Friday, November 13, 2015

An Interview with Composer, Kristopher Fulton.

As composer, Kristopher Fulton, discusses the release of the new The Twilight Cities CD by the Vancouver Cantata Singers, certain themes arise: perseverance, timing, support, and passion. In Fulton’s second season as composer-in-residence with the Vancouver Cantata Singers there were discussions surrounding the choir’s content creation in the form of a recording. “A continuous stream of content is a requirement of active ensembles. Lots of people want to put content out there, whether choral or instrumentalist, the whole spectrum of performers. Now it’s not just concentrated in a one shot, exclusive concert. The other audience members who couldn’t come out have an opportunity now,” Fulton states as he discusses the benefit of recording.

Fulton has had a generative and collaborative relationship with the Cantata Singers for ten years before becoming the composer in residence. He sings in the choir and the group has commissioned works such as Prometheus and Medusa for the CBC Choral competition in the past before becoming the current composer in residence. It was a dream of Fulton’s to have an a capella album of his own work. “An album of choral work that is 40-60 minutes is an undertaking for everybody be it rehearsal time or money or cost. I was in a position to make it happen if I was able to raise the funds myself. I got the funding together privately and the timing was right to do it at this time” states Fulton with fervor. With the support of Cantata Singers’ Artistic Director, Paula Kremer, and the Cantata choristers, they recorded over two evenings at the Chan’s Centre for Performing Arts. They had sound engineer, Matt Stephanson, overseeing the recording process since Fulton was busy singing with the tenors during the recording.

Fulton states, “there’s a certain amount of perspective that you get from singing on the album. There’s a trade-off. You give up the objective overview in the booth. Luckily, Paula, myself, and the sound engineer have a similar perspective on what a choral recording should and shouldn’t sound like. We have a working relationship where our taste is similar. That was enormously helpful.” In fact, Fulton states that he feels more anxious when he is just sitting in an audience having heard no prior rehearsals when choirs are performing his works. “Often it’s sometime jarring when you hear your piece and it’s not what you had been hearing in your head. Having that rehearsal process for me, as a performer, not just as a composer, you have to let something go if you are going to appreciate other things as a composer,” he cites as an advantage of providing his physical voice in his works.

It is clear that Fulton was humbled to have the voices of his Cantata friends and colleagues record his works. “The choir was incredibly dedicated and they had a small window of time, only three to four extra rehearsals to fine tune the pieces. They did a wonderful job with it and I am so happy with the result,” he gushes in his mild manner. However, there is always another layer of stress that comes with a recording session. “Everyone goes into a different mode, it’s different than the mode you switch into during live performance. You raise the standard. In a live performance, you realize it’s not going to be perfect. The expectations for a recording are different. There are lots of people who would expect a recording to be perfect or near perfect,” he says when reflecting upon the challenges of recording. Two moments in particular stand out to Fulton: “In Icarus there’s a line, ‘Climbs up to the highest cliffs of his island prison court.’ The choir really sang out with a lot of emotion,” he says before sharing his second moment in Songs of Ariel where the tenors have to have weave their solo line all the way up to a high A. “It’s enormously challenging to make a good sound to nail that and the cut-off,” he said reveling in the satisfaction of that successful take.
Vancouver Cantata Singers
Scanning the titles of Fulton’s choral works such as, Icarus, Prometheus, and Medusa; a common theme is revealed: archetypes. “I’m a huge fan of combining old and new. Old in this case is Mythology and new would be the aesthetics of the music I am writing. I’m attracted to archetypal characters, modern mythologies, and what you see in comic books. We see these archetypes over and over again and there’s a reason that they are so appealing. They represent the very best of humans and, in some cases, the worst of us. There’s something emotional and operatic about those archetypes. That is something that always seems to weave its way into my work. There is a strong sense of emotion to me. I just want people to feel something," he says. Fulton also reveals that audience members often bring up how cinematic his music sounds. Fulton states that he never sets out to say: “this will be a cinematic piece and it’s going to sound exactly like a movie!” in his impersonation of a pompous tone, which is a comedic contrast to his humble nature. “I think it’s just who I am,” he says abandoning the character. “I love movies and dramatic emotional content. For people to hear that come out in the music and for people to come and tell me that is a huge compliment.”

