Trailblazing master's graduate has music in her soul

Growing up in rural Alberta, opera singer Acacia Doktorchik (BMus '09 distinction, MMus '11), always sang to the tune of a different song.

While most of her friends dedicated their time to stickhandling at the hockey rink or roping calves and barrel racing in the rodeo arena, Doktorchik spent countless hours perfecting her skills on the piano and developing her singing voice. Her passion for music, which led her to become the first student to graduate with a Master of Music from the University of Lethbridge, is soul-deep.

"I grew up in a very musical home, but when I thought about going into medicine after high school, I couldn't imagine music not being a part of my life," says Doktorchik, who hails from Drumheller. "My mom suggested that if I went into medicine, I could always teach voice or piano on the side if I wanted to. I thought about that for a few days, and it was just so depressing. I knew then that music would have to play a much bigger role in my life."

Acacia Doktorchik
Acacia Doktorchik is the University's first Master of Music graduate.

With the support of her parents and the encouragement of her voice teacher, Calgary Opera singer Shelley Fullerton, Doktorchik enrolled in a Bachelor of Music program in vocal performance at the University of Lethbridge in 2005. She took full advantage of the musical opportunities at the University for both her piano and vocal skills.

"I thought about doing a double major in voice and piano, but with the performance criteria I just didn't have time. I didn't want to lose my piano skills, however, so I played for a lot of auditions the first couple of years. Although I wasn't really much of a choir person, I started singing in Vox Musica during my first year. It was so fun and so rewarding; it really changed my view of choir," recalls Doktorchik, who later joined the Women's Chorus and U of L Singers.

"In my second year I became a member of the U of L Opera Workshop with Dr. Blaine Hendsbee. It was my first experience performing in an opera. It was fantastic and I became really interested in opera. It is so dramatic and challenging and filled with emotion. It is so real in the most human way. I want to continue singing and performing it as long as I can."

Before her graduation in 2009, Hendsbee approached Doktorchik and told her about the University's new Master of Music program, suggesting she apply.

"I was going to take a year off after my undergrad and I am so glad I didn't. I was the only person in the program that first year and the faculty were still working out exactly how it would run. They told me that they wanted me to write a thesis and I thought it was a fantastic idea. The U of L program has such a great balance between academics and performance, whereas most of the other programs I have heard about seem to focus on only one or the other," says Doktorchik. "Although it was busy and stressful at times, I was able to do so much and gained so much experience. I wrote my first thesis and had at least another 20- or 30-page paper due each semester. I performed in two operas and assisted with a third, had diction classes and language classes and was given the opportunity to teach and to conduct a choir. Being the first student to graduate from the program feels really wonderful. I was so lucky to work with such high calibre musicians and faculty and it is very rewarding to know that I had a part in shaping this program."

Throughout her master's studies, Doktorchik taught voice and piano through both the University's and Medicine Hat College's Conservatories of Music. After completing her master's requirements this fall, she moved to Medicine Hat and began teaching voice, piano and theory full-time for the conservatory. Doktorchik returns to Lethbridge Oct. 15 to convocate at the University for the second time.

"I have been given the opportunity to sing Oh Canada at previous U of L convocations, but this year they have asked me to read the invocation. Looking at it now, I realize how important these words are. The invocation says everything I want to say," says Doktorchik. "I am truly grateful for the faculty and for my parents, friends and family that have supported me on my journey."

· Doktorchik has performed in five operas, including lead roles in Menotti's The Telephone (Lucy), Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites (Constance) and Von Suppe's Ten Belles With No Ring (Sidonia).

· She performed as a soprano soloist in Handel's Messiah and Bach's Magnificat with the Lethbridge Symphony Orchestra.

· She is also an accomplished pianist, cellist, and Celtic and Highland Dancer.

· She has trained with the Cowtown Opera Summer Academy and the Southern Alberta Vocal Academy.

· Among her opportunities to sing Oh Canada, she has opened Lethbridge Bulls games.