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Volume 20 Issue 8 - May 2015

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Ann Cooper GayFirst the

Ann Cooper GayFirst the Child, Then the MusicPAULA CITRONROBERT RAGSDALEAnn Cooper Gay was born, raised and educated in Texas. Thereare two photographs that she digs out on cue to prove todisbelieving Canadians that she is truly a Texas girl. The first isa shot of her adolescent self in her backyard proudly carryinga rifle. The second confirms that she was a majorette in college, batonincluded. How this Texan became a prime mover and shaker in theToronto music scene is an incredible journey.Cooper Gay, 71, recentlyannounced that she is steppingdown as executive artisticdirector of the CanadianChildren’s Opera Company. Inher life she has been a pianist,organist, flutist, opera singer,elementary school teacher,college instructor, instrumentalconductor and choir director, notto mention social activist, masterof languages and a talented tennisplayer. No one who knows herbelieves that Cooper Gay willactually settle into a life of quietretirement. Somewhere she willfind a place to make music.Ancestors on Cooper Gay’smaternal side arrived in Texasby covered wagon before it waseven a state. Her paternal ancestorsguarded cattle trains headedfor the military, which includedsupplying the command of GeorgeArmstrong Custer.(above) Ann Cooper Gay withCCOC Choristers Michaela O.,Ilya S. and Ella F. (2011)(right) Cooper Gay as Violetta inthe COC’s La Traviata (1976/77)Born in the small North Texas town of McKinney, Cooper Gay grewup in Palacios on the Gulf Coast. Her father was a merchant and hermother taught school. Both parents supported her obvious musicalgifts. She started piano lessons at four, got her flute when she was sixand was an organist at ten. “I was very lucky,” she says, “that a smalltown like Palacios had music teachers who had studied with the best.”Cooper Gay’s younger brother, Gene Cooper, of whom she is veryproud, calls himself a red neck with a Ph.D. He is a doctor of theoreticalphysics and chemistry specializing in research and development.He is equally proud of his sister. “Ann could sight readanything,” he says. “When she was just in grade nine, she made allstateband which is a very big deal in Texas.”At Austin College, which is not in Austin but in Sherman, Texas, herroommate was Peggy Hendricks. According to Hendricks, the traits bywhich Cooper Gay would become known crystallized at college – herloyalty, gregariousness, self-discipline, and boundless energy. She alsodiscovered the power of the pipe organ, and that instrument becameher B.A. concentration. Her final recital was performing Poulenc’sOrgan Concerto with the Dallas Symphony. Friend Joanna Winchesterdescribes her as being so talented that she was the pianist of choicewhen it came to accompanying the recital pieces of others. SaysWinchester: “Not only could she play flute, piano and organ, Ann alsosang in the a cappella choir. She had a beautiful soprano voice thathadn’t been discovered yet.”Cooper Gay married fellow student and emerging tenor EdwardMatthiessen in her final year. Says Cooper Gay: “Nowadays, we’dlive together and not get married. It was different then.” The coupledecamped to Europe, where her husband studied voice in Austria andGermany. She took German classes, and in Hamburg taught Englishand music at a high school. Says Cooper Gay: “I practised on an organthat Bach had played. You had to climb four flights to get there and itwas so cold I cut the fingers off gloves to make half mittens.”The couple was away a year and a half before returning to gradschool at the University of Texas in Austin. With the threat of thedraft hanging over them, after a term they moved to Vancouver in1968, where Winchester and her husband were living.Matthiessen attended the opera school at the Universityof British Columbia, while Cooper Gay had organ jobsand worked in a library. “The FBI called my parents,”she reports.It was at this time that Cooper Gay became veryserious about voice. “I accompanied singers all thetime,” she explains, “and I thought to myself, I could dothis. I also sang along to Ed’s opera records. He coachedme and I successfully auditioned to study voice atUBC.” She spent two and a half years in Vancouverbefore coming to study opera at the University ofToronto which offered her a scholarship. At this point,the marriage was over.Cooper Gay played several roles at U of T, includingthe best Anne Trulove (in The Rake’s Progress) thatopera coach StuartHamilton had ever seen.He also coached hermuch-praised Violettain La traviata when shejoined the Canadian OperaCompany. “Ann knockedme out with her emotionalenergy” he says. “She hada light lyric soprano withan easy top and somecoloratura. It was a veryattractive sound. She didn’thave a major voice, but shehad a major personalitywhich could have led to amajor career.”What stopped the operacareer was marriage toErrol Gay in 1975 andthe birth of two daughters.Cooper Gay met him when he was assistant conductor on aCOC North American tour of Cosí fan tutte (she sang 100 Despinasin two years). Cooper Gay was elected by the cast to get Errol Gay toslow down the tempi of his conducting. The singers secretly tapeda performance, then Cooper Gay was to invite Errol Gay to a roomparty where he would hear the tape from the hallway. As they passedthe door, he stopped and said, “That’s too fast!” The tempi problemwas solved and a 40-year relationship began. Incidentally, he doesn’tremember the infamous tape as the beginning of their relationship.Rather, he says their romance heated up when they were dancingtogether in a country-and-western bar in Shelby, Montana.“Ann and I are a musical couple, he says. “Our careers are linkedin so many ways. Ann was my choice when I needed an associateconductor for the Hart House Orchestra, and she brought me in tohelp with her choirs. I arranged music, did piano accompaniment forrehearsals and discussed repertoire.” His wife also commissioned him8 | May 1 - June 7, 2015 thewholenote.com

