Monday, January 30, 2012

Pending: Pro Coro's Artistic Director Announcement

Greetings readers,

I usually don't use my blog as an events listing; however, I thought that Pro Coro announcing its new Artistic Director would be a good reason to make an exception. Following an 18 month search (and a series of blog posts detailing my rehearsal process with each of the candidates), this Friday will the announcement of Pro Coro's new Artistic Director and Principal Conductor. It will either be Magen Solomon from San Francisco, Mark Bailey from New Haven, or Michael Zaugg from Montreal.

I cannot even textually emote how excited I am. 

:) hm, too fake?
:o hm, too shocked?
:D hm, too happy?

You'll just have to find out on Friday ;)

The new Artistic Director will be present to perform with Pro Coro as well as answer questions. If you are free, you should definitely come see for yourself who the new conductor is. Details are as follows:

Friday, February 3, 2012 @ 6:30 PM
PCL Hall, 5th Floor, Alberta College
10050 MacDonald Drive, Edmonton

Hope to see some of you there!

Until next time readers, take care!

Application Season

 Greetings readers,

In the past week I have submitted applications for:

Why is it that applications all seem to be due at the same time? 

While I do question why I continue to do things like this to myself, I have to admit, it's very satisfying to know that I pulled it off. While I was able to recycle some components from some of the applications, such as singing the same aria, I did have to learn a new test piece for each of them since they all had different requirements. 

The NYC audition was, by far, my most impulsive applications. I just received news of application details on Monday (I had applied back in October but hadn't heard any information, thus, I promptly forgot about it). I remember sitting at my laptop and wondering if I should submit an application. I decided that in the time I was taking to make the decision, I could be learning the test piece. Is it bad that all I can remember now is that it was in German because I cram-learned the test piece that evening? To make the recording I dragged my keyboard into my room and set-up a grassroots recording studio. Ah, the beauty of having my own USB microphone--- I can just record everything myself. I tried singing my aria a capella in my run-through but I was thoroughly disgusted with myself when I realized how far I stayed from the tonality of the piece by the end.  Since piano accompaniment was not required, I took out my iPhone, opened my Naxos library app, and found a recording of the aria I was auditioning with to playback to myself using my headphones. This was my version of choral trouble-shooting. Thankfully, the auditory feedback from the accompanying recording was enough to keep me in tune. Thus, my NYC application was recorded and submitted within the same evening. Success!

I had been prepping the ECCC application over the holiday break. The "Webern" test piece for this application was the most tonally challenging I had to prepare. Feel free to take a look at this link where you can download the pdf. As well, this application required two written recommendation letters. Anybody who has ever needed reference letters knows that it can be quite a hassle. I asked for references during the holiday season (when people aren't really working) because that's when I heard of the ECCC applications. I was extremely lucky that the ECCC applications were extended for a week because I was cutting it close with my reference letters. However, everything came through in the end and I submitted it in good time. Success!

Like a true artist who has mastered the art of procrastination, I left my Virtual Choir entry to the last minute. It definitely was not my first priority because I was busy coordinating my other applications. I did listen to the "Water Night" piece before the holiday (when the Virtual Choir was announced) so I wasn't sight-reading it when I did the recording yesterday. In comparison to the last Virtual Choir, this one was way more chorister-friendly. No more tedious Youtube uploading and label tagging, lining up beeps and plugging in headphones in a synchronized fashion--- all the video recording was done off of Whitacre's website. I also noticed that this time around there were many choral supports to help learn the piece. You could listen to people singing your individual part, somebody recorded a synth track of every individual line in the piece, and during the recording itself there was a playback of the song recording so you could even hear your part within the context of the choir. There really was no excuse for somebody not to record an entry. During the last Virtual Choir, I submitted four tracks, but since I was dedicating my attention to other applications this season, I decided that one video submission would suffice. I always enjoy watching Whitacre's conducting track because other than the fact that he looks like an archetypal Harlequin romance figure, he always has some interesting conducting gestures. I recognized one from the previous virtual choir, which I call "the finger chew" since he circulates his fingers around his mouth in order to cue more diction. The other gesture which was new for me was one where he vibrated his hand up by his ear to cue vibrato, as if he was playing an invisible cello. After three video recordings, I chose my best and submitted it via his site: success!

