Don’t try and hem Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman into any one musical category — she bridges the worlds of classical, operatic, and popular music on a regular basis, and that’s just how she likes it. “It’s my voice. It’s what God ordained, so I follow. That’s a Christian way of saying, ‘I’ll do what I want,’” Brueggergosman says with a laugh. “I have come to embrace that my life is one of a capital ‘S’ Singer. If it involves singing, I’ll do it.”
That attitude has taken her from the operatic stage to concert halls across North America, Europe, and Asia; to the recording studio where she has voiced albums spanning the classical, gospel, jazz, and pops realms; to the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Olympic Games; to being a judge on the reality television show Canada’s Got Talent.
Brueggergosman says her June performances with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra will mark only the second time in her career that she will sing from diverse niches all on one programme — from operatic fare including Habenera from Georges Bizet’s Carmen, and Summertime from George and Ira Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, to selections from the musicals Carousel and West Side Story, to pieces by Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. “The classical technique creates ultimate flexibility,” she says. “If you can come over to the fact that singing is singing is singing, you won’t get hung up about what an orchestra or a singer should sound like, and you’ll just seek to serve the audience, which gives you the ultimate currency: their free time.”
Music was a part of Brueggergosman’s life from the beginning. Her father was a deacon in a Baptist church in Fredericton, New Brunswick. She sang in the church choir and started piano and voice lessons at the age of seven, after a teacher recognized her talent. Her summers included stints at choral camps in New Brunswick and the Boston Conservatory. A self-described “intense” child, Brueggergosman did not simply accept her vocal gift. “I was hell bent on being a pianist because singing came so easily,” she recalls.
In fact, Brueggergosman started her university career studying the piano, but soon discovered that was not the right path for her. “It was taking natural pianists one hour what it would take me to do in four… By then, I knew I was a singer, but I was so stubborn,” she says. “Learning the piano taught me what real work is. But now, as a mother, I understand that what it takes to just keep children alive is far more harrowing than mastering the piano,” she jokes, referring to her three- and six-year-old sons.
Brueggergosman received her Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Toronto and went to Germany to obtain her Master’s degree from the Robert Schumann Hochschule. She credits all the connections she’s made in her life for helping her to achieve success, and says she strives to serve a higher purpose. For example, she is involved in several charitable initiatives, including Artists Against Racism and the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF). “When you’re given a platform, that platform should be used for more than self-promotion,” says Brueggergosman, who is descended from African slaves who found freedom after the American Revolution when they settled in the Maritimes. “I don’t want to squander these opportunities to use my voice when so many don’t have one.”
She adds that she can’t talk about how she got where she is today without referring to her Christian faith as well as the many challenges she has faced, including her struggle with obesity, having open-heart surgery at 31 years old, losing children to miscarriage, and marital infidelity — all subjects she discusses in her 2017 memoir Something is Always on Fire: My Life So Far. “You tear a muscle and it’s made stronger,” she says.
“I love my job, but I’m not under any illusions that my job is the sum of my parts. It’s the byproduct of a life I’m quite proud of.”