Sunday, January 23, 2011

Retreat Weekend

Greetings readers!

Choir retreats are an essential part of the choir experience and this year Belle Canto decided to stay inside the city instead of heading out to camp for our annual retreat. Just as well since the roads have been unpredictable here and leaving the city would mean more unpaved roads. We have had 60.5 centimeters of snow since the start of January and if we get another 5.5 cm we can break the snowfall record set in 1971!

In my experience choir retreats are composed of a few essential elements:

1. Rehearsals
2. Sectionals
3. Food
4. Recreational activities
5. More food

They seem basic enough, don't they?

By far my most intense camp retreat was with the Chamber Choir in my teen years. We went out to camp on a Thursday night, rehearsed all day on Friday (we missed school) and Saturday and left Sunday afternoon after a morning rehearsal and brunch. In between rehearsals would be programmed recreation activities which would be constructed for us by the chaperones in order to bond with other choristers. While choral cliques were more or less established by the time camp arrived, it is always nice to have a moment with a chorister who you do not directly interact with on a regular basis. In the earlier years of choir retreats, it seemed like instant popularity went to the girl who possessed excellent sleepover skills like french braiding or a makeup set with the self-professed skills to give people makeovers.

I've seen an evolution of choral retreat interaction as adults seem to prefer a new additions to the equation: large circle conversations and alcohol. Granted, there were no large circle conversations this time around at retreat (I remember years when all 22 of us would be sitting in a circle and be listening to one person tell a story) but this cyclical orientation of social interaction is definitely a change from playing soccer with other choir members. While collective conversations with 3+ people is not my forte, I am appreciative of the fact that all of the women in the choir genuinely want to get to know each other. When I first joined the women's choir, I felt like I didn't belong because I didn't have a job, spouse, or children. In effect, I didn't have any way of relating to them. Of course, that is what starts conversations: the things you have in common or topics in which you have shared knowledge.

I think the nice thing about Belle Canto now is that I've been there for quite a few years and have even been on tour with them. Touring is the ultimate bonding activity. I feel like I don't need to speak for them to know what I'm thinking. I can give easily employ non-verbal means to convey my message and the eye contact from them is acknowledgment enough. I think that's one of the reasons why there is such a strong returning core group of singers in Belle Canto every year. Even with Pro Coro rehearsals are treated very much as a job, you are civil and polite to those around you but they still feel like strangers. One of my friends, Ku, once revealed to me that he uses three questions to evaluate whether or not to continue with a commitment.

1. Am I making money?
2. Am I learning something new?
3. Am I having fun?

If you answer no to all of the three questions. Clearly, it is time to think of focusing your time and energy elsewhere. Pro Coro positively answers the first two questions for me. While I have fun in Pro Coro, the sense of belonging that I have developed in Belle Canto surpasses my Pro Coro fun.

Therefore, I won't be leaving Belle Canto anytime soon. Retreat experiences like this past weekend just reconfirms that knowledge for me.

Until next time, take care!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Lost in Space

Hello readers!

I'm back at Pro Coro rehearsals this week for our "Music from Space" concert and it has been intense indeed. We have two new pieces that were commissioned for the concert, a set of three chant-like melodies by Larry Nickel called "Creator Alme Siderum, Maker of the Stars", as well, a piece set to Einstein's quotes entitled, "and Einstein said." The latter is a set of six pieces written by our associate conductor, Trent Worthington. Both of these pieces have such lovely character. The Nickel piece has an epic feel with it's use of chant and there's a musical and textual motif that plays off of the expansiveness of space united with the religious latin text. Trent's pieces are just really fun to sing. I like how it's music that's trying not to take itself too seriously. It captures the mood of the quotes from Einstein with musical accuracy and simplicity. There's a fun part in the second section where the soprano's get to sing a dance-like melody that is reminiscent of "skipping and twirling through a flowery meadow." Seriously, those are the directions in brackets above their line. I think one of my favorites is the fourth quote: "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything..." and the beginning portion has the choir humming and it sounds like the static of electrical charge. I also find it interesting that when I look at the notes on the page it resembles electrons in an orbital crosssection of Bohr's model. Extremely interesting music indeed!

