School of Music announces new brass scholarship

The sound of studying just got a little sweet for first-year UVic School of Music students, thanks to a new brass scholarship from Yamaha Canada Music.

Joan Watson

Joan Watson

Beginning in the fall of 2016, and continuing for the next three years, the Joan Watson Memorial Scholarship will see a Canadian brass player receive a $1,500 cash award.

Joan Watson, Canada’s foremost horn virtuoso and educator, was a Yamaha Artist for over 30 years. More importantly, she was a School of Music alumna who began her professional career playing with the Victoria Symphony before moving to Toronto in the 1980s.

“Joan’s extraordinary legacy as a horn player and teacher will live on through the Joan Watson Memorial Scholarship,” says husband and long-time musical partner Scott Irvine, also a Yamaha Artist. “It is particularly satisfying to see UVic will be the recipient. Joan spoke very highly of her years there with her horn teacher, Dick Ely.”

Watson made an immense contribution to music in Canada, with her unrivaled passion for performance and a dedication to music education. In 2008, she became the first female brass player in Yamaha’s global history to be featured on a poster.

“The University of Victoria’s School of Music wishes to express its profound thanks and gratitude to Yamaha Canada Music for their establishment of the Joan Watson Memorial Scholarship,” says Arthur Rowe, Acting Director of the School of Music. “We are proud to remember her as a student, and to have her memory live on through this award to assist other young musicians who attend UVic.”

Joan playing alongside her husband, Scott Irvine

Joan playing alongside her husband, Scott Irvine

“Joan was one of the rare artists that was always keen to share ideas and collaborate on exciting new projects,” says Inderjit Mudhar, Communications Specialist at Yamaha Canada Music. “She was relentless in her devotion to developing young talent, so I am certain that she would be proud to have her name on this important new award.”

The principal horn player with the Canadian Opera Company, Watson was a mainstay of the COC orchestra for over 20 years. “She was a great force full of energy,” says COC Music Director Johannes Debus. “Her passion for everything she was doing was exemplary. Interested in passing on her vast experience to the next generation made her a highly estimated mentor and motivator for so many young musicians.”

One of Watson’s initiatives was the creation of the COC Orchestra Academy. Launched in 2014 as an extra-curricular program, the COC Orchestra Academy is now in its third year. Working in collaboration with the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, COC Orchestra Academy offers student musicians professional insight and experience in their pursuit of a career in an opera orchestra.

“It was Joan’s idea to bring the COC Orchestra Academy into being,” notes Debus. “Until the very end of her life she was working on that project committedly. We hope that this project will further grow and blossom, giving us all an opportunity to keep her memory alive.”

Watson passed away in March 2015 at the age of 61, following a battle with cancer. She leaves behind a musical legacy that will be an inspiration for generations, and this award recognizes her commitment to young musicians and the art of brass playing. “Representing the family of Joan Watson, I am grateful to Yamaha Canada Music for their vision and leadership in making this happen,” says Irvine.




Double-medal winning grad Kelsey Wheatley offers an inspiring example

Kelsey with Dr Susan Lewis, Dean of Fine Arts (UVic Photo Services)

Kelsey with Dr Susan Lewis, Dean of Fine Arts
(UVic Photo Services)

Each year, the Victoria Medal is awarded to the student with the highest GPA in the Faculty of Fine Arts. Similarly, the Governor General’s Silver Medal is awarded annually to UVic’s top undergraduate student—but it’s a rare day indeed when both awards are given out to the same student.

But such was the case this year when School of Music undergraduate Kelsey Wheatley was presented with both medals as part of the Fine Arts convocation on June 18. An exceptional student by any measure, Wheatley is a vocal performance major who didn’t let her dedication to her studies get in the way of being actively involved in the arts in the community—notably with Pacific Opera Victoria, where her appearance as the Ravenswood Ghost in their 2015 production of Lucia di Lammermoor earned ovations from audiences, classmates and professors alike.

