Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Boogie Woogie Christmas

Greetings readers!

You know what I love about Christmas? Surprise, surprise! Christmas music.

In a busy season that can quickly become overwhelmed with multiple commitments and invitations to more concerts than you can physically attend, definitely see if you can make it out to the upcoming
"The Days of Christmas" concert with Michael Kaeshammer and The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO), with special guest: Jill Barber.

As you probably already know, I'm a huge fan of the ESO
from my previous posts. They do such an amazing job with providing an engaging season with refreshing and and dynamic musical programs. I'm also an avid fan of Jill Barber. Her smoky voice and killer sense of style makes me melt when I listen to her. It also makes me feel like dressing up in a Mad-Men-esque manner. I haven't seen her perform since the Edmonton Folk Festival in 2009 but I have been avidly awaiting her return to the city. She was the initial reason why I looked into this concert and lovely Phil from the ESO was willing to have me blog.

I haven't heard of Michael Kaeshammer before, but after doing some internet research, I think his performance style is exactly what my Christmas season is missing. I watched his "Lovelight" video and he seems spunky, charming, and extremely talented. I love watching live music unfold at the hands of talented artists. Especially one who is proficient with jazzy, bluesy, and boogie woogie tunes at the keyboard. Kaeshammer is currently touring the country to promote his new album, Lovelight, and the ESO site has him listed as performing "Christmas favorites" such as Mary's Boy Child and I'll be Home for Christmas. I'm sure there will be lots of lovely Christmas arrangements for Kaeshammer to perform with the ESO and I'm also sure he will be given the opportunity to play some solo tracks off his Lovelight album. He is headlining the concert after all.
I'm extremely excited for this concert! It'll be a refreshing change from the choral-centric Christmas offerings I will be participating in. As much as I love a good candlelight procession, it's nice to have balance.

For more details about tickets or the program for the "The Day of Christmas" concert click here

If you want a little preview of what to expect, watch this video:

As well, here are some more videos of the aforementioned artists.
Michael Kaeshammer's performance of "Lovelight"

Jill Barber's video of "Chances"

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Voices United

Greetings readers!

The weekend has come and past and with it was my second performance with Pro Coro. I have to say, my anxiety has greatly decreased performing with them for a second time. It's a good and bad thing. Good in that my shoulders are no longer tense from holding my music up, but also bad and that I wasn't singing as cleanly as I would have liked. However, it was a successful concert nonetheless.

In the concert the ladies performed a unpublished piece called "Voices of the Tenth Muse" by Patricia Van Ness. Initially, I wasn't a big fan of the music but it really challenged my perceptions of what kind of choral music can be beautiful. It merged ancient Greek text with dissonant 20th C writing. Many of the parts only deviated by one semitone so there were many crunchy chords and textures through the 3 movements we sang. The men of Pro Coro also sang some lovely Holst and male voice pieces. By far the highlight was performing with saxophonist, P.J. Perry for the Swedish pieces in our concert. That part of the program was like "traditional choir concert" meets "night time jazz club". He would play improv sax lines on top of the choral parts and the double bass would establish this amazing groove with the percussionist. We ended off with Lars Jansson's percussively show-stopping "To the Mother in Brazil." I think one of the most exciting things about singing with Pro Coro is the diverse repertoire and collaboration with other musicians. Normally, I never get the opportunity to perform music like this.

Now that the "Voices United" concert is finished it is time to look forward to the Christmas season! Also, you may be interested to know that my first video submission for the Virtual Choir is now on Youtube. Remember, you have until December 31, 2010 to join in on the action. See my previous post for details!

I may be kicking myself later for posting this video, however, maybe it'll give some of you confidence to make an entry for yourself, but here is my submission:

In all honesty, I wish I had the range to do what this guy did. He sang all 8 parts to Eric Whitacre "Sleep"!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Approach of Christmas

Greetings Readers!

I had no idea that my last post was my 100th post! Clearly, I'm not so great with keeping score of my own milestones. Oh well, 100 posts or not, I will continue on in my merry posting ways.