to compose three children’s operas for the CCOC.The couple left the COC after daughter Heather was born. Theyspent the first year of the baby’s life taking her on tour, but it becameclear that they needed a settled existence. Errol Gay got a job teachingorchestra at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas where thecouple’s second daughter Erin was born. During the three years theyspent there, Cooper Gay privately taught voice and flute, mindedbabies and put on operas.Baritone Peter Barcza, who sang with her at both the opera schooland the COC, recalls a particularly eccentric Rigoletto. “Ann phonedme to say she wanted to bring some of her COC pals down to Alpine toput on an opera. As a joke, I said we should make it a western becauseit’s Texas, and that’s what we did.” According to Barcza, The Duke’scourt became Duke’s Saloon, Magdalena was a Miss Kitty type bargirl and Sparafucile was Native American. Barcza performed Rigolettolike crusty character actor Gabby Hayes. The western set was built bya rodeo rider called Pepper Brown. Says Barcza: “It was a surprisinglygood production.”After Alpine, the couple moved to Boone, North Carolina whereErrol Gay taught orchestra at Appalachian State University. CooperGay had two organ jobs, sang with the Charlotte Opera and performedin oratorios. The couple returned to Toronto in 1982, when ErrolGay became the Toronto Symphony’s assistant librarian, a post heheld for 24 years. Says Cooper Gay: “I had to stop singing. Both Erinand I became sick because there was formaldehyde in the house wewere renting.”Cooper Gay became an elementary school music teacher. MynaDenov was a colleague. “Ann never wrote a kid off,” she states. “Therewas one child who wouldn’t come to orchestra because he couldn’tfunction well in a social setting. She sent a classmate to go and gethim and she brought this fringe kid into the fold through warmth,nurture and inspiration. Her approach was holistic, first the child,then the music.”Choral singing next attracted her. She founded the High Park Choirsin 1986 and the Children’s Choir at the Royal Conservatory of Musicin 1987. She was an assistant professor of music at Houghton Collegein upstate New York (1993-94), and conducted both the University ofToronto Women’s Chorus and the Youth Orchestra of Toronto. She alsotaught pedagogy classes at U of T. In 2000 she took over the CanadianChildren’s Opera Company, and in due time the CCOC became herpredominant occupation.The organization was created in 1968 by Ruby Mercer and LloydBradshaw to furnish trained children to appear in COC productions.Acting was as important a component as singing. The CCOC also puton its own opera productions. She was the first director to have stageexperience. Nina Draganic was CCOC general director when CooperGay was hired. The late Richard Bradshaw, then general director of theCOC, was on the hiring committee. Says Draganic: “Richard told me,she’s going to drive you crazy but she’s worth it, and in fact, she hadso many ideas, I felt like I’d been hit by a tsunami. Knowing Ann wasexhilarating and exhausting.”When Johannes Debus became music director of the COC he hadno idea he would have access to a trained children’s chorus. “Ann is atorch,” he says. “She herself is passionate, and she invests her singerswith passion.” Sandra Horst, COC chorus master, declares that shenever has to worry about pronunciation because of Cooper Gay’sskill with languages. “The children come so well prepared that I justneed one music rehearsal with them.“ Ken Hall is the current generalmanager of the CCOC. “Ann doesn’t sugarcoat things,” he says. “She isvery forthright. She doesn’t pretend that things are good when they’renot. She cuts people down, Errol included, but then with her southerncharm, she tells them she loves them.”For composer Dean Burry, who has crafted two original operas forthe CCOC, and stage director Joel Ivany, to work with Cooper Gay isto become part of her extended family. For example, she threw a babyshower for Burry’s first child and knitted a little wool pig for Ivany’sinfant son. ‘Where did she find the time?” wonders Ivany. Says Burry:“When Ann talks to you, she makes you feel that you are the centre ofher universe.” Accompanist Bruce Ubukata calls her “a pied piper-ess”www.music-toronto.comorder online at www.stlc.com416-366-7723 1-800-708-675444thSeason2015-2016SUBSCRIPTIONSERIESGREAT CHAMBER MUSIC DOWNTOWNTh.Quartets Piano DiscoveryTu. Oct. 13 Benjamin GrosvenorTh. Oct. 22 Cuarteto CasalsTh. Nov. 5 Cecilia QuartetTu. Nov. 10 Peter JablonskiNov. 26 Apollon Musagète QuartettTh. Dec. 10 Gryphon TrioTu. Jan. 5 Marc-André HamelinTh. Jan. 14 JACK QuartetTh. Jan. 21 Andriana ChuchmanTh. Feb. 4 Annex QuartetTh. Feb. 18 St. Lawrence QuartetTu. Mar. 1Th.Th.Steven OsborneTh. Mar. 10 collectif9Mar. 17 Quatuor EbèneTu. Apr. 5 Duo TurgeonApr. 14 Artemis QuartetFull season subscription for 1 or 5.Other subscription combinationsfrom and up.CELEBRATING 40 YEARSCanadian PatrimoineHeritage canadienONTARIO ARTS COUNCILCONSEIL DES ARTS DE L’ONTARIOthewholenote.com May 1 - June 7, 2015 | 9

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Volume 24 Issue 8 - May 2019
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