The WYC audition took the most logistical coordination since I needed to arrange for an audition facilitator to administer a sight-reading portion. Thus, I enlisted the help of a vocal coach to oversee my audition process and I recorded everything in one go (sight-reading, range test, test piece, and personal selection). The sight-reading component was actually quite fair, but sight-reading has never been my strong suite so I just tried to make it through as best as I could. Anybody listening to my sight-reading attempt would definitely be able to hear that I was, indeed, sight-reading. Howell's "Requiem Aeternam" test piece for this application was actually my favorite out of the three test pieces I learned. It was nice having some open chords accompany me from my audition facilitator. While I enjoy doing things by myself, it was refreshing to have some support. After assembling some accompanying paperwork, I submitted my application to the Canadian jury this evening. Success! They will review all Canadian applications before they make their recommendations for which 12 Canadian singers to submit to the international jury.

Overall, it's been a busy week. I had been planning for three of the applications for the past month but it seemed like all the submissions culminated within the same week. While I don't expect for all of my applications to be accepted (other than the virtual choir because they accept everybody's), I rationalize that it's always good over over-apply. I hope you've enjoyed reading about my application blitz!

Until next time readers, take care!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Choir Girl Debut with the Scona Singers

Greetings readers!

Alas, my lack of posting is due more to a lapse in initiative rather than a lack of choral activity. Today I had the pleasure of having my choral debut with the Scona Chamber Singers for their "Music of the Sistine Chapel" concert. It was a concert of Renaissance music by Gregorio Allegri, Palestrina, Anerio and Josquin des Prez. It was quite a treat actually since I usually only sing early music in choir when it's part of some kind of repertoire requirement at a music festival or concert, other than that, my experience with it is minimal. Which is unfortunate since I love the flowing lines, tensile dissonances, and clean end chords.

We started rehearsals last Friday and it was a bit challenging to jump back into an intensive choral schedule after the holidays. I found that my brain was mixing a lot of the pieces together because they were similar and it's hard to get context for a piece when you're just rehearsing individual lines. However, by Wednesday, as the music was becoming more solidified, I felt that it was beginning to feel more effortless. But as our conductor, John Brough, said to us, it's easy to just stop paying attention in early music and then you suddenly get caught off guard by an unexpected accidental. Other than the fact there were a few concert blips and some tuning issues, I felt like the concert was well-executed and, overall, just fun to sing. It had good flow and there were nice subsets of diversity in the individual musical movements even though it was all Renaissance music. I think my favorite pieces in the program were Allegri's "Gloria" & "Credo" movements and Allegri's "Miserere mei, Deus." Singing pieces like "Miserere mei, Deus" makes me wish I was born a monk so I could just sing awesome chant music all day in cathedrals. Plus, I would get to rock the strappy sandal look all-year-round. 

Mentioning the aspect of fashion, the Scona ladies all wear their own gowns for performances. Which introduced an interesting variable for me since I do not own any gowns. Vibrant cocktail dresses and an old prom gown? ---yes. Formal performance gowns? ---no. Since I don't perform solo voice recitals, I haven't had the opportunity to accumulate an array performance-wear. Thus, I checked the only place I could think of for uniform aid--- my mother's closet. I found an own navy gown my mother wore last year at a wedding reception. I tried it on. A bit roomy but in a comfortable way since I actually had room to breathe in the torso area. Excellent. It was one last thing I had to worry about for the concert. The Scona ladies seemed impressed that I was able to overlap closets with my mother. I was just glad I didn't have to invest in a gown which I would only wear once.

