On December 17, 2016, Mount Royal Conservatory held Sounds of the Season, a concert that featured the many Mount Royal choirs and orchestras, including their Areietta, Arioso, Kantorei, Youth Orchestra, and Calgary Boys Choir. It also included guest artists Laura Hynes, the Heebee Jeebees and Mary Fenwick. Unlike Laura Hynes, the Heebee Jeebees, the choir and the orchestras, though, Mary Fenwick is not a professional performer.

As a matter of fact, this was her first public performance as a pianist. Mary’s experience on the piano goes back a very long (and intermittent) way. When she was very young, she started taking piano lessons. However her older sister’s constant criticism about her competence rattled her, and she quit after only 6 months. When she was in grade 12, she took another year of lessons, but quit when she injured her thumb. Over the years she dabbled at the piano, mostly practising the well known Chopsticks, as well as Le Fleur d’Orange.

When she was 90 years old, Mary read an article that stated that older adults who challenge themselves by doing something new or that they haven’t done for awhile, could reduce their risk of memory loss. She decided it was worth a try. She phoned the Mount Royal Conservatory to see if there was anyone who would be willing to teach someone her age. She was amazed when Kathy Dornian, a nationally respected pedagogue whose students usually are gifted young musicians, agreed to take on the challenge. Mary went out and bought herself a keyboard!

Mary has been tutored by Kathy for nearly 2 years. During that time, she has practised regularly both on her keyboard as well as on the Steinway piano in the assisted living residence where she lives. Despite her arthritic 91 year old fingers, she has developed quite a repertoire. Pieces she is practising now include The Happy Farmer, and Chopin’s Nocturne.

When she was asked if she would perform at the Sounds of Season concert at the Bella Concert Hall at Mount Royal, she was rather nervous. She thought she was being asked to sing soprano with one of their choirs and declared that she couldn’t, because she sings alto. She was alarmed when she learned that she was being asked to play Hark the Herald on the piano to accompany the orchestras.

Though she practised her piece regularly, as the day came closer, she became increasingly anxious. Before her debut, she met the Heebee Jeebees, who joked with her and reassured her that she’d do OK. Even the children in the orchestra made her feel welcome and gave her suppoprt. Despite that, she was almost paralysed as she walked onto the stage. However, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed that the kids in the orchestra were giving her a subtle wave of encouragement so she raised her head and approached the piano.

What Mary did was not lost on the audience. She was introduced as a premiere performer, received rounds of applause before her performance, a standing ovation following, and a bouquet of roses. However, what was most significant to her about the whole event was that two daughters, both from BC, and her son were at the Bella for her performance.

Interview by Diane McDermid, CACS Past Chair

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