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From Sooke schoolyard to international opera stages: Marion Newman returns home

Marion Newman never imagined the doors that would open and the intriguing journeys she would embark upon when she first fell head over heels for the sounds of music.

“I knew I wanted to be a musician and had a sense that I wanted to teach one day,” Newman said in an interview from Toronto. “That goes hand in hand with my dad being a teacher (Victor Newman taught in the Sooke School District) and a carver, and my mom always encouraged me to do something with the potential to support my art.”

Newman, a previous recipient of the University of Victoria’s Distinguished Alumni Award, was recently appointed a professor in the school’s music department.

Although Newman of Kwagiulth, Sto:lo, English, Irish and Scottish heritage, was home-schooled, she did attend one year of kindergarten at the school in Bella Bella where her mother, Edith, was principal.

“I remember that very well,” Newman recalled with a chuckle. “My mom said I was pretty bossy about making sure we didn’t have a boy’s section and a girl’s section, and that everyone got to play with everything.”

Countless hours spent practicing piano and attending the Victoria Conservatory of Music growing up was well spent, underscored by Newman’s debut with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra at 16.

After completing a bachelor of fine arts in piano performance at UVic in 1993, Newman earned her master’s at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

By then, she was well on her way to establishing herself as an accomplished mezzo-soprano opera singer. Although she’s worked with most of the major opera companies in Canada, the U.S., Europe and the United Kingdom, Newman still looks back fondly on her earliest recitals at the Sooke Harbour House, around 2000.

However, Newman’s current focus is squarely on teaching at the university she once attended.

“It’s a full circle feeling, kind of a dream come true,” she said. “I relish the opportunity to influence the structure so that all voices are considered, as opposed to only following the director’s lead. That way, when I’m working with students, I can teach them how to share their perspective in a constructive way.”

UVic said in a media release announcing her appointment that Newman’s addition aligns with the university’s Indigenous plan, where Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and learning are embedded into the university’s programs, systems, and organizational structure.

Alexis Luko, UVic School of Music director, said she’s thrilled to have Newman at the university.

“Given her perspective, local connections and international reach, she’s positioned to have a profound impact on artistic and cultural life in Victoria,” Luko said.

Newman is also excited about working with her brother, Carey Newman, an accomplished artist and carver who serves as impact chair in Indigenous art practices in UVic’s fine arts faculty.

“My brother and I for years have been talking about ideas we’d like to make happen with visual arts and music,” she said.

She added that that would be much easier to accomplish with Carey literally across the street.

Newman’s pleased the move back to Vancouver Island doesn’t mean the curtain will fall on her work as host of CBC Radio’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, a Toronto-based national broadcast she will now do remotely.

“I really love the team I work with,” she said. “They’re so smart and knowledgeable and kind, and I really enjoy sharing Canada’s talent with the show’s audience. I don’t think people realize how many incredible opera singers come out of this country.”

She noted that learning more about operas that don’t have a mezzo-soprano role is another bonus.

“I’ve been living in Toronto for 24 years and I’ve really missed the Island,” she said. “It’s time to come home.”

The smells of the forest and the ocean were some of the first things Newman noticed that she missed when she returned to Sooke.

“My parents still live in the same house I grew up in,” she said. “It’s an incredible feeling to be in the same yard where my Grandpa and uncles built a playhouse, and where I used to play soccer with my brother and splash around in the puddles with my sister.”

In addition to spending more time with her family, Newman is also looking forward to sampling how the food scene in Victoria has evolved over the time she’s been away.

“I’m a passionate foodie,” She said. “And I’m really amazed at how the seafood scene has evolved in Victoria in the past 24 years.”

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