Monday, March 2, 2020

An Interview with Konomi Kikuchi


Japanese Dancer, Konomi Kikuchi, is an understudy dancer for The Beginning of Happiness. She took some time to share her thoughts regarding the rehearsal process so far:

What is some of your background? 

I started training in classical ballet in Japan at the age of three. I graduated from Japan Music High School where I specialized in classical ballet. After that, I was at the Alberta Ballet School in Calgary as a part of their Postgraduate Program. I met a wonderful contemporary teacher at the Alberta Ballet School named Graham McKelvie. I was attracted to the charm of contemporary dance that was different than classical ballet. Now I am learning contemporary dance as an apprentice with Good Women Dance Collective.

Why did you decide to come to Canada?

I was interested in learning ballet outside of Japan. At the time I chose Canada because I auditioned and was accepted to the Alberta Ballet School.

What was the importance of dance for you growing up in Japan?

Without dancing, I would be crazy. Dance is the most important to me. Dance is my favourite thing that makes me happy and sad and gives me a lot of emotions.

What are some things that are similar or different between the dance culture in Edmonton and Japan?

I thought about the differences between Edmonton and Japanese dance. My opinion is that Japanese people are good at fine-tuning the body direction and spacing of dancers lined up with one another. I was surprised at the richness of expression in the Edmonton dance community. There are many artistic and warm people. I am learning the importance of dance in my heart.

Do you have any thoughts on the rehearsal process and how the singers and dancers work together in this show?

I think dancers and singers are connected by breath. Dancers need to breathe in order to dance. Singers also need breathing between creating sounds. I feel that both work because of breath.

What is your favourite song or part in this show?

My favourite song is "How Beautiful” since the first time I heard it. It has a beauty that makes me want to hear it with my eyes closed.

What is the challenge of being an understudy when you are learning all dance parts in the show?

I am happy to know all the dancers' choreography. It's a very good learning experience because each character has a lot of things that I don't have. I am mainly Alison’s understudy. She is powerful and has energy that is strong and cool! She is a very kind person who teaches me what I do not understand and practices with me. She has everything I need. I am especially learning a lot from her!

I had only danced the choreography before; however, this time, I was very interested because the dancers choreographed the movements and imagined what they would look like only after listening to the songs. This is an absolutely good experience for me.

What do you think of having live music to accompany dance rather than a recorded track?

Everything that is not recorded is fresh music, and the music that emanates from it impresses me. This time, the music of the four wonderful singers gives goosebumps. Music that is played live has something that resonates with human hearts.

Is there anything I missed that you would like to mention?

I am very grateful to be able to participate in all rehearsals as an understudy.
Thank you very much.

Follow Konomi on Instagram @konomi0919

The Beginning of Happiness
Composed by Jane Berry
Choreographed by Good Women Dance Collective
Featuring Jane Berry, Sable Chan, Amy Voyer, Dawn Bailey (FEMME), Ainsley Hillyard, Kate Stashko, Alison Towne, and Rebecca Sadowski (GWDC).

Tickets are available at TIX on the Square. Seating is limited, please book in advance. $25 General, $15 Student/Senior/CADA Members
25% of the house will be held for pay-what-you-will tickets at the door.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

An Interview with Melissa Morgan

Melissa Morgan’s professional world underwent significant change in 2019. Firstly, she decided to step away from duties with the Prairie Chamber Choir (PCC). The group was at a point where either there would be a major investment of time to continue the non-profit group established or it was time to refocus her energy into other work. Morgan was also teaching full-time at Luther College High School while at the same time she was directing the PCC. “In my mind, I needed to take some time for a work-life balance,” she reflected as she spoke with me over the phone. Morgan’s passion is evident when she speaks about music and education. She continued about the PCC, “In Regina, we didn’t have an SATB conducted choir that specialized in Prairie choral music but I had to make a choice. I decided that I would step away from the choir. Shortly after I knew [I would step away], a terrible thing happened - Dominic Gregorio, the Choral Director at the University of Regina, passed away.”

A heavy silence enters the phone line between Morgan and myself.

