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Don't mess with a soprano  

Shout-out to a mentor

What are you thinking? You can’t do that, Sue.

Don’t create questions that you don’t answer. Don’t write about what they’ve done, show who they are.

These were some of the nice comments I received in my first weeks of writing. I won’t mention the others.

This past year has been a huge learning curve for me. I had never written before. I didn’t know a passive phrase from a doorknob.

I did, however, have three tools in my shiny new writing toolbox to work with.

I had a diligent dedication to supporting the arts, a desire to showcase our Okanagan talent, and a mentor.

When COVID-19 hit, I was busy. I was basking in the glory from my choir's Carnegie Hall, NYC, performance. I had a call back for one of my favourite plays, The Crucible, for Kelowna Actors Studio. Kelowna’s art scene was alive and active, so was I.

We all know what happened next. The world stopped. I was asked a question that changed my personal direction for the next year. “Are you passionate about the arts?” “Of, course I am,” I answered. “Then do something about it," my future mentor said.

My life as an interviewer/writer began.

We have people in Kelowna who have performed on the world stage. I asked if I could meet with them and write about their story. To my great surprise, they agreed to meet. I am still amazed at how open and willing to share their stories they were.

My adventure into the souls of artists began. What a fantastic escapade that was.

I also learned my first writing lesson. My responsibility as a writer was to relay their story, who they, in their essence, are. COVID could not be allowed to silence them.

I have interviewed music composers, singers, guitarists, woodwind and jazz musicians, painters of all mediums, art educators, agents, and museum curators.

I have seen the beautiful vessels made by award-winning potters. I have seen wood transformed into a translucent deer so detailed that you thought it was real.

I learned about art forms that I didn’t know existed. The Ponderosa Fibre Arts Guild introduced me to the world of felting, weaving, and spinning. I even tried felting. Who knew wool, soap, and water could create such beautiful things. Angela Hansen introduced me to the world of encaustic art.

I learned the importance of museums and how they nurture our local artists. I discovered that Opus Art Supplies is a hub for local artists. It is a space where artists at any stage of their development can meet, learn, and teach.

In one year, I managed to only scrape the surface of how many qualified, working, creating, teaching artists are around us in the valley.

Writing their stories would not have been possible without my third tool. My tool was my mentor, Ross Freake. What a tool that was.

Ross is the former managing editor of The Daily Courier, Cambridge Reporter, and Kamloops Sentinel. He has co-authored the best-selling books, Firestorm, and Stories from the Firestorm. He is a columnist for Castanet and does more things to help people than I have room to write about it. An amazing guy who doesn't like people to know about it.

I’m sure Ross didn’t think it was going to be as hard as it was. If he had any hair, I’m sure he would have lost it helping me.

“Where the hell did that come from? You can’t start something new, out of the blue.” Yes, he regularly kicked my well-deserving butt. The red on the return of my drafts was blinding and humbling.

He would give me encouragement and suggestions of things to read and courses to take to help me. I slowly started to rise from the quagmire of my ineptitude. The weekly upset stomach subsided as I became more confident.

It was a journey for both of us. I lived for the words, “good job.” He lived for the day of being free from this obligation.

Mentoring is essential for those beginning in an area they don’t understand. They need expert guidance. Mentoring is also a two-way street. It gives both parties the opportunity to grow.

Last week I lost my mentor, not my friend, but my mentor. He found his freedom from work and I found a hole in my weekly routine.

I’m flying solo these days. I’m not exactly comfortable. I’m pretty sure some road bumps are ahead and no one’s watching my back. I do have some idea of how to maneuver them, however, thanks to him.

Thanks, Ross, for all you have done for me, I can't believe I'm writing this but I miss your sarcasm.



More Don't mess with a soprano articles

About the Author

Sue Skinner is a singer of opera and musical theatre, a choral conductor and a teacher/coach of voice. 

She has travelled the world, learned many languages, seen every little town in Alberta and supported herself with music all her life.

She has sung at weddings, funerals, musicals, operettas, opera, with symphonies, guitars, jazz groups, rock bands and at play schools. 

Skinner has taken two choirs to Carnegie Hall, sung around the world, and teaches for Wentworth Music on Zoom.

[email protected]



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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