Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Life of a Working Chorister


It's back to the regular school routine for me but this year is a bit different since I have taken on some more extracurricular choral activities. I started Belle Canto rehearsals last Monday and I also started rehearsing with Pro Coro. Things were the same as usual for Belle Canto but Pro Coro was definitely a new experience since it was my first "professional" choir experience. The rehearsals were intense and it was also strange singing with some of my past conductors. I joked that it was like yesterday I was in their youth choir while today I'm singing in their section. They remarked that I am now their peer but I answered with a statement of self-deprecating disbelief.

I received the music a 2 weeks prior the rehearsal so I had time to look through the pieces: Brahm's Zieguenerlieder (Gypsy Songs) and Frank Martin's Mass. I tried my best to sightread them on my own, but it was tricky since it was difficult to rehearse my line when I didn't have the musical context of surrounding voices. I remedied this by listening to streaming audio clips from the Naxos' online music library and tried to follow along to my part as the song played. It worked well for the Brahm's and also gave me an idea of how fast the German text goes in some sections! I really like the Brahms though. It's a set of 11 love songs and many of them have an exotic gypsy tones and sense of musical "otherness" about them. The Rheinberger's "Cantus Missae" is also on the program and I just received the music at the first rehearsal. It's a gorgeous mass with many romantic sounding lines.

By far the most difficult piece to learn independently was the Martin Mass since the musical lines on their own don't make any sense. It's a 20th C mass so it can sound pretty messed up tonally. However, with the rest of the choir, it's starting to make a lot more sense to me. There are tritones galore throughout the whole mass which makes me smile since tritones were the "Devil's" note and its use was often avoided in early Church days. The Martin's Mass continues to challenge me despite having three rehearsals. Especially during the last two rehearsals since there were only two people singing my part (including me) and one singer wasn't able to make it to two rehearsals. We only have three voices singing our section. The choir numbers have been stretched out since it is a double choir piece so there are 8 parts with 3-5 voices on each part.

The first rehearsal was the most intense. I arrived at the rehearsal location, chatted with some choristers I sang with in the University Madrigal Singers, conductor Richard Sparks greeted us all at the front of the room, Jeremy, our accompanist (and local Edmonton organ deity), played a note, Sparks raised his hands and the downbeat was my Alto II part. The piece opens on an exposed "A" and we had three voices supporting it. Man, that was terrifying! I've never had to think so hard during rehearsals in a long time. I had to use all my choral tricks, writing down the interval relations before they come, circling my notes that other parts sing so I can store them in my auditory memory, numbering weird rhythms, continuous listening around me for any choral context to help me find my notes. I felt like I needed to do multiple things at once: add dynamics, sing with good breath support and tone, pencil in breath markings as Sparks rattled them off as fast as my school professors, and respond to the musical nuances in other lines.
My brain was scurrying to do these things in addition to finding my notes!

For the professionals around me, it was just another day at work. For me, it was like I was trying to beat more information into my brain but it just was taking. I could only incorporate one new thing at a time! As a chorister who has been singing for leisure for the past few years, it was a steep learning curve. The worse thing is when you see your part coming up and you have no idea what you note is, your eye gaze goes haywire as you attempt to search for a musical crutch from another line, and by the time you breathe to give it a blind try, you choke and no sound comes out. Meanwhile, the rest of the choir is already two bars ahead. However, I've been feeling exponentially more comfortable with each rehearsal and I'm starting to be able to appreciate the music much more rather than being paralyzed with fear when I see my upcoming notes.
I strongly believe that if you surround yourself with experts, you learn so much faster since they're setting a high bar and it gives you the challenge of working up to their level. Without that stimulus, I wouldn't have had the motivation to get better.