Fulton maintains an open perspective when it comes to people’s interpretation of his work. He enjoys the fact that “it means something different to different people.” However, he does note how cool it is for people who have never met him to feel connected to him as a person through his work. “It’s an enormous leap when someone comes up and they feel that they know you because of your work not having met you in person beforehand. I’m an emotional being. I’m an artist who would want people to get to know me through my work. They get little pieces of who I am along the way. I never meet or speak to them but they get a part of me,” he states in an appreciative tone.

As for what is coming up next, Fulton gives a teaser that he has an interest in a composition for choir and orchestra. “It would be a contemporary setting, and it would have sacred undertones, but it would not be a sacred work,” he says in a mischievous tone. A multitude of unique projects are on Fulton’s mind. It is apparent during this musing that he still has many character stories to tell through his music.

The album is available for download in all digital stores such as iTunes and Bandcamp.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Dear Chorister: Keep Singing

Dear Chorister,

I was standing where you are on that riser more than ten years ago. Yes, that's right. A decade ago I was wearing that exact same uniform and rocking that same navy blue polo. I'm quite surprised that I'm not feeling more insecure about this age gap; however, I think it's due to the fact that it feels like I was just 16 the other day and I'm pretty much going to look the same until I hit 50, at which point I'll turn into an Asian grandma overnight.

The start of the choir season is one of my favorite times of the year. I remember my excitement to start choir rehearsals and see if I had grown tall enough over the summer to stand with my friends who had graduated to the back row of the choir. The answer to that question was: No, I was not taller. That didn't hinder me from eventually working my way to the back and finding a window to see the conductor through. I would transfer all the dates on the choir schedule into my school agenda and contemplate how exactly I was going to get to all the rehearsals and concerts that were proposed for the season. I would dread having the "the talk" with my conductor if she noticed a wavering in my commtiment. If there was a tour on the horizon, I would be wondering exactly how many grocery vouchers and Easter lillies I would have to sell to meet my fundraising quota.

Singing with you all once again on Sunday reminded me of my passion for choral singing that was fostered in my teenage years. I am the youngest child in my family. The result of this was that a majority of my parent's resources had already went into exposing my older siblings to a diverse array of activities with varying levels of success. They had the opportunity to try team sports, dance classes, and art classes while my main extra-curricular activity was going to group math lessons in a rented room at the Callingwood arena on Sunday afternoons. It wasn't even that I was bad at Math; the rationale was that I could only get better with practice. It was the difference between an 80% and a 95%. Plus, my siblings were already going so I might as well tag along. Enrolling in choir when I was 11 was my one shot at trying out a true extra-curricular activity. My uncanny ability to pitch match and mimic the lyrics of 80s Canton-pop songs during karaoke sessions inspired my Dad to develop my skills further. Once I began choir, it triggered a cascade of musical education development, such as music theory and piano, to strengthen my choral interests. When I finally graduated from the Chamber Choir, I remember my Conductor, Heather Johnson, telling us that we were going to go through life looking to fill the void that the Choir would leave in our musical core. I took this statement to heart as my close choral friends and I clutched at one another with teary eyes. Many of them were leaving to study at different Universities. Since that time, I have been singing and searching for a new ensemble that would fill the void left behind by my Youth Chamber Choir. I challenged myself to sing in new groups, try out different repertoire, and meet other choristers. Three years ago, I was lucky enough to be accepted into Pro Coro Canada under the vision of the new Artistic Director, Michael Zaugg. I finally found the choral sound I had been searching for.

If you didn't love music or singing, you would have chosen to do something else by this point in time. As much as we try to rationalize how cool it is to sing in choir, there's a lot of other pretty cool stuff that you could also be spending your time on. Even if you feel burned out after a consecutive run of rehearsals preparing for extra concerts, you feel a sense of productivity and satisfaction at seeing how much you can accomplish. Plus, you can't help but feel pride when you look down at your sleeve and see your name embroidered on the arm - a reminder that you are part of a team. There's a lot of unknown variables coming your way. You get to navigate the emotional spectrum from incandescent elation to crippling insecurity over upcoming life choices. Some of you may think I'm pretty fancy because I sing in a professional choir, but the way I see it, I am no different from you. I love singing and I'm willing to keep working to get better at it.

