Vera Causa Opera's orchestra is the backbone of everything we do. They are the reason all of our shows are possible, and we are so grateful for each and every member of the orchestra. We are so fortunate to have such an outstanding group of musicians, and we felt it was time our VCO community got to know them a little better. Here is an interview we held with orchestra members Emily Brownlee, oboist, and Billy Bao, violinist and concert master:
Tell us a little bit about your musical journey. When did you start playing? What other musical endeavours have you undertaken so far?
Emily: I was volun-told to switch from clarinet to oboe in my grade seven band. At first I was pretty ambivalent about it, but I kept playing and ended up joining the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra when I was 15, and completely fell in love with the oboe and with orchestral music! I played with that orchestra for two years before coming to university at Wilfrid Laurier to study music. Since then, I've played with the Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Symphony, the Waterloo Chamber Players, and subbed a couple times for the Guelph Symphony Orchestra, as well as playing with VCO. Basically I'm happy to take any and all opportunities to play with ensembles inside and outside of school!
Billy: I started playing the violin when I was four, but only started having formal lessons when I was eight. I used to play the piano as well, but dropped it once violin became my musical focus. Some ensembles I have played with include the Spiritus Ensemble, the Laurier Symphonic Orchestra, and the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra. I have also played in (and continue to help out) my high school's Taiko drumming ensemble, and I dabble in composition once in a while.
What draws you to playing music and your particular instrument?
Emily: I love playing in all different types of ensembles, but what I really fell in love with was the orchestra. It never fails to amaze me how so many different people playing completely different instruments can work together to create such breathtaking, beautiful music. To me, music is a really powerful expression of emotion and it's so cool to be able to bring a composer's thoughts and emotions to life by playing the music they wrote. I love the oboe in particular because it's very similar to the human voice in its poignancy and soaring sound. Also, we usually don't get super hard runs and crazy fast technical passages written for us in ensemble music because the other winds can do those more easily (score!)!
Billy: I've always enjoyed playing and listening to music, especially when creating music with other people. I feel like I've known the violin forever, and it's just such an expressive instrument, at least to me.
What are your goals as a musician?
Emily: Well, I used to think my big goal as a musician was to play in an orchestra for my entire career but I've been shown so many different options for careers in music that I don't know anymore! It's exciting!
Billy: I wish to continue playing chamber and orchestral music, even if it doesn't end up as the focus of my life.
How long have you been playing with the VCO orchestra?
Emily: I joined VCO in the winter term of my first year, so this is my third season with them!
Billy: I've been playing with the VCO orchestra since 2016!
What do you like about VCO?
Emily: I really admire VCO's commitment to creating a genuine community of dedicated artists and volunteers that are truly passionate about what they do. I also love their involvement in the Canadian Opera Fest and the opportunities they provide to local creators and to high school students. It's a lot of fun to be a part of!!
Billy: I like sense of community in VCO, that we're all in it together. I also really like that it's grassroots, that it started in Kitchener-Waterloo.
What has been your favourite show to be a part of so far, and why?
Emily: I really enjoyed being a part of The Italian Girl in Algiers. Although the extreme sexism and misogyny portrayed in it was hard to experience sometimes, the opera itself is great and the team did a fantastic job on the costumes and dialogue and staging. I definitely think it was a show we were all proud of and enjoyed working in together!
Billy: My favourite show has been Little Red Riding Hood! It was really heartwarming that the kids got into the show so much, and fun to teach them about our instruments as well.
What are you looking forward to most for the rest of the 2018/2019 season?
Emily: I'm really looking forward to the Dracula opera we're performing on the weekend of February 15th. Dracula and opera are two things I had not considered combining before, so this is going to be an interesting and exciting experience!
Billy: I'm most looking forward to the performance of Dracula; I'm always excited to read new music and I hope the show ends up being fantastic!
Thank you so much Emily and Billy!
Catch Emily and Billy with the rest of the VCO orchestra in our upcoming productions of Dracula, The Elixir of Love, and Canadian Opera Fest.