employment skills, studying music can seem like an anachronistic choice. But not for Richard Kurth. “For me, the definition of music would be: coordinating the body, the mind, the imagination and expression into a single activity that can draw on all of them. That’s why we love music. We are charging our whole being–physically, intellectually, emotionally–using music as a way of getting everything fired up as intensely as possible. Music is like the furnace of your being.”

The way our culture experiences music has definitely been affected by technology-driven changes. “It’s actually hard to grasp how much the whole musical culture has changed in the last few decades. In many ways the changes are extraordinarily positive because we have now access to much more music and a greater diversity of musical traditions than we ever had, or could have had, in the past,” he says. “We have music of other cultures available to us; we can revisit the music of the past with a few keystrokes. Music used to be very hard to acquire, now it’s easy.”

That ease of acquisition paradoxically makes Kurth uneasy. “In the past, music was something you did, by singing or playing. Now for many people it’s something you own.” That slippery slope inspires Kurth in his work at UBC. “I think it’s important that we do everything we can to ensure that music remains a participatory culture–not just something we surround ourselves with, but something we do.” He includes running to music, dancing to it, playing a guitar alone, and listening to great jazz in a club as ways that people can engage actively and keep their own furnace burning, in addition to the obvious activities of performing and studying that take place at the School.

Students of all faculties can reap the benefits of this participatory philosophy. Ensembles from the UBC African, Balinese, and Korean music ensembles to the many choirs, jazz ensembles, orchestra, and others are open to students from outside the School of Music. And there are almost daily opportunities for the public to hear students and faculty perform.

“We want the school to be diverse in terms of where people are coming from; and diverse in the types of music that we make–music of different cultures, but also music from all of the long and multicultural Western tradition as diversely as possible, across history and cultural geography; because all the countless forms of music are different manifestations of human experience, and we learn from them all,” he says.

Despite, or perhaps because of this diversity, Kurth celebrates the School’s unity of purpose and dedicated teachers. “We all want to listen really closely to what we’re hearing, no matter what kind of music it may be. We all believe that music is very deep in nuance; we engage by contemplating it, and focusing on it, imagining it anew, and performing it.”

Music surrounds us in contemporary culture, and Kurth sees contemporary talent shows like American Idol as important in that they are very public–they make people excited to see the process and hard work behind every performance. He’s hopeful that the individual stardom these types of shows celebrate is secondary to the sharing of music that’s the backbone of his own philosophy. “It’s got to be for everybody. Young people who are training to be artists need to focus on acquiring skills and confidence to be ready to get up on stage; but once they’re there, it has to be to give to other people. It can’t be only about the performer–it’s got to be for everybody else. Talent is called a gift, because you are called to share it.”

The concert experience is also an opportunity for participation. “When our students perform on stage, they’re demonstrating their commitment. They’re showing human nature in one of its really productive and positive forms. Going to concerts should give you a feeling, as a listener, that you’ve participated with others in something really exciting and moving, a celebration of creative energy and human spirit. And you listen better at a concert because other people are listening with you.”

As listeners, our personal experiences of music are constantly changing or filling in; allowing us to see the same world in a different light, or reinterpret familiar knowledge. As we re-experience favourite pieces or hear new ones, our world grows richer and more nuanced, and our creative fires are kept stoked. Kurth believes that’s an opportunity that music and all the arts afford us. “They nourish us,” he says simply.

Concerts in Care

Purdy Pavillion Photo: Brian Hawkes

Purdy Pavillion
Photo: Brian Hawkes

By Anna Collins and Michelle Keong

Since 2008, the School of Music has partnered with the Health Arts Society to deliver the Concerts in Care UBC Ambassadors program. This outstanding program benefits community members by sharing accomplished student performances with audiences in residential care and retirement homes. To date, 112 graduate and undergraduate students have been selected by audition to participate in the program and presented 498 concerts throughout the Lower Mainland and BC interior.

“We see the Concerts in Care UBC Ambassadors program as a wonderfully inspiring and effective way to train musician citizens who contribute compassionately to the community,” says Dr. Richard Kurth, director of the UBC School of Music. “Their Concerts in Care performances teach them to connect as directly as possible with their audiences, and to be communicative and eloquent in their playing and their conversation with the audience.”

Hands-on learning opportunities such as this are vital for students’ training. They provide opportunities for students to refine their craft—teaching performance and communication skills, perseverance, confidence and professionalism—in addition to illustrating the transformative and restorative power of music.

“I truly believe that this program demonstrates the power of music and its healing qualities,” says soprano Eva Tavares, a 2016 UBC Ambassador. “Music makes an impact on human beings, and that impact stays with you throughout life. It marks the highs and lows of life in ways that nothing else can. This program proves that, and proved to me why my job as an artist is vital.”

In the coming year, the School of Music and the Health Arts Society aim to double the number of music students in the program as well as the number of concerts they perform. They will also integrate Concerts in Care into the curriculum, offering course credit and instruction focused on performance and communication skills attuned to this context. The tailored feedback, direction and guidance will help students redefine the goals of their performances and give them presentation skills to maximize the benefits they can share with their audiences in healthcare settings.

“Every year we witness how the Ambassadors grow and blossom as artist-citizens through their Concerts in Care performances,” says Kurth, noting the robust program has presented approximately 60 Concerts in Care events every year. “We would like many more students to be nourished by this transformative experience, and we aim for many more people and healthcare centres to be delighted and fortified by their concerts!”

We invite you to join us to help expand the program as much as possible. Over the summer, alumni will receive a special appeal from UBC requesting support. Every donation will help us to increase student involvement, local performances and tours. We hope that you will consider making a gift to this important program.

To get involved today, please visit our online donation page.