Bedside Books

Why Sarah Slean is inspired by the power of common interests

The singer-songwriter talks about the true story of the feisty female conductor who started Canada’s first all women’s symphony.
Musician and artist Sarah Slean talks about the true story of the Montreal female conductor who started Canada’s first women’s symphony. (David Leyes/Second Story Press)

Artist and musician Sarah Slean is hitting the road this fall to promote her latest album Metaphysics. She recently read From Kitchen to Carnegie Hall by Maria Noriega Rachwall and loved it.

Carving her path

​This book is the fascinating story of Ethel Stark. She was a very gifted musician in Montreal, but that was not an acceptable career path for a woman at that time. Ethel had so much talent and so much drive. She played the violin and ended up being accepted into the very prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in the United States. She had a great desire to learn conducting from Fritz Reiner, who was teaching there. He told her flat out, "No. You're a woman." She did not accept "no" for an answer and the next day she showed up in his class. She had a face-off with this professor until he finally realized he was going have to physically remove her or teach her conducting. He opted for the latter.

Inspiring social change

Ethel decided she was going to start the first ever women's symphony in Canada. It was women from all class levels and all races. There were English-speaking musicians and French-speaking musicians. Old and young. Rich and poor. They were all united under this common desire to make beautiful music. All of those hurdles and all of those boundaries between people dissolved in this common interest.

Sarah Slean's comments have been edited and condensed.

Watch Sarah Slean perform "The Right Words":