Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Music conservatory dean ready to work, play hard

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When he first walked into the Manitoba Conservatory of Music and Arts (MCMA) to take classical guitar lessons, 15-year-old Kurt Tittlemier never imagined some day he would become the school's dean of music.

But, as of three weeks ago, that's exactly what happened. With two years' guitar study under his belt, he enrolled at the downtown school 18 years ago with Winnipeg guitarist and music producer Michael Daher.

The soft-spoken Tittlemier went on to earn a bachelor's of music performance at the University of Manitoba, with guitar teachers Paul Hammer and Ryszard Tyborowski and a master of music at the University of Victoria. Along the way, he picked up several scholarships, awards at the Winnipeg Music Festival and was a provincial finalist for the Aikins Memorial Trophy.

Call it destiny if you like -- the newly appointed dean was meant to be where he is today. A music lover from his earliest years, Tittlemier played trombone in the band at Charleswood Junior High, performed in the jazz band and sang in the school division choir. But when he was 13, the gift from his uncle of a classical guitar changed everything. "I knew right away that this was my instrument," he said.

Now 33, Tittlemier replaces Meran Currie-Roberts who moved to Calgary over the summer. "It's going great," he said of the part-time position, "It's exciting. I've been at the MCMA for years and I know what our mandate is and know lots of faculty members and students."

Tittlemier not only studied at the conservatory, he has taught there since 2006. His students have consistently excelled in the MCMA scholarship competition and the Winnipeg Music Festival.

These days, Winnipeg musicians cannot rely on only one job to make ends meet. A typical musician will have a full roster of performing and teaching while ever on the lookout for extra gigs. Until accepting the MCMA deanship, Tittlemier also taught a large slate of students between the U of M preparatory division and Canadian Mennonite University (CMU). He had to give up his students at the two other schools to devote his time to the MCMA. It was requisite for the job. He admits it was hard.

"It's been very busy," he said. "I still have a relationship with students, but have the new responsibility of creating programs for teachers and students. We have to make sure we have the right faculty teaching the right courses," he said. "The enrolment has been good for most programs."

In the last school year, 11 MCMA teachers taught in inner-city schools and community centres, providing musical instruction to over 300 young people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to get involved in music. They also sent performers and teachers to personal care homes and seniors' residences throughout the city to play concerts and offer music therapy, reaching an impressive 2,000 residents.

Tittlemier plans to ease into his position gradually, respecting the needs of the faculty and the heritage of the 27-year-old institution. "I think we have some great new faculty members," he said, citing the example of WSO violinist and teacher Phoebe Tsang who co-teaches the conservatory string orchestra.

An active performer, Tittlemier is planning a concert in the spring, debuting a new work composed especially for him. But for now, he has more than enough on his plate. "Working more is OK with me. I am in a leadership role and I am prepared to do what it takes. My priority is to keep on teaching and to promote the MCMA."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 8, 2011 G7

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