The news of Gregorio’s death shocked the Canadian choral community. His passion, advocacy, and presence within the community connected with many people. Morgan notes that the choral community is still trying to process the painful shock of his sudden death. “It was tough at the University here, his students adored him, he adored his students” she shares. Gregorio was always one to lend a helping hand and did for Morgan the week before his passing when he volunteered last minute to help with the Vancouver Chamber Choir concert. 

“When his position came up [at the University of Regina],” Morgan shared , “there was a lot of uncertainty for me when I applied. Yet, I feel it’s a great honour to continue his legacy. Dominic did a lot of wonderful things for the University and the students. Everybody knew and loved him and it is my goal to nurture and continue the attitude of joy and culture of community and that he loved to spread.” revealed Morgan. It is hard to imagine a better individual to continue into Gregorio’s position at the University of Regina other than Morgan. She and the Music Faculty understood that the best way to honour Gregorio was to pick up and move on: “He wouldn’t want everybody moping around. He would want everybody to do their best, to keep moving forward, to keep being as excellent as they can. That’s what we have to do.” There will be a concert in remembrance of Dominic Gregorio on March 8, 2020 and a scholarship established in his name (please see the bottom of this post for more details).

As with any new job, Morgan is experiencing a learning curve in her new position as Director of Choral Music at the University of Regina. This year is dedicated to developing her coursework and conducting the University choirs. One such course is the Introduction to Choral Techniques for primarily Music Education students. It required her to reflect on her own learning practices and how to translate that for her students. Some of these questions were to ask herself: “How do I approach teaching gesture, various beat patterns, what are the students doing with their bodies, and how do our bodies communicate with people in front of you… how do I introduce and teach the things that I have spent the last 25 years of my life trying to figure out?”

As a fellow woman of colour, I was very eager to hear Morgan’s thoughts on being a Black woman in a prominent Faculty position within the area of choral conducting. Morgan shares her family history to provide context, “I grew up here in Regina. My mom was a single mom, my dad passed away when I was four. My mom raised my sister and I. When my dad passed, my aunts and my grandmother came to help her because she was pregnant with my sister at the time. I grew up with my family being one of a handful of Black families living in Regina, Saskatchewan. In elementary school, my sister and I were oftentimes the only two Black kids in the building. In high school, it was me and one other girl, we were the two Black students in our grade. Throughout my university days there weren't a lot of Black students on campus and less in music. It was very sparse. I never had any Black teachers.” It is clear that Morgan speaks with an awareness of how others may have a certain perception of who she is because of her skin colour but this doesn’t impact her daily life. “I am a Black woman. I identify as that and I know I represent the community. But I find my character, how I treat people, my work ethic, the way I interact with others, that is number one. Second is being as knowledgeable as I can about my job,” she shares. She recounts a tale from her first years of teaching in a high school: 

“I had just finished my Masters in choral conducting and I ended up teaching a full-load of English. I got to school the first day, I was setting up in the classroom, a student walked in, I didn’t see the student. I was getting ready at my desk, and I heard, “What!?!?! they are hiring Black people now!?!?!,” Morgan looked up to see a Black, female student continue, “I never had a Black teacher ever!” She was like, “what is going on here?” She ended up in my class. We could talk about various things and she felt like she could relate to me. That really awoke me - brought an awareness to me that diversity matters. I’ve always been the only Black person in the classroom or at a teacher’s meeting. That’s just who I am, that’s my life. I’ve experienced racism but it doesn’t get the better of me. What I’m happy to see is that now there are teachers of colour in the classroom.”

Morgan notes that there are probably only a handful of Black female conductors in Canada working at the university level and that there is work to do to get women of colour into these positions. She also shares how fortunate she has been to have strong, female mentors during her education such as Victoria Meredith who was her Masters supervisor at the University of Western Ontario and her Doctorate mentor, Hilary Apfelstadt who was at the University of Toronto. Morgan elaborates, “my race was never an issue. Those seeds of limitations were never placed on me. I always believed I could do it because everybody always told me I could.” Her influences of strong women extend beyond her academic mentors as she notes the importance of her colleagues at Luther College High School, her mother, sister, aunts and grandmother in her upbringing as well. It is evident that Morgan will also continue this role of support in the lives of her students and singers.

