Music teacher Jennifer Matthews. Photo by Danette Dooly/Special to The Telegram
St. John's - The event known as 9/11 changed many lives, including the pathway of a Corner Brook woman living in New York City at the time.
Jennifer Matthews was walking her dog in the park when the planes hit the towers. The events that unfolded were "absolutely terrifying," she says.
"When I came out there was already grid lock. I thought that the president must be in town or something," Matthews recalls.
Matthews lived near the George Washington Bridge in West Manhattan. The bridge was shut down immediately.
"We were advised to get out of those buildings close to the bridge. So I had to my take my two cats, put them in their cages and evacuate with the help of neighbours."
Matthews soon found herself surrounded by state troopers, tanks and armed military.
When finally safe, she tried to give blood, thinking there would be lots of survivors. That wasn't the case, she says.
"I don't usually speak about it because I never experienced anything like it and, God willing, we never will again. But I knew in that moment that I wanted to be in Canada. So, here I am," she says of what prompted her decision to move home after almost 30 years of living in other parts of the country, the United States and further abroad.
Recently settled in St. John's, Matthews has opened the Atlantic Academy of Vocal Arts (AAVA).
With a PhD from McGill University, and specializing in voice and piano, her goal with the school is to offer weekly classes to individuals who have an interest in classical vocal training.
While she's been working with professional singers for over 20 years, Matthews says not all people have the voice or desire to become professional singers.
Her school will cater to all needs, she says.
The academy will help prepare teenagers who wish to study music at the college or university level as well as people who'd like to participate in music festivals or are interested in performing on stage.
In addition to weekly voice lessons, the school will offer special courses in Italian diction and vocal linguistics for singers as well as an acting and scene study course.
The one-week Italian diction course will be taught by Steven Leigh from the University of Toronto, who recently visited the province and helped Matthews hone the course.
An accomplished singer, pianist and teacher, Leigh's interest and field of study is dialectology, particularly at it relates to opera singers.
Self-admittedly "obsessed with sound," Leigh says the course will discuss how opera singing evolved naturally out of the spoken Italian.
Like Leigh, Matthews also wears many hats, all cut from the same musical cloth.
A pedagogue, vocal specialist, pianist and conductor, she began her piano studies in her hometown of Corner Brook and completed a bachelor of music at Acadia University.
Matthews's master's degree is from the University of Western Ontario, where she specialized in music performance and literature.
After earning her master's, she worked for the university's music department.
She's lived, taught and studied music not only in Canada but also in Michigan, Germany, Italy and Europe.
When she moved to New York City in 1995 Matthews began teaching at Hunter College.
Located in the heart of Manhattan, Hunter is the largest college in the City University of New York system.
While living in New York she continued private studies in voice, opera and languages.
Matthews took a leave of absence from Hunter College to get her PhD in 2006, then returned to Hunter and continued performing as a singer and pianist.
Glad to be home
She also continued to visit Newfoundland regularly bringing with her friends from other parts of the world.
"They were never disappointed. Everyone thought it was the world's best kept secret," she says.
It was during a two-month stay in 2007 that Matthews began longing for what she'd left behind.
"And I remember being in Woody Point and seeing the Gros Morne mountains … I remember thinking, where am I going? It's so beautiful and peaceful here. I got back on the plane to go to Italy, where I teach in the summer, and then back to New York but my heart wasn't in it."
Matthews eventually packed up her "tickle trunk" and settled in St. John's in August.
"You don't really miss what you have until it's gone. But I'm home now. I should have listened to what my friends from Europe and other parts of the world would say when they visited Newfoundland with me over the years. They would always ask why I left in the first place."
For more information on the Atlantic Academy of Vocal Arts email email@example.com, visit www.aavasing.com or call 579-9557.