Overall, I had a fantastic debut experience with Scona Singers. As well, it was so much fun to sing with one of my choral soulmates, Dawn Bailey, again. She was back in town to sing with the Scona Singers and she also had her own recital the Friday before the concert. Dawn resides in Montreal now as a freelance singer and yoga teacher so it was great opportunity to catch up with her since she usually only visits Edmonton once or twice a year.

If you're interested in early music, I'd also recommend you visit the Early Music Alberta website, which is an organization which promotes early music performance and education by offering events such as concerts, masterclasses, and an early music festival.

Until next time readers, take care!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Choral Speech Pathology

An acoustic sample of "Silent Night"

Greetings readers,

I primarily discuss my choral experiences here on this blog, however, I rarely speak about the other dominant area of my life: Speech-Language Pathology (S-LP). In my program, you have the option to choose either a group project or an individual thesis and you need to decide, within the first month, which route you're going to take. Therefore, it's quite a significant program-altering choice. The department held a "research fair" where all of our faculty presented the projects which they were offering that year: studies involving fMRI neuroimaging to look at language processing in the brain, studies investigating the potential of noise-induced hearing loss from high iPod listening levels while exercising, looking at developmental language and vocabulary inventory of children with cerebral palsy... although they were all interesting in their own way... none of them really appealed to me. I knew that I would either choose a project that seemed straight-forward just to get it finished or develop my own thesis project. Since I have never been one to choose the path of least resistance, I chose the latter option. I rationalized that if I am going to spend two years on something--- I better enjoy it.

A year before entering the program, I remembered hearing about an S-LP, Merrill Tanner, from a fellow chorister's parent during a reception. Tanner was known to utilize singing techniques in her S-LP therapy practice. While I was contemplating project options, I googled her name and discovered that she was working on her PhD with the voice disorders professor in our department. I immediately arranged to meet with this professor. I didn't know what to expect when I walked into my soon-to-be-supervisor's office. At that point, I had already visited at least six other professors discussing their thesis projects but I didn't feel moved to accept any of them. This voice professor was interested to hear about my journey which led me to Tanner's research and said that I could formulate a project that that united my two interests. As well, she  knew of a set of unanalyzed data from a study in 2004 where persons with Parkinson's Disease had singing lessons with a music professor. A variety of measures were taken but the data was never analyzed. Five years later, there I was, an eager new graduate student who was willing to take on the analysis job. I spent a good two years designing a standardized analysis method and then analyzing the data.

Within Parkinson Disease, the main voice symptoms that occur are decreased loudness levels, weak and imprecise articulation, and a fast or "blurred" speech rate. Therefore, it can be hard to understand the speech of people with Parkinson's Disease. The implication of this is that a decreased ability to communicate effectively with others can lead to a gradual disengagement with others and with life in general. The muscular system in persons with Parkinson's is extremely rigid, which means that the respiratory, voice, and even facial muscles are stiff and aren't used to their full capacity or range. There's support for therapy practices which engage these muscular systems. Currently, the gold standard of Parkinson's voice therapy is called the "Lee Silverman Voice Treatment" (LSVT), which involves sitting in a room two times a day and holding the word "ah" at a comfortable pitch and volume for as long as a client can and doing this drill 15 times in a row, as well as other voice drills for an hour. While LSVT has great outcomes after 4 weeks, it's arguably not the most holistic or enjoyable way to spend a treatment session. That's why there has been an interest in relating Parkinson's voice therapy back to music since it still trains the same muscular systems as LSVT, however, the tasks are within an enjoyable musical context. Tanner's PhD work has already been noting the positive changes seen in patients participating in singing therapies and the results from my thesis show the same positive trend as well (which I'm excited to be presenting in a poster at the CASLPA conference in May 2012!). There's an argument for the fact that singing/choral voice treatment is a much more accessible (you can almost always find a choir in any rural or urban setting but you can't always find a LSVT certified S-LP) and a lower-cost therapy option for persons with Parkinson's.

I hope my previous paragraphs provided some context for the other things that are on my mind when I'm not singing in choirs. Below is a video of Tanner's research and an interview with some of her current Parkinson participants.

Until next time, take care readers!