This past week in Belle Canto we started to prep for our upcoming Christmas concert. However, it's going to be relatively stress-free since Belle Canto is only singing one song. Belle Canto will be singing a piece called "Hymn to the Virgin" by Michael McGlynn. It's the typical pretty latin-chant Christmas piece so it should sound very pretty in the Winspear Centre. The rest of our pieces we will be singing with Chamber Choir or they will be mass choir pieces. Oh yes, and there will be audience carols as well. If there's anything I go on automatic singing pilot for, it's definitely audience carols. Don't get me wrong, I love audience carols, but there's only so many ways to sing Silent Night.

As I previously mentioned, we will be singing with Chamber Choir as well and this year we will jointly perform John Rutter's "Dancing Day." Chamber Choir usually cycles between Benjamin Britten's "Ceremony of Carol," William Mathias' "Salvator Mundi" and John Rutter's "Dancing Day" each Christmas and this year just happens to be a "Dancing Day" year. The last time we performed Dancing Day was not that long ago though, since we needed a piece to quickly fill the program when we found out the soloist, Nancy Argenta, would be unable to make it to our concert, but it is always an audience favorite so it's nice to have it back. I've posted a video of the King's College Choir singing "A Virgin Most Pure." It's not the Rutter arrangement but the video just looks so Christmassy-I just had to share.

Furthermore, next week is the second Pro Coro concert I'll be singing in! We had a rehearsal on Wednesday and for one of the pieces our conductor brought in a full keyboard and speaker so that our accompanist could play ocean synth noises. He stuck in his USB stick and uploaded the sound of squawking seagulls and squeaking dolphins. I have to say, it makes a pretty neat soundscape effect. Our voice parts are cascading vocal lines that weave in and out, to mimic the sound of the ocean wave on the shore, and the synth noises are played on top of it. However, I'll be surprised if I can sing that part with a straight face when I have the sound of giddy dolphins next to me. I suppose my true professionalism will be put to the test. Saxophonist, P.J. Perry, will also be doing lots of saxophone improv for the concert so it will be interesting to see how that all pulls together next week when he arrives from New York City. If you're interested in coming out to the concert, here are the details:

When: Sunday, November 21, 2010 @ 2:30 pm
Where: McDougall United Church
Tickets:$30 Adults, $25 Student/Senior
Tickets can be purchased here

Until next time, take care!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Therapeutic Music

Greetings readers!

There is this student group at the University called "Therapeutic Music" and what they do is provide weekly-monthly concerts at local nursing homes in the Edmonton area. They usually provide concerts for those with dementia and they accept musicians of all skill levels to contribute to the musical program.

A friend of mine ended up joining this group in September and asked me if I'd be interested in doing a few songs with him at some point. I didn't hesitate since music therapy is exactly within my area of interest and I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to do a voice & acoustic guitar duet. You must understand, I never voluntarily sing solo repertoire. However, it's something I really should get better at. It is a great shame to be a musician but not be able to to share your music with others. Of course, recording music is great but the ability to perform live is a crucial skill every musician should have. The first concert in October didn't line up with my schedule but I was glad I was able to make it to the one this month. In September I did meet up with my friend to quickly run through two folk songs: "Arlington" by The Wailin' Jenny's and "Uniform Grey" by Sarah Harmer. That was the last time we saw each other until the concert.

I thought this was a good opportunity to try out solo singing in a supportive and low stress atmosphere. The last time I did any solo rep was when I had a solo line from John Rutter's "A Virgin Most Pure" from his Dancing Day Christmas set. Since I had that solo sprung upon me a few days before the actual performance, and due to the fact that it was at the Winspear Centre, anything else would seem less stressful in my eyes. I remember waiting for my entry from the harp, and I was about to come in early but, thankfully, my conductor made some serious eye contact with me and I waited until she brought me in to sing.

On the day of the Therapeutic Music performance, I was able to chat with some of the other musicians and listened to some nervous monologues about the upcoming performance. I guess I wasn't alone. There was a diverse set of instruments: some piano players, a violin player, a cello duet, a flautist, two acoustic guitar players and different combinations of some of the previously mentioned musicians. Overall, it was a concise one hour program. Due to a program swap, I ended up going first with my acoustic guitar partner-in-crime and our two songs were short and sweet. I was thankful for his supportive presence next to me on the piano bench. However, I cursed the fact that my nerves wouldn't allow me to get a good breath in for the first few phrases of "Arlington" so I had that nervous breath vibrato. Gross. But I was happy that my respiratory system settled down throughout the piece. By the time "Uniform Grey" arrived, I was in control again. Not bad, not bad at all. There is a glimmer of hope for me after all. I think the thing with choir solo's is that there is no time to settle in. By the time you're getting comfortable, your line is over, and it's time for the next song.

