Arts alumni are an accomplished crew. They have great advice for students and fellow graduates, and know that arts degrees teach skills that are sought-after in the professional environment.
Maria Noriega Rachwal is an author, musicologist, flute teacher and performer, as well as a presenter/speaker. She graduated with a MMus in Performance, an MA in Musicology from the University of Calgary in 2010. She is also an accomplished flute player who has performed with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, the Lethbridge Symphony Orchestra, and various chamber groups in Alberta. In addition, she was also the Music Director of the Calgary “Suzuki” Talent Education Flute Program and a flute instructor with the University of Lethbridge Music Conservatory. Her work on women in music has been featured by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on several occasions. She is the author of From Kitchen to Carnegie Hall: Ethel Stark and the Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra, published by Second Story Press.
I completed two masters’ degrees at the University of Calgary. My favourite memory while completing my MMus was when in 2004 I won the University of Calgary Concerto Competition as a flutist. The prize was the chance to perform a concerto with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. It was such an amazing experience. My favourite memory while completing my MA was when my supervisor and I discovered that there had been an all-women symphony orchestra in Canada in the 1940s, the Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra. I absolutely fell in love with this story and knew that someday I would write a book about it. I have been working on this story ever since and this has led to the publication of my first book, From Kitchen to Carnegie Hall: Ethel Stark and the Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra.
The practice rooms and the music grad lounge were great places for connecting with other students, jamming, and sharing ideas. The competition for a practice room was always fierce!
If you could give one piece of advice to an undergraduate completing the same degree that you did, what would it be?
I received the best advice from my supervisor when I began working on my thesis. At the time, the subject of women in music was controversial at best, and potentially threatening to a career at worse. I was initially skeptical about my topic and thought about changing it several times to something more popular in order to secure my chances of being hired upon graduation. But my supervisor encouraged me: “Do what you love,” he said. “Do it well, and the rest will take care of itself.” I am glad I listened to his advice because I really loved the story of Ethel Stark and the Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra—the first all-women’s orchestra in Canada and the first Canadian orchestra to perform in Carnegie Hall. My supervisor was right. I did the work that I loved, I did it well, and the rest has taken care of itself.
The CBC was interested in doing a radio show about Ethel Stark but they couldn’t find much information. It turns out that I was the world specialist on the subject, and they contacted me to be on the show, It Wasn’t Tea Time: Ethel Stark and the Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra. After the show aired, there was so much interest in the story. Surviving members and their families called in to the show to offer more information.
Margie Wolfe, a publisher from Second Story Press, heard the show and couldn’t believe that this orchestra had existed. She asked the CBC radio producer for more information, and she was told, “There is only one person in the world who can tell you more about it—Maria Noriega.” I was so nervous to meet with a publisher, but I was so excited to tell the story about this orchestra of women who revolutionized music, that by the end of the interview we had a deal. Four years later I published my first book, From Kitchen To Carnegie Hall: Ethel Stark and the Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra, which has generated a lot of positive reviews from the academic and non-academic communities. I slowly established myself as a freelance writer and speaker, in addition to teaching flute lessons.
Being a musician and an author involves wearing many different hats. I am a freelance writer and speaker, a music teacher, as well as a very busy mother and wife. I love what I do! Each day brings something new. If am not researching or writing, then I’m practicing my instrument, or preparing a talk. I do this all in my own schedule. There is never a boring day.
My professors at the U of C encouraged me to think outside the box, to explore unconventional topics, and to do what I love. As a music student I honed many skills that have been useful in my current career—performing on an instrument, teaching, learning new languages, speaking and presenting, writing, and even arranging music.
Practice hard, read a lot, and don’t confine yourself to what’s “in” in your field. Do what you love, do it well, and your enthusiasm will inspire others to also love your work.
I would highly recommend the University of Calgary to any student interested in the music profession.
If you would like to know more about my book or want to send me a comment or question, please visit my website fromkitchentocarnegiehall.com.