Concordia University Magazine

The Music Makers

When it comes to music, scores of Concordia graduates are hitting the high notes on different stages of the music world. Here are eight short profiles -- operettas of sorts -- of alumni from Concordia's music program as well as elsewhere with a love for the genre.

Diva Du Jour
Dawn Tyler Watson

Montreal jazz performer Dawn Tyler Watson has fared well in France. At that country’s Cognac blues festival in 2002, she won the BottleNet International Screamin’ Jay Hawkins Award for best concert or tour by an international artist.

Dawn Tyler Watson, BFA (jazz studs.) 94, is a diva in a Ten Dollar Dress, a Grande Dame de Blues, a leading lady by the name of Curly Brown. She’s absolutely fabulous.

Ten Dollar Dress is the name of Watson’s debut album, released to critical acclaim in July 2001 literally moments before she took to the outdoor stage before thousands at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. The jazz singer-songwriter has been a regular headliner at the festival since 1998, but that night marked a milestone. “I was so emotional, and thrilled,” she says. “I went out and rocked the stage.”

In many ways, the rising vocal artist credits her formal training and experiences while at Concordia for her success. Watson, a native of England who came to Canada at a young age, recalls how she used to butt heads with music professor Jeri Brown: “I thought she had it in for me, but it turns out she just believed in me and wanted to challenge me.”

Watson’s fans can catch her weekly at the House of Jazz, formerly Biddle’s (where she was discovered by a movie director; earlier this year Watson starred opposite Roy Dupuis in the Quebec film Jack Paradise). Watson performs a freeflowing repertoire of jazz, blues, funk, gospel, folk, swing and rock. In 2003, she won the inaugural Lys Blues award for Best Female Artist from Quebec webzine Le Net Blues. She has jammed with blues artists Jeff Healey, Nanette Workman and Colin James, to name a few. And while singing for a club date band, she ended up giving a concert for Céline Dion and her family. “She got up and sang with my band. It was a real trip,” says Watson. “It only hit me later — ‘My God, I just sang for Céline Dion all night.’ ”

Music Direction

Nicolas Desjardins

Nicolas Desjardins is director-general and an alumnus of the Conservatoire de la musique et art dramatique du Québec, where he was a classmate of Concordia’s Fine Arts dean Christopher Jackson. Photo by Louise Leblanc

For the more than two decades he performed with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre Métropolitain, as well as chamber music and opera companies, there wasn’t a night when Nicolas Desjardins, DIA 86, did not enjoy going on stage. “When I was a student, my goal was to be a professional musician — and I succeeded,” he now says. “I had a long career playing with the best and most famous conductors around the world.” Yet when he quit, it was for good.

Today, Desjardins is director-general of the Conservatoire de la musique et art dramatique du Québec, where he received his own musical training from 1970 to 1977. Drawn to Concordia’s Diploma in Administration program, he earned his degree part time while working as a professional musician and teaching clarinet and chamber music. He served on the board of the Orchestre Métropolitain while also one of its musicians, and began taking on administrative roles with other music organizations.

The turning point came in 1991, when Desjardins became director-general of Jeunesses Musicales du Canada — he quit the orchestra and about a year later gave up the clarinet. “It became more difficult because my mind was not there, but rather on administration challenges,” he explains. Desjardins steered Jeunesses Musicales through difficult times, and was instrumental in the organization’s continuing vitality.

In 1998 Desjardins arrived at the Conservatoire — the only public music and dramatic arts conservatory in North America — where he coordinates the curriculum and network of nine schools throughout the province. Desjardins looks forward every year to its annual concours, the final examinations of its students, performed before the public. “The sense of passion from the teachers and students is gratifying,” he says.

VJ Activist

Jennifer Hollett

MuchMusic VJ Jennifer Hollett, with schoolgirls in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2002. She says, “While young people love music, social issues are also very important to them, so there is a commitment to address topics such as sexism, violence and war.” Photo courtesy of MuchMusic

For Jennifer Hollett, BA (journ. & comm. studs.) 97, going to rock concerts and hanging out with some of the biggest names in music entertainment is all in a day’s work. The MuchMusic VJ and videographer, known for her bright red hair, perpetual grin and pop culture banter with bite, has the sort of job many of her millions of youthful viewers would do for free.

But while MuchMusic is obviously about music, it’s not all videos and trivia. Two summers ago, for instance, Hollett was sent to war-torn Afghanistan for 10 days to tape a special on how youth and women are adapting in a post-Taliban world. The half-hour special aired on the first anniversary of 9/11 and later won a Gemini and other public affairs and educational programming awards.