Overall, I am quite impressed with how quickly I've adapted to the musical intensity and demands required of me. This was one of the main reasons I wanted to sing with Pro Coro. I feel like I have just been coasting in Belle Canto. It's comfortable and enjoyable but I no longer feel challenged. I wanted to see if I had the skills to perform with a professional group, and although I am still consolidating my place within the choir, I feel comforted by the fact that I am slowly adapting to this fast-paced musical lifestyle. I do not have another Pro Coro rehearsal until Saturday and after that I have three more rehearsals until the concert. It's a pretty condensed time frame! Over the next week I'll be working through some notes and trouble areas within the pieces so I can continue my prep for the concert on October 3rd. If you would like to listen to the first movement of Martin's Mass, Kyrie, try the video below. You can hear the exposed "A" that starts the piece!

To learn more about the music you can download the press release for the concert on Oct. 3.

Until next time, take care!

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Finale.

Hello readers!

This afternoon marked the end of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra's Symphony Under the Sky Festival. It was a fantastic labour day weekend filled with food, friends, and music.

Today's concert was entitled "Great Canadian Songbook," and as the title suggests, it included works by Canadian artists (minus Tchaikovsky's but it's a festival tradition that the 1812 Overture is played at the end, so for today, Tchaikovsky is a token Canadian).

My mind is awash with Canadian tunes from this afternoon such as "Canada" by Bobby Gimby, "I will Play a Rhapsody" by Burton Cummings, "Snowbird" by Gene MacLellan, "Mon pays" by Gilles Vigneault, A Medley from The Happy Gang (from a show that is "before my time"), "Swingin' Shepard Blues," A Gordon Lightfoot Medley, "If I had a Million Dollars" by the Barenaked Ladies (which had a "ka-ching" sound effect played by the ESO's resident conductor, Lucas Waldin), Ian Tyson's "Four Strong Winds" (which I know from the Edmonton Folk Music Festival since it has turned into their anthem), "Don Messer's Fiddlin' Tunes," Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi", and "Heart of Gold" by Neil Young.

Many of the pieces, including the world premiere of the Mitchell and Young piece, were arranged by Red Deer composer, Claude Lapalme. Lapalme also educated the audience about what things to listen for, such as particular instrumental sounds. An anvil-like percussion played throughout the Young piece to symbolize the metallic core of the "Heart of Gold" and he integrated 2 more "Yellow-titled" melodies within Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi," such as "The Yellow Submarine."

The Lapalme pieces were not the only world premiere pieces since Sean Doherty premiered his original work entitled "Rainstorm" as well. He was chosen through the ESO's Young Composers project to write an orchestral work. Props to Doherty who composed a beautifully textured storm piece! It was more of a soundscape rather than an opulent orchestral piece and it fitted the outdoor ambiance of the festival extremely well. The piece began and finished with the sound of the harp and vibraphone playing a singular note to echo the falling rain while the rest of the orchestra created the effect of a brewing and receding storm.

The afternoon concluded with a festival favorite, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, which was complete with members of the 20th Field Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery firing the cannons at the end.

In my mind, this festival signals the end of the summer and the beginning of Fall since the start of school is only a few days away for me. My summer holiday is now officially coming to a close but it'll be nice to be back at choir rehearsal!

Enjoy some more pictures below!

The audience is assembling.

Instruments but no musicians on stage yet

Nora Bumanis warming up on the harp

The 20th field regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery

Chilling out and waiting for the concert to start

Saturday, September 4, 2010

John Williams + ESO= Love.

It was another lovely evening out at the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra's Symphony Under the Sky tonight. Don't get me wrong, the weather was questionable beforehand (there was a misty drizzle in the late afternoon), and it was pretty chilly, but the concert remained outdoors. It didn't rain for much longer after they opened the gates at 6pm and some Star Wars characters even made their way out into the crowd to mingle with the audience in support of the movie themed evening.

