Arts & Culture(Archives)
A Voice Above The Boreal
Local opera talent helps students foster their self-expression through singing, while maintaining a unique and rewarding career.
As a voice instructor and philanthropist in the Fort McMurray performing arts sector, Canadian soprano Cara Brown is a community vocal star on the stage and behind the scenes.
From her operatic debut singing Despina for The Opera Project in a concert version of Così fan Tutte in Edmonton, to taking on the part as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro in Italy, Rome on a fully-staged opera with an Italian orchestra, Brown’s production resume includes the works of many performances through Western Canada and beyond.
Brown expressed how a quote from Diane Paulus, an American opera and theatre director, perfectly transcribes why she has such an infectious love for her career in being an artist, adjudicator and clinician.
“Paulus said, ‘Opera is the ultimate art form. It has singing and music and drama and dance and emotion and story,’” Brown shared. “That’s why I love it. It’s complicated, just like humanity.”
Some may be surprised to learn that performers using this style of singing don’t use any form of technology to amplify their voices. There’s a certain technique opera singers use to communicate music through performance. Furthermore, Brown explained how much detail and research goes into the roles she takes on due to the era in time in which the compositions were written.
“Opera singers sing with no microphones or amplification,” Brown said. “The bulk of the work as an opera singer is the preparation, research, practicing and staying in good vocal health. Most of the opera music I sing – with a few exceptions – were written before 1900.”
Edmonton-born, she has been living in Fort McMurray for the past 17 years with her husband, Dr. Mike Brown. It was the summer of 1998 when she not only decided to make the move, but found her calling with opera and decided working towards what is now a rewarding career.
“I have been singing for as long as I can remember,” she said. “And, I fell in love with opera when I began studying with Laura Glover, shortly after I moved to Fort McMurray.”
Brown discovered Glover – a music professor at Keyano College – when Glover was adjudicating her community choir at a music festival, while she was in Sherwood Park. A few months after residing, Brown touched base with her and enrolled into the college’s two-year Music Diploma program. And since 2003, Brown has gone beyond cast calls, and the numerous amount of musical projects, to actively educate others through private voice instructions.
As a former musical theatre and voice director, as well as a small ensemble director at Keyano College, Brown describes how the act of teaching music is taking everything she has learned and instilling it on to others. Brown believes students develop rewarding life skills from music and says there’s many reasons why it’s important to become educated.
“I love watching the spark in a student when it appears they have learned something new. I also love being able to take everything I’ve learned about the process of singing, performing, and the human voice itself, and share that with the students,” she said. “It helps develop creativity, self-discipline and personal excellence.”
Ask Brown how her teaching stands out among the rest of the music educators and she will tell you that not just “one” person is above. To her, true leadership is defined in supporting fellow colleagues.
“Although Fort McMurray has grown substantially in the last fifteen years, I still very much consider it a small community,” she said. “Wherein, I think all the teachers need to be supportive of one another.”
From co-creating local recitals to taking part in the grand opening of the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts, Brown has recently exemplified supporting other musicians by collaborating with Torontonian baritone and pianist William Lewans, local mezzo-soprano Sarah Neiman and local pianist Mindy Su for the Fort McMurray Music Teachers’ Association’s “Night of Music” concert with support from Arts Council Wood Buffalo, Friends of Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
Beyond her personal career, Brown volunteers a countless amount of time and efforts to provide and support opportunities for music education and appreciation for Albertans through the Alberta Music Education Foundation (AMEF). She has been a member of the AMEF’s Board of Directors for almost eight years.
Within this time frame, she co-launched three Fort McMurray music programs, including: the Alberta Heritage Music Project, where her voice students interviewed seniors about their music memories from late childhood to early adulthood.
“A song was chosen from each of these interviews, and the students put on a production at the Golden Years Society, recreating a moment in the seniors’ lives,” Brown explained. “The historic show included costumes, a set, a band and lights, with the seniors sitting in the front row. They were able to see a part of their lives acted out on stage - with the music that meant so much to them.”
The other two local AMEF programs are Strings for Kids and Keyboards for Kids, which has been recently taking place at St. Martha School in Timberlea. For many years, these programs have been successful throughout Alberta, including Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary, Lacombe and Bentley.
“Other than a small honorarium, all of the teachers in the program are volunteers and they teach the students in group lessons for forty-five minutes per week,” Brown said. “The program was designed to offer keyboard and string lessons to at-risk or disadvantage youth, which could mean a variety of things.”
Each school board, principal, music instructor and volunteer teacher defines the program on how they find it suitable for their students. Brown expresses how bringing awareness to these program types are crucial, as not every local family may have the access or resources to put their children into private music lessons.
“Fort McMurray, on the whole, is considered to be a very affluent community. But, not every family has access or resources,” Brown said. “We are currently looking for a piano teacher in the area,” she added, to encourage any future interested volunteers.
Although, Brown has enthused about how honoured she has been to collaborate with the many artists through the AMEF programs and on-stage performances in her career, she holds high regards to local violinist Peter Ellis, who she describes as a dedicated and tireless volunteer that has been involved in the Fort McMurray music industry for over three decades.
“He (Ellis) has been involved in music education in this community for over 35 years. He has served as Chair of the Keyano College Visual & Performing Arts Department, while also teaching private lessons through the conservatory program,” she shared. “He continues to teach private lessons through UpTown! Music & Dance, and without hesitation agreed to volunteer teach for the Strings for Kids program, when I asked for his assistance. I’m thrilled to have him on my team for this.”
Brown’s next upcoming local event will be taking place on May 23, 2015 for La Dolce Vita – A Taste of Italy presented by ATB Financial, where she will be singing with local mezzo-soprano Sarah Neiman, tenor Dan Rowley and baritone Bertrand Malo with piano accompaniment by Edmontonian Emilio DeMarcato. Guests will enjoy a four-course meal, while listening to Italian solos, duets and ensembles performed between each course. For ticket information, visit Cara Brown’s website at carabrown.ca/news.