WHERE ARE THEY NOW BY CAROL DUNN
Years after she was handed the Rose Bowl award at the New Glasgow Music Festival, Sheila Brand still remembers the moment.
“It was what we all shot for – it was the top award at the festival,” she says of her win in 1965.
Festival president Fred Morrison presented the Rose Bowl to her, and she remembers thinking: “Wow – it’s something special to be handed this award by this person.”
Brand’s mother Vivian was a music educator in Pictou County and young Sheila knew many of the festival organizers because of this. “They were people we all looked up to in the town.”
This made receiving the award from this “important” person even more special for the New Glasgow High School student.
Brand competed in several vocal classes and played piano that year in the festival, and although she says piano wasn’t her strongest suit, she did well that year.
“It was a big thrill,” she says of winning the Rose Bowl, which is awarded annually to a solo performer 18 years and under who plays an advanced level repertoire and shows outstanding promise and musical ability. The competitor must participate in six classes, four of which must be in the same discipline. Along with a keeper trophy, the winner receives a scholarship.
Brand started participating in the music festival around age six or seven, and recalls singing a duet with her mother when she was young. “I remember she used to get nervous.”
Thinking about the music festival reminds her of listening to the choirs sing, and loving the sound of their voices together. “There’s great choral work at the New Glasgow festival – there were several very fine choirs. Those are my fondest memories.”
After winning the prestigious award and finishing high school, Brand attended Acadia University and then went to Teachers College.
One of her favourite competitive classes at the music festival was always folk singing, and she says from that grew a love for acting.
“It’s the imaginative life in folk songs I enjoy,” she says. “I think I was always an actress at heart.”
She was drawn to acting because on the stage she can become a different person. “You get to disappear into them and be somebody else who might be quite different from who you really are. There’s freedom in it. That’s why I loved folk singing so much.”
Because of that passion for acting, Brand decided she wanted to go to England to pursue her dream. But, her father insisted that she finish her university degree first. So she studied at Dalhousie, and with her diploma in hand, headed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1971 to attend the London Opera School.
“That led to huge opportunities,” she says, explaining that many of the top opera conductors taught workshops for upper students at the school. This allowed her to gain critical exposure, which she credits for helping her to land her first roles.
She appeared in the world premiere of Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice at the Royal Opera House, as Pamina in The Magic Flute, and in several other roles with the English Music Theatre in London and other parts of Europe.
From there, Brand moved into musical theatre and played Sonia Walsk in They’re Playing Our Song in London’s West End, Nellie in South Pacific, and Doatsey Mae and Mona in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in London and on Broadway.
Working in New York “was amazing. My mom and dad came and watched their little girl on Broadway.”
In 1986 Brand and her husband chose to return home with their two young boys, Michael and Sam. “I wanted to bring up my kids in Canada,” she says.
Although “home” was New Glasgow and Nova Scotia, they relocated to Toronto because greater opportunities existed there for two actors.
After her return to Canada, some of her roles included Vera in Pal Joey at Theatre Calgary, and Julie in Carousel at Rainbow Stage. Brand also had the lead roles in The Shooting of Dan McGrew and Menopositive at Theatre Orangeville and on an Ontario tour, and Colours in the Storm at Theatre Aquarius.
While “the stage has always felt like home,” Brand also did some work in film and TV, acting in Martha Inc., Mutant X and Dancing in the Dark, starring Victoria Principal.
But after spending some time juggling acting, singing, musical theatre and raising two children, Brand decided it was “too much. I wanted something steadier.”
Because of her education and experience supply teaching at the American School during her time in England, she got a job teaching singing and acting in music theatre at Sheridan College.
Still living in Toronto, and now teaching in Toronto schools, Brand specializes in music, drama and the Orff method, where children learn through doing, exploring and improvising in an integrated, guided process that combines speech, rhythm, movement, dance and song.
She occasionally sings with a swing band, and also leads several choirs, which have appeared at the Skydome and the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts. On May 9, her choir of 63 children will sing at the Rogers Centre.
What does the future hold? Brand says she hopes to do more acting, sing a bit of jazz, and maybe work again in a performing school. “My job (at Sheridan) was teaching how to integrate singing and acting. I really enjoyed doing that. I loved working with young, blossoming artists.”
She credits the musical education that began in New Glasgow for her success. “Nova Scotia gave me all the tools I needed for a very rich life. My training in New Glasgow and Halifax was invaluable, priceless.”
Where Are They Now? is a monthly feature that seeks out former newsmakers from Pictou County to find out what they’ve been doing since they first made headlines. If there’s someone you would like to find out about, please submit their name to Sueann Musick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Carol Dunn is a freelance writer, and former newspaper reporter and editor, who lives in New Glasgow.