Coloratura Soprano & Celtic Harpist
Published, EAC Communiqué, July 1992
pera Canada has said that the tones of her voice are “agile, crystalline, shimmering or melting, as required, creating vocal magic”. Coloratura Soprano Wendy Humphreys moved to Elora when her husband Baritone Alec Tebbut came here to sing with the Festival Choir two years ago, and they fell in love with the village. Since March 1991, Wendy’s career as a singer has found new wings, but she continues to teach and perform on her much loved instrument, the Celtic harp. “Even today when I sing,” she says, “my fingers want to touch the strings.”
Music has always been the focus of Wendy’s life. Since she was very young she studied singing and was a natural talent on the harp. Born in Edmonton, of a Welsh family for whom music was a priority, she moved to Vancouver at the age of three. During high school years, she played in the Junior and Senior bands and sang in school choirs. “Music was everything in my teen years.”
Her direction led to the Royal Manchester College of Music in England, where she studied harp, voice and piano for four years. She earned tuition money by working at a Jacobean Banquet, held in a gracious period mansion. Wendy sang madrigals and played the harp as a prelude to the feast.
Returning to Vancouver, in 1974 she auditioned with the Vancouver Symphony and became the second harpist during four years, playing the large pedal harp, an important instrument in many French, Spanish and contemporary works. Continuing vocal lessons established that her voice was not in the Contralto but in the Coloratura Soprano range. One day she dubbed for an Opera Workshop at UBC. Hearing the participants sing gave her confidence to audition herself the following season, and she was accepted. Her career turned towards her vocal gifts. She trained with Steven Hendricson, whom she credits with giving her technique, and won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions for Western Canada in 1980. However, at this time her voice was not big enough for the large opera houses of Canada, and her diminutive physical stature led to more intimate recital settings, often accompanying herself on the Celtic harp.
When virtuoso trumpeter Stewart Laughton looked for a vocalist in 1988, his sister suggested Wendy Humphreys. Laughton was exploring solo trumpet repertoire and the rich Baroque masterpieces written for Trumpet and Voice. Through the exultantly decorated passages of Bach and Scarlatti, Laughton and Humphreys became a remarkable partnership. Wendy identifies March 1991 as a turning point in her life when she and Laughton received a major Canada Council Grant to study Baroque music in England. She studied with Jessica Cash, the teacher of Emma Kirkby. Through superb instruction her voice was transformed in volume, richness, fullness of tone and colour.
When she returned to Canada with her amazing new voice, she secured the demanding role of “Alice” in Del Tredici’s chromatic work for soprano, orchestra and dancer, the role which Karen Kain would dance for the National Ballet in the huge hall of Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre. Wendy gave three performances with artistry and newly found confidence.
As a team, Humphreys and Laughton are now much in demand. Works have been written for them and they have commissioned music by Canadian composers. Wendy still loves to sing Hebridean folk songs and traditional Celtic music with the harp. She avows, “The harp is quite an addiction!” Wendy credits her expanding abilities to the One Brain Method of Kinestherapy. She is presently training as a facilitator in this method of centring, relaxation, harmony and well being. She hopes to bring its enrichment to a wide artistic community in Canada.
UPDATE – 1997
Wendy Humphreys is celebrated above all for her vocal gifts. The unusual flexibility and communicative power of her voice serve her equally well in baroque, classical and contemporary music. Wendy’s recording of R. Murray Schafer’s “Theseus”, with Judy Loman and the Orford Quartet, was nominated for a 1993 Juno Award. Wendy performs with orchestras from coast to coast, and in solo recitals often accompanies herself on the Celtic harp.
UPDATE – 2005
Wendy Humphreys Tebbutt, now a two time Juno Award winner, lives at Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia and can be heard on an eclectic range of recordings such as “Opening Day” and “Baroque Banquet”, continuing her long association with trumpeter Stuart Laughton in the well known duo of Laughton and Humphreys.
R. Murray Schafer and his music have figured strongly in Wendy’s career. For 10 years, Wendy sang the role of “Princess of the Stars” in the Epilogue to PATRIA: “And Wolf Shall Inherit The Moon”, as well as the title role in the Prologue to the theatre cycle, ‘Princess of the Stars’. Wendy is featured on the “PATRIA” CD, and the recently released CD of Schafer’s “Wolf Music”.
In 2001, Wendy returned to Ontario for the Guelph Chamber Choir’s production of “Elijah”. Her performance of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Requiem”, with the Edmonton Symphony, garnered this review, “Soprano Wendy Humphreys sang with a crystalline voice and sounded like the work had been tailor-made for her voice…a wonderful blend of Baroque coolness and Romantic passion.” Wendy’s singing students have won national and international competitions, performing in opera, chamber music, oratorio and musical theatre.
Harp is still a vital part of Wendy’s musical life. She established the harp department at Alberta College. Currently, she teaches Celtic Harp and Performance Kinesiology Techniques at the Pacific Institute of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts each summer on Vancouver Island. On the Sunshine Coast, Wendy’s harp ensemble of teacher and students includes “Rainsong” by Robert Evans, the Elora composer, in its repertoire.
Her original vision of becoming a specialized kinesiology practitioner and instructor has become a reality. Wendy has created two stress release and performance enhancement programmes called “Performing on the Right Side of the Brain” and “Professional Performance Strategies”, taught at performing arts institutions throughout Canada. In 2005, she created a workshop entitled, “Switched-On Singing: The Power of Voice”, and has been invited to present it in several countries.
Wendy feels she “lives in Paradise” and gets to use her musical talents and kinesiology skills both locally and globally. Her new website www.peakseminars.ca will include information on courses, seminars, and tools for peak performance in the performing and healing arts and business sectors.
Wendy and Alec wish all their friends in Elora, Fergus and beyond a healthy and prosperous year, and look forward to visits in Ontario and on the West Coast.