With dictionaries of all different languages – Latin, German, Italian, French – lining her book shelves and beautiful European folk art decorating her walls, one would likely assume Sasha Liebick-Tait was an academic professor or perhaps a travelling historian.
But, while her collection of books and paintings do show her love for teaching and travelling, they actually symbolize her passion for another profession a lot less common in today’s modernized world: opera singing.
“I never knew I wanted to be an opera singer,” says Sasha, giggling at the fact that most would assume her job was a childhood aspiration. “And I always tell my students now not to be freaked out by the whole opera thing. It’s a lot of training for that type of work out!”
After travelling the world as an opera performer, Sasha is now settled with her husband and children in Port Perry, teaching what she refers to as a “healthy use of the voice” to students in all areas of singing – folk, pop, musical theatre.
“I like to draw on my experience to offer all that I can to my students,” she explains. “I focus on teaching the correct vocal technique and then they can take it and apply it to whatever they want.”
Involved in musical theatre throughout elementary and high school - she was cast in her first role at the age of nine as Gretel in The Sound of Music - Sasha says she was always a “stage rat,” adding, “But I just saw it as a hobby.”
Her hobby turned professional at the mere age of thirteen when Sasha was selected to be a part of the CCOC and even joined the highly-esteemed “Urchins Chorus” for concerts. “We were surrounded by big names and big people,” she recalls, “But as kids we were focused on tearing up the stage and having so much fun that we thought we were the stars of the show.”
And to some, Sasha really was the star of the show. The following year she was cast in her first opera role in Tosca – a part that was traditionally reserved for males only. After the director asked her to sing on the spot, she was chosen as a double-cast for one of the male solos.
But reality set in and Sasha found herself ready to graduate high school and looking for a career path. She ended up in commerce at Queen’s University but after two years of “not feeling inspired in her program,” she transferred to history. Her switch to the arts introduced Sasha to a new realm of opportunities and a whole new crowd of people.
And with new introductions came new opportunities! While studying, she decided to audition for the Pirates of Penzance school opera. “I thought if I’m lucky, I’ll get into the chorus,” she says. She ended up with the lead role of Mabel for three years in a row.
With star performances in Pirates of Penzance and Camelot, Sasha was completely enamoured by the thrill of performing. Fortunately, an opportunity came her way that she simply could not pass up – the chance to sing for Richard Bradshaw, the Artistic Director of the Canadian Opera Company. With his positive feedback, she decided to enroll in proper vocal training – a task that, miraculously, Sasha had never undertaken before.
She chose to study at the University of Toronto to get her degree in Voice Performance. After three years at the University of Toronto, she received her diploma and headed off to the University of British Columbia to receive her Master’s in Opera Performance.
Remember that aforementioned collection of dictionaries? Consider this to be the point in Sasha’s life where they came in handy!
Amidst all the hard studying, Sasha still made time for fun. She happened to meet her husband, Jonathan, the summer before grad school. Both were cast in the opera The Magic Flute, playing at a small theatre in a town called Opava in the Czech Republic. Sasha starred as the ‘Queen of the Night’ and her future husband, part of a performing group from Vancouver, was also cast as a lead. Three years later they’d be married and expecting their first child.
But before married life, Sasha and Jonathan were invited to join the Vancouver Opera Chorus as students and after graduation the two were hired along with three other graduates to be a part of the Chorus’ touring ensemble.
Together, Sasha and her husband toured all over Europe for two years, visiting schools and introducing children to a new art form that they would not have had access to otherwise.
All their work with children must have sparked the desire to start their own family as Sasha became pregnant while touring. With over 200 performances during her pregnancy, Sasha says, “people would ask: ‘How can you still do this when you’re pregnant? And I would say: ‘The more pregnant I am, the greater sense I have of my breathing!”
Her first son, Samuel, was born near the end of their tour and the couple decided they needed to settle down in a family home. Brooklin, Ontario seemed the perfect fit. But despite the longing for a quiet home life, Sasha’s travels were far from over. Over the next six months, she travelled throughout Europe stopping in Austria, France, Germany and England to do auditions, while her husband and son resided in Brooklin. Every day, the family would communicate via webcam but it wasn’t enough.
While an apartment overlooking the St. Stephens Cathedral in Vienna is enough to make anyone swoon, Sasha says she longed to be home with her family. “It was a dilemma... travel had become too difficult,” she says. “I had to make a choice and I chose a good marriage and family life.”
Sasha walked away from professional opera and, despite what many would think, she insists the hardest part for her was not leaving the performing behind. “Although I missed that too,” she adds, “but it was the camaraderie of working with a cast that I knew I would miss the most. We had fabulous friends and we always had so much fun together.”
With a second child on the way and a desire for a fresh start, the Tait family moved to Port Perry. Sasha explains that she was initially drawn to Port Perry’s “rich artistic community,” but in the meantime, she needed a job quickly and so she returned to her commerce background and spent the next five years working as a financial recruiter.
One more child later, this time a daughter named Emma, in addition to her two sons: Samuel and Andreas, and Sasha felt like she was settled and more than ready to return to music. She found a quaint house in Port Perry that enabled her to open her own voice recording studio and, since, she has devoted her time to teaching with the occasional performance mixed in.
Last summer, the Gilbert and Sullivan Group in Toronto put on The Pirates of Penzance opera in England and cast Sasha as the lead. Returning to the stage proved to be the right choice; the opera was judged and Sasha won “Best Female Voice” for her performance. She and the lead cast are also invited to join the Elmer Isler singers in a closing performance of Pirates this August at The Festival of Sound.
While Sasha says work is “easier” now, she insists her job teaching is “just as rewarding” as travelling the world on tour. Her goal is to teach others to be musically literate so that they can “site sing.” “I want my students to learn how to read music, to look at a piece of music and sing the notes without someone having to write it out for them.”
She takes the training of her students very seriously, but also adds, “It’s not that we take ourselves seriously but we take the study seriously,” she explains. “I want my students to sing their best, to build an instrument.” Sasha says her lessons are for people of all levels and goals. “What my students do with their training is completely up to them,” she says with assurance. “I’m happy to share as much as they want.”
To inquire about her vocal lessons, Sasha can be reached at 905-985-4728 or email@example.com .
By Christina Coughlin
Focus on Scugog