New music program sings for PhD student

For Margie Bernal, choosing Western was all about “who you know.” In her case, it was her now sister-in-law living in Toronto who spurred her to look at Ontario universities for her graduate education. Then the list of teachers at the Don Wright Faculty of Music made Western her first choice.

“When I finished my undergraduate degree in Colombia, I wanted to pursue my master’s in an English-speaking country,” Bernal says. “My boyfriend’s sister lived in Toronto and told me how wonderful Canada was. So I researched the opportunities for Ontario master’s programs.”

She was impressed by the faculty at Western and applied. To her delight, she was accepted.

“The Faculty of Music is extremely welcoming and is a nice environment. I found the music faculty really strong. They inspired and guided me and gave me all the tools for a successful career. I’m extremely grateful for all the help.”

While working on her master’s degree, Bernal worked as associate artistic and general director for the faculty’s Canadian Operatic Arts Academy (COAA). As assistant to director Sophie Roland, she learned all the aspects of offering an intense, international program for emerging singers.

She was also a key player in launching the European branch of COAA and the Academia Europa Dell Opera (AEDO) in Italy. Both programs attract an international roster of faculty and students, including several from Western.

International Student Services provided Bernal with support, from moving to London to going to Italy. “When I traveled to Italy this summer for AEDO, they oriented me, helped me organize my visa and applications. They gave all the support an international student could need.”

She boasts that Western has the No. 1 international student department in North America. “They give you all the tools you need for your program and you have access to workshops,” she says. “They can help you to adapt easily to a new culture, new language and new country. They were extremely helpful for me and my family.”

She cites the music faculty and support from the university, both for financial and counseling, as instrumental to her success. That combination is keeping Bernal at Western even longer.

She is one of the first applicants accepted into music’s new doctor of musical arts (DMA) program. “It’s a privilege being one of the first DMA students,” she said. “It’s a high-profile program.”

Bernal plans to research opera in Latin America and Spain. “It’s a huge theme, but I will focus it more.” She will continue to study voice with Roland, and also work as her assistant for COAA and AEDO.

Bernal will be busy singing, too.

In October she performs with the Toronto Opera Theatre for a benefit gala. The music suits her perfectly: Spanish operettas. In March, she is a soloist with the Gerald Fagan Singers in their Spanish main concert.

“I am looking forward to all the opportunities at Western,” Bernal says. “It promises to be a really good year.”