COVID-19 presented many challenges for graduate students, even more so when their work relies so heavily on timing and the presence of other people. Master of Music graduate Carmen Letourneau (MMus '22) speaks on being a part of hybrid recitals, early lockdown life, and the interconnectedness of music with psychology, sociology, physiology and neurology.

Keep a vision of the long-term dreams you have, but stay firmly grounded in the present moment. Rely on friends and family and your academic community for support. And write about and document your experience—it may not seem extraordinary while you are in it, but afterwards you will appreciate having a record of your lived experience.

Carmen wants to continue to progress her skills as a pianist and continue to teach the importance of musicians' wellness and pedagogy. The following are Carmen's answers reflecting on her ULethbridge experience.

What was your research based on?

I studied the life and work of a late nineteenth-century pianist, composer and teacher named Marie Jaëll (1846-1925). In my thesis, I placed her innovative and integrative approach to teaching piano within the context of nineteenth-century piano pedagogy and discussed her influences. I used her writings in French and also English sources that discuss her work.

What unique opportunities did you get by taking part in this research?

This research opened my eyes to the many intersections between pianism and other disciplines including neurology, psychology, sociology and physiology and the need for a multidisciplinary approach to teaching piano. Jaëll was a brilliant mind and an important voice for change in the field, although she has been largely forgotten. I felt a strong affinity for her as a person, and I was honoured to be able to bring her work into greater light.

What is your most memorable ULethbridge experience?

As a graduate assistant, I got to work with the University Singers. One of my most memorable experiences, and a singular one, I think, was preparing and conducting a chorus from Mozart's Requiem, "Rex Tremendae."

The choir was under extreme restrictions during COVID-19. Our rehearsals were a mixture of online and in-person, in two different rooms and with only eight singers allowed at a time. All of the online students were muted and we couldn't hear them sing, although they could hear and see the conductor and pianist. It required an incredible amount of flexibility, ingenuity, and patience from our intrepid conductor, Janet Youngdahl. She allowed me and the other grad student, Jamie Jarvee, to each conduct one chorus from the Requiem for the end-of-semester recital.

With help from some digital audio arts students, we recorded the Requiem with four different groups in the recital hall. Each group of eight sought to balance their artistic expression of the piece with the need to be able to blend their recording into a unified virtual performance.

It was an incredible experience to witness and be part of. Other students who were online throughout the semester, submitted recordings of themselves singing along with the in-person tracks.

"I found that things always went better when I talked with others and got more insights and feedback along the way (even if it was through Zoom!)"

Another distinct memory was in April of 2020 when my whole family went to online school at home. This included my five children, my husband, and me: my two daughters returned home from university when their campuses closed, and I had three children in middle school and high school; my husband, a lawyer, was teaching two classes at the University and now had to teach online. Everyone tried to find a quiet place and a computer or device to complete their studies. Suddenly, overnight, my life changed from that of a quiet mature student attending classes to managing a bustling household of online learners.

What is the most important lesson you learned during your time at ULethbridge?

I think that at the beginning of my studies I was very hard on myself and worried that I wouldn't meet the expectations of others.

The encouragement, compassion, and kindness of my teachers helped me to see that I was walking my own path and that I had unique gifts.

That helped me to focus less on fitting into a mold, and more on what I could contribute. I also learned the importance of collaboration and talking with others, probably "the hard way". During COVID-19 restrictions, I tried to do a lot at home on my own, thinking that I would share what I was doing when it was more complete and finished. This didn't work well for me, and I got frustrated and behind schedule. I found that things always went better when I talked with others and got more insights and feedback along the way. I guess that lesson is "ask for help!"

Is there someone specific who had an important influence on your ULethbridge experience?

Deanna Oye, my graduate supervisor. Also my professors, Brian Black, and Peter Visentin.

What are your hopes and plans for the future?

I want to continue to progress as a pianist and a collaborator. I love to teach, and I plan to continue sharing my passions for musicians' wellness and piano pedagogy. I am a presenter at the 2022 MusCan Conference from May 31-June 2.

What advice would you like to give those who are about to begin their journey at ULethbridge?

Keep a vision of the long-term dreams you have, but stay firmly grounded in the present moment. Rely on friends and family and your academic community for support. And write about and document your experience—it may not seem extraordinary while you are in it, but afterwards, you will appreciate having a record of your lived experience.

Congratulations, Carmen!


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