Friday, December 30, 2011

A Choir Girl Year In Review

Greetings readers,

It is nearing the end of the 2011 year! Thus, it's time for some cyber self-reflection. It's nice having a blog because it serves as a comprehensive timeline of my choral activities throughout the year.

Pro Coro

I began this year as a substitute member and managed to become a core member by the end of the year. I must say, it's not a bad musical progression! It's amazing what happens when timing and determination aligns :) Some particularly memorable Pro Coro concerts for me were the Space concert, the Easter performance of Bach's St. John's Passion, and the three concerts with the Pro Coro artistic director candidates: Solomon, Bailey, and Zaugg. Strangely enough, I wrote two posts on the aspect of full-voice singing in Pro Coro. Once when Gervais was conducting the choir in March and again with Zaugg in November. Hopefully this is an area that Pro Coro continues to explore in the new year.  I'm also looking forward to the announcement of the new artistic director. It signals the start of a refreshing and exciting change for the choir.

Belle Canto

Some memorable performance with the ladies this year included putting on the concert version of "Les Miserables." I got to be a lady-of-the-night. Actually, since we're putting on the Oliver musical this coming February, I get to play a different lady-of-the-night: a bar wench. I must say, the diversity of female chorus roles does not look promising. As well, Belle Canto had the opportunity to work with Simon Carrington when he visited Edmonton last March. It was interesting to get some group coaching with him as he worked with Belle Canto and Chorale St. Jean. Other than that, the Belle Canto year has been pretty formulaic: weekend retreat, music festival, Spring concert, the Dessert auction, & Christmas caroling. However, there were some awards in the Cantilon family since Belle Canto was awarded first place in the CBC Choral Competition this year and the Cantilon Chamber Choir (the choir of my teen years) toured to Wales won first place in the Youth Choirs category. I'm looking forward to Belle Canto's tour to Ottawa this May to sing at Podium 2012. If you're going to be there, let me know, I'm hoping hear as many choirs as possible and go on a blogging blitz.


The release of Virtual Choir 2.0 arrived in April 2011. I finally got to see the efforts of my four submitted videos (S1, S2, A1, A2). The Virtual Choir 3.0 project has been released and video entries are due January 31, 2012, I don't know if I'll have the time to make four videos this time around. I'll have to see...

In August 2011, I was also greatly saddened by the news of a fellow chorister, Suzanne Abele, who passed away unexpectedly during a University fieldwork accident. She will be sorely missed by the Edmonton choral community. I just feel honoured that she was a blog follower and that I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sing with her. 

The summer was also filled with excellent music festivals: the Edmonton Folk Music Festival and the Symphony Under the Sky Festival. They composed some of my favorite weekends in the entire year. During Folk Fest, I got to hear some fantastic music from Jeremy Fisher and Del Barber and I even participated in my first lantern parade. At the Symphony Under the Sky Festival, I attended a majority of the concerts--- being in the park and listening to the symphony--- a perfect way to enjoy a summer evening. As well, I had the chance to participate in an electroacoustic caroling event known as Unsilent Night since Edmonton hosted it for the first time this year.

Overall, 2011 was an extremely productive and eventful year! I'm expecting more of the same in 2012 as I'm auditioning for some new musical projects. I'll keep you posted :)

Until next year readers, take care!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Therapeutic Music

Greetings readers,

I think the holiday season has the tendency to bring out the best and worst of feelings. It's a time where we enjoy the company of new friends and reunite with old friends, but it's also a time where we remember those who are no longer with us in our lives. I've been doing a lot of caroling gigs this season, and if I have to pick a favorite, yet most difficult, it was definitely singing for a seniors home in St. Albert.

I have a close connection to extended care facilities since my Grandmother lived in one for few years before she passed away during the Christmas season three years ago. Prior to her departure, my choir friends and I would arrange a caroling-filled day where we would travel to different locations around the city to sing to those close to us. One year we made a stop to visit my Grandmother in her nursing home. While she wasn't always totally conscious of the fact that I was there to sing to her, it made me feel better to know that I was sharing something that was very important to me with her. Music is just as therapeutic for those listening and those who are providing it. Thus, singing in nursing homes is an emotionally loaded experience for me. However, I think it's important to feel vulnerable sometimes and take a risk by entering into situations where we don't have total control.

The caroling gig in St. Albert was definitely entering into that territory for me, but it turned out great.  They were such an appreciative audience to sing for and they were so attentive during our set. It felt more like a concert than a gig where we happened to be the background music. While we were singing "Silent Night," most of the audience members were joining in with us, and as I looked around at the vocalic mouths of the people, all I could think of was: "wow,  senior's choirs--- this is a format that has fantastic therapeutic potential!" (You can totally tell I'm a Rehab Med student from that statement). They can strengthen their bowing vocal folds by engaging in voice exercises but also engage in all of the holistic aspects of being in a musical group. While I know that this is definitely not a novel idea, I think that all senior facilities should have musical recreation programs. One thing I learned from my program is that to age well, you need to stay engaged in life activities, and what better way than to be in a choir? Even though the holidays causes latent emotions to resurface, it's also exciting to see the hope and promise the season can bring as well.

Until next time, take care readers!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas with Pro Coro & Da Camera

Greetings readers & happy holidays,

I hope you've all been enjoying the holiday season! As you probably have noticed, it's been a while since I've posted. It's not due to a lack of activity, moreso, I've just been busy with life commitments. In between finishing up my clinical practicum, incorporating thesis edits, caroling gigs, and Christmas concerts--- I haven't had much time to dedicate to blogging. I will attempt to remedy that this holiday break by composing posts from topics I have backlogged on my iPhone reminders.