“We’re all here for each other. That’s why we’re on this earth. I’m here for you, you’re here for me. However we interact or don’t interact, whatever you do has affected what I do. We’re all on this earth for each other. How can we interact with others to make this a better place? Forget what you look like, or what you’re wearing, what language you speak,” she shares with fervour. While 2019 was a year of change, Morgan speaks with a wisdom that recognizes that embracing the discomfort of change is the only way to move forward.

Dr. Melissa Morgan is a choral conductor, educator and performer. Currently, she directs the choral program at the University of Regina where she also teaches courses in choral conducting and vocal diction. She is frequently asked to appear as a clinician, adjudicator and guest conductor throughout Canada.  
Dr. Morgan holds a Doctorate of Music Performance in Choral Conducting from the University of Toronto, a Master of Music Performance in Choral Conducting from the University of Western Ontario, a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Regina. She is also an Associate of the Toronto Royal Conservatory of Music (ARCT) in piano, voice, and flute. Throughout her education she has had the privilege of studying with exemplary teachers. She is grateful to have worked under the supervision of Dr. Hilary Apfelstadt, Dr. Victoria Meredith, Kathryn Laurin, and Diana Woolrich. In October 2017, Dr. Morgan was named as one of CBC Saskatchewan's Future 40 under 40 recipients.

Dominic Gregorio Scholarship:

A proud Filipino-Canadian, Dominic Gregorio was born and raised in Guelph, Ontario, completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music at the University of Guelph, a triple major Master of Music Degree (Voice, Choral Conducting, Music History) at the Temple University in Philadelphia, and a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, earning the prestigious medal, The Order of Arete in 2012. Dominic was Director of Choral Activities and an Associate Professor in the Department of Music at the University of Regina, and had a tremendous impact on campus and in the community. He was generous with his time and passionate about sharing his gift of music with the community.

If anyone would like to donate to the scholarship please contact: the University of Regina Development Office and ask for Luanne Drake, Luanne.Drake@uregina.ca306-337-2450

Ella Gregorio and Irene Gregorio, Dominic’s mother and sister, and friends of Dominic Gregorio have established the Dominic Gregorio Entrance Award and Dominic Gregorio Award in memory of Dominic.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Voices In the Living Room

I will never tire of hearing the ranges of a human voice. There was a sense of warmth and play during New Music Edmonton's UltraViolet concert last night. They also invited guest vocalist and composer, Jane Berry, into their living room space. Chenoa Anderson, Allison Balcetis, Amy Nicholson, and Roger Admiral began with John Cage's Living Room Music as they each played items one would find around their home, such as a rifled through magazine or a 2x4 piece of wood. A rhythmic series of percussive taps and restless rustles of paper invited the audience into their on-stage domestic space. They also recited Gertrude Stein's "The World is Round," which introduced the voices of the instrumentalists into the space as well. They sat in a semi-circular formation complete with carpet on the floor, two recliners and two wooden chairs that looked like they had been been borrowed from a dining room set, a lamp on a side table, and even a plant perched at chairside.

Tanzer Lieder by Ana Sokolovic is structured with three different language voices in the five movements from French, German, and English. Sokolovic's writing demanded an array of vocal technique from Berry from the wailing vocal glides in Stimmen to the haunting vocal suspensions in Last Song. There was a cohesive tension created from the instrumentalists and Berry's vocals throughout the movements. The sounds from the piano and cello strings often matched the held frequency from Berry's own vocal folds. The pulsating vibrato on the flute gave an audible sound to the fluctuating breath heard in a body.

Alyssa Aska's The Woman and the Lyre: Sapphic Cycle shared many movements of vocal and instrumental play. I am more tremulous had a racing agitation between Anderson and Berry and there was good use of created reverb in Of the tacet earth where Berry's live vocal input was processed live and fed back to the audience on speakers surrounding the audience. It changed the resonating space around Berry's voice.

