The Pure Joy Of Singing

Kathy Matkin-Clapton is the choral conductor for the U of L Conservatory of Music Choirs-Children’s (6-10), Youth, (11-16) and Incanto (16 & up.) If you’ve lived in Lethbridge for any length of time and had kids that liked to sing, there’s a good chance they experienced the joy being in one of Kathy’s choirs. (Both my kids did.) Kathy was the vocal director for a couple of shows I’ve done and we’ve shared the stage for a few as well. It’s always a better experience when Kathy is part of a project. Not only does she bring her expertise to the benefit of those around her, she is a consummate pro on stage. In between rehearsing scenes we’ve had many great talks both of a serious nature and of the rather inane. I’m not sure I’ve laughed harder than in a rehearsal for A Little Night Music. We were listening to the wonderful Sheila Matson sing Send In The Clowns. (Sorry Kathy, I have to tell this.) It was our first rehearsal with the full 30-piece Lethbridge Symphony. The line goes, “Don’t you love farce?” I whispered to Kathy, “Did she just say, don’t you love farts?” It was like laughing in church because we had to hold it all in as best as we could without disrupting the performers. I may have cried a little. I digress. As fun as Kathy is, she’s also incredibly serious about bringing the love of music to her students. They’ve just recorded a new CD that will be available digitally and in hard copy on November 28 that everyone should buy. Kathy took some time to answer a few questions about her passion.

When did you first realize that you loved music?

I don’t remember a time when hearing music or singing didn’t make me feel more alive. I was constantly looking for an audience when I was a wee lass. I do have a very vivid memory of sitting beside my great aunt (well-known Lethbridge music teacher Janet Larson) at her piano, singing ‘I’ve Got a Luverly Bunch of Coconuts’ and thinking that life couldn’t get any better than that. I don’t sing that particular song any more, and my aunt has long passed, but I’ve been sitting at that same piano for my entire life, singing by myself, with my students and now, with my daughters.

Did you have a musical upbringing?

Yes and no. I didn’t have any formal lessons until I got to University, as those resources just weren’t an option for my family. However, some wonderful teachers recognized my love for music and provided me with amazing opportunities. Public school teachers like Bev Pashuk, Tanya Arnold and the very beloved Barb Walker had a huge impact on my life. I’ll be forever grateful to them for seeing something in me that they thought was worth nurturing.

You don’t audition kids for your choir. Everyone is welcome. You know it’s going to happen where one child may not have the same ability as another child in terms of finding a pitch or remembering a note. What is your mindset for coming to terms with that?

Haha. This is a great question. It’s true that I don’t require auditions. I believe the world hands us enough rejection and I never want to be part of anything that sends a young person the message that s/he isn’t good enough. So everyone’s welcome, indeed. But you’re right, it can open up a can of worms sometimes. For me, it’s an exercise in removing my ego from the situation. If I let go of what others might think of the out-of-tune-ness (or whatever the issue might be) and focus instead on how much joy the singer is getting out of the music, I can usually make the shift pretty quickly.

I have seen the smile on your face enough times to know that you experience ultimate joy with your choirs. What is it that brings you such pleasure?

Thanks for saying that, Mark. I do love the work I do with my groups. I’m not sure where the joy comes from for me, except to say that I think there’s magic in singing together. There’s just something about voices joined in song … it’s a shared heart-mind connection like no other. In those moments, when all the hard work is done and we’re simply singing, I can’t believe how lucky I am. It moves me to tears every single time.

Talk about the new CD. What kind of songs are on it, why you chose those songs and what kind of an experience it was for you and you choir to record it.

This isn’t our first album, but it will hands-down be our best. The choirs have come a very long way in the three years since our last recording. There’s a great range of music on it from traditional sacred pieces like What Child is This? to gorgeous contemporary songs like Gordon Lightfoot’s Song for a Winter’s Night. It features all three of the U of L Conservatory Choirs – the Children’s Choir (little ones), The Youth Singers (teens) and the Incanto Singers (young adults).
Recording it was a blast. The University of Lethbridge Faculty and the Conservatory of Music were incredibly generous to us, providing us with a beautiful space to record. We also worked closely with two fabulous U of L students – Matt Wiebe and Cecil Mortensen – who did the recording and are now hard at work in post-production.

Where do the proceeds go?

Once we’ve covered our project costs, most of the profits will go back into our choral program. Although the Conservatory is fantastic, generous and supportive, we run on a cost-recovery basis to keep fees as low as possible. The profits from this project will help us do things like travel to perform, take part in festivals and so on.
In addition, $2 from the sale of every album will go to the From Syria to Lethbridge initiative, an incredibly important effort being made to resettle Syrian families into our community.

Music can be a lifesaver for some kids. Do you agree?

I agree. 100%. In important ways, it sure was for me.

After 19 years there must have been some kids who went on to careers in music. Do you have a few memorable students you’d like to brag about?

Absolutely! Nicole Garlock – who is now the conductor of the Children’s Choir – started singing with me when she was 12. She’s also a music specialist at Galbraith Elementary school. Others former members who continue to be involved in music as teachers and/or performers include Molly MacKinnon, Olivia Earl, Alyssa McQuaid, Breanne Urban, Kelsey Visscher. Lynnae Seely Wright, Summer Allen and Jaimee Jarvie.

What’s the best part of the process for you from that first day you meet your kids to when they step out on that stage for a concert?

All the great stuff happens in rehearsal. Bonds form, trust builds and musicianship grows. There’s lots of laughter, occasional frustration, plenty of head scratching and all of it is incredibly gratifying. The concert isn’t even the icing. It’s the sprinkles.

Have you ever had to go up to a parent and say, “It would be better if your child didn’t come anymore?

I can honestly say that I’ve never had this conversation with a single parent.

When are your next shows?

November 28th at Southminster at 1:30. This concert will feature all three choirs and will be preceded by a Christmas baking bake sale. After that, the Incanto Singers will perform at a couple of church services (Southminster and First Baptist) and then with Tenoré, a Canadian tenor trio on December 4th in Taber and December 22nd in Lethbridge.

You have a phenomenal singing voice. If there’s one song you’d love to perform with a music symphony in front of 10,000 people, what song would it be?

First of all, thank you. If such an opportunity should ever present itself, I would want to share it with my choirs. And I suppose I would love to sing River in Judea (a long-time favourite) or possibly Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (a la KD Lang).

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