Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Season Opener

Greetings readers,

Hopefully, you've all had an excellent summer and have enjoyed the start of rehearsals once again. I've been adapting to my new choral season routine these past few weeks. I have back-to-back rehearsals between Pro Coro and Edmonton Opera; it's nice to hit my productivity stride once again. It's my seventh season with Pro Coro and my fourth season with Edmonton Opera already!

Photo by Nanc Price Photography

First up is Pro Coro Canada's opening STARS concert, which showcases local singer-songwriters in Edmonton. Many of the a cappella choral arrangements were done by PCC singers. The spirit of collaboration is alive and well. It is pretty educational to learn about the music being created in the community and to give it an injection of choral voice. Lindsey Walker, Darren Frank, Erin Kay, Amber Suchy, and Ken Stead will be performing with PCC on October 2. Here are some songs which the audience will hear:

Although Podium is now over, our friends from the Capital Chamber Choir did not forget us. We were challenged to 22 pushups to raise mental health awareness and money for Wounded Warriors.
Perhaps this is the beginning of a choral group trend of support? I definitely was sore in my arms and abdominal muscles the next day.

It has been a few years since I've been a part of an opera production that has a huge role for the chorus to play. The season opener of Turandot has a lot of opportunity for the chorus to sing. Puccini does not allow for complacent choristers in this one. In addition to starting and ending the show, we get to sing as a mob of people out for blood. I like to think of Turandot as The "Riddles in the Dark" chapter of the Hobbit meets Rumpelstiltskin. Also, who can forget the hit Tenor aria of Nessum Dorma? This is one show I can't wait to listen to in rehearsal when the Principal singers arrive in Edmonton.

I hope you are all well. Feel free to leave me comments on what you're looking forward to most this upcoming season!

Monday, May 30, 2016

An Interview with Composer, Stuart Beatch

Photo by Nanc Price Photography
Stuart Beatch views himself as a newcomer to choral music. Previously completing a Music Education degree at the University of Regina in 2013 and a Bachelor of Music in Composition at the University of Alberta in 2015, this is his third year writing choral music. This Fall, he is headed to Kings College London for Graduate studies in composition.

Last week, Beatch's newest work, Resurectio, was commissioned by Michael Zaugg and premiered by the National Youth Choir of Canada at Podium Conference and Festival. When Beatch describes his compositional voice he notes:

“It's something I've tried to figure out for a while. I think I'm definitely influenced by a lot of sacred music. I've listened to a lot of minimalist music as well with people l like Arvo Pärt or John Tavener. Even more energetic composers like John Adams who doesn't necessarily do a lot of choral music; he does more orchestral music. But trying to then write music that has that certain energetic quality that has that certain religiosity to it. I do write very dense homophonic things but thinking of it as this one unified entity. One project that I did to push myself in that direction was I composed a book of SATB Anglican chants. I wrote these for a year. It forces you to boil down your harmonic ideas; how to make things that are interesting and unique but are also very simple. In the case of those chants, they're also not rhythmic so you're just composing the harmonies. Really trying to take everything else out of the formula and find out what I want to say just in that realm. That was a big challenge for me. I think that has definitely influenced a lot of my music since then, trying to simplify and find that sense of purity.”

During Beatch’s time completing this BMus in Composition while in Edmonton, he also sang for the All Saints Anglican Cathedral for two years. Beatch elaborates, “we were doing works by Byrd and lots of classic Anglican composers there were many times. Herbert Howells does not write easy music. And we had one of my own pieces performed by that choir too. It's not that choirs are not capable but we need to be writing music that is appropriate for that space too. As contemporary composers, we like writing secular works because they're more approachable for all sorts of choirs but also finding those simple, sacred works, that would be used in a space like that is very rewarding.”

He notes that he did not used to write a lot of sacred music until he started being involved in the Anglican Church. “At that point, I found sacred music began to be the most rewarding for me both spiritually and as a composer. I found I have the most to say in that space,” he reveals. Beatch had a significant choral debut when the National Youth Choir of Canada sang the premiere of Resurectio. Beatch describes how he searched for texts documenting Christs Ascension and used a hybrid of Latin and English text by John Donne. “In a way, I like to take back some of that control as librettist, and combine words in a way I think is more interesting and make the piece about some sort of theme,” describes Beatch when discussing Resurectio’s text.

