Ever since before I began my undergrad, I wanted to attend McGill. Montreal seemed so far away and culturally refined, and I knew that the music school was fantastic. However, I knew that you cannot just go to a school as a singer; you must go to a teacher. The dream of McGill was suspended for a few years, as I didn’t know any of the voice teachers that worked there. When I met Joanne Kolomyjec at NUOVA last summer and heard the opera masters students sing, I was re-sold on the school and even researched finishing my undergraduate courses there instead of in Winnipeg.
However, I gradually decided that I wanted to try to start my career in Germany right away after my graduation. Armed with a summer program (LOSW) to help me break into the scene, one (non-music) contact in Berlin, a German cell phone number and an iron will, I was all set to move to Berlin and sing and sing and sing until someone decided they wanted to pay me. This was the plan in March and the beginning of April, and it wasn’t about to change, even if I received an offer from McGill.
Or so I thought.
The offer came. As much as I hate to say it, I was disappointed. I was thrilled to have been accepted into such a prestigious school, but I was disappointed at my reaction, which I had so carefully metered and weighed in advance. I thought I had my mind made up for Berlin, but suddenly the acceptance letter made me want to attend McGill. After weighing options for about a week, I accepted the offer based on my initial instinct… ‘Rebecca! You have NOTHING waiting for you in Berlin – no gigs, no auditions, no opportunity. You would be a fool to say no to a school like McGill, especially after wanting to attend the school for 5 years now.’
I knew that it was the right decision to go to McGill, except for one small detail… I am sick and tired of going to school. I think this will be my biggest challenge – not to continue to improve as a singer, but to continue to be motivated to succeed in the academic courses. At McGill, all your marks must be above 75% in order to pass the course. I am sure I will be fine, but it will be a challenge to continue to care about the papers and the assignments when the practise room is waiting.
Here I am, in Montreal. I almost can’t believe it. These last 3-4 months have been exhausting and emotional – leaving all my wonderful friends behind in Winnipeg, travelling all over France and Italy, and enduring the opera boot camp of Weimar. When you are travelling, it is easy to simplify who you are because it is easy to sever yourself temporarily from the connections you left behind. This was magnified for me because I knew that I was not going to be returning to any familiar place. I felt completely homeless, and sometimes, identity-less when I was in Europe. Now that I am in Montreal, I feel this incredible freedom to re-create myself with the new knowledge of myself I gained in my travels and experiences this summer. I feel very much like a different person than I was at my university graduation. I feel more heavy, more serious, older, more connected to the earth and to humanity, more worried, more cautious but also more reckless. I still like who I am, but I don’t feel as though I completely know the new me.
This new chapter has begun very well. I have sung every day since I have arrived in Montreal and my voice feels so good. This week I will start to swim 3 times a week in the pool on campus. I am eating well and walking and biking more (and slowly Germany is melting off my body). My school schedule is full of interesting and pertinent courses, including ‘Opera from Mozart to Puccini’, Italian diction, and individual acting coaching. My roommate is fantastic and we have parties. I love our apartment and it already feels like home. Right around the corner from us is a grocery store, an amazing breakfast place called ‘Beautys’, and an amazing artisan boulangerie that has amazing croissants a la francaise and free internet. Tonight I went salsa dancing, and that too felt like home. The people are nice here, I can speak French when I want to and English when I am tired. The city is beautiful and there are so many things to do. I love the music school, how there are so many music students and it is set up to help you succeed. The library in particular is amazing – 3 floors of all the music ever written in the entire world, and comfy chairs facing massive windows overlooking downtown Montreal. Auditions are finished and results are out, and I have a well-paying church job at the Presbyterian cathedral and I will sing Belinda in Brittens re-harmonization of ‘Dido and Aeneas’ with the McGill Chamber Orchestra in Spring. I am also hoping to study a few other roles and perform Mabel in Pirates, also at McGill.
When I was in Winnipeg, I always felt as though I needed to escape. Here, I have the feeling that Montreal will not trap me but will serve as a springboard to the rest of the world. I feel momentum in Montreal that is so refreshing and so comforting. I am in the right place.