Gursharan Kaur moved to Canada with her family at eight years old. Her family has a rich history of music and teaching, and Kaur is bringing that tradition to her studies at York University. Today, she is a member of the York University Gospel Choir Leadership Team. We talked to her about her experiences:
Gursharan Kaur (centre) sings at York University’s JazzFest
AMPD: What made you decide to study music?
Gursharan Kaur: I have been singing ever since I could talk! I come from a musical family and both my parents have been involved in music, either singing for fun or singing religious music called Kirtan at our Gurdwara.
Before moving to Canada, my mother was a music teacher and taught Indian Classical Music. I grew up singing with her in school productions and at home as well. After we moved, she was unable to teach music in Canada because she did not know a lot about Western Classical Music, and sadly, she had to give up her teaching career. She does not know this, but she is my inspiration and the reason why I wanted to pursue an education in music. I have always loved to sing and some of my earliest and fondest memories were participating in school competitions for singing or playing a role in a school production that my mother put together.
AMPD: Well I hope your mother can read this someday! Have you taken any influence from your family’s musical history and Kirtan music in your current musical stylings?
GK: I think that I have taken influence from my family’s musical history because it was a large part of my childhood. I grew up singing and learning Indian Classical music, and Kirtan, which has influenced my Jazz singing, especially in vocal improv and scatting.
Gursharan Kaur as a child with her parents, holding awards that she won in singing competitions
AMPD: What genres of music do you prefer as a vocalist?
GK: As a vocalist, I prefer Jazz, Gospel, and R&B/Soul music. There is just something about these genres that always leaves me fascinated and captivates me every time I listen to a song, even if I know it well! Throughout my early teenage years, I was very insecure about how my voice sounded because it was not like something that you normally heard on the radio. However, singing and listening to Jazz music, especially, female jazz singers, made me appreciate my voice because I heard so many unique voices with different tones and styles. The same goes for Gospel, and R&B/Soul music!
AMPD: As music genres with religious traditions, are there any parallels between Kirtan and Gospel?
GK: Kirtan and Gospel music are two very contrasting styles of religious music. Gospel music is very energetic and exciting compared to Kirtan which is more internal and personal. Both of these genres are amazing in their unique ways and they have been a great impact on my musical journey!
AMPD: How were you first introduced to Gospel?
GK: I knew very little about Gospel music before coming to York. My knowledge was limited to what I had seen on television and the very few pieces that we had done in my high school concert choir. My first proper introduction to Gospel music was in my first year through York University Gospel Choir (YUGC) under the direction of Professor Karen Burke. I was instantly in awe and have had a strong admiration for this genre ever since! I was so happy that York offered a Gospel Choir course! Some of the most memorable moments of my post-secondary education took place during this course!
AMPD: And it’s first of its kind in a university setting! What are your thoughts on Karen as an instructor?
GK: Professor Burke is an incredible, passionate, and hardworking instructor. She is an amazing and thoughtful educator and mentor. She has influenced me to become a better student, artist, future-educator, and overall person. She is always encouraging me and all of her students to do their best, and she makes a personal effort to get to know and understand her students. Every year at the start of her classes, she starts by quoting a famous American poet and activist. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” – Maya Angelou. Unlike most university professors, Karen Burke works very hard to establish a lasting connection with her students even after they leave the program.
AMPD: What is your fondest memory from your time in the Gospel Choir?
GK: There are many fond memories that I have from my time in YUGC! I have met amazing people who are now some of my closest friends. Additionally, I got the opportunity to sing at wonderful places like the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Canadian Opera Company and got the opportunity to be a member of the YUGC Leadership Team. Our end term concerts have to be one of my fondest memories! I have performed quite a bit, however, performing with YUGC during our concerts is absolutely surreal! It is an experience that is out of this world and has certainly made my university experience memorable!
AMPD: Tell me more about the Leadership Team. What is it about?
GK: The York University Gospel Choir has a Leadership Team where a few senior students volunteer to help out Professor Burke with the course. Some of our roles include being a guide and helping the students navigate the course, especially first-year students. A lot of first-year students can feel anxious in a new environment (I know I was very nervous) and as a member of the YUGC Leadership Team, our job is to welcome them into the course. Gospel music and Gospel choir is about community music and creating a community. As Professor Burke says, “it is not a me thing, it is a WE thing” and the Leadership Team members are responsible for making everyone feel welcomed! This is why I am passionate about being a part of the YUGC Leadership Team.
AMPD: What are your aspirations after York?
GK: My aspiration after York is to pursue a career in Music Education. I believe that Music Education is important for all students. My music teachers have provided me with many opportunities within and outside of the classroom that has helped me become a better student, artist, and individual. They have inspired me to become an educator to advocate for the importance of Music Education and provide similar opportunities and experiences for other students as well.
AMPD: Why is an education in Music so important?
GK: Students can develop their creativity, learn about their own identity, develop self-awareness and self-confidence, and sense of well-being. Additionally, education in Music improves students’ cognitive, emotional, sensory, and motor abilities which increases their learning styles and their learning potential. The skills that a student acquires throughout their Music Education are transferable to other aspects of their life; jobs, projects, community service. Unfortunately, Music education is often overlooked. My goal as a future educator is to change this perception and to advocate the importance of Music Education.