The Making of the Gown

I have enjoyed sewing since a young age when my Grandmother taught me everything from laying a pattern properly to the finer details of tailoring.  Over the years, that love of cloth and needlework has become a passion of gown making and design. I am not alone in this endeavour.  On numerous occasions, when life has been over scheduled, I have had help of the hands and mind of Terri Achmann. We have spent hours draping material, discussing necklines and hammering beads! A number of these dresses would not have come together without her.


Black and Blush are the colours used on the latest creation, which appeared on the stage of Carnegie Hall this past Christmas.  While I usually go into the fabric store with an idea, I am often swayed by what the material says.  This time was no exception.  My favourite shop is European Fabrics on Ottawa Street in Hamilton, Ontario.  John and Alicia have a keen sense of style and source beautiful fabrics from around the world.  I spend hours layering laces over different textures until the right combination "sings"! I decided upon black sequined French lace over blush peau de soie.

The design of the dress became clear as I watched how the material looked from afar.  it was obvious that the edge of the lace would be the neckline and the hem and that the skirt needed gores inset from just above the knee to allow for movement.  I also decided that i would make this gown on my own.  It was my way of slowing a busy life down a bit! This dress has many layers; a built in corset and 6 tiers of crinoline under the skirt to keep the shape. I like to sew many things by hand like the zipper and any finishing - but that sometimes takes a bit more time than one expects....truth is, I was sewing at rehearsal and the day of the performance!


The pattern for this dress had to be made up as I could not find one that fit the bill exactly. Using paper, I drew the pattern pieces and put them together a bit like a puzzle.  After measuring and remeasuring, I lay the pattern on the fabric, pin it down, cross my fingers and cut! Since the dress is lined and has a corset, those pieces were cut first and put together to ensure a good fit.  Once that was in order, the same process was done for the outer layers.  The dress took about two weeks to complete and as I sat and sewed, and life slowed down just a bit, I was once again able to hear my Grandmother Love's instruction on how to construct a garment.

On Whose Shoulders We Stand

The making of a singing career is no easy feat.  We are dependent on so many things; the right place at the right time, the unexpected meetings, the correct teacher, who you know, what you don’t know and luck has a bit to do with things as well. The most important piece is that someone hears and sees something they like in what you do.  


Sir David Willcocks heard something in how I sang very early on in my dream of singing on the world stages. My father Gerald Fagan conducted the London Fanshawe Symphonic Choir and invited Sir David to come from England and conduct.  Judas Maccabaeus was the oratorio we discovered under his gentle and detailed watchfulness.  What I learned of Handel in those days, would have covered a university semester. Sir David invited me to sing with him again on numerous occasions including his Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England.  He became a mentor and a friend.


This morning he changed his residence to Heaven and is with a number of my other champions; Maureen Forrester, Lois Marshall, Greta Kraus, Irene Jessner, and his dear friend Elmer Isler.  How fortunate I have been to have these “Greats” affect my singing path.   From each of these iconic musicians, I have learned lessons on which I have built a career.  It is on these shoulders and many more that I stand when I sing.  On whose shoulders do you stand?

Silent Singer

I am not quite sure who said “The Music is in the silence”. I often say to my voice students, look at the “rests” in the music. Those silent breaks can allow for your deepest emotional expression. Singers, unlike instrumentalists have the responsibility of text or poetry on most occasions. For me that means I have the delightful task of making those words my own, while also incorporating the composer's musical expression.

A few weeks ago, I attended a Meditation retreat, with the purpose of having a bit of a break from a busy life. The idea of learning more about Meditation certainly was a draw for me but I guess, I did not fully comprehend the word “silent” when it came to a retreat....Not only was the Meditation silent, but so were the meals and the walks – mindful and quiet! I like a challenge but as a Singer who makes her living making noise, this was a tall order. I also happen to enjoy meeting new people, talking with them and getting to know who they are – no such luck. After short introductions, we were asked to be silent.......can you feel the pause? Of course, there were moments when I got the giggles and had to suppress them (well I tried!). Then finally, a calm came over me and I got into the groove, I did not want to speak, I did not want to sing, I just wanted to breath. In that quiet I found a deep expression of myself, a place to go to reconnect my mind with my body, a space to listen to my internal instrument and give it a meaningful voice. Meditation and quiet are now a daily part of my life. It is the “rest” in the musical poetry of my existence that allows me to find my deepest emotional expression.

There is a striptease in the forest

If you stand witness for many moons

You will see the birch

Shed her bark

As she waits patiently for death. 

Carnegie Hall, Kent Tritle, Musica Sacra
Photo...Richard Ten Dyke

Messiah 2013 at Carnegie

One of my favourite places to be is on stage at Carnegie Hall with Kent Tritle standing beside me!  We met a number of years ago and it was as if I had known him my entire life.  Kent is a bountiful musician.  He makes room for every other being on the stage to make their contribution. He guides the musicians in a skillful dance of panoramic emotions.  Kent is a great dance partner!

Musica Sacra Chorus out did themselves...their ability to caress a phrase or mightily declare is astonishing.  We all would be no where, if it was not for the orchestra.  Many of these people have worked with Kent for years and know how to play when he gestures a long phrase from the sweep of his left arm to the tip of his right toe.  They listen to the text and play sympathetically, they are supportive musically and as people.  The synergy on the stage this past December was palpable.  If all of that was not enough - it was a full moon!  There was magic in the air.

One cannot write about singing at Carnegie Hall, without talking about the New York Audience.  I love them!  If they like something, they clap and stand up and cheer and even yell!!!! Our evenings were akin to rock concerts....yes, there was magic in the air.