SMUS Teacher Feature: Ms. Kathryn Humphries

Kathryn Humphries

We are excited to re-introduce Ms. Kathryn Humphries to the SMUS community. She is an alum of the school and this month joined our staff as the primary music teacher at the Junior School.

Ms. Kathryn Humphries’ Grade 12 graduation photo.

Kathryn was born in Victoria and her family spent time in both Victoria and elsewhere in B.C. before returning to Vancouver Island to join the SMUS community. She spent the last three years of high school as a SMUS student. She earned two degrees in vocal performance, a bachelor’s from Acadia University and a master’s from the University of Montreal. She also spent two years studying and singing professionally in Vienna, Austria. Kathryn then chose to pursue teaching and she earned a post-grad diploma in primary education from The University of Edinburgh. Last year she taught at Trinity College School in Ontario.

This year she is teaching music to our Kindergarten through Grade 2 students.

Let’s get to know Kathryn better:

Why did you want to be a teacher?
It’s a family business. My dad’s a teacher (Mr. Jake Humphries), my mom is now a university professor and I have numerous grandparents who were teachers in one-room schoolhouses in Saskatchewan and Northern Alberta. Going into teaching was a nice way for me to use music in a way that a lot of people who are trained musicians don’t get to.

What was the best class you took in school?
My choir classes in Grades 4 through 6 were probably the most memorable of my school experiences and shaped my future. It was a whole new world that was opening up to me and I was so inspired by the stuff I was being exposed to: the repertoire, the structure and rigor, the potential for performance and working towards a common goal with a bunch of people who were also excited and also driven. It was a special environment.

What’s been the most interesting job you’ve held?
I was a busker in the Inner Harbour for five summers while I was at university. I would set-up my harp down on the causeway and sing for tourists. It was a great way to strike up conversations with people and meet interesting people with interesting experiences. And it was nice to work outside.

How do you spend a day off?
I like to exercise, I like to read and I spend quite a bit of time practicing one of my four instruments: voice, harp, piano or guitar.

Where do you most want to travel but have never been?
New Zealand because the scenery is so gorgeous, I love the Kiwi accent, the culture seems really interesting and it’s where they shot The Lord of the Rings so it would be a pilgrimage of sorts.

Who did you look up to as a kid?
I looked up to my parents. I always had a really good relationship with them and wanted to please them. And there were always older kids at school that I admired. I remember feeling in awe of these kids and I would visualize myself in their position and think, “One day I’ll be able to do what they’re doing!”

If you could trade lives with one person for one day who would it be?
Kate Middleton because I don’t think it would be an easy position to be in. As Duchess of Cambridge there are a lot of responsibilities and pressures; things that “normal” people don’t have to worry about.

What one accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m proud of myself for having learned two foreign languages as an adult: French and German. It’s hard to have an international opera career if you can’t work in Europe; you have to work in the countries that have active opera cultures. I remember starting on the journey thinking how much of a challenge it was going to be and then one day, gradually without realizing it, I had become fluent.

What’s been your most memorable teaching moment?
Last year I took my Grade 12 music class to see The Magic Flute at the Canadian Opera Company and I spent time beforehand teaching them about Mozart, classical music, the characters, the plot of the opera, concepts of the classical musical period and the history of musical period. Talking to the kids afterwards I was amazed at how much they took away from it because of the preparation we had done. They had the tools to make judgments on what they were hearing and they were able to draw it to other aspects because they had the context of history, geography, literature and art.

What’s the best concert you’ve been to?
I went regularly to the Vienna State Opera while I lived there but the most memorable was seeing The Elixir of Love with Juan Diego Florez. He is known all over the world for singing one particular aria in that opera, and the entire audience was there to hear this one piece. He sang such an amazing rendition of “Una furtiva lagrima” (“A furtive tear”) and the audience erupted when it ended and the show stopped for 10 minutes while he stood there in character. He eventually had to break character, which you’re never supposed to do, and he talked to the audience in German and said, “Thank you, I appreciate your enthusiasm. I’m not feeling well tonight, but for you I’ll sing it again.” So he performed an encore in the middle of the performance and sang it to perfection again.

What’s the best purchase you’ve ever made?
I always feel that spending money on education is always money well spent. I’m the type of person who experiences buyers’ remorse on objects but never with tuition fees.

When have you felt your biggest adrenaline rush?
There’s no bigger rush than performing. One that stands out to me was performing in Vienna at Schönbrunn Palace. They have a gorgeous little baroque theatre there. I had been in Vienna five years earlier as a tourist and I saw a production in that theatre and thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be so cool to perform in this theatre where Mozart, Gluck and Handel have performed?” And five years later, as part of my university studies, I got to perform there!

What was your dream job growing up?
I wanted to be a vet. I reallyy love animals and I thought that being a vet would be a good way to help them. In high school I volunteered at a vet clinic and I ended up fainting in the middle of a procedure I was observing. I then realized I might not have the stomach for the medical side of being a vet.

If a talent show was happening at SMUS today, what would be your talent?
If I couldn’t sing, I would probably dance. I’ve done some random dancing in the past – folk dancing mostly, like African gumboot dancing, Irish dancing, flamenco dancing. I’ve always liked the idea of folk dance because it’s so closely associated with culture.

What’s the best part of your job?
Knowing that you’re impacting somebody in a positive way. Even if it’s in a way they won’t necessarily remember.

What are you currently reading?
Voyages of Hope by Peter Johnson. It’s about the bride ships that came to Victoria and the history of some of the women who came over.

Where is your favourite place on Vancouver Island?
The Oak Bay Marina because it reminds me of my childhood.

If you could time travel, when would be the first place you go?
I’d be interested in going back to the Dark Ages and getting to experience and witness feudal society in medieval England. I’d like to see what it took to get by and how to survive and what life was like before mass agriculture and the modern conveniences we have. I don’t think I’d want to stay long, though.

If you could teach a subject or class that you don’t currently teach, what would it be?
I’ve designed my own course: I call it Cultural Studies and it’s kind of a cross between all of the humanities – history, politics, art, music, literature, drama, religion. The idea is that you study a certain point in time or a certain event and then explore how all of the disciplines were affected by it and how they influenced each other. You’d get to see how everything is connected and how one thing impacts another: how history affects music, how music affects literature, how literature affects politics, how politics affect theatre.

What hobby would you pursue if money and time were no object?
I would take up sailing because I would love to have a boat and I’d love to spend more time on the water getting to learn that skill.

How would your high school teachers describe you?
I now work with some of them so I can probably ask them this question! They probably would describe me as pleasant, dare I say talented, maybe a little eccentric, hard-working and perhaps awkward. I was a good student – I worked hard, I always handed everything in and I participated in class.

What are you passionate about that not a lot of people know about you?
The environment. I experience that sense of what they call Weltschmerz, world pain. I feel so sensitive to everything that’s happening with the environment. I’d like to be more involved in finding a way to make a difference because I feel very strongly about environmental causes.

What one piece of advice would you give this year’s graduating class?
Don’t worry too much about doing the things you think you’re supposed to do in the time you think you’re supposed to do them in: having to get your driver’s licence at 16, having to go to university right after graduating, having to do a degree in four years. After meeting so many different people who’ve gone about their lives differently, none of that matters.


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