UBC Reports | Vol.
51 | No. 6 |
Jun. 2, 2005
Finding the Voice Within
Mentors are integral for aspiring opera singers
By Brenda Austin
Twenty-two students from the UBC Opera Ensemble sang in the
chorus of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera (the Masked Ball),
performed by the Vancouver Opera this spring. Every year the
opera company attends the ensemble’s performances, and
auditions selected singers for their upcoming season.
This is one way Nancy Hermiston, director of the voice and
opera divisions of UBC’s School of Music, connects students
to the professional world.
She also makes connections for them with the Vancouver Symphony
Orchestra, with other Canadian opera companies and with premier
companies in the Czech Republic and Germany.
“The students are all at different stages of development,”
says Hermiston. “I mentor them when they are ready,
providing them with opportunities for auditions and professional
“I teach them how to prepare themselves for the discipline
of performing and to deal with the rejection sometimes experienced
in auditions, as well as the tremendous highs they will experience
when they have great success on stage.”
Many students continue contact with Hermiston after they
graduate from UBC. One called recently from Newfoundland with
problems rehearsing a role in Ariadne.
“Sometimes when they are far away like that you have
to give them guidance over the phone,” says Hermiston.
“I ask them are you breathing? Is your jaw relaxed?
Are you keeping the ribs out when you breathe? Talking to
someone who believes in you before a performance is very important.
Don’t let them panic.”
Mentoring happens in other ways, too. Doctoral, master’s
and undergraduate music students learn from one another at
the two main UBC Opera Ensemble productions each season, or
during the year on tours to local schools and B.C. communities.
Students benefit greatly and gain confidence as well from
the annual tours to Europe, performing with professional singers,
symphonies and opera companies.
“We create a legacy of mentoring,” says Hermiston,
“that goes on throughout a singer’s career. I
am still mentored by my own teachers from the University of
Michael Mori, a first year graduate student in the opera
ensemble, attests to the vibrancy of Hermiston’s mentoring,
and the value of the contacts she makes for students with
“Her door is always open for everyone,” he says.
“She’s been fantastic to me, helping me with a
family crisis and giving me bigger and bigger opportunities.”
Because of his artistic achievement, Hermiston recommended
Mori, who is of Japanese descent, for the 2005 Pan Asian Youth
Award, which he won.
Some students first meet Hermiston at the annual UBC Summer
Music Institute, open to everyone from high school onward.
Simone Osborne is one such student who attended the summer
camp early in her high school years.
Hermiston considers Osborne very gifted and has mentored
her every year since. Now a first year student in the voice
and opera divisions, she has already sung in many public performances,
including a special fundraiser for the Vancouver Opera.
Teiya Kasahara, a second year student, also met Hermiston
at the Summer Music Institute, and has worked with her since
then. She received a Ben Heppner Scholarship this year and
also sang at a master class Heppner held at UBC.
Shauna Martin, Hermiston’s assistant, a professional
singer and teacher, is an embodiment of the fulfillment of
the mentoring circle, according to Hermiston.
“When we first met, I told her she would be the Queen
of the Night in the Magic Flute one day,” says Hermiston.
“After three years of study, obtaining a master’s
degree, traveling and singing in Europe for a year, as well
as teaching voice to her own students, she sang the role with
great success at UBC and in Europe.”
Now, Martin’s own voice students are coming to UBC
and she is watching them perform their first major roles.
“Mentoring for singers is long-term. We’re like
one big family, passing knowledge and traditions on to the
next generation of singers.” Hermiston says. “In
the long run, a mentor is the most influential person in someone’s