Mentee and mentor: Kimberly Barber and Frederica von Stade in concert at Laurier November 2003

Mentorship. It has inspired me and lifted me up throughout my career. From my earliest days as a singer to the present day, there are “guides on the side” who have blazed a trail, made a phone call, opened a door, and given me opportunities that brought me closer to my goals and oftentimes, surpassed my wildest dreams. Where I am today as an artist and teacher would not be possible without their constant support. The road to a career in the arts is daunting, arduous and sometimes painful. Without guidance from those who have gone before you, who have trod the path you tread, the sheer magnitude of it would feel insurmountable.

Having been on the receiving end of so much generosity and wisdom myself, it is unimaginable to me that I would not pay it forward in turn. The mentorship of young artists is one of the aspects of teaching that I take most seriously; I feel it is both a privilege and a solemn duty.

From my first music teachers, Thelma Crysdale in middle school and David Low in high school (my entire music career would not have happened without him in particular); to my university voice teacher Patricia Kern (and before her: my very FIRST voice teacher, Helen Simmie), and later Hilde Zadek; CBC producer Neil Crory; director David Pountney; pianist and coach Steven Blier (who gave me among my first important concert gigs); colleagues Tom Fox and Fred Burchinal (who supported me throughout my early years in Germany); and the great, magical mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, who sent my career into high gear right when I thought it was ending prematurely; I have been blessed with people who loved and believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. I thank you endlessly.

I’ve had occasion frequently over the last few weeks to consider this role as I watch my students move forth in life and career. Several of my former students are reaching fantastic heights–I currently have students at the Canadian Opera Company, Vancouver Opera, winning major competitions (one of them competing in the Regional Finals of the Met competition in a couple of weeks, and who just won 1st prize at the Quilico Awards in Toronto), getting gigs in Europe, completed or finishing Masters programs at several of the major music schools in North America (Eastman, Manhattan, McGill, U of T), attending important summer programs, or even just winning our internal Concerto Competition at Laurier and singing in our current partnership production of La traviata with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, or Little Women with Opera Laurier. These triumphs large and small, not to mention the numerous students I have out there in the world conducting community choirs, publishing articles and presenting at conferences, or teaching in voice studios across the country building the next generation, are what give me fuel.

I’m feeling very nostalgic today about Flicka most especially, because it was almost exactly 20 years ago that she so generously suggested (to my utter amazement) that she would come to Laurier to do a duo recital program with me and interact with our students. What a gift she gave, and continues to give (she talked me off the ledge more than once last spring when I made my debut in one of her signature roles, Madeline Mitchell in Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers). To pay it forward is to do one of the most important things an artist can do: pass the torch to the next cohort of artists who have the potential to change the world.