Chains  by Frederic Rzewski was by far one of the most playful as Berry read a local newspaper on the recent climate strike led by Greta Thunberg at the Alberta Legislature. Berry's speaking voice ranged from matter-of-fact to sarcastic depending on the sentence being read. A large repertoire of sounds were shared from tablet and phone ringtones, boxing gloves being used to play the piano, and the sound of the typewriter echoing the other voices on stage.

There was the world premiere of Berry's composition The Break, which shared text from a young woman, Cassandra Siwiec-Hlewka, with bipolar disorder. The poetry was from Siwec-Hlewka's first manic episode. Berry created opportunities for each instrument to have their own vocal line before introducing her own, which was the last in the progression. There was a sad beauty in the lyrical lines, but space between each instrumental introduction, as if space was being held for them on stage to be heard. There was this feeling of cyclical descent with text "catch me, under the water it's pulling me" and repeated phrases such as "I pray and I pray..." Out of the ebb and flow of vocal lines emerged a hopeful image of a flower blooming in the darkness. It was a beautiful image to finish the first half of the concert. An acknowledgement of the internal resilience that people possess even when their challenges are not visible.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

An Interview with Conductor, Elaine Choi

Conductor and music educator, Elaine Choi, is a citizen of two places. She has lived half of her life in Canada and half of her life in Hong Kong. Choi is based in Toronto and immigrated to Canada in 2002. Prior to that, she was living in Hong Kong for 17 years. She is the cultural ambassador that the Canadian choral scene needs with her skills to facilitate the exchange of choral music between Canada and Asia. Choi understands the void of Chinese choral music in Canada and, conversely, the absence of Canadian choral music in Asia. Choi shares: “We sing a lot of different languages. Choir is always a way to welcome people into a country or place. But I have never had a chance to sing Mandarin choral music ever since I came to Canada. Mandarin choral music is quite accessible. There is language complexity that tends to scare people away.” Choi is well suited to be make the introduction since her Doctoral thesis looked at the complexity of Mandarin as lyric diction and the dissemination of Mandarin choral music. Her goal is to have a choir that is not afraid to sing in Mandarin and this could be a way to increase a singer’s comfort level by having a mix of non-native speakers and native speakers in her group. On a previous visit to Hong Kong four years ago, Choi realized that Asian choirs were unaware of Canadian choral composers. When she informally polled choral musicians in Hong Kong, oftentimes there was only one Canadian composer they would mention: Healey Willan.

Last year, she was invited to share Canadian choral music with The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CU) Chorus. She partnered with CU Chorus to arrange workshops with five local high schools this July. Each school has chosen to learn a work by a contemporary Canadian choral composer that they will workshop with Choi and members of Babεl. One school will be tackling Eleanor Daley’s “Lake Isle of Innisfree,” another will sing Mark Sirett’s “Things That Never Die” and there will be a mass choir with all five high schools, Babεl, and the CU Chorus performing Matthew Emery’s “Sing Your Song.” It is not often that a choir is created in response to an international workshop request, but that is a factor in Babεl's formation. Choi realized that if she brought singers with her to Hong Kong this July for these workshops the music would further resonate with audiences. Choi and Babεl will also be working with the Caritas Institute and sacred professional choir, Vox Antiqua, to promote sacred Canadian choral works.

Babεl is comprised of singers that reflect the diversity of the Greater Toronto Area. The group includes non-Chinese speakers, non-Chinese descent, international students studying at the University, and many first and second generation Chinese, and some who have parents that speak Chinese but who don't speak the language themselves. For the latter, performing in Mandarin allows them access to a part of their culture they have never been exposed to.

Choi believes there are two large contributing factors that has resulted in limited Mandarin choral music in Canada:

1. Chinese is a hard language to learn and can be intimidating for non-speakers.
2. Organizations and choral leaders don’t know where to find this music.

The first area of difficulty is addressed by using pinyin transliteration, which can be read using the English alphabet. As long as the rules for consonant and vowel pronunciation are outlined, it is no different than a choir singing a work in a different language. Choi also notes that the tonal part of Mandarin is not a distinguishing feature once the text is sung, often on neutral vowels and different pitches. There is an increasing amount of Mandarin choral music written in a western style, especially in Taiwan. There needs to be further development in marketing these scores for North American choirs and making sure there is standardized pinyin in North American music editions. A goal of Choi’s would be to work with composers in Asia to publish accessible North American editions to encourage non-native speakers to sing this music outside of the country of origin. There is an authenticity that results from standardizing the music from the source since there is a challenge when North American composers are trying to write arrangements of Asian folk music. Mandarin music is more than songs about jasmine flowers and Japan is more than Sakura. If the arranging composers don’t use the standardized pinyin transliteration, it can end up creating a lot of text confusion for non-native speakers since there may be multiple transcriptions of the same noun.

The passion in Choi’s voice is evident when she verbalizes the goals of Babεl and the excitement of beginning an important process to promote and share culture through music. Choi grew up in a musical family with her Mom and two Aunts as accomplished music educators and piano teachers back in Hong Kong. Piano lessons commenced for Choi at 2.5 years of ago but her family knew that immigrating to Canada would provide more options for Choi and her sister, Yvonne, to pursue musical careers. Yvonne has a degree in collaborative piano and works with many Toronto choruses. It is apparent that Choi is a music educator at heart. It doesn’t matter if she is working with professional singers, a community adult chorus, or a children’s choir because Choi has the warmth and inspiration to guide them all.

A video to learn more about the choir

Curious to hear more Mandarin choral music and groups?

Composers to watch:
Jan Tien Hao (冉天豪) - Taiwan
Ng Cheuk Yin (伍卓賢) - Hong Kong
Xingzimin Pan (潘行紫旻)- China
Jenny H. Chou (周鑫泉)- Taiwan
Jin Chengzhi (Aaron King) (金承志)- China

Choirs to listen for:
Rainbow Chamber Singers (Shanghai)
National Taiwan University Choir
Taipei Philharmonic Chorus
Taipei Philharmonic Chamber Choir

Music Example:

Grandmother - by Rainbow Chamber Singers

Love tree - Taipei Philharmonic Chorus - Chamber Choir

The Happiness of Snowflake - National Taiwan University Choir

Babεl Biography

Babεl began as a dream to bridge choral music between Canada and China.  The SATB ensemble is dedicated to supporting Canadian composers through national and international performances and recordings of their work.

We also hope to play a pivotal role in the Canadian choral world - bringing work from contemporary composers in China back to Canada.

We are hitting the ground running, ending our first season with a tour to Hong Kong and Taiwan in July 2019. This tour will be an opportunity to collaborate with the CU Chorus, workshop with aspiring high-school musicians, and perform with the sacred music ensemble, Vox Antiqua.

DR. ELAINE CHOI (D.M.A) contributes to Toronto's vibrant choral community as a conductor, educator, adjudicator, and collaborative pianist. She is currently the Director of Music at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, Past President of Choirs Ontario and conductor of the University of Toronto Women's Chorus. 

As a music educator, Elaine was a faculty member at the National Music Camp from 2010-2015 and currently serves as a guest coach at various schools throughout the city, including Rosedale Heights School of the Arts, North Toronto Collegiate Institute, and the York School. 

Elaine is active as an adjudicator and a clinician for various community events, such as the Toronto Kiwanis Music Festival and Singsation Saturdays. 

Elaine is an advocate for Chinese Music as she is also proficient on several traditional instruments such as the Erhu and Zhongruan. She was the conductor of Toronto Chinese Orchestra from 2010-2017. This fall, Elaine has founded a chamber choir Babel, an SATB ensemble founded to bridge choral music between Canada and China. The group supports Canadian composers through international performances and recordings of their work and brings work from contemporary composers in China back to Canada. 

