Donor-sponsored voice award creates experiential opportunities

In the language of musical performance, the term intermezzo refers to a transition from one section of a work to the next. It was a symbolic word for Dr. Doug Myhre, who wanted to create a scholarship for University of Lethbridge Faculty of Fine Arts students specializing in voice.

“We called the award ‘Intermezzo’ because it is something that allows students to transition to the next level of their careers,” he explains.

Today, Myhre is the associate dean of Distributed Learning and Rural Initiatives at the Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary. For 27 years, however, he lived in Lethbridge, where he practised as a family physician. An active member of the arts community, he helped to organize the former Festival of Art and Song and supported the city’s theatre scene as a patron and an audience member. He was also on the capital campaign for the U of L’s Library and, more recently, he contributed to the fine arts centre downtown, CASA. Myhre sponsored the building’s JEM Room, named after his mother.

Alyssa Durnie, the 2014 recipient of the Intermezzo Award, used the funds to attend the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy.

In 2008, after four years of commuting, Myhre moved to Calgary.

“At the time of my departure, I thought it was fitting to do something for the community,” he says. “As both my children had studied at the U of L, and one daughter had studied voice in the Faculty of Fine Arts, I knew that some of the students needed support in order to pursue opportunities outside the classroom. As a result, the Intermezzo Classical Voice Award provides students in financial need with funding for experiences that will enhance their training.”

The 2014 recipient of the Intermezzo Award was Alyssa Durnie, who used the funds to attend the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy, or COSI. Their summer program welcomes outstanding young artists and opera professionals to the town of Sulmona, Italy, to study with experts from across North America and overseas.

“I was really scrambling for money,” says Durnie. “COSI is an excellent program, but it was a financial challenge for me at the time. When I found out I received the Intermezzo Award I was ecstatic. I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Such opportunities are important to fund, says Myhre, for two reasons: The first is that the fine arts are a measure of how a community functions. The second is that experiences don’t always receive the same attention as other causes.

“It’s very difficult to fund experiences,” he says, adding that people often want to contribute to more tangible things like buildings and faculties. “Fine arts is a very competitive market, if you will, and anything extra that we can provide our students in southern Alberta is of an advantage to them.”

Networking was among the major benefits of attending COSI, Durnie says. There are fewer opportunities to perform in Canada than exist elsewhere, so young professionals need to be open to working in other countries.

“I think it’s incredibly important for young singers, and even for the program at the University, to have awards that allow us to gain knowledge and different experiences around the world,” she says. “I’m really grateful that I was able to go.”

And so is Myhre: “When you see somebody progress, when you see the surprise, the appreciation on their face – or you hear it in their words – you realize that you’re doing the right thing for somebody.”

Durnie was recently awarded the Lethbridge Kiwanis Music Festival Rose Bowl for most outstanding performance, and was awarded the position of alternate for the Provincial National Voice Class at the provincial festival in Edmonton.