Here comes the part where the sage alumni chorister wishes to impart some wisdom. If I were you, I'd be rolling my eyes and looking for a loophole to be defiant since the last thing I want to do is what somebody is telling me to do. Bear with me though, I'm going to keep my advice simple: keep singing. This doesn't mean that you have to be studying to be a professional musician. If that's for you, fantastic! However, you may find that you don't have the time to be in a choir while developing other skills. Music has a way of evolving to fill the void in your life whether you're in a choral group or just singing a capella while having a dance party in the privacy of your bedroom. My advice may seem simple enough but it's surprising how challenging it is to make time for things you enjoy as your other responsibilities increase. I encourage you all to savor the time that you have with your fellow choral peeps and look forward to the future with anticipation. You never know what awesome things are coming your way if you continue to allow the presence of music in your life pursuits.

Sincerely, your singing buddy,

miss. sable

Photo Credit to Heather Johnson. Cantilon Chamber Choir + CCC alumni in Pro Coro Canada following the Sun and Moon and Stars concert September 27, 2015

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Start of a New Season

The start of any choral season signals change and continuity. My social media feed fills with posts from fellow choristers beginning their singing season. They share creative ways of organizing their music in binders using alphabetical dividers, updates about how their rehearsals are going in their new choir, or suggestions on Canadian repertoire they should consider for the Christmas season. The Fall always reminds me more of the start of the new year than January.

Pro Coro Canada has a pretty stellar season lined up. We have begun preparation for our free Alberta Culture Days concert at the Winspear Centre. The program is entitled: Sun & Moon & Stars and all the works has themes of sea travel, shipwrecks, and the continuation of the pilgrimage from our the previous Alberta Culture Days concert. Last year, Pro Coro performed the entire Path of Miracles by Joby Talbot and this year we pick-up from that point and build in Paul Mealor's The Farthest Shore. Mealor, who is Pro Coro's new composer-in-residence, will be joining us in the few weeks to rehearse with us and to hear the North American premiere of his work. However, it was interesting to note that the text is adapted from Anglesey's Bone setter in this Classical Music interview:

‘It’s about two young boys who were washed ashore on the coastline of Anglesey and no-one knows how they got there, they couldn’t speak the language, they had different-coloured skin & and a few of the villagers were threatened by this and took offense. But eventually, through the interaction of the women of the village, they took the children I as their own and started to teach them.
‘One of the boys died, but the one who survived had this amazing skill to heal broken bones, and descendants of this original bone setter are still surviving today, and many of his descendants have had some sort of medical career. I was fascinated by this, that this need to heal had gone down genetically. Whether the person really had the ability to heal bones or not we don’t know, but he certainly had some sort of an ability about him.’

Pro Coro is a super-sized choir for this first concert with 4 new singing interns and volunteers from the #Connect youth choir that Michael conducted last year. We will also be joined by my alma mater, The Cantilon Chamber Choir, and will be accompanied by a brass quintet.

At the same time as Sun & Moon & Stars goes up, Edmonton Opera begins its rehearsals for Merry Widow. I don't know what to expect - many backstage shenanigans, can-can dancing, and red satin? At the end of August, I competed in Northern Light Theatre's Battle for the Limelight, which was a fundraiser for professional theatre companies throughout Edmonton. It was a great time to bond with my fellow Edmonton Opera Chorus singers, Christina and Natasha, and #MadPhotog, Nanc, before the upcoming production. Our team helped to raise funds over $1000 for Edmonton Opera Chorus outreach throughout the year and we placed 5th out of 25 teams.

Finally, the Canadian Chamber Choir will be releasing their Sacred Reflections CD this upcoming September while on tour to Newfoundland. For those readers who live in Corner Brook, Gander or St. John's, I recommend you check out the CCC concerts coming your way since it's their first time touring NFLD! Due to local choral commitments, I won't be able slip away to sing CCC's two upcoming tours this season. I'll just have enjoy pictures from the CD recording and stay tuned for their updates from the road.