One of Hollett’s next assignments will be coverage of the Canadian federal election, and she’s on a mission to improve voter turnout among 18- to 20-year-olds, which was less than 25 per cent in 2000. “I love working in entertainment and TV,” she says, “because it’s the most effective way to get a message across — there is so much potential to mobilize people.” Socially and environmentally responsible on many fronts (no disposable cups or sweatshop garments for this public-transit-riding vegetarian), Hollett adds, “It’s important that we have activists in all types of positions, not just NGOs and charities.”

Hollett started her career at Sony Music, first as a campus representative (“There was an ad right next to an article I wrote for the Concordian”), then as manager of new media. While developing online content for a major record label during the dot-com boom was thrilling for her, she had long aspired to be on air — her father, Shane Hollett, S BSc 70, was a TV meteorologist.

Auditioning for TV gigs on the sly, in 2001 Jennifer Hollett jumped at the opportunity to host The Chatroom on TalkTV on the recommendation of a CTV producer she met at Sony. At the end of that year, she applied to the nation’s music video station, and has since been known, she says, as “that chick from MuchMusic.”

Deadhead’s Dream

David Lemieux

Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux, at the band’s Novato, California, headquarters. Lemieux earned a BFA in film studies at Concordia, followed by a master’s in film archiving from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, U.K.

In a six-year span in his youth, David Lemieux, BFA (film studs.) 97, attended more than 100 concerts across North America and in Europe by the Grateful Dead — the legendary band whose cult-like fans are known as Deadheads.

Lemieux’s first show was in 1987, when he was about 16 and living in Ottawa. He and a friend had scored tickets for a concert in Hartford, Connecticut — his mother asked how they were getting there. “I said, ‘Train . . . or bus.’ ” He sounds unconvincing even after all these years. “She said, ‘No way,’ and drove us down.” By his count, Lemieux saw the Grateful Dead about 105 times from 1987 to 1991, but only four or five times after that because, he explains, “I was getting serious about college and changed gears.” Lemieux first became hooked at age 13 on the “uncategorizable” sound of his older brother’s Grateful Dead greatest hits album — somewhat poetic, since these days Lemieux makes a living producing such compilations.

As the Grateful Dead archivist, Lemieux’s responsibilities include selecting material, packaging and promotion for about six to seven CD and DVD releases a year. The essence of the job is to listen to the music, which he does all the time — at work, off hours, on the weekend, and during the picturesque drive to and from the Dead offices in Novato, California, about 20 minutes outside of San Francisco. The band, which has called itself the Dead since the passing of co-founder and guitarist Jerry Garcia in 1995, rehearses on the premises before performances.

Lemieux, who worked at the National Archives of Canada and the British Columbia Archives before landing every Deadhead’s dream job in 1999, is one of only two holders of the key to the revered Grateful Dead Vault, which contains close to 17,000 audio- and videotapes of the band’s performances, dating back to 1965. It’s a cache of outstanding music begging to be released, according to Lemieux. His most thrilling find? “An unmarked tape that turned out to be the Dead playing in a bowling alley in Lake Tahoe in 1968,” he says, released on CD in 2002 as Dick’s Picks Vol. 22.

Tour Connoisseur

Marie-Helene Bernard

Marie-Hélène Bernard, orchestra manager for the Cleveland Orchestra, received a fellowship in orchestra management from the American Symphony Orchestra League and completed residencies with the New York Philharmonic, the Minnesota Orchestra and the Syracuse Symphony.

As orchestra manager for the Cleveland Orchestra, indisputably one of the finest orchestras in the world, Marie-Hélène Bernard, DIA 97, is regarded as the company’s supremely organized logistics queen.

In charge of all touring operations, from planning the earliest stages to seeing to the travel and welfare of more than 100 musicians, staff and technicians, Bernard has taken the orchestra on 11 tours throughout Europe and the United States since she joined in 2000 after a stint with the Philadelphia Orchestra. It’s an immense amount of work, beginning about two years out for a domestic tour, three or four years for one abroad. But sometimes, even with the best planning, her truest test comes in how she handles the unpredictable elements — and in this, Bernard has proven to be a virtuoso.

For instance, when the orchestra went to Vienna last year, half the cargo was left behind en route in Toronto. “I was envisioning calling lots of musicians in Vienna to borrow their instruments,” she says. “It would have been a catastrophe.” But she managed to get the instruments to Vienna, just in time for rehearsal.

The only scenario worse than an orchestra without instruments would be an orchestra without musicians — and Bernard has faced that, too. Musicians are responsible for staying on top of the schedule, but sometimes “you don’t notice until the last minute that someone is missing — like when you’re holding their boarding pass at the gate and they’re nowhere in sight.” Bernard’s job then is to find a way to get the errant musicians to their destination. Thank goodness for the logistics queen.

