The Horn Capital of Canada


Hornfest returns


For the 8th time, Hornfest returns to MRU Conservatory.

Laurie Matiation, instructor with MRU and Horn player with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, is ready. She announces, “Our guest artist is Dr. Ashley Cumming who’s originally from this area (Alberta). She studied with Jeff Nelson.”

Nelsen, who’s also hails from Alberta, is the horn player in the Canadian Brass.

At the risk of seeming like we’re blowing our own horn, it seems like Alberta’s got talent when it comes to this instrument.

Cumming, who studied at Indiana State and now works at Murray State University, contacted Matiation to see if there was an opportunity to work with the students of the MRU Conservatory Academy for Gifted Youth. Matiation saw an opportunity, “I had hired her for the Academy Program, and it was right around Hornfest, so we put it together.”

Hornfest, which runs the weekend of March 4-5, 2017, is a celebration of horn playing with a particular emphasis on playing together.

“We’re going to be working on a lot of ensemble stuff,” Matiation explains, “Every person who comes is going to be put in a small ensemble… a duo, trio, quartet or sextet.”

Clinicians and coaches are established horn players like Matiation, Heather Wootton, Douglas Umana and Jennifer Frank-Umana all of whom occupy seats in the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

For those contemplating joining, you’re more than welcome.

“It’s open to anyone from beginners to adult horn players in the community.” Matiation explains, “It’ll be a nice community weekend of horn playing.”

Along with repertoire that includes some movie music, “like some John Williams or (the theme to) Rocky,” Matiation alludes to a special commission that a lucky octet could play, “We have a new piece we might feature this year. It was used at Joan Watson’s memorial service.” Watson was the Principal horn player of the Canadian Opera Company who passed a couple years ago.

Matiation is hoping this new work will pay tribute to an inspiring player and teacher who had worked as a clinician at MRU Conservatory.

Hornfest continues to enrich the education of local brass players by bringing them together with great instructors and guest artists. Matiation notes the support of the Margaret Stephens Memorial Fund, a fund established after a passionate adult horn player who played in the Westwinds Society Band in Calgary, which allows Hornfest to invite guest artists to come to MRU.

As highlights go, whether it’s the master classes, guest artists or mass horn choir finale, Matiation says, “It’s hard to pinpoint one particular thing.” But she knows her favourite part of the gig, “It’s watching the students have that ‘lightbulb’ experience. You know, I can do this! I’m a part of that sound.”

It’s this excitement and inspiration that ensures Hornfest will continue to produce and support the upper brass of Canadian horn playing for decades to come.

– JLove

Beats Learning

taiko4 Taiko taiko2 taiko8

Paula Midori Nieckar is rhythmically inclined. As the MRU Conservatory’s new Taiko drumming instructor, she’s certainly marching to her own beat.

She recalls when her passion for performance was ignited, “I first saw taiko performed at the Heritage Day Festival in Edmonton in the late 80’s. I was immediately drawn to the natural rhythms, the thunderous booming sound, and the choreography that was incorporated into the music.”

Having studied ballet since age five and music since age 9 (she is also an oboist), she liked the synergy of the art form, claiming, “Taiko seemed to draw elements of both of those worlds.” Referring primarily to the Japanese group KODO, Nieckar admires the well-rounded commitment involved, “Professional taiko players are amazing athletes with training regimens that include long distance running, workouts, communal living, and strength training, in addition to intense drumming.” Though Nieckar will be offering a Youth Class (ages 10-15) and an Adult Class (age 16+) in the fall, it likely won’t be as intense. “Students should be prepared for a lot of fun,” she quips. “There’s some physical movement within their own physical capabilities, but there is no experience necessary.”

For those starting musicians of all ages who may be intimidated by notes on a page, Nieckar dispels that fear, “Taiko pieces are taught orally using a method of kuchi-shoga (a verbal cueing of the rhythm using syllables like ‘don’, “doko” or “ka”), and pieces are memorized rather than reading sheet music.”

She describes three sizes of drums that will be explored in class. “Large Odaiko drums have a very deep thunderous reverberating quality. The small shimedaiko have a more piercing high-pitched sound.” Finally, she identifies the popular chudaiko drum, “a medium-sized taiko that is often constructed from recycled wine barrels.”

Those who have experienced taiko performances, perhaps from Nieckar’s ensemble Midnight Taiko Kai in Calgary, will perhaps recognize two differing drum positions. Beta-dai is the upright flat-on-the-floor drumming that students will begin with and Naname is where the drum is raised and angled to enable a different percussive style and choreography. In all age groups, Nieckar will rehearse, “a variety of traditional and “open-source” repertoire, as well as introducing some basic improvisation.” Then she hopes to have a public recital on the final day of classes for family and friends to experience taiko performance.

