Music Issue: Knowing the challenges from experience

Editor’s note: As the Juno Awards 2013 prepare to celebrate the best of Canadian music this weekend, Western Journalism students help us celebrate the best in Western Music. Read the full Music Issue.

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Everything in Sophie Roland’s life says music.

The walls of her modest Talbot Hall studio are decorated with posters of past opera performances. Next to the desk is a bookshelf stacked with music texts. A piano and microphone stand by the window on the far side of the room.

It’s not surprising considering Roland trained as a pianist. Now the chair of the Music Performance Studies, she helps students do what her parents didn’t want her to do.

“My parents were both amateur musicians and they did what a lot of parents do,” said Roland with a grin. “They discouraged me from pursuing music professionally.”

Roland developed an interest in performance at an early age. She performed in her first opera, Carmen, at 9, and continues to perform in the show, only now she takes the title role. Despite her parents’ advice, she decided to pursue music at a professional level.

“I did my undergrad at Laurier,” she said, adding she didn’t formally apply to the university. “I just walked in and asked if I could join.” She was accepted.

Roland received an honours bachelor degree in music from Laurier in 1999. She came to Western and received a master of arts in Musicology in 2001 and a master of music in Vocal Performance in 2002. In 2007, she received a doctor of music in voice performance from Indiana University.

Between these programs, Roland travelled around the world, performing in such opera roles as Cornelia in Giulio Cesare with Orchestra London and Madonna Capuleti and Tabaldo in Romeo e Giulietta in Città della Pieve, Italy. She continues to perform to this day.

In 2005, Roland was told about a teaching position at Western. Even though she was still performing around the world, she accepted. “For me it was a chance to give some of what I got.”

Roland expects the best from her students, knowing the challenges they could face in the future.

“Competition in singing is extremely heavy,” she said. “When I audition for a part, there are a few hundred singers for one role. You have to be the best because they only want the best.”

Roland admits she’s also very nervous about getting sick. She motions toward the multiple bottles of Purell on her desk. “How many of them can I have?” she said with a chuckle.

But her love of performing outweighs the negatives.

“This career is like a drug you can get addicted to. Sometimes it’s like a bad marriage. The demand on your body is challenging. But the biggest challenges are also the biggest thrills.”

Roland is married to fellow Western music professor Todd Wieczorek. They have two daughters, 12 and 7.

“My children always used to be backstage. My youngest daughter is autistic. She has a real musical ear,” Roland said. “She always told me what went well and what didn’t in a show.”

It’s for those kinds of experiences that Roland continues her stage career.

“(I’ll do it) as long as opera wants me,” she said.