Elaine began music studies on piano and violin. She earned her BMus in Music Education (2008) and a MMus in Music Performance specializing in Choral Conducting (2010) at the University of Toronto. She also holds an ATCL (1999), an AmusTCL Diploma (2001) in piano performance from the Trinity College of Music, London, and an Advanced Certificate (2000) from Associate Board of the Royal Schools of Music, England. 

Elaine is a four time recipient of the Elmer Iseler Fellowship in Choral Conducting (2008, 2009, 2014, 2015) and a finalist in the Sir Ernest MacMillan Foundation Fellowship Award in Choral Conducting (2012). She's the 2018 recipient of the prestigious William and Waters graduating award.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Ten Years to this Day

I am a singer.

There have been many moments in my life where I have wavered on accepting this title. But after 10 years of blogging, and over 20 years of choral singing, I know that who I am at my core is a singer. It is a huge component of my identity. Singing is an expressive means for me to communicate. While it is my pleasure to work with patients on discovering their communicative voice as a Speech-Language Pathologist, singing has always been and will continue to be my expressive mode of communication.

There is a overwhelming gratitude I feel towards the blog for holding me accountable to my passion: choral music. For the past 10 years, I have shared my thoughts while going through an artistic process and relayed these discoveries with my readers. In recent years, the blog has also developed into a platform where I am able to share the work of other singers, composers, conductors, organizations, and choirs as well. It is staggering to articulate the significance this blog has served for me, as well as others, over this past decade. I have enjoyed looking through my posts and photos to assemble some of my favorite moments. It's also exciting to look towards the future and contemplate what new projects, pieces of repertoire, singers, conductors, and composers I haven't yet had the pleasure of meeting.

Please enjoy this anniversary post and my apologies in advance since I'm certain people have been missed from this sampling of content. Regardless, thank-you, dear readers, for continuing to read my choral musings.

10 Year anniversary by Sable C

Listed below are 20 significant posts on The Choir Girl Blog over the past 10 year. Many of them signal a change in my role as an artist, thinking, or direction at each chronological time point in the blog.

1. Camp: A Rite of Passage

2. We'll Sing Anywhere

3. Choir Uniforms Do's and Don'ts

4. Arrival of the Virtual Choir 2.0

5. ESO Reviews

6. Making the Cut

7. Sh*t Choristers Say-An Interview with the Vancouver Cantata Singers

8. Tweet Me. Embracing Social Media at Podium 2012

9. Opera Girl

10. Painting the Nightingale

11. The Culture of Fear in Rehearsals 

12. Epilogue: Life after the Circus  

13. Dear, Opera Chorus

14. Backstage at Madama Butterfly 

15. I'm a bit of a hippie: An Interview with Cy Giacomin 

16. Interview with the Queen of the Night and Sarastro, Teiya Kasahara and Neil Craighead 

17. Podium 2016 Social Media Team  

18. National Youth Choir Class of 2016  

19. An Interview with Jane Berry 

20. The Formation of FEMME

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Best of 2018

Greetings readers and Happy Holidays!

While posting frequency has diminished, the Choir Girl blog is not forgotten. You probably have noticed that I only post when I have something significant to post. Entries on this blog begin back on January 19, 2009 so I am coming up on my 10th year anniversary on January 19, 2019. Is there anything you'd like to see me do for a commemorative 10 year post? Please let me know.

My blog has served as a platform to hold me accountable for the projects that I take on and challenges me to reflect and share a performance perspective some individuals may not see. It has also allowed me to document my process from moving from a community choral singer into professional chorister. The focus has evolved these past years but the heart of the blog serves as a platform to create discourse about music and performance.

I have a few round ups for the year of 2018 which was a year of performance passion as well as challenge. But as most of you know, I love a challenge, so here are some of my picks for projects that topped my list for the year.

1. H.M.S. Pinafore with Edmonton Opera

Photo by Nanc Price Photography courtesy of Edmonton Opera

This show was most physical one I have had to tackle as a member of the Edmonton Opera Chorus. Between the dance intensive staging rehearsals every other evening and taming my body to listen to choreographer instructor, my mind and body were physically and mentally maxed out. My upbringing didn't include any exposure to dance instruction but I took on a learning attitude and embraced my enjoyment of movement in general. I got to learn moves like a charleston, chaine, and sugar. While I was in a perpetual state of muscle soreness for many weeks from January to February, I was pleased with what I was able to pull off when I saw video clips and photos. I didn't want to bring the the show down so I kept up an intensive cardio and stretch routine outside of rehearsals. I would practice my dance steps, video myself, watch the video, and then keep running it to make sure it matched what the choreographer showed in rehearsal. But once the show was running, my body had loaded the movements in. Once the curtain went up, I could just set sail, enjoy the expanse of that beautiful ship set, and soak in the energy of the on stage band and my fellow performers.

Photo by Nanc Price Photography courtesy of Edmonton Opera
2. Banff Centre Residency 

The Banff Centre residency was by far my most challenging music project that I took on this year. Learning five new compositions and getting them all performance ready in four days took all of my skills as a performer and created a pressure cooker situation to develop the skills I needed to meet the challenge. However, with naps, group sectionals, practice room time, perseverance, drink, I survived! It was not a relaxing residency but time is a luxury and we didn't have much of it. But the result of having a full schedule meant that we got to pack in more cool projects like completing some recordings for Equus with Darren Fung.


One of my most powerful projects this year and one I am personally most proud of. I didn't expect to co-create my own singing sisterhood but somehow I managed it with Jane. I stayed true to my intuition and was gifted with finding artists who resonated with the project. It was also the first time I  had text of my own adapted and set to music. All the thanks goes to the people who supported us by being in the audience, sending me texts and e-mails of support, artists sharing their skills to amplify our work, or listening to me rant about the under-representation of contemporary female perspective in choral music. I send all my unconditional love to the fellow FEMMEs, Jane Berry, Amy Voyer, and Dawn Bailey. Many thanks to New Music Edmonton to create a reason for us to form and a space to perform. It is amazing to be in a musical community that creates space for experimental works and I am beyond excited to see what projects we get up to in the future. I was also so excited to style and direct this photoshoot with Nanc Price as my photographer. 

See you all in 2019!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Formation of FEMME

This is FEMME. Works written by women, sung by women.

FEMME is a new project I am very honoured to be a part of. There are distinct moments in my mind that led to the formation of FEMME. The first was the Love Fail collaboration Pro Coro had with the Good Women Dance Collective as a part of New Music Edmonton's season. It was the first time I was singing in a quartet at a professional level. That unification of treble voices and movement had a lasting impact on me as a performer. Another key moment was singing Jane Berry's Mass for Recovery with Pro Coro. Jane fulfills multiple roles in her daily life but she is also an Alto in Pro Coro and Composer. Many of us in the choir noted how well-written the parts were for the Sopranos and Altos in her Mass. It was an emotional sing for all involved since it documented her mother's struggle through surgery, rehabilitation, and her eventual passing.

When I saw New Music Edmonton was accepting proposals for their See You in September event, I immediately thought of Jane and wondered if she would be interesting in writing a work for it. I wanted to sing another work written by Jane. I was open to it being a work that could have included a variety of voice parts, visuals artists, and dancers but we were working within particular constraints to have our proposal accepted for the concert:
  • 6 performers max
  • works 15 minutes
In mid June, I sent a Facebook message Jane's way to assess her interest. She confirmed that she was definitely interested and that we should meet for coffee. We covered a lot in that coffee meeting and a cascade of decisions were made. I revealed that I would love to do something like Love Fail again. I was really interested in exploring the use of female voices in music through time whether that included chant, lullabies, siren songs, or pop singers. Many of the other decisions were based on logistics of creating a work and having it performance ready in under three months. She decided that she had more possibilities writing for four voice versus two or three so we invited two other singers, Dawn Bailey and Amy Voyer, whose voices complimented the piece that Jane wanted to write in her mind. We both felt it should be a pilot quartet project for now and see how the work comes across. If the musical core was strong, the work could then lend itself well to other elements like movement, visuals, we could invite more singers while maintaining our core, or Jane could develop a full choral arrangement in the future.

