Friday, December 30, 2016

Best of 2016

Greetings readers,

I wish to reflect on the awesome happenings that occurred on The Choir Girl Blog as well as my own personal development as a singer. In no particular order, here are some of the highlights:


It's not everyday I get to have some of the most innovative social media choristers in my hometown. I was ecstatic when Missy Clarkson, Amy Desrosiers, and Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin accepted my invite to join a social media team for Podium Conference and Festival. My local photog friends, Nanc Price and Twila Bakker were also equipped with their cameras throughout the Festival and Conference. We had the opportunity to create content prior to the conference and festival and we could share multiple perspectives at once. These aforementioned individuals showcased how we can use these tools to highlight the work of our choral community. I was humbled to work in close conjunction with them leading up to Podium. Podium 2018 will be hosted in Newfoundland, perhaps you may see some familiar faces once again.

The Interview Machine

National Youth Choir 2016

I managed to conduct 11 interviews in preparation for Podium. It was an ambitious feat to extend an invitation to interview all choirs coming to Edmonton for the Podium Choral Conference but I knew it would be an excellent opportunity to learn more about the choirs arriving. I also wanted to show how online tools could extend the educational reach of the conference and highlight the work of conductors and their ensembles. To hear from the leadership behind ensembles like The National Youth Choir, Pro Coro Canada, Grande Prairie Boys Choir, Shumayela, i Coristi Chamber Choir, Elektra, Opus 8, Chorale Saint-Jean, Coastal Sound Youth Choir, Calgary Girls Choir, and the Prairie Chamber Choir provides for an invaluable glimpse behind these ensembles. Some of my favorite quotes were hearing Morna Edmundson from Elektra and Elaine Quilichini speaking about the mentorship of female conductors and providing nurturing spaces for women to sing, how Jeannie Pernal mentors a group 120 boys to sing within the Grande Prairie community, and Melissa Morgan's passion to create an accessible archive of Prairie choral music and an ensemble to share their works.

Love Fail

Love Fail Photos by Michael Zaugg, courtesy of Pro Coro Canada

This was by far one of the most challenging choral projects I tackled this past year.  I was in a solo quartet performing a work for a solid 50 minutes which was unconducted plus staging. However, as with most challenging projects, it proved to be the most satisfying because I had to stretch the skills I had a singer to meet the demands of the project. In the end, I had a positive result! I learned much about how I receive feedback, how I adapt that knowledge or how I require extra processing time to take notes into consideration. It was also a test in how I manage my nerves while getting through the performance when adrenaline causes my heart to race for the first 20 minutes in the piece. I also learned that my nerves decrease as I increase my preparedness level over time. It was also nurturing to be connected to a positive female creation process while working with the Good Women Dance Collective as well as with my fellow Pro Coro singers. Another fond memory was my fellow quartet of singers providing music at the bedside of a choral mother who was not able to make it to the performance. Since that time, her mother has passed away, and I will forever treasure the reminder that it is a true gift to share music with others, especially with the intent of healing and support.

Personal Voice Work

As any singer knows, we are in a process of training a biological instrument that is constantly changing throughout our entire lifetime. It is susceptible to changes in age, stress, hydration, hormones, general body fitness, and many more factors. I always like to switch up voice teachers and have occasional check-ins to to consider a variety of different perspectives. I find I gain the most from a intense period of voice lessons and then having time to decode and attempt to transfer those teachings into my functional voice practice.

In my training as a Speech-Language Pathologist, I received great advice from a Voice Therapy mentor. I sat in a group of eager voice trainers and clinicians appealing to her for the gold-standard approach to treat a voice disorder. Instead, she explained that the process is like tackling a knotted ball of yarn. There is no one right way or method to tackle a problem since everybody is different and all techniques must be adapted for a client. Instead, you go from different angles, you may work on one thread and then you may return to a previous thread; however, with enough persistence, it will eventually untangle.

At the end of this previous year, I had some excellent voice sessions. My voice coach showed me different techniques to access the upper and lower limits of my voice range. All of a sudden, I was able to attempt singing aria repertoire I deemed too challenging for myself five years ago. It blew my mind! There's something empowering about being able to sing works that you have previously shelved due to having an instrument that wasn't ready.

Ship Shape for Opera

A photo posted by misssable (@misssable) on

This last Edmonton Opera run of Turandot was the most physically and musically challenging I have had to tackle in my time as a chorus member. There was much text to memorize, quick tempos, and physical staging to execute at the same time. Challenges included making sure I could see the Maestro in the pit or projected in the video monitors in the wings while lying crouched on my side and, if there were no sight lines available, I had to memorize the preceding orchestral lines prior to my vocal entry point and still come in with confidence. It was the first show I started doing cardio before the performance so my muscles were warmed up from activity earlier in the day. It felt helpful to have muscles that were stretched and warmed up for the hours of evening activity in order to minimize injury. I also incorporated full-body stretches during during vocal warm-ups in order to coordinate singing with movement. It was a good reminder that voice work incorporates many body systems. Last time I was rehearsing for Merry Widow, we rehearsed a lot of curtsies and I did zero stretches. In the following weeks, I had to roll myself to the edge of my bed and use my arms to push my torso upright in order to wiggle out of bed because my legs and lower back were too sore to move. Never again!

A photo posted by misssable (@misssable) on

As 2017 unveils itself, keep me posted on your choral happenings readers, and I will promise to do the same. Until we meet again in the new year!

Friday, December 9, 2016

It's Messiah Season

Greetings readers,

It's that wonderful time of year where there is a serious overload of holiday offerings and you're  debating which are tempting enough to lure you from the warmth of your home.

There is no shortage of Messiah offerings in Canada this season so I am calling it #MessiahNightinCanada on social media. This is a spin-off from #HockeyNightinCanada and #OperaNightinCanada I have seen used by Doug MacNaughton.

Pro Coro finishes up a consecutive week of rehearsal with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and Da Camera singers under Maestro Ragnar Bohlin. It is always fun and challenging to approach a familiar piece with Bohlin's perspective. I found myself grappling with bad motor learning patterns from the past when taking on the "weighty coloratura" during "Great was the Company" movement. However, some other lines felt so much easier to sing like adding a slight pause for an short "h" during the opening line "For unto (h)us a child is born." The acoustic effect is one that creates space to hear a crisp word onset but it doesn't stop the airflow so it's easier to continue singing afterward! Genius! I have also been enjoying the rehearsal warm-ups by Bohlin to see the exercises he has picked up in Sweden or a voice coach in Vienna.

Whatever you choose to partake in during this Christmas season, whether it is your local Messiah offering or it's the Winter Concert at the local Elementary School - stay warm and enjoy it with good company. Hallelujah!

Other Messiah News:

Pro Coro's friends, the Vancouver Chamber Choir are opening at the Orpheum Theatre with the Pacifica Singers and Vancouver Chamber Orchestra tonight as well. Toronto's offerings by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (Dec 18-23) and Tafelmusik (Dec 14-17) as well as Victoria (Dec 16-18). I know I missed some so post the dates in the comments below or on social media with #MessiahNightinCanada

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Warmth in the North

Greetings readers,

I am always reminded of the warmth of the connections created within the choral community. This past weekend was no exception as Nanc and I headed North of the 60th Parallel to check-out the winter tundra. After a 15 hour drive North from Edmonton, we were greeted with a sliver of aurora borealis in the sky and the glow moonlight highlighting the ragged outline of coniferous forests.

The most common question people asked us when we told we were going up to Yellowknife was: "Why?"

My unsatisfying answer was: "Why not!?!"

It was a great opportunity to reconnect with choral friends once again made when Pro Coro Canada visited in May 2015. Amongst the chats about voice science, motor learning, and semi-occluded vocal tract exercises, I was reminded of the power of connection in musical communities regardless of distance. It seems like the colder the climate, the warmer the people. I was invited into homes for voice lessons and to their tables for shared meals with their family. Fueled by the warmth generated from hearty moose soup and Mennonite sausage pizza, I headed to choir rehearsal for the evening. As I sat with the Ursa Miners working on Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols, it was a pleasure to witness the excellent music making in thius warm Northern pocket.

My Northern getaway also allowed me some excellent prep time for Pro Coro's upcoming Messiah performance with Da Camera Singers and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra at the new Birchwood Coffee in downtown Yellowknife. I always have this expression of pomp as I study the moving lines in And He Shall Purify. 

I will miss these images of the roadside winter wonderland in the North.

Check out Nanc Price Photography for more photos from the weekend.

Yellowknife 2016

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 2016 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 Desrosiers 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)