Future looking bright for gifted Academy grads

Academy grad Maclean Pachkowski reflects on a decade of growth at Mount Royal Conservatory
Academy grad Maclean Pachkowski, heading to study at New York’s Bard College, reflects on a decade of growth at Mount Royal Conservatory. The 2014 Academy for Gifted Youth saw 42 students graduate April 28.

Congratulations Mount Royal Conservatory Academy for Gifted Youth grads.

Some of the 42 members of the class of 2014 have grown up at the Conservatory, spending the last 10 years honing their performance skills.

Many were on stage April 28 performing at the Academy Graduation Recital in the Leacock Theatre.

An impressive future awaits our Academy grads. Many are leaving home to study at universities, including U of C, McGill, Ambrose, University of Victoria, University of Toronto, Queens, UBC, New England and Florida.

And they’re not just continuing their musical studies. Some of our grads say they’ll be studying bio-chemistry, science, kinesiology, engineering, pre-law, communications, and business.

Cellist Maclean Pachkowski says after a decade studying at the Conservatory, he is heading to New York’s Bard College.

He’ll be studying music and bio chemistry, he says.

While he’s excited for the adventures ahead, Pachkowski says he’ll miss the friends he’s made at the Conservatory, especially Academy artistic advisor John Kadz.

“It’s sort of like you’re leaving home. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for the program and Mr. Kadz,” said Pachkowski.

Kadz puts it best: “I think they’re well-equipped to make the best use of music no matter what you do with it. Remember to thank your parents.”


Academy for Gifted Youth (ages 6+)

  • Advanced Performance Program
  • Guitar Academy program
  • Strings, Piano, Winds Academy program
  • Vocal Academy program

The Academy Program for Gifted Youth is an enrichment program providing musical training of the highest quality for gifted young artists.

Since the program began in 1980, participants in the Academy Program for Gifted Youth pay only a nominal registration fee, thanks to generous funding from corporate, government and private donors.

Academy students benefit from:

  • World-class coaches, teachers and famed guest artists
  • One of the finest programs in North America
  • Programs designed for children to young professional musicians
  • Performance-based study that yields results

Director combines choral and contemporary dance on stage


Nearly 130,000 viewers have watched his jaw-dropping So You Think You Can Dance audition on youtube and now Calgary contemporary dancer and choreographer Gessuri Gaitan is ready to dazzle audiences again.

Gaitan wows dance judges

Gaitan is teaming up with Mount Royal Artio Choir for Paradox: a dramatic exploration of our difficult relationship with time and technology through song and dance April 30 in Mount Royal University’s Leacock Theatre.

UPDATE: Read what FFWD Weekly says about Paradox.

cons_img_fac_bleauParadox is led by Mount Royal Conservatory artistic director Jean-Louis Bleau, known for his alternative approaches to music: he’s staged performances around a lake in the heart of Kananaskis, inside a planetarium, parking garages, an industrial shop and in a swimming pool involving synchronized swimmers.

The collaboration between these two young Calgary cultural powerhouses is an exciting one.

“Gessuri’s work is jaw-dropping and intense. You’re physically on edge and almost on fire and entranced by what he’s doing,” says Bleau. “That’s why I thought he’d be so fantastic and unique to work with.”

Gaitan first discovered dance at the age of 17 during high school and began training at Calgary’s Decidedly Jazz Danceworks. His travels have taken him to Montreal, Toronto, New York, Portugal, and India.

While studying dance in Dharamsala, India in 2008, Gaitan experienced butoh for the first time. Gessuri was able to return to India in 2011-12 to delve deeper into butoh, a form of Japanese dance theatre involving slow, hyper-controlled motion.

He says working with members of the Artio Choir has been a pleasure.

“The choir members have filled me with so much joy and inspiration. I feel loved and accepted by them and extremely fulfilled to know that I am sharing something valuable with them,” said Gaitan.

Bleau is the artistic director of choral programs at Mount Royal Conservatory.

Besides conducting many city choirs (Calgary Men’s Chorus, Cum Vino Cantus, Mount Royal Youth Choir, St. Gerard’s Parish), he is in demand as a choral clinician.

Bleau says Paradox draws its inspiration from the sometimes difficult struggle to integrate technology into our lives.

“Each of us carries a smart phone that keeps us plugged into our work and business lives long after the work day has ended,” he said. “The very machines that were once meant to free us have, in fact, become our masters. We are the slaves of technology, plugged into and held prisoner by the inventions that were once meant to give us greater freedom.”

Says Gaitan: “I have never had a cell phone and therefore stand outside of this phenomenon that has changed so much of how we live and interact with others. I have not been enslaved by technology that much, but I am still a slave within my own habits so during this performance I will attempt to destroy my old self and then begin again.”

