Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tweet me! Embracing Social Media at Podium 2012

The world of choral music can sometimes feel like a microcosm. The world of social media can also feel the same way. However, when these two specialized spheres overlap, the focused interaction of these two factors produces one of the most unique choral-social experiences. While I was looking forward to Podium with great anticipation as a singer and as a choir girl blogger, the reason Podium was as engaging as it was for me was due to the presence of social media. By social media I mean Facebook, Twitter, blogging, e-mail – all modes of Internet interaction. Twitter is a social media platform, not unlike Facebook, where users can share their experiences with a larger audience with messages known as “tweets” in 140 characters or less. My goal at Podium 2012 was to actively use these various tools to show how choral music enthusiasts could be united by their love of choral music.

I sent out a tweet of my arrival upon checking in the Lord Elgin Hotel. Almost immediately, I had a reply and made plans to meet a twitter acquaintance and fellow choral music blogger, Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin. It was my first opportunity connecting with a fellow choir music blogger. I believe the same can be said of choral conductors across this country, each in their own community pocket, potentially with limited opportunity for inter-conductor connections. Alas, being united in musical passion but segregated by physical coordinates.

During the conference, it was exciting for me to read live updates regarding who was sitting in the audience of my concert or getting tweets when Donald Patriquin happened to mention my name during a his world music reading session. The instantaneous notification and interaction with others made me feel like I could be in two places at once. By the way, the only reason Donald knew me was because he had read my blog two years earlier from a ChoralNet link. The interconnected web that unites us through the worldwide web and its power is not to be overlooked. 

Another surreal experience was just to meet some of my readers. One morning I entered the elevator, and a fellow rider glanced at my nametag and stated in a friendly tone: “I read your blog post this morning!” It was a blog post that I had only published an hour earlier. This was not the first or the last time I had moments of recognition since some conference attendees, once seeing my nametag, would say: “You’re that Choir Girl blogger!” Why yes, yes I am. Up until this point, I have never come across so many moments of immediate connection between readers and myself. What I do as a blogger is similar to a conductor in a way because what we do is lonely work. I work in silence to formulate my message but it is not until I share this with my audience that my work is given meaning.

Twitter not only became a tool for me to connect with other attendees at the conference but also a way for me to share my continuous interaction at the conference with the choral community abroad. Since I was composing a continuous cycle of daily blog posts and posting the links on Facebook and Twitter, I was getting constant feedback from readers. On one occasion the manager of The Choir Project, Dr. Marian Dolan, told me that she appreciated being able to read news from the conference. She wished she was able to be with her choral friends at the conference and that Florida wasn’t so far away from Ottawa. The whole aim of a conference is to share ideas and connect with others. Who is to say this needs to be restricted to conference attendees only? I can already envision a Podium future with live streaming of all sessions and concerts so that the Podium experience can be shared with the international choral community.

My aim through actively using blogging and social media during Podium 2012 was to showcase the power through use of these social media tools. I know that people feel uncomfortable with making public statements over social media, but if we are accountable for our words… then what is the fear? There are always ways to use tools responsibly and social media is no different. As far as I am concerned, the more we can share information and discuss our experiences in an open musical forum, the more that people can benefit. If I ever wanted to go back and remember my conference activity all I would need to do is search for my Podium 2012 blog posts and tweets. It is easy to be wary of a form of communication that seems so foreign and public. It is even easier to dismiss them. All I ask is for people to consider and potentially embrace a new form of musical discourse. We are all looking for ways to connect; it is a shame to not consider implementing an instrument that works so effectively. As with any instrument, it can only be as good as its instrumentalist and there is no better way to learn than to practice.

The rampant technological pace of the world will only continue as the countdown begins for Podium 2014 in Halifax, NS. There is a whole choral community waiting to be connected and it can only be as strong as the network of members who embrace it. I ask you then, dear readers, to take a chance and experiment, even if that means just sending this Choir Girl a simple tweet.


The Choir Girl Blog:

Choir Girl Twitter:

Podium 2014:

The Choir Project:

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Culture of Fear in Rehearsal

There has long been an established culture of fostering fear within a musical setting. It's controversial because it reflects what kind of teaching philosophy that you subscribe to. Some educators may choose to create a supportive and loving environment to better foster musical interaction, while some others may choose to embrace a more challenging teaching stance. There is no wrong or right way. It all distills down to teaching style and preference. While I believe that both of these tactics have a role within a rehearsal, personally, I respond to the latter method.

While I was in Vancouver a few weekends ago performing with the Ordo Collective, I had the opportunity to reconnect with an old choir friend of mine. We were joined by another performer and audience member. My choir friend and I readily agreed that we thrived on fear during rehearsals in our childhood choral experiences. At that time, what we labelled as fear, in fact, was our immediate feeling in response to conductor challenge. Spontaneous solos were not out of the ordinary if our conductor wanted to check our text memorization or searing glares cast our way if we missed an entry. Of course, we had fair warning if there would be a memorization check and we could sense fragile patience if we have already rehearsed a section multiple times to clean up entries. I understand how hearing this from an outsiders point of view makes it seem like we were were in some kind of abusive relationship. I don't deny the fact that there are some elements of perceived abuse in the previously mentioned conductor-chorister interactions. We were willingly subjecting ourselves to cold treatment in order to feel even a shred of positive reinforcement from a demanding leader. I was not surprised when I heard an aghast response from another person at the table: "There are other ways to achieve that same effect." Perhaps. I respect the fact that everybody has an individualistic response to challenge. One conductor's style of terror may not be the right approach for every chorister. However, if you were to ask me about my most fulfilling musical experiences, they did not result from being coddled by a conductor. I don't think I am alone in this regard.

