Wednesday, 31 August 2016 14:44

MHC Conservatory growing its programs

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Alicia Bigras will be extremely busy over the next year. Alicia Bigras will be extremely busy over the next year. Contributed

Besides a sparkling resumé of impressive musical achievements, it’s fair to assume one of the aspects the Medicine Hat College liked about Brad Mahon when they hired him as the new manager of visual and performing arts at the Medicine Hat College Conservatory in January was the fact his past experience was as the head of the Conservatory of Performing Arts at the University of Regina.

One of his more well-known accomplishments was the start-up and subsequent management of a preschool program at that university.
Now, a fine arts preschool program is coming to the college in 2017 and will be known as the MHC Creative Caterpillars Fine Arts Preschool.
It’s a big development for the conservatory. An area for the main classroom has been chosen, but will still be used for this year’s classes.
The program starts in 2017 because Mahon wanted to ensure there was enough time to get everything in place.
“In Regina, I was under a tighter timeline, but I took an extra year here to think about things a little longer,” explains Mahon noting he wants to make sure the curriculum is in place.
“We want to lay a foundation of the arts, while teaching the regular preschool lessons.”
His first order of business was to hire Alicia Bigras, someone who on paper looks tailor-made to manage the preschool program.
This summer, she started work as the program’s first artistic director/teacher.
While regular preschool types of activities will be taught, aspects such as singing, music, painting, drawing and dance will be emphasized.
She was initially hired as a voice instructor for the conservatory program this year as she is a classically trained lyric soprano. When Mahon was looking at filling the role of someone to head the Fine Arts Preschool, Bigras’ experience stood out. She has a Bachelor of Music, the ability to teach with a Bachelor of Education, not to mention how well thought of she was by officials at her previous place of employment, the University of Lethbridge.
“She’s a teacher, (which is) so important. She (naturally) already has the music, drama and art,” explains Mahon of Bigras who is also impressed with her personality, willingness to learn, creativity and her attention to detail.
“I could tell she will be missed by her colleagues, the other instructors and the students. She’s leaving a void there.”
The fact she’s a parent as well and understands children and family dynamics, also made her a solid choice.
“It’s such a cool opportunity,” explains Bigras who is doing research on what kind of lesson plans she wants to implement and jokingly says she is in constant contact with Mahon about different ideas.
“I’m itching to get to work.”
She loves Medicine Hat and the surrounding region. She says children are children regarding comparing the two regions, but she says there’s something different about the southeast corner. There is a great sense of community involvement in this part of the province.
“People are more open minded here ... parents are very dedicated,” explains Bigras of both the city and rural families. “Here, they want to meet you right away.
The unique opportunity for such a program involving children three to five years of age is to build community partnerships with the city and region such as various field trips. Even within the conservatory and college, there are mentorship opportunities.
For Mahon, the goal for the program is to help foster and forge relationships with the college at an early age. If they have been part of the college system since they were young, they will be more apt to want to continue the different fine arts disciplines when they’re older.
“There’s a lot more competition for kids’ time these days, there are a lot of different programs out there,” explains Mahon. “Alicia in theory becomes a big part of their lives. They are their instructor, their mentor and sometimes they have to put on the ‘friend hat’.”
In the meantime, the new 2016-17 school year at the Conservatory looks to be  exciting with new adult offerings such as ballroom and conditioning classes; a drama program called Act it Out with Kayla Lukacs; campfire guitar program; and Conservatory concert series being launched in October with Lyle Rebbeck.
Add the impressive victory of the Medicine Hat College Girls’ Choir at an international festival in South Africa in July where the young women won first place in the youth choir category and the grand prize for the best overall choir at the IIhlombe! South African Choral Festival in Pretoria.
Mahon welcomes two new instructors this year as he enters his first full year as the Conservatory manager. He wanted to ensure he established a rapport with the new and remaining staff about which which he can’t say enough positive comments.
“I’m not selling piano lessons: it’s the people,” explains Mahon of his plethora of experienced and accomplished fine arts instructors. “You have to find good people and then let them do their jobs. As manager, I’m serving them. I’m doing what I can to help them.”

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor