Thursday, September 27, 2012

Painting the Nightingale

When I'm not singing with Pro Coro, I'm thinking about the next time I get to sing with Pro Coro. It's been hard for me to articulate why; however, this evening I had a moment of clarity. I realized why I am addicted to singing Ugis Praulins' "The Nightingale."
When I first began listening to the recording, it felt like I was admiring a spectacular piece of artwork in a museum. I was simply an observer. I stood there... gawking at the beauty of the soundscape and the interwoven colours on the canvas. I drank in the sight of the whole painting. I subconsciously recognized that there was detail in the work but it all coalesced into this one artistic entity.

Singing "The Nightingale" is an entirely different experience because it feels like I have been transported into the painting itself. I am plucked out of the art gallery corridor and inserted into the Emperor's court. Suddenly, I can see the timid kitchen maid crouching behind the door, I follow in the footsteps of the men searching for the Nightingale in the wood (there are cows mooing on my left and frogs croaking on my right), I hear the haunting echo of the Nightingale's song, I squint at the sparkling porcelain walls of the Emperor's palace, I gawk at the opulent artificial bird playing its one song, I am wary of the good and evil apparitions beside the Emperor's deathbed. It's overwhelming how real everything feels. When I'm singing the Nightingale, I enter into this fairytale world and seamlessly become one of the characters. I look around me to see if anybody notices I'm a modern-day imposter. Nobody does. I breathe a sigh of relief. I am free to wander within this world and admire, in detail, the intricate details around me. It's like a fantasy realm that only appears when all musicians are performing together. It is like when the Twelve Dancing Princesses wait until nightfall to cross the lake and dance until the soles of their shoes are worn through... that's what waiting until the next Pro Coro rehearsal feels like.

In many ways, I feel like I have one of the best vantage points of the painting. That is the luxury of actually painting the work. The challenge will be for Pro Coro to translate this artistic perspective for the audience. It will be exciting for listeners to visually and aurally consume the painting we are composing. Until then, I cannot wait until the next rehearsal where I get to explore the realm of the Nightingale once again.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Virtues on the West Coast

Greetings readers,

My weekend with the Ordo Collective was surreal in so many ways. First of all, I have never had a travel grant cover my trip (Thank-you to the Edmonton Arts Council!). It was a novel experience to be supported and recognized as a musician in monetary form while traveling. The quick two-day trip made me feel like a transient professional. One day I'm working in the clinic, and the next day, I'm in a different city catching up with choir friends and singing in a gorgeous church. It is amazing how friends and musical connections with audiences make an unfamiliar location feel instantly like home.

After a quick flight from Vancouver to Victoria I walked out of the plane breathing in the ocean air. There is something about being on an island that makes me go into vacation mode. You immediately feel like leading an unstructured lifestyle. There was a moment of I-can't-believe-I-was-in-Edmonton-this-morning-and-now-I'm-here. I spent a leisurely afternoon reconnecting with a choir friend currently living in Victoria, browsing tea and chocolate shops in downtown Victoria, and smelling the flowers at the Empress hotel.

Later the Ordo ladies head to St. John The Divine for a dress rehearsal. The venue was beautiful: stone walls, long aisles, and a grand spacious stage at the front. The passion of the Ordo organizers, Eva and Gwen, is unparallelled. Eva flew out a day earlier to scout out the church location and arrange details. It is a luxury to just show up and sing without having to personally set up and tear down the stage. When we arrived we just needed to walk onto stage.  We also discovered Eva had supplied a fully stocked fridge since we didn't have enough time before our performance to hunt for sustenance. The only thing the singers had to do was bring programs from Edmonton. We were all given a generous stack of programs to carry, which just further highlights the passion of the Ordo organizers, because just like with the food, they wished to supply a surplus of programs for the audience. It is staggering to witness such love in a project. It made my early wake-up times and post-travel lethargy totally worth it.

St. John the Divine, Victoria BC

Another interesting thing when you're on tour with any group is the personalities that surface. Oftentimes, you get glimpses of people's true character in your daily interactions with them; however, these individual quirks always come to the forefront when you're traveling. It was interesting to see ladies oftentimes stressed with their busy Edmonton schedules wear a perma-smile of contentment while breathing in the humid West Coast breeze. It was also interesting to see the sensitivity levels and passive-aggressive responses of ladies of those dealing with the compounding fatigue of the weekend. What travel character am I? I like to think of myself as a chill explorer. Equipped with my phone apps like Urbanspoon and Fourquare, I am ready to wander and discover local events and coffee shops but I also know not to let small unorganized details get to me. I don't feel like it is a good use of my mental energy to negatively reflect upon a situation I have no control over.

Christ Church, Vancouver BC

Overall, The Ordo Collective had a fantastc weekend in Victoria and Vancouver. It was filled with gorgeous music, magical venues, and familiar choral faces in the audience. If every weekend was like this I would probably burn-out from sheer happiness.

