Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Face of an Angel

Greetings readers!

I should really start this post off with a disclaimer because, for those who don't know me in person, I have this tendency to state my blunt observations with a dead-pan delivery. For some reason, I think people find it humorous, as a result, I've slowly embraced it as my comedic style. If you aren't used to my tone, you might think I'm being condescending. However, I'm merely just stating a neutral comment. I do not mean for it to be taken as fact. I do not mean to generate or perpetuate stereotypes. I simply feel like stating it because it's something I've observed. In this case, my sample size (n=4) does not generalize to the population at large, but rather, it serves as a mere scientific observation from my limited experience. They're observations I would freely share with my friends; I feel that if you're reading my blog, you're a friend to me.

Due to my inquisitive scientific nature, I've always enjoyed visualizing trends. I did this in my biology courses in University when I began to notice that all of my ecology teaching assistants looked like the animals that they studied. One of my biology TA's studied bugs... he had this angular exoskeleton facial structure. Another TA studied polar bears, she had pale white blond hair with light blue eyes. Another one of my friends had a ecology TA that studied river otters. He was a scruffy looking brunette. I could not deny this observational trend.

I have begun to notice a similar trend in conductors. Have you ever noticed conductors that look like... cherubs?


Is it just me or has anyone else come across a cherub-conductor in their musical experiences? You may simply state that there are many baby-faced people in the adult-world. Yet, I believe there is a higher concentration of them in the musical realm. Do I have any scientific proof to support my observations? Absolutely not! It's just a series of observations that have led me to form a subjective hypothesis. Personally, I think that cherub-conductors have a wonderfully loving and warm look to them. Who wouldn't want to look into the face of an angel during rehearsals?

Until next time readers, take care, and take the time to notice the cherubs that walk amongst us :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Heart Meditations

On the way to Camrose

Greetings readers,

It's been a busy week of Pro Coroness since we had a concert on Sunday and another on Wednesday evening where we went out to Camrose to sing at the Augstana Campus. It was a unique set of concerts since we were premiering a work by David Mott entitled, "Heart Meditations," under the direction of Erik Westberg. You may have read in my previous post that I was really struggling to understand the work during the rehearsal process. It was a challenging piece to rehearse and to sing. 

It was more than just the fact that it was a contemporary and atonal piece--- ultimately, I didn't understand the piece. I felt like I had periods of disconnect during my performance on Sunday afternoon; however, the Wednesday evening performance was much more effective in a darkened & intimate concert setting. To best honest though, as a solid 90 minute work, with no intermission, my hands going numb from hanging at my sides, my knees stiffening by verse 23/49, and my superior pharyngeal constrictor fatiguing from keeping a high palate and singing with continuous straight tone... it wasn't the most comfortable physical circumstances to be in. Actually, I'm not convinced it was a piece designed with singing comfort in mind. I applaud the audience for their auditory stamina. Don't get me wrong, there are absolutely gorgeous musical segments in the piece. There are glorious chords in which I wish I could acoustically swim in them and a hypnotic chanting portion done by the tenors and basses at a midpoint in the piece. There were also absolutely stunning bartione saxophone solos by Mott in between the verses. Frankly, I would have happily listened to Mott play for a longer period of time in order to have a physical rest break.

As well, working with Erik Westberg was also quite an experience. He is absolutely lovely. He expresses himself with quirky English phrases which, I think, is a result of him mentally translating Swedish to English in his mind. His cue for pure sound was "sound like virgins." Awesome. He is extremely 3-dimensional as a conductor. He takes up his entire space, there are some moments where his gestures looks like he is dancing and stepping into the sound with his hands and feet as we're producing it. It's quite cool to watch. I also like his lip smacking sounds as if he is kissing the beauty of the sound we're creating. It was a pleasure to watch him interact with the music, bask in the sound, and show his appreciation.

Overall, it was quite the experience premiering Mott's work. I enjoyed having the opportunity to head out to sing at the Augustana campus and meet some of the music students there. They were full of excitement and passion. By no means do I consider myself an unenthused chorister, but my energy was no parallel to those buzzing to show us to our green room. I kind of felt like the cool kid, or chorister, I should say, on the block. I think I'll blog on this in another post :)

Until next time readers, take care!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

An Unexpected Choir Girl Opportunity

Greetings readers!

