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.