A chat with chorister Emma Willemsma

Emma Willemsma sparkles when she talks about the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. As a chorister for eight years, Emma has experienced the TMC at many levels – as a young member in the fledgling TMC Apprentice Program, as an occasional-singing Alumna when she had to take a year off due to work pressures, and as a mentor to an even-younger TMC apprentice, Emma has never stopped being appreciative for how the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir has enriched her life.

“Singing with the Mendelssohn is a dream come true.  I lead a very busy life with lots of stress, such as with my job as a software developer. Choral music allows me to forget about all the other things going on, and just focus on the music. It’s very immersive. I hope that TMC donors see the passion that the choristers have. Singing is so worth doing and I’m so glad that I have this opportunity. It’s just something spectacular that I love.  Thank you!”

TMC Executive Director Cynthia Hawkins sat down with Emma to hear more about her TMC experience.

How long have you sung with the TMC?

I joined in 2009, so eight seasons, including a year singing as an alumna. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.

Why did you join TMC in the first place?

It was a dream come true. Singing is something that I have always loved since I was a kid. I never had any formal training. I had a few piano lessons when I was younger, but piano wasn’t really my instrument. My voice was what I really loved, so through high school I was in choirs, and then at Queen’s University I was fortunate enough to be able to sing in the Queen’s Choral Ensemble under Mark Sirett. Queen’s made me realize that singing was something that I could never not do. It was just something that always had to be part of my life. So it was heartbreaking when I had to leave Queen’s and I didn’t know where to go in Toronto. I knew that TMC was this amazing organization, and I just happened to read about the TMC Apprentice Program, and I thought, well maybe, maybe I can do this, even without any formal singing background. I auditioned and I couldn’t believe that I got in! It was beyond my wildest dreams to be able to sing with this organization.

My mentor was Deborah Micucci.  She was my “choir buddy”, someone to sit with and someone to tell me what was what, such as what to expect at a performance. Because of Deborah, I didn’t feel alone in this big, intimidating organization.

You were out of the choir for a year and a half.  Why did you come back?

The question is not why did I come back, but whatever convinced me to leave in the first place? Because of my career I was being sent overseas alot. I was working in a very busy start up, but singing was not something I wanted to compromise, there were lots of other sacrifices I was making for my work, but choir was one where I said, no, I have to go to rehearsal. But travel became an issue, so I didn’t have much choice. I knew it would be a short-term sacrifice.

Tell me how choral music affects your life

Choral music allows me to forget about all the other things going on, and just focus on the music. It’s very immersive. I often have a very busy life, with lots of stress, such as with my job and other things going on. When I’m not singing, like over the summer when we don’t have rehearsals, I really miss it.

I trained as an engineer, but am now a software developer in a start up company. We’re working on a new revision of the product, going through a product development, it’s really exciting. What I do musically has a real impact on my job. Creativity is a part of being an engineer. For example, if I am trying to create a piece of code or a program, there is a creative element in doing that.

I know there is correlation  between people who study math, and music and musicians. And, as someone who studied math, I completely get that. When you get beyond doing calculations and computations and you’re actually trying to develop proofs, for example, and really studying the theory of math, there is a huge amount of synthesis that you do. You are taking different aspects that you know and putting them together in meaningful ways. That is creativity – where you can reach beyond what is directly in front of you and pull from different areas to make something new – that’s math, but it’s also music. Creativity is something that I have always had since I was a child, and I express that creativity in different ways, but singing is the one that always sticks.

What message would you like us to pass on to our donors?

Clearly, thank you. We wouldn’t be able to do this without you. Singing is something so worth doing and I’m so glad that I have this opportunity. It’s also really meaningful to people in my family. I think my mother has been deeply touched and moved by the performances, and her exposure to TMC would have never happened without the generosity of TMC supporters. I also really hope that our donors see the passion that we choristers have, that we are successful in conveying the beauty and the art of choral music. It’s just something spectacular that I love and I hope they can feel it too.