I thought I would take the time to inform you of a recent development in my social media life --- I'm now helping run the Pro Coro Canada Twitter and Pro Coro Canada Facebook accounts! (feel free to "follow" and "like" them both). It's both unexpected, yet, logical at the same time. I never expected my role within Pro Coro to move beyond the level of chorister; however, assisting with Pro Coro's social media is a natural extension of what I already do for this blog. 

My initial intent in starting this blog and getting involved in the social media world was not for any personal glorification. Shocking, I know. World-wide domination does not begin with blogging... unless you're Dr. Horrible :) Previous to this blog, I had a private one for friends, but I wanted to expand into the public blogging domain. I knew that, in order to do so, I had to write about something I was passionate about. Choir was a natural choice. 

Blogging is not about any form of compensation for me. I blog because I want to. I like writing about my choral experiences and thoughts. It's quite cathartic. As a result of having this blog and connecting to social media, I have been driven to seek out singing opportunities and challenge myself as a musician. At the same time, my experiences provide content for my posts. Social media actually provided me with the nudge I needed to audition for Pro Coro in the first place, such as this reply tweet from @convohall:

It still amazes me when people tell me that they read the blog. I give my hearty thanks but brush it off with an air of flustered modesty so that I draw attention away from myself. It's a fine balance in regards to how I receive compliments because, due to my cultural Chinese upbringing, self-deprecation is the only socially appropriate response, however, Western culture acknowledges and expresses gratitude for compliments paid. What is a Chinese-Canadian choir girl to do? Overall, I'm just not used to positive verbal feedback. I have not been raised to expect it and it's not something that I actively seek from others. However, I do have to say, it feels fantastic to receive. A positive comment from a reader can fuel me for weeks. If you ever pay me a compliment in person, you will most likely see me awkwardly fumble with my words as I attempt to compose a response that is grateful, yet, deflective. Clearly, I have not mastered the process of composing a socially appropriate response that respects two cultural norms.

Thus, the fact that I was recognized for my blogging by the new Pro Coro Artistic Director and the Pro Coro Executive Director astounded me. While I do recognize that it makes logical sense for me to utilize the skills I've developed from blogging to assist with Pro Coro's social media presence, it's another thing entirely for this opportunity to be presented to me. 'Tis a big deal to be a social media co-administrator for a professional Arts organization! That's a huge amount of support and trust in my abilities. A specific thank-you needs to be given to the new Artistic Director of Pro Coro, Michael Zaugg, who saw my work on this blog, recognized its potential, and made this opportunity available. While I may not be verbally eloquent in-person to display my thanks, I have composed it in the way I know best--- via blog post ;)

Therefore, to all of my readers who read my posts, I leave you with a simple and genuine thank-you for all of your continued support by reading my posts.

Until next time readers, take care!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Understanding the Heart

Greetings readers!

Wow, it has been a busy weekend! In conjunction with the announcement of the new Pro Coro Artistic Director, Michael Zaugg, the next set of rehearsals have begun with Erik Westberg for the premiere performance for David Mott's "Heart Meditations." Mott will also be joining Pro Coro on saxophone for the concert. There will be a concert this Sunday, February 12, 2012 in Edmonton (which will be recorded for CBC radio) as well as one in Camrose, Alberta next Wednesday, February 15, 2012.

On Friday, I felt a bit mentally displaced since we found out Zaugg was the new artistic director, performed with him, then we went straight into rehearsal with Westberg. Initially, it was difficult for me to understand the "Heart Meditations" work as a whole. The piece consists of 49 verses which are repetitions of the Buddhist Heart Sutra text: "form is emptiness, emptiness is form." I felt like I didn't have much thematic context for the work. The 49 verses began to sound like an amorphous musical entity to me after the first rehearsal. However, I was granted some fresh perspective to consider the piece within the performance space and with the addition of saxophone accompaniment. It's hard to keep the overall musical vision in mind when you're invested in small musical details... like fixing wrong notes. It's so easy to focus on the immediate feelings being generated in a particular moment; it's also a part of the artistic process to be that absorbed before having the luxury to take a step back and evaluate the work. Thus, in keeping an open mind and hearing an enlightening description by Mott, I now have a better understanding of the musical intent of Mott's "Heart Meditations." He explained how the piece was composed in response to the passing of his mother. Each of the verses take on various moods and correspond to the emotional highs and lows of the grief cycle. Of course, there are still many facets of the piece open to musical interpretation, but it was helpful to have some framework to understand the work.

