Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Singing for our Supper

On Saturday night I had the pleasure of singing for a Ladies Appreciation Night for Wives and Widows of the Masonic order at the San Remo Restaurant. I signed up for the gig for two reasons:

1. I would raise money for my fundraising account
2. I would be fed

You can probably ask any musician this (or any person really) but being paid and fed is the sign of a very good gig. However, I also knew that our gig would be stressful since we would have limited time to run through songs together. There were 6 of us and we were singing songs we usually sing with the whole choir. Some pieces were spread a bit thin with all the split voice parts and sometimes impromptu solos where necessary...but we survived :)

We knew we had to run through pieces before we began to sing so we went to the most private place we could find....the bathroom. When we began to realize that people needed to use the bathroom we moved to the next best space....the handicap cubicle. It comfortably fit 6 people! It was here that we ran through the pieces that worried us the most and we also decided last minute to sing Frobisher Bay. We didn't have music but it was fine since we knew most of the melody and that song is ingrained into my choral being. I know all the words and I can sing any part. That training is from my good ol' Con Fuoco days. It was in the bathroom stall that we gave Erin time to run her "Shall we Gather at the River" solo (which she graciously volunteered to sing last minute) and we cut some instrumental pages out of Tell me Ma and figured out how we were going to split the chords of some songs that needed 9 voices. Soon after,
somebody came in to alert us to the fact that dinner was being served so we processed out to our spots at the end of the table where everybody else was sitting.

We began to organize our music and decide our set list as bruschetta, salad and pasta were being passed around to us. Once we were organized and had everything figured out I could tell there was less stress in the air. Dinner was delicious and it was fun to unwind with my fellow choristers. We normally don't get the time to chat to one another even with rehearsal breaks and it's really through doing gigs and touring that we get to bond.

We began singing our first set after the entrees and the audience chuckled when we confessed that we were now going to sing for our supper. We decided to sing two musical sets. We started off with a light madrigal and one thing which is really nice about singing in a small group is how responsive we were to dynamics and musical interpretation. The only song which sounded a bit off to me in the first set was a Finnish song we had called On Suuri Sun Rantas. We decided to all sing unison at the beginning instead of having a solo but then, all of a sudden, I totally forgot that the solo continues and the choir starts humming. I had about a 1/2 second blip in my brain when I heard others switch down to the choir part and realized we didn't designate someone to sing the solo. Anyway, I sang it along with Kirsten and we survived.

The most integral skill in these gigs is winging it. You have to be aware at all times if musical parts are missing and you have to be ready to jump around to different lines to help your fellow choristers out. It requires a lot of brain power but you just have to keep your ears open since we don't want to leave anybody hanging. After this set we were served dessert and got to listen to some Masonic toasts.

Afterwards, we popped outside on the restaurant to run through more songs before our second set. It kind of looked like we were all smokers since we all processed out together and huddled together (it was chilly!) over by the smokers corner...

In our second set, we there was a slight panic moment in "Queen Jane" when the altos each came in on a different note on one line but I wasn't paying enough attention to jump down and help them out. We finished off the piece with some strange chords and a few confused looks from audience members but I think they just thought the weird chords were a part of the piece.

The ending of the second set was nice since it was just two folk songs, Shall We Gather at the River and Tell My Ma, where the melodies were just the same but there were different words. Even though we didn't discuss dynamics beforehand we created our own on-the-spot dynamics to give our song some variety since there were 5+ lines of text. That's another thing you can't do in a choir. In a small group it is much easier to be receptive to those around you so you can hear and sense when there is a consensus to do something different with the text. Tell My Ma was fun as always and it was just nice to get the audience clapping along and end the evening with something catchy and pleasant. We had some standing ovations and it was a lovely gig to sing overall since the atmosphere was warm and intimate and the acoustic actually wasn't that shoddy either.

We ended the gig by talking to our audience members and we all received red roses as we went out the door. An excellent gig overall!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Choral Descent

Hello again!

As you all might know, my final project for my electromusic course integrated something very close to my heart....choral sounds! In an earlier entry I blogged about my project progress and some of my ideas going into it. What I came to realize though is that the story in my mind during the initial stages could potentially box listeners in when they came to hear it.