The repertoire from tonight's concert was either written by John Williams or at least arranged by him. The man behind epic film scores such as Superman, Harry Potter, Star Wars, E.T., Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Schindler's List (just to name a few) produces film music nothing short of spectacular. Conductor Bob Bernhardt cracked a joke stating that although Beethoven is famous for the first 4 notes of Symphony No. 5, John Williams has him beat by 2 notes since the famous opening of Jaws only needs 2 notes for instant recognition.

The evening began with a march from Superman. I didn't recognize it personally but there was an avid group of Engineering students near me that were clutching their lawn chairs with great fervor while listening to the music. Superman's march was followed by "Sayuri's Theme" from Memoirs of a Geisha. Probably not one of Williams' most iconic themes, however, I liked how the ESO incorporated a program that showcased the diverse scores that Williams tackled in his career. "Flight to Neverland" from Hook had a lovely soaring quality and it was a refreshing change for the sun make an appearance during the piece.

Following this was possibly one of the main highlights of the concert: three movements from Schindler's List. Karen Gomyo, from the previous night, was the violin soloist yet again (props to the ESO for making efficient use of their soloist) for "Jewish Town", "Remembrances" and the "Main Theme," which is the one that most people will recognize. It's hard to describe the music that was generated from the stage. Gomyo had such an evenly pressured and fluid bowing technique that the musical lines she created were just seamless and her tone never wavered no matter high the frequency. It was just exquisite. Selections from Jurassic Park followed Schindler's List before the intermission.

"Harry's Wondrous World" from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was a lovely reintroduction to the concert after the intermission. I've almost forgotten how much of a role Harry Potter had in the formative years of my adolescence but hearing the music again reminded me. After the 7th book, I have felt my passion for the series dwindle, it didn't helped that they pushed back the date of the last film and split it into 2 movies. It feels like they're dragging out the inevitable. Gomyo came back out again to play a Williams arrangement of "Fiddler on the Roof" from Jerry Bock's musical score and "Por Una Cabeza" which was also a William arrangement. These two pieces were another highlight of the evening. Gomyo performed with a very playful and seductive quality and she received a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of each of them.

The rest of the program were pretty much the greatest hits from Star Wars: "The Flag Parade" and "Anakin's Theme" from Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace, and "The Imperial March" and the "Throne Room and End Title" from Star Wars IV: A New Hope. I think the latter 2 pieces especially since they showcase all the iconic tunes from Star Wars. Especially the "Throne room and End Title" which is pretty much a reprise of all the major musical themes from the film. During the last piece, the Star Wars characters which were mingling throughout the park beforehand, came back out to form a unified front facing the audience as their themes played behind them.
Now I feel like watching Star Wars!

Overall, it was a chilly evening out but it's worth it when you have wonderful music keeping you company. They will be playing an evening of Billy Joel and Elton John piano tunes tomorrow night but I won't be back at the park until Monday afternoon when they have a program of Canadian-centric tunes.

Enjoy some more pictures below!

It was hard to resist a picture with some Star Wars icons

The bounty hunter was awesome. They always posed with their double pistols. I also like how it looks like they're chasing after the little girl.

Staying dry from the rain

Staying warm on the grass before the concert

If you look closely you can see the unified Star Wars front

Friday, September 3, 2010

Opening Night

Today was the start of the
Edmonton Symphony's Orchestra's Symphony under the Sky Festival! If this is news to you, feel free to read my concert previews in a previous post here.

The evening did not disappoint. The weather was lovely and warm (even after the sun set). There were lots of delicious food vendor options. Tis' the last chance to purchase hotdogs, mini donuts, and lemonade in a festival atmosphere. The music, apart from some mic issues, was pleasant and well-executed.

The program tonight included Bach's Fuge a la gigue in G Major which was light and dancy. This was followed by Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze which reminds me of Christmas and vocal memories of tense solo soprano singing in children's choirs. The violin melody did not sound vocally tense to me... it's just my own personal memories. Following these pieces was Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor op. 63. The violin soloist was Karen Gomyo playing on a Stradivarus violin which was purchased by a private sponsor. Upon reading that in the program, I tweeted a message saying that I wished I had a private sponsor :) Gomyo was dressed in a long flowing red gown and played with flexibility and sensitivity. I often find violin players extremely stiff but her body was willowy and responsive to the musical workings of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra behind her. She really showed her technical prowess in the last movement of the concerto which elicited a warm round of applause and standing ovations at the end.