Photo by Jenny Wiebe for the Canadian Chamber Choir

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Weekend Away and the Choristers Will Play

Arrival into Vancouver
There is a real sense of pride and excitement when one is about to share something important with new communities. It is not the type of pride riddled with hubris and superiority, but rather, a feeling of accomplished satisfaction in the work that we have done and an enthusiasm to share that with others. The works that we took on tour each had an important role in our season this year as well as favorites from the past.

Photo by Jordan van Biert prior to the Vancouver concert

We were able to share Cy Giacomin's "Our Father" after our premiere of the work in February, Matthew Whittal's "Cradle Song" and Raimundo Gonzalez's "My Soul," all of which have not been performed in Vancouver or Yellowknife. Haraldur's Sveinbjörnsson's "Memento Mei" is a pretty bold opener and Ugis Praulins' "Laudibus in Sanctis" is quickly becoming an encore piece for us once our Soundstreams performance of it in February 2014 solidified it in our repertoire. It was also fun to showcase some pop tunes like Stand By Me and All About that Bass by the men in PCC, which they performed at their male concert this year.

Sunshine at Ryerson United
It is also comforting to pick up where we left off in terms of singer camaraderie from our tour last year in Ottawa and Halifax. It's nice to understand the social flow of members in the group so if you need some personal time to explore or you have no plans but just want to hang out with people there are always options. We had a Facebook group where we could post up-to-date information about venue locations and airport shuttle departure times; there were also posts on sushi reservations where people could dib open seats and photos people snapped during a post-concert reception. There is a sense from all the choristers that Pro Coro is more than just a job. The singers treat it as a priority in their lives, go to great lengths to make it work within their regular work schedules, and we genuinely love singing together. It is a sentiment I heard from audience members who remember Pro Coro from the past and noted that our renewed optimism is palpable.

One of the things that makes these tours special is the welcoming from the local communities that we receive. The Vancouver Chamber Choir hosted us at Ryerson United Church. VCC and General Manager, Steven Bélanger, was there to greet us with hugs prior to setting up the stage that evening at the church. Scanning the faces in the audiences it was amazing to see choral faces from The Vancouver Chamber Choir, Vancouver Cantata Singers, Cor Flammae, Stellaria Voices, and and Vancouver-based choral composers like Kristopher Fulton, David Archer, and Chris Sivak there supporting us. It is also great to read posts such as this one by Sivak on his thoughts from the audience. Not to mention we had one of the most amazing post-concerts receptions I have and may ever attend in my life at a gorgeous Vancouver home complete with an outdoor patio and swimming pool.
Vancouver reception with Missy, Michael, Ed, Kris, Krista (L-R)

Arrival in Yellowknife

Flying into Yellowknife was stunning when seeing the melting network of fine water capillaries through the sheets of ice from Great Slave Lake. A few minutes would pass and I saw glistening green-blue pools of pools dotting the rocky, tundra landscape. Upon arrival at our hotel, Yellowknife Choral Society conductor, Margo Nightingale, was there to greet us all. She gave us welcome packages complete with tourism information and a lovely pin in the shape of a yellow knife. The hospitality didn't end there since a YCS singer, honked at a group of PCC singers walking and offered us a ride to the church, which we happily took. Following the afternoon of workshops, the YCS hosted us for an amazing potluck at a gorgeous home in the Niven Lake area. So many delicious dishes like quinoa salads, chana masala, and even moose meat cabbage rolls filled the table. It was lovely to chat with many of the choristers in such a comfortable and warm home atmosphere. Many of the PCC choristers were also taking turns in the luxurious massage chair to work out knots from the consecutive plane rides. Walking home from the reception along the Niven Lake trail was also lovely with sunlight still out at 10:30 PM. Sunday in Yellowknife was a great chance to explore some of Old Town Yellowknife and many of the PCC choristers presented workshops on music arrangement, male voices, choral intonation. I even presented about voice care education. The evening concert at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre was an intimate way to end the visit with our new friends from the YCS. Late night walks back to the hotel are memorable times, especially when the sky is only a royal blue at 11:30 PM and the choir can take up a street lane due to no road traffic.

