The remarkable Monica Hultin experiences a renaissance
2020 DFOM graduate Monica Hultin has an indomitable spirit
NOTE: We in the Desautels Faculty of Music are incredibly proud of our students. While COVID-19 is sidelining in-person commencement ceremonies around the globe, we want to find alternate ways to celebrate our graduates and give them the recognition due to them. Until we can gather together to properly applaud the years of study and practice that have led to this milestone, please join us in congratulating our 2020 Desautels Faculty of Music graduates.
Today we celebrate Monica Hultin!
As a child Monica Hultin sang constantly, and played piano and viola throughout elementary school, junior high, and high school. Music was her first love, but when it came to university, Hultin set her sights elsewhere.
“I was very practical and since I was good at math and science, I thought Engineering would be a practical and employable profession, plus I had friends going into the field,” she says of the career choice she originally made.
“In the end, I just was not that into it, but stubbornly finished the program anyway,” she says.
University is a huge commitment, and to realize several years into a program that it isn’t the path for you can be a heartbreaking experience. Still, Hultin gained a lot from her experience.
“I don’t regret learning about science, considering the technological world we live in, but it wasn’t the career for me,” she says.
It was also because of science that Hultin found the second love of her life.
“I married a scientist [Dr. Philip Gregory Hultin], who would later be a chemistry professor here at U of M!” she says.
After her first graduation, Hultin traveled with her husband from Toronto to Kingston, Ontario, where he was completing his post-doctoral studies. As she bid farewell to her friends and family in Toronto, her hometown, Hultin had to carve out a new social network , which reconnected her to music.
“I spent a lot of time involved in choirs and early music,” she says.
Through that, the spark was reignited.
“It became apparent what I was really interested in and I needed to change paths. So, I started voice lessons for 4 years,” she says.
But for now, returning to university would wait. The young couple was getting settled into their lives. In 1993, Dr. Hultin was offered a position in the chemistry department at the University of Manitoba, so the family moved to Winnipeg. The couple soon expanded their family with sons Michael and David. Hultin once again kept her passion for music alive by joining choirs in the area.
“In the meantime, once we settled in Winnipeg, I was involved in my church choir, the first four years of Renaissance Voices, and was heavily involved with the Winnipeg Early Music Society, where I still direct a small vocal ensemble called This Merrie Companie,” she says.
“This involvement furthered my resolve to get my degree as I felt there was more I needed to learn to continue doing and promoting the music I loved, whether it was to advance my own singing technique, learn to effectively direct, and learn more about early music,” she says.
Beginning again, with enthusiasm
For years, Hultin juggled motherhood and her many musical interests, all whilst keeping her eye on her ultimate goal, university studies in music. Once her children reached adulthood, she knew that it was time. Her husband was enthusiastically on board with her decision.
At age 51, Hultin successfully auditioned for the Desautels Faculty of Music, where she received the Don Wright Entrance Scholarship and the Marcels A. Desautels Scholarship.
Hultin fully immersed herself in this second university experience, throwing herself into her studies, and extending her musical community through her university ensemble work, where she performed with the Women’s Chorus, the University Singers, Collegium Musicum, and Opera Theatre.
“Monica came into the Faculty as a mature student who had always wanted to study music and she soon made herself an indispensable part of the Faculty,” says Mel Braun, professor of music in the DFOM, who also worked with Hultin in Opera Theatre.
“Possessor of a wide-ranging, flexible mezzo voice and an interest in Early Music, she threw herself into every possible activity at the Faculty,” he says.
“As an Opera Theatre Ensemble member, she will always be remembered for the rambunctious trio of inebriates she headed in Purcell’s ‘Timon of Athens,’ he adds.
Organized by nature, Hultin also stepped in to help out behind the scenes.
“She jumped in to help with all the backstage work and overall was of great support to younger students,” says Braun.
“They benefitted enormously from the lifelong thirst and curiosity for learning she modeled daily. Along the way, her singing grew and grew in depth and beauty. I look forward to her ongoing contribution to the musical community,” he says of this fine alto.
“Monica has a gorgeous low alto choral voice that brings so much support and depth of sound to the choirs,” says Elroy Friesen, associate professor of music and head of choirs for the DFOM.