Until next time readers, take care!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Internal Frenzy of Rehearsal

Greetings readers,

It was a very busy weekend. Pro Coro began rehearsals for the opening concert of the season. The concert is aptly titled, "Once Upon a Time," and all the repertoire choices revolve around that Fairy Tale theme. I can honestly say I've never sung songs about a unicorn capture or Hans Christen Anderson stories before. It is awesome. So many times throughout the weekend, I thought: "I can't believe I get to sing music like this." There is no other place I would rather be and no other music I would rather be singing. The hours of rehearsal passed quickly for me. After an intense five hours of singing on Saturday, I left energized for my four hour Ordo rehearsal in the evening.

Of course, as with any new group, there were some growing pains. Zaugg would introduce some gestural strategies, such as modeling a subtle tandem breath before phrase initiation or the delayed delivery of final German 'h-t' consonants, and we'd be slightly off as a group each time. He brushed off our failed attempts in a neutral manner, rationalizing that there would be time for us to learn those skills eventually.

The weekend wasn't without its own mental challenges since I was actually petrified to begin rehearsing the piece by Ugis Praulins' "The Nightingale." This was unfortunate because I love the piece, it reminds of epic modern-day feast music. However, since I have been looping the recording by The Danish National Vocal Ensemble since May, I developed a very different sense of the work. I was listening to the piece as one unit. Not so much the individual lines but how components worked as a whole. Thus, when I finally received the music in August, I started to realize the intricacy of the musical construction divided amongst those 20 parts. In some cases, what I thought was one melodic line was actually a summation of multiple musical fragments sequentially executed by different parts. It requires substantial rhythmic precision. It also didn't help that I couldn't flip through the pages of the music as fast as I was hearing it on the recording. If I can't even flip pages fast enough, how will I be able to read the notes on them? This created a sense of unnecessary internal chorister frenzy.

Upon rehearsing the Nightingale movements, however, I realized that my accuracy improved at a slower tempo. Shocking, I know. I had a flashback to my childhood piano lessons. My least favourite part of lessons: playing pieces at an excruciatingly slow tempo when learning a new song. I would sit at the keyboard and force my fingers to play with a heavy deliberateness. Even though I retaliated with my own display of subtle indignation, I couldn't help but note improved performance when I gave my brain time to process the music. Alas, the same learning principles still apply today. Imagine that! I lost my sense of musical perspective by listening to the full-speed recordings. It is always good just to take a step back and calm down. Nurturing a sense of anxiety didn't prove to be the most effective music-learning strategy.

Therefore, after a weekend of rehearsals, I have a solid ten days to indulge and allow myself the freedom to read at a slower tempo... something I should have done in the first place. Sometimes the most obvious things aren't so apparent when you're caught up in the frenzy of a new season.

Until next time readers, take care!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A New Choir Girl Season

Greetings readers,

Is is the start of a new musical season and it is going to be a busy one. I have already started rehearsals with the Ordo Collective. Next weekend, I will be reprising my role as the Virtue of Charity and Modesty in Victoria and Vancouver on Sept 15 & 16. Clearly, I performed adequately enough in the Spring to participate in this project yet again. Furthermore, I received an Edmonton Arts Council Travel Grant to participate in this project! A Choir Girl receiving arts funding? I feel like a true artist now.

Pro Coro rehearsals also begin tomorrow evening. I'm sure I will have many colourful posts to provide throughout the process. Pro Coro will be singing the Canadian premiere of Praulins's "The Nightingale." It is a work that is terrifying and amazing at the same time. I know it must be good when it elicits such a strong reaction. One of my music friends laughed in shock when she saw this on the front of one of the movements: "SSSSSAAAATTTTTBBBBB"

As well, there is a bit of a change for me this choral year. I will not be singing with my women's choir, Belle Canto. This is a significant change for me. I have been singing with the Cantilon Choral program for 12 years. I began in the Chamber Choir and joined Belle Canto when I started University. It was a decision motivated by multiple factors. One being that it is always good to have a change. I will be singing with The Edmonton Opera Chorus for their production of Tales of Hoffman so that will definitely be a new experience for me. Staging, make-up, costumes, wigs, operatic singing... this will be a new world for me. Additionally, the Pro Coro schedule season is not for a choral lightweight. It is going to require a significant amount of physical and mental stamina, however, I'm excited to develop my musicianship skills in this particular choral setting. In no way does my absence from Belle Canto this year mean that I will never return. This year is an experiment to see what my choral year looks like when I work on other projects.

What are you up to this season? Let me know in the comments section! Until next time readers, take care!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Symphony Under the Sky Traditions

Monday afternoon at the Symphony Under the Sky Festival is always filled with traditions. There is always an opening performance of "God Save the Queen," a reprise of "O Canada," a young composer always premieres a new work with the ESO, and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture is accompanied by canons from the 20th Field Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery. When these traditions originated, I am not sure, I just know that this is how the festival ends and audience members expect these traditions to be upheld each year. However, there was one difference... there were four canons this year instead of three.