According to Nieckar, this is a great time for the MRU Conservatory to start incorporating the art of taiko drumming in its musical programming. She says, “Some of my taiko peers are collaborating with rock bands, electronic music, ballet companies, classical music, television commercials, sports half-time shows and with choral music.” In fact, she addresses its growing presence in popular culture. “Photos of an interview with composer John Williams leading up to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens revealed an odaiko in the percussion section at the back of the orchestra.”

For fans of the Force, “these are the drums you’re looking for.”

  • by JLove


Mount Royal Conservatory speech arts hits golden jackpot

calgary speech arts, mount royal university conservatory, mount royal conservatory, jennifer orr
Mount Royal University Conservatory Speech Arts and Drama coordinator Jennifer Orr with six of her seven students who won gold medals for top marks through the Royal Conservatory of Music convocation last week.

Sunday was a golden day for Mount Royal University Conservatory’s Speech Arts students.

Seven young students earned medals from the Royal Conservatory of Music for receiving the highest mark in their grade in the province.

The awards were presented Sunday at the RCM convocation in Calgary.cons_img_fac_orr

Of the 16 provincial speech medals awarded in Alberta, 10 were students from Mount Royal Conservatory.

Mount Royal University Conservatory Speech Arts and Drama coordinator Jennifer Orr, who was a member of the team that produced the 2000 edition of RCM Examinations Speech and Drama syllabus and works as an adjudicator and specialist consultant, said she is proud of her students.

“Only piano had more medalists in Alberta than speech, which speaks to the size of the program here and to our support and leadership. Of the 16 provincial speech medals in Alberta, 10 were taught at MRU.  I’ve had lots of medalists over the years, but seven is quite the jackpot,” said Orr.

Mount Royal instructor Jilliane Yawney had two speech medalists (preparatory and Grade 3), Jim Dobbin taught the Grade 10 medalist, and Susan Duska taught student Heather Macnab, the national gold medalist for ARCT Speech and Drama Performance.

A partnership between RCM Examinations and Mount Royal Conservatory’s speech program has yielded the RCM Examinations’Speech Arts and Drama Syllabus, 2011 edition. The Conservatory speech program and faculty continue to provide leadership in curriculum and teaching as speech teachers throughout Canada meet the challenge of this new syllabus.

Speech arts and drama training truly exemplifies the benefits of arts education. It is both a remarkable artistic endeavor and a fundamental, empowering life skill. It is founded on two main areas of study: training the speaking voice, and performance and presentation in such forms as verse-speaking, acting, storytelling and public speaking. Students gain a deep appreciation of literature and the power of language, and develop clear thinking and speaking abilities that they will carry into every aspect of their lives.

Speech arts and drama is for everyone; it is a boost for shy children, a haven for children that love literature, and a magical outlet for children that are driven to perform. it gives students the confidence to speak, to communicate, and to be heard. The confidence and ability it offers its learners is a gift they will benefit from for the rest of their lives.

The Speech Arts & Drama program at Mount Royal Conservatory is the largest in Canada, with faculty and programs recognized as the finest in the nation. Our teachers are professional speech instructors with backgrounds in speech, voice, literature and drama.

Sherri Zickefoose, Nov. 4, 2014

Exciting times this fall at Mount Royal Conservatory

piano 3

September signals back to school at Mount Royal Conservatory for students, music educators, and new events for concert goers. Our Academy for Gifted Youth is gearing up with fresh faces, auditions are underway for our family of youth and adult choirs, and our ensembles, Calgary Youth Orchestra, early childhood programs and speech arts will soon be in full swing.

But fall classes and activities aren’t just for children.

Research shows that group classes and private lessons for adults enrich lives. Life-long learning benefits everyone, whether learning to play an instrument or singing as a hobby, or private speech arts lessons for boosting your career in the boardroom.

Curious? See what the Conservatory is offering and join us.


Calgary Boys’ Choir6978_lg
“Approachable” Fall Family Concert
Oct. 19, 2014
3 p.m. Leacock Theatre
A free early season family concert aimed at recruitment, featuring the Senior Choir and a variety of child-friendly post-concert activities.

Calgary Organ Festival and SymposiumMRU carthy closeup
Oct. 26-Nov. 2
Internationally-acclaimed performers and a Halloween silent film screening  set to live music are in store for audiences of the fifth annual Calgary Organ Festival. This year’s 10-day festival lineup of recitals and concerts includes performances by Luc Beauséjour (Montreal), and David Baskeyfield (UK/USA). The Great Halloween Organ SpookTacular is featuring a screening of the 1925 silent movie Phantom of the Opera with live pipe organ accompaniment at Knox United Church.  Free recitals at MRU include a live carillon concert outdoors. See complete listings at

Wyatt Artist in Residence Concert Series
Assad Brothers Guitar DuoAssad Bros Mount Royal Conservatory
Nov. 9, 2014
7:30 p.m., Leacock Theatre
Brazilian-born brothers Sergio and Odair Assad have set the benchmark for all other guitarists by creating a new standard of guitar innovation, ingenuity and expression. “Call it one of the most engaging musical presentations of the season. Better yet, call it a stunning display of the music of the Western Hemisphere:” The Los Angeles Times

Christmas in Songcons_img_header_cis
Nov. 29, 2014
7 p.m. Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
A family holiday tradition and a celebration the season with the joyful sounds of Mount Royal Conservatory. Christmas in Song has been a treasured part of Calgary’s holiday festivities for nearly three decades. This, our 26th annual concert, will feature Mount Royal’s Arietta, Arioso, Artio and Kantorei choirs, the outstanding Calgary Youth Orchestra, and a surprise line-up of special guest artists.

