Rising Star

By Joanne Ward-Jerrett 

Iain MacNeil (BMus’13) thought he’d become a music teacher. And then he discovered opera.

At 19, Iain MacNeil (BMus’13) came to Dalhousie intending to train as a music teacher. Instead, opera found him and set him on an exciting new trajectory. “I grew up around music,” says the Brockville, Ontario native, who started piano at age five and quickly moved on to musical theatre, capturing the lead role in a community production of Oliver! when he was 12 years old. “Everyone in my family—even my grandparents—is into music, be it listening to old favourites like John Denver, or making music themselves, singing and playing piano or guitar.”

Encouraged by his high school music teacher and mentor, Judy Quick, MacNeil set his sights on Dalhousie, imagining that he would fit right into the local music scene at this cool, seaside university. “Judy was such a great influence,” he says. “I wanted to be a music teacher just like her. And she thought I’d like Halifax.”

 But it didn’t take long for MacNeil’s career plans to change direction, thanks to the attentions of accomplished mezzo-soprano and Dalhousie voice professor Marcia Swanston. “Until I came to Dal, I had no idea that I could sing classical music, or that I had any aptitude for it,” says MacNeil. “Suddenly, I was exploring this whole world of layered and textured music.”

A natural bass-baritone, MacNeil cut his operatic teeth on Mozart, whose music he describes as “both the easiest and most difficult to sing.” Within months, the teenager was singing opera in Italy, an experience that cemented his future career aspirations.

 Now 23, MacNeil has emerged as one of the rising starts of the inter- national opera scene. “In the last year, Iain has enjoyed unprecedented success,” says Dal’s Swanston. “It’s all rather amazing for a young singer just emerging from undergraduate studies.”

 Highlights of that success include being one of only two Canadians invited to take part in the Young Singers Project at the Salzburg Festival in Austria; being invited to join the prestigious University of Toronto Opera program (he hadn’t even applied); and touring with Carmen on Tap through the United States with Julie Nesrallah. He is currently proceeding through the rounds of the New York Metropolitan Opera competition in the United States and has just been named to the Canadian Opera Companys Ensemble Studio, Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals. “Iain actually came third in the Canadian Opera Ensemble Competition,” says Swanston. “He is the second of only two Dal students who have placed in that competition the fall after graduation, so it’s almost unprecedented.”

 For all his successes, MacNeil is surprisingly grounded. “It’s dangerous to let the music business dictate your life,” he says. “Music and performing demand a lot of emotional energy, so I’m trying to enjoy it; to take the highs and the lows and stay balanced.”

 Reprinted with permission from Dal Magazine, the Dalhousie University alumni publication. To read Dal Magazine, click here

A path to make-up artistry…

By Monica Pavez

Goblins. Werewolves. Aliens and beauty queens. Pretty much any character’s look you can think of in any movie (or TV series) has been created or worked on by a makeup or special effects artist. If the job has been right, you won’t even notice the immense amount of work that has been done.

Growing up, like most other people, I didn’t really give much thought to the people working behind the scenes to bring stories to life on stage or screen.  I knew of course that there must be people who’s job it was to make movies, but it seemed like this unrealistic dream job that a few lucky people got to do. Like oyster divers or panda cub babysitters, we can’t all do that for a living. Not to mention, how does one learn those jobs? Do you need schooling, or can you learn on the job? Do you have to know someone who can get you “in”?

Towards the end of my high school career, I, like the rest of my classmates, was feeling the pressure to decide on a postsecondary program.  I had been an artisitic person my whole life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I would be a good artist. The problem was that when I started to go over the university materials and programs lists, nothing really jumped out at me. I decided instead to enroll in a 2 year art program at H.B. Beal Secondary School in London, where I could take arts courses that were in many cases equal to or better than taking the equivalents at an arts college. After graduating from that program, I worked for a while before deciding that I could see myself doing costuming work for theatre as a career. I applied to the Fashion Techniques and Design Program at George Brown in Toronto, intending to specialize in Costume Design afterwards.  The program wasn’t quite for me, and I ended up dropping out. I spent the next several years working a few different jobs, but still feeling like I was waiting for the next phase of my life to start. I knew I wanted to go to postsecondary school, but I was at a complete loss as to what I should study. 

Around what is now roughly two and half years ago, I began to hear about a school in Toronto called C|MU College of Makeup Art & Design. It was and is a private college that offers courses and programs for aspiring makeup artists. My girlfriend at the time knew someone who was attending the school, and so I booked a tour and info session at the school.  Almost as soon as I finished the tour I knew that I had finally found what I was looking for in a school. It would give the skills, techniques, and contacts I would need to become a successful makeup artist. I immediately applied to the school, and I was accepted into their Complete Makeup Artist Program, which gives you a two-year equivalent diploma and you learn everything from beauty and fashion makeup to makeup for theatre and film, as well as prosthetic and creature makeup. During the program I was able to gain experience in the field by way of the job posting board that the school oversees.

I graduated from the program in early June, and am now in the process of building my freelance portfolio and hopefully a career as a makeup artist for film. If I learned anything over the years while trying to figure out my life, it is that you have to know yourself. Know what you are good at and what you are not; know what you do want out of your career and what you don’t. It will at the very least help rule out what you don’t want to study. I guess most of all, don’t panic, everyone has their own path to take!


Look for the open doors!