She did note at this meeting that she find it's easier to work from a place of text first. The next two evenings I began to re-read my favorite feminist texts and sketch out my thoughts on sisterhood, the segregation of women, how conditions are created for women to feel jealousy instead of support, exclusion breeding self-doubt, female roles and expectations, and female desire. I sent some examples of works I had been reading as well as my own text sketches to Jane and received a response from her wondering where I got the last text. I told her those words were mine and she could do with them as she wished.

I left on vacation to Berlin at the start of July and within a week she began sending me scores as she finished them. It was a very organic back and forth process. I loved the text fragments she took and what she added of her own. I felt it told a cohesive story overall. Of course, since we had the 15 minute time constraint, the topics are musically introduced but not fully discussed. However, an introduction is a start to further conversation. There was also an opportunity to raise the question if we had to use he/she or if we could use gender neutral pronouns like they/their. Rarely do I see inclusive language represented in a choral music score. The first time I began reading through the scores on my iPad in Berlin, I felt a strong emotional resonance. Music was amplifying my thoughts.

Over the next two months, we met to rehearse and memorize the work. We wish for this group to amplify the voices of female composers and musicians. They deserve more than exposure and should have appropriate compensation for their work.

All things have beginning. While we do not exist to represent all women, we are one set of voices beginning to create a dialogue using choral music as our medium. We hope to add voices to this discussion. Until then, we will unapologetically inhabit performance space for women singing at a professional level.

Hear us, September 22, 2018. We will be just one of many other amazing acts programmed by New Music Edmonton.

To be a Woman
Written by Jane Berry
Text by Sable Chan and Jane Berry

1. Sister, my Sister
2. Sequester me, away
3. Must I be a Mother?
4. I Desire


Dawn Bailey grew up in Edmonton, where her passion for music was ignited at a young age, singing in the Schola Cantorum and Cantilon choirs. She completed her Bachelor of Music degree in Voice Performance at the University of Toronto, and later moved to Montreal to pursue a Master of Music degree, specializing in Early Music. Dawn quickly became a fixture in the early music communities in both Toronto and Montreal, performing and recording with some of Canada's leading early music ensembles. After further studies in Amsterdam, she returned to Edmonton with her young family, where she is excited to delve into as many early music, new music, and choral ventures as she can.

Jane Berry moved to Edmonton to start her PhD of Philosophy in Music Theory in the fall of 2011. Shortly after her arrival she began singing with Pro Coro Canada and quickly became integrated within the local choral community. She is the director of ETown Minors (a choir developed for at risk youth), section lead for ETown Augmented and in-house arranger for both groups. She also works for Sing for Life Society of Alberta, has taught a number of courses at the University of Alberta, sings with various new music ensembles, volunteers with local youth and works as a composer and visual artist.
Jane holds a Masters of Arts in Music Theory from the University of Ottawa (2011), a Bachelors of Music in Composition from Acadia University (2005), and is currently working on a degree in Education at the University of Alberta.


Amy Voyer has been an enthusiastic part of the Edmonton choral community since the age of 9, singing with the Edmonton Youth and Children’s Choirs, Kokopelli Youth Choir, Concordia Concert Choir, and Chronos Vocal Ensemble. She now sings professionally with Pro Coro Canada and teaches K-6 Music full time at St. Kateri Elementary School. She holds Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Education degrees from Concordia University. When you’re not being blown over by the Richter-scale level of her laugh, you can find her writing essay length captions on her Instagram posts, hosting solo dance parties in her living room, and tearing up while thinking about how much she loves people.

 Sable Chan is an avid chorister who was raised within the local Edmonton choir community singing with Schola Cantorum, Cantilon Choirs, and The University of Alberta Madrigal Singers. She now sings professionally with Pro Coro Canada and the Edmonton Opera Chorus. She received a Masters in Speech Pathology and Audiology from the University of Alberta and a Certificate of Vocology from the University of Iowa. Sable demonstrates her passion for the art of choral music as the author of The Choir Girl blog where she publishes her choral musings.

All photos by Nanc Price Photography