Following intermission, two quick musical themes from Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21 were introduced by the conductor, Bob Bernhardt, so that the audience could listen for them. He played an excerpt from the "Menuetto" movement and noted that Beethoven's version, though in 3/4 time, wouldn't have been danceable due to its quick pace. Therefore, it was renamed as a "Scherzo" which means "joke" in Italian (as pointed out to me in the program). As well, though the piece is supposed to be in C Major, the first movement actually begins with a dominant-tonic chord sequence in the wrong key. Oh, Beethoven, you jokester! The evening was topped off with Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 5 and No. 6. Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 5 has been a musical favorite of mine for a long time. Back when there was Napster, it was one of the first classical songs I downloaded!

Tomorrow I'm heading out again to listen to the film scores of John Williams! I've posted some photos of my evening below. Enjoy!

I received a special blogger nametag!

Nadia in line for mini donuts. The staff were all wearing white collared shirts and black bow-ties :)

Nadia with her veggie dog from Fat Franks.

The evening lights under the amphitheatre tent at the festival

Thursday, September 2, 2010

It's Symphony Time!

Hello readers!

It's one of my favorite times of the year this weekend: it's the Symphony Under the Sky festival! I've been going to this annual event for many years now and there's nothing that can beat the outdoor ambiance of a symphony concert. The lawn chairs come out, you consume salty popcorn, and eat smokies from the hot dog vendor. Delicious times! Oh yes, and the music is excellent as well. The vibe is just so relaxed that it's a great event to come to even if you're not equipped with an arsenal of musical knowledge. Music should just be enjoyed by everybody! You're really attending for the atmosphere and the music plays in integral role in creating that atmosphere.

Here are some highlights I'm looking forward to this weekend:

September 3-Friday evening-Bach, Beethoven and Brahms

The first night always is a pleasant classical concert. Nothing too intense, just a set list of enjoyable music. On the program for this evening is Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2, Beethoven’s First Symphony, and Brahms' Hungarian Dances No. 5 & 6 (one of my favorites!) and Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze (which will remind me of Christmas since I always hear this song at Christmas).

September 4-Saturday evening: John Williams' Greatest Hits

I've always been an avid fan of movie music. Music is essentially another character in a film so it's crucial that it is well constructed and suited to the movie's overall theme. It'll be an evening filled with John Williams' tunes such as Superman, Schindler’s List, Star Wars, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I'm looking forward to this evening greatly!

September 5-Sunday evening: The Piano Men

I won't be attending this concert but the tunes of Billy Joel and Elton John will be heard throughout the evening. If you do go, you will hear the tunes: Candle in the Wind, Rocket Man, Movin’ Out, Just the Way You Are, Piano Man, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road with piano and symphonic back-up. Should be a great night, let me know how it is if you go!

September 6-Monday afternoon: Great Canadian Songbook

Ah, my favorite event to go to on Labour Day Monday. The Royal Canadian Artillery will shoot guns in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture during the finale and I will be sure to have my bells/keys ready to shake at the end of the piece as the audience plays a helping role in echoing the victory bells heard throughout Moscow. I'm also interested to hear what other "Canadian hits" I will recognize. Four Strong Winds, Snowbird, Big Yellow Taxi and Heart of Gold are on the program. I know Four Strong Winds but not the other mentioned pieces. I hope to be pleasantly surprised!

It's a very exciting line-up they have for the weekend. There are also afternoon concerts on Saturday and Sunday which you can check-out on their website.

If you want to learn more, just listen to conductor, Bob Bernhardt, and what he has to say about the festival line-up!