Walking the line in Yellowknife

It was a quick weekend trip but it was filled with friends, music, and sights I won't soon forget. I can only anticipate what the 2015-16 season of Pro Coro will bring.

A visit to Elysian Coffee
Reunion with Krista in Vancouver!
All-you-can-eat sushi visit

6:15 AM shuttle departure for the Vancouver airport

Artistic Taxidermy

Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife

Yellowknife Choral Society snacks

Niven Lake Trail at 10:30 PM

Brunch attempt #1 at Wildcat Cafe

Successful Brunch #2 attempt at the Dancing Moose

Greetings from YCS at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre

Post-concert selfie in the sunshine at 10 PM

Time to break out in song at Boston Pizza in Yellowknife

Conductors, Michael and Margo

The night is young

Lookout point in Old Town in Yellowknife

Building art in Yellowknife

Peter, the post-concert chorister masseuse

Frame Lake View

Flags of the NWT

Law court building window art

Social media round-up from the weekend:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Take 50 - Canadian Chamber Choir CD Recording

There are many times in my life when I am reminded of how lucky I am to pursue multiple passions. My daily Edmonton life is filled with speech pathology clients, playing with my nieces and nephews, working on my computer while my mom crochets and streams Asian tv shows on her iPad, watching my dad work in the garden as I hand-grind beans for an americano, late-night chai lattes with friends, biking across the high-level bridge, and live theatre in cozy theatres; however, whenever I get the chance to uproot from my local community and venture off to to pursue another passion, choral singing, it leaves me wondering who exactly I am sometimes where I have the luxury to play these multiple roles. I excise myself and transplant myself into another choral community for a few days sharing music-making with others. In this past Canadian Chamber Choir trip, the focus was on recording a C.D. entitled, A Canadian Mass: Sacred Reflections of Canada. It is an array of sacred and reflective texts by Canadian composers.

We arrived in Elmira, Ontario on Thursday evening for rehearsals and starting Friday started a three day process to begin recording 18 tracks for the C.D. As frustrating and fatiguing as it was to have to re-do takes when there were noisy infringements on the recordings atmosphere from busses hissing at their stop to motorcycle mufflers rattling on the road in the front of the church, there was a sense of silent camaraderie ride amongst all the singers and splendid moments of music making.

Tension. I was reminded of how tense I was holding myself during the recording. It stemmed from hearing the increasing number of takes announced on the speaker from CD producer, Jeff Reilly, in the recording room: "Ave Maria by Fogarty Take 34". The starting pitches were given by the Dr. Julia Davids on the digital keyboard. She stepped over the serpentine knotted black piles of recording chords, before resuming her position at the music stand to cue the choir in on a piano entry with a soft onset for the initial vowel in "ave."  So much tension. I had to remind myself to breathe, sing with confidence, and trust in my fellow singers. A recording session is like a simulated pressure cooker in how everybody responds to stress. Sometimes it is removing visual distractions, other times it is accepting things beyond ones control like a tummy gurgle or an elbow pop. Often my tendency is to leave something hard then come back later; however, that was not really an option this weekend. We had a limited amount of time to record a lot of music but I could also sense the anxiety rise exponentially take after take of an imperfect phrase delivery. There were also other moments where I could relax and bask in the searing pure tuning of some final chords like the final word "free" in Barrie Cabena's "Be a still and know that I am God" or the warm, hushed tones of Don MacDonald's "tabula rasa."
There was a nice rhythm to the recording days. It was refreshing to be able to wake up and not have to pack and commute to another town. Instead , I had the luxury of leaving all my things in one place and just preparing what I would need for the recording. Upon early arrival at the church, I also had time to explore Kitchener downtown and locate some local coffee establishments to get me through the rest of the afternoon and evening.

The recording process would usually start with a cold run-through. From there we would get basic notes from Julia and Jeff and then we do another run-through again. From there we might get more detailed notes and do another run-through, this time, starting and stopping the take. Depending on results, we might have to work backwards or just do sections of the piece. If we still needed more precision then we would do a surgical strike and record just a few bars of what we needed. After all of the inner detail work, we would usually run the piece another 1-2 times to see if we could capture any additional magic after all that work. Each piece took about 45 minutes to record on average. In between takes, I would wiping my brow, sticky from the humidity, or sprawling across the stairs on the floor of the church to see if the sharp angle could help dislodge the tension knot in my right shoulder blade from holding my music folder.

