Jan Michael Bourgeois: Music is his vocation

There's a new team in town.

With half of an artistic directors partnership having scaled back on commitments, music teacher Jan Michael Bourgeois has joined founder Dianne Gryba as co-director of the Gallery Singers.

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Bourgeois came to the Battlefords not quite two years ago with degrees in music and music education from the University of Saskatchewan, joining the Light of Christ Catholic Schools music program.

"I knew that Jan Michael was coming to our community because of my friend in Saskatoon, my piano playing partner Bonnie Nicholson, who had accompanied Jan Michael and knew him," says Gryba.

"What she told me was, 'You would want to see how involved he is in his music when he is playing or when he has any involvement in a performance, it's quite something. You'll want to make sure you work with Jan Michael.’"

Bourgeois says music is his vocation. Having been contacted by Gryba, who wanted to let him know there was an opportunity to join an adult choir in the community, he joined the tenor section. Just over a year ago, Gryba asked if he would be interested in conducting, and he jumped at the chance.

"It's really a lucky break for me," he says. "I love conducting and being able to have something like this where I get to not only participate in music and choir, but also practice my conducting skills and develop that as a musician is of extreme interest to me."

He adds, "I'm hopeful I can go get my masters in conducting in the next several years, so I need this."

Gryba says she contacted him about the Gallery Singers because she knew he had sung in ensembles in Saskatoon, not knowing he would have any interest in conducting.

"I knew he was a singer as well as a percussionist and a teacher," she says.

When her co-director JoAnne Kasper decided to retire from Gallery Singers (although she continues to work with Gryba in their children's choir program), Gryba directed alone for some months, but as accompanist and conductor, she found there wasn't enough of her to go around.

"You need two people," she says.

She looked to the tenor section for her answer.

"The Christmas concert came around last year and Dianne said, 'Would you be interested in conducting the group,'" says Bourgeois. "I said, 'Sure!'"

Gryba says, "It was sad to lose him from the tenor section. It is quite a loss, but we need his conducting and his skill in front of the group, and his teaching."

She adds, "He's a wonderful teacher and he has so much love and enthusiasm for music that it's quite infectious."

One choir member has said, although he's been with the group for one year, it seems like he's always been there, says Gryba.

"So that's the best compliment."

The two directors agree they make a good partnership.

Bourgeois says he is learning as well as teaching. In regards to finding and choosing music, he says, "I rely quite a bit on Dianne. Being a relatively young conductor, my knowledge of all the choral repertoire that the world has to offer is still quite green."

He also looks to sources such as conferences like the Saskatchewan Music Conference where choral music is performed.

"We have people come in and talk about it, and we have repertoire sessions," he says, "or attending development opportunities like Podium, which is Canada's national choral music festival and symposium, is really eye opening."

Music has always been Bourgeois' interest. He joined the school band in Grade 6 and "that was it," he says.

Born and raised in Estevan, he took his music and music education degrees at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

"I went for eight years, between 2006 and 2014."

He came to the Battlefords after university, having been singled out by a long-time music teacher and North Battleford City Kinsmen Band director.

"Actually," he says, "Gene Aulinger from the community came and kind of scouted me out."

That resulted in his joining the Catholic system music program.

"It's just been tickety boo ever since," he smiles.

He teaches at three Light of Christ schools — John Paul II Collegiate, Notre Dame School and St. Mary School.

"At JPII, I am the choir and band director as well as being in charge of music ministry this year. And I teach chemistry 30. At Notre Dame and St. Mary, I teach the beginner band and the intermediate bands, so they have me in three different schools to help spread music around."

He also spreads music around after school hours.

"When I moved here, being a musician and going through the University of Saskatchewan, there was never a dull moment in music, so I instantly looked for any ensembles and choirs I could play and sing with, and the Gallery Singers is a choir that was right up my alley," he says. "I came and started singing with these guys and at the same time I joined the North Battleford City Kinsmen Band."

Last year, at about this time, he was also still singing with the Saskatoon Chamber Singers, and was commuting back and forth for rehearsals.

"Eventually it just go to be too much travelling, so I stuck around here," he says,

As a singer, he is a tenor, and as a musician his main instrument is percussion.

"Though as a band director, we have to be a jack of all trades," he laughs. "I would say I can fiddle around on trumpet and make my way around a saxophone and a clarinet. Flute is okay. Bassoon? Please don't!"

He has also been known to play the tuba with NBCKB.

"It was just 'go where I was needed,'" he says. "Last year I also played in the intermediate Kinsmen band. I played clarinet with them."

Gryba says, "Jan Michael's life is really full, so I appreciate that he makes the time for it, especially as a new teacher with so many different responsibilities. It's hard to add this extracurricular stuff to your life."

He also coaches high school curling.

"It's awesome," Bourgeois says. "Then I curl on a Thursday night league."

He adds with a laugh, "Fridays are my day off, after school."

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