“Kelsey has been the kind of student teachers wish for—not just in her talent and work ethic, but also in her perseverance and her hunger to improve,” notes music performance instructor Anne Grimm. “She has not only been a very keen and motivated student in voice but has shown achievement overall in all her courses. I’m thrilled for her that she receives these awards and am sure that she will use them to her advantage and be inspired by it.”

Described by Grimm as a “hardworking, eager student who doesn’t shy away from the typical challenges that studying voice and music present,” Wheatley also stood out for both her vocal and musical instinct and stage presence. An engaging performer, her instructors also noted that she has “perseverance, strength, determination, a consistent work ethic and a real love for singing”— all of which are crucial to make it in the competitive music world.

Originally from Prince George, Wheatley was a transfer student who came to the School of Music via the two-year integrated music program at Camosun College and Victoria Conservatory of Music, as she specifically wanted to study with UVic vocal instructors Anne Grimm and Benjamin Butterfield. “The vocal performance program had many performing opportunities like the concerto competition, so it was an easy decision having everything I wanted in a program,” she says. “I also felt inspired being on campus, with the natural surroundings and the positive energy of the students.”

Kelsey Wheatley as the Ravenswood Ghost in POV's Lucia di Lammermoor (photo by David Cooper)

Kelsey Wheatley as the Ravenswood Ghost in POV’s Lucia di Lammermoor
(photo by David Cooper)

On top of music theory professor Harald Krebs (“he was an example of how a teacher’s passion for a subject can impact his students and inspire them to achieve more than they thought they could”), Wheatley singles out Anne Grimm as being particularly influential. “She taught me to have patience in my developing craft, yet to never stop putting in the hard, detail-oriented work that needs to be done in order to be the best I could be. She never stopped believing in me even when I had my own doubts.”

Wheatley also valued the “priceless” hands-on experience and career boost that came with getting out of the classroom and into Victoria’s arts community. “Working for Pacific Opera Victoria as a part of the chorus helped me to fully grasp what kind of career I was getting into,” she says. “I absolutely adored being involved in POV’s productions, which proved to fuel the fire of my studies because I wanted to be as successful as the professionals I was working so close to.”

Other highlights of her academic work include the opportunity to direct a small children’s choir at First Metropolitan United Church (“I learned as much from the children as they did from me . . . watching them practice, and present vocal pieces was truly rewarding”) and winning the annual School of Music Concerto Competition.

As for achieving an outstanding 9.0 GPA, Wheatley says it was due to “doing my best not to procrastinate, planning my days and setting deadlines for goals. I also achieved it by completely loving the process and being passionate about what I do.”

Double medal winner Kelsey Wheatley

Double medal winner Kelsey Wheatley

When asked what makes the difference between a good student and a great student, Wheatley says it’s all about vision. “A great student finds a way to connect what they are studying in the present to where they are heading in the future,” she says. “They get involved in their classes and keep an open line of communication with their classmates and with their professors.” On a practical level, she suggests studying with others and creating games out of study materials.

And is there a secret to becoming UVic’s top undergraduate student? “I really don’t think so . . . I had the pleasure of working with so many wonderfully talented and hardworking students during my time at Uvic. It truly could have been any one of us.  I just happened to completely adore the courses I took, along with the amazing professors who taught them, so much so that the hard work didn’t seem like hard work. I just do what I do and never stop trying to be better. It sounds cliché, but it’s the truth.”

Future plans include taking a year off to hone her craft, find “a balance in life without the pressures of school,” and apply for emerging artist programs and graduate programs for 2017. “The best part of graduation is having the freedom to go anywhere and do anything,” she says.

Finally, if she could offer one piece of advice to future students, what would it be? “That thing that you love in your life, that you can’t live without? No matter what it is, as long as you live, love and breathe it, you can’t go wrong.”