Thus, when I had to give a small blurb about my piece before I played it, I just described it as a attempt to fuse sacred and secular choral pieces together. Often, you have to choose one or the other in choral music and there are few songs that integrate both. A piece is either sacred or it is secular. However, I wanted to expand how people listen to choral music so I tried not to subscribe to stereotyped perceptions of choir music. As well, I wanted to create a piece a regular choir wouldn't be able to sing unless they were in some kind of strange double choir formation where one half of the choir was singing sacred music and the other half would be singing secular. These different genres require different technique and mentalities so it would be extremely challenging to have a chorister do both at the same time. However, it's not impossible...

Overall, the piece just experiments with how these genres can be incorporated together to make something chorally unique. I think one of the things I like most is the end where there is an ascending vocal track. It is something I could hear an actual choir singing but there is a unique quality to it since it's actually a reversed track of the beginning of a Hungarian song called Magosh a Rutafa. Thus, it sounds melodic and something a choir could sing but a choir would never actually be able to recreate that sound. A little bit of my experimental electromusic nature creeping in there.

The song is entitled "Choral Descent" since choir music, whether it descends from a heavenly angel chorus or from cow callers in the hills, still arrives at the same share music with others.

Anyway, give it a listen and tell me what you think! The audience members sitting next to during the recital were kind of snickering to themselves (in a good way I think) since I suppose it sounded funny to infuse abstract choral sounds with Ave Maria choruses. Maybe there is some comedic element to my piece that I did not anticipate? In addition, I know a lot of my fellow choir friends will recognize the tracks I used and maybe can even hear their own voices :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Joyce's Snow

Hello again everybody,

Since last night was the debut of my electromusic pieces, I thought I would post them here for my readers as well.

My recital went well. It was a bit longer than I expected but the whole recital just felt like an evening with friends, sitting in a dark room, and listening to music. It was intimate and enjoyable.

There were some really neat pieces the 500-level electromusic students did. There was a duet between laptops where they controlled their laptops using their cellphones. I'm not sure the programming details behind what they were able to achieve but it was very neat. They also used Photoshop tablets to control the Disklavier. For those of you who don't know what that means, they pretty much had a piano that looked like it was playing itself but they were being controlled by the tablet they were drawing on.

People from my own class did some very neat things as well. Jacek played his music concrete pieces. There is one where he recorded the resonances from saw blades to create a textural fabric and on top of that sound were sharp clips of everyday sound fragments. Catherine scored ominous music for a short film and she also composed a piece using Nintendo sounds from a unit she ordered from Ebay. Very cool! I won't post their pieces on their Internet but if you ever want to hear them, just ask me, and I'll play a c.d. of their songs for you :)

The piece I have posted below is my first project from the class and is entitled Joyce's Snow. You can read about my progress on this piece in an
earlier entry. I recruited my friends to help and recorded them saying the IPA sounds, select words from the passage, as well as the entire last passage from Joyce's "The Dead." I tried to create something that reflected the gentle and illuminating nature of the text passage. That's all I will say now since I think it's better to say less rather than more so you can form your own thoughts about the piece. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section!

Special thanks to the following people who contributed their voices:

Twila B.
Nick T.
Shruchi B.
Matt G.

P.S I will post my other project in a few days

Monday, April 20, 2009

Oh My Mother Mother!

It's the thick of finals week and I still manage to get myself out to concerts. Good for satisfying my musical desire but probably not so good for my grades.

At any rate, I was able to attend a stunning show at the
Starlite Room last night where Mother Mother wowed Edmonton with their stunning vocals and musicianship. Now, I know you are all probably not avid listeners of Canadian Indie bands...but it's a real shame because good music is good matter what forms it comes in. You may feel like you're not hip enough, that their music is for young people, but there are elements in every musical genre that should be experienced.

Mother Mother is based out of Vancouver with brother and sister duo, Ryan and Molly Guldemond, starting the group with another vocalist to do acoustic shows. They later added bassist Jeremy Page drummer Loewen with the newest member, Jasmin Parkin, joining as a vocalist and keyboardist. Their upbeat tunes from their new album, O My Heart, succeeded in keeping fans hopping the entire night. They were able to fuse treble charged guitar sounds with crisp and percussive lyrics in "Hayloft" and Molly entranced the audience with "Sleep Awake" with her hauntingly unique voice.

