Michelle Chyzyk, 30 years an educator in Virden schools and a choir director, has just received Manitoba Choral Association’s Award for Artistic Excellence. Not only that, but her adult choir, Konektis received a separate honour, the MCA New Voices award.
Chyzyk’s accolades have piled up ever since she first graduated from Brandon University with a Gold Medal in Music Education and obtained an Applied Degree in Piano Performance with First Class Honours.
Last week, Chyzyk and Konektis members were taken completely by surprise when, on a Zoom call on Dec. 3, Manitoba Choral Association announced the two awards.
While Zoom calls have become routine during the pandemic, this call with award nominator Marla Fontaine, a music teacher with Brandon’s Harrison High School, turned out to be special.
Chyzyk said, “It was kind of neat to get on a Zoom call. Our assistant conductor (with Konektis), Marla who is taking her Masters, asked us to come to talk about being in a community choir.”
Chyzyk’s personal award was announced first. “I think the members of the choir thought they were all there to kind of congratulate and support me.” Next, came the award for Konektis – another surprise.
Chyzyk values working with different talents and personalities of Konektis members. The magic of choir she says is “the mixture of talent and colours of voices, that's what's totally extraordinary about a choir, why it will always be my favorite over a soloist, there's something very different about people giving what they have to offer.”
Fontaine called Chyzyk “an absolute treasure to our Westman choral community and beyond.” In her nomination document she highlighted the talent, creativity, motivation, hard-work, and vision that characterize the Virden musician.
“Oh my. These are the nicest words I have ever received,” said Chyzyk upon reading her nomination later.
Chyzyk has conducted choirs from elementary school to high school to adult community groups. She’s sought after as a guest conductor, having directed the WMYC on eight occasions, the EMYC, the Winnipeg Divisional Honour choir, the Provincial Honour Choir three times, and she has served as a workshop clinician through the province.
“I think if things are done with heart, it comes off.”- Chyzyk
Chyzyk has inspired musicians including Fontaine and brought music out of many who didn’t at first see themselves as performers. “She sees the best in everyone… People want to make music with Michelle because she is a beautiful person and she creates magic.”
Fontaine notes, “Michelle is a prolific director and producer, having worked on over three dozen music productions. Her shows always feature brilliant chorus work and Virden Theatre Productions has twice been awarded a Rainbow Stage School Award.”
From seeing the big picture, to working out the details, Chyzyk leads and others join her. She says, “People never cease to amaze me. People love to be in a worthwhile project, a tight ship that’s well run and people always rise to challenge.”
Teamwork is key. “There’s something about (working) together in our big theatre productions that’s unique, because it’s an extraordinary crew that puts together the large shows. The talent in our area is outstanding.”
Incorporating movement and dance with vocals, Konektis has shone in dramatic presentations such as the Mamma Mia medley a show that thrilled Virden audiences.
“They have also performed songs with props, costumes, and creative lighting. Michelle is incredibly creative in her blocking and staging. The audience is treated to a visual spectacle in addition to the music they are hearing,” says Fontaine.
Chyzyk thinks the group’s energy and presence are part of why they were selected for the New Voices award.
“I do believe we have a unique identity in the choral landscape across Canada, a vibrant feel in an adult choir and I think we’ve been doing really wonderful stuff for the past five years,” said Chyzyk. “But recently we performed in Winnipeg at the Provincial Honours Choir conference and that was really neat to be on the big stage in Winnipeg.” It brought attention to Konektis.
March 8 was the choir’s last in-person performance before COVID-19 changed everything.
“We were at the Deloraine Theatre and we were just finding our stride (in the season) probably doing the best singing we’d ever done. That Thursday was when everything came crashing down.”
True to their name, Konektis connects with audiences. “They’re beautiful human beings and that just shines through,” says Chyzyk. “I mean, we talk a lot when I work with performers about having, you know, the open body and the open face and the open mind and the open heart. As a performer, if you follow those four things, you're going to make some magic for someone.”
WHAT’S UP NEXT
Michelle Chyzyk is not resting on her laurels. With an excited chuckle she describes her next project as “massive”.
“We are working on virtual choir projects. A couple of the projects are trying to incorporate people who have sung with me over the past 33 years. So, I have had conversations with people from all over the world, sending in their videos. I’m quite excited. I just think how blessed I am to have interacted with so many fine musicians, but more than that, fine people.”
A little thing like a pandemic hasn’t stymied this creative music maker. She thinks a lot, but she doesn’t think about difficulties as obstacles. She says that Konektis was getting better all the time, and then COVID-19 struck. Rather than letting it stop the music, Chyzyk has pushed through with new ideas.
“I am an optimist and I am a problem solver. That’s what I have to offer. I’m an introvert, so I think deeply. I try to learn new ways of going about things.”
And learn she has. Konektis has made several outstanding videos including “Walk out on the Water” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYF8JRkPniM
As for the future of the group - the awards and the video mean added publicity and more for Chyzyk to “figure out.”
“People are contacting me from all over to ask to audition… we hope to just keep growing as an ensemble, maybe [share] some exchanges with other adult choirs across Canada, or perhaps doing some work with orchestras… .”
She has her eye on making a professional audio and video recording. “The group is filled with fine musicians, maybe we’ll explore with more of the instrumentalists within the group. It’s important to grow, because we are talking about some extraordinary musicians.”