Hilary Coupland’s bucket list includes an unforgettable 65th birthday celebration. Hilary, a Victoria and Cowichan Valley conductor, musician and singer, confesses, “My middle daughter gave me the needed push when she said, ‘Mom, you know everything we do in life is a choice except for death - if you want to do this then do it.” So, I’m going to do Mendelssohn’s Elijah on my 65th.”
With her trademark enthusiasm and boundless energy, Hilary is assembling a cast of past and present students, colleagues and friends who will be voluntarily performing Elijah or working behind the scenes for her milestone birthday in August.
“Sunny Shams, my former student, will be tenor soloist,” says Hilary. “Tony Booker will be the organist. Trevor Bowes, a former Victorian who sings bass in the Northern Opera Company in Leeds, will be singing Elijah. I’m inviting anyone who would like to be part of this professional ensemble to contact me. We start rehearsals in mid-June and the performance will be in August.”
Exposed to music at an early age, Hilary recalls, “My father would always be singing and my grandfather was a professor of music in Wales.” At the age of nine, Hilary began taking violin lessons. When she got to Belmont High, however, her mother swayed her from the bass fiddle. “Mom liked the sound of the oboe, so I started playing the oboe and eventually gave up the violin.”
While in Grade 9, Hilary was invited to play the oboe professionally with the Nanaimo Symphony. “My schoolwork suffered a lot because of my music,” she says. In high school, whenever the band teacher was ill, Hilary substituted as student conductor. She enjoyed the experience for it nurtured her love for conducting and teaching. For 35 years, she was the band teacher, taught high school English and physical education while raising her family and pursuing her musical career.
Years ago, Hilary had a serious fall from her bike, resulting in concussion and stitches on her upper lip.
“This [accident] ‘shortened’ my upper lip, which ended my professional oboe playing,” she says.
Determined to keep performing, Hilary picked the next instrument that was similar in some ways and the easiest to play with her healed lip. Today, she plays tenor sax, baritone sax and alto sax with different bands that perform internationally.
Maintaining a healthy balance in her hectic schedule, Hilary participates in marathons and tries to incorporate a lot of exercise in her daily routine.
She credits several people for encouraging and inspiring her. “George Corwin had a big influence,” she says. “I keep learning a lot from him. Morris Krushner was the conductor of the Nanaimo Symphony many years ago. The first piece I played for him was ‘Beethoven’s Fifth,’ which has an oboe part at the beginning. There was a 1/16th of a note that I skipped over in the music because I was so nervous at playing professionally. Morris was very gentle with me. He said, ‘Hilary, you have to play those 1/16th notes.’ ‘But they’re so fast,’ I said. And he replied, ‘Just take them as slowly as you can.’”
Hilary recalls one unforgettable Sunday matinee when she played in the Victoria Symphony conducted by Paul Freeman.
“This particular piece opened with two mini-brass ensembles playing on either side of the balcony like a quadraphonic effect,” she recalls. “I was in charge of one of the sections. Paul was conducting and he wanted to dispense with ‘God Save the Queen.’ We’re all on the balcony behind the curtains waiting for our cue, which was immediately after playing ‘O Canada.’ We finished playing ‘O Canada’ and we’re waiting to start the opening brass number when we heard this mini-uprising from the audience of elderly ladies chanting ‘We want the Queen! We want the Queen!’ I think this was definitely the last concert anyone tried to eliminate ‘God Save the Queen!’”
Another fond memory: Yehudi Menuhin was guest violinist for the symphony, and the wind section invited him out to lunch. He immediately accepted.
“It’s interesting how approachable these famous musicians are,” says Hilary. “We knew he was a vegetarian and, at that time, took him to the first vegetarian restaurant in Victoria called ‘The VegTable’ where we sat on blocks of wood. We had a great time!”
Dynamo saxophone player, singer and conductor, Hilary is sure to have an unforgettable 65th birthday because her many friends and colleagues will gather to make Elijah a huge success. Happy Birthday, Hilary!
Colleagues and students, past and present, and any other interested musicians are invited to join Hilary’s celebration of Elijah on August 17th at Alix Goolden Hall. Contact Hilary at 250-384-9769 or firstname.lastname@example.org Tickets will go on sale at a date to be announced.
MAY 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND