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Everything Joel Ulrich touches turns to gold

June 13, 2023 — 

It is common knowledge that early exposure to music and music education helps children thrive, both in music and in other areas of academics. If ever there were a poster child to prove this point, it is Joel Ulrich, who has fairly dominated music, winning many accolades along the way, and who has now earned his Bachelor of Music in Senior Years Instrumental music education.

“My earliest memory of music was falling asleep each night while my mom taught piano lessons from our home,” Joel says.

“I have no doubt that that early exposure made me realize the value and power that music has,” he says.

His own entry into music came shortly thereafter.

“I grew up playing the piano and singing in church and school. My parents have often told me that I started singing before I started talking,” he adds.

It wasn’t long before music educators took that love for music and helped Joel carve it into his future path.

“I started to think about pursuing a career in music during middle school and high school,” says Joel.

He had recently switched from a K-6 school to a 7-12 school, which was a tough change.

“I found the transition to be overwhelming, but I discovered that getting involved in the music program helped me to fit in,” he says of that time.

“I started performing in school musicals and ensembles. It was also around this time that I started playing the flute in band class,” he says.

“I was amazed at the potential for storytelling that the instrument has, and how much it resembles the human voice,” he says.

Outside of school, Joel also performed with Prairie Voices, the prestigious Winnipeg-based choir headed by Philip Lapatha, a group with which he continues to perform to this day.

“Some of my fondest memories during these years were participating in various vocal and instrumental ensembles at my school, MBCI. I was instantly intrigued by the meaningful connections that can be formed when performing music with other people, as well as the powerful response an audience can have to a musician sharing their art,” he says of his time at MBCI, where he was taught by Andrew Klassen and Tim Taves.

“Since then, I knew that I wanted to make music a central focus of my life. It has allowed me to discover so much about myself and the world, as well as meet countless incredible people. The idea of getting paid for it is a bonus!” he says.

“I continue to be amazed by the transcendent power of music.”


In the faculty

After his successful flute audition for the Desautels Faculty of Music, Joel received a number of scholarships, but one of them was very special to him.

“One scholarship that was particularly significant to me was the Jessica Bernardin Memorial Scholarship,” he says.

“Jessica was a talented flute player who sadly passed away in a car accident while working on her Bachelor of Music degree at UM. It is incredibly meaningful to be a part of the lineage of young flutists who have been chosen to honour and carry on Jessica’s legacy,” he says.

Joel immediately immersed himself in musical performance, playing with the University of Manitoba Wind Ensemble (UMWE), the University of Manitoba Symphony Orchestra (UMSO), and even the University of Manitoba Opera Theatre Ensembles.

“Joel wants to do as much playing as he can fit into his schedule!” says Laurel Ridd, one of Joel’s two major practical study (MPS) instructors during his time in the Desautels Faculty of Music.

“These ensemble experiences have not only allowed me to play some of the greatest music that has ever been composed, but also build relationships with some phenomenal musicians and humans,” he says.

Of all the many pieces he learned and performed in the faculty, Joel has a favourite.

“Definitely the UM Symphony and UM Singers’ performance of Brahm’s Requiem!” he says enthusiastically.

“This was such an enjoyable collaboration between the two ensembles, and the flute part is incredibly beautiful,” he says.

Joel has always been up for a challenge, and decided to enter into the Desautels Faculty of Music’s Concerto Competition, in which students compete for the chance to perform as a featured soloist with either the UM Symphony Orchestra or the UM Wind Ensemble. This honour typically goes to experienced students in the final years of their Bachelor of Music program, to students in the Post-Baccalaureate Diploma program, or to students in the Master of Music program.

Joel won the competition in his first year as an undergraduate student in the Desautels Faculty of Music, an almost unheard-of accomplishment, and performing as the soloist for the wind ensemble with which he played for all four years of his university experience remains one of his proudest moments.

Another was the first time he stepped up to the podium to conduct a full band.

“Both of these experiences were very surreal,” Joel says.

“During my early days of playing flute, I never would have guessed that I would be given these kinds of opportunities,” he says.


The accolades keep coming

University-level music education is demanding, and for many, it’s a challenge to keep up with the studies, rehearsals, practice and performance that the education demands, but somehow, Joel makes it look easy. In addition to his university studies, Joel competed in the Winnipeg Music Festival, the region’s top festival and competition for classical musicians. During his time in the faculty, Joel competed at the diploma level.

In his first year competing in the category, Joel won the Adam N. Leckie Memorial Trophy, awarded for the most outstanding diploma-level woodwind or brass performance at the festival, and the festival’s highest honour in that category. To win the trophy even once is a remarkable feat for diploma-level musicians, especially given that it was Joel’s first year in the faculty.

During the remainder of his studies, though, it would become apparent at the festival that Joel had a few more surprises up his sleeves. He went on to win the Adam N. Leckie Memorial Trophy in all four years of his university studies (2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023), making him the winningest woodwind or brass performer in the category since the Winnipeg Music Festival first introduced the trophy in 1978.

“I was really excited when I found out that I would be receiving the Adam N. Leckie Memorial Trophy,” says Joel of his fourth win.

“I have been fortunate enough to have received this award during all four years that I have been working on my Bachelor of Music degree at UM, so this was a really nice way to wrap up my degree,” he says.

He is thankful for the help he received to prepare for the competition.

“My flute teacher Layla Roberts gave me so much support along the way. She consistently encourages me to be kind but picky with myself in practice sessions, and to be a storyteller in my performances,” Joel says.

