Thursday, April 21, 2016

An Interview with Conductor of the National Youth Choir and Pro Coro Canada, Michael Zaugg

Photo by Topher Seguin, courtesy of Pro Coro Canada

Pure, floating voices, impeccable intonation and the performance of a variety of choral music from the Early Renaissance to the Avant-garde combine to create Pro Coro Canada - one of Canada’s few professional chamber choirs. 

2015-2016 is the 35th season since the inception of Pro Coro Canada. 

Pro Coro Canada has the great fortune to have, in its own membership, some of the finest singers in Alberta, many of whom have gone on to distinguish themselves as soloists, such as Nathan Berg, Wendy Humphries, Frances Jellard, Michael Meraw, Linda Perillo and John Tessier. 

Pro Coro Canada also enjoys joining with choirs from around the world, and has performed with Calgary Boys’ Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers (Toronto), Richard Eaton Singers (Edmonton), Schola Cantorum Choirs (Edmonton), Stockholm Chamber Choir, Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal, Swedish Radio Choir, Tafelmusik Chamber Choir (Toronto), University of Alberta Madrigal Singers, Vancouver Chamber Choir, and Winnipeg Singers.

An Interview with Conductor of the National Youth Choir and Pro Coro Canada, Michael Zaugg.

It has been two years since you were announced as the NYC conductor, what have you been up to in order to prepare for the choristers coming your way in May? 

The first thing was, of course, preparing a repertoire for the 2016 session. My mind was overflowing with ideas and concepts. I first put everything on large paper on my wall, creating ‘programming clouds’ and then connecting those ideas. There are many parameters to incorporate, for example, several languages, musical styles, commissions, and Canadian content. It had to be music that would challenge the group as individual singers and help to create an ensemble that would be engaging for the audience. Furthermore, I always challenge myself to program with a theme in mind, in this case, it turned out to be the final line of D
National Youth Choir 2014 conducted by Dr. Hilary Apfelstadt in performance at St. Mary’s Basilica, Halifax, NS
(Photo by Judy Porter, Judealou Photography)
ante’s Inferno.

After this process, I was working with the Choral Canada team in order to set-up the residency and the tour. That included the creation of a schedule for rehearsals and activities, coordinating with our Alberta project manager James Frobb (NYC alumni) and possible presenters. Then came the preparation of the scores. During this time, across Canada, many young singers auditioned for the NYC and each province subsequently put forward their participants.

At this very moment, I’m finalizing the detailed divisi for each section, assign solos, send out translations, languages files and connect with the singers to assist in their preparation.

What insights can you give into the works or activities you have planned for the NYC? 

The concert repertoire takes its inspiration from the last stanza of ‘The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Canto XXXIV’. The first half of the concert is conceived as an journey from Hell back to Earth's surface and on to Heaven. This ascension is presented through various looking glasses, there are religious, pagan, poetic and spiritual points of view. The second half picks up on this theme, but also introduces the northern way ‘via borealis’ as a sub-theme. There are several new works on the program, for example ‘Tread Softly’ by Bolden, the winner of the Choral Canada composition competition, or ’There is a Sound’ by Albertan Allan Gilliland. The first half is certainly very intense, vocally, emotionally and intellectually, and includes Mendelssohn, Tormis and Poulenc. After the intermission, the style and mood is lighter.

One element which is likely new to many singers, is the absence of a rehearsal pianist. We will perform an a cappella program and therefore also rehearse a cappella. I’ve already asked the singers to organize and get used to a tuning fork. Working without piano will probably be slowing the process for the first rehearsals, but the improvement in sonority and pitch awareness of the ensemble will be increasing exponentially.

What topics are you looking forward to discussing on your panel with other conductors on commissioning works? 

I think we all have some experiences to share and hopefully learn about other, maybe even new, ways of working with composers. In general, I'm interested in emerging composers, and there it is as much about finding a promising - new - approach as it is about guiding the person to understand and write for the vocal instrument.

Photo by Ian Jackson, Courtesy of Pro Coro Canada
You will also be working with some conductors in training during a Podium masterclass, do you have any overarching skills you wish to convey to masterclass participants before you go in? 

My advice prior to a masterclass participant s ‘prepare well - don’t drill’. So, know the music, but don’t practice a pattern or cue over and over. I’ve worked with conductors who had to re-learn the ‘choreography of gestures’ because suddenly the sopranos were sitting to the left and not to the right. There will be a short time available on the podium for participants and ideally we’ll be working on how the gesture can convey the interpretation. Another important skill is listening. My instruction for this will likely be more an ‘on the spot’ question: "what do you really hear?". While listening to a recording is a legitimate means to acquiring new music, it is always challenging to hear what the choir actually sounds like and then to work with that sound.

You are now in your fourth season as Artistic Director of Pro Coro, during that time, can you share some highlights you have had with the group? 

Yes, tempus fugit! These past seasons were fantastic and the work has been very rewarding. Now that my family and I live in Edmonton, being resident is a highlight! Edmonton has a great choral community, the conductors are extremely supportive of each other, cross-disciplinary projects are encouraged and the breath of choral offerings is amazing - all this, while the city has a small town feel to it. I was at the farmers market with the girls last Saturday, and bumped into three different audience members.
Photo by Nanc Price, Courtesy of Pro Coro Canada

Pro Coro has performed fantastic choral works over the last seasons, and I’m very happy about the daredevil approach to any type of score. My first concert with the ensemble featured ‘The Nightingale’ by Praulins, 30 minutes of contemporary writing in 20 parts, and the group embraces challenges like this. I generally pick works that I want to perform, so any performance with this group is rewarding. I’m particularly excited about the ease with which the singers approach staging, new performance set-ups or mixing of styles. If there are moments that stood out, I’d have to mention the various collaborations with other choirs, i.e. the Cantata Singers in Ottawa, Halifax Camerata, Richard Eaton Singers, Madrigal Singers, Spiritus and of course the Vancouver Chamber Choir. Most of these collaborations happened while on tour and traveling with a choir is always a highlight.

All of your programmes have a thematic concept, and the opening concert with PCC and Opus 8 is no exception. Where did the themes of Darkness and Light come about? 

The Genesis of this program, I frankly, can’t remember. Going back to my ‘programming wall’, I see that the repertoire was very different originally. The only work that remains is ‘Der Abend’ by Strauss. This work was then the talking point around new works by Robert Rival and Paul Mealor. Robert B. (of Opus 8) added his ideas, and somehow the theme ‘Darkness and Light' emerged. The program in its current form is very cohesive, varied, and engaging, and showcases the sonority of each group.

I also had to keep in mind the subsequent Pro Coro subscription concert ‘Shadow of Dreams’ and how some of these works could be repeated in a different light (pun intended). In general, my programs start with a particular piece - Dreams by Finnish Kortekangas in this instance - which inspires through its text sources and through its musical material the selection of many other works. I usually find music for two or three programs, and the challenge is, to compile 80 to 90 minutes that will engage choir and audience, feature Canadian content, represent various styles and languages and are doable within the allocated rehearsal time. The final test is to remove that initial composition and see if the program can stand on its own.

Is there a dream choral project you would want to program if budget and singer numbers were not a barrier? 

My musical day-dreaming is more about which text I would like be set to music by which composer. At the moment, I’m fascinated with the idea of setting fairy tales to music. I’m still captivated by ‘The Nightingale’ by Praulins, and would love to create a new, major work based on the Little Prince. Another dream I have is to create a larger work together with Tom Waits, for choir and his unique voice and story telling skills. While we would not need more singers, such commissions are large budget items. There is also a large work by British Marsh 'Pierrot Lunaire’, that was written for 10 choirs/ensembles from London/UK, including the Kings Singers. And, I’d love to do one of Schafer’s larger works in the Edmonton River Valley.

Follow Pro Coro Canada Online:

Facebook: Pro Coro Canada
Twitter: @ProCoroCanada
Instagram: @ProCoroCanada
Blog: PCC on Tour

Since moving to Canada, Swiss-native Michael Zaugg has distinguished himself as an innovative and versatile conductor on the national choral scene. Active as Artistic Director, Guest Conductor, pedagogue and clinician, Michael Zaugg brings a wealth of experience and creativity to his work.
2012-2013 marked the start of Michael's tenure as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor with Pro Coro Canada in Edmonton. The professional choir is a resident ensemble at the Winspear Centre producing 7- 9 season concerts and participating in many local and national choral events.

As Artistic Director of both the St. Lawrence Choir in Montreal (2007 - 2013) and the Cantata Singers of Ottawa (2005 - 2014), Michael is constantly exploring new ways of integrating art forms with choral music, featuring live paintings, poetry and light /multi-media to name a few. His concepts feature traditional orchestras as well as rarely-heard instruments such as the alphorn, accordion or the gamelan. 

In 2009 Michael founded the Montreal Choral Institute, an umbrella organization dedicated to the advancement of choral education. The Institute’s main mission is to educate the choral leaders of tomorrow through master classes, workshops and performances. 

The Institute’s in-house choir voces boreales (founded in 2006) showcases contemporary a cappella music of Scandinavia and the Baltics along with the classical works of choral history. Under his leadership, the 24-voice ensemble has been featured in the Montreal International Bach Festival, the NAC eXpressions Music Series as well as on CBC Radio 2. 

As Guest Chorus Master of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Michael successfully prepared groups of up to 1500 singers for OSM Artistic Director Kent Nagano, including the award-winning performance of St. François d’Assise by Messiaen. Michael also prepares the Cantata Singers for their appearances with the National Arts Centre Orchestra under conductors such as Franz-Paul Decker, David Lockington, Trevor Pinnock, Helmuth Rilling and Graeme Jenkins. 

Active also as a Guest Conductor, Michael Zaugg has worked with groups including the GRAMMY-nominated choir of Trinity Wall Street (NYC), the Richard Eaton Singers, Halifax Camerata, musica intima, l'Orchestre Symphonique de Longueuil, the Ontario and the Nova Scotia Youth Choirs. As Guest Lecturer he has worked with students at Brandon University (MB), University of Alberta and McGill University (QC). He is often invited to work with provincial choral federations throughout Canada, namely in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Alberta. 

In Europe he has appeared with the Danish National Youth Choir and the Academic Chamber Choir of Ljubljana (Slovenia) at the Bramstrup Performing Arts Festival in Denmark, as well as with the International Choir of the Zimriya Festival in Israel. In Switzerland, he was Chorus Master of the Swiss Oratorio Choir Regiochor for five years before moving abroad. 

Michael Zaugg was the first Swiss conductor to be accepted to the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, Sweden, in its prestigious post-graduate Diploma for Professional Choir Conducting. Throughout this two-year program, Michael worked weekly with singers of the world-renowned Swedish Radio Choir and also had the opportunity to work with Sweden’s gems- the Adolf Fredrick’s Girls Choir and the Mikaeli Chamber Choir. 

Originally an accomplished tenor, Michael Zaugg toured Europe and Asia with professional groups including the Swiss Chamber Choir, the Chamber Choir of Europe, the World Chamber Choir and the Stockholm Chamber Choir. 

A passionate pedagogue, Michael Zaugg is strongly committed to his work not only with choirs but also with other conductors. He teaches privately and has given numerous Master Classes on conducting and rehearsal technique. The Montreal Choral Masterclass attracts many conductors from Canada and abroad every year. Michael’s students, coming from diverse choral backgrounds, appreciate a hands-on approach when working with his ensembles.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

An Interview with Composer, Dr. Benjamin Bolden

Dr. Benjamin Bolden's is winner of the Choral Canada 2016 Competition for Choral Writing for work, Tread Softly. This work will be premiered by the National Youth Choir of Canada at Podium Conference and Festival.

You have mentioned that the inspiration for Tread Softly begin following a TED talk on Education with a theme of treading softly when it comes to educating children, how did you highlight this theme in the music?

When the text ‘tread softly’ is first heard, the sopranos sing a simple, gentle, do-mi-do motif. The altos echo the motif in canon. Meanwhile, the tenors and basses start low in pitch and move steadily upwards, in parallel harmony, like a child growing up. Then the sopranos break out in a yearning, descending motif on the text ‘you tread upon my dreams.’ The lower voices echo the word ‘my dream’ low in their range, in a harmonic language that shifts to a new ominous-sounding tonality. For me, that harmonic shift signals the danger of quashing dreams.

What resonated in the text for you in W.B. Yeat's Poem, The Cloths of Heaven?

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
What resonated for me was the generosity and vulnerability of someone laying themselves out before someone else…the trust implied, and the need to respond thoughtfully, conscientiously, and with care.

What do you hope for the National Youth Choristers to take away from Tread Softly when they premiere it at Podium 2016?

Well… I hope the individual parts are interesting enough that the singers are engaged by what I’ve asked them to sing. And I hope they are able to wallow a little in some of the lush harmonies I’ve written. I also hope they can let loose and feel a thrill in the climactic moments. I sing in choirs too, and in the pieces I love best I find moments that I look forward to and relish—when my voice has the chance to sound the way I want it to sound, or when I get to contribute to a musical gesture that just works. I hope the singers find some of those sweet spots in this piece! Ultimately, I hope the singers feel they’ve been able to tap into their own musicality, give it voice, and help to create something beautiful.

Where was the initial inspiration for you to become a music educator?

I was inspired to become a music educator because I have seen so many lives so tremendously enriched by music—especially my own. I figured that bringing music to people, and people to music, was a pretty fantastic way to earn a living. It’s an immense privilege…and responsibility!

How do you view your roles and responsibilities as a music educator?

Basically I try to enhance and expand and strengthen the relationship between people and music. I once heard the brilliant Canadian composer and educator Stephen Hatfield say, ‘there are as many ways to be musical as there are ways to be beautiful.’ That rings very true for me. As a music educator, I try to help people realize how they can be beautiful in and through music.

You have a diverse background in composition, education, and academic research, why is it important for you to assume these different roles?

Because it’s so much fun! I love operating within these different roles. They all complement each other and they are all so compelling. And if I get weary of one of the roles I can move to the other to recharge and re-energize…I’m pretty lucky that way.

You have created a series of Podcasts that share your relationship with music. Why did you choose this medium to narrate your story?

Podcasts are wonderful for communicating about music, because you can combine music and spoken word together. And playing with those sounds is, for me, very much a form of composing.

You have had exposure to many genres of music by members of your family, early music from you mother, The Police from your brother, but what do you think is at the heart of choral music that connects with you?

At the heart of choral music, for me, is the notion of raising voices together. Connecting to an ancient and time-honoured musical practice that happens across eras and cultures. I think it’s such a wonderful thing to get together and do!

The National Youth Choir Spotlight Concert will be at the Winspear Centre on Friday, May 20, 2016 at 8 PM. Tickets are available online.

Hear Bolden's Easter Antiphon Online.

Dr. Benjamin Bolden, music educator and composer, is an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University. His research interests include the learning and teaching of composing, creativity, community music, arts-based research, Web 2.0 technologies in education, teacher knowledge, and teachers’ professional learning. As a teacher, Ben has worked with pre-school, elementary, secondary, and university students in Canada, England, and Taiwan. Ben is an associate composer of the Canadian Music Centre and his compositions have been performed by a variety of professional and amateur performing ensembles. Ben was editor of the Canadian Music Educator, journal of the Canadian Music Educators’ Association/L’Association canadienne des musiciens éducateurs, from 2007-2014. He is the proud father of three rascally boys.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Love Fail Collaboration with Good Women Dance Collective

Greeting readers,

I'm embarking on my most solistic project with Pro Coro, thus far, singing in a female quartet to perform David Lang's Love Fail. Of course, I was terrified with an undercurrent of excitement as soon as I received the confirmation from Michael that I was in. I have been placating my internal crazy performer voice these past few week so I thought I would break down how I've been tackling the stages of prepping the work.


January 19-March 22 2016

The first thing I did was download the Love Fail album off of iTunes that evening after getting my conductor, Michael's, e-mail. I began looking through online Issuu previews of the score since I did not have a hard copy yet. Michael told me to take a look at the part-word repetitions in the Alto II line for the he was and she was movement as well note my lowest note in the piece, a G3, in the wood and the vine.