It all comes down to one thing: respect. You can challenge your singers and demand the best as long as there is a level of respect. Oftentimes, when people are asked why they love a particular person, they say: "They make me a better person."

Why is that?

Is it because they are providing such boundless amounts of love that this surplus is what allows them to be improved versions of themselves? I don't believe this is the case. It all comes down to the aspect of challenge and the intent from which it has been elicited. There needs to be balance. Conductors who experiment with this equation need to constantly evaluate how many variables to manipulate. People need to be challenged by external figures. It is healthy for this to occur. I feel this applies to every relationship people consent to whether it be in a life partner or a choral one. Even with a strongly established voice of internal motivation, it is always powerful to have outside forces that demand the best. Challenge, pressure, stimulus - these are all conditions for change. If we are not challenging ourselves and taking musical risks, then what are we doing?

Love it or hate it, fear, is a powerful tool within a rehearsal. While I do not wish to be petrified at every rehearsal I attend, I know that it is sometimes necessary and that my short-term distress is a precursor to long-term learning. So for those conductors hesitant to employ a firm hand, speaking from my own chorister experience, I simply say: Go ahead and scare us. We need it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Pro Coro Debut

Do you know those moments in life when you are exactly where you are supposed to be at that specific point in time?

The opening Pro Coro concert at the Winspear was definitely one of those moments.

The entire concert had this amazing flow of thematic continuity from the repertoire choice to the movement at the start of the second half of the concert. Grieg's "Morgenstimmung" quintessential morning mood tune primed our audience for the fairy tale themed concert and this moved into Brahms' Drei Gesänge op.42. It is difficult to really internalize a piece of music when you rehearse it in such a short period of time, but I felt like there were solid stretches of automatic ease during the Brahms performance. As well, the delayed onset of the the final word consonants 'ft' in the word "schläft" aligned properly for the first time in response to Zaugg's gestures at the performance. Finally!

Gjeilo's "Unicornis captivatur" was one of the most fun because we were gesturally pliable since we weren't dependent on our music. The first half also contained Rain and Rush and Rosebush set to the Hans Christian Andersen tale by Bo Holten. I loved this piece when I heard it at Podium with voces boreales performing and it was still amazing this time around. Giacomin's world premiere of "The Man and the Echo" set to W.B. Yeats's poem was goosebump inducing. I spoke to two choristers from the University of Augustana after our Camrose concert on Saturday and one of them mentioned that she didn't feel like breathing during the piece. I found that to be a very powerful phrase because the suspended beauty of the humming lines created an acoustic tension to support a gorgeous lyrical tenor solo. It created a transient musical moment, so fragile, that a mere breath felt like it would disrupt it execution.

The second half began with a narration by Dr. Leonard Ratzlaff setting the scene for the rest of the tale we were about to tell. The Pro Coro men came on stage to lie down as if they were sleeping in the tiny village.

The Pro Coro women stood perched in the first balcony, singing Trillo to wake the men up, and embracing their brassy Scandanavian belts. One of my favorite sound colors to produce. This flowed seamlessly into Gibbon's "Cries of London" where each chorister became town characters and roamed the Winspear Hall selling wares and interacting with one another as if in a village marketplace. One of my favorite parts during the "Cries of London" was when I walked up to a gentleman trying to sell my "hot pudding pies." He looked at me and said: "what are you selling?" with a flustered and confused look. I'll take that as a good sign that my adopted cockney accent made me appropriately unintelligible.

In terms of our Canadian premiere performance of 'The Nightingale,' it was magical. Matthias Maute's stellar recorder playing elevated the performance. There were moments when I would close my eyes and be aurally consumed by the story being told by the voices around me. I will not even attempt to recreate the sentiments echoed in my former Nightingale post (if you wish to learn about my thoughts on the piece, I will direct you to that previous entry). What was fun to see at the live performances was the audience reaction to the piece. At the point in the piece where members of court try to sound like Nightingales, I could hear chuckles in the audience as they watched Pro Coro choristers take a sip of water, tilt their heads back, and proceed to gurgle on pitch. At one of the most climactic moments, where the choir is singing about the good and evil deeds encroaching upon the Emperor's deathbed, there was such a massive outpouring of ominous sound from the stage that filled every Winspear crevice.

How does Pro Coro continue their season after such a show-stopping opening concert? It doesn't worry me because there is a level of trust that Zaugg has established since working with Pro Coro. Zaugg has a vision for Pro Coro. I trust him completely and would follow him where he takes the choir musically and professionally. He has introduced me to a new realm of music, a new performance sensibility, and a new choral voice.

At this specific point in time in Pro Coro's history, the choir is ready to embrace a new aural identity. You should take a listen - it is not everyday a professional choir makes a new sound debut.