Interview: Measha Brueggergosman

(April 2018) Measha was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick and as a child, began singing in the choir of her local Baptist church, where father served as a deacon. As a young adult she obtained a B.Mus. from the University of Toronto and later moved to Germany to study and pick up her Master’s Degree in Düsseldorf. For the next twenty years her career would be a whirlwind performing internationally, as well, in the United States and Europe. Just recently she made her Australian debut performing with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and taking the stage of the iconic Sydney Opera House. She has appeared on television as a judge on Canada’s Got Talent, and a character in the Murdoch Mysteries. She’s got a Grammy and a Juno, written a book and has a documentary about her. She spoke to me, during the final days of her Australian tour, from her balcony overlooking the Yarra Valley. We didn’t talk about opera much and she might have had a glass of wine in her hand….

Mb: Hey Measha.
Measha: Hey, how’s it going?
Mb: I hate to drag you away from your wine tasting.
Measha: Listen, I’ll have you know, it’s a huge sacrifice, but it’s worth it! (laughs) I’m looking forward to coming to Peterborough.
Mb: I bet you’re not looking forward to leaving Australia and the Yarra Valley!
Measha: You know Australia is far. The time zone weirdness is real! I’ve not done the math, my head can’t handle it, so I usually just call and hope for the best. When it comes to my parents, it’s like “Hey guys, what time is it there?” and my mom is like “Ah, never mind…”
Mb: That’s a long way to travel for a couple of gigs, but what a couple of gigs! The Sydney Opera House!
Measha: (laughs) It’s true! I gave a recital at the Melbourne Recital Centre with the Melbourne Symphony and then I was like “I can’t go all this way and not try to see a few things!” and thankfully I had the time, and the babies are well taken care of so, I went to Uluru and I’m just winding things up with a bit of wine tasting here in the Yarra Valley. It’s been a really great trip.
Mb: I bet, and playing the Sydney Opera House. Describe that to me.
Measha: Ya, I remember the first day i walked to work. There are some times when (laughs) “Is this really my job?” These are iconic places like the Cirque De Vol in Amsterdam, Lincoln Centre, Carnegie Hall, and the Sydney Opera House. You’re just walking up… you’re saddling up to these iconic…
Mb: Mind blowing rooms…
Measha: Mind blowing architectural monuments. I’m a massive architectural fan and so I read about these buildings and know their stories. Utzon Hall, where I gave my recital, was named after the designer who never actually saw the hall and everything’s in reverse and they’re about to under-go some major renovations, so I’m glad I got in there, so i prayerfully, will be able to know the before and after, not unlike my experience with Roy Thomson in Toronto. So, it’s a pretty mind blowing, humbling intersection in my career at the moment because it’s my debut here. At 40, after having been in this job full-time for 17 years, to still be able to open up new parts of the world… (laughs) It’s no secret that I am just as nervous going on stage now, as I was when I was first starting out. That never goes away because the excitement for the work remains for me. My knowledge and tool chest grows but that kernel of insecurity and investment that propels you forward, hopefully on the journey to improvement and self assuredness, that little kernel, it never goes away. I’m enjoying myself, I really am. I really grateful.
Mb: I bet you are. To stand on some of those stages with the history, and the expectation of the audience when the world’s greatest performers have been on those stages. You’re not rolling down to the local pub for a song or two.
Measha: Well, I did that too. There’s some nice places you go to listen to live music and who am I to deny if there’s a pianist there who I’ve come to see. Because, I remain a fan of live music and other instrumentalists and performers, so I put myself in the position of fan as often as I can. But, to your point, the same voice that sings in the local bar or does an eight city tour of tiny maritime festivals, it’s the same career trajectory that brings me here. I do sing so that I’ll have the street-cred to invite people into a more intimate space and give them just as much. Because there will be people who won’t be able to go to the Sydney Opera House or down to Lincoln Centre. There are just going to be people, chief of which are my parents, who have real responsibilities in their lives, who have been my champions from the very beginning. I think of them, and of course serving god in my capacity on this earth, there’s a bigger picture at stake then even the halls that I sing in. But not to down play it, I couldn’t be more grateful. Again, it’s that mustard seed where if yo just let it grow into the massive plant what waters it isn’t the glory because there’s no glory in how much work it takes to sustain any life worth living, but you do have a minute where this is clearly an upswing and I’m not going to tarnish it by thinking of the inevitability of change in life.
