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!