“Winter Wonderland” Concert by Calgary Boys’ Choir
Dec. 7, 2014
Leacock Theatre  7 p.m.
This will be a full-length, ticketed concert event featuring both levels of the Calgary Boys’ Choir in music celebrating the glories of winter, wildlife and scenery.

Sherri Zickefoose, Sept. 2, 2014

Conservatory pioneering North America’s first Suzuki trumpet program



Mount Royal Conservatory’s newest music program for children is the first of its kind in North America.

Suzuki trumpet for children aged three to 10 is starting this fall, and both Calgary parents and students will be making history testing the method’s first official book. Conservatory instructor Natalie DeJong is North America’s first accredited Suzuki trumpet instructor.cons_img_fac_dejong_n

DeJong is part of a prestigious international team collaborating and testing out the official method book. The group includes DeJong and 10 other teachers from Sweden, Poland, Ireland and Spain. Project leaders from Sweden are planning to arrive in Calgary in two years’ time to offer teacher training.

“We’ll be making history and having some influence in what goes into further development of the method,” said DeJong. “It has the potential to change the way we teach the brass instruments and the perception of age capability. It’s a revolution in that the trumpet can be taught to very young children.”

While children typically start learning to play piano, violin and percussion as early as three years old, students must often wait until age 11 or 12 to begin playing brass instruments. The size and weight of the instruments aren’t suited for young players.

cons_img_pocketrumpetBut DeJong says that’s leaving young musicians behind. “When kids start playing brass at a later age, they’re playing Mary Had a Little Lamb while their friends in piano and strings are already playing Beethoven. I started thinking for social and musical reasons, why wait?”

The Suzuki Method teaches children to learn a musical instrument in the same way they learn how to speak their native language; with a natural process based on listening, watching and playing. To learn trumpet, children start with pitch and rhythm training by sining and moving, learning good posture, work on breathing exercises and playing on the mouthpiece of the trumpet. They work up to playing on “pocket trumpets,” which are real instruments scaled to fit small players.

Participants — both students and parents alike — will play a key role in to shaping the future of the Suzuki trumpet method, and embark on an exciting musical journey.


DeJong holds a Master of Music degree from Rutgers University. She began her studies at the University of Calgary, earning a Bachelor of Music degree, before pursuing further studies at the Vancouver Academy of Music. She is a regular guest teacher at junior and senior high schools and she performs with a variety of ensembles, including Altius Brass, the new Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble, and occasionally with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. DeJong performed as principal trumpet with the Philadelphia Camerata National Symphony on a month-long tour throughout China and most recently performed on the baroque trumpet in Stockholm with the Swedish Baroque Orchestra.

Sherri Zickefoose, Aug. 20, 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.

Music training boosts brain development: study

Music With Your baby

It’s what parents and teachers dream of: early music training is proven to help children succeed in the long run.

Music training for youngsters may increase the neural connections in regions of the brain associated with creativity, decision making, and complex memory, according to studies from the Society for Neuroscience.

And research also finds that introducing babies and small children to rhythm, melodies and instruments early can be even more helpful to them later in life.

Researchers are saying that beginning children’s music training before the age of seven has the greatest impact on brain anatomy in adulthood.

Tira 331336.a9097LRThis August, Mount Royal Conservatory is offering its popular MusicMakers five-day summer camp for children.

The fun-focused day camp lets children ages 5-9 explore performing arts including song, dance and drama. It offers enrichment for children already in Conservatory programs, or an introduction for students new to the Conservatory:

  • learn songs and play singing games from around the world
  • discover the excitement of storytelling
  • create and perform on pitched percussion instruments
  • step out to the beat of jazz
  • perform for family and friends in our closing concert

Noteworthy: Registration for this fall’s early childhood music programs at Mount Royal Conservatory opens May 14, 2014

Call 403-440-6821 for more information or register here.

By Sherri Zickefoose, March 11, 2014

What your children learn in orchestra

What your children are learning in Orchestra

Did you know that participating in orchestra will teach your children important team-building skills that will last them a lifetime?

SP NeumannA few weeks ago, I was listening to a Mount Royal University Conservatory orchestra rehearsal, with Ben Neuman conducting. My mind was on my work, training workshops for team building in organizations, but then I became aware of what the children were doing. They were displaying the most important parts of team-building. By focusing on the rehearsal, I began to see the major components of team building in Mr. Neuman’s approach to rehearsing; the same ones used in team-building with adults.

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