I will start by detailing the Pro Coro concert which was presented jointly with the Da Camera Singers this afternoon. The Royal Canadian Artillery Band, organist, Jeremy Spurgeon, and cellist, Josephine Van Lier joined the choirs for this performance as well. Da Camera is a fantastic chamber group led by, Dr. John Brough, who also happens to be a tenor in Pro Coro as well. The concert was a mix of individual and mass choir performances with Pro Coro and Da Camera. Pro Coro performed Schütz's "Weinachtshistorie," which featured some solo work by members in the choir. In the first half of the concert the choirs jointly performed Sweelinck's, "Gaudete Omnes," and Gabrieli's "Angelus ad Pastores Ait" and "Hodie Christus Natus Est" together. It was refreshing to sing some early music with 60 voices surrounding me. I'm not used to large choir singing. I felt so powerful!

Overall, I felt like the concert had great flow and diversity. We had a lot of different standing configurations, and while it took time to block everything at our dress rehearsal, everything moved smoothly during the performance. In terms of the repertoire, we had some audience accessible favorites such as "Ding Dong Merrily on High" "Good Kind Wenceslas," Preatorious' "Lo, How a Rose e're Blooming," "12 days of Christmas" and "Jingle Bells." I think my personal favorite was Mealor's "Ubi Caritas," there were moments when my ears were ringing with the glorious dissonance filling the hall. Da Camera performed Martin's "Ave Verum," King's "There is no rose," and Stopford's "Lully Lulla." The "Lully Lulla" was absolutely gorgeous. While I felt like the piece could have been composed with two less phrase repetitions, there were moments where it was so beautiful you felt like crying inside. I'm not sure if it's due to my personality, since I tend to internalize more than externalize, but that's how I describe moving music :)

At any rate, it was a enjoyable concert and a great way for me to finish off my choral commitments for the year. I hope you all have been able to take in or be a part of some excellent music-making this Christmas season!

Until next time readers, take care!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Bureau Sing-A-Long

Greetings readers!

It's time for the annual Christmas Bureau Caroling Sing-A-Long! Every year, the Christmas Bureau raises funds to provide Christmas meals to families in need. If you are in Edmonton and are free from 12-1 pm on Friday, December 16, 2011 you can attend the sing-along at the Winspear Centre

The event includes choristers from all throughout the Edmonton choral community in the choir loft and the audience can sing-a-long with the choristers. Unfortunately, I won't be able to make it this year (it's the the first time I haven't been able to sing in it for a very long time!) but I would highly recommend going since it's a festive event for a great cause. Plus, there are a ton of Christmas sweaters to behold. My favorite! Admission to the event is free and donations for the Christmas Bureau will be accepted from 11:15-2 PM.

Happy caroling!

Until next time readers, take care!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Unsilent Night Edmonton

Photo credit: Caitlin Smith

Greetings readers,

Tonight I had the chance to be a part of an outdoor electroacoustic soundscape event called "Unsilent Night." In 1992, Phil Kline, wanted to create a public work of art in the form of a holiday carolling party so he composed four 45 minute electroacoustic music tracks which, when they are played simultaneously, form the piece "Unsilent Night." The music is carried through the streets creating a traveling Christmas soundscape. It was very cool. Everybody downloaded the music track, brought a boombox or external speakers for their mp3 players, we hit play, then we started on a promenade through the streets of Edmonton. It was the first time Edmonton has hosted this event (thanks Leanne!) and we had a turnout of 20 enthusiastic individuals.

The most interesting part was hearing the different movements of the piece coming from all the individual speakers. While one stereo had a drone portion, another would have a melodic line with twinkling bells and another would have a chant-like choral line. My stereo just so happened to have the choral line. It was neat to see people's reactions as we walked past. There were lots of waves from people sitting inside restaurants and people on the street with quizzical looks as they walked through our group and were enveloped in our sound.

Photo credit: Caitlin Smith

When we finished our walk from the University to the Old Strathcona gazebo, we placed all of our stereos on the ledge facing in and enjoyed the last few minutes of the piece as we stood in the center. It was a fun evening with new and old friends and some fantastic music. I'm looking forward to next year's event already.

Until next time, take care readers!

Photo credit: Caitlin Smith
Photo credit: Caitlin Smith

Here is a video from an "Unsilent Night" event in Oxford last year:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Singing with Family

Greetings readers!

Another Dessert Auction fundraiser has come and gone and it made me reflect on an interesting fact: It is so hard to leave a choir. Especially a choir or a choir program that you've grown up with. There I was, watching the Cantilon Chamber Choir, the treble choir of my adolescence. In addition to the fact that a choir parent came up to me and asked, "which one [was mine]?" I had a major déjà vu moment--- seeing new faces in the same familiar uniforms, singing the same familiar songs, in the same familiar lobby setting. The faces I know now are not in the Chamber Choir, but in the adult women's choir of the program, Belle Canto. Over the years, many of us have filtered down into Belle Canto. All those years of carpooling, music festivals, music camps, caroling gigs, retreats, workshops, tours and rehearsals with fellow choristers... they've unknowingly become my second family. Though I've been musically spoiled by being in Pro Coro and singing such a high calibre of music with professional singers... it's hard for me to imagine ever leaving my original choir family. Is it holding me back from other opportunities? Perhaps. I did turn down a opportunity to be a choir ringer this year because it conflicted with Belle Canto's Monday night rehearsals. But I suppose it just comes down to the fact that all I want to do is sing. And I want to sing with my family.

I love how singing experiences with Pro Coro have made me a better singer. The continuous challenge that Pro Coro offers is infectious and feeds the irrationally driven side of my character. However, singing in Belle Canto is just good for my soul. I like seeing the ladies every week at rehearsal, catching up on weekly news, helping myself to gourmet cheese platters, and hearing the dirty innuendos from a (unnamed) chorister in the back row in response to ambiguous conductor statements. Choir life is good. Sure, we don't have the musical polish of a professional choir, but that isn't what we are at our very core. I suppose that's the thing with any family, everybody has their individual quirks but you love them just the way they are. While there may be a time in the future when I may need to move to a different city to pursue different opportunities, until that time arrives, I will continue enjoying the present with my choir family.

Until next time readers, send some love to your choir family, and take care!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Waiting Period

Greetings readers!