“It has been great having her in the U of M choirs,” he adds.
“She is also an early music enthusiast, and has often shared her expertise in this field with us,” he says of Hultin.
“I look forward to seeing and hearing her continued work in this area within Manitoba’s early music scene!” he says.
“My proudest moment was singing with the combined choirs in the Mendelssohn’s Elijah with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra,” she says of the experience.
During her time in the faculty, Hultin also traveled with the Women’s Chorus to perform for audiences around the Netherlands in 2017.
Then, in the summer of 2018, between Hultin’s third and fourth year in university, tragedy struck.
An unexpected coda
On July 1, 2018, Hultin’s son Michael, who had developmental disabilities, died unexpectedly, but peacefully, in his group home.
Less than two months later, her husband Philip also died after an illness.
The grief of losing both a husband and a child, especially in such quick succession, is absolutely unimaginable, and just the idea of it would bring any of us to our knees. Anyone facing such a loss would be well within their rights to disconnect from the world.
Hultin, however, did something truly remarkable, something that few, if any, of us would be able to accomplish.
She kept going.
“I found the work of returning to school was good for me, although the first month was a complete haze,” she says of her decision.
She credits her music community with helping to keep her afloat.
“The faculty were very supportive as I occasionally had to miss classes to deal with various things, and my classmates who knew were very kind,” Hultin says.
She continued her avid work with ensembles, and especially with Collegium Musicum, the DFOM ensemble that specializes in early music.
“Working with Monica has been a distinct pleasure,” says James Maiello, associate professor of music in the DFOM and the director of Collegium Musicum.
“Her enthusiasm for early music, her hard work, and her musical talent have made her an integral part of the Collegium Musicum’s success for the last several years,” he says.
She even brought her own music directing experience to the ensemble.
“She regularly goes above and beyond what is required of her, from running rehearsals to mentoring newer members of the ensemble,” says Maiello.
“In the classroom Monica’s keen intellect and love of music history shone, and her presence in any class virtually ensured that it would be a wonderful experience for everyone. Although I’m sad that Monica won’t be around the DFOM as much now, I look forward to collaborating with her in the future!” he adds.
In her final year in the faculty, Hultin meticulously curated a midday performance for the faculty.
“I spent this past year preparing a midday recital of music by 17th century composers Franscesca Caccini and Barbara Strozzi,” she says of the concert, which included fellow Desautels students Alaina Majewski, Rebeka Schroeder, Nolan Powell, Leigh Karras, and Cal Wiese.
Her hard work paid off, and she experienced some serious luck in its timing.
“Fortunately, we performed the week before we were closed down because of COVID,” she says.
It was one of the final middays performed this year, and was a rousing success, a fantastic finale for a year interrupted by a pandemic.
“I’ve learned so much from everyone here, it’s hard to choose [who to thank],” she says.
“I would say my two voice teachers, Bob MacLaron and Shannon Unger, and also Professors James Maiello and Kurt Markstrom for expanding my knowledge of early music, which was one of the main reasons I came back to school,” Hultin says.
Hultin shows no sign of taking a break after graduation.
“I’m auditioning for choirs, and will continue singing and attending workshops on early music,” she says.
Just as nothing else in her life has, the current pandemic has not thwarted her goals.
“I have already been attending a few workshops on early music topics via Zoom!” she says.
As for long-term goals, she hopes to be involved in arts administration at some point.
“I like to organize events and would also like to encourage the performance of early music,” Hultin says.
Given her enthusiasm, talent, attention to detail, ability to adapt, practical brain, and ability to power through all obstacles in her way, any music organization would be lucky to have Hultin at its helm. She is truly grace under fire, and her advice to incoming DFOM students reflects this.
“Organize yourself and don’t panic,” she says.
Monica Hultin is the very embodiment of the musical mantra “The show must go on.” With her kindness, beautiful voice, resilience, curious mind, and guiding presence, we have no doubt that she is only just beginning.
“I’m graduating at the age of 56. It’s never too late to go back to school to pursue something you love,” she says.
How lucky we are that Monica Hultin chose us. The DFOM is a much better place for having had her influence, talent, and spirit.