Sunday, March 27, 2011

Diction Diction Diction

Greetings readers!

I've been busy with consecutive rehearsals and concerts lately so it's been hard to keep up. I suppose the first concert I should mention is the one that wrapped up last weekend with Pro Coro's Founder Concert. We achieved some really nice musical moments during some of the bigger pieces like Josquin's "Ave Maria", the rich-sounding Mendelsson pieces, and Shank's "Musica Animam Tangens". I feel like these are the pieces that Pro Coro should be singing all the time if we want to build up our full-voice body. Pieces with epic sound. Marc Michel Gervais by the end of our rehearsal period, after his initial verbose disgust at our tendency to sing at half voice, said that Pro Coro has a lot of potential and to think of where their next 30 years are going to go. Also, that Pro Coro needs to increase the choir by at least 10 singers to expand the realm of available repertoire.

Nystedt's "Immortal Bach" was our encore piece. I found it very self-indulgent to sing. It begins with a simple Bach chant and then the voice parts begin to deconstruct upon the second repetition, singing at their own pace, and by the third repetition each chorister gets to choose when to change notes. It was lovely since you can bask in the vocal dissonances for 10-15 beats if you'd like before moving notes. Also, there's an magical acoustic lock when everybody eventually settles on the same end vowel. The acoustic ambiance was also aided by the fact that we all stood in the balconies of the church and enveloped the audience in sound.

After Pro Coro's concert it was time to start a new rehearsal cycle for Durufle's "Requiem" with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and Da Camera Singers. The big thing to remember from conductor Bill Eddins was "diction, diction, diction". Fair enough, diction is the acoustic cut the choir needed to use to be heard over the symphony but I felt like our musical sensitivity and phrasing was being lost. There is still a way to give those elements and provide crisp diction, however, I felt like the emphasis on diction prompted some choristers to oversing and be reduced to jolting entities that projected staccato word segments. From what I heard from reports from the audience, they were able to hear us quite well. My main fear-inducing moments during the performance were mostly for the men's parts. It took a while for the tenors and basses to consolidate and I still felt they were unsettled by the days of the performance. The soprano section was absolutely gorgeous. I always looked forward to their beginning solo line at the start of "In Paradisum". They had a soaring and gentle beauty to their sound which suited the transcendental line. The alto section I was a part of felt pretty solid too. It's hard to hear what we sounded like as a group, since all I could hear were the individual voices around me, but hopefully a cohesive blend resulted. There were gorgeous orchestra moments in the Durufle as well. I always loved hearing the lilting melodic bassoon line at the beginning of the "Lux Aeterna" movement.

On the Friday performance I could see that our clean cut-offs and diction was good enough for Eddins to give us a smile at two points during the piece, which I didn't see repeated for the Saturday performance. However, he lingered on the ending during Saturday night's performance when he refrained from putting his baton down at least for a good 10 seconds. A sign that he wanted to hold onto the musical magic in the air? I definitely had moments of "Man, I'm so lucky to sing with the ESO on stage at the Winspear!" during the two nights. I'm glad I signed up to sing the Durufle. It's another beautiful piece to add to the choral repertoire I've learned.

As I move into the next phase of my choral projects Pro Coro's St. John's Passion and Belle Canto's music festival preparation begins. Should be a busy few months!

Until next time, take care!

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Greetings readers!

So this week has been a blitz of choral activity.

Monday consisted of a workshop with Simon Carrington, prominent international singer and conductor and co-founder of the famous a capella group from the UK: The King's Singers. Haven't heard of them? Watch a video of their piece entitled "Masterpiece" as they make their way through different composers and musical eras. It's quite entertaining.

The workshop was for ChoralFest 2011 and was hosted by the Alberta Choral Federation. Chorale Saint-Jean and Belle Canto were the two community choirs participating in this workshop and all I can say is that Belle Canto just felt out of place. It wasn't just that we were all in our casual street clothes on stage, it was a workshop so I didn't think it was essential to be performing in our uniforms, however, it just felt like we weren't receptive to the comments and critique being given. Instead, there was this overwhelming feeling of self-consciousness and an apologetic vibe we were giving off for missing a chunk of singers from our group. Though we were there more for the experience, all I garnered from the workshop was that Carrington thinks Belle Canto's sound is "bright". Strange to be summarized by one adjective. There wasn't really any further explanation. I didn't know if bright was good or bad. I didn't know what it was supposed to mean at all.

