Stuart Sladden: From Jazz to Musical Theatre – curious arts

“This is the first musical theatre piece I’ve conducted.”

Music grad student Stuart Sladden makes his debut this month as music director for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic musical, Carousel, produced by Foote in the Door Productions and running June 16-24, 2017, at L’UniThéâtre.

Three years into his degree, Sladden is pursuing a Doctor of Music (DMus) in Choral Conducting at the University of Alberta under Len Ratzlaff. Having spent most of his life conducting choirs and operas, Carousel is a big departure for Sladden.

“One of the major differences between opera and musical theatre is that opera is all music and singing, whereas musical theatre is dialogue mixed with music,” he says. “A big challenge is finding the stage director’s vision within the music, balancing it with the dancers, and there’s a lot more massaging that has to go into [musical theatre] than opera or oratorio.”

Sladden leading rehearsal for one of his many choral groups

Sladden leading rehearsal for one of his many choral groups. (photo courtesy of Stuart Sladden)

Originally from Ontario, Sladden’s own musical journey started with the trumpet in grade seven. After successfully auditioning for the Mayfield Secondary School, a specialized arts school, he played trumpet throughout high school but also discovered a love of singing. Joining Mayfield’s jazz vocal ensemble, The Magnetics, the group was ranked the #1 vocal jazz ensemble in North America.

Sladden’s aspirations of becoming a jazz club singer led him to Humber College, then to the University of Toronto where he completed his Bachelor of Music in Performance, specializing in vocal jazz. During that time, Sladden became heavily active with community choirs, teaching and directing music in church, and eventually working as a professional freelance musician after graduating.

But after so many years, Sladden was beginning to burn out on music, until his then girlfriend (now his wife) encouraged him to consider graduate work. He completed a Masters in Music at the University of Manitoba, but shifted his focus from jazz to choral conducting, since that’s what he’d been doing for so long but without formal training. With a renewed passion for music, Sladden went from his Masters to a Doctor of Music at the U of A, which he plans to finish in the spring of 2018.

Sladden has since been pursuing his DMus under Ratzlaff, known for having trained many successful musicians and artists at the U of A. “A lot of them stay in town, which is partly why Edmonton has one of the most saturated choral communities in the country. A lot of his students, when they finish, stay and start their own choirs,” Sladden says about Ratzlaff. “He’s a fascinating man. And the nice thing is he’s very down to earth, very supportive and encouraging of his students, and he’s an excellent role model, mentor and teacher.”

Sladden in conducting class with the U of A

Sladden (standing left) in conducting class with the U of A’s Len Ratzlaff (standing right). (photo courtesy of Stuart Sladden)

Although it’s his first time as a musical director, Sladden says he’s had a great time working on Carousel. “The cast is wonderful, and I’ve enjoyed working with [director] Mary-Ellen Perley. Learning together about how far we can push things has been really great.

Carousel is a redemption story, so I hope people will have a ‘feel good’ warmth when they watch the show. There are great musical takeaways too — the If I Loved You melody is just beautiful, for example.”

The cast of"Carousel" by Foote in the Door Productions

The cast of “Carousel” by Foote in the Door Productions. (photo by Nanc Price Photography)

When he

When he’s not conducting, singing or playing, Sladden can be found with his wife and newborn daughter. (photo courtesy of Stuart Sladden)

Carousel runs until Saturday, June 24. For more information, visit the Foote in the Door Productions website.

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