Opera Man

David Moss

Opéra de Montréal’s general director David Moss, at Place des Arts, says, “Arts management is a delicate balance between artistic and business choices.” Photo by Linda Rutenberg

“Opera is the ultimate art form,” says David Moss, BComm (fin. & mktg.) 89, general director of the Opéra de Montréal. “It’s big and it’s spectacular, and every art form has a place on its stage.”

A songwriter and formally trained musician (he studied at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California), Moss had little exposure to opera when he joined the company last year. Certainly, he says, he was no opera aficionado. But it turns out opera was a natural career direction for him. From 1994 to 2003, Moss worked at the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts as director of the School of Fine Arts, director of corporate sponsorship and then executive director. Under his guidance, the Saidye Bronfman Centre’s funding nearly doubled, and the centre saw remarkable development in both its arts programming and its stature.

At the Opéra de Montréal, Moss concentrates on cultivating audience and patron relations as well as enhancing artistic opportunities. The company encourages young audiences through flexible and discounted subscriptions and has initiated TechnOpera, an educational conference with a multimedia opera jam that precedes each production. While opera is quintessentially a classical art form, Moss notes that around the world, multimedia techniques are becoming part of the aesthetic palette of opera. Given the scope and depth of the artistic and multimedia talent in Montreal, he hints at exciting collaborations to come to the opera stage.

Still, Moss feels that above all, people go to the opera for one reason. “The core of opera is the human voice, and the unmiked voice as the core of artistic expression is something that people can relate to,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s the unadorned human voice that makes opera so spectacular.”

Capital Chanteuse

Diane White

Diane White has entertained visiting politicians and luminaries at Ottawa’s Fairmont Château Laurier Hotel.

Jazz performer Diane White, BFA (jazz studs.) 97, always keeps a suitcase ready in case of last-minute gigs. Among other essentials, it holds a couple of no-iron gowns, some sheet music, make-up and high heels. It’s definitely more glamorous than her Concordia days, when she used to dress up as the Stingers mascot to make a little extra cash.

White came to Montreal in the mid-nineties from Ottawa, doing a stint on trombone with local rock band Me, Mom and Morgentaler and playing with various big bands around town while studying trombone and voice at Concordia.

Since graduating, she’s performed at the International Jazz Festival in Montreal and is now the singer for the house jazz band at Ottawa’s Fairmont Château Laurier Hotel. Last year White toured eastern Europe, where one stop included the People’s Palace in Bucharest, Romania, “right by the wall where they shot Ceaucescu,” she points out. White also spent three weeks in the Arabian Gulf last February entertaining Canadian troops. She’s also landed modeling and acting roles — she appeared with Eddie Murphy in Pluto Nash, Stephen Baldwin in the HBO movie X Change and in a number of other TV shows.

But White says singing is definitely her focus. In an effort to bring the genre to wider audiences, she performs gratis at charity events and hosts jazz soirées at her home, welcoming strangers and friends alike. In January, White began singing once a month in an Ottawa grocery store, an idea she admits she initially found comical. “But it’s so much fun. People from all walks of life come to thank me, because they can’t afford the Château Laurier.”

Music Mixer

Jeff Wolpert

Recording engineer Jeff Wolpert, in his Toronto studios, works mostly behind the scenes but has also performed on record. He played percussion with Paul Schafer for the movie Blues Brothers 2000 — for which he was paid with Schafer’s Late Night jacket. Photo by Vince Pietropaolo

Jeff Wolpert, BFA (jazz studs.) 79, likens himself to being a silent member of the band. As a recording engineer, his contribution takes place behind the scenes, at the console. It can be called a golden silence, one that has brought the music meister five Juno award nominations and four Junos: Recording Engineer of the Year, for Holly Cole’s Shade (2004) and Romantically Helpless (2000) and for Loreena McKennitt’s The Visit (1993), and Best Roots & Traditional Album, for McKennitt’s The Mask and Mirror (1995), which Wolpert co-produced, recorded and mixed.

Wolpert recalls his first Juno win and being trundled into the press gallery. “Everyone was like, ‘Who is this guy?’” he says. “We were not seen as a prominent part the music.” But these days, sound engineers are recognized as critical to the process, as most music, save orchestral music, is recorded piecemeal and then mixed and manipulated by recording engineers like Wolpert.

After more than 20 years in the industry, Wolpert says he still thrives on being the band member “who does not exist in real time.” Every recording is a discovery, he explains. “Everyone has an idea of what we want to do, but there’s always the element of performance and the moment, and a degree of experimentation.”

Based in Toronto, Wolpert divides his time equally between recording and mixing popular, folk and country music, and recording musical scores for films, such as American Psycho (2000), Five Senses (2000) and Being Julia (2004). He adds, “Movies are sort of the last bastion of orchestral music where an orchestra is paid to play and record new material.”

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June 2004

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