After 18 tracks and three recording days we finished our final take of that day, take 50 with Stephanie Martin's "O Sacrum Convivium." A rousing round of cheers, group hugs, and pats on the back resulted after Jeff announced completion after the final take. There was a unison feeling of relief and satisfaction.
You can pre-order the CD at the website which will be released sometime in the Fall.

There are numerous people to thank in order to execute this recording: Conductor, Dr. Julia Davids, Producer Jeff Reilly, Recording technician Rod Sneddon, the 20 CCC singers flying or driving to Ontario, the community billets hosting the singers, all the CCC CD donors, and CCC General Manager Corey Ticknor. I do want to take this time to give a special thanks to Jeff Enns. In addition to being the CCC Composer in Residence as well as CCC singer, he had to juggle so many things at the ground level to make this recording happen. He drove me to the Hamilton airport (I was the only chorister leaving from this location), connected with host families for choristers, tended to a sick pre-teen, managed church bookings for the recording, organized Sunday service, drove choristers everywhere, coordinated vehicles for rides, grocery shopped late on Friday night for sandwich lunch components the next day, and cooked extra soups and casseroles this past week to make sure there was enough food. I'm sure there were even more duties he completed with stealth that I don't even know about. It was a pleasure and a highlight to sing at his church, St. James Lutheran, in Elmira on Sunday and give back in a small way after the additional stressors he took on while maintaining his comedic charm. Covert heroes are the best.

For more social media posts from the weekend:

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Photo by Nanc Price Photography courtesy of Pro Coro Canada
Greetings readers,

This past Sunday Pro Coro Canada completed their final concert of the season with the youth singers from PCC #Connect. I especially love programs that are unified by concept and have very specific repertoire choices that support the theme. Some stand-out pieces for me included Eric Whitacre's Stolen Child, Raimundo Gonzalez's My Soul, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi's Die Stimme des Kindes. It was also lovely to finally sing with the #Connect choristers. I feel like I have been following them on social media since the Fall but it wasn't until the end of the season we were united. Four of the singers were chosen to complete an internship in some productions with Pro Coro next season so I will get to sing with some of them again.

Next up is the Canadian Chamber Choir Sacred Reflections of Canada CD Recording. From Thursday to Sunday we have a packed iternary of rehearsals, recording time, a photoshoot, and even some time to sing some Sunday services for the communities that are hosting us. Expect lots of fun updates when I'm back!

Until then, enjoy this vid of CCC singing Don MacDonald's Tabula Rasa from Perth, ON on the February tour.

Friday, May 8, 2015

An Interview with Sound Artist, Raimundo Gonzalez

“I call myself a sound artist,” says Raimundo Gonzalez with a calm confidence. There is no internal struggle as he declares this label for himself. At the same time, that simple noun phrase feels inadequate to encapsulate the complexity of his musical interests. While he does work with the choral palette in his compositions, he does not see himself as solely a choral composer.

For Gonzalez, his compositional process is guided by what he wishes to communicate. He explains that he has a concept of what he wants to say, but depending on what that message is, the medium changes. “If I wanted to work with text, then a great medium would be an art song or choral. If I'm working with a painting, and I want to make a sonic representation [of the canvas], I would try other mediums such as electroacoustic music or sound improvisation,” he states with passion. Gonzalez describes how sound improvisation explores the aesthetics of sound and how individual sounds can be presented in organized and unorganized combinations. Gonzalez is cognizant of how challenging it is to incorporate technology in a way that is still accessible for audiences. He wishes to demystify much of the electronic complexity that is hidden under the hood of computer. “I want to bring technology in a form that is still expressive and something that people can relate to and enjoy,” Gonzalez explains. One such tool is using visual feedback. Making the compositional process visible aids in audience understanding.