Have you been waiting with bated breath regarding news of Pro Coro's next artistic director? Well, you'll just wait a little longer since the selection committee will be meeting later this week. Next week, I'll post more on my personal thoughts about each of the candidates. Out of respect for the selection committee (and to keep my inherent bias under control), I'll keep my personal choice confidential for now. I know I probably haven't been doing the best job with my rather detailed blog posts, but oh well, it's a grey line with how much information I should and shouldn't share. While I want to show respect to the selection committee, I also believe that I should be able to write whatever I want on this blog since my personal thoughts are mine to share.

I will remark on the concert itself: It went really well! Although the performance did have its glitches, some occasionally questionable notes, minor tuning issues, and some textual mix-ups, overall, I felt that the entire concert was solid and emotionally moving. I could hear people singing out with their full voice around me--- we were taking risks and it was paying off.  If we're not taking risks then, clearly, we're not challenging ourselves as musicians. Zaugg was providing positive reinforcement throughout the entire performance and was giving off this tuned-into-the-music but zoned-out-of-reality kind of vibe. That is always a good sign. I felt that the choir was really connected to Zaugg and that we were working collaboratively with him to musically emote what he was showing us. He forewarned us in rehearsals that the things we were practicing would not be the same on the day of the performance. Since nothing was over-rehearsed, it allowed us the flexibility to provide an organic performance. We just worked the music to a secure level and Zaugg took us the rest of the way during the concert. As a result, there were stunning and musically self-indulgent moments in Elgar's Lux Aeterna and Talbot's "Santiago."

One thing that was really refreshing was that, during the performance, Zaugg would look at individual singers and cue them to sing out more. This is exactly what it was like during the rehearsal process and it was nice to continue to get that individualized cue during the concert itself. It's hard to know what the choir sounds like as a whole from a choristers' acoustic perspective so it's appreciated when we can get such specific online feedback while we are singing. With other conductors, it's more generalized gestural desires like adding a crescendo here or there, but Zaugg focuses in on exactly who and what he wants.

When we processed off of the stage during the final movement of Talbot's "Santiago" (mimicking the wandering path of the people on their pilgrimage), Zaugg closed his binder and gave a nod to us in thanks before he stepped off to the side to let us process off the stage. I wished we could have given a nod back in thanks but we had to keep singing. I was one of the last ladies to exit and in order to achieve the far-away sound we exited from the top of the stage and walked along the upper hallway into the church kitchen, while continuing to sing, and closed the door behind us, as if we were disappearing behind the hills of Santiago. It was technically crude but acoustically effective.

In summary, it was a fantastic concert! We were greeted with a standing ovation when we returned to the stage after our choral pilgrimage. Thinking back to the previous Friday when we met Zaugg for the first time, I felt like we had come a long way with the music and as musicians as well. There was a level of trust established in those 10 days. As Zaugg said himself before the concert, he began with a marriage proposal in the first rehearsal, and by the concert, we were having a night out on the town! Clearly, he knows how to show a choir a good time because we definitely stuck around :)

So until next time, take care readers and hopefully there will be more news regarding the choice for Pro Coro's next artistic conductor! Here is a video clip from "Auringon Noustessa" from the concert.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Let Singers Sing

Greetings readers,

I always feel like there's an exponential learning curve when I start a new set of Pro Coro rehearsals. At the first rehearsal, I sing hesitantly for fear of my guaranteed-to-be-present wrong notes sticking out. I had to get over myself pretty quickly this time around because you can't sing with full sound when you're being hesistant. By Sunday, I was feeling good, note inhibition was dissipating, I was allowing myself to sing out, others were as well too. As a result, Pro Coro's sound really began to open up. Perhaps Zaugg's previous choir marriage proposal wasn't too premature? I felt like the choir was definitely acknowledging the potential in the relationship instead of being wary at how fast things were moving.

Tonight's rehearsal was remarkable because I didn't know Pro Coro could sound the way it did. During some moments, I just thought to myself, "why don't all choirs sound like this all the time?!?!?" While I'm used to singing with full voice in other choirs, in those groups I've felt that our sound was hard to manage because of varied musicial skills. What happens is that we release our individual reservoir of sound without controlling quality. Thus, loud sounds don't have body and soft sounds don't have intensity. Vocal tone is sacrificed in order to meet dynamic requirements. For budding singers, this fine level of vocal control is difficult to master. Even I'm still experimenting with how much of my voice I can use while maintaining the quintessential core of my sound. Ultimately, everybody should be able to sing with their full voice. Some people believe that vocal soloists can't sing in choir. Clearly, they haven't sung in the right choir. If we are being told to be more quiet or blend with the person next to us... then something is wrong. Sound assimilation is the easy way out. Any choir can sound hooty and whitewashed. It's easy enough to match somebody's sound, but if that's not our voice, then why are we even singing?

With the way Pro Coro is sounding now, it feels like what I'm used to but the resulting choral sound is amplified because of the professional caliber of the singers. It really comes down to the fact that Zaugg lets his singers sing. As Zaugg described, with the right framework in place (intonation, diction, dynamics, and articulation), you can contain core sound. Brassy voice timbre, bright sound, warm color, clean tone, full vibrato etc... all these voice qualities have a role to play because the summation of all these individual variables produces the collective voice of the choir. It also doesn't hurt that Zaugg has the ears and skill to mould the sound that results.

Tonight's rehearsal was the first time I heard Pro Coro's true voice. It's extremely exciting! Needless to say, this coming Sunday concert is not to be missed. There are more concert details at this link.

Until next time readers, take care and sing out! You all have a voice and it deserves to be heard.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Halfway Point

Greetings readers!

Pro Coro is on the hunt for a new artistic director and we're at the rehearsal halfway point with Michael Zaugg. When Zaugg introduced himself at the first rehearsal, he likened his brief rehearsal period with us to the social scenario of speed dating. We were there to get to know him, he was there to get to know us... and who knows, maybe marriage is in our future? While that initial proposition felt a bit premature, I'm all for keeping options open. I appreciated his accurate comparison and for calling the rehearsal process out on exactly what it is... a potentially awkward situation. He did break the ice nicely by shocking us with the fact that he knew everybody's name when he wowed us with his naming skills. A conductor who did his homework---impressive.

