Jen Chandler talks to former Cantiamo chorister Megan Batty who has come full circle and is now completing a practicum as Artistic Staff for Cantiamo, as part of her B.Ed. at Queen’s.
Megan Batty hit a chord when she joined Cantiamo back in 2006. Her overwhelmingly positive experience with the choir helped her develop leadership skills and inspired her to pursue Music Education (she also has her B.Mus. degree in Voice). This spring during her practicum with Cantiamo she assisted during rehearsals, performances and educational outreach like Music Monday workshops with local school choirs and the Listen Up! Project with the Gryphon Trio. She also conducted the Cantiamo singers who performed at the National Arts Centre during the recent Tune Town show and is heading up to Iqaluit next month with Cantiamo as part of the artistic staff in the NKVU 2017 program. It was fascinating to learn about her journey from young singer and 5 year old ukelele student with local guitar teacher Jackie Hawley all the way to Cantiamo alumnus and musician, educator and choral director.
What are your earliest musical memories?
When I was a young, my parents would tuck me into bed, and if I didn’t want to go to sleep, I would just sing. I’m sure it was annoying for them, but singing was so much fun, so they finally put me in a choir to put that energy to good use. I also remember my mother singing campfire songs with her guitar, and I wanted to be just like her, only the guitar was bigger than I was, so my parents got me a ukulele. I started lessons when I was 5 with a local guitar teacher who happened to be Jackie Hawley.
How did you come to be a chorister in the Cantiamo Girls Choir back in 2006? Tell us about some of the highlights of your 6 years in the choir.
I had been singing with a Children’s Choir in Kanata, and wanted to experience something more musically challenging. My parents had heard that Jackie had started Cantiamo only a few years before and suggested that I audition. I remember feeling nervous coming to the first rehearsal, but Jackie had paired each new chorister with a mentor, so I had a friend in the choir right from the start.
There have been lots of highlights over the six years, but a ffew highlights would be singing with Rajaton at Kaleid in 2006. Singing “Tree of Peace” by Gwynth Walker with Les Choristes from Western University and performing Laura Hawley’s arrangement of “Maid on the Shore” were also magical. Laura’s an incredible composer, and to sing that piece with the choir always feels so good. One very memorable experience was singing at the Opening Ceremony of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the Museum of History in 2008. The performance was so unique because we were all of a sudden part of something much greater than ourselves, and it was so humbling to be able to contribute musically to this process of national reconciliation.
You’ve completed a B. Music in Voice and are currently completing a B.Ed. at Queen’s. How did being part of Cantiamo help to shape your interests and educational and professional goals?
It was my experiences singing with Cantiamo that encouraged me to pursue Music Education in University. Through Cantiamo’s outreach initiatives, I got to see first hand how transformative music education can be for students. Going into schools as the mentor choir and teaching young singers was really rewarding and I wanted to learn more about the profession. While in Kingston, I worked with Dr. Mark Sirett and the Cantabile Choirs of Kingston to mentor their Young Women’s Choir as a part of their mentorship program for a couple years.
Cantiamo also solidified my love for making music with others. This desire to sing with others lead me to start my own A cappella group at Queen’s University and become a member of the Durham University Northern Lights when I was on exchange in the U.K. We were always working together to create amazing musical experiences, and I got to pick up some fun skills like beatboxing along the way.
You recently spent a few weeks with Cantiamo and Jackie as part of your B.Ed’s practicum. How did it feel to return to the choir after you graduated as a chorister yourself in 2012?
Wow- well it was so interesting, and such a positive experience. There was a mentoring workshop early on in the practicum, and I got to know the choristers outside of the rehearsal space, which was great.
Hearing about their own strengths and interests reminded me of how diverse and strong these young women are. Learning from two amazing Music Educators, Jackie Hawley and Leslie Bricker, was so empowering because they coached me through the process of stepping into the shoes of a conductor. The choirs are incredibly responsive, so it was so rewarding to conduct them. I felt so comfortable working with both the choristers and Nick and it was a really rich learning experience.
What do you especially enjoy aside from singing?
Swing Dancing. It’s the most amazing combination of creativity, improvisation and human interaction- and it’s so much fun! I think everyone should get a chance to try it out.
Do you have a favourite ‘desert island’ list of recordings or songs that are especially meaningful to you that you’d like to share?
That’s a tough one: so many amazing pieces to choose from!
“Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” by Handel. I remember playing it as a piano duet with Laura Hawley (who was my piano teacher), and it puts me in a good mood every time I hear it.
“Sing Sing Sing” – Benny Goodman. I couldn’t manage on a deserted island without dancing.
“Snow Angel” and “Alice” by Sarah Quartel. Her pieces always feel amazing to sing, and it was inspiring to me to see a young Canadian composer come up with such fantastic musical motifs.
“I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free” Nina Simone. Even though the piece was written in the 1960s, the lyrics are incredibly relevant today.
“Dirait-on” – Such beautiful lyrical lines, and this was how we said goodbye to Jackie and the choir when we graduated in 2012.
What advice from your experience and education in music would you have to pass on to young choristers considering music as a vocation?
It’s ok to change your mind. If you go into an Undergrad degree with your whole future planned out, chances are, it’s going to change. The more you get a chance to explore the wide variety of organizations that integrate music into their programming, the more you might say “huh- I hadn’t thought of that before, great idea!” Keep an open mind to all of the wonderful music education initiatives that are out there, and adapt as you go! Most of all, don’t forget to keep loving the music. You’ll get bogged down with exams and textbook memorization and juries, but make sure you can always find your back to doing what you love.