Born in Santiago, Chile, Gonzalez had musical exposure to many different types of music in his formative years such as piano, sacred church music, death metal, and folk music. Gonzalez’s musical start took the form of singing and playing piano. By the age of 16, he began composing music. Gonzalez takes a moment of silent contemplation while he muses on his desire to pursue composition: “Creativity is the highest form of knowledge.” This statement is paraphrased from his father. “Basically, I was always creating. I was never just performing. I was always performing, learning, and writing at the same time.” Gonzalez challenged familial expectations by pursuing music performance and composition within the academic sphere. “My Dad wanted me to be a Doctor. Even though he loves music, he never supported me being a composer… it took a while for him to open up and start listening,” he reveals. Gonzalez completed his Undergraduate in composition, classical piano, and jazz guitar performance at the Instituto Escuela Moderna de Musica in Santiago before moving to Edmonton to complete a Master's degree in Music Composition from the University of Alberta. His parents didn’t show up to hear his musical work until Gonzalez had moved to Canada. “I had to fight my own way through music. It wasn’t a decision that was supported but something I did for myself. It was challenging in a good way,” Gonzalez states with a tone of quiet determination.

Choral music plays an important role within Gonzalez’s diverse sound interests. While he identifies as a sound artist, he is drawn to using the choral sound. “I love the human voice. I think it's an instrument with endless possibilities. It is not only the instrument I perform with but one that provides me with a palette of sonic colors I can work with,” he states. Gonzalez did not begin choral singing until he was pursuing his Masters at the U of A. “The first choir that I joined was [The University of Alberta MadrigalSingers] and the first piece we sang was Haydn’s Creation. The shock of singing in harmony was mind-blowing. There’s that blend of voices becoming one as a [choral sound object],” he states with a palpable excitement.

Gonzalez’s main choral work is entitled, My Soul, with the textual inspiration coming from the Matthew 26:38 phrase:

"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

“It represents a moment of a [Jesus Christ] experiencing loneliness. I think it’s a very powerful thought to think that a strong and inspirational individual can experience weakness and express it. It makes you realize they're still human... Ultimately, [loneliness] is a universal truth. It’s an emotion that is not always dealt with and it is good to externalize it,” he explains as a motive for the work before continuing. “There are two sides to the piece: there is the announcement of loneliness but there is the desire for company and there is an uplifting feeling to that - a sensation of embrace.” It is clear that Gonzalez wishes to negotiate an overlap between the two worlds of choral and avant-garde music. He has done this by employing compositional tools like aleatoricism in My Soul.

It is clear that Gonzalez does not intend to be confined by a specific medium when it comes to sound expression. “There is a lot of judgment in what an artist has to do to be a part of a certain collection of work. If you are an experimental composer, everything has to be experimental. If you’re a choral composer, then everything has to be tonal. There’s a certain expectation that if you try things are too different, you don't know what you're doing. I disagree because I feel humans have different means of expression and degrees of complexity depending on what they want to say. I'm trying to be an integral human being in my works and not represent one sole genre,” he states in a wise tone.

“How do you view your role as a composer when views of music are changing?” I ask.

Gonzalez expires his remaining reserves of air before tackling my question: “The size of what music is nowadays is so huge. It's impossible to keep up with everything. I'm just a composer, one individual, trying to make a comment on one community… I try to create an awareness of sound as being a physical phenomenon that we don't think about enough.” 

Gonzalez asks himself a guiding question when initiating the catalyst for any new project:

“What is it that I wish I could experience?”

It stems from a desire to expand the paradigm of a listener and introduce an experience the audience didn’t think was possible. “I’ve worked a lot with biometrics - sensors that use information that comes from natural systems like pulse sensors or an EEG machine. I had an installation where a whole room was connected to a set of lights. Once an individual entered the room and placed their hand on panel, the whole room would light up with their heartbeat. The listener would get to listen to their heart and experience it through different sounds and lights,” he explains with a concrete example.

There is an established sense of identity as Gonzalez prepares to move to Edinburgh in the Fall to pursue a Masters in Science and Acoustics. His aim is to continue developing as an Acoustician and Composer. “You want to have your voice so people can recognize you but, at the same time, be consistent with yourself. If you’re really interested in the message of what you want to say, you have to find a way for the audience to understand it without losing yourself,” he states as a constant struggle. It is hard to not to feel inspired upon hearing Gonzalez describe his greatest challenge, which is also his greatest motivator, as he contemplates his future with promise.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Lucia di Lammermoor: The Recovery Process

Photo by Patsy Tomkins courtesy of Edmonton Opera

The month of April has almost come and gone and with it was Edmonton Opera's production of Lucia di Lammermoor. Other than my occasional updates, which you can see in the slideshow social media compilation below, my blogging presence was non-existent.