Photo of the National Youth Choir of Canada 2016 by Nanc Price Photography
In the future, Beatch reveals that he would like to write a large scale a capella choral work. He saw a change in 2012 when Bob Chilcott premiered a large oratorio at the BBC Proms; it as a moment where there was a “pushing back against the orchestra as the de facto of what composers need to do.” Beatch describes how choirs are capable of taking on these larger scale of works and his wish to “contribute to that collection of literature.” Beatch continues, “we're starting to realize the potential of choral music and also the level that professionals are able to perform at and the kind of things they can do. As composers, we're just now trying to exploit that a little bit,” he says with a tone of wisdom. Regardless of what is coming for Beatch as he heads to London this Fall, his compositional voice of writing for sacred choral texts in modern spaces is one to listen for.

Listen to the entire interview with Beatch here:

Stuart Beatch's travel to Podium was made possible by support from the Saskatchewan Arts Board. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Choral Avengers at Podium 2016

Photo by Amy Desrosiers of the National Youth Choir Canada 2016 at the Winspear Centre

On a grey and drizzly Sunday morning on the final day of Podium Conference and Festival some members of my social media team and I piled into the cozy cafe for brunch. There was a sense of drowsy satisfaction at the amount we were able to experience since Wednesday when Podium 2012 began.

As our steaming hot coffees were set on the table and we wrapped our hands around the porcelain sides, we reminisced about the past few days as we tried to mentally condense our key take-aways of the whole experience. There was a sense of satisfaction of the connections made, a renewed optimism for continuing on with choral groups back at home, the sense of freedom and relief in being able to tell your choral idols your admiration for their work. I agreed with all of these points but as I glanced around at the table I began to realize that it was these very people as well as others from the social media team that made my Podium 2016 unforgettable.

Four years ago in Ottawa, I attempted media coverage for the first time at Podium 2012. I was encouraged by my e-magazine editor that I should try interviewing conductors while I was there. I set out to interview my choir idols and made it through the process. However, I felt overwhelmed at the breadth of the conference and festival. Also, only a handful of people at the conference had Twitter and were using #podium2012. Fast forward to two years at Podium 2014 in Halifax where I began to see an increase in social media activity. I began to see more users online and the conference was promoting #podium2014 on signs and speeches prior to sessions and concerts. I enjoyed seeing this increased exposure as I made my way from session to session and series of composer interviews with Matthew Emery, Cy Giacomin, and Peter Togni.

This past Fall, I was approached by Choir Alberta to help maintain their Podium Conference and Festival social media accounts. I expressed that there was an opportunity to do more than just update Facebook and Twitter accounts. We could create content that people feel a connection with even before the conference and festival begins and we can promote the use of social media by having an active team contributing multiple perspectives because I can only be in one place at one time. With Choir Alberta and Choral Canada's trust and support, I was able to reach out to my social media contacts and see who would be interested in coming to Edmonton to help me do media coverage of the festival. The first thing that shocked me was that nobody told me an outright no. Most just asked for more time to check with their schedules and would get back to me. In the end, I had three confirmed social media team members: Amy Desrorisers from Blonde in the Choir, Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin from Choir X, and Missy Clarkson founder of Cor Flammae, singer with the Vancouver Cantata Singers and viral video star from Sh*t Choristers Say. I even had the support of my two Edmonton friends,  photographer Nanc Price and my Folk on the Road comrade, Twila Bakker.

When it came my turn to share my take-aways of the conference at brunch I stated that it is the first Podium where I was not alone. I was trying to have a  conversation with myself on social media over the past four years and this is the first Podium I was greeted with such a enthusiastic reply after all this time. I send my love to my team and social media gurus on #podium2016 who joined me in sharing the discourse choral music. Of course, there were many amazing choral performances throughout the week, can I just say that Coastal Sound Youth Choir's use of visuals was blowing my mind? I still have goosebumps thinking about that performance with the audience holding up images of the Children of War.

But the heart of my joy at Podium were the moments of human connection whether it was the extra long hugs from my fellow choristers in the Canadian Chamber Choir, having a drink with my team at Remedy as we outlined a strategy to cover the sessions and concerts, or having a photoshoot with Composer, Cy Giacomin, for our upcoming collaborative project. Even though my friends have departed, I continue on with a renewed sense of optimism for the future of choral music, more tools on how to better highlight the work of those individuals, and the knowledge that these individuals are only a tweet away.

Nanc Price, Twila Bakker, Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin, Amy Desrosiers, Me!, Missy Clarkson (L-R)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Day 1 at Podium Conference and Festival 2016

The first day of Podium was filled with reunions, hugs, and a stunning concert by Voices West. It was sensory overload in many ways. I'm often excited to see even one friend from abroad. but this time around, they have all arrived at the same time.

It was also the first time my social media team met each other in the flesh!

Stay tuned for more #podium2016 updates.

Friday, May 13, 2016

National Youth Choir of Canada - Class of 2016

Photo Composite by Nanc Price Photography.

Over forty singers have traveled across Canada to be a part of the National Youth Choir of Canada for Podium Conference and Festival hosted in Edmonton, AB from May 19-22, 2016. These choristers have spent the last week at the University of Augustana in Camrose rehearsing for their upcoming seven concert tour through Alberta. Their opening concert is tonight in Camrose and they will tour until their final performance at Podium Conference and Festival. After rehearsing for over 20 hours this past week with up to 4 rehearsals a day, these choristers are now packing up their things and driving to audiences all throughout Alberta. It is no easy feat to be a National Youth Choir chorister, they need to submit audition applications to their provincial choir association and some have to be members of their provincial youth choir before being able to apply.

I'm sure this past week has been an incubator of emotions where they have been able to experience the extreme highs and lows from working in an intensive atmosphere and socializing with choral friends form across the country. I can see the the lone chorister still sitting in their seat long after the other choristers have gone on break to run through some tricky lines holding their tuning fork, I can hear the frustrated internal self talk moments of "I can't believe I did that again!" during a run-through and the scratch of pencil circling the notes, I can see the nod of satisfaction to a fellow chorister when they finally get the tricky run after many attempts, I can also hear the laughs of choristers as they chat over dinner and drinks. All of these snapshots contribute to this intensive musical experience.

In order to send these choristers off on a welcoming note, I wanted to showcase these singers individually but still as a collective. Enjoy the interactive image above since it'll display the biography of each chorister as well as the province they are representing in the National Youth Choir of Canada. Hopefully, this picture will serve as a snapshot in time, the National Youth Choir of Canada/Choeur national des jeunes du Canada, Class of 2016.

2016 National Youth Choir of Canada

Camrose, AB
Presented by The University of Alberta – Augustana
Friday, May 13th, 2016 – 7:30pm
K Glen Johnson Faith and Life Chapel, Augustana Campus
Tickets: $25 Adults; $20 Students/Seniors/Children
Available at the door

Red Deer, AB
Presented by Lindsay Thurber Music Parents’ Society and Choral Singers Unite Society
Saturday, May 14th, 2016 – 7:30pm
Gaetz Memorial United Church, 4759 50 Street
Tickets: $15 each
Available from Lisa Friesen 403-872-7325 / lisa.friesen@rdpsd.ab.ca

Hanna, AB
Presented by Front Row Centre
Sunday, May 15th, 2016 – 7:30pm
Hanna Community Centre, 503 4 Street West
Tickets: $15 Adults; $10 Youth (under 16) / Senior
Available at For Your Soles, Warwicks Home Hardware, or call Peggy 403-854-0068

Medicine Hat, AB
Presented by Society of Friends of the Monarch Theatre
Monday, May 16th, 2016 – 7:30pm
Fifth Avenue Memorial United Church, 476 4 St. SE
Tickets: $25 each
Available by calling Judy at 403-952-7796 / ej.morris@shaw.ca

Calgary, AB
Presented by Spiritus Chamber Choir
Tuesday, May 17th, 2016 – 7:30pm
Knox United Church, 506 4 St SW
Tickets: $25 Regular; $20 Student/Senior; FREE Admission Youth under age 25. Call (403) 922-7021 by May 16
Tickets can be purchased through www.spirituschamberchoir.ca, brownpapertickets.com, and at the door
Call 403-922-7021 for more information.

Hinton, AB
Presented by the Foothills Male Chorus and Spirit of the Rockies Women's Choir
Wednesday, May 18th, 2016 – 7:30pm
Gateway Community Church, 101 Douglas Drive
Tickets: $20 each
Available at Hinton Library, The Old Grind, or call 780-740-5399

Edmonton, AB
Presented by 2016 Podium Choral Conference & Festival
Friday, May 20th, 2016 – 8:00pm
Winspear Centre, Enmax Hall, 102nd Ave & 99th St
Tickets: $32 Regular
Available via Tix On The Square www.tixonthesquare.ca / 780-420-1757

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

An Interview with Elektra Artistic Director, Morna Edmundson

Photo credit to Malcolm Parry / Vancouver Sun

Elektra Women’s Choir from Vancouver, Canada has been a leader among women’s choirs since 1987.  Under the direction of Artistic Director Morna Edmundson the 50-voice adult choir is known for its adventurous programming, seeking out music written specifically for women and frequently commissioning new works.

Elektra delivers its mandate to “inspire and lead” through an annual concert series including new and commissioned works and featuring outstanding guest artists.  In addition to performing worthy repertoire from the past, Elektra has commissioned over 70 compositions and arrangements.  The choir’s recordings on iTunes and CD Baby extend the reach of its repertoire internationally. Elektra’s website offers a permanent repertoire resource featuring all works programmed by the choir to date.

Elektra’s celebrated outreach programs encourage, train, and mentor the next generation of singers, conductors, and composers.

A multiple national prize-winning ensemble, Elektra has been honoured to perform at conferences of Choral Canada, the American Choral Directors Association, Chorus America, the International Society for Music Education, and the International Federation for Choral Music.

Elektra participates enthusiastically in shared projects with other arts organizations such as the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Chor Leoni Men’s Choir and in festivals and concert series.

You have been with Elektra since you co-founded the ensemble with Diane Loomer in 1987, what was it like starting out in those early years and how did you begin establishing yourselves as a premiere womens choir ensemble?

Diane and I started Elektra after a conversation at a choir party. Between us, we knew dozens of the top choral singers in Vancouver, so the first roster was by invitation, and it took off from there.  Like most projects, it took shape “over the kitchen table” for those first few years.  We’d meet or just phone each other and conversations ended with “Sounds good to me” and then we just made it happen by doing everything ourselves. At first, we thought there might not be enough good repertoire to sustain a women’s choir, but we were wrong.  We started discovering the amazing youth choirs around the world and all the contemporary music that was being written for them, and it really opened our eyes. Thinking back 30 years to pre-internet and pre-email, I don’t know how the choirs and composers found each other, but we did.

What are some of the highlights you have had with the Elektra?

Singing for our peers is always a high point, which is why we’re so excited to be invited to Podium.  Highlights have been 1996 when we performed at the Fourth World Symposium on Choral Music in Sydney, Australia.  Less than a year later, we were at the ACDA National Convention in San Diego where we sold $14,000 worth of CDs in four days and people went crazy for Elektra.  We were completely surprised.  In our first decade, we had never travelled further than about 30 miles outside of Vancouver, and we had no idea that US colleagues were interested in us and our repertoire.  That was really the beginning of an amazing journey and a different understanding of our role.  There are many other highlights in a 29-year journey but most boil down to the focus and thrill of being inside the music on stage with friends and colleagues.

Photo credit to David Cooper

Outreach programs are important to Elektra's work in the community, why do you feel like it is important to continue supporting programs like the Mira Mentorship program for High School Singers and Choral Leadership for Young Women?

About 20 years ago, we began to understand that we could have a positive change on perceptions about women’s choirs.  We didn’t form the choir because we couldn’t find any tenors and basses, nor because we had “too many women” singers, but because we wanted to explore the repertoire.  Both Diane and I conducted choirs of all voicings, but Elektra became a really strong voice and we knew we could get alongside of conductors and singers who could use an ally in their own situations. I like to think we’ve had a role, along with many others, in fewer girls crying in the bathroom at school because their name was not on the mixed choir roster.  And fewer conductors thinking they got the short straw when they were assigned the women’s choir in their college.  We can have that kind of influence through our recordings, but locally we want to sing together with young women and get to know their conductors.  We want them to see our singers aged 20-65 having a great artistic experience and having fun together. Mira is for the top Grade 11 and 12 singers in their schools and takes an audition and a big commitment.  The Choral Leadership Workshop is for entire choirs and all skill levels are welcome. We sing together and we also talk about how one can develop leadership skills for a lifetime through the choral experience.  Meeting girls at both these stages of development is important to us.

There are so many different types of choirs out there from children's to mixed, but what draws you specifically to women's choir?

Photo credit to David Cooper
I love all types of choirs – conducting and listening.  It happens that Elektra became an important instrument and community in my life.  And over 29 years, its sound still excites me and moves me and I feel as though I’ve got an important job to do that really makes a difference.  I feel fortunate to have discovered that.  These little unexpected twists in the road lead to such interesting places!  As conductors, we all give a lot, but I feel like it comes back to me many times over with Elektra.

How do you view Elektra's role when it comes to introducing choral audiences to treble choral works, such as through Cypress Choral Music's "Elektra Women's Choir" series?

I think this is a huge and important part of our role.  Our story is linked inextricably with the growth of the internet and the revolutionizing of how choirs discover each other and repertoire.  I have friends all over the world and we send each other ideas.  It’s an exciting time to be part of that community.  The Cypress series helps conductors of treble choirs navigate through the thousands of pieces of music that are available for SSA, not all of which would be suitable for adults to sing.  I’m proud to be able to bring composers and arrangers I admire into the spotlight, too.

What is a piece of advice you have given to women considering pursuing roles of choral music leadership?

Value your time and expertise.  If you want to do what you do to the best of your ability, you have to make time to do it well.  And unless you show the world that you value what you bring to the table, you can’t expect them to do it. Go for it!

What are some future goals of Elektra?

We’ve done what we’ve done by staying super focused on our mandate.  Time to sing together and explore new repertoire is a precious commodity, so we make the most of every opportunity that allows us to live that out.  A couple of goals for the next few years are to support emerging women composers in a more tangible and visible way and to continue to build the national and international networks of people who conduct women’s choir. 

Morna Edmundson is one of Canada’s best-known choral conductors with a strong reputation for excellence. Passionate since childhood about choral singing, she obtained degrees and diplomas in vocal music in Vancouver, Bellingham, and Stockholm, Sweden where her teachers included Eric Ericson. 

In 1987, she co-founded Elektra Women’s Choir with Diane Loomer, a treasured partnership that lasted 22 years. In 2009, Morna became Elektra’s sole Artistic Director, continuing the choir’s strong leadership role in concert presentation, commissioning, recording, and mentorship. 

For 14 years Morna shared her love of quality repertoire with a new generation of singers in her role as Associate Artistic Director of Coastal Sound Music Academy, where she was Music Director of the mixed-voice Youth Chamber Choir. 

Morna has adjudicated in North America and Asia, conducted honour choirs in several states, co-directed the American Choral Directors Association National Women’s Honour Choir, and gives frequent workshops with choirs of all ages. 

In 2000 she was presented with the Healey Willan Award for outstanding service to the BC Choral Federation, an organization she serves as a member of the President’s Advisory Council.  In February 2009 Morna was a recipient of the BC Community Achievement Award, which recognized her gifted organizational talent, leadership by example, and her encouragement of others to pursue their musical and choral goals.  In June 2011 Morna received a Vancouver YWCA Woman of Distinction award in recognition of her work with Elektra. Ms. Edmundson serves on the board of Chorus America, the advocacy, research, and leadership development organization that gives voice to the choral field.