Regan Shrumm wins Lieutenant Governor’s Silver Medal

Regan Shrumm, circa 2013

Regan Shrumm, circa 2013

While much of the convocation spotlight naturally falls on our undergraduates, we’re pleased to see recent Art History & Visual Studies alumna Regan Shrumm step back into the spotlight on June 15 as the recipient of UVic’s 2015 Lieutenant Governor’s Silver Medal—presented annually to a student with a particularly outstanding project or extended essay, other than thesis.

“Receiving this award will definitely help in perusing a career in writing and curatorship,” says Shrumm. “But I’m once again shocked and honoured to receive such a major award.”

Already the recipient of a 2011 Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Award and the 2013 Victoria Medal (for the highest GPA of any graduating Fine Arts student), Shrumm also co-curated the 2014 Legacy Galleries exhibit Windows Into Heaven: Religious Icons from the Permanent CollectionShe received the highly competitive SSHRC Joseph Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship to pursue her MA in Art History & Visual Studies, and her resulting research project—“‘Knitting for our Lives’: The Appropriation of the Cowichan Sweaters by the Hudson’s Bay Company during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics”—used the Olympic Games as a case study to raise critical questions relating to similar issues in diverse contemporary contexts, and explore complex issues of cultural appropriation.

Shrumm's MA work focused on faux Cowichan sweaters

Shrumm’s MA work focused on faux Cowichan sweaters

“Regan is an outstanding scholar who demonstrates the relevance of art historical research to complex contemporary issues,” notes Art History & Visual Studies professor Victoria Wyatt, Shrumm’s MA supervisor. “When Regan embraced her research, she held very strong opinions, yet skillfully negotiated the difference between conscientious academic research and editorializing . . . . She demonstrated poignantly that we need not be distanced from controversial topics to study them rigorously.”

Despite the praise, Shrumm doesn’t think of herself as a conventional art historian. “I like to explore more ephemeral or commonplace material culture, not necessary fine arts,” she explains. “I also look at material culture through a cultural history that continues to be perceivable today, rather than a visually analytical context. If I can make a topic relevant for contemporary times, I feel like the research will be pertinent to a larger part of society, not just other academics in the field . . . . both art historians and curators should be blurring the lines between academic research, political activism, and community organization to make art more relevant to all.”

Regan Shrumm at the Smithsonian's Ray Charles display, which she worked on as an intern

Regan Shrumm at the Smithsonian’s Ray Charles display, which she worked on as an intern

After graduating, Shrumm  held an internship at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History in Washington DC, working on the exhibition Ray Charles: “The Genius” and related websites.

“Interning for the Smithsonian was very different from my past experiences—I had previously only worked for small institutions with no more than five full-time employees, so to work for an organization whose budget and visitors were in the millions was overwhelming, to say the least,” she says. “I learned that no matter how large a non-profit is there is always a lack of time and resources. After my experience at the Smithsonian, I then realized how amazing it is that small institutions like the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria has such a diversity of programming with an even more limited budget.”

Shrumm also notes how the Smithsonian internship benefited her on a practical level. “I discovered how important it is to know programs such as Adobe Creative Suites and HTML. My original project at the Smithsonian never developed due to a lack of funding, but I was easily assigned to a larger task of website manager for a new Smithsonian-wide program called Smithsonian Music when my supervisor realized I had prior website skills.”

Currently working as the senior curatorial assistant for downtown’s Open Space artist-run centre, Shrumm is in the process of applying for a grant to become their Curator-in-Residence. She notes that her studies “really helped with my researching and writing skills,” and that her MA work emphasized different writing styles, from short blog posts to long form essays to SSHRC grants. “Knowledge of how to write in these various modes of writing helped me produce exhibition labels, mission statements, and newsletter blogs for a wide range of audiences.”

ray_charles_2016These skills particularly came in hand while she was at the Smithsonian, she says. “The Smithsonian is actually very similar to a university system, with each museum being a different department, and every museum having several libraries in order to have the best researching resources. I would often sit in the American History library reading for hours to become knowledgeable in a subject, just as I had done in university.”

