Former vocal student, Sarah Heckbert, shares her thoughts on music, motherhood and memories of growing up in the MHC Conservatory.
How did your musical journey begin?
I started at the Medicine Hat College Conservatory with the Children’s Choir when I was 5 years old and later took singing lessons, dance lessons and piano lessons. I continued at the Conservatory through high school and sang in the MHC Girls’ Choir. The MHC Conservatory has such talented faculty and I am very lucky to have learned from many of them. Susan Supeene was my voice teacher and I studied with her for the longest period of time. Elaine Dobek-Shandro and Con Shandro also had an incredible influence on my development as a singer and performer.
What were some of your favourite experiences at the Conservatory?
Some of my fondest memories of studying at the MHC Conservatory are the friendships that I made with my fellow students. I spent so much time there as a kid it was like a second home. I developed many meaningful relationships with other young people who had something in common with me and I think it’s a real blessing to grow up with that kind of camaraderie.
I also really loved singing in the MHC Girls’ Choir. In the summer of 2000, we went on a European performance tour and sang in some exciting places. Sometimes I will see these places featured on brochures or magazines and I get to say to my kids “Look at this! When mommy was a teenager she sang here with her friends.” They get so excited and it’s really lovely to share that special memory with them.
Where has your music education taken you?
I started my music degree several years ago at Western University in London, Ontario. It was an incredible experience and I had the chance to learn from some influential Canadian singers. Then love brought me back to Alberta and I started a family with my husband. I’m still working on finishing my music degree with Valley City State University in North Dakota. I live in Calgary, but join my classes via video stream and often communicate with my instructors on Skype. Studying at VCSU gives me the chance to fulfill my music dreams and raise my family at the same time - it’s the best of both worlds.
I’ve also had the opportunity to sing in the chorus of the Calgary Opera Company and be a part of some really incredible productions with absolutely amazing opera singers and stage directors. I remember one time being on stage while the soprano was singing a famous aria. It was a euphoric feeling sharing the stage with such a renowned and talented singer. I remember thinking to myself that these are the things that dreams are made of. It makes all that hard work worth it.
What has been your most memorable performance?
The performance that I cherish the most is when I sang a recital dedicated to motherhood and I was seven months pregnant with my youngest child. The end of the recital was a song cycle by Carlisle Floyd that explored a woman’s journey through pregnancy, delivery and new motherhood. It was such a fulfilling experience to sing to about pregnancy while carrying a child. It was a really special, once-in-a lifetime experience and I will treasure it forever.
What does it mean to you to be performing at the alumni gala - Through the Opera Glass- on May 12?
I am thrilled to be singing in the gala. It feels like coming home and I am excited to show everyone here what I’ve been working on since I left. Studying at the MHC Conservatory was so beneficial for me in my growth as a performer and a person. It’s an honour to be considered alumni and I am pleased that I get to contribute to this gala to raise funds for local music scholarships. It’s nice to give back to a community that did so much to build me up as a singer and performer.
I am singing 2 pieces for the gala. The first is a heart-breaking scene from an opera called Jenufa where a young mother searches for her baby. Jenufa’s character is fascinating because she gets such strength and graciousness from her innocence. I love performing this scene because it speaks so frankly about the love of a mother.
The other aria that I am singing is “Q’uando men vo’ from Puccinni’s La Boheme. This scene is a lot of fun. Musetta sees her ex-lover in a café and does everything she can to get his attention and make him jealous. The whole thing is quite funny and relatable to every audience. Who hasn’t gone through something like that at least once in their life?
What is next for you?
I’ve just been accepted into the Summer Intensive Program for Opera Kelowna. It’s exciting to have an Opera Company like that in Western Canada and I am really looking forward to learning from and performing for them this summer.
Experience the excitement of opera! Through the Opera Glass on May 12 will feature the vocal talents of 17 students and alumni to raise funds for music scholarships. Tickets are available online at www.tixx.ca.