We’re excited to see women taking the lead on the podium and in the director’s chair. With that in mind, we’ve asked some of our master’s students in conducting a few questions about who they are, and what they do.
Join us over the next few weeks and get to know these formidable talents as they build their careers and shape our musical landscape.
Born in British Columbia, Angela Hemingway (MMus'21) is a graduate of the Bachelor of Music in Education program at the University of Victoria. She taught music and choir in public schools in Burnaby, B.C. for 15 years prior to moving to Montreal with her husband and three children in 2018. Currently, she teaches vocal music at École F.A.C.E. and is looking forward to finishing her Masters Degree in Choral Conducting this Spring at McGill.
Angela's master’s recital will be webcast live on Thursday, March 18 at 7:00 pm bit.ly/SchulichWebcasts
Is there a moment that brought you to now — one that changed your course or confirmed it?
The summer after I had just finished a frustratingly AWFUL year of grade 7 beginning band with a borrowed school clarinet that couldn't seal well enough to allow me to play very many notes successfully, I went to visit my grandmother. She pulled a clarinet out of the attic that had belonged to a grandfather that I had never met. I listened to her talk about the way he used to just play — for fun! Even though I was truly ready to swear off the clarinet forever, I dutifully put it together and thought "I'll just play a few notes for her... then it can go back into the attic." As soon as I started playing I knew something was different. This clarinet looked exactly like the other one, and my fingers knew exactly where to go, but my ears had never heard these sounds before — it resonated in my body in a way I still can't fully describe. It was beautiful. I didn't want to put it down. I was hooked. I ended up doing an undergraduate degree in clarinet five years later.
What do you see as the role and responsibility of a conductor/director?
The conductor has soooooo many responsibilities! That's partly what I love about it. We are musicians, visionaries, students, leaders, artists, activists, control-freaks, collaborators, event planners, and teachers, to name a few. Most importantly to me, is that we create opportunities for people to connect through music, with a common language, and a common goal — where the process results in meaningful art that cannot be created by a single musician alone.
What’s the toughest thing about conducting? What’s the easiest/most fun?
At this point in my career, the toughest thing about conducting is the constant reflective self-doubt. The awareness that there will always be more to learn, and the hindsight of experience that reveals how you could have done things differently, or better. Even though it's tough to be constantly fighting that voice that says "you're not good enough" and even feeling like an imposter, somehow it also drives me to keep going — to keep learning and improving my craft. The most fun part about my job is easily the people I get to work with.
What advice would you give to your starting-at-university self?
I would remind myself that growth, not perfection, is the goal. I would encourage myself to speak up more often and to remember that the journey that brought me here, though likely very different from anyone else, has given me valuable experience and insight that I should be proud to share with my colleagues.
What was the most surprising thing you learned during your degree?
I learned how to really breathe. Truly! I found that I was holding tension in my abdominal muscles whenever I was in performance mode or being evaluated — and when I let go of that, when I allow myself and my body to expand freely, and not try to fit into a smaller space, I am better able to communicate musically with my gestures. Furthermore, true clarity and strength in my gesture comes from freedom to just be present in my body — not control or tension —and not by trying to mimic someone else.
Tell me a little about your upcoming master’s recital. What makes you excited about it?
In my planning for this project, I was inspired by the strength my grandmother has shown in facing the challenges this lifetime has brought her, and the ways in which she continues to teach us to find and cherish the moments of beauty and joy in amongst the uncertainty, unfairness, and the unknown. For the program I chose to highlight music (and words) composed by women, and set for women’s (treble) voices. Furthermore, it was important to me that the content of the text speak to the theme of celebrating the resilience of women and to honour the many different roles we play, and struggles we face. There are so many vastly different ways to experience each role, and the ways in which they overlap and evolve. It is my hope that, while we cannot even come close to fully encompassing all of the possibilities and points of view, together we will continue to explore the complexities of this topic, learn from and support each other, and acknowledge that not all women begin their journey in this world as daughters. This recital is intended as an opportunity for us all to take a moment to appreciate and celebrate the mothers, sisters, daughters, partners, leaders and friends in our lives who love and inspire us.
If you had a mantra/philosophy/phrase that sums up where you are now, what would it be?
Be fully present in the journey, for the destination is unknown.
Dream piece to conduct/direct?
Too much great music out there to narrow it down!!
What do you want to see/hear more of in your field?
I want to see minorities, including women, recognized in the field because they are outstanding leaders and musicians, not simply because it is the trendy thing to do.
Over the next weeks you'll get to meet Sawyer Craig, Nila Rajagopal, and Melissa Tardif.
Read Leading the Way: Part 1 of 5 — Kelly Lin here
Read Leading the Way: Part 3 of 5 — Sawyer Craig here
Read Leading the Way: Part 4 of 5 — Melissa Tardif here
Read Leading the Way: Part 5 of 5 — Nila Rajagopal here