It's also a bit unsettling how Belle Canto has become this bubble that rarely comes in contact with the choral community in Edmonton. We use to surface once in a while to do the live CBC Choral competition but there is no longer a live radio portion. It's been nice to be in other choirs like the Madrigal Singers and Pro Coro since it gives me a better idea of the kind of repertoire other choirs sing and the types of singers in them. I know it's unrealistic to think that there could be a project that united all the choirs and choristers in Edmonton (that would take a large amount of time and money which most choral organizations do not have) but I just wish we didn't have to look at other choirs as if they were strangers when we end up in the same workshop or festival class.

Overall, I didn't find the workshop satisfying. Carrington mainly drilled the men for singing to "notey" in Fauré's Cantique de Jean Racine and tried to incorporate some drastic pulling of dynamics at the ends of phrases in the madrigal "Sing We and Chant It"---reminiscent of the King's Singers choral style. Nearing the end of the evening I just wanted to go to bed... but that was probably due to the fact that I had just finished an intensive stretch of weekend rehearsals with Pro Coro.

Anyway, it's Pro Coro's Founder's concert tomorrow and after that I have also signed up to sing with Da Camera for DuruflĂ©’s Requiem with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra next weekend. If I include this week, that means I'll be singing every evening for a solid two weeks. So this is the life of a working musician? It is tiring but fulfilling at the same time. I have to make sure I get a good amount of vocal rest and sleep if I'm going to survive and stave off the Spring colds that seem to be circulating in the community.

Until next time, take care!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sing and Stop Holding Back!

Greetings readers,

I've currently been busy attending a set of new rehearsals for Pro Coro's 30th anniversary "Founder's Concert" next Sunday, March 20, 2011 and the founder of Pro Coro in 1980, Michel Marc Gervais, has returned to Edmonton to conduct us. I was also surprised to find out that he founded the Schola Cantorum choral program at Alberta College in Edmonton. Schola Cantorum is where I first began my choral education so it's interesting for me to finally meet the man who has indirectly had a huge influence on my choral upbringing.

In a way, I wish I could have recorded what Gervais said to us during rehearsal. He is a great lecturer and has a very detailed way of describing exactly what he wants. I find that his singing terminology and imagery is specific and understandable and he provides consistent feedback. He discussed finding our "hook" and this term resonates with me as it directly links to images of tweaking my velum and superior pharyngeal constructors (soft palate and throat muscles) to produce a more focused sound. He also discussed that we should not only be thinking vertical to produce focused and bright vowels but to make sure they all have width and body. Common sense for any singer but something that is good to be reminded of.

During Friday's night rehearsal, I could immediately tell he was not impressed with Pro Coro's sound. I wished I kept tally of his comments but I believe it had to be around 10:1 (neg:pos). His biggest critique was that we were not singing with our whole voice. I agreed with what he was saying. Pro Coro has the tendency to just sing on the surface, playing it safe, blending well, but holding back, and Gervais would have none of this. I must admit, I was also a contributing to this sound as I was responding to what I was hearing around me. It's frightening the extent to which there is an unspoken consensus among choral members. He preached the possibility of singing with full sound and achieving a broader palette of choral sound as result of not holding back.

This is something that I agree with completely since that is something that works well in Belle Canto. However, it's harder to achieve consistency within Belle Canto. Belle Canto voices are always changing depending on availability, and when you build a choir on full-bodied sound, each singer is absolutely vital to the choral sound as whole. When Belle Canto is missing a chorister it sounds like somebody has punched a hole through the core of our sound.

Gervais was very clear in that he didn't want us to push our sound, but that it's equally as damaging to hold back and not sing with our full voice. He also empathized that he understood our fear, singing with full voice is not an easy task within a choral setting... especially when it's a smaller ensemble of 24 singers. Ultimately, I believe what he was getting at is that Pro Coro needs to take risks. If we aren't taking musical risks and giving audiences the entire spectrum of our sound, then how are we supposed to make memorable music? I think he has a very valid point.

Gervais also remarked that he does not believe there should be a difference between a choral singer and a solo vocalist. If this was last year, I would have argued that there's a huge difference. However, if I subscribe to his definition of a full-bodied choir, then choral singers should be singing as if they were soloists and listen to the other parts to create ensemble.