 Sherri Zickefoose, April 22, 2014

Bridging music and culture


Take it from Calgarians Klementina and Steve Angyalfi, Mount Royal Conservatory’s summer music celebration has become a family tradition.

Morningside Music Bridge, now in its 18th year, relies on area host families to house international exchange students from China, Poland and across Canada during July 2-Aug.1.

For the past four summers, the Angyalfi family becomes home for students of the international exchange program spending the month in Calgary.

This year, they’re keen to welcome another newcomer and keep the tradition going.

“Our first student was from Montreal, and then we had Ann from Norway, and Martyna from Poland. It’s like we adopt a young person for a month, they become a part of our family,” said Klementina.

“We have had some fabulous students. You spend a month, and see how much they grow in that time. Not everyone gets to see that that, to see a future star making such big leaps, the growth is phenomenal and not just musically.”

The young musicians are immersed in an intensive music education program and a new culture at the same time. Host families play a key role in reducing the culture shock.

“If your host student is 14 years old, they might be shy and a bit afraid in a new country, with new language and culture,” said Klementina. “Maybe she is afraid at first to make friends, then after a week they come home and tell you the usual junior high type stuff. It’s the same. But they handle those irritations in more creative ways and more quickly. For example, maybe at first they don’t like their teacher, and then over time, the teacher isn’t so bad, and by the end, that’s their favourite teacher. At Music Bridge, you see that growth in a month instead of a year. It happens so much more quickly.”

It’s not just the students who have a busy month. Host families are responsible for ensuring the students arrive on campus on time and prepared.

Klementina cautions those considering becoming host parents to do so with thoughtfulness. “Consider it seriously, you really do adopt a young person. They are under stress, they are out of their element and they don’t have their regular support system present. You really do have to be conscious of creating an environment that is stable and secure and comfortable.”

Hosting a student is a commitment, but the rewards are numerous.

“It’s a privilege to be in their lives – I love to see the growth in them as people and as musicians.”

Host families receive:

  • $850 for each student.
  • 2 complimentary tickets for every Morningside Music Bridge concert events including the Gala Concert.
  • You and your family are welcome to attend any Morningside Music Bridge program activities such as masterclasses and student concerts. Please note that private lessons are not open to the public.
  • Mount Royal University parking pass for the month of the program.
  • An invitation to the Welcome Reception
  • For those families who are hosting piano students and have a piano, upon request, the Conservatory will arrange for a complimentary tuning for your piano before the workshop.

Academy students up close with the masters


The Conservatory's Academy for Gifted Youth students enjoyed a masterclass with pianist Gabriela Montero March 30, 2014.
The Conservatory’s Academy for Gifted Youth students enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime masterclass with pianist Gabriela Montero March 30, 2014. The Wyatt Artist in Residence Series performer played to a full theatre April 1.

Classical and improvisational pianist Gabriela Montero did more than delight a capacity crowd at her April 1, 2014 recital at Mount Royal University’s Leacock Theatre.

The Wyatt Artist in Residence performer inspired our Academy for Gifted Youth students through a day of masterclasses March 30.

What’s it like playing for one of the world’s most gifted musicians?

We’ll let our Academy students tell you:

Gabriela and Stephen L 1

Stephen Lind, 24:

Q: What was it like playing for Gabriela Montero?
A: It was a great experience, it was especially interesting as I chose to play the C Major Schumann Fantasy without realizing it was on the program for her recital that evening. She mentioned that it is amongst her top five favourite pieces and obviously had a deep understanding of it, which made for a great lesson.

Q: What was the best advice you took away?
A: I’d have to say her approach of technique and being as efficient and relaxed as possible in every movement at the piano.

Jenny and Gabriela

Jenny Z. has been an Academy student for two years, and is currently an APP student. The talented 16-year-old studies with Krzysztof Jablonski.

Q: What piece did you perform for your masterclass with Gabriela Montero?
A:  Ballade No. 1 in G minor Op. 23 by Frederic Chopin

Q: What was the most important lesson she taught you?
A: She offered a lot of technical advice (since we mainly focused on technique), and the major one is: it is best to limit your movements to only what is necessary to produce the sound, because we essentially play by gravity, and once the key is pressed, any extra movements won’t affect the sound. In addition, the closer your fingers are to the keyboard, the more control you have on producing the sound. Even if you feel you need to move “with the music,” like lifting your wrist before beginning the next phrase, just think of how the music goes inside and don’t let it affect your movements.

Q: What was it like working with such a famous classical musician?
A: It’s a great privilege to learn from a world-class pianist. At first, I felt a bit nervous and curious to see what she would say, but in the end, her confidence and knowledge gives me confidence as well: I know I learned something that would definitely improve my performance skills in general. It is also illuminative, as she would mention something that I never thought of, and sometimes what she teaches also converges with my teacher’s words.

