St. Mary’s University is pleased to welcome Sarah McLean as our new Choir Director. Currently, McLean sings with the Spiritus Chamber Choir in Calgary, and previously has sung with astounding choirs all over the world! She has also taught music to all grades in the Foothills School Division, CBE, and Rundle College. These days, McLean teaches music at the Calgary Girls Charter School.
McLean has an extensive background in music having earned her Bachelor of Music from the University of Alberta in vocal performance, a Bachelor of Education from the University of Calgary, and a Master of Music from the University of Cambridge specializing in Choral Conducting.
As for instruments, McLean plays: piano, harp, cello, clarinet, flute, trumpet, bodhrán. McLean likes to call it “instrumental ADHD” … but when it comes instruments, she is a self-described “jack of all trades, master of none.”
McLean cherishes her days spent studying at Oxford and Cambridge. She mentions the incredible opportunities like working with amazing singers and studying with inspiring conductors such as, Stephen Layton, Graeme Ross, Hilary Apfelstadt, Caron Daley, and Graeme Langager.
Choir is her biggest passion; she could talk about it for hours. “The most rewarding aspect of choir is seeing a singers face light up because they finally got something they have been working on,” remarks McLean. “Watching choristers be brought to tears by the music will always be my favorite part.”
McLean assumes the role of Choir Director, succeeding Malcom Edwards, who departed St. Mary’s in 2020.
“I chose St. Mary’s because of the universities commitment to social justice and reconciliation,” explains McLean. She mentions the “privilege” she had of singing under former director, Malcom Edwards. “It’s an honour to carry on the wonderful work he has done at StMU.”
McLean’s vision for the choir program is expansion! More choir, chamber choir, treble and jazz ensemble, new music – expanded music education. She believes St. Mary’s has the potential to build a niche for arts education and integration.
“Right now, a swell of change is happening in music education to decolonize the music classroom. I would love for StMU musicians to dig into this significant paradigm shift with me,” says MacLean. “I am a cis-white woman from a privileged background – I do not have all the answers. But I am excited to work collaboratively with the singers and the broader university population to figure out what this could look like in a musical context.”
“I understand that singing is especially vulnerable. I will do my best to foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable to step out of their comfort zone and take risks.”
Her dream is that choristers develop a life-long love for choral music. “It is such a special experience that complete strangers can come together to create something moving and meaningful as a community,” McLean notes.
McLean stresses that choir is for everybody and encourages anyone who is interested to come out and participate.
“I want everyone to know that they can sing. Singing is an acquirable skill; you train the muscles just like going to the gym,” McLean says. She explains how immensely beneficial choir is – physically, socially, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. McLean adds that no one has to sing solos if they do not want to, but the experience of singing in a choir is truly magical.
Some other benefits of joining choir are making new friends, singing new music and broadening horizons. If that isn’t enough, students can also take this class for credit. The program is also open to the broader university and community for non-credit. Being a part of a “choir strengthens member’s teamwork, communication, and leadership skills, which looks great on a resume,” McLean adds.
“You might surprise yourself, I know I sure did. I learned to become a better listener, not just musically but in life,” says Mclean. “I built a stronger understanding of empathy and emotional intelligence through the people I met, the history, and the poetry I have sung. I recognize the value of perseverance and humility.”
Mclean says choir taught her to be present in the very moment and to appreciate the beauty around her.
She hopes that like herself, choir will become the part of the week members look forward to most!