What is your musical background? Are you currently active as a performer?
JS: I was originally trained as a pianist and completed my undergraduate degree in Piano Performance at the University of Toronto in 2010. Following that, I obtained my master’s degree in Collaborative Piano at McGil in 2012. Outside of running Musique 3 Femmes, I’m active as a staff coach for Opera McGill at McGill University and Opera de Montreal, where I played George Benjamin’s Written on Skin this season and will music direct a world premiere with the Atelier Lyrique later this month. A full circle moment!
How did you get involved in opera?
JS: I got involved in opera by chance. It’s a funny story because in my second year at UofT, I was asked to play a last minute audition for a soprano friend. At the audition I met Darryl Edwards, Associate Professor of Voice and Liz Upchurch, Director of Ensemble Studio at the Canadian Opera Company. She said to me, “You have the opera bug”, encouraged me to get involved, and the rest is history.
How long did it take you between completing your music studies and establishing Musique 3 Femmes? What did you do in the period between graduation and founding your organization?
JS: I graduated from McGill in 2012, and it took 6 years before creating Musique 3 Femmes in 2018 with my co-founders Suzanne Rigden and Kristin Hoff. During those 6 years, I interned at the Canadian Opera Company, Opera de Montreal, and the San Francisco Opera. These internships were a great opportunity to familiarize myself with the all aspects of opera, as well as particular challenges facing our industry. After completing these internships, I returned in Montreal in 2018 with a new perspective and an awareness of my field, and was inspired to build a project to support women leaders in opera. With Musique 3 Femmes, we were able to launch the $25,000 Mécénat Musica Prix 3 Femmes, a prize which supports new creations by emerging women composers and librettists in Canada.
What is Musique 3 Femmes’s mission and purpose? What inspired you and your partners to establish this organization?
JS: In a nutshell, Musique 3 Femmes exists to support future women leaders in opera, and the Mécénat Musica Prix 3 Femmes to foster the next generation of women composers and librettists in this country! It’s still surprisingly a male-dominated field in many key creative roles in this business, so we wanted to build a platform for young creators to get the experience that they need.
Mentorship is an important part of our prize. We want to provide not only the financial support for new works, workshops and performances for the creations, but also career development through training. Last year, laureates were working with James Rolfe and Colleen Murphy – this year with Luna Pearl Woolf. Opera is a huge machine, and these workshops are designed to provide feedback for the creators throughout the development of their works.
Aside from this, we also assist our laureates with basic “business” things such as grant writing, bio and CV editing. Basically, all the back end skills that would help an artist secure a grant or develop their brand.
Do you feel your musical training has impacted your approach to operating your own organization?
JS: Absolutely. As a collaborative pianist, my job is to communicate and collaborate with other musicians. I try to anticipate their needs and provide that musical and artistic support. It’s a highly rewarding process and also applicable in the business world because it’s rooted in listening and supporting the work of others. Specifically, for Musique 3 Femmes, we are an organization that advocates for artists that is run by artists. I think that’s why it works. I would encourage all young musicians to learn basic skills such as grant or copy writing, presenting to donors/non-musicians, making connections with people, being curious about your field. Digital skills are essential for the modern musician. I’m a firm believer that Classical music artists today should be able to embrace all of their skills and not feel constrained to a single traditional path. The most exciting voices of this generation are the ones taking great risks. It’s about being a genuine version of yourself in your practice by pushing the envelope around you.
What advice would you provide to musicians who are looking to diversify their careers or undertake their own entrepreneurial pursuits?
JS: Meeting the right people at the right time who can mentor you is critical to building your career. Being able to ask people the right questions and drawing upon their experiences will inform you of whether you’re on the right track or not. Career wise, there is a big myth out there that if you do anything other than play piano, than you are not a real pianist. Let’s let that dinosaur die. I struggled for years with the feeling that I did not want to be a solo pianist, and I felt ashamed for wanting to carve out a different path. I say this often to young colleagues who are going through the young artist phase of their careers – you define your own path. My mentor and boss Patrick Hansen at Opera McGill is one of the best examples of this.
Find people you love to work with and can learn from. In my current role as a non-profit founder and a collaborative pianist, I always have that element of collaboration. My advice to musicians is not to feel like less of an artist because you don’t want to be a soloist. Don’t limit yourself. Explore every aspect of your artistry. Those are my daily mantras.
What is up and coming for you and Musique 3 Femmes?
JS: The five operas from the first edition of Mécénat Musica Prix 3 Femmes were workshopped at Opera McGill, Tapestry Opera and subsequently picked up for productions. One of them, “L’hiver attend beaucoup de moi” has its world premiere at Opera de Montreal later this month. Its creators, composer Laurence Jobidon and librettist Pascale St-Onge are two of the most talented and incredible artists I have ever had the pleasure to work with. The team is led by Quebecoise director Solène Paré (again, brilliant), featuring two great young artists from the Atelier Lyrique program – Vanessa Croome and Florence Bourget. It is the most democratic, collaborative, artful rehearsal room I have ever been a part of – and it’s a real pleasure to serve this team of women.
As for the 2020-21 Mécénat Musica Prix 3 Femmes, the announcement for new winners came out April 2020 and includes composer Parisa Sabet, recent U of T Music graduate. This year features a unique co-production with Toronto’s Opera 5, Montreal’s SMCQ, and Kingston’s DAN School of Music at Queens University, as well as Opera McGill.
For more information on Musique 3 Femmes, please visit:
or contact Jennifer directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This interview summary was written by Andrew Chan, master's student in Viola Performance