Mary Jo Capps speaks with journalist Bronwyn Ridgway about her teachers and mentors as well as her strong belief in the arts and its ability to help develop and inspire students and individuals in life’s search. Capps’ extraordinary drive added to her impetus at the helm of Música Viva, a non government organisation known to deliver exquisite musical performances throughout Australia, as well as intensive creative music programs for schools in cities, regions and remote areas.
“I attended coeducational Catholic schools in a relatively small town, St Catharines near Niagara Falls Ontario. The primary school was traditional, but the high school was progressive through to Grade 13, with a majority of lay people teaching rather than nuns or priests.
“Looking back, I recognise I was in the main bored with educational content; I finished my work quickly and wasn’t challenged. Regularly admonished for talking too much, I was considered a disruptive element in class. Although in Canada it had been a custom to advance clever students a grade, my mother resisted this in relation to my schooling, claiming it was important that I remain in my year group for social issues. But by Year 6, I was complaining so much about boredom, she relented. I skipped a grade, which helped a little. Ours was a good Catholic family, I was the youngest of five and with four big brothers, so I was eager to catch up.
“The whole family went to concerts, recitals, opera and to the theatre, we were all interested in the arts. Each one of us loved books and were big readers; I learnt as much out of school as within. At school back then, music wasn’t taught as part of the system or curriculum. The local organist used to come to the school, and we sang hymns, that was all. It was expected that you took music lessons out of school, which I did – piano and singing and I took piano exams to the Associate of the Conservatorium level. I was a better pianist than a singer. I think my parents saw music as another way to keep me occupied.
“My father was a lawyer; his father before him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. In many ways we were all expected to go into law. I broke the family mould and followed a career with music. My mother was very clever but with five children she was as they said then, ‘a housewife’, a very clever one.