During the first rehearsal, I felt apprehensive to say the least. Mostly because there was an unexpected shift in the number of voices on certain parts. Thus, my neighbor and I did some last minute division of lines to cover a missing part which resulted in some sightreading. There have also been some moments of: "wow, I'm the only one on my part..." which is a mental thought that has been resurfacing for me over the past few rehearsals. Overall, not a problem but definitely an unexpected variable. During most of the rehearsals I think Pro Coro has been trying to get a read on what Zaugg's style is like. Should we sing more or less? What kind of sound does he like? Is that a glimmer of satisfaction or disgust in his eyes in response to how we sang that line? Oh no, do you think he even likes us?!?! Ah, the initially self-conscious thoughts in any budding relationship. 

All I know so far is that while Zaugg doesn't always facially express what he is thinking all the time, he is extremely articulate and will verbally express and vocally demonstrate exactly what he wants. He also has a pair of very finely tuned ears so he is able to identify people by name when he hears an incongruency in the choral sound. Terrifying in a way, but since it is delivered with the intent of musical betterment, it makes the rehearsal process much more efficient. Clearly, it is a signal that we're getting more comfortable working together. As a result, today I could hear Pro Coro's sound opening up during rehearsal.

The repertoire for Sunday's concert all revolves around different "paths of wonder," whether it is ascension into a heavenly realm or a pilgrimage to a sacred land. All I can say about the music is that I'm a huge fan of the overall repertoire sound. "Die Erste Elegie" by Rautavaara starts with a lovely pulsating melodic dissonance, "Auringon Noustessa" by Kuula indulges my passion for the Finnish language (which stems from my love for Finnish a capella group, Rajaton) so I'm enjoying rolling my r's and moving through the individual vowels in my diphthongs.  There are also some soaringly gorgeous solos in Boulanger's "Soir Sur La Plaine" amongst the chromatic choral lines. Furthermore, there is a choral setting of "Lux Aeterna" by Elgar with vocal lines mimicking the tensile strength of string instruments and Whitacre's "Lux Aurumque." The latter is a a piece I've wanted to perform since I've heard the first virtual choir (although I did not participate in the first virtual choir, I made up for it by submitting videos for the second virtual choir performance of "Sleep" a process which I documented in a series of blog posts). The most dense work of the program is Talbot's "Santiago" movement which is a part of the larger "Path of Miracles" set. All I can say about this piece is that I've been waiting a long time to sing something like this. It is epic. Also on the program are pieces by Łukaszewski, Gabrieli, Bach, and Brahms.

Pro Coro's concert with Zaugg is on November 20, 2011 @ 2:30 pm at McDougall United Church. You can find more information on tickets at this link.

Until next time, take care readers!

Symphony Night Out

Greetings readers!

Tonight I attended the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra's Masters concert which showcased the talents of the ESO in addition to Jens Lindemann and the Richard Eaton Singers. The concert was dedicated to the late Dr. Malcolm Forsyth. The ESO in conjunction with the National Arts Centre Orchestra co-commissioned "A Ballad of Canada" by Forsyth.

As much as I wanted to like, "A Ballad of Canada," since it was performed in memory of Forsyth tonight, it definitely wasn't my top pick for the evening. It just felt like the piece wasn't settled. It was a combination to Eddins' unaccommodating gestures to the choir and the choirs' vocal hesitation in trying to deliver what he wasn't cueing. I just felt like there was a breakdown in the conductor and choir relationship and it resulted in circumstances that didn't make for a stellar performance. As for the music itself, it had some cool percussion artillery sound effects, especially in the "Flanders Fields" movement.

The show-stopping piece for the evening was definitely the world premiere of Meechan's orchestral version of "Apophenia." The soloist for this piece was Jens Lindemann who had four types of trumpets which he used throughout the entire piece: a trumpet, a cornet, a flugelhorn, and a high E flat trumpet. It was stellar hearing the different brassy sound textures throughout the entire piece. Lindemann was definitely showcasing the sound extremes that could be created on each of these instruments, from the mellow sounding flugelhorn to the high E flat trumpet and its brassy belts that ripped through the concert hall. The piece had movements with laid-back jazzy vibes to a rock-and-roll section with a killer drum solo as well. I enjoy watching a classy tuxedo-wearing man tearing it up on a drum set. The ESO also performed Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 in E minor. It is a gorgeous piece with a moving melodic third movement, however, I felt like I reached listening saturation about 20 minutes into the 54 minute piece. Clearly, I need to build up my listening stamina!

Overall, I had a great night out at the Symphony! I saw lots of familiar faces in the audience as well as on stage and got to hear some new music as well.

Until next time, take care readers!

P.S. I'll have Pro Coro updates soon as well.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dedicated to Malcolm Forsyth

Greetings readers!

This will just be a short update with two segments of news:

1. I am starting a new block of Pro Coro rehearsals this evening with last artistic conductor candidate, Michael Zaugg. 

2. I will be attending the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra performance that is dedicated to the late Malcolm Forsyth tomorrow evening. Forsyth was a prominent Canadian composer who passed away this year in Edmonton and his work, "A Ballad of Canada," will have its premiere in Edmonton in recognition of his 75th birthday on December 11, 2011. For more information on Forsyth, check out the 3-part podcast interview with local composers Allan Gordon Bell and Allan Gilliand regarding their relationship with Forsyth on the ESO blog. Also on the program is Rachminoff's Symphony No. 2 in E minor and Meechan's "Apophenia." Other artists at this concert include Jens Lindemann on trumpet and the Richard Eaton Singers. There is a performance November 11, 2011 and Novebmer 12, 2011 so check out the website for more ticket information.

I will have more updates from these two events posted soon!

Until then, have a lovely long weekend if you are celebrating Remembrance Day weekend!

Sunday, October 23, 2011


 Greetings readers,

The concert with Pro Coro artistic director, Mark Bailey, finished this afternoon and I'm still buzzing from the experience. As I did with Magen Solomon, I will reserve my thoughts about Bailey specifically until I have finished performing with the final candidate, Michael Zaugg in November. However, I will remark about the concert itself.