We are also doing "Gloria Patri" a set of hymns by Urmas Sisask and the cool part about these chant melodies is that space images will be broadcast on a screen during the piece. I think this concert will have a very neat ambiance indeed. Our conductor, Richard Sparks, was inspired by this performance of Sisask:

There is also another piece on the program that strikes fear in my heart. It's been a while since I've been actually afraid of a piece but, alas, Ligeti's "Lux Aeterna" had me helplessly clutching my tuning fork during rehearsal last night. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of performing Ligeti's "Lux Aeterna", you may recognize it from Stanley Kubrick's "Space Odyssey." Listening to it is one thing, but looking at the music and performing it was another matter entirely to me. There are 16 parts in the piece and there are exactly 16 singers in this concert. Everybody sings within clustered semitones with one another and we usually have to come in on the 1/5 or 1/3 of a beat. Needless to say, it left me watching the conductor with fear. O.k, so it has gotten a little bit better during rehearsal, but I still have a lot of work to do before the next time we meet again in February. I think I knew it was a bad sign when he told us to take out our tuning forks if we had them. That metallic Y-prong was my musical crutch throughout the piece. However, I quickly found out that it was not that helpful and that listening to voices around me were more helpful than hearing an "A" from my fork and finding the interval I needed to be on from there. There is also an overwhelming sense of trust you need to have with the singers around you. That also means people are trusting in me to know my part. I do not intend to let them down.

My plan of action:

1. Learn the chromatic chant "cold." I should be able to wake up singing it in the morning with the right pitches.
2. Sing along to a recording or a video. I know that practicing it on my own won't be helpful. I need to be able to get my notes within the note clusters. Maybe a video might be best so then I can watch a conductor give beats and I can practice how to find my place again if I lose my spot?

At any rate, I am determined to learn this piece! If you have any music learning tid-bits, please leave them in the comments section below! Instead of looking at this piece with fearful anxiety, I will take a more proactive approach and dedicate my time to learning it.

Feel free take a listen to it here:

Until next time, take care!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 Blog Highlights

Greetings readers!

One of the nice things about having a blog is the fact that I have a nice chronology of what musical happenings I have been up to this year. I'll list a few highlights below:

Guest Blogger Series with Amy B.

Though it was killing my inner chorister everytime I heard an update about my women's choir, Belle Canto, while they were competing in the Seghizzi Choral Competition this past July on Facebook, lovely Amy B. consented to guestblog for me while they were touring so I could fill in the details. I was able to receive daily updates from the festival about how they were doing, the behind-the-scenes activities of the tour and even photos from the tour. Technology is an amazing thing. Amy's wonderfully composed entries helped me throughout my choral grief process and made me feel like I was mentally involved in the tour though I was not physically there.

Getting into Pro Coro

By far the most challenging and impulsive choral decision I have made. While I was studying for my final exams last Winter term, I was suddenly gripped with the desire to submit an audition tape of myself for the professional choir here in Edmonton, Pro Coro. It was pretty tight since I needed to synthesize an audition recording of myself with no musical repertoire of my own, no venue to record, and no accompanist. I managed to resolve these factors by employing the help of my wonderful musical friends and submitted a tape the following week. After a stressful in-person audition, I was accepted to sing in the first concert! It was a steep learning curve in terms of music-making and performing but I wouldn't have it any other way since I really need a strong stimulus to initiate change in my life. The first concert was followed by a second, then a third, and I have been signed on to to sing another two concerts this new year as well. An exhilarating feeling to know that I made the cut! I will see where my Pro Coro experiences take me in the new year. Or, perhaps, maybe it is time for more new experiences as well.

Trips to Italy, San Francisco, and Montreal

2010 was a lovely time filled with short trips, in the limited breaks I was given this year, to visit friends abroad in Montreal, have delicious tea parties and watch musicals in San Francisco, and tour Italy with my mother to make up for my missed choir tour.

Symphony Under the Sky and SOSfest

The Edmonton music scene once again exploded with amazing summer festivals which included the new Sounds of Old Strathcona (SOSfest) featuring local talent in July. The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra also had their annual Symphony Under the Sky, which I always love, since there's nothing quite like listening to symphony outside while sitting in a lawn chair and eating mini donuts.

Virtual Choir

Where do I even begin? This virtual choir, perhaps, is the most exciting internet phenomenon I have had the opportunity to be a part of. It wasn't without it's frustration to work my video and audio recording equipment, learn the music, and follow a virtual conducting track... but I succeeded and managed to submit four videos of myself. I can't wait to see the finished product in the Spring of 2011. As of early this morning, they have 1098 entries from 49 countries! I think this will be the largest choir I am ever a part of in my life.

I have to say, 2010 was pretty epic but it's time to look forward now to 2011. I am not one to make a resolutions but I'm excited to see what 2011 brings! Have a wonderful New Year readers!