Music Issue: Providing that ‘a-ha’ moment for many

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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As she walks down the halls of Talbot College, Sherry Steele stops each person she passes to say hello and asks how they’re doing. “Stressed” is the universal answer from Music students, which draws a sympathetic smile and words of encouragement from a cheerful Steele. She, better than most, knows what they’re going through. She did it, too.

Steele graduated from Western’s Master’s of Music program in 2006, specializing in Literature and Performance. She has been teaching voice with the department ever since, hoping to share the same experience she had with these new students.

“It’s very exciting when a student has that ‘a-ha’ moment when they’re able to put together something that they’ve been working on for a long time,” said Steele.

Born and raised in London, music has been a part of Steele’s life from the very beginning.

“I was born into sort of a musical family.  My mom was a piano teacher and my dad taught music in the public school system for many, many years and I had a grandmother who loved music and loved singing so I was exposed to it from a very young age.”

Steele sang in local choirs as a child before joining London’s world renowned Amabile Choir in their inaugural year in 1985.  She stayed with the choir throughout her high-school years, and pursued formal voice training with then Western professor Alvin Reimer.

It was Reimer who convinced Steele to come to Western to continue her studies in music.

After completing her undergraduate degree in 1995, Steele began work as a vocalist, landing a singing role in the original Riverdance – On Broadway in 2000.

“I got to sing on the stage of Radio City Music Hall which was a pretty big thrill. And then when we moved to Broadway we performed at the Gershwin Theatre for a year and a half, and that was pretty awesome,” Steele said.

Steele toured North America with Riverdance as a featured singer, and other stage credits include roles in My Fair Lady, Into the Woods and The Wizard of Oz.

“I have a passion really for everything,” she said. “I love all those different styles that express music in different ways.  I really love theatre, I love voice and I love poetry and music put together”

Steele now has four children with husband John Tessier. Like their parents, all of them are involved in music.

“They’re still quite young but they take piano lessons. One takes cello, and they like to sing, they’re in choir, too,” Steele said.

On top of her teaching and being a full-time mom, Steele has recently taken a position as choir director at Riverside United Church.

“It’s mostly sacred music,” she said. “So that’s a new area of music that I’m exploring. I’m not really familiar with it but I’ve been enjoying working there very much.”

Whether it is in church, on the stage, or in the classroom, Steele believes music is an opportunity to take on new challenges and adopt new personas.

“Anytime you’re on a stage, whether you’re doing an art song or opera or musical theatre you have a chance to be someone else and to express things that maybe you’ve experienced or maybe you haven’t and I like that,” Steele said.