The concert was structured around "musical dialogues." Musical dialogues between the different choir formations, the men and the women, the choir and the instrumentalists, and between the choir and soloists. The cohesive structure of the concert program made a lot of sense to me and the concert moved chronologically from early music works by Gesauldo to Bach, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, and finally, the Evening Liturgy chants which were arranged last year by the late Maia Aprahamian.

The Gesauldo was done in an interesting arrangement since the choir was divided into three smaller ensembles to perform each of the motets. As well, the different groups were situated in different spots around the church. In my own Gesauldo group, we had a bit of a shaky start since there was some trouble with settling the initial chords. However, once we settled into the new (albeit lower) key, things seemed to move smoothly enough. My brain was trying to adjust to the new tonality so I wasn't able to employ as many musical nuances but I'm just glad it held together. Bach's "Komm, Jesu, Komm" was lovely and was sung with musical sensitivity. Although it is a test piece and will be performed with each of the candidates, it felt new to me while preparing for this concert. Vedel's Choral Concerto no. 9 was opulent and powerful. I totally felt Ukrainian while singing it. I'm also glad to report I did not butcher my short solo duet section. It was kind of scary since there's a run in the section and my duet partner and I were never sure what speed would be established by the time the solo arrived.

The second half of the concert started with some lovely Brahms quartets, the men sang a gorgeous Poulenc with a stunning baritone solo in the fourth movement. The Rachmininoff showcased the romantic and grand keyboard abilities of Jeremy Spurgeon. In a way, you almost don't even need the choir in these pieces because the piano portions are so gorgeous. 

By far the most magical moment occurred during the performance of the Evening Liturgy, which is a set of three chants, by Maia Aprahamian. Bailey explained to us his close relationship to Maia and that while she was working on this piece last year, she would often send him drafts to get his thoughts. She sent him the final version in March but passed away unexpectedly this past summer so her piece has never been sung and, furthermore, Bailey has the only copy. I remember when we ran it in rehearsal, I just thought that the chants were beautiful in their simplicity. Not to mention that they sat really well in my voice. However, after we sang the second movement "Holy God" in the concert, Bailey took a break in the concert to pick up the microphone to explain that Maia's intent with this piece was to have it sung by the audience, like a congregation, and interact with the choir. Thus, the audience learned the melody by echoing Pro Coro's model and Bailey prepared to do the piece again. This time with the audience. This was completely unexpected. At no point during the rehearsal process did Bailey mention an audience participation component. However, as soon as I heard the audiences' voice join Pro Coro's... it was a transcendental moment. I rarely have moments like that when I'm singing... but today it felt like the music served as a medium to connect with Maia. As well, during the "Cherubic Hymn," which was the final movement, sunlight emerged from the corner window of the church and illuminated the church. It just felt like we were connecting in the most profound way with something that we couldn't see, but could sense, and it was an honour to be a part of the process. I think the audience would agree that there was something absolutely magical in the air during Maia's piece.

Overall, I'll be buzzing from this performance for a while still! Musical highs are the best drug. It will be a few weeks now before the arrival of the last Pro Coro artistic candidate conductor, Michael Zaugg. I'm looking forward to it!

Until then, take care readers!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Musical Dialogues

Greetings readers!

I've started another block of rehearsals for Pro Coro and this time we have second artistic director candidate, Mark Bailey, leading us. I'm not sure what it is about this time around, but I feel a lot calmer than preparing for Pro Coro concerts in the past. I think it's because I am familiar with two songs in the repertoire so I am feeding off of a small amount of confidence. However, the pieces that Bailey has chosen are very enjoyable to sing and aren't so challenging to the extent that I feel continuously anxious throughout the entire piece. 

Of course, I definitely still had some internal panic moments, such as, "how is everybody singing fluent Russian!?!?!?"... before I noticed the transliteration symbols beneath the text and "where is the pulse!?!?! is this in 2 or 4?!?!" during a small ensemble piece by Gesauldo. The Ukrainian piece by Vedel, "Sacred Choral Concerto no. 9" is definitely the power piece of the program and there are tons of mini solos within the piece (including my first solo duet within Pro Coro). We're singing Bach's "Komm, Jesu, komm" again, which we will be doing with each of the candidates, but this time we switched the Choir one and two designations so we are singing different parts. There are also a couple of lovely Rachmaninoff pieces ("Night," "Captivity," and "Angel") that the ladies of Pro Coro will be singing and the men will be performing Poulenc's "Quatre petities prieres de Saint Francois d'Assise" as well. There's some gorgeous Brahms pieces: "Der Gang zum Liebchen," "Der Abend", and "Neckereien," two of which I have sung with the Madrigal Singers. A late thank-you to MAD's conductor, Len! 

Neckereien is one of my favorite mixed choir pieces because the song just cues such hilarious memories from when I was in Madrigal Singers. The song revolves around the basses and tenors courting the ladies (altos and sopranos)--- they profess how they're going to make the ladies their wives etc., and the ladies are adamant that that is not going to happen. As a fellow chorister mentioned to me, it's the 21st century scenario of the creepy guy at the bar who won't leave the ladies alone. It's mostly funny since there are so many romantic and pleading lines from the men, which the ladies don't reciprocate. I'm not sure what this says about me, personally, but it really is quite an entertaining piece. Rounding out the program is another Bach as well as a Tallis piece. Overall, I have to say that the repertoire load is quite manageable. 

I also really enjoy how Bailey always takes time to describe the music and its cultural context. I like how it feels like I'm in a musiciology lecture but I am able to try out the techniques and experiment with the music immediately after he describes it. It's a nice holistic approach to learning music.

I am looking forward to the rest of the rehearsals this week and the Sunday, October 23, 2011 afternoon concert we're working towards. For more information on tickets check out this link.

Until next time, take care readers!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dusk to Dawn

Greetings readers!

I have finished a busy final week of rehearsals with Pro Coro artistic conductor candidate, Magen Solomon, and performed with Pro Coro today.