Mb: Which is what?
Measha: The upswing inevitably changes, which doesn’t mean it’s a downswing as much as it is just a different kind of swing. So there’s down-time when I’m here, and of course missing my babies and the routine of the life I’ve built in Nova Scotia. All of those things I cherish, but here I sit on this balcony in a winery in the Yarra Valley… and I love wine! (laughs)
Mb: Yes, I saw your facebook post!
Measha: I. love. wine! So, i think “My kids wouldn’t like this! They’d be bleeding from the eyes with boredom.” So, you know, mommas need to fill their banks. So you come home and it’s about them, because it is about them.
Mb: It’s about putting an interesting life together that helps support all the people around you, no?
Measha: Ya, and they have to see you enjoying life because they get their permission from us. Everything your children decide is a priority, is taught to them by you. If you prioritize life, and really enjoy an experience, that also teaches them the importance of working really hard. Because you just focus on things in front of you.
Mb: And work hard, you do! The amount of travel you’re doing in the next few months for a handful of gigs. Most musicians try to put the dates and locations a bit closer together. Drive a few hours to the next date. You’ve decided to fly half way around the world for a few shows and then fly half way again for another.. I have a feeling that’s the way you tour and in the midst of your career you write a book or do some television.. I’m trying to figure out how you find some spare time, other than sitting on a plane..
Measha: (laughs) That’s a good point, because I think before I had kids… you’re always looking to maximize the territory. I mean, I came over here for three concerts but at the same time, you could come over here for ten, easily. But it gives you the excuse to come back. You hit the two major territories, the major halls and then everybody else is looking and you build on that. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to be away from my babies for that long, only working. If a portion of that isn’t devoted to my own personal peace bank and gathering of world experiences… I need to know what the world is so I know where to take them when they’re old enough to generate memories. In some respects, it all connects back to them, because I’m a mom who can’t help but think about her kids. But I also know that parenting is the real work. So if I spend an extra few hours on a plane, it just means I get to catch up on my reading and movie watching. I think, before I had kids I’d want to cram as much as I can into one territory, but I now know I need to be depositing into many different banks in order to remain a really good viable energetic invested parent.
Mb: So a shorter drive, Peterborough. You’re coming back.
Measha: I’ve been to Peterborough before. I’ve had good times in Peterborough. I’m not sure whether you’ve found the Peterborough section in my book but i’m not telling you about it (laughs) There’s a moment in my career that really did hinge on Peterborough. I’m really not sure whether I named Peterborough by name, but anybody who was there, would know what concert I’m talking about. I go into great detail in my book about it. It was the very first time I sang Verdi’s Requiem and that’s all I’m going to say! The great thing about writing a book is saying “It’s all in the book, so…” (laughs) Oh goodness, …. no, I do love Peterborough. I’m looking forward to going back and I like that I’m bringing the Songs of Freedom program because it requires a bit of audience participation and it’s also songs that people generally know and really love and have been a part of their lives. It’s a program that invites people in and I love singing it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s hymns and spirituals and Canadiana, so it’s a good time. We’ll have the Powerhouse Gospel Singers there… it’s a big party and it comes at a time in a year where I kinda need it. I’m excited. Peterborough’s going to get it all in one shot!
Mb: From the Sydney Opera House to Showplace Peterborough…
Measha: It’s all the same life. I embrace them all.

Measha Brueggergosman performs Saturday Apr 28 @ Showplace.