At the age of 70, Marie-Thérèse Paquin lives and useful life: she continues guiding singers throughout the intricacy of various repertoires. She tells us a few things that made her life so well occupied.
Marie-Thérèse Paquin, how would you describe yourself?
First of all, I am a pianist and then a “coach” which differs from what is intended by tutor in France. When working with a singer, I look after everything that is involved which excludes of course giving the singer his own voice.
Since when are you doing that profession?
I have been doing this type of work for the last 22 years at the Province of Québec Music Conservatory. Also, I always had a school in my residence.
How did you prepare yourself for such a career?
I was already studying piano at the age of 5. I underwent specialized studies around the world: Brussels, London and Sienna. Moreover, I speak five languages; other than french and English, I speak Italian, Spanish and German; in order to lead singers, the knowledge of languages is a must; too many interpreters are singing without knowing what they say.
Are you still very interested in languages?
Of course, I just finished publishing at the Montréal University Press a translation of 3 operas: la Bohème, don Giovanni and Othello. These are translations specifically intended for singers: under each word appears the literal translation in French and English . Then there is a column for the French and another one for the English literary version. Also the original text is annotated for the tone pitch. This translation is simply made to serve the needs of the singers. record listeners and opera and concert subscribers. I have more underway.
You accompanied many famous singers. Is the accompanist profession ungrateful?
I have always liked this profession because I dislike working all by myself, I like company. One has to like his work to be able to deal with the small annoyances of which one is a victim; I remember an instance when I was accompanying a famous person during a circuit of representations and where they had me wait in a car while a radio interview was being made; often while a picture was being taken of the singer with concert organizers, the accompanist was forgotten, at official dinners it is often the same thing; some singers even considered the accompanist as a servant. Generally, the more famous they were the more simple and friendly they were.
You met many famous musicians?
Not only have I met them, but I worked with them. I have a large album of pictures with autographs of famous musicians with whom I had the pleasure of working. For example, Pierre Monteux, John Charles Thomas, sir Thomas Beecham, Igor Stavinsky, Léonard Bernstein, Francis Poulenc, Gérard Souzay, Ezio Pinza, Lauritz Melchior and many others!
On what occasion did you meet these famous people?
I was a pianist for 15 years at the Montréal Symphonic Orchestra. I was also a tutor for the Metropolitan Opera artists when travelling across Canada.
Did your profession make you travel often?
I travelled in Europe mostly to increase my proficiency and also to assist to music festivals. I have been to Italy 7 times, in France, in Germany, in Switzerland and in England. I made also many trips throughout Canada as accompanist. For the last five years I have been giving courses in Alberta at the Banff School of Fine Arts.
I have the impression that the profession of accompanist and tutorship is rather uncommon.
Of course, it is a profession mostly occupied by males. I owe a lot to Wilfrid Pelletier who helped me considerably at the beginning.
Do you remember a few anecdotes pertaining to your career?
I remember being very bold and making remarks to very famous people, and they were always very thankful for same. One day I was making Enzio Pinza rehearst an extract of Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust in which he was always out of tune at the same place. With a lot of courage I pointed to the note in question and said: “Mr Pinza we probably do not have the same edition…” he replied “I have been making this mistake for the last 15 years and nobody ever mentioned it to me!”
Do you still have dreams that have not yet been fulfilled?
At 70, I believe I had a happy and fulfilled life. For six years, I gave opera representations in my residence: It was one of my dream and I realized it. Many of my former students are doing well with their profession. I had the opportunity to perform chamber music, one of my favourite activities. Another dream I just fulfilled is to publish translations of opera specifically made for singers. I keep on working on things fond to me. I was spoiled by my parents and also by life in general.
How were you spoiled by your parents?
At the age of 20, they sent me to Europe to study. At the time a young girl did not travel on her own. They gave me a single aunt to accompany me.
Why were you able to accomplish so many things?
I always went by the following sayings: “ Always be available” and “ Never miss an opportunity”. I also believe that my bad temper helped me: my students knew very well that with me one has to work seriously and accept criticism.