Overall, I can say that the Dusk to Dawn concert and rehearsal process was a very interesting and unique experience. I definitely had some mental and vocal blips (more than I would have liked) during the concert but it seems that I was not the only one. I think we would have all liked another rehearsal or two just to solidify some of the music. As well, there were some unexpected kinks throughout the process such as a incorrect edition of a Bach score (we didn't receive the final copy until the Wednesday before the concert). However, a lot of the collective blips in the performance were at unexpected portions of the music which didn't surface during rehearsals.

As for my thoughts on the Solomon herself, I won't comment just yet because I'd like to work with all three candidates before I form my opinions. However, I am assembling notes which I will be happy to share in a blog post at the end of the process. I just want to say, I can't begin to imagine the challenge it is to arrive in a new city and work with a new group of singers on music one loves and knows so well. However, I will say this about Magen as a person:

I love how she shows us exactly how she is feeling---if the music is good enough to be moved to tears, she will have tears in her eyes.

I had a fantastic time working with Magen. You can tell she genuinely cares for her singers. She showed it in her beaming warmth, which was evident when she brushed aside my goodbye handshake and embraced me with a hug following the concert.

I wish her all the best in the process of Pro Coro artistic director decision making and look forward to the arrival of the second candidate, Mark Bailey, who will arrive next week to start rehearsals next Friday!

Until then, all the best readers.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rehearsals Begin

Greetings readers,

It is the start of the autumn season! That also means I am back at choir rehearsal and the intense blur of Pro Coro rehearsals have begun. It's nice to get back into a routine but I feel like I have to recondition myself to pay attention after so many months mental rest. The program repertoire for the concert is definitely challenging to say the least. There were some moments during rehearsal, where my mind felt like this:


However, I think the music just needs to grow on me more. It's not easy to enjoy the fine musical nuances when I'm still apprehensive about singing the right the notes. I'm also having trouble clapping syncopated rhythms while singing quarter notes. The shame! I don't know what's wrong with me. Perhaps the motor part of my brain that's controlling my coordinated oral-motor and gross limb movement is just not as developed? If I manage to pull it off in rehearsal or the performance, I am so giving myself an air high-5.

In terms of the repertoire, there's a very cool Brazilian folksong called "Na Bahia tem" (which is the one that requires the percussion), a jazzy piece called "Another Lonely Spring," a 20th Century choral piece (which tonally kinda blows my mind) called "The Marriage", a catchy chant/folk piece called "Awit sa Panginoon", as well as some Bach, Brahms, other early music pieces as well as a world premiere of a piece which Solomon brought specifically for Pro Coro: Ouroborus.

I'm sure to post more rehearsal updates as I make my way through this week. The concert will be Sunday October 2, 2011 @ 2:30 pm at McDougall United Church if you'd like to attend. Feel free to check out the website for more information.

Until next time, take care readers!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Choral Fair Thoughts

Gateway Chorus

Greetings readers!

I had the pleasure of attending Edmonton's first choral fair this past Sunday. First and foremost, I had no role in the planning or execution of this event so my observations are purely from an outsider's standpoint. Overall, I agree with the ideology of the event: educating and distributing information to prospective choristers about Edmonton choirs.

However, I felt that the event was more of a concert rather than a fair. Also, it would have been nice to see more choirs represented since the Choral Fair only had a sampling of all the choral offerings in the city. Of course, I understand this is definitely a logistical matter, to connect with all the choirs is not an easy endeavour. I definitely think that all Edmonton choirs should have an information booth but, perhaps, not all of them need to perform. There could be some that are chosen to perform live but others could simply have an information booth. Thus, the choirs that don't perform live could provide sound stations for people to listen to choir recordings.

Truthfully, I just felt there was too much live singing. Almost all choirs sang at least 3-4 songs, and while I understand it needs to be worthwhile to the choristers who have given their Sunday afternoon to perform, I felt like it should have been more of a "choral sampler" and not so much a mini concert provided by numerous choirs. An audiences' auditory attention has the tendency to wane, and from the time I arrived there at 2 pm to when I left at 4 pm, there was no break in singing. As well, the atmosphere wasn't really conducive to mingling or walking around while choirs were on stage. I believe the event would have benefitted from more down-time so prospective choristers could walk amongst the information booths without having to feel obligated to listen to the rotating choirs in the background.

I have to applaud the efforts of all the choirs that did perform. September is a scary time to perform because most choirs would have been lucky to have even one rehearsal before performing that early in their season. It also gave me a chance to hear a lot of choirs in one sitting. I heard "Vocal Alchemy" for the first time, listened to the vocal coaches for the E-town Boy and E-town minors perform, and saw the entertaining choralography of Sherwood Park's "Gateway Chorus." Other performing groups included A Joyful Noise, Ariose, Chanteuses, Edmonton Christian Male Choir, Edmonton Metropolitan Chorus, Edmonton Youth ChoirLynne Singers, and Richard Eaton Singers.

Ultimately, this Choral Fair has the potential to be a great annual event. It shows great promise and I am sure it will continue to develop and improve to showcase more choral talent for Edmonton audiences. There really is a choir for everybody so it's great to have an event that strives to highlight choral options within the city.

Until next time, take care readers!

Vocal Alchemy

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Edmonton Choral Fair

Greetings readers!
I just wanted to let you know about a free event that is happening in the Edmonton City Hall this Sunday, September 18, 2011 from 2-4:30 pm: The Edmonton Choral Fair.

If you have ever wanted to sing in an Edmonton Choir, but didn't know which one or where to begin, this will be an excellent event for you since you will have the chance to hear performances from some Edmonton choirs and there will be display booths, information, and sign-up sheets available as well for different groups in the city. 

There are choirs ranging from beginner to seasoned singers, from children to seniors, and from jazz to classical. It is quite the diverse range so it would be worthwhile to investigate since there is no other time in the year when it's so convenient to see the offerings of so many different choirs.

There will also be information regarding new choirs forming such as E-Town Boys and E-Town Minors, both being organized by Edmonton Metropolitan Chorus. As well as the new Gay Men's Chorus at the Alberta College Conservatory of Music.

