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Lisa Hornung: Plaid and ponytail

Local vocalist Lisa Hornung said she hasn’t counted the number of times she’s sung Handel’s Messiah in front of audiences, estimating it’s been in the hundreds. But she isn’t exactly sure.
Lisa Hornung
Lisa Hornung and her dog Tonka. Photo by Josh Greshner

Local vocalist Lisa Hornung said she hasn’t counted the number of times she’s sung Handel’s Messiah in front of audiences, estimating it’s been in the hundreds.

But she isn’t exactly sure.

Why she hasn’t kept track, Hornung said, is “maybe because truly deep down, I’m a plaid and ponytail girl.”

After a performance, rather than tallying, Hornung said her thought process is “Ooof, I got through that. Now I’m going to go see my kids or walk my dog.”

Hornung has sung classical music across the United States and Europe. She has settled in North Battleford, where she grew up, with husband John and twin children James and Larissa. Hornung said her family is supportive of her singing.

In addition to North Battleford, Hornung also grew up on different First Nations, including Moosomin First Nation. Her father worked with Indian and Northern Affairs. Hornung moved to North Battleford when she was in Grade 3.

Hornung attended school at St. Mary, Holy Family (which used to be St. John’s) and Convent of the Child Jesus for high school.

Hornung said she comes from a musical family: her great-grandfather was a renowned violin maker, her grandfather played the violin and her dad plays the accordion. Church music was important, too. She remembers singing Little Rabbit Foo Foo at a Christmas concert.

At the age of 12, Hornung was getting ready to sing. An aunt, Bernadette Fanner, suggested taking lessons.

“I was devastated,” Hornung said. “To a 12-year-old that meant you were no good.”

After realizing the comment was a compliment rather than an insult, Hornung began taking lessons with local vocal teacher Edith Scott.

The University of Saskatchewan followed, and Hornung earned a Bachelor of Music degree in voice performance. She also trained with Richard Best at Southern Illinois University and in Italy. With the help of a grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board, Hornung also spent a year travelling and working with coaches, teachers, singers and accompanists, which she described as “a great way to do professional development.”

Love of Learning

Hornung said she continues to love to learn.

Hornung now wears many hats. She teaches music privately and helps with school performances that involve singing, runs the Community Youth Choir, and sings professionally, particularly Handel’s Messiah, the piece with its famous hallejuah chorus, her favourite orchestral work. Hornung has performed the piece with a number of different groups over the years, including with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, with whom she collaborates once or twice a year.

“Oratorio singing is kind of a niche that isn’t easy to get into, but that I was very fortunate to and my voice fits well,” Hornung said.

Hornung is a contralto, “the lowest of the lady’s voices.” She said contralto voices take a long time to develop.

Hornung said having “a career as I did, starting from such a young age, was a real blessing and not common particularly for this colour of voice.”

The nice side, Hornung said, is that a contralto voice lasts a long time. Hornung said her voice now is coming into its own.

Another genre of music in which she’s interested is the Negro spiritual. The music is often lumped in with gospel or jazz, although gospel and jazz often derive from original spirituals. 

Hornung said her favourite person to do any kind of folk or spiritual music with is Gary Gansauge.

“He gets it at a level that is so intimate for the music,” Hornung said.

“It’s like one instrument when we get to work together.”

School for Solo Voice

Another of Hornung’s projects is the Summer School for Solo Voice, which has been in existence for 21 years. According to research by Mark Turner, executive director of Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, the program is the first like it in the country.

Hornung said everyone can participate and the school brings a lot of people to the Battlefords. Out-of-towners stay with billet families, which, Hornung said, are generous.

Participants attend a number of different sessions, perform in choirs, and attend classes with performers and experts. Other classes explore the aging voice, vocal techniques, posture, room acoustics and performance anxiety.

For advanced singers, there are classes including those for diction and the business side of musical performance. Recitals take place throughout the week.

Many local businesses and organizations help keep the cost of attending the school low, Hornung said.

One instructor Hornung brings is Dr. Rick Gore-Hickman, a head and neck specialist and surgeon.

“Singers can’t actually see their instrument, so to be able to see what’s happening and understand is so invaluable,” Hornung said.

“If you listen to yourself on a recording,” Hornung said, “what we hear inside our head is different from what we hear outside of our head.”

“If we sing to satisfy what we’re hearing inside of our head, it’s not going to satisfy the audience,” Hornung said, adding singing to satisfy what one hears in one’s head results in singing with bad technique.

Hornung has had to get used to singing properly, which she said made her voice sound thinner.

An Ephemeral Art

Music is an ephemeral art, and music’s nuance and detail often happen at a level for performers that audiences don’t always understand or catch onto. Relationships between performers are important, too.

About Gansauge, Hornung said “he is so intuitive with his music that I don’t think [the audience] understands why they’re so moved.”

A song’s sheet music is the same for any performance, but performers and the live experience makes each performance unique.

“[Music is] always being created in that moment,” Hornung said, “so whatever grouping you have — different people in an orchestra, a different person at the piano, a different person at the podium conducting … different life experiences — they all affect how the music is going to come out, and that’s one of the things that is the most terrifying and the most exciting and the most fulfilling about music.”

Live is Better

Hornung maintains while recorded music is “wonderful,” experiencing it live is better.

“I often will say to people, if you can pay $20 for a CD, and listen to it thousands of times, or pay twice that or more to go see someone live, what are you going to be thrilled about?” Hornung said the latter. “Why? Because there is that creation happening at the moment that will never be the same.

“There is something so thrilling about being part of the magic creation at that moment and at that time,” Hornung said.

The exciting and attractive experience of live music, Hornung said, explains “why people will pay $250 to see The Eagles instead of 99 cents on iTunes, and they will tell you it was worth it because it did something, because they were there as part of that time that will never happen again.”

A Vibrant Arts Scene

Hornung said the Battlefords arts scene is unique, be it dance, drama, classical singing or piano, jazz groups, bands, visual arts and photography. The level of talent is impressive, she said, as is the level of support.

“I think it gets overlooked from outside,” Hornung said, “but I think part of that is because within our own community, people don’t realize that it’s unusual and special.”

“I think they’re coming to understand that more and more over the years,” Hornung said, adding artists have a responsibility to make people more culturally aware.

“Toronto maybe has this much talent and phenomenal teaching and this many great groups, but Toronto is an import city.”

“We grow them here.”

Hornung said she’s been offered money to move the school elsewhere, but she’s always refused and insisted on keeping the school in the community.

Teaching keeps her in good shape, she said. A gratifying part of her career is watching members of the Community Youth Choir grow up, then help the younger members.

The life of a performer can be a stressful one, and Hornung said she’s heard that performance anxiety can be higher than that of a jet pilot’s.

“If you’re not prepared, it’s very frightening,” Hornung said. “Any performance for me, I get nervous about, but I honestly believe being nervous means you really care.”

In the fall, Hornung said she’s putting on a local concert with Gary Gansauge.

Hornung said she’s very proud of the Battlefords and Saskatchewan.

“People think it’s a bigger deal to sing in Saskatoon or New York, that’s never been the case for me,” Hornung said. “I get just as nervous, probably more so, here because I know everybody and I want to give just as much, if not more.”