There is so much subtlety in the way they perform where you can sense a real connection among them. The frontman, Ryan, often receded into the background to play with the drummer and properly highlighted other soloists in the band when it was their turn whether it was saxophone or keyboard. I would have thought that my attention would only be focused on him, since he played some amazing guitar solos and fronted many of the vocals, but I was equally engaged by every performer on stage. Especially Molly and Jasmin who where singing and playing the keyboard. They were absolutely stunning and gave a charged musical performance where they never wavered in their high energetic output. I normally cannnot hear the keyboard players amidst all the guitar, bass and drum lines but their keyboard were prominent the entire evening.

As well, it's just so refreshing to hear such clean and unique sounding vocals from a band. I feel like voices are often drowned out in favour of more electronic instrument sound and this is a detriment to musical performances. People come to hear music...not electronic feedback! Human voices naturally appeal to human ears, since we have evolved to communicate, and it is a shame when clean vocals are not present in many trendy bands today. Sloppy scooping and bad vocal technique should not become the norm but it seems like it has. Musical standards should not be lowered just because some groups are selling an image and not a sound.

Another thing that sets
Mother Mother apart is how they develop their musical ideas. Of course, there are songs like, Arms Tonite, which are catchy and fun but many of their songs take the time to explore the lyrics and their instrument sounds in order to highlight the message. Often, groups just blast out a catchy chorus and regurgitate words without ever truly examining the relationship between text and music. There is no evidence of that musical disconnect in Mother Mother's performance. Each time the chorus returns they revisit it in a different manner even though the words are the same. It's hard to describe but I think most of you know what I'm trying to say. They understand their music and exactly the best way to convey it to their audience.

I could spend paragraphs gushing about their music but it would be better for me just to keep this post simple so you can head over to their
Myspace to listen to their amazing songs. Be ready to dance in your chair!

Posted below is their O-so-catchy tune: Body of Years

Body of Years

Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's Like Driving a Mercedes

I don't know what it was about tonight's festival performance.....but I was tired! It may be due in part to the fact that I am in the middle of writing finals but usually adrenaline gets me buzzed enough to pull off a performance. Didn't seem like that was the case tonight with Belle Canto.

The Rotary Music festival was held at the North Pointe Community Church out in the middle of nowhere. Somewhere in an area between St. Albert and Edmonton. It's a massive church filled with preschool rooms, leather couches, classrooms, gift shop, administration office, a huge gymnasium, a commercial kitchen and there's even a coffee shop near the entrance to the worship sanctuary. Very modern indeed...

Anyway, the sanctuary space, where the festival singing took place, was one of the most difficult acoustics I have ever sung in. I still think the worse one was the lecture theatre I sang in with Belle Canto at the University of Victoria. That room was truly disgusting. One of those steep amphitheater style lecture theaters with the fold-out desk chairs. If any of you UofA students remember lecture room P126 before Physics and V-wing was destroyed...imagine singing in that room. Yeah, gross, I know. There was no feedback and everything was exposed and dry. I tried to sing better to make up for it but it didn't seem like there was much of a difference. It just felt like we were all randomly singing and we all happened to be standing next to each other. There was no cohesive choir sound. At least not from where I was standing. It is unfair to critique our performance as a whole since I know that what I heard tonight is not what Belle Canto sounds like.

One of the most painful sets was one with the Ensemble Class. This was a smaller group with about half the singers of Belle Canto and I was picked to be 1 out of 2 second sopranos. It was o.k. for the first set but there was one song in the second set, If Ye Love Me by Eleanor Daley, that seemed to kill me slowly. I kept on taking huge gaping breaths with my fellow mezzo (the whole song is full of sustained phrases) and there was just no support or beneficial singing relationship between us. It was not her fault but I blame it on the acoustics and the fact that there was only 2 of us. A breath in a bad spot cannot be disguised with 2 people and we didn't really make a breathing plan of action before we went in. Also, we both wanted to take a breath and brace ourselves before a solo entry and what happened was that there was no second soprano note at the chord we were supposed to hold. Oops!

At this point we had already sung about 8 songs and hadn't had the opportunity to sit so we were all uber tired. I also forgot that during festivals the adjudicator,
George Evelyn, wanted to say something or work with us. This takes even more time! After every 2 or 3 songs he would come up and drill a few lines with us. Since there wasn't too much to perfect other than demanding more dynamic variation and suggesting that we should sing in straight tone to correct vibrato problems (which Heather promptly shut down) he was just mentioning nitpicky things that wouldn't radically change our performance. I kind of wished I could just sing and a concert! I sound like choral diva! I know a music festival is not designed this way but I've just been doing this for so long that I kind of don't really feel the desire to hear what they have to say. Of course, there are some illuminating points which you can take away but, overall, I know what I'm supposed to be doing or how a piece should's all about the execution. I also trust Heather's opinion and rehearsing with her is like having an prestigious adjudicator every week.