I'll definitely be there so feel free to say hi or you can also follow my tweets.

Until next time, take care readers!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Back to Choir

 Greetings readers!

According to a cheesy stationery supply commercial: "It's most wonderful time of the year." It's back-to-school time! This year is a bit different for me since I'm finished all my courses for my program. I'm just finishing my thesis and getting ready for my clinical placement at the end of this month. However, some things don't change, and this year, it's the anticipatory buzz for choir to begin again.

I will be singing with Belle Canto and Pro Coro again this season. The other day I wrote down all the rehearsal dates and performance for both choirs. Although I was feeling short of breath looking at how busy my schedule was, I just took a deep breath, and remembered that it's going to be awesome. I thrive off of feeling productive so the more I pack in and am able to accomplish, the more I take on the following year. Since I was able to balance both Belle Canto and Pro Coro with a full course load last year, I rationalized that I could do the same and more this year. I have yet to reach my breaking point, but hopefully, it is not coming anytime soon. Until then, I will continue to walk a fine line with this chaotic balance that I have constructed for myself.

Here are some things I am looking forward to this upcoming choral season:
  • The rehearsals and concerts of the three artistic director applicants for Pro Coro: Magen Soloman, Mark Bailey, and Michael Zaugg (and seeing who is chosen by the end of the season)
  • The rural Alberta Pro Coro concerts in Red Deer and Camrose
  • Singing Swedish choir music with Swedish conductor, Erik Westberg 
  • A traditional chorister candelight procession at Christmas
  • The Cantilon Broadway Gala where "Oliver!" will be performed
  • Singing at Podium 2012 with Belle Canto in Ottawa
Of course, I'm sure there will be other musical things thrown into the mix that I just haven't arranged yet. Maybe I'll be able to fit in an audition in there or arrange a solo voice lesson to learn some new skills. I will leave those possibilities open, but just know that whatever I musically experience, I will post on this blog.

Just last year I didn't know if I would sing one or any of the concerts with Pro Coro, however, a season later and now I'm a core member. It's crazy what can change in a year! Over the past year, I've also been contacted for some freelance singing work and being a section leader. Pro Coro has really opened the door for singing opportunities for me.

At any rate dear readers, what are you all most looking forward to this upcoming season? Please post your thoughts in the comment section below.

Until next time, take care.

P.S. I hope you like my new layout!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Symphony in the Afternoon

Greetings readers!

It was a hot summer day on the final day of the Edmonton Symphony Under the Sky Festival. Although I was sweltering in my jeans and long-sleeved t-shirt dress, I enjoyed the sizzling weather nonetheless and was happy to see so many familiar faces (some of whom also happen to be blog readers-thanks Kate and Leanne!).

The Monday afternoon concert began with a dual offering of Gershwin with "An American in Paris," which is so wonderfully cheeky and "Rhapsody in Blue" with its amazing reedy glissando at the start of the piece. Pianist, Sarah Ho, played with an elegant and agile energy in "Rhapsody in Blue" and was gorgeous in her white asymmetrical gown.

Marquez's "Danzon No. 2" was definitely a repertoire surprise for me since I had never heard it but I loved its saucy percussive beat and the use of different orchestral textures. Especially the musical banter between the strings and brass section. The "Brazilian Fanfare" by Clarice Assad was also a nice survey piece of Brazilian musical genres.

Every year there is a young composer who debuts a piece at the festival and this year it was highschool student, Andrew Reid, with his work "Echoes of Time." It was a lovely atmospheric piece that could easily serve as a score for an upcoming movie. Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" wrapped up the festival, as is tradition, with canons from the 20th Field Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery. Once the canons start going off, the orchestral chimes signal the victory bells that are ringing and the audience joins in with their own percussion instruments from ringing bells to jiggling car keys. Since I forgot my bells, I decided to download a last-minute "Jingle Bells" app to join in. I have to admit, it definitely was not as resonant as a real bell.

The festival was fantastic this year with a record breaking number of over 12 000 seats sold! I just want to say a thank-you to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra for continuing to put on an amazing labour day weekend festival and for Phil for arranging my blogging tickets. Do check out the upcoming concerts for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra since the Symphony Under the Sky Festival is only the start to their musical offerings this season.

Until next time, take care readers!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hollywood Night

Greetings readers!

Last night was the Hollywood Night at the Symphony Under the Sky Festival. As predicted, it was packed! There were barely any spots of unclaimed grass seating so it was a fantastic seeing so many people there.

The program began with Hollywood film music from "E.T's Flying Theme," "Beauty and the Beast Suite," "Pirates of the Caribbean," (which I think was my favorite due to it's boisterous nature),  and the suite from "Batman." It's been a while since I've heard the Danny Elfman "Batman" theme and I still got that creepy vibe when the joker's demented waltz came on. Other evening highlights included the "Unchained Melody" and "The Wizard of Oz Suite," which I could hear audience members humming along to, and the gorgeously moving "Godfather" movie theme. One of the best parts of the evening? Seeing the audience so quiet and still while listening to the Godfather Theme.


There were also some unprogrammed highlights during the evening which included an impromptu guest appearance by Al Simmons who, complete with a handheld set of audience captions, urged the audience to "sing along" in advertisement for his concert on Sunday afternoon. At the end of the evening, I had my fingers crossed for an encore, which is traditionally expected at the Hollywood night of the festival, but I wasn't sure if they were going to bust out the Star Wars costumes and theme song as they have done in past years. This year they mixed it up with some Harry Potter "Hedwig's Theme" instead. You can do no wrong starting and ending the evening with John Williams.

Evening Sky

In the meantime, do check out the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra website for more details (there is another concert this Sunday afternoon and evening) and I will report back here after the final festival concert on Monday afternoon.

Until then, take care readers!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Symphony Under the Sky Begins


Greetings readers!

Evening one of Symphony Under the Sky has officially wrapped up. The first evening of the festival is always composed of classical program that is similar to the Masters series during the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra's regular subscription season. Tonight's program began with the Canadian national anthem, which the audience sang with increasing confidence as they gauged the acoustic offerings from neighboring voices.