The first part of the program focused on dance music, such as Marquez's "Conga del Fuego Nuevo," Abreu's arrangement of "Tico-Tico," and Ravel's "Boléro," which contains a 17-minute crescendo. I could see audience grooving in their seats and the rustle of the autumn leaves in the trees provided a atmospheric accompaniment throughout the dance music set. The Young Composer, Daniel Belland, premiered his piece, "Voyage" with the ESO. The performance left me with a feeling of wanting to hear more from this young composer. I take that as a very good sign.

The Tap Dance Concerto was the showstopping piece of the afternoon. Ryan VanDenBoom demonstrated the range of sounds that tap shoes can produce with each of the concerto movements. The Singing in the Rain encore he choose was also met with great approval from the audience. Equipped with an umbrella and top hat, he tapped and sang his way through the piece with Gene Kelly's choreography, clutching an onstage heat lamp to serve as a replacement for the street lamp. His performance had an old-fashioned charm and radiated vibrant athleticism. With the 1812 Overture signalling the end of the festival, the ESO acknowledged all traditions and left their audience looking forward to next Labour Day weekend.

This entry is cross-posted on The Sound and Noise

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Symphony Under the Ceiling


Day #2 of the Symphony Under the Sky Festival was moved inside due a severe weather warning. Alas, it was only a warning since the afternoon weather was quite enjoyable. However, the continuous rain that greeted the patrons after the evening concert provided a good reason for moving the festival indoors.

The afternoon program was definitely designed to be performed in an outdoor setting. How magical it would have been to hear Mascagni's "Intermezzo" with a glimpse of the lake behind the stage and the sound of squirrels in the trees. All the works in the afternoon were accessible classical pieces that featured the solo work of many Edmonton Symphony instrumentalists: Virginie Gagné, a first violinist, Robin Doyon on coronet, and clarinetist Julianne Scott in addition to Kathleen de Caen, a cellist trained at the University of Alberta. While it is wonderful to hire internationally recognized soloists, it is nice to see the talent of local musicians highlighted as well. As well, a budding new local composer, Samantha Semler, had her work "Longing for Restoration" premiered by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. She has been working since April with the ESO's composer in residence, Robert Rival, to compose a symphonic work. There are two recipients this year and the other, by Daniel Belland, will be played at Monday's concert.

The Hollywood Classics evening started with a trio of tunes by John Williams. Williams's "Raiders March," "The Flag Parade," "JAWS theme," and "Viktor's Tale" from the Spielberg movie, The Terminal. They ESO also made an excellent choice to showcase the talents of Sara David Buechner once again by having her perform Étude No. 3 in E major “Tristesse” and the Spellbound Concerto. While it is easy to play iconic works composed only for film, the ESO chose to perform classical works which have become iconic in their own right because of their use in film. The best thing about Hollywood Night is that the ESO doesn't take itself too seriously. This was apparent when two cellists assumed the role of wearing accompanying headgear for each of the pieces: A Storm Trooper helmet and Princess Leia wig for Star Wars, Fez's for Casablanca, and Sweatbands for Rocky. The audience enjoyed this comedic visual treat.

There are still tickets available for the concerts this weekend including Broadway Showstoppers on Sunday evening and Concerto for a Tap Dancer and Orchestra and Tchaikovsky's Overture on Monday afternoon.    

Reserved Seating $40 Adult / $20 Child  
Grass Seating $25 Adult / Children Free
Winspear Box Office: 780-428-1414

This entry is cross-posted on The Sound and Noise

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Classical Favourites with the Symphony

The start of the Symphony Under the Sky festival began this evening with many recognizable classical favourites. Those audience members unfamiliar with the realm of symphonic music would have recognized the musical themes of these iconic classical works. By the show of hands, it was apparent there were many first-time festival attendees.

The ESO began with the cheeky musical flourishes in Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" Overture which still cues images of Bugs Bunny for me. It's hard to detach this image from the music when cartoons were my first exposure to classical music.

Mozart's Symphony No. 40 provided musical contrast from the Rossini with more ominous tones. Upon hearing the opening movement, one could feel the audience take a sigh of contentment and settle back into the warmth of their seats. Mozart is always good for offering works that are pleasing to consume.

 The program was finished with Sara Davis Buechner at the piano. She dominated the keyboard of that piano with such blazing intensity. There was much vertical and horizontal movement across the piano bench as her fingers possessed the entire keyboard range with equal power. Her body's contact with the instrument looked like a shock response, especially during the opening ascending chords in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No.1.

Overall, the festival is off to a great start! The best part is that there is much more to come. Follow @soundnnoise for live updates from the festival.

There are still tickets available for the concerts this weekend.  

This entry is cross-posted on The Sound and Noise

Reserved Seating $40 Adult / $20 Child  
Grass Seating $25 Adult / Children Free
Winspear Box Office: 780-428-1414