Kira Braun: "I'm happiest when I'm singing."

Kira Braun: "I'm happiest when I'm singing."

Jenna Simeonov
It's a good thing that Canadian soprano Kira Braun loves music; growing up in the Braun family could have gotten pretty loud, pretty quickly. Kira spent her life in music; her mother, Eleanor, worked as a professional flautist and her cousins Adi and Russell Braun are well-known names for music-loving Canadians. While she never stopped singing, Kira is newly inspired to find more opportunities to hop onstage. She has recorded two albums with pianist Peter Krochak, and you can hear her next month as Oscar in Opera By Request's upcoming performance of Un ballo in maschera. I asked Kira about her life as part of a majorly musical family, and how she carves out her own niche as a singer.

1. What’s it like to be a Braun?

I’ve always been very proud to be a Braun, and to be my father’s daughter. But before I was even aware of what a musical legacy the Brauns really were, my mom and dad split up. I grew up with my mom, luckily still surrounded by music and with great influences such as Dr. Derek Holman and Lloyd Bradshaw in my early years. My mother, Eleanor, had been a part of the U of T Orchestra, playing for the Opera School, and in Banff, when she met my dad, Bill (Richard was his stage name). My mom was in the Hamilton Philharmonic for many years, under Boris Brott, and then became Principal Flute for the Niagara Symphony in 1976. That was the year we moved away from Toronto. The Brauns were far and wide by then, my dad in California, then BC, one aunt in Toronto, one in Texas, another in London, and Victor and Eraine, Adi, Russell and Torsten were in Europe. I always feel sad that we didn’t see each other very much, growing up. Sometimes I feel like the “cousin from nowhere”. I do have some treasured photos from a few special visits. Now we know each other better, but everyone’s always so busy!

I wanted to sing to please my father - and I did - I sent him early recordings and photos, but I didn’t pursue it as a profession. He had had the beginnings of a career with the COC, singing many comprimario roles, but his voice wasn’t as big as Victor’s, and he wouldn’t get the big roles, so he left to pursue other things. He didn’t push me to pursue music, and neither did my mom…I wish they had.

After high school, I chose interior design and had two children, always finding a way to be involved in a choir or a musical, and quite a few recitals and church solos, but still not truly pursuing it, until now. Kids are grown, and my wonderful husband, Aris, is happy to have me finally following my dreams. I’m certainly in awe of my cousins and so very proud of them, and they have been very supportive of me in my new endeavours!

I hope that I do the Braun name justice, and I’m always sad that my dad isn’t here to hear me now, and how I’ve progressed in the past three years.

2. Could you talk about the personal connections you’ve made in the music you perform?

My choices of music all seem to be sentimental right now, and have been chosen for various reasons. I am lucky first of all, to be working with Peter Krochak, a brilliant pianist! Peter and I had crossed paths over 25 years ago when both of us were in St. Catharines, and had the same voice teacher, Mrs. Theresa (Monaghan) Pothier. She had been a student of Maureen Forrester! Peter went on to earn a music degree in piano performance, and also a law degree. A friend reintroduced us in 2013 and we first collaborated doing a fundraiser for the Weekend to End Women’s Cancers. We clicked and have become an inseparable musical duo! For that fundraiser, I had wanted to perform something in Greek, to please my husband’s family, as they are from Greece. One of my husband’s cousins had just recently been taken by breast cancer. I settled on Ravel’s Five Greek Folksongs, naturally! After the performance, Peter and I decided to record a few things, and it just seemed natural to ensure we recorded the Greek songs. They are more often performed in French.

When speaking with my Aunt Irma, who is now in California, she had mentioned that our Opa, Jacob Braun, had always had a passion for Lieder, singing Schubert and Wolf (he even made recordings, I wonder where they went) and she suggested I look at some of that repertoire. I was encouraged by Brahm Goldhamer, my coach, to start working on a few Schubert pieces and when I took them to Peter, we agreed that they would become part of our repertoire together, resulting in five selections that we also recorded. The Mozart “Exsultate, Jubilate” has long been a favourite of mine, I’ve known the notes for many years…but never felt as though I could come close to performing it. I’m happy with our recording and we are talking about a full live performance of this work soon.

For this year, we are already considering recording some Rachmaninoff, Schumann, and Fauré. I’ve been speaking with Claudia Morawetz too, about choosing some of her father’s works to try, along with a couple of other Canadian composers. (We have been friends since 1973, when we were both in the CCOC together!) It seems that art songs and Baroque music are a very good fit for my voice, but I want to be involved in opera too.

Peter Krochack and Kira Braun. Photo: Richard Sibbald

3. How did your time at the Canadian Children’s Opera Company inspire your love of music and performing?

Being part of the CCOC was the best experience I could have had as a child. It was thrilling, and challenging. We learned choral works that were very mature, musically, and we were taught discipline and choir etiquette! (One did not dare chatter when Dr. Holman was working with another section!) We were polished and prepared, and eager. I think children can more easily learn and absorb new material so our catalogue was long, so to say! We traveled and sang with other choirs too, among them the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and I distinctly remember a huge Carmina Burana at Massey Hall, when we kids were up in the catwalk, with the adults and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra down below. But the highlight for me was the COC’s 1975 production of I Pagliacci. Being on stage in a professional production of that calibre, set my heart ablaze. I have had the passion ever since. And, I’ve been the consummate chorister in many a fantastic choir, including the Orpheus Choir, for about five years, learning so much from Bob Cooper, a huge mentor of mine.

4. As a member of a musical family, how do you make your own mark as an artist?

Well, my cousins have certainly made their mark, and their father before them. I don’t know about making a mark, but instead my aim is to continue to learn, to perform with passion, and to share what musical gifts I may have with those who will care to listen. I think I am realistic about my age, and where I am at musically, and I am making and finding opportunities where I think I will best fit. There’s a lot of hard work involved, (which is fun for me) and a certain amount of luck too. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be a Braun, but I won’t get hired simply because of that. I will get hired because of my own effort, and merit. In one year, I have sung the role of Frasquita in a fully staged production with Toronto City Opera, recorded and released two CDs, done a professional recital, and performed my first professional Cantatas with Choralis Camerata in St. Catharines, singing Britten’s Ceremony of Carols and Bach’s “Wachet Auf”, and, landed two opera roles already for 2015, as Oscar with Opera by Request for Un ballo in maschera this February, and as Barbarina with Toronto Summer Opera Workshop in Le nozze di Figaro in June!

5. Why did you choose to record these two albums?

I have always wanted to do a CD, perhaps just to scratch it off my bucket list. Now that I have, I aspire to do more. The process itself was exciting and we sure learned a lot about what it takes to record, tweak, produce, and promote a CD. We chose material that we were both comfortable with, and we hope that our choices as we learn and grow together, will be notable in terms of improvements. There may even be a label in our future! I think 2015 will fly by, with all of the exciting plans and opportunities Peter and I will have. I’m happiest when I’m singing.

Kira’s albums can be downloaded right here. If you prefer iTunes: listen to Exult, Rejoice! and Beautiful Memories. If you’re interested in more from the Braun family, read Opera Viva - The Canadian Opera Company: The First Fifty Years, by Ezra Schabas and Carl Morey.

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