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Local teen singer strikes vocal 'gold'

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District singer and musician Anna Schwartz recently earned a rare achievement for vocal talent and knowledge—a gold medal from the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM).

The 18-year-old, who is attending her first year at the Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg, took her Level 10 voice exam back in June and was informed in November of her top score.

The RCM is a music school as well as a curriculum, which music teachers use to give their students levels to perform at and achieve.

Schwartz grew up singing and playing piano in accordance with the RCM curriculum, she explained in an interview with the Times last Wednesday while she was back here for the Christmas break at the home of her parents, David and Connie, in Miscampbell.

For every level within the RCM curriculum, there's an exam that one takes at the end of it.

The gold medal is awarded to the individual who gets the highest mark on the exam within the province she took it—in this case, Manitoba (RCM in Ontario does not send an examiner to test past Level 9 in this part of the province unless there's a substantial number of people to be tested at the same time).

A gold-medalist has to complete all examination components, including music theory and history written components, along with the practical component (i.e., actually singing).

During the same session as her vocal exam, Schwartz also tested for—and earned—an Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto (ARCT) diploma in piano with the RCM.

An associate diploma is referred to by some as “Level 11” in that it's what a musician can strive for after passing Level 10.

“It's kind of a cool experience,” enthused Schwartz, referring to her ARCT diploma.

“You get your name in the Globe & Mail. It's quite an experience.”

Renee Martin-Brown, who has been Schwartz's vocal teacher for the past four years, said Schwartz is the first of her students to earn a gold medal from RCM and also her first to get an ARCT.

To the best of her knowledge, no one else in the district has achieved the gold medal for vocals.

Martin-Brown was notified about the honours at the same time as Schwartz.

“It was a pretty proud moment as a teacher,” she told the Times.

“The gold-medal achievement is very rare," she noted. "It takes a fully-committed, talented, determined student to achieve that goal.”

For those not familiar with music testing, Martin-Brown stressed Schwartz's successes were no small feats.

“It's quite remarkable that someone would complete those two high-level exams in the same session, let alone just days apart,” she said.

“They are very intense,” she added, noting that for the vocal exam, it includes technical exercises, scales, and ear training, where she had to listen to examples of music she may never had heard before and perform them back, in English or French.

“You can only prepare for 55 percent of the overall mark because the final 45 percent, you don't know what you're going to get,” Martin-Brown explained.

“That's why I appreciate the RCM. It forces you, as a teacher, to stay on track with the other stuff and not just the singing,” she noted.

"You can get stuck in that mindset—just singing songs—and you forget about developing the musicianship side of the students, too.

“That side is important when you're thrown music to perform at a funeral in three days or you're asked to play this for the talent show at the end of the week,” Martin-Brown added.

“Those take musicianship skills and that's different than just being a singer.”

Martin-Brown drove nine hours in one day to see Schwartz perform and surprise her.

“I didn't know you were coming. It was very, very sweet,” Schwartz said to Martin-Brown.

“It was exciting to watch her perform,” noted Martin-Brown.

As a vocalist, Schwartz gave credit to her accompanists when she wrote her exams over the years, including Martin-Brown, Loren Hebert, and Joe Belanger, the last of whom has been her piano teacher in recent years (her first piano teacher, after her mother, was Marnie Dutton).

Looking ahead, Schwartz said she's expanding her musical horizons at university, where she studying under Shirley Elias (piano) and David Klassen (vocal).

“As a first-year [student] in music at university, there's so many options to keep learning and growing as a vocalist and as a musician, in general,” she noted.

"I am still taking voice lessons and singing in the choirs at school.

“I would love to do my ARCT in vocal performance at some point. That would be fantastic,” Schwartz added.

“I do love to sing. Piano is sort of my first love but I do love using my voice, as well," she remarked. ”So I really want to keep fine-tuning the aspects of my voice that I want to bring out and learn more about vocal projection and interpretation and different styles of vocal performance.

“There's so much more to learn.”

Martin-Brown said a person's voice changes multiple times, and that the female voice doesn't fully mature until age 30. This means Schwartz has 18 more years to reach vocal maturity—and it's in her best interest to see what her full potential is as the years go on.

“I'd love to hear her voice at 30. It still has so far to go,” she noted.

Connie Schwartz said her daughter already has had some wonderful music opportunities at university. For instance, she sings in the CMU Festival Chorus, which performed Handel's “Messiah” with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra this past Christmas.

Schwartz said while she's pursuing a four-year bachelor's degree in music at CMU, she ultimately aims to go to medical school when she's done her undergrad and may switch to a program with more of a scientific foundation.

“But for the time being. I am in the music program and it's great,” she enthused.

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