I began my regular process of learning music: listening the album for the overall texture and sound of the piece, then rehearsing my individual lines to make sure I learn my notes, tricky intervals, word order etc. I marked in my breath marks, noted word stress, tempo markings (rehearsing with a metronome), and for the parts where I am supposed to play percussion I made sure to always hold a pen of some sort and tap my music stand so I could build some motor memory to hit something on the downbeat while singing. I also tried to look at the poetic text to see at what aspect of love in a relationship we were discussing in each of the movements, whether it's the disconnect between the head and the heart in guiding relationship decisions or how, "at night, he was a different man." I tried to prepare as much I could but to keep it flexible so that I would be able to make adjust in music and staging rehearsals

Music Rehearsals

March 27- April 4 2016

By far, the most nerve-wracking moment was the first music rehearsal with the other singers. It was just my three fellow singers and Michael a meter away from us. There was no hiding. My heart raced for the first 1.5 hours of the 3 hour rehearsal. I had to suppress the urge follow the arrhythmic beating pattern that didn't fit the tempo of the slower movements we were rehearsing. I came in holding all these skills I had practiced at home, but upon entering rehearsal and seeing the tempo marking that was actually being set by Michael, I would have an internal moment of panic, causing me to drop all of my not-yet-solidified skills. So much of this process has been calming the crazy. I kept hearing this internal crazy "AAAAAAaaaaah!!!!!!" as I frantically took down notes and tried to tap through pages on my iPad to catch up to our next rehearsal point. At the end of each rehearsal, I would go home and work on fixing notes, rhythm, etc. Michael mentioned in rehearsal so that I could enter the next rehearsal with a renewed sense of confidence. However, each rehearsal had a healthy dose of challenge so they were new things to work on. In the first rehearsal, Michael conducted everything. In the second, he began fading his conducting so we had to get used to rehearsing movements unconducted and he would step in if we were completely off. On the third rehearsal, we tried moving and standing in different orientations in four corners of the room to get used to a different spatial arrangements before we met with the dancers. This was challenging since it was mostly unconducted by this point and I had to activate my visual cortex to lip read and align my text and, hopefully, my tempo with my fellow singers. I also had to readjust my ears to search for voices for chord tuning and alignment purposes. With each of my supportive cues fading, I found it was more a matter of turning the volume of my crazy internal voice to low because it was impossible to mute it entirely. In this way, it allowed enough focus and stay present in the rehearsal and accept feedback. Thank goodness for desensitization.


April 6-14, 2016

Beginning the staging process was a turning point because it made me realize it's not so much about me knowing my parts, but it's about how the music I create with my fellow singers highlights and supports the original choreography created by the Good Women Dance Collective. By far, they are one of the most visible dance companies for me in the city. It may be due to my particular 25-34 demographic and the events I go to whether it's Start-Up Edmonton Open Houses at the Mercer, the Fringe Festival, or social media - whatever it is, it's working. I love their collective and collaborative approach that creates accessible contemporary choreography while also focusing on sharing knowledge with the Edmonton dance community through workshops, or going abroad for professional development and bringing this training back to benefit the Arts community of Edmonton.

Our first rehearsal together began with talking through a roadmap of where GWC choreographer, Alida, envisioned where we would be in each particular movement and providing details on what would be going on around us. We would run a few movements and get notes afterward on overall tempo, where we needed to move faster or slower, where we needed to give more space to dancers crawling on the floor between us. Taking a tip from Opera staging, I've rehearsed in my barefeet so I am used to that sensory feedback from the floor. It's also pretty handy because, if I extend my foot out to start walking, and I feel flesh there, I refrain from moving so I don't step on a dancer. You know, professional courtesies. In addition to adjusting for challenges like being unconducted, getting pitches, setting tempos, movement transitions between the pieces - one of the most amazing things is just to feel the energy of the dancers. Even if I can't watch what they're doing with much detail, due to the fact that I'm using my score, I can sense the potential energy in their bodies. It's more than just that feeling where somebody comes up from behind you and you move out of the way, the energy of their proximity envelopes you as they physically weave themselves in the acoustic waveform of our sound.

We have another set of rehearsals in Studio 96 this coming week and then opening night is this Friday. There are four performances from Apr 15-17, 2016.

Apr 15 at 7:30 PM

Apt 16 at 2:30 PM

Apr 16 at 7:30 PM

Apr 17 at 2:30 PM

It will be a treat to finally share what we have been working on with audiences.

All photos by Michael Zaugg, courtesy of Pro Coro Canada

Monday, April 4, 2016

An Interview with Calgary Girls Choir Artistic Director, Elaine Quilichini

Since its founding in 1995 by Artistic Director Elaine Quilichini, Calgary Girls Choir has inspired girls and young women to meet the creative challenge of choral music performance. Now in its twentieth season, the Choir is recognized nationally and internationally for its dazzling performances and many accomplishments: first-place awards and major prizes at Canadian and international competitions; prestigious performances at the National Conferences of the American Choral Directors Association, ACCC Podium, and the Organization of American Kodály Educators; features on national television; premieres at the Banff Centre for the Arts; concerts with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Civic Symphony; and commissions of new works by Canadian and international composers. 

Brava is proud and excited to be able to perform alongside Canada’s top choirs at Podium 2016. The maturity and polish that CGC Brava members are able to bring to their performances has earned them a stellar reputation worldwide as a leader amongst the top youth choirs. Their exceptional tone quality, intonation and musically sensitive performances inspire all who aspire to choral excellence. Their credits and accomplishments are a testament to their willingness to push the boundaries of their abilities and to give their heart and soul in the service of the choral art. 

An interview with Elaine Quilichini, Conductor of the Calgary Girls Choir.

What do you feel makes the Calgary Girls Choir unique from other choirs? 

All choirs are so unique and special and each aspires to meet their own personal point of challenge. The Calgary Girls Choir is proud of its unflinching commitment to providing “only the best” literature to nourish the musicianship and vocal development of its choristers. CGC is also very gratified by the commitment its graduates have to continuing to learn and sing in their adult lives. CGC continues to develop professional and amateur musicians as well as to develop an educated and discerning audience for the future.

What are some of the highlights you have had with the Calgary Girls Choir? 

Some of the major highlights for CGC have been tours that have been a tremendous source of motivation, growth and inspiration. The Vienna Youth Music Festival, Eistedfod in Llangollen,Wales, Carnegie Hall with EQ as conductor, performances at the Vatican and St. Mark’s while on tour in Italy, Podium and ACDA performances as well as being featured as the “choir in residence” at the National OAKE conference in Chicago. Four wins in the ACCC choral competition for Amateur Choirs has been very exciting! In truth, the choir and EQ have always enjoyed the rehearsal process the most! Tours, competitions and performances are the result and natural extension of the joy that comes from learning and accomplishment in rehearsal! We love the product but love the process just as much or more. The sharing of music and growth with our fellow singers is really the greatest highlight of all!

What is the importance of fostering choral singing in specifically girls and young women, like in the Calgary Girls Choir? 

The Calgary Girls Choir has adopted a motto to express just that and the importance we attach to it. The Calgary Girls Choir-Giving Young Women a Voice! Choral singing is the perfect vehicle to help girls and young women not only to express themselves but also to understand that their thoughts, and emotions are worthy of being expressed and heard. Through singing and discovering the power and impact of their own voice their confidence and self-esteem is greatly enhanced. They are given permission and encouraged to express their deepest thoughts and emotions. Girls and young women are easily silenced and sidelined and their opinions and worth are still often disregarded as being less worthy of belief or importance. We see everyday that is true in the world of adult women and therefore understand just how much more true it is for young women. The CGC through singing and through fostering an atmosphere of respectful collaboration seeks to give girls a place not only to use and develop their voice but a belief that they are entitled to be heard and respected and should expect nothing less.

What challenges do you see working with treble voices? 

Working in 3,4 and 5 part harmony within the treble range is extremely challenging and requires tremendous aural skills from the singers who don’t have the advantage of the more varied timbres, qualities and intervallic distance found in an SATB choir. Working against the false perceptions that the artistic and musical depth of a treble choir is inferior or secondary to that of mixed choirs.

Where do you begin when you start building a programme list coming to Podium

One of the first considerations for me in planning our programme for Podium 2016 was to look at Canadian repertoire that would be relatively new to Podium delegates and audiences and therefore help increase the delegates knowledge of Canadian contemporary works. I want to help spread awareness of the great compositions of present day Canadian composers and to provide performances of this repertoire that could serve as a model for others. I begin by listing all repertoire I feel would have potential for presentation at such a prestigious concert and that I feel my choir could sing with artistic excellence and spirit. Gradually, I hone the list until I feel I have a strong and unique programme that will be satisfying for my choir and bring a varied and interesting concert to the conference.

What can audiences hope to see from the Calgary Girls Choir at Podium

Audiences will hear an exceptionally beautiful vocal and tonal quality combined with rare musicality and artistry. The Calgary Girls Choir is known for its brilliant vocal technique and the sheer beauty and ease with which they sing challenging and varied repertoire. The Spotlight program on Sat. May 21 at McDougall United Church (5 pm) will including 2 choral gems, a Missa Brevis by Canadian composer Eleanor Daley and a recently published work by Canadian Mark Sirett, entitled April (I Love You).

What role do you see Podium having in the world of Canadian Choral music? 

Podium is an essential coming together of musicians who believe in the value and importance of choral music in life and in the world. Choral conductors, by the very nature of their work, understand the importance of choral singing in building community. Coming together as a choral community at Podium to share, learn and be inspired is vitally important for the continuation and growth of choral music in Canada and in the world.

How important is it for choirs to promote the works of contemporary Canadian composers? 

Much as CGC believes that singing is “giving young women a voice” we also believe that our Canadian composers are “giving Canadians a voice” and an identity. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

One of the mandates of the Calgary Girls Choir is the commissioning of new works by Canadian composers as well as the commissioning of new Canadian folk song arrangements. I’m very fortunate to have been able to publish many of these commissions in my choral series thus making them available to all. Canadian choral composers are respected throughout the choral world and conductors from other countries seek out the compositions for their choirs to perform. Canadian choral composers have enhanced our sense of identity and pride as something uniquely Canadian is expressed though these works. Our singers burst with pride knowing these great works they sing and listen are Canadian. I determine the length and the keys of each piece and categorize as sacred, secular, Canadian, folk, unaccompanied, experimental etc. 

When you are looking to commission a work for your choir, what are the considerations you keep in mind when choosing the right Composer for the job? 

It is important to me that the composer has a good understanding of the voice and writes in “singer-friendly” way. That is that the voice is able to function freely and with comfort. I also consider the ways in which the composer works with text and melody and how well the two come together to create a satisfying marriage of both music and poetry. I also consider the creativity and freshness I hear in their approach and hope to find a composer who can bring the unexpected to life.

What do you consider when you preparing to introduce a new work to present to your choir? 

One of the things to consider in approaching a new work is what aspects of the piece can best help develop and increase the musicianship of the singers. In some pieces, it is rhythmic training that is called for most, in others it may be a need to develop sight singing, phrasing, language, etc. I try to find the thing in each new piece that will most help awaken a musical and informed response to it in my singers.

What are the challenges when you are looking at repertoire to program for? 

The challenge of variety in the programming is always a major consideration and challenge. Choosing repertoire that provides variety in style, period, language and level of challenge. To try to strike a balance that is meeting the point of challenge for my singers but never overwhelming nor underestimating. Trying to a balance in the repertoire worked on that provides for educational and performance objectives.

Explain your musical upbringing and what eventually drew you to choral music? 

I trained as a pianist and a singer and have always been grateful for a background in both fields. Having studied the piano and theoretical aspects of music (harmony, counterpoint, form) has been a tremendous advantage in approaching any level of musical challenge with confidence. As a young teacher I discovered the Kodály philosophy which emphasized the importance of singing as the way to provide the most effective and authentic musical education. That tied in perfectly with my experience and beliefs. My passion was always focused on singing but I was also drawn to the study literature and poetry. In choral music I found the perfect marriage of those two loves. Singing and poetry…I continue to be excited and inspired by that combination every day.

What inspired you to be a conductor? 

As a young school music teacher, I was somewhat discouraged by the general approach to music education I encountered in the schools. I found when I formed my first school choir that they were in fact an instrument that seemed to have limitless potential for musical accomplishment and artistic expression. I decided that a life of teaching music through choral music was something I could believe in and pursue enthusiastically. I began to see more and more how hungry for great music and meaningful musical training and experiences people were. This inspired me to continually look for ways to learn more and grow as a teacher/conductor so that I could bring others to the experience of great music.

What is at the heart of choral music singing that drives your passion? 

Beauty and the pursuit of beauty and goodness are at the heart of my passion for choral singing. Choral music is a powerful gift for the betterment of mankind. Singing choral music lifts us out of our petty and personal concerns as we join our voices with our fellow man to create beauty and hope. Choral music is one of the loftiest pursuits we can pursue. Choral singing lifts us out of the mundane, allows us to express some of the greatest sounds, thoughts and emotions created by the minds and souls of great geniuses. Choral singing solidifies our mutual humanity as we use our own bodies and voices together for the creation of beauty and self-expression. Singing elevates us! Our potential for good is revealed and we are less likely to allow the “darkness” to intrude in our souls. Choral singing is about hope and we all need more of that!

What are some future goals of the group? 

The Calgary Girls Choir hopes to continue for many years providing sound and thorough musical training for all our choristers. We continue to work to develop programs that can expand and deepen that training and to provide life-changing experiences through choral music, singing and artistic expression. Programs for boys and adults are a natural extension of our passion for changing lives through music and giving people an opportunity to “find their voice”. We hope to continue to commission great new works by Canadian composers and share them all over the world through touring and recording. We want to expand our connection to and understanding of the world through our love of singing and of Canada!

Is there anything else you would like to add that I have not asked? 

CGC- Brava is honoured and thrilled to be attending Podium 2016! We are excited to hear and meet choirs and conductors who have inspired us along the journey. We hope we will have an opportunity to meet and bond with many singers who understand and share our love of choral singing.

Facebook: Calgary Girls Choir 
Instagram: @yycgirlschoir 
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CBC Artists Page: Calgary Girls Choir

Elaine Quilichini is recognized internationally for her exceptional musicianship, distinguished work and extraordinary gift for inspiring others. As a Master of Music (Kodály), she has served as a clinician, lecturer, adjudicator and guest conductor across Canada, the United States, Australia, Japan, Argentina, Brazil and the Canary Islands.

In 1995, Ms. Quilichini founded the Calgary Girls Choir, and with her vision and passion has built it into one of the most celebrated choirs in the world. A Master of Music in Kodály Methodology, provided a strong philosophical and pedagogical base for her work in music education and choral development. Ms. Quilichini built successful choirs at Mount Royal Conservatory and conducted the University of Calgary Women’s Choir for ten years. She continues to serve as the Artistic Director of summer choral programs at Wichita State University and Nebraska Wesleyan University. In addition, she leads an active music studio and travels extensively as a guest conductor and to offer clinics and workshops. Her students have achieved great success as music educators, conductors and professional singers. A notable indication of Ms.Quilichini’s stature in the choral community is her successful choral series published by Alliance Music Publishing, Houston, Texas.

Global Television has recognized Ms. Quilichini, as a Woman of Vision. This award celebrates women whose passion, talent and commitment is reflected in their achievements. A perfect fit for Ms. Quilichini’s contributions.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

An Interview with Chorale Saint-Jean Director, Laurier Fagnan

La Chorale Saint-Jean du Campus Saint-Jean de l’Université de l’Alberta est devenue l’une des chorales francophones les plus grandes et actives dans l’Ouest canadien depuis sa création en 1937. Ayant pour but de célébrer et de préserver l’héritage culturel et linguistique de la communauté francophone, les membres de la Chorale sont issus tout autant de la communauté estudiantine que de la communauté francophone établie depuis longtemps en Alberta. Dirigée par Laurier Fagnan, pédagogue très respecté, l’ensemble a gagné une réputation nationale pour son magnifique son, pour ses interprétations pleines de passion et de musicalité et pour son incroyable joie de vivre. Elle puise dans le répertoire d’œuvres classiques avec orchestre, du chant sacré a capella, des negro spirituals ou encore du folklore, et ce dans plusieurs langues. La chorale a aussi commandé plus de vingt-cinq pièces originales et a déjà quatre disques à son actif et des productions futures sont à l’agenda. 

La Chorale compte parmi ses récentes prestations, une tournée de dix jours au Québec en 2005, lors de laquelle les choristes ont pris plaisir à chanter devant près de 10 000 Québécois. Au printemps 2007, la Chorale a interprété « Elles s’appelaient Marie : grande suite pour chœur » composée spécialement pour elle par France Levasseur-Ouimet. Cette grande œuvre fut dotée d’une place spéciale aux célébrations du 400e anniversaire de la ville de Québec en 2008. Pour cette grande fête, les voix de la Chorale Saint-Jean se sont aussi jointes à celles de 1 400 choristes rassemblés pour marquer ce grand événement lors d’un concert gala au Colisée de Québec. Leur chef, Laurier Fagnan, a eu l’honneur d’être un des six chefs (le seul non-québécois) à diriger ce grand ensemble. Et afin de marquer et de célébrer ses racines dans la richesse culturelle et musicale du merveilleux pays de ses ancêtres, cet ensemble dynamique a fait une tournée de la France en juillet 2011, avec des prestations à Paris, Lyon et plusieurs autres villes. 

La Chorale a reçu au cours des dernières années le « Prix Eugène-Trottier » ainsi que le « Prix Impact » décernés par l’Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta. En 2008, l’Office national du film a produit un documentaire sur la Chorale intitulé Le chœur d’une culture afin de souligner le rôle important qu’elle joue dans le rayonnement de la communauté francophone canadienne hors Québec. En 2011 l’ensemble a reçu le « Prix de distinction » du Temple de la renommée de la ville d’Edmonton pour marquer sa contribution exceptionnelle à la vie culturelle et artistique de la capitale albertaine. En juillet 2012, la Chorale a été l’hôte des Choralies internationales Edmonton 2012, festival qui a attiré des centaines de choristes et chefs du monde francophone dans la capitale de l’Alberta. Pour la Chorale Saint-Jean, c’est sa vingtième saison sous la direction de Laurier Fagnan. 

An Interview with Chorale Saint-Jean Director, Laurier Fagnan.

What do you feel makes the Chorale Saint-Jean unique from other choirs? 

Chorale Saint-Jean is a unique mix of university students studying at the U of A’s Campus Saint-Jean and members of Edmonton’s francophone community. Although we sing in many languages, everything we do happens in French. They are an incredible community with 18-year-old choristers fresh out of High School intermingling their voices with much more mature singers with many years of singing and life experience. Many students stay in the choir as alumni for years after they’ve finished their studies, feeling that the combination of a sense of community/family and fine music making within a francophone environment is too precious to leave. We also commission a fair bit of new music and, I hope, contribute to the active ongoing development of our francophone artistic culture.

How did this collaborative performance with Les ensembles vocaux De La Salle come about? 

I’ve known their director, Robert Filion, for several years now. We’ve always talked of collaboration as we have many of the same outlooks on francophone culture and choral music. He invited me to guest conduct a festival in Ottawa this February that he had organized in which Ensemble de la Salle was singing. They are a very, very fine ensemble from a Fine Arts High School in Ottawa. We got along very well and both ensembles are looking forward to our shared concert at Podium and other activities we have planned.

What can audiences hope to see from Chorale Saint-Jean collaborating with Les ensembles vocaux De La Salle from Ottawa? 

They have enjoyed performing music that Chorale Saint-Jean has commissioned in the past, so we will do a couple of pieces written by one of my former choristers, France Levasseur-Ouimet (arranged by Allan Bevan). It will be a concert of mostly French music, so people will be able to hear quite a variety of both SSA and SATB choral music in French with which they may not be familiar, but I hope will instantly enjoy. As Ensemble Vocal de la Salle is a multiple winner of the Choral Canada Choral Competition, people can expect to hear some exquisite singing and artistry. Chorale Saint-Jean will be premiering Trois prières, a set of three newly commissioned sacred pieces by Québec composer Robert Ingari, which I think delegates and audience members will really enjoy.

What role do you see Podium having in the world of Canadian Choral music? 

Podium is such a joy and thrill to attend! I personally look forward to it every two years for a myriad of reasons. It is the only forum that attracts and unites conductors, choirs and educators from all over our vast country. Like seeing a truly close friend that you haven’t seen in some time, there is an immediate bond that is forged or rebuilt between colleagues who look so forward to the networking, performance opportunities, professional development and camaraderie that only Podium can provide. It allows us to be proud of and celebrate together the very rich choral heritage that exists from coast to coast in this vast country. It allows us to tell our stories in song, to teach and learn from each other in equal parts with no agenda or airs; to let the incredible power and inherent sense of community that choral music possesses wash over us all for a few days and make us better people, better citizens. Podium allows us to be better educated on so many levels. We learn of our culture(s), of our varied regional differences that make us distinct, yet part of a greater Canadian whole. We learn new music that challenges and feeds us. We learn new techniques that allow us to build on what we already have and expand in new ways – to boldly go where no choir has gone before! We also meet new colleagues, friends and role models with whom mentorships and future collaborations are forged.

You have multiple roles such as a Professor, researcher, voice teacher and conductor, how to all of these roles inform how you approach choral music? 

If I can choose one aspect that comes into play in each of these roles, it would be that of the development of the beauty and expressive power of the human voice in the context of ensemble singing. The voice is such a complex and fascinating instrument, capable of so many subtleties and ways in which both music and text can be coloured and highlighted. Because of its flexibility, it can at once be the most gratifying and frustrating of instruments in the musical arsenal. Through my work in the application of Bel Canto principles to choral singing as well as my research in the field of vocal and choral acoustics, I find it a privilege to help choristers develop and fully exploit the voice’s vast range of colours and expressive techniques that contribute to the ensemble’s success. I find that principle-centred voice building can provide the chorister/conductor/ensemble with new tools that can lead to yet more expressive interpretations and performances. The choral instrument is truly fascinating – I often find that I have the best job in the world.

In addition to conducting at Podium, you are also the conference co-chair, what led you to be involved with the festival? 

To be honest, I wasn’t looking to assume the leadership of something of this magnitude! But I already had some relevant experience as Artistic Director of Choralies Internationales 2012, an international francophone choral festival that took place in Edmonton a few years ago, and so when asked to take on a leadership role with Podium, I accepted. Peter Malcolm is co-chair with me and we have an absolutely amazing committee of very experienced people around the table, from both the artistic and administrative perspectives. Because Podium is both a conference and a festival, there are many, many details to attend to. Everyone at the table has played a crucial role in creating and developing both aspects of the event and I’ve done what I can to try to weave in continuity and oversee the whole, but I feel privileged to work with such a fine group of people as we prepare for an event that will be truly amazing.

What are the things you are most passionate in regards to the conference and festival that you knew had to be included when you were planning as co-chair? 

Although I have thoroughly enjoyed past Podiums, I’ve often come away thinking that we should have sung more, after all, it’s what we love to do! There is no doubt that there are always top-notch concerts to be enjoyed at Podium, but I thought this time around, it would be great to do as much singing as we do listening. To that end, we are working on creating a Podium Songbook that would be used by all delegates, choristers and audience members. The idea is that, while sitting in the concert hall or church awaiting a performance, rather than just visiting with our neighbours, we would take out the songbook and join together as one massed-choir and sing some of our favourites with 400-800 of our colleagues from around the country. The Songbook will have a variety of repertoire, some time-honoured classics that people will know well and love singing together, some canons and folksongs to get us going, as well as many new Canadian pieces that Canadian publishers have sent us for inclusion in the Songbook. I can’t wait for these common-singing times that are so popular with many European festivals – the Winspear will resound as it never has before with people from every corner of the country joining their voices together and singing as one huge choral community! I hope that this practice will become a standard Podium tradition in years to come.

What do you hope conference and festival attendees will take away from the experience? 

I hope they will go away from Podium with a renewed sense of the important place of choral singing in their lives and in society as a whole. I firmly believe that through the magic of choral music, stories, ideas and important concepts can be tackled and shared in community like in no other art form. You can express things in choral music that are simply not possible otherwise. I hope that people will learn new techniques and live powerful experiences that will confirm and reignite their passion for this beautiful, moving and important thing that we call choral music.

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With a doctorate in choral conducting (U of A / IRCAM, Paris) and a master’s degree in vocal pedagogy (U. Laval), there is nothing Laurier Fagnan enjoys more than inspiring singers to make the most beautiful sound possible. He has served as vocal coach/clinician for many choral festivals and has offered hundreds of workshops in vocal technique to choirs from Whitehorse to Paris. In 2008, he was honoured to guest conduct a choir of 1400 singers gathered to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Quebec City. In 2006, he was awarded a generous grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation to establish Canada’s first Vocal Acoustics Laboratory at Campus Saint-Jean of the University of Alberta, where he has conducted the very dynamic Chorale Saint-Jean since 1995. His doctoral thesis entitled The Acoustical Effects of the Core Principles of the Bel Canto Method on Choral Singing was awarded national prizes in both Canada and the U.S. (Julius Herford Prize). In 2009, he was keynote speaker at the general assembly of the European Choral Federation in Bulgaria and presented his research at the International Conference on the Acoustics of Singing in Stockholm. In July of 2012, Laurier served as artistic director of Choralies internationales Edmonton 2012, a festival which assembled choristers from many corners of the French-speaking world. He has recently launched his new DVD on vocal technique for choirs, which incorporates bel canto vocal principles applied to choral singing and is currently writing a book on bel canto vocal pedagogy. Recent highlights include conducting at international festivals in Vaison-la-Romaine, France and Domaine Forget, Québec as well as presenting at the National Conference of the American Choral Directors’ Association in Salt Lake City. Dr. Fagnan recently completed a post-graduate certificate in Vocology in the US and next May will serve as co-Chair of Podium 2016, Canada’s national conference and festival on choral singing. He was recently awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal recognizing his contribution to community development through choral music.

Friday, March 18, 2016

An Interview with Jeannie Pernal, Conductor of the Grande Prairie Boys Choir


The Grande Prairie Boys’ Choir is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary, providing audiences at home and away with the gift of song from the hearts of 120 boys between the ages of 7 and 20. Along side intensive voice training, drama instruction, theory and sight reading in several smaller ensembles for several age categories, the choir produces 6 sold out concerts per year. Their most recent ambitions include producing a Symphony and Singing in the City concert with professional orchestral musicians mentoring local professional and semi professional performers from Grande Prairie. The Senior and Men of Note Choirs have travelled Nationally to BC, and ON and internationally to Phoenix, Arizona. The Men of Note division of the choir won in their category at the National Music Festival in 2012 and second place in 2014. This year, they have been chosen out of 45 choirs to perform at the National Choral Conference taking place in Edmonton this spring. 

An interview with Grande Prairie Boys' Choir Conductor, Jeannie Pernal.

What do you feel makes the Grande Prairie Boys' Choir unique from other choirs?

The fact that there are 120 boys from a small Northern City, which is focused on the oil industry and hockey is very unique. The method of instruction is also unique in that until the boys are in grade 10, they are divided into small classes of 7-8 boys and receive small group voice lessons. In this way, I can give very individualized instruction, carefully monitor their progress and build a strong rapport with the guys. They gather together in traditional choir format to study and perform choral music and also drama.

Explain the importance of fostering a love of choral singing in our male youth?

The future of choral singing depends on getting our young men to sing.

Where do you begin when you start building a programme list coming to Podium?

As this is my very first time attending Podium I want to show the boys’ capabilities and illustrate what we do up in Grande Prairie. I plan to have my young men (Men of Note) sing alone, as they are my most advanced group, but also want to promote the junior high boys. This is a challenging group to work with as every week someone’s voice is changing! We are planning to sing in a variety of languages and styles. We have a new commission, The Magnificat, written by our Composer in Residence, Trent Worthington, which will be very exciting.


What aspects of repertoire do you consider when you preparing to introduce a new work to present to your choir?

I look for music that will appeal the boys’ intellect, sense of humour and sense of boyhood and manliness.

What are the challenges when you are looking at repertoire to program for the choir?

It is very difficulty to find good quality repertoire for Junior High boys, who sing in SAB. The Bass part is always written too high for the emerging baritone.

Explain your musical upbringing and what eventually drew you to choral music?

I came to music late. I started piano lessons at age 11 and only sang in a choir at university, as I grew up in rural Manitoba where there were very few opportunities for music education.

What is at the heart of choral music singing that drives your passion?

This would take me a long time to write! I love teaching. I love teaching boys because they are energetic and they can keep up with my enthusiasm! Boys need to realize their musical potential and have a safe place to sing during the voice change. There is a lot of negativity surrounding boys and young men singing and I am trying to change that in my community. It is a wonderful thing to watch the boys age from 7 to 20; have increasingly more success on the stage; build a community who support all these boys and create unique and interesting concerts that sell out.

Jeannie Vanwynsberghe Pernal – Founder/Director Jeannie has focused her passions and talent on the development of young male voices for the last 25 years. She received her Bachelor of Music Education from Brandon University and Kodaly certification. Upon graduation from university, she secured a position as Director of Music at the all-boys’ school, St. John’s Ravenscourt in Winnipeg. After three years with the Vancouver Children’s Choir, Jeannie moved to Grande Prairie in 2001 and formed the Grande Prairie Boys’ Voice Training and Choir. A lifelong learner, Jeannie is grateful to her mentors, Trent Worthington and Elise Bradley who collaborate on a regular basis.

In 2013, Jeannie was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her work with the choir and the choir’s contribution to the community. Recently Jeannie and the boys won the Con Spirito Award for their contribution to choral music in the province of Alberta.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

An Interview with Robert Busiakiewicz, Artistic Director of Opus 8


The vocal ensemble based in Toronto, Opus 8, consists of eight soloists with a wealth of choral experience. Its members have sung with the Elora Festival Singers, Musica Intima, Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal, Tafelmusik, Choir 21, and with various opera companies throughout Canada. The elite professional octet draws sell-out audiences in the Toronto area with varied programming and some of the genre’s most exciting and challenging repertoire, including 14th century chansons, 17th century partsongs, to 21st century jazz arrangements.

An interview with Opus8 Artistic Director and Singer, Robert Busiakiewicz.

What do you feel makes Opus 8 unique?

The most obvious difference will be that in consisting of only eight singers, Opus 8’s performances will be the most intimate choral experiences on offer. Each voice has the luxurious liberty to be spontaneous and soloistic such that the expressive compass of the performance will be arguably much wider than the ‘impersonal’ effects of a massed-choir. What results is conversational, interactive chamber music which allows intricate counterpoint to jump off the page, speaking to audiences in a meaningful and exciting way.

What are some of the highlights you have had with Opus 8?

My fondest memories are the looks on people’s faces when they tell me after a concert, “I had no idea Byrd could be so dissonant”, “I had no idea Hassler could be so sexy”, “I thought Opus 8’s performance of Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Notre Dame was like seeing a new colour for the first time”. Rediscovering and facilitating visceral and highly characterful performances of lesser known challenging music from 1300-1750 is particularly thrilling in its almost infinite potential for interpretation. That said, as a former big band leader and saxophonist, I must admit having a predilection for fiendishly lush close harmony arrangements which Opus 8 always takes well within its bafflingly versatile stride.

Where do you begin when you start building a programme list coming to Podium?

Michael Zaugg, the artistic director of the Podium Festival, got in touch with us regarding a shared concert with Pro Coro that would focus on the themes of ‘light and darkness’. He asked that our contribution be exclusively early music, which made the process much easier in that we could avoid what Stravinsky called ‘the abyss of freedom”.

What can audiences hope to see from Opus 8 at Podium?

Our lecture recital (Thursday 19th May, 1.30pm McDougall United Church), along with the wisdom of Roseen Giles from the University of Toronto, will feature and dissect three utterly remarkable chansons from the 16th Century: Adieu Mon Esperance by Clemens non Papa, Mon Petit Cueur by Cipriano de Rore and Tous Les Regretz by Nicolas Gombert. These relatively unknown works hold harmonic curiosity and intensity that flirts with the extremes of dissonance and false-relation. The deeply sentimental texts ache with emotion and the voice-leading drips with a rare expressivity that leaves a lasting impression.

Our concert with Pro Coro will see some joint performances as well as a showcase of fiery Palestrina, Byrd and Monteverdi before turning to the shadowy sound-world of Gesualdo, and the sublime obscurities of John Sheppard and Pierre de Manchicourt.

How has your upbringing in the musical words of Austria and the UK influenced your choral perspective?

Living in Austria left me with a chronic soft spot for the exuberance of unbridled melody – this was certainly at the hand of Johann Strauss II. Later I would come to take great delight in the cerebral machinations of the Second Viennese School, with its almost erotic eloquence and dazzling technical virtuosity. Singing Schoenberg, and particularly Berg, is an experience like nothing else.

The rich choral heritage in the UK provides a fascinating canvass for a staggering variety of approaches to ensemble singing. From the university collegiate choirs, to the 42 cathedral foundations, to the professional chamber choirs to the choral societies, there is a feast of diversity in sound derived from the human voice. I have been particularly nourished by the inspiring recordings of The Cardinall’s Musick, Tenebrae, The BBC Singers, Stile Antico, Alamire, and Contrapunctus, particularly for their strong personality, emotional gamut, full-throated healthy singing which sounds like experienced human beings communicating text, rather than a white-noise synthesiser.

What are the challenges when you are looking at repertoire to program for Opus 8?

There is a wealth of repertoire which demands long legato lines, some of which are so long that breath becomes a major consideration: Do you compromise with a potentially unmusical faster tempo to allow the phrase to be sung in one breath, or do you safeguard the perfect slow tempo but chop up the line with new rests? With only eight singers, the opportunities to 'stagger' breathe are all but eliminated. Some contemporary music like that of Arvo Pärt and Jonathan Harvey require a seamless body of sound that is almost impossible to reproduce without cunning subterfuge between the parts.

From an academic and historical perspective, there is also the persistent question of appropriate keys and part distribution in much renaissance music. Balancing acts such as 'if we perform this in A, the soprano part will be very high and taxing on the voice, but the bass part won't be constantly below the staff', or 'if we perform this in C, the tenors can split and be high in their range, rather than have the altos split and be in a perilously low tessitura'. Judging which combination will work best in performance with our personnel is also something considered at length.

What inspired you to be a conductor?

In another life perhaps I would have become a graveyard-shift DJ. The first time I heard Britten's A Boy Was Born, or MacMillan's Seven Last Words From The Cross, or Messiaen's O Sacrum Convivium, or Tallis' Spem in Alium, along with the cocktail of heightened emotions associated with the score, I felt an immense gratitude to the person who had exposed me to such powerful materials. One then feels naturally obliged to share these with others. The satisfaction of inviting someone to inhabit a piece of music they have never heard before and to persuade them of its inherent excellence is a similar sensation to hosting a historic party that was deeply savoured and long talked-about. The infamous Polish hospitality of my grandparents has probably manifested itself in an insatiable appetite to introduce people to potentially unfamiliar music. In short, the illimitable and unimaginable efforts of composers themselves throughout history serve as inspiration enough to dedicate a lifetime to their exploration and appreciation (or should I say sifting through the substantial dross, in search of that elusive life-changing score).

What is at the heart of choral music singing that drives your passion?

Qualities which evade definition and analysis. Glimpses of the sublime, the magic of an ensemble becoming more than the sum of its parts. That 'buzzing' feeling you get when a chord is perfectly tuned and balanced. The emancipation and artful transformation of poetry into sound, the sincerity, vulnerability and humanity behind the primitive yet complex instrument itself in relation to the brain, memory and emotions.

What are some future goals of the group?

To share as wide a repertoire with as many people as possible at the highest standards we are capable, while having as much fun as possible. If there's some critical recognition of that labour of love along the line, it would be a welcome bonus.

See Opus 8 in concert with Pro Coro Canada at Podium Conference and Festival.

A devout ambassador for the Anglican choral tradition, Robert Busiakiewicz has given concerts and services all over the world, including Australia, Russia, the United States, and throughout Europe. A multi-award winning and versatile musician, most recently he was presented the Lord Mayor of London's Prize in Composition (Commotio for solo organ) and admitted to the Worshipful Company of Musicians. 

Holding a deep commitment to education, and having taught at King's College London (UK), he specialises in fugue, counterpoint and orchestration as well as privately coaching voice, improvisation, jazz, and theory. A sought after choral motivator, conductor, pianist, saxophonist, big band leader and singer, Robert has given master-classes across England to choirs of all ages. He has performed in The Royal Albert Hall, Blenheim Palace, Banqueting House, The Barbican, RAC Club Pall Mall, Sydney Opera House, the Hermitage Theatre, Washington National Cathedral and The Royal Festival Hall. Although equally comfortable conducting for the theatre and concert platforms, his background lies in Cathedral music, frequently singing on radio, disc, and international television.

He holds music degrees from the University of London, the Royal Academy of Music, and the University of Cambridge, where he was a choral scholar at King's College. He has prepared scholarly editions of renaissance polyphony for Mapa Mundi and composed for artists such as the Britten Sinfonia, Lontano Ensemble, The Mercian Consort, Siglo de Oro, Stamford Choral, Sloane Square Choral Society and the choirs of Massey College, Toronto, Southwell Minster, and King's College, Cambridge. His music has featured on BBC Radio, in the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music and is recorded by Priory Records. Recent tenor solo engagements have included Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (RAM), Bach's St. John Passion (KCL) & Magnificat (KCC), Tippett's A Child of Our Time, Scarlatti's Dixit Dominus, Haydn's Die Schöpfung, Nikolai, Nelson and Cellensis Masses (Stratford Choral Society), Mozart's Nozze di Figaro and Requiem (Grace Church on-the-Hill), Handel's Messiah and Britten's Abraham and Isaac (Archbishop's Palace, Nottinghamshire). 

The grandson of Polish refugees, he spent his formative years in Vienna, Austria and Stratford-upon-Avon, UK. In 2014 he moved to Canada and founded the professional vocal ensemble Opus 8; he has since worked with the Elora Festival Singers, Choir 21, The Mendelssohn Choir and the choir of St. James Cathedral.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

An Interview with Shumayela Conductor, Kim Denis

Celebrating its tenth season in 2015-2016, Shumayela, a choir for treble and changing voices in the Kokopelli Choir Association, continues to expand its horizons, develop its membership and satisfy a variety of musical tastes. The choir has toured throughout British Columbia and Alberta, performed in Ottawa at the Unisong festival for Canada Day, and in July 2013 the group was featured at the prestigious international Festival 500 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Wherever the choir travels, they spread the joy of music-making and hope to bring communities together through song.

Shumayela offers a focus on thorough and excellent music education, with singers learning about healthy vocal production, the body-voice connection, and vibrant performance presence as well as a strong emphasis on musical literacy, music theory, and sight singing skills. As with all of the ensembles in the Kokopelli Choir Association, Shumayela provides a secure and accepting social environment where all singers feel their importance as members of the group. Most importantly, Shumayela has fun and creates energetic and engaging music!

An Interview with Shumayela Conductor, Kim Denis:

What do you feel makes the Shumayela unique from other choirs? 

Shumayela is unique for so many reasons!! We’re a choir exclusively for junior-high aged youth (early teens) and as such, we honour all that comes with that age – changing personalities, voices and bodies – and we work with the changes to provide a space where choristers can feel brave to experiment, learn and grow. One of the things I love most about Shumayela is the energy and enthusiasm they bring to the music as well as their desire to create something unique in every piece. They are a group of singers that look for the interesting, unique and colourful moments in the music we sing, as well as in each other.

You have been working with Shumayela for a decade now, what are some of the highlights you have had with the Shumayela? 
I started Shumayela 10 years ago (I can’t believe it’s already been that long!) and we’ve seen many wonderful things during that time – how to choose! Our concert at Festival 500 in Newfoundland was definitely a highlight – the singers sang so energetically and looked so alive on stage; they made me very proud. At Unisong in 2011, the choir that was supposed to go on before us and sing a concert in the Rotunda at the Parliament Buildings was late and so they sent us on. We did our entire set and then got the cue to continue to stretch the time because the other choir still had not arrived so I turned to the singers and asked what they wanted to sing. We proceeded to have an epic choir request concert for the next 45 minutes! I also loved the concert we sang on a Community Service Tour we did in Edmonton – we sang for over supper at Hope Mission. There was a very agitated man who sat down in front of the choir and as we sang, he gradually calmed and by the end of the meal, he was still, relaxed and looked much more peaceful. I think that was one of the moments when the singers realized they could make a difference doing something they love to make the world a better place. On that same tour, I took the choir to a number of seniors’ residences. We were singing a piece where the choir was to go out into the audience and find someone to dance with. I’ll never forget the image of one of my 14 year old boys offering his hand to a woman who leapt up out of her chair and proceeded to teach him how to tango.

In the past you described the challenges of programming because you can never be sure where the vocal development of your preteens entering puberty end up by the performance date, where do you begin when you start building a programme list coming to Podium? 

I look for repertoire that is super flexible, where it won't matter if a few voices end up singing down the octave. Or I look for alto parts that sit a little lower. I also tend to gravitate toward world music selections as these can be quite flexible, or I hunt for things with percussion parts so that if I want to do something with only my treble voices, I can always come up with an interesting percussion part for the boys to play. I also leave myself pretty open in my program proposal so that I don't end up having to do repertoire that just won't work for their voices any given year. I've also become pretty adept at adapting pieces so that they will work for us, and between my accompanist, Tova Olson and I, we can usually arrange something that will work if we find a great melody or text and this can happen relatively close to the performance.


What inspires you when you are working with youth singers? 

I love their energy and their creativity and their enthusiasm for discovery. They want to create something meaningful and distinct to them. Their faces are priceless when a challenging piece starts to take shape and they realize it's actually "cool." I also like that they don't realize a piece is hard unless I tell them it is (usually after we've learned it). They don't have blocks when it comes to trying something new, they just want to try! I also love the random moments when I overhear funny conversations between the choristers - the one that comes to mind most recently was when we were learning Nick Page's Bashana Haba'ah for Christmas. It's a piece based in the Jewish tradition and includes a fantastic Klezmer clarinet part. One of my young men turned to his buddy and said, "I love this piece! It's so Israeli-ish" to which, his buddy responded, "Dude, the word is Hindu." Never a dull a moment.

When you are looking to program a work for your choir, what are the considerations you keep in mind? 

I look for writers who are able to write flexible pieces, especially if I'm asking them to create something before I hear the choir's level any given year. I also look for interesting and fun texts and I always want great rhythms and melodies that allow me to teach musicality. I also look for composers who are able to write pieces with character - my teens love to play characters (some of them try on different personalities every week!) and so I seek out music that allows them to express their personality.

What aspects of repertoire do you consider when you preparing to introduce a new work to present to your choir? 

I look at the elements of the piece to determine what the teaching points will be - are there tricky intervals or a recurring interval? Are there rhythms or time signatures we need to break down into their component parts? What does the text tell us? What is the historical or cultural significance of the piece or the style? Are there interesting features we're going to add later like movement, dance, boomwhackers, other instruments, props, etc.? Can I use this piece to practice sight singing? Is it written in traditional harmonic patterns based on thirds or does it use quartal harmony? If the piece is polyphonic, what are the main recurring themes? Does the piece break down into easily memorizable sections? Can I introduce or reinforce standard choral singer rehearsal practices like finding your note from other parts, how singers mark their scores so that they remember corrections, etc? Can I reinforce their sense of rhythm, time and beat? Does this piece offer us the opportunity to learn about another language or culture? Is there an opportunity for a singer in the choir who speaks French, Spanish, Hebrew, Norwegian, etc to help in the teaching and assume a leadership role in the choir? So many things!!

What are the challenges when you are looking at repertoire to program for Shumayela?

I think the biggest challenges I have when programming repertoire is dependant upon the concert theme. The Kokopelli Choir Association often has a thematically based concert (Celtic, Broadway, African, Light, Spring, Colours, etc) and sometimes, the theme doesn't always come with a lot of well-written SAB, SSAB, SAC, SSAC music. Generally speaking however, if there's a song that I find that fits our theme and has a great melody and text to work with, it can be arranged into something that works for the choir. I also find it challenging to do works pre-1900 - these sometimes aren't as flexible, or the alto lines are too low and often the arrangements aren't that great. I've had some success with Gregorian chant and pieces that use a cantus firmus however so there's always a way out of every programming dilemma.

You have multiple roles such as voice teacher, singer, conductor explain what drew you to choral music? 

I kind of fell into it by accident!! I discovered how great choral music could be in university. I grew up in a small town and while the children's choir in the church was great, I didn't get a lot of exposure to the traditional choral canon and had no idea how amazing it was to sing works like Handel's Messiah! What a discovery! While in university, I started directing a church choir as a part-time job and then kept finding choirs to direct everywhere I ended up and by virtue of being willing to take on leadership, I ended up directing choirs. I decided to audition at UofA on a whim for the choral conducting program and ended up getting in and the next thing I knew, I was a choir director! I continued singing, landed in Pro Coro Canada, and kept taking courses on directing, singing technique, rehearsal technique, went to workshops and conferences like Music Conference Alberta and Podium and now I can't imagine not directing choirs.

See Shumayela with Kikimatsu at Podium Conference and Festival (May 19-22, 2016)


Kimberley Denis, M.Mus. Choral Conducting and Vocal Performance (University of Alberta, 2007), B.Mus. (Mount Allison University, 2003), B. Comm. (Mount Allison University, 2003) is known for her energy and enthusiasm both on stage and off, and is sought after as a soloist, choral clinician, and adjudicator for voice and choir. Upon completion of both her commerce and music undergraduate degrees at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, she returned to her home province of Alberta where she completed a double masters degree in choral conducting and vocal performance at the University of Alberta. She also holds an associate diploma in Education (1996) and a music diploma in contemporary vocal performance from Red Deer College (1997).

Vocal credits include a nomination for 2010 and 2012 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artist Award, recital appearances around the province, and a year-long tour with Up With People. In 2015, she starred in a production of Jason Robert Brown's song cycle Songs for a New World and in 2014, played Cathy in The Last Five Years; both productions were held at the historic Bailey Theatre in Camrose, AB. She has worked with Live Bait Theatre in New Brunswick, appearing in many of their musical dinner theatres, and has also played Bonnie in Anything Goes, Kate in Kiss Me, Kate!, and Frumah Sarah in Fiddler on the Roof. She recorded the Alphabet Action Songs for Themes and Variations Music Publishing, and was a soprano soloist for the University of Alberta’s recording of the Dvorak Te Deum. She recently completed a concert tour with world percussion duo, Jamani and will be starring in the Western Canada premiere of a new musical by Canadian playwright, GaRRy Williams this summer. She is a singer with Pro Coro Canada, as well as with the Canadian Chamber Choir. In addition to her stage work, she has a flourishing voice studio at MacEwan University Conservatory of Music and is also the Music Advisor to the School of Continuing Education for MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta.

She has conducted a wide variety of ensembles and has previously worked with the Red Deer College Chamber Choir, the Nota Bene Youth Choir in Red Deer, the Red Deer Children’s Choir, the Mount Royal University Youth Choir, the Edmonton All-City Junior Children’s Choir and the Edmonton All-City High School Choir. Presently, she directs Shumayela with the Kokopelli Choir Association in Edmonton, a choir which she founded in 2006; the choir has performed at Festival 500, an international choral festival held in St. John’s, NF and will be a featured ensemble this spring at the Podium national choral conference. She has been the choir director for the past seven years at MusiCamp Alberta held at Red Deer College, has been the youth choir director at the Naramata Summer Music Week, and in 2011-2012 season, she directed the Kamloops/Thompson School District Honour Choir as well as the Edmonton Public Schools High School Honour Choir. She is also an experienced director of church music, having begun work in this area in 2000 at Mountain View United Church in Moncton, New Brunswick. Since then, she has worked for a number of different denominations, and most recently, is the music director at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Edmonton, Alberta.

Music for theatre credits include music direction for Concordia University College's 2013 production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, vocal coaching for Red Deer College’s 2011 production of Rent, creating and directing a live vocal music score for Red Deer College's production of Romeo and Juliet and creating and directing a live music score for the world premiere of Vern Thiessen's adaptation of Wuthering Heights. She was also the music director at Theatre Alberta's Artstrek summer program for Into the Woods and is a frequent clinician for community theatre groups.

In addition to her work as a singer and conductor, Kimberley arranges pieces for choirs and is published by Cypress Music and Augsburg Fortress and was recently commissioned for an arrangement of the school song for the The Grange, a private, English-speaking school in Santiago, Chile.