If you're interested in attending the concert, feel free to consult the following poster for more information:

Until next time readers, take care!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pro Coro's new Artistic Director: Michael Zaugg

Greetings readers!

If you've been disconnected to the social media world this evening, you may like to know that the new Artistic Director of Pro Coro is: Michael Zaugg!

When did I officially find out? This evening... like everybody else. I know, right? You would think I would have find out earlier since I'm a chorister, but the selection committee a did a pretty good job of keeping it under wraps.

It's strange since the marriage metaphor that Zaugg offered in his initial rehearsal held true even today. Since I had no confirmation on who was the new conductor was--- I felt like I was like bracing myself for an arranged marriage. A bit of apprehension with a touch of fear but, overall, a neutral acceptance with whatever the outcome since all three candidates were fantastic. However, Pro Coro singing "Lux Aeterna" with Zaugg again just felt... right. It was a musical teaser for the audience as well as the choir to have that short performance opportunity with Zaugg during the media event. The Pro Coro 2012/2013 season cannot come soon enough. That is, if I'm accepted into the choir again upon re-audition :)

At the media event, Zaugg elaborated on his vision for Pro Coro's future: more touring opportunities, being present in the local, national and international music scene, collaborating with other artists for choral projects whether it be with dancers or painters, and singing an appetizing array of repertoire. I'm so buzzed for the potential the future holds! Take a look at a video from the event with Zaugg detailing his vision. At the end of the video is also a clip from Pro Coro singing "Lux Aeterna."

Until next time, take care readers!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Greetings readers,

This week is a time of great choral change for Edmonton. In addition to the news of Pro Coro's new artistic director this Friday, it was officially announced today that the conductor of Belle Canto and Chamber Choir as well as artistic director of Cantilon Choirs, Heather Johnson, will be seeking a replacement for her position. She will stay on as a co-conductor of Belle Canto but there will be an opening for the position of artistic director and conductor of the Chamber Choir. What does this mean for Belle Canto? We would have somebody leading local rehearsals but Heather would join us a few times of the year for intense blocks of rehearsals. That's not bad at all. It's how Pro Coro functions, as well as many other professional ensembles and it's a working model. I was expecting more of a "Farewell! I'll never see you again!" rather than a "Farewell! See you again in two months!" 

By the time I officially heard the news on Monday, I had reached the point of acceptance in regards to this potential news. I think everybody in the choir knew at the beginning of the season that this was a realistic possibility since her husband was accepted for a University teaching position in Ottawa. Collectively, we knew that a move to join him would be in the not-so-distant future especially since they have a young daughter and the east-west commute for family time looked hectic to say the least. It's not a matter of where they should live but more a question of what makes sense as a family.

I can only imagine the emotional backlash Heather received from some of her younger singers: anger, shock, abandonment, jealously... If I was 15, I'd probably feel the same way. Choir was my life. It gave me purpose, confidence, community---taking away the core of that would have had a destabilizing effect upon anybody. The egocentric worldview of a teenager can easily disregard the complexity of adult decisions. It's hard to predict how we will respond to substantial life decisions when we are greeted with them. While I can't even imagine how I would respond in a similar situation, I seek solace in the fact that my future self would be able to make the best decision for myself at that point in time.

At rehearsal on Monday, Heather asked us if we had any questions or thoughts about the proposed arrangements. I was trying to compose a mental discourse of my feelings to share with the group, but I realized that I didn't have anything to add. I knew that this announcement has been coming for a while and that she has already considered every possibility. It's really time to stop thinking and time to start moving on. Which is exactly what Cantilon is doing by seeking a replacement.

While I don't know what the future will bring, let this post be my personal proclamation of support for Heather. I know this decision was not an easy one but having Belle Canto as a stabilizing unit in a time of great change is of great comfort to me, the choir as a whole, and, I think, Heather as well. Therefore Heather, if you are reading this: Go to Ottawa! Unite your family! Start a choir in Ottawa! If life ever brings you back to Edmonton, we'll be here.