St. Andrews Art Council to host opera benefit concert

Submitted photo The 2019 St. Andrews Art Council workshop students pictured with Wendy Nielson, front row, second from right.

SAINT ANDREWS – The Best of Broadway and Opera benefit concert in support of future students in the Voice Program offered by the St. Andrews Art Council is set for 4:30 p.m. on July 31 at the KIRA Amphitheater.

“We’ve done it for something like 20 years,” said Jackie Guthrie with the St. Andrews Art Council.

The St. Andrews Art Council is a volunteer-based organization devoted to promoting and maintaining the presence of performance arts in New Brunswick communities. Established in 1986 in partnership with New Brunswick Community College and Saint Andrews, the council attracts national attention to Saint Andrews through its programs, establishing the town as a hub for cultural outlets and education.

Between the various programming, the council offers education in performance arts to a diverse range of skill levels and age groups.

Over the past seven years, the Music in Schools program has provided a free general music education to students at Vincent Massey Elementary in Saint Andrews after budget cuts removed music education from the curriculum.

The Whale of a Tale Theatre Program offers students ages 5-18 with high quality drama training, courses in voice and dance, screenwriting and playwriting. The council hosts showcases, competitions and galas throughout the year.

With guidance from renowned soprano and New Brunswick native Wendy Neilson, the Voice Program’s opera workshop teaches students, typically ranging from 18 to 30, from across the province.

The workshop is intense. The intention is to build polished performers who are given the opportunity to grow as artists and form connections with professionals.

“It’s a strenuous audition process, but once they get in, there’s no pressure … it involves a rigorous application that starts around February or March,” said Guthrie. “We receive many more than we can accept … about a third of the students who apply typically get in.”

The week-long program allows pre-professionals to study intensely without the pressure of competition. “Everyone gets along, there’s no competition,” said Guthrie.

As far as she knows, the Voice Programs opera workshop is the only one that exists where singers can relax and concentrate free of competition pressure.

“They’re learning how to be an opera singer in this world,” said Guthrie. The Voice Program offers a vocal techniques workshop to university level vocal students and a professional development workshop where career-level vocalists are invited to participate in a three day workshop.

“They come because it’s beautiful and relaxing here, once they get here, it’s wonderful … they come from a long way,” said Guthrie. “With high level faculty, the people will follow.”

Some faculty involved with the program include choreographer and body alignment specialist Jennifer Swan, pianist and vocal coach Liz Upchurch, certified life coach and clinician mentoring singers in performance craft and living as a freelance performer Rebecca Hass, music director Peter Tiefenbach, Wendy Neilson, and opera acting coach Tom Diamond.

Guthrie was full of praise as she spoke about Diamond’s teaching, explaining one task where students are assigned a scene from an opera which they practice and learn how to move accordingly.

“You can see them practicing outside if you’re walking through town,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the performing arts significantly.

“It’s been two years of total disruption … it’s hard to have virtual performance arts,” said Guthrie. Due to the unavoidable pause, the St. Andrews Art Council is looking forward to resuming in-person performances.

The benefit concert is completely optional for students as it’s not a competition, but a pay-it-forward to future students and the community.

“It’s a very lively concert,” said Guthrie. “We’re thankful for the community support.”

The community is why the St. Andrews Art Council has had the opportunity to build their prestigious program.

“It’s gotten quite the reputation,” she said. “It’s wonderful … people in town even house some students.”

This year’s benefit concert will feature light, lively music, in addition to a selection of Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite show tunes in tribute to the platinum jubilee.

The $30 ticket fee goes toward supporting enrollment for future students from across the country and can be purchased at the door or online at www.standrewsartscoucil.com.

The rain venue arranged for this year’s concert is the All Saints Anglican Church. Staff hold out hope they won’t have to use the back-up location, going forward with a successful debut concert at the KIRA Amphitheatre.

“It was recommended we have it at the KIRA … we’re keeping our fingers crossed,” said Guthrie.

Why do opera singers’ study in New Brunswick? The renowned faculty draws performers, and the town entices them to stay.

“She (Neilson) loves it here,” said Guthrie.

heatherknight@stcroixcourier.ca