“Joel is a true pleasure to work with and it has been an honour to be on this journey with him! He is very musical and creative person and also a genuinely compassionate human being,” says Roberts, a major practical study (MPS) instructor, of her student.

“Joel is a highly motivated student who puts great care and attention to detail into his practice and performance,” she says.

If his success at the Winnipeg Music Festival this year wasn’t enough, Joel went on to compete in the Desautels Faculty of Music’s Lawrence Genser Scholarship Competition, which recognizes high levels of solo performance with a prize in the form of a scholarship.

“For this competition, I had to prepare a thirty-minute program of music. I had never performed for this long in a competition setting before this, so I was initially a little concerned about my stamina,” says Joel.

“However, I found that I actually gained momentum and energy throughout the performance,” he says.

Ultimately, he was awarded the first-place scholarship prize.

“I was so grateful to have been awarded first prize in the competition. It was a great night, and a great way to end my degree,” he says of the honour.


Academics and mentors

When it comes to the academic side of his degree, Joel is equally impressive, and impressed by the education and support he received.

“I will forever be grateful to the wonderful faculty and staff of the DFOM,” he says.

“They all care so much about the student, and work so hard to ensure that we succeed. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the faculty and staff went above and beyond to make sure that we were not only staying afloat in our courses, but also prioritizing our wellbeing,” he says.

“In particular, I would like to thank Dr. Jacquie Dawson and Dr. Jody Stark. It is so evident that they not only care about teaching us the course material, but also setting us up for successful careers,” he says of two of his faculty mentors.

“It has been a pleasure working with Joel over the past four years and witnessing his development,” says Dawson, Associate Professor of Music and Director of Bands for the Desautels Faculty of Music.

“He is an outstanding musician and instinctive teacher with a bright future ahead as a music educator. Joel will be an inspiring teacher and leader in the field,” she says.
Jody Stark agrees.

“Joel is a remarkable musician and person,” says Stark, Associate Professor of Music and Area Head for Music Education.

“He is smart, caring, and humble, and also committed to excellence and growth in all he does. I am thrilled he wants to be a music educator!” she says.

“I would also like to thank my MPS instructors Laurel Ridd and Layla Roberts. Their flute-playing and teaching have given me a lifetime’s worth of inspiration,” Joel says of the two MPS instructors he worked with during his time in the faculty.

“I have merely helped Joel bring out what was already inside of him!” says Roberts.

“I am certain that Joel has a very bright future ahead and will inspire many with his teaching and performing!” she adds.

“I enjoyed working with Joel very much,” says Ridd, also a sessional instructor and MPS instructor for the Desautels Faculty of Music.

“He is very dedicated, hard-working, respectful and willing to listen to the ideas of his teachers, yet has his own very strong ideas of how he wants to sound, both tonally and musically,” she says.

“He likes to choose his own repertoire and is often drawn to pieces outside the flute standards, such as transcriptions of Romantic and Twentieth Century works for violin or piano,” sye says of the interesting and innovative choices Joel makes with his repertoire.

She also notes Joel’s strong work ethic and commitment to performance.

“Besides UMWE and UMSO and his small ensemble of three flutes and clarinet, this past year he played in an extra ensemble of flute, soprano and piano, he worked with a pianist from the accompanying class, he performed, with piano, at the personal care home where he works, he played in the Winnipeg Music Festival, the Women’s Musical Club Competition, an online international competition, winning two awards and, recently, although the winter term is long over, he performed in a trio for flute, cello and piano at the Syrinx Flute Festival,” she says of the exhaustive (and exhausting!) list of performances Joel has done in a single year.

“I’m confident that Joel will bring to his teaching career the same passion and dedication,” she concludes.


Gratitude and next steps

That Genser scholarship with come in handy, as Joel will be entering the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Education this fall, where he will work toward a second bachelor’s degree in education (BEd).

As he looks back on his degree and his accomplishments, Joel has some advice to give to incoming students.

“Try to enjoy every moment. It may seem like an insurmountable workload at times, but getting to perform music in a high-level setting is such a privilege,” he says.

He is also filled with gratitude for everyone who has supported him, and has no shortage of thanks to give.

“I would like to thank my flute teachers, both past and present, Lori Jede, Laurel Ridd, and Layla Roberts, for being such wonderful mentors and role models,” he says.

“I would like to thank my friends within the faculty. They’ve been such an integral support system over the past four years, and I hope to remain in touch with them for years to come,” he says of the community he built here.

“I would also like to thank collaborative pianist Leanne Regehr Lee. I have had the privilege of collaborating with her over the past couple of years. She is a brilliant pianist, and always helps to make performances more expressive and exciting,” he says.

“Finally, I would like to thank my parents, my grandparents, and my family for all of their support and encouragement. They always show up with such enthusiasm to my performances, and offer positive and constructive feedback,” he says.

“I also need to thank them for putting up with some of my late-night practice sessions!” he adds.

As he steps out of one faculty and into another, Joel has, of course, garnered another accolade to take with him: the Desautels Faculty of Music’s Medal for Music Education, awarded to the students with the highest academic standing in the music education concentration.

It is obvious that Joel is an incredible musician, and that his devotion to music programming will lead to a long and successful career in music education. The world is lucky to have him to lead the next generation of musicians, and we have been very lucky that he chose to make us his home for this part of his journey.

Congratulations, Joel!

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