A welcome return to Westlake

Our Junior Choir – Nota Bella has a new Musical Director this year.

Elise Bradley, pictured above and right at a rehearsal with Nota Bella yesterday, is a familiar face to many staff as she was previously a music teacher and later HOD Music at Westlake – from 1990 until 2006.

In 2007, Elise accepted the position of Musical Director of the Toronto Children’s Chorus in Canada, one of the top children’s choirs in the world. After 14 years, in 2022 she has returned to live in New Zealand, and returned to Westlake Girls.

Fiona Wilson, our current HOD Music (pictured below with Elise), was taught music and was introduced to choral singing by Elise and Fiona returned many years later, to work with Elise as music teacher, before she left for Toronto.

What were some of the highlights of working in such a prestigious international organisation like TCC?

Some highlights – working with the children – they are the heart and soul of the organisation and it was a privilege and a joy to work with them all. The reason they achieved what they did was because of their commitment and dedication to the repertoire, the rigour and the pedagogy. Other highlights – opportunities to collaborate with other choirs and musicians – such as Krzysztof Penderecki in Toronto and Krakow, tour in Canada with the Fujii Ensemble, perform with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on numerous major works, perform “Dido and Aeneas” with the early music ensembles Tafelmusik and Opera Atelier, and with Masaaki Suzuki, Christopher Plummer, Gordon Pinsent, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Peter Oundjian and Sir Andrew Davis. Singing in the Musikverein in Austria, touring both nationally and internationally, presenting our annual concert series, singing for our local community, the collaborative outreach programmes and working with visiting clinicians such as Maria Guinand, Anton Armstrong and Cristian Grases.

How are you finding returning to NZ after 16 years away? (what has changed and what is familiar?)

In speaking from the heart, and after over 14 years away, I find the choral scene quite disheartening in a number of ways. I feel like the standard of music in schools has less priority and that there is less commitment to pedagogy, and for many singing has become an activity which has no fundamental understanding. Anybody can sing, but not everyone can sing well, so training has to happen. I am passionate about music education and choral singing, and I take the art of choral music making very seriously. Hence I have continued to study, seek professional development opportunities and I work hard. I admire the people who are working to give the best to music education and to the children singing in choirs, but I do not propagate the philosophy of mediocrity nor shortchanging the children. Children need the best of us and from us, so they can be empowered and be the best role models for the next generation. Choral singing is our voice – and we are the keepers of text. Singing comes from our hearts and from our souls and the music must always win.

How does it feel to be back at WGHS and working with Fiona Wilson (HOD Music)?

I absolutely love it. I love the full cycle of life. Fiona was my student, then we worked together when I was HOD Music at WGHS, and now she is my HOD – my boss. I aim to support her vision for the future of choral singing at Westlake and in the wider community – and to support the artistry that goes into making musicians. Music is not an add on, it is a must. It is part of our culture and society, and should be taken as seriously as any other subject.

If I can provide a way in which to support that, then I will give to it wholeheartedly. I am excited to be working with Nota Bella this year – and am enjoying the singers immensely.

My daughter went to Westlake, and now my granddaughter goes to Westlake. Westlake is my other family – it is like coming home!

What new skills and ideas can you bring to our junior singers?

Children do not know what they can do and how far they can go – so I ask! If you do not ask, you do not get! But you do need to know what to ask for – and that is my job as a choral conductor. I want to empower the choristers and teach them skills for a lifetime of learning – whether it be in music or anything else. I always ask the choristers not to be the weakest link – and an ex-pupil from Westlake who sang in Key Cygnetures 14 years ago, thanked me recently – as she was able to liken this saying to her chosen profession of engineering! Repertoire – this is fundamental to the success of a choir. Choosing diverse repertoire from different genres, eras and cultures broadens choristers’ horizons and gives a deeper understanding of inclusivity and community. I want them to understand basic theory, not just to learn music by rote, to learn to sight-sing, to enjoy the repertoire from different cultures, be proud of their achievements, and enjoy the art of singing with others in a choir – united as a team.

NB: Nota Bella Choir is still open for Year 9 and 10 singers. It is an amazing opportunity to learn from one of the best choral conductors in the world! If you haven’t sung in a choir before – it is a great way to make lots of new friends and enjoy performing music together. Please come and see Mrs Wilson in the Music Department if you are interested in joining Nota Bella.