Handel's "Water Music Suite" was a dainty and effervescent start to the festival with a rousing Allegro section. The Andante espressivo section was, well... andante and expressive. The excerpts ended with the familiar melody in the Allegro deciso section that is iconic of the "Water Music Suite."  


Mozart's "Concerto for Flute and Harp in C Major" was a highlight of the evening with fantastic performances from soloists Elizabeth Faulkner on flute and Nora Bumanis on harp. After the initial balance of the microphones was established, the gentle and feminine instrumental voices from the soloists were clearly heard above the sound of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Faulkner had a lovely open tone which was further enhanced by Bumanis' cascading melodic lines. It was a lovely performance with many moments of acoustic familiarity which, I think, was appreciated by audience members who aren't as well-versed with the world of symphonic music.

The evening ended with Brahm's Symphony No. 2 in D Major which was accompanied with some rain during the second and third movements. However, it was nothing that an umbrella and raingear couldn't handle. It was actually nice to hear the wet, moody, patter of raindrops within the middle symphonic movements. The rain cleared out by the spirited final movement so people were able to view the rest of the performance without the obstruction of umbrellas. I wish I could comment more on the piece itself but, unfortunately, in conjunction with staying dry and warm, I have to admit my full concentration wasn't on the musical offerings. 

One of my favorite moments? It was seeing the sun set over the crowd.


Overall, it was a beautiful start to the festival and I look forward to the remaining performances this weekend. I know that the Saturday evening and Monday matinee performances tickets are not available online but there will be some available at the on-site box office before the performance. Please refer to their website for more information on box office times and tickets for all performances. You can also follow twitter updates from the festival at #yegSUTS

Until next time, take care and stay dry!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Symphony Under the Sky!

Greetings readers!

It's that time of the year again... the Symphony Under the Sky festival on labour day weekend September 2-5, 2011!

More than anything else, this festival has become a mother-daughter tradition in my family now. However, it wasn't always this way. My friend, Nadia, actually introduced me to the festival and we started out by volunteering. We sold Häagen-Dazs icecream bars from the cart, ushered concerts, and helped run the Teddy Bear picnic hospital. I wasn't much help with the latter position since I didn't possess any sewing skills. Thus, I was unable to mend the teddy bears brought to me. I could only deal with imaginary teddy bear flesh wounds by applying a band-aid on the affected area. 

Since that time, my sister, Sarah, and I have managed to turn our mother into a Symphony Under the Sky convert. This was definitely an experiment because my mother is not the outdoorsy type. She always wondered why Sarah and I would willingly sit outside and feed the mosquitoes at summer festivals. The first year she went to Symphony Under the Sky we thought it would be better to get her a reserved seat, however, she quickly discovered that the reserved seats do not possess the hammock-like comfort of a lawn chair. After that realization, we went to Canadian Tire and purchased some Hawaiian fabric lawn chairs. Oh, so classy. We've never looked back since. Year after year you can see us on the grass seating area lounging with our Harry Potter fleece blanket and tea thermos. It's also the only time of year when my mother indulges in western festival luxuries like jalapeno cheddar smokies and mini donuts.

This year will not disappoint as the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra has brought back conductor, Bob Bernhardt (his 6th year leading the festival!), to conduct the weekend concerts. Here's an overview of the concerts:

Friday, September 2, 2011 @ 7pm

Mozart, Handel, and Brahms... what's not to love? After the traditional playing of "O Canada," which signals the start of the festival, the program items for the evening will include: Mozart's "Concerto for Flute and Harp" showcasing the talents of the ESO's very own Elizabeth Faulkner and Nora Bumanis, Handel's "Water Music," and Brahm's "Second Symphony." A lovely way to kick off the festival with some symphonic classics.

Saturday, September 3, 2011 @ 2pm

A concert filled with Broadway classics from Andrew Lloyd Webber to Sondheim. Definitely a must-see if you're a Broadway music lover! It will also be an interesting concert since Strathcona Highschool's Les Misérables cast will be performing pieces with Edmonton-born Broadway singer, Susan Gilmour. It will be a lovely afternoon filled with music from West Side Story, Carousel, Phantom of the Opera and others.

Saturday, September 3, 2011 @ 7pm

By far my favorite evening out at the festival is the Hollywood Classics evening. There's just something magical about hearing the music from Hollywood movies in the darkened park while holding a hot beverage. The audience can expect to hear music from old Hollywood classics such as E.T. and the Wizard of Oz to modern day releases such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Batman. The Saturday night concert is always packed and for good reason.

Sunday, September 4, 2011 @ 7pm

The Sunday night performance is definitely the "Canadiana" evening out of the festival. This year it showcases the talent and tunes of Ian Tyson. His songs will include "Four Strong Winds" which is an Edmonton Folk Music Festival anthem, "Somewhere in the Rubies", "Love without End" et al. His charming cowboy twang is sure to ensnare the hearts of audiences that evening. Plus, I'm sure he'll wear his cowboy hat on stage.

Monday, September 5, 2011 @ 2pm

The Monday afternoon concert always has three elements:

1. A killer soloist
2. A world premiere by a young composer
3. Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture complete with real canons from the Royal Canadian Artillery

This year those elements will include:
1. Sarah Ho playing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue"
2. Andrew Reid premiering his debut piece "Echoes of Time"
3. Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture complete with real canons from the Royal Canadian Artillery (as per usual)

This year's Symphony Under the Sky holds the promise of great music and soloists. If you haven't already got your ticket(s), I'd advise you to purchase them now since the shows have a tendency to sell-out. This festival really is the best way to spend the last festival weekend in Edmonton. All ticket details for weekend passes as well as individual shows can be found on their website. Prices range from $20-$39 for individual adults and $82-$125 for adult passes (depending on performance and seat location).

I hope to see some of you there! If you won't be able to make it, you can also follow me on Twitter or search for festival tweets with the hastag: #yegSUTS

You can also check out what the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra has lined up for their upcoming 2011-2012 season:

Until next time, take care readers!