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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Opening up the world of opera with a home-grown cast

Barely old enough to crawl, Maia Vimboule would make her way to the family piano where stubby little fingers danced with delight on the keyboard.

As time passed, she'd hide behind a chair listening to her older brother's lessons, waiting for him to finish so she could play his pieces, by ear.

"This love was so big from the beginning," she recalls. "So, when I was six, my father said: "What can you play for me? I need someone to play." I said: "Sure" and I thought it was the most wonderful thing in the world and I still do."

Today, never having lost that effervescent childhood zeal for music, Maia's deepest desire is to help others find, develop and share their own musical energy and talent.

"I always thought, one day I will establish my school," says Maia, who opened the Parry Sound School of Music in 2004. "That was my fantastic dream."

Her plan was to develop herself as a pianist and to work with singers.

"Music was always in my life," she explains. "My father was an opera singer and at 2-and-a-half, I'd know all the repertoire, before I ever knew everything else. Now, when I hear a symphonic orchestra tuning, I think it's just like at home."

After studying music at college in Latvia, she continued at the St. Petersburg conservatory in Russia for five years. She immigrated to Canada in 1991, and joined the faculty of music at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. For ten years, she was a vocal coach, taught repertoire, played for thousands of recitals, and provided musical directing of stage productions.

In 2002, she came to Parry Sound with the intention of opening a school and offering her experience to the next generation of musical talent. Her school started up early in 2004, and by Christmas, about 50 students were ready to provide the base for the first Parry Sound School of Music production at the Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts. To boost the calibre, professional performers were added to this production and to other initial Parry Sound School of Music concerts at the Stockey Centre.

Last weekend, on October 21, the school's choir and soloists presented the Parry Sound School of Music's sixth production, Music of the Spheres, and their artistic director Maia Vimboule was more than confident that the local talent developed through the school over the past five years, had attained a calibre where supplementing a performance with professionals was no longer necessary.

The ?Spheres' production had special significance for Maia, as it was dedicated to the memory of her dear friend, the late Keith Girard, who played flute for 37 years in the Toronto Symphony.

It also honours the divine aspect of music.

"It's Plato's words," Maia says. "Thousands and thousands of years ago, people looked up in the sky and said: "All the universe is music." And all planets go in intervals, like in music and follow this harmony."

The school's productions draw on the more than 50 students of the school, who range in age from age 6 to seniors. The most recent concert also embraced the local talent of Stefanie Gause, a violin student of Helen Elsaesser.

Maia sees it as a positive sign that so many young people in the small town of Parry Sound are so keenly interested in singing opera music. In fact, she believes a renaissance of opera, a spiritual awakening, will take place in the twenty-first century.

"And Parry Sound should become a great spiritual centre of the north," she suggests, explaining how a love for opera is drawing people together. "And every person who comes in feels the same way. Some kids whose parents have no classical music experience at all come in, and they love classical music and want more and more."

She's excited to be introducing people to opera, from the six-year-olds who don't have any ?prejudices' to audience members hearing opera for the first time.

"I want to open this fantastic world to them," she says. "If you don't know something, you can't judge whether you like it or not — and when you experience it, you love it."

In fact, she's seen audience members moved to tears.

"I can't believe it but I feel really moved," one lady shared. Another thanked Maia for the two most beautiful hours of her life.

"Classical music transforms you and makes you feel good. People are thirsty for it," says the artistic director. "Everything you see on television is one-sided in music. So people need to see this other side of life — besides the pop entertainment, the Hollywood movie commercial aspect."

She believes classical music was given to people as a means of expression and fulfillment.

"So they don't need to seek it in a different way that is not always good," she says. "And if you want to do something to improve young people's lives, give them possibilities to express themselves."

Parents say she brings out the best in young singers.

"Kids love it because it is like a shared joy, and shared joy is always doubled," the teacher says, bubbling with enthusiasm. "It's so important to open hearts when they are little ones. They are so open to everything in this beautiful world."

"I always feel honoured when I can work with young people, because someone once said they are ambassadors of the higher realms, because they are so pure. You look at their eyes — it's like the wonder of the soul. When they express themselves it's with their whole heart."

"I'm happy for every soul that opens and feels this beauty," she explains. "I can see the change, and in adults, something opens in them when this happiness comes in."

Energy flow

Like yoga, opera is good for a person's chakras, or energy centres. These are openings for life energy to flow into and out of a person's aura. Their function is to vitalize the physical body and to bring about the development of one's self-consciousness.

Locally, Maia finds the Parry Sound environment provides an abundance of energies that give her strength.

"I would not be able to do any of these productions in any other place," she says. "It's spiritual."

She also finds that classical music itself exudes a wave of positive energy. Performers and their audience drink it in and an atmosphere of synergy builds like a snowball, and grows. For her, this energy enables her to work weeks of 12- to 14- hour days preparing for a production.

"It is absolutely renewing and you can work incredibly long hours," says the artistic director who provides all of the piano accompaniment for the school's productions.

"It gives you more," Maia explains. "No matter how much you give to it, it gives you more."

Today, the choir for her productions is primarily composed of her school's adult students and all soloists in the productions are now ?home grown'.

"I don't need to think about where I can get professional-level talent any more — no — they are here and it's so incredibly rewarding."

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