Masterclass with Maestra Nana

Four McGill voice students had the chance to perform for Greek singing legend Nana Mouskouri
From left to right: Louise Pelletier, pianist; Brenda Ravenscroft, Dean, Schulich School of Music; Ryan Nauta, tenor; Jonah Spungin, baritone; Nana Mouskouri; Jessica Burnside, soprano; Elie Manousakis, soprano; and Stefano Algieri, tenor and professor at the Schulich School of Music. / Photo: Owen Egan

Students at McGill’s Schulich School of Music are used to receiving feedback on their performances from many skilled quarters.

But even by that high standard, a recent masterclass had a special aura to it for four lucky McGill voice students.

The helpful pointers during the May 20 session at McGill’s Tanna Schulich Hall came from none other than Nana Mouskouri, DLitt’13, the international Greek singing legend who has sold more than 300 million records and entertained audiences around the world.

Mouskouri, who was in Montreal as part of her Forever Young Tour, graciously offered guidance to the McGill voice students after each of their performances, sharing wisdom drawn from her remarkable career that has spanned 60 years with 10,000 shows and a repertoire of 1,600 songs recorded in 21 languages.

Soprano Elie Manousakis, BMus’17, was excited at the chance to perform for Mouskouri whose music she heard growing up in her Greek-Canadian family’s home.

“Something that is so inspiring about her is her devotion to youth in general,” says Manousakis, who is completing her master’s in music at McGill.

“She’s not just the kind of artist that goes up there and it is all about her, it’s always about something bigger than her. Which is something that is really very inspiring. I think that’s the message that she was delivering to us. Especially at school, we are very focused on performance, we are very focused on being at the top and what we do really isn’t about that. It’s really about how it makes us feel, how it resonates with us, and how we can share that gift with the world.”

Jessica Burnside, an undergraduate student in the Voice Performance program at McGill, was also thrilled to sing in the masterclass. A soprano from Ottawa, Burnside performed works by Debussy and Schubert.

“She’s a legend and you can feel it when she walks in,” says baritone Jonah Spungin, who recently finished his Master’s in Voice and Opera at the Schulich School of Music. “The audience recognizes her and they already love her and they want to greet her and then she sat down and said ‘Sing for me,’ … It was one of the coolest things.”

Tenor Ryan Nauta, a student in the Master’s of Voice and Opera program, sang works by Fauré and Lehár.

It was the first masterclass for Mouskouri, who performed to sold-out crowds in Quebec City and Montreal earlier in the weekend.  Relying on her wealth of invaluable experience, she talked with the students about stage presence, interacting with audiences, and building a career.

“It has always been a dream of mine to have this opportunity to meet today’s music students, as it is reminiscent of my own time at music school,” noted  Mouskouri. “It is a privilege to be able to share this experience, to listen to and learn with the young performers here today. It is also important as the students of today are destined to be the future voices of our music.”

Stefano Algieri, associate professor of voice at the Schulich School and an acclaimed tenor, shared the stage with the students, guiding the proceedings during the masterclass.

“The opportunity for these young singers to work with Maestra Mouskouri at this event, to share in her genius and to learn from her great experience, is absolutely priceless,” Algieri says.

“Nana Mouskouri has been a master-communicator for the better part of a half-century, one who has shared her exceptional vocal, musical, linguistic, and stylistic gifts on a global scale.”

Louise Pelletier, a pianist and vocal coach at the Schulich School of Music, accompanied the students.

McGill Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier, who attended the afternoon session, called it “an amazing opportunity for McGill’s promising young vocal students to share a stage and a class with a singing legend.”

The rapt audience at the special masterclass also included Dimitrios Azemopoulos, Ambassador of Greece to Canada, Robert Peck, former Canadian Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic, and members of Montreal’s Greek community.

After the performances, other students from the Schulich School of Music also gathered around Mouskouri on stage as she spoke to the young artists.

As part of their McGill education, students at the Schulich School of Music receive one-on-one training with teachers. The Faculty also offers dozens of masterclasses every year, bringing in different experts in their fields, and covering all the instruments and voice. Guest artists performing with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal are regular visitors to the School, sharing their time and expertise with students at various masterclasses.

The voice students savoured their special masterclass experience with Mouskouri – an afternoon of instruction and insights that won’t soon be forgotten.

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