One thing the adjudicator mentioned that I found funny was when he compared Belle Canto to a Mercedes Benz. Not everybody gets to drive one but it's extremely luxurious when you get the chance. It's smooth, responds quickly to your commands and is a sleek performance machine. If I had to think of a Belle Canto analogy that men could identity with...a Mercedes Benz is a pretty good one.

Until next time, take care everybody!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Musical Challenges

I was chatting with my friend, Tendai, the other day and something very interesting came up that I have not thought about for a long time until he mentioned it. I was telling him about my electromusic class and how I was finding it difficult to work through the musical genesis process. He just reminded me that I needed to challenge myself and face my musical fears head-on. I would never get better at the process of composing electromusic if I don't break away from my desire to always have a melodic line. It makes sense but it's so hard to muster the confidence to go outside of my comfort range. It's something important for me to remember. Instead of just avoiding something I am not able to do well...I just need to suck it up and do it since I'm not going to get better without any effort on my part. However, I am not embarking on the world of nodal sound music for my final project but I am trying to push what I can do with the software and the recordings I have extracted. As well, I am convinced there are a few checkpoints with every musical process:

1. You are excited to start working on the project because you have some really cool ideas
2. You start putting pieces together and maybe are surprised and excited by some cool new sounds you were able to create but soon notice it is not as easy as you thought to realize your goal when you see how much work lies ahead
3. You're extremely insecure as you start formulating the piece but you continue anyway because you can't seem to detach yourself from the piece
4. You feel like what you have done up to this point sounds like complete rubbish and it is extremely frustrating and you consider scrapping the project entirely
5. You take a break from the piece
6. Hopefully, after some time, you come back to the piece and it sounds better than you thought it did
7. As much pain you had to go through, there are some truly rewarding moments where things sounds exactly right and it's enough to put you through this whole painful process once again

It's interesting how much time away from a project can influence your feelings towards it. I was tinkering with my piece today and instead of being frustrated at the ghetto Protools program in the studio and everything it can't do...I just left. It was better than doing something I would regret. I'm not sure what that would have been...since Protools is an inanimate entity...but it wouldn't have been me. Or worse, it would have been my piece that would have suffered. I am hoping after a two day break Protools will be more cooperative with me. I still have a lot of finishing touches and edits that I need to do on my piece but I am also at the point where I just want to get it finished. Thank goodness I have a deadline or else I could spend forever just playing around with it!

I am writing finals for the next week so I won't have a massive amount of updates but I will be competing with Belle Canto at the St. Albert Rotary festival on Friday. I am sure I will have some thoughts about our performance!

Until then, take care everybody!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Final Project Progress

I am currently in the process of trying to piece together something for my final Electromusic project. I felt like I really depleted a lot of my creative resources into my "Joyce's Snow" piece but the pressure is on to present something cool for my final project. Of course, in staying with my musical roots and using something that I know...I am working with choral sounds!

I started by taking all of my favorite choir pieces and manipulating clips from them. But I ran into trouble since when I started to pitch shift the voice quality started to change and that was not my intention at all! I manipulated one recording of Chamber Choir and now they sound like a choir of countertenors....not what I was going for!

Since I had no idea what the piece was going to be like I just started taking random sound fragments and putting them together in Protools. Right now my piece concept is kind of like a Choir Sing-off. There's this nomadic choir out in the countryside calling cows and embracing their folk root origins, meanwhile, in town there is a beautiful sacred church choirs singing texts with "Ave Maria". Then nomadic choristers make their way into town and start singing along with the sacred choir grunting and making other weird noises while the church choirs continue to sing. I initially thought I would have them blast choruses to each other but I had way more fun interweaving sound clips from each group so maybe they're just enjoying a random jam session together. Currently, the piece is pretty rough. I have a rough structure laid out but it will probably change. I am a bit afraid that it looks like I haven't done enough work to it or manipulated the sounds enough but I don't want to lose the quality of the voices. It's a tough balance. I did reverse a few of the sound tracks so that the voices are singing backwards and I have to say...Hungarian sounds pretty cool in reverse.