The rehearsal this morning went much better. I could hear people playing with the different resonant peaks in their voice to produce a focused and full-bodied sound and it was getting closer to what he wanted. There was a moment where he gave some positive feedback about our musical interpretation of Monteverdi's "Sestina," which requires a light and dainty tone, by remarking that it's the kind of music perfectly suited for us. Everyone seemed pleased but was it just another of saying that we're still not achieving the full-bodied sound he's looking for? Maybe it's me being overly sensitive and negative but I only heard the thinly veiled negative meaning of his positive comment. I will attribute my skepticism to my cultural upbringing where I often needed to decode meaning from indirect comments.

Pro Coro rehearsals continue for the rest of the week and culminates with concert on Sunday. If you are interested in attending you can find out more details here. I will keep you posted on the progress. Plus, on Monday Belle Canto will be participating in a community choir workshop with Simon Carrington-co-founder of the King's Singers with the Canadian Chamber Choir. Should be a fun evening!

Until next time, take care!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Videos Galore!

Greetings readers,

You know what I'm excited about?


Alright, so choir videos to be more specific. I've been singing in the community choral program, Cantilon Choirs, for quite a while now. First, with the Chamber Choir and now in the women's choir, Belle Canto. Slowly but surely they have been increasing their internet presence over the past couple of years. They now have their own Facebook page, choir c.d.'s can be purchased off of itunes, and they also have opened up a Youtube account. The Youtube account has been in existence for a while now but I never really noticed the slowly increasing number of videos. I am very excited by it all since it's nice to see what the concerts looked like from an audiences' perspective and what it sounded like. I posted some videos below:

One Day More-From our Les Miserables performance two weekends ago

Belle Canto at the Pre-Tour Concert to Italy in the summer. Kaipaava-a musical favorite of ours.

Gabriel's Greeting-The candlelight procession at our Christmas concert this past December

How Can I Keep from Singing-At the Cantilon Dessert auction fundraiser in the Fall. Here is a mass choir performance with Cantilon choristers from the Primary choir up to Belle Canto

If you want to check out more video from Cantilon Choirs visit this link

Until next time, take care!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Virtual Choir Musings

Greetings readers!

So this has been an exciting week in terms of the Virtual Choir world since Eric Whitacre played a 2 minute clip of the Virtual Choir video (that is still currently being edited) for audiences at TED 2011. An interesting article surfaced as a result and one of Whitacre's quotes struck me as interesting:

“Human beings will go to any lengths necessary to find and connect with each other”

This got me thinking, as is the intent of the TED talks, about why I wanted to participate in the Virtual Choir. When I first read the quote I just thought, "That's so sad. I didn't do the Virtual Choir because I am lonely and trying to forge some kind of fictitious connection with others." Suddenly, my mind was flooded with mental images of nerdy choristers locked away in their rooms, sweating as they tried to position their webcams to frame their face, and debating which concert black top to wear. O.k, so I am describing my own personal experience but I'm sure others had a similar one.

However, I don't think that's what Whitacre is trying to get at---that we're all lonely choral nerds that need to be part of the Virtual Choir in order to feel accepted, he's simply trying to identify the underlying themes behind the motivation to contribute to the project. For me, personally, I really just felt like I missed the opportunity last time when I saw Lux Aurumque debut on Youtube:

I just thought it looked like a cool project. I always like finding new reasons to do music and recording projects on my computer. I can't claim that my intent was to form some kind of transcendental connection to other singers across the world, but who knows, maybe when I see the video debut in April I will feel differently. I still don't feel like I am seeking a way to connect with others, but I suppose at the base of it, that is what I am doing whether or not I want to admit it. A feeling of connection is definitely a possible byproduct of the Virtual Choir experiment, but not one that I was anticipating. I just feel that seeking a connection means that I am trying to fill some kind of unsatisfaction or void. Maybe I am and I don't know it?

At any rate, it was interesting to muse over exactly why I felt the need to be one of the 54 people who contributed four video tracks out of the 2,051 submissions. I'd like to say that it was because I was seeking a way to connect to international voices... but that was not my intent. It just looked like a cool project that I wanted the chance to be a part of. As well, I've always had the type of personality that thinks "why do one when I can do two?!?" and the cascade of rationale continues, thus, the reason why I produced four videos. If I had the tenor and bass range, I would have recorded all eight parts. For those of you who submitted videos as well, why did you participate in the Virtual Choir? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Until next time, take care!