By Rachel Gardner

Rachel Gardner headshot.jpg

Hashtags, Twitter handles, video editing and Facebook posts are a part of my daily job at the Council of Ontario Universities (COU). My path to this career was not straightforward, but I am certainly glad to have ended up where I am today.

COU is a membership organization for the 20 provincially-assisted universities, advocating for policy issues such as research, accessibility, jobs, and graduate studies. As the Communications and Public Affairs Officer with COU in Toronto, I wear multiple hats, doing everything from updating social media to managing the organization’s website and editing news releases, reports and government statements. It is a rare occasion indeed to find some spare time in the day!

The journey to get here has been not been without its twists and turns – I graduated from Mount Allison University in 2012 with an honours bachelor of arts in international relations, and a double minor in economics and environmental studies. I was interested in everything, but especially loved writing, editing and journalism. I had spent two years on staff at my student paper, The Argosy, first as the political beat writer and then as the news editor, and loved the thrill of chasing a story. By the time of my graduation, I had accepted an offer into the master of journalism program at Carleton University.

The summer after the first year of my master’s program, I took an internship with the Council of Ontario Universities, using my journalism skills and knowledge of the CP Style Guide in a role as a communications intern. Though I had originally intended to spend my summer in a newsroom, I had difficulty landing a paid journalism internship and decided to learn more about what a career in communications would be like. My employers gave me a number of projects to spearhead, including the launch of a student career site, creating short videos and managing the organization’s social media. At the end of the summer, they offered me a full-time job with the organization. Despite it being a tough decision, I decided to put my schooling on pause and have now been happily with the organization for just over one year. No regrets!

If I could give one piece of advice to students searching for their own career path, it is to be open to new opportunities. Get involved in student clubs and extra-curriculars to explore the areas where you are most passionate and find the greatest challenge. See where your talents best fit with those of others. Be open to trying something new, and don’t limit yourself.

There are lots of possibilities out there – look for the open doors!

For a student of history, it doesn’t get much better….

By Marcus Kaulback

So you think you can dance? No, me neither. And so I’m not a dancer. Instead, I have the privilege to call myself a historian.

I got a job four months ago with a research management company in Ottawa. Clients come to us for a slew of reasons, but most of our work includes providing specialized research services, whether for litigation support, community development, or a person’s simple interest in the past. But whatever the reason, we’re the background workers giving our clients the information they need to succeed in their projects. We try to make hindsight even clearer than 20/20.

But enough tooting the company horn…

I’m working now on something called the Unexploded Explosive Ordnance and Legacy Sites Program (we’ll just call it the UXO Project) which is an attempt by the Department of National Defence to clean up all their old military sites, especially as urban centres grow and encroach more and more on previously out-of-the-way training sites. My job is to research the military activity of past DND sites across Canada to help determine the probability of there being unexploded ordnance still in the ground at these places.

My boss, the senior researcher, sends me lists of files that contain information on a specific site. I spend my days, then, after I’ve ordered these files from Library and Archives Canada (big Soviet-style building in downtown Ottawa with itty-bitty windows), sifting through them looking for any and all mention of live firing having taken place there. I’m looking at primary sources, things like Inspection Reports of camps and armouries, War Diaries of specific units, and even personal letters of the soldiers themselves. For a student of history, it doesn’t get much better.

Once we’ve fully looked at a site, we write reports on them and submit those to DND, which help them in turn determine whether or not there’s a point to actually going down to these places and surveying the land to find these bad things that might still lurk under it.

It’s a quiet gig, solitary too, but it satisfies my passion for the past. And really, how many jobs would do that? Like I said, I studied history in university, more specifically military history, so this job ticks a big box. I get paid to handle real-deal documents that speak to our country’s military past, and by doing it contribute to tidying up the sites that played such a huge role in that past, and I’m happy and lucky to do it.

As you can imagine though, I didn’t come roaring out of uni and into the interview. As most of us 21st-century job seekers know, there is rarely such a thing as a conventional path to employment anymore. No longer do we decide in childhood what we want to be, pursue it at some type of finishing school, and get the job right after graduation. As for me, I skipped town after I graduated, went to Asia where I spent nine months slumming around Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, India, and Nepal before landing in Busan, South Korea to teach kindergarteners the Queen’s English for a year. From Korea, not eager to get back home, my girlfriend and I took the long way ’round, travelling overland to England, five of those seven months spent in a 1981 VW campervan crisscrossing Europe.

I got home to Canada, moved to Vancouver, and continued my slumming. I took a few courses, among them editing, worked a few jobs, among them editorial assistant for a couple of magazines, but moved back to Ottawa after three years of overall professional nonfulfillment. Then the scramble for a job really ramped up. Kid on the way, bills to pay, no job to light the way. Six months came and went with no meaningful work, so I went to an alumni function – something I had never done – at the behest of my mum, “to network”, she said. It was here that I met my future boss.

I don’t have a lesson for anyone on how to go about gaining work. I don’t know the answers, obviously. But I guess that’s the point of WorkStory, to share our “journey to the job” and let all of you know that the whole point, when you’re down and nearly out, is to just keep chugging and plugging away. Hell, I’ve emptied ashtrays at a bowling alley and cut grass at a cemetery, but you just keep going. It took me almost seven years to find something worth it, but that’s just it…it was worth it.

For more about Marcus  http://marcuskaulback.tumblr.com/