Heather Fraser - Teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony

Reposted from The Grapevine, Issue No. 13.06
Written by Mike Butler

See Full issue here: http://grapevinepublishing.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/The-Grapevine-April-21-2016.pdf 

HEATHER RACHAEL FRASER was born and bred in the Annapolis Valley. She grew up in Weston, on a lovely old property at the foot of the north mountain with her mom, dad, and sister. Music always played a huge part in Heather’s young life, which included piano lessons, tots and tunes, workshops, the South Berwick Girl's Choir, and the Honour Choir -- the same choir that Heather is now conducting.

She says, “Music was basically my life. But I didn't think it was going to be my career. In high school I was so sure I was going to go into the sciences. But one interview with a biology professor at Acadia freaked me out so much I left his office and signed up for an audition for the music department the same day.” And so many are glad Heather made that decision! After her piano degree at Acadia, Heather took a year off, took some music education courses, and got a job at the Port Williams Baptist Church as their music director. In that year she realized how much she loved teaching, and wanted to be ON the podium, instead of at the piano. So she registered in the Music Education program at McGill University and she used all her singing/accompanying experience that she had gained with the Honour Choir to propel her in the direction of choral conducting.  

After a few years of teaching in London, UK, Heather returned to Nova Scotia in 2009 and was hired at the NS Choral Federation as Program Director. She took over as Artistic Director of the Annapolis Valley Honour Choirs (AVHC) in 2010. Heather has been fortunate to work with some incredible musicians and musical directors over the years and she attributes a lot of her strengths, work habits, and drive to her mentors Ross Thompson and Iwan Edwards. But her biggest influence, and her primary mentor, was her dad. Heather states, “My dad was my biggest influence with my music and I really wouldn't be doing any of this if it hadn't been for his dedication and guidance and the education he gave me. He said when I was born that my long fingers meant I was going to be a pianist. He died a year ago from cancer and it's been quite devastating.”

As Artistic Director of the AVHC, Heather has a true passion for this job. She considers it a great honour to be able to teach choral music to young people and to pass along the same incredible joy and gift that was given to her. The vision statement of the AVHC is "to deliver a complete choral education, nurture healthy developing voices, and achieve musical excellence - all while building a community of knowledgeable, thoughtful young musicians and caring, engaged citizens who will share in a life-long love of singing."

Heather states, “I strongly believe in this statement. I love watching the singers succeed and become stronger, better musicians. They come from varied backgrounds, but they all want to be good and they want to be challenged. It is my job to create a safe space for our singers to take musical risks, to go for broke without fear of judgment and I love watching the singers grow each year. I love watching them rely on each other, and support one another in times of need.” Besides the love of music and students, Heather enjoys the community involvement and the sense of family that the AVHC has become over the years.

After an exciting adventure recently in Cuba with the Choir, Heather has returned and is polishing up the program for the final AVHC concert of the year on May 13 at Christ Church in Windsor, and May 14 at the Wolfville Baptist Church. Both shows start at 7:30pm. Come and see everything that choral music encompasses and what it really can be! Heather says the program will include some First Nations music, music from Cuba and Latin America, music from home, and music that just expresses the true joy that songs bring to life. As the Program Director for the Nova Scotia Choral Federation, Heather also develops and coordinates the provincial choirs (Nova Scotia Youth Choir, Children's Chorus of Nova Scotia etc.), the annual "Sing Summer" Choir Camps that are held at the Berwick United Church campgrounds each August, and workshops of all kinds, bringing in guest conductors and clinicians. 

And what does she love most about living here? “Where else in the world would be better really? It's bloody gorgeous. It's a beautiful place full of kind, generous people, with a true sense of community. And the best thing - the amount of culture, the amount of artistic activity, and the community support for these arts activities to flourish and be sustained. From Acadia's programs to all of the community theatre, music, dance, and all the artists and artisans, it really is a land of plenty. We should feel so incredibly lucky.”

Heather’s goals are to continue to grow the AVHC organization -- to expand their outreach, do more collaboration with other choral and arts groups, continue to strive to create wonderful musical performances and reach new heights, and to share their music with as many people as they can. She would also like to continue her professional development in conducting to be able to offer these singers more, and to be the best conductor and educator she can be. Well, with her enthusiastic personality, and her passion for her projects, this should happen before she knows it!