Anyway, I will keep you all posted on further updates. As well, if you want to attend my Electromusic Recital here are the details:

When: Tuesday, April 21 @ 8pm
Where: FAB Studio 2-7

As well, here is a soft synth I did during a break from my project:

Monday, April 6, 2009

Carmina Burana Review


I had the pleasure this past Sunday of attending the close to sold-out Carmina Burana show. It felt strange for me to sit and see my fellow choristers, silently sitting and with a look of calm professionalism, but not be with them in the choir loft as they readied themselves to perform again after Saturday's sold-out show. My friend, Julia, accompanied me as it was her first symphonic concert with mass choir and soloists and I was eager to note her thoughts along the way.

One thing I was interested to hear was how four stunningly different choirs were going to sound together. However, I forgot about the sheer strength that emerges when you have that many voices and it's not so much a question of how these four groups are going to work together, but what they can achieve when all their vocal energy is focused on the same goal. I often find singing with and listening to mass choirs extremely painful because it seems like there are only two dynamic levels: loud and louder. Often, the mass choir is an arena where you can sing as loud as you want and it doesn't help that everybody is trying to one-up each other in sound level; thus, when you have everybody singing at full volume, sound levels can approach the pain threshold. While there were definitely moments of sound blasting coming from the Winspear stage, it was contextually acceptable because of Orff's passionate chorus. There is a time and a place for loud mass choir singing and Carmina Burana is one of them. Futhermore, not all passages were loud as there were many lyrically sensitive passages and fervent moments within the "O Fortuna" chorus where the choirs conveyed the text with explosive diction.

While there were choral ensemble problems in the beginning two choruses, where the men were consistently ahead of the treble voices, this timing problem seemed to even out as the music progressed. Each individual choir had their own role to play and this was achieved by splitting up chorus parts. Overall, I was impressed by the rhythmic energy the men were able to convey, and they were extremely receptive to Eddin's energetic input. I felt that Eddin's had a very musically sensitive relationship with the men, moreso than with the treble voices, but this could be due to the fact that the men have some star moments within Carmina Burana. It was also illuminating to hear Kokopelli and Oran by themselves during their solo sections. Although, classical music may not be their particular specialty, they produced a light angelic-like sound which appeared to fit the text. During later sections, when their lines had more lyrical warmth, you could hear that they were more in their element. The Cantilon Chamber Choir, in my slightly biased opinion, sounded the cleanest all the groups. They had the vocal precision and technique to accurately deliver the demands of the music and their vocal energy cut all the way back to the Gallery where I was sitting. I appreciated the fact I was able to hear the sound of the individual choirs but the sound of the mass choir, as Julia put it, had a "thrilling and powerful" presence that was definitely the highlight of the performance

Normally, I find the ESO a bit overpowering when they are paired with guests artists, however, I felt the ESO was supportive with symphonic lines that provided a solid structural framework for further sound construction. As well, the two pianos on stage had a brilliantly radiant quality that energized the sound of the symphony. Julia noted that while she could appreciate the talents of the symphony, she wished that the sound was better balanced so that she could have experienced more of the vocal effects. She also mentioned that if there was a better balance, maybe some of the choral ensemble problems could have been corrected. I agree with her since everything is so loud within a mass choir that all you can do is watch the conductor and hope you're in time with the other half of the choir.

The soloists were definitely an interesting entity within this performance as they were much more animated that I was expecting! The baritone, Hugh Russell, had an interesting swagger coming to and from his seat as the chorus and symphony musically mocked him at a key moment in the piece while the tenor, Bonventura Bottone, definitely displayed an array of dramatic gestures throughout the show. It provided good comic relief but Julia stated that it distracted her slightly from the actual performance. I wished that soprano, Ilana Davidson, emanated more musical energy in her voice. While her voice was very pretty and lyrical, it just did not wow me in comparison to all the other inspiring sounds I was hearing.

Carmina Burana was the star piece of the show but Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings with horn soloist, Allene Hackleman, was one of Julia's favorite due to its immensely relaxing yet sorrowful sound. This further highlights the fact that you do not have to be a classical music connoisseur to reap the intended effects of Britten's musical genius.

I applaud the fact that the ESO makes a positive effort to incorporate the diverse range of musical groups available within Edmonton and I am looking forward to more musically collaborative events. Personally, it was enlightening to hear my fellow choristers make music together and hopefully I will have the chance to join them in the future!

Be sure to check out the ESO blog for more enlightening symphony entries!

Until next time, take care readers!