An outstanding student now ready to become an outstanding professional, Regan Shrumm is a fantastic example of how pursuing Art History & Visual Studies can prepare you for an exciting career. As her supervising professor Dr. Wyatt says, “Regan stands poised for a brilliant career in gallery and museum contexts.”

Theatre grad Jasleen Powar steps into the intercultural spotlight

Most students wait until after graduation to start making their mark on the world, but Jasleen Powar already has something to sing about. Graduating with a BFA in theatre on June 15, the 24-year-old Powar has been making waves as Vancouver rapper Horsepowar, thanks to a trio of independent album releases, gigs at high-profile music festivals like Rifflandia and South by Southwest, and the kind of media attention most emerging artists only dream about.

Jasleen Powar (photo: Lukas Engelhardt)

Jasleen Powar (photo: Lukas Engelhardt)

But it’s her unflinching rhymes and powerhouse Sikh-Canadian “Desi girl” persona (a term for girls born outside of South Asia but still upholding traditional values) that have earned the attention of the likes of CBC, Nylon, Vice, Rolling Stone India and The Georgia Straight. Horsepowar was also profiled in the Postmedia newspaper chain on June 8, with this feature of her running nationally in the Vancouver Sun, The Province, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, Calgary Herald and Ottawa Citizen.

As GQ India recently wrote when they named her one of the “Indian rappers to have on your playlist,” Powar is “what you get when you allow an opinionated slam poet with a (dare we say, unhealthy) obsession with ’90s Bollywood to take the microphone.”

In the nine months since it was released, her 2015 track “Queen” has earned nearly 65,000 YouTube views—not too bad for a suburban Richmond girl who, like many daughters of immigrant parents, looked to university as an acceptable way to move out before marriage.

“I wanted my independence, and UVic was far enough from the Lower Mainland but close enough for my parents’ comfort,” Powar explains about why she came here to study theatre. “It’s the same duality I write about in my music: being a Desi girl and having a lot of respect for my parents’ upbringing, but finding their views so backward from how I feel as a Canadian girl in 2016.”

Indeed, UVic’s acclaimed theatre program turned out to be an ideal fit for Powar, who left high school with both a theatre scholarship and a burgeoning reputation as a slam poet. It was here on campus someone first suggested throwing beats under her poetry, and where she did her first live rap performance (at Felicita’s), but UVic is also where she realized the true value of studying theatre.

“Everything you learn in theatre is so useful for whatever direction in life you choose to go,” she says. “It teaches you how to take a leadership role and manage a large group of people, how to work cooperatively and how to have the confidence to just get up there and do what you feel.”

Horsepowar in action

Horsepowar in action

Powar singles out her time working with applied theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta as a highlight—specifically the outreach program at the downtown Salvation Army. “I did a couple months at their rehab centre doing weekly writing workshops with men who had been released from prison,” she recalls. “It was a really interesting experience for me as a young woman of colour to be working with all men—and all white men—trying to teach them something about writing. But part of applied theatre is learning to think on your feet; by contrast, I’m about to teach two spoken-word workshops at a Langley middle school, and I learned all that in theatre.”

Recently back from a trip to India that saw her performing in Delhi and shooting a new music video (that had Nylon magazine noting, “Horsepowar’s ‘Hi Everybody’ got right what Coldplay’s ‘Hymn for the Weekend’ got wrong”), Powar is confident that everything is going according to plan. Her March appearance at South by Southwest music fest saw her performing not only solo but also as part of both the Canadian and South Asian hip-hop showcases.

“It reassured me that there’s a niche and a demographic that have never felt represented in rap before. Sure, we have [Hindu rapper] M.I.A., but that’s just one person and one story—I can tell a whole other story, and people feel a connection with me.”