Tickets: Available at their box office 780-428-1414 or on their website.

Hope to see you at the festival if you happen to be in Edmonton!

I'll also be live tweeting from the event so you can follow me here if you wish!

Until next time, take care!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"the Artist"

Hello readers!

As promised, I will keep you up-to-date on my choral duties since I have been accepted as a substitute member for
Pro Coro! It's my first brush with a professional group, and in this case, I mean professional in the sense that I will be paid. This is a new experience for me!

The first surprise came in the mail a few days ago: my contract! I eagerly opened it and the first thing I saw was my name and "the Artist" in brackets after it. Wow, I've never thought of myself as an "Artist" before! I know it's probably just another generic arts term but it was a term I have never seen attached to my name. It was scary but cool to see that term printed next to my name! After that initial shock wore off, it was just strange having a contract. It outlined various things I would normally do anyway if I was in a choir---showing up for performances, not being late for rehearsal, learning the music etc. but it just made it so much more real to see all those terms written down. The main thing that made my heart panic was the fact that I would need to provide my own uniform. A long sleeved floor length black velvet gown. Where the heck would I obtain something like that!?!?!

I wasn't about to go out spend $100s of dollars for an American choir uniform company to ship me some generic dress that I would have to hem myself anyway! Who knows how many concerts I will be singing at! Maybe this would be my first and last concert with them. It just doesn't make sense to make that kind of investment now. Where would I find a black velvet gown? I have to say, velvet is something not readily stocked in mainstream stores. Maybe I could try a thrift store? an mature lady's store at the mall? I was low on ideas. No matter what, I would need to start hunting. I googled to the far recesses of the internet abyss and came up with a few options but I was resistant to order them even after measuring myself numerous times with a tape measure and looking at individual sizing guides. I cursed the fact that my measurements didn't clearly fall into a specific category. I had a waist measurements for one size but the hip measurements for a completely different size. Oh, the woes of acquiring a uniform! I've gotten use to the luxury of having uniforms provided for me where all I would need to do is pay a rental fee. I called my mother explaining my predicament in an exasperated tone. In order to placate me she said that it wouldn't be that hard to make and that we could just buy some cheap Halloween costume type velvet and she could sew one. Essentially, it would end up looking like a tube with sleeves. Yay! I would not be on the stage naked! Thanks Mom!

However, as a back-up, I also defaulted to an extremely handy tool: Twitter. I posted a message inquiring whether anybody had any ideas of where I could find a velvet gown. After a teasing reply from my sister asking me if the dress was in an effort to realize my dream of becoming a nun, I was delighted to get a response back from my friend Christina. She asked me if I would be interested in a velvet tent. I was slightly confused by the message and started to imagine a velvet dress with scoopy draping. When I did see her in person where she explained the fit of the dress and how it was made for her (for another choir she was in)... I began to have hope. It sounded like a dress that was specifically designed to be a uniform! We are roughly the same height, I'm a tad bit shorter and she says the dress is very forgiving fit-wise. She confessed that since the fabric is so stretchy she even wore a snowsuit under it one year when she had to carol outside in it. She promised to bring it for me the next day. She wanted me to try it right away so I put it on while at a Starbucks to see the fit. Also, I didn't go into the bathroom. I just put it on over my leather jacket and jeans. Christina and another friend dissolved into hysterical laughter---watching me wiggle my way into the dress while out in public. It actually fit pretty well! I required some help taking it off since it was sticking to my jacket so I had to raise my hands and get Christina to peel it off of me. Good times!

Upon arriving home, my mom was relieved to see that I had found another option. She looked at the dress and said the velvet is a lot nicer than the cheaper costume velvet we had in mind. I was glad to have another thing off my mind since the last thing I need to do is run around searching for a velvet gown.

The next thing will be learning the music for the
Pro Coro! I just picked it up today so I will update you on my progress while I learn it!

Until next time, take care!