The whole concert was just nice and intimate. All the residents were sitting in faded pastel recliners and pudgy couches, looking slightly drowsy, and my fellow musicians were sitting on the ground against the walls. Overall, it was a positive experience for me and a good opportunity to see how my voice fares in solo"ish" settings. It's definitely weird not having to blend with another voice. I'm not used to doing things with my voice and having those little quirks be heard. Those details rarely ever emerge out of a choral fabric when only one person is doing it.

I'll take this time to say thanks to my friend who made it possible for me to explore some of my solo capabilities! I have a feeling this won't be the first or last time I perform with this group.

Until next time, take care readers!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An Update of Sorts

Greetings readers!

Since my last blog post, I've had a wide array of music related things happen:

Virtual Choir

Last weekend I tried video recording my entry for the virtual choir. Let me tell you, following a virtual conductor is tricky business! On my first run-through I was either a few beats slow or ahead and it was extremely challenging to line up with his conducting video! I'm so used to watching a conductor's lips but he doesn't mouth any of the words so I can't use visual word cues as a checkpoint. He also pulled out some conducting codes I wasn't expecting, thankfully, I watched his instructional video and was able to deduce what he wanted when he used it. He puts his hand in front of his mouth and rubs his fingertips together, it kind of reminds me of what I imagine my friend's Indian grandma does when she asks you if you want something to eat, but in this case, he actually just wants you to bring out the diction. He is also very generous with timing in his artistic conducting style. He employs a lot of wispy arm movements and it's hard to locate the downbeat sometimes. However, it was easier after a few runs but then I was running into computer glitches that prevented me from recording a solid take. I'm hoping to have another run at it this coming weekend when I have a long weekend break from school.

Pro Coro

I had my first rehearsal for the Male and Female voice concert happening on November 21 two weeks ago. They had trouble getting music in on time so the first time I read the scores was at the first rehearsal. Oh, sight-reading... It was actually fine since the music was pretty straightforward. I think by far one of my favorite parts of going to Pro Coro rehearsals is listening to Jeremy Spurgeon play piano. As I have said before, Jeremy is pretty much the organ deity of Edmonton. Though he was playing piano and not organ for our rehearsals, it was a treat to watch his sight reading genius unfold at the keyboard.

Alumni Choir Tour

Back in July 2002 I competed in the International Choral Eisteddfod in Wales, UK. I received an e-mail from my conductor, Heather, where she detailed the hopes of assembling an Alumni Choir to join with her current Chamber Choir to compete in classes again the Eisteddfod. She invited those 25 years of age and younger to tour with her for the summer. She wants to compete in six classes at the festival: Senior Children's Choir (18 and under), Youth Choir (16-25), Female Choirs, Folk Choirs, Chamber Choirs, and Songs from Shows-Musical Theatre (16 and over). Three of those classes do not have any age restrictions: Female Choirs, Folk Choirs, and Chamber Choirs. I knew I scheduled in a summer for myself for a reason! Most of my classmates are doing placements throughout the summer but I decided to extend the length of my placements into 2012 (most of my classmates finish in December 2011) so I booked off June-August to finish up my thesis and take a break.

My conductor said that we would be rehearsing in the last few weeks of June and then go on tour in early July to attend the festival. In a way, I feel like it would be making up for the fact that I was not able to go on tour to Italy with Belle Canto. Plus, this Alumni Tour would also be a chance for me to reunite with my A Capella group "Con Fuoco" which is comprised of my choral soulmates. Of course, the fine details that will make this tour a reality such as funding, grants, etc. have yet to be finalized. However, this Alumni tour is a most appealing prospect!

It was such a memorable tour in 2002. Some memories which are coming to mind are those of the delicious Welsh tea biscuits, walking in an opening ceremony parade throughout the town, taping up paper to cover up the windows on the door in the very public common room we were all sleeping in, watching male volunteers and choristers continuously pursue a modelesque girl in our choir, having to take showers at the pool since there weren't enough bathrooms at the campus-like facilities we stayed in. Though it seems like the negative things are coming to mind in my memory retrieval process, those are the best memories since I just laugh at them looking back on it now.

Until next time, take care readers!