Powar links that connection with both her upbringing and her theatre training. “In high school, the brown kids didn’t think I was brown enough, but when I started pulling out these stories about being a Desi girl, people began to connect. There’s so many of us out there—not just Indian or South Asian, but any first-generation children of immigrant parents living that dual life: what our parents want for us versus what we want for ourselves. And my forte with this whole Horsepowar thing is performance, which brings me back to the theatre world.”

When asked about how she’s making all the right moves—being featured as the poster girl for the 2016 Vancouver international Bhangra Festival, for instance—Powar simply puts it down to hard work. “The internet is a really useful tool, if you use it right and are strategic . . . the cool hunters are always out there looking for the next someone, and they’re always talking.”

She also credits her overseas supporters. “India has a billion people—that’s a lot of people who can connect you with someone else in the world—and it has shown me a lot of love. GQ India released my EP on an exclusive stream before I even released it for download, and that was really cool.” Powar pauses and smiles. “India’s got my back—I love it!”

This story originally ran in the June 2016 issue of UVic’s Ring newspaper

Connor Gaston’s The Devout sweeps Leo Awards

Hearty congratulations go out to the Fine Arts alumni team behind the locally shot 2015 feature film The Devout—including writer/director Connor Gaston and producers Daniel Hogg and Amanda Verhagen—which won seven major awards out of 14 nominations at the annual Leo Awards on June 5. The Devout won Best Motion Picture, Best Screenwriting, Best Lead Performance (Male & Female) and Best Performance by a Female in a Supporting Role, Best Casting and Best Editing. Gaston holds an MFA from the Writing department—in fact, the script for The Devout was his MFA project—while Verhagen graduated from Theatre. Hogg is also a Writing alumnus and is a staff member in the Faculty of Fine Arts.

UVic's Amanda Verhagen (left) & Daniel Hogg (centre) with The Devout team at the 2016 Leo Awards (photo: Paul Furminger)

UVic’s Amanda Verhagen (left) & Daniel Hogg (centre) with The Devout team at the 2016 Leo Awards (photo: Paul Furminger)

The Leo Awards annually honour the best in BC film, television and web production. You can see the full list of winners here.

Based on true events, The Devout is the story of a humble father in a rural Bible-belt BC town who must face his church, his wife and ultimately himself when he begins to believe that his dying daughter was an astronaut in a previous life.

You can watch a trailer for it here.

The Devout has been well-received wherever it has played, earning wins for the BC Emerging Filmmaker Award and the Best Canadian Feature Film Award in the Vancouver and Victoria film festivals, respectively, and a nomination for the top international prize at South Korea’s Busan International Film Festival. It is now headed to China for the prestigious Shanghai International Film Festival where it will screen June 11 & 15.

Gaston says he used a childhood memory as inspiration for the story. “When I was three, my parents half‐seriously asked me if I could remember being someone else. According to them, I said yes, claiming my name was Mark and I’d been a carpenter.”

CkR1V3NWYAAz33LGaston also says he knew he wanted to make movies when he realized that screenwriting would not be enough to fulfill him creatively. His advice to other aspiring filmmakers? “Do it yourself. Use your iPhone if you have to. These days there are no excuses.”

Film director and screenwriting professor Maureen Bradley, who was also Gaston’s MFA supervisor, says UVic’s writing department is unique in its approach to teaching film. “I think we have the best student screenwriters in Canada here,” she says. “This is a unique situation where the production comes
through the writing first. I’ve seen beautiful films at student screenings across Canada, but the story is usually lacking,
so it’s really exciting to see story and surface come together here. Why make a film if there’s no heart to it?”

Indeed, neither Gaston nor producer and current Fine Arts staff member Hogg are strangers to the Leo Awards, with nominations and wins going back over the past few years thanks to various independent film projects like Two 4 One, Gord’s Brother, Floodplain, Godhead, Woodrow Without Evelyn, and the student projects ’Til Death and Freshman’s Wharf.

The Devout was made possible by the Telefilm Microbudget Program, the BC Arts Council and Cinevic Society of Independent Filmmakers.