A reason I didn't provide any additional blog content was because I was fighting through a series of sicknesses these past three weeks. What began as seasonal allergies resulted in uncontrollable post-nasal drip, initiating viral laryngitis and an upper respiratory tract infection. No amount of nasal saline rinses and steroid nasal sprays were equipped to combat my body's response to the allergens present during this Spring thaw.

It's interesting how I begin viewing myself as a patient to cope as I try to expedite the recovery process. I really like this article that outlines six common vocal myths by S-LP, Kristie Knickerbocker, especially this section on using throat coat teas:

"Like any pain, though, if your throat is hurting, don’t mask the problem by using numbing spray or another band-aid.  Your body is trying to tell you something and if you silence it, you could injure yourself further. Know your body.  I’m all for throat coat tea, ginger tea, lemon water, whatever–If you say it helps you feel better. I am against using any of that to hide pain so you can perform. If you are not giving your body time to heal, you’ll end up with a bigger problem."

Everybody has their favorite go-to's when it comes to sickness recovery. My motto is to do what works for you. However, I think there's a balance between doing what you need to do for your body as well as being aware of the side effects that medicinal ingredients can have on your voice. The National Centre for Voice and Speech has an excellent online resource to search that specific information.

Photo by Patsy Tomkins courtesy of Edmonton Opera

I tried to focus on these three factors: rest, hydration, and patience. Before Opera rehearsals, I tried to squeeze in time for a nap in order to recharge before a full evening at the the venue. Staging and technical rehearsals require a sustained amount of energy to stay alert for three hours while spacing, props, and music are sorted out as scenes are worked through. It takes a lot of energy to be on call.

Photo by Dilys Kulchitsky

In order to keep my hydration level up, I kept a water bottle with me everywhere (e.g., bedside, work desk, car, and backstage mirror). I attempted to limit caffeine but sometimes stimulants are needed so, when I did have caffeine, I would keep in mind a 1:2 ratio. For every caffeinated beverage I would have two cups of water - one to cancel that cup and another to hydrate. I aimed to have a net of 6-8 glasses but, since I was on antihistimines, I knew I needed more water because those types of medications can be drying. I would also brew multiple thermoses of non-caffeinated tea so I would have a constant supply of warm beverages and I wouldn't have to waste time by brewing cup to cup.

Photo by Patsy Tomkins
I tried to channel more patience by focusing more on text in rehearsal and refrained from singing, especially for the two days I had no voice. It takes restraint to not sing when there is so much on-stage action and energy. All of this was in attempt to conserve voice for opening night. Although I wasn't totally cured by opening night, my voice was back and I was ready to sing. Since I was extremely deconditioned after spending the previous weeks in a fragile vocal state, I had to make sure I had a solid vocal warm-up before the show. The worst was having to stifle dry tickles in my throat during quiet and tense moments in the story.

Aside from the battle with recovery, the show itself was stunning. I have heard so many comments raving about the ornate costumes and the stunning staircase set. I had goosebumps every night as I listened to Soprano, Simone Osborne, sing her debut Lucia and mimic the eerie melodic runs of the flute only Lucia could hear in madness.

Lucia di Lammermoor was a stunning closer to Edmonton's Opera's season. If you haven't looked already, take a peek at the upcoming 2015-16 Epic Scandals season showcasing Merry Widow, Carmen, and Maria Stuarda. Whether I am singing in these productions or in the audience, I can't wait to see these shows come alive on stage at the Jube.

Photo by Patsy Tomkins courtesy of Edmonton Opera

Photo by Patsy Tomkins courtesy of Edmonton Opera
Photo by Patsy Tomkins courtesy of Edmonton Opera

Also, visit Patsy Tomkins' blog that has more information behind-the-scenes of Lucia from light-walking the set to finding the right concoction of fake blood for the wedding dress.