Teresa S and Gabriela

Teresa S., age 12

Q: Which piece did you perform?
A: Liszt – Hungarian Rhapsody no. 8

Q: What was the best advice from Gabriela Montero?
A: Don’t try to play the piano with a lot of extra motion, or with no motion at all. When you play the piano you should play it and be. It’s like walking, when you walk you don’t walk with stiff legs, but you also don’t walk like you don’t have any bones. You just walk. I thought that was very helpful.

Q: What was the experience of playing for a renowned musical star for the day?
A: I thought it was really cool! It was a great experience, I am very lucky to have had it! That is one of the things I really like about the Academy Program at Mount Royal, you get to have some great once-in-a-lifetime experiences that not a lot of people can have, so I feel really lucky to be one of the students working with these wonderful guest artists.

WATCH: Baritone Russell Braun offering his words of wisdom to Academy students:

baritone Russell Braun offering his advice to our Academy students.

NOTEWORTHY: Season subscriptions to the Wyatt Artist in Residence Series Recitals support the Conservatory’s Academy for Gifted Youth program.

Sherri Zickefoose, April 9, 2014

Children’s speech arts festival: Conservatory outreach builds confidence, self-esteem

Mount Royal Conservatory Speech Arts faculty members Jennifer Orr and Grant Paterson adjudicated at Applause 2014 children's speech arts festival April 2 and 3, 2014. The Leacock Theatre is offered free of charge to the 26-year-old event.
Mount Royal Conservatory Speech Arts faculty members Jennifer Orr and Grant Paterson adjudicate at Applause 2014 children’s speech and drama festival April 2 and 3. The Leacock Theatre is offered free of charge for the annual event.

With poems about pulling pigtails, dismal dinnertimes and other silly stories, Calgary’s only elementary school speech arts festival took centre stage at the Conservatory this week.

Applause 2014, a students’ speech and drama festival held April 2 and 3 in Mount Royal’s Leacock Theatre, was packed with 750 school children from all quadrants of the city.

Now in its 26th year, the Applause festival is a non-competitive speech arts event hosted by Mount Royal Conservatory since 1988. The festival offers elementary school students their own arena for developing performance skills on stage.

The children’s festival is a unique partnership between the Conservatory, the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District.

And to ensure this beloved festival keeps thriving, the theatre is offered to the schools free of charge  – the only outside event that receives the Conservatory’s donation.

“The Conservatory has always supported us. We couldn’t do it otherwise,” said event organizer Marilyn de Waal.

“It is, to me, the most memorable thing children can be involved in. It’s a group effort, so if someone has low self-esteem they have their friends beside them,” said de Waal, who operates Words Alive.

MusicMakers Speech Arts
MusicMakers Speech Arts

“They really learn what good speech is at an early age, and they carry that with them through their school presentations. They’re not as fearful to get up in social studies class.”

Students are learning invaluable skills: memorizing poems and stories, incorporating drama, enunciating, and becoming entertainers. Students also write reviews to praise school performances and offer encouragement and constructive feedback. Sometimes, they send candy, too.

Organizers say being on stage is special for students, who create memories and delight in listening to storytelling.

They agree that the Conservatory’s community outreach is making a difference in children’s lives.

Conservatory faculty act as adjudicators, said Jennifer Orr, instructor and coordinator for the Conservatory’s Speech Arts and Drama Program.

“Teaching young people to care about words and ideas and how you say them is a powerful thing — it’s what we do here and we are happy to encourage teachers who do it in schools.”

This summer, the Conservatory is offering MusicMakers summer camp for children 5-9.

Registration is open now for the Aug. 11-15 camp, which Inspires children to sing, dance, act, play and create!

Learn more about our year-round Speech Arts programming here.

Spotlight on Searchlight contender


A chance stop at a garage sale while riding her bicycle last summer is paying off for Kate Phernambucq.

The 14-year-old spotted a used ukulele and just couldn’t resist.

It was the best $10 she’s ever spent.

Teaching herself to play the instrument has become more than a hobby for the Mount Royal Conservatory speech arts and vocal student.

It’s become a songwriting tool.

Now, the talented teen is vying for a top spot on CBC’s Searchlight competition – she’s hoping to get enough online votes for the grand prize.

“It’s been like a firestarter for me,” said Kate, who chatted with us en route to class.

While she’s new to strings, Kate has packed a lot of formal musical education into her 14 years.

She got her musical start as a Kodaly student. Since 2004, Kate has studied harp, voice and speech arts with the Conservatory.

Kate says her years studying drama and speech arts has given her the confidence to perform, most recently at a local café’s open mic night to showcase new songs.

“I love the energy from the audience, and I just love performing,” she said.

Her mother, Lisa, says early childhood music was always a priority for Kate and sister Emily, a former Academy student and national award-winning flutist now studying music at university.

Having both students grow with the Conservatory through the years shows that music and speech arts sets young people up for success.