Monday, February 25, 2013

Canadian Connections

There is an amazing reaction that occurs when two professional choirs come together on stage. It's like combining the right musical components in the optimum conditions for an amazing musical explosion. It has been a long time since I've been swaddled by so much amazing sound and supported by so many sensitive and experienced musicians. As well, whenever you pair together two like entities, there is a human tendency one cannot resist: comparison.

Whether we admit it or not, we all do it. I approached the inevitable aspect of choral comparison between Pro Coro and the Vancouver Chamber Choir, not from a perspective of competition, but with an air of objective curiosity.

What makes these two professional choirs in Canada different?

Multiple factors come to mind but an important area to consider is the Artistic Directors of each of these respective groups. The Artistic Director of the Vancouver Chamber Choir, Jon Washburn, is actually the founding conductor. The choir formed in 1971. Michael Zaugg is currently in his first season with Pro Coro Canada. If we had to compare groups on overall choral sound, the Artistic Director's gestural voice and vision really distinguish the sound of these two professional groups.

The Vancouver Chamber Choir during their dress rehearsal

As I watched the Vancouver Chamber Choir sing from the balcony of All Saints Cathedral, I was just in awe of their cohesive sense of ensemble. They perform with an impermeable sense of familiarity and you can sense that they can finish each other's musical phrases if they needed to. They executed their pieces with precision, professionalism, and cheeky wit when required, echoing the gestural voice of Washburn.

Due to the fact that Zaugg is in his first season with Pro Coro, we're still in the getting-to-know-each-other phase. Our sense of ensemble isn't the same because we're experimenting with our sound and how to interpret different gestures. It's such subtle detail work but it makes so much difference in our sound as a group. Depending on the gestural attack Zaugg signals to us, we either go with a hard glottal, easy glottal onset, or breathy onset in the beginning our Uģis Prauliņš "Hallelujah" section of "Laudibus In Sanctis." It allows me to speechie geek-out as I consider the different diacritics to apply to the "Hallelujah."

A Pro Coro Quartet running a section from "Laudibus In Sanctis."

Sunday's "Canadian Connections" performance resulted in many musical reunions, new choral friendships, and a chance to do what we all love together: sing. It is a rare opportunity and luxury that I do not overlook. I wish the Vancouver Chamber Choir all the best as they continue their tour to Humboldt, Regina, and Calgary this upcoming week. You can read along in their touring adventures on their blog.

Here I am with Tom, a Choir Blog reader and chorister from the VCC

Strangely enough, as the Vancouver Chamber Choir heads to the prairies, this Choir Girl is headed to Vancouver! Though I am traveling there for my Speechie interests, I have a choral project lined up, such as a visit to the Vancouver Canata Singers rehearsal on Wednesday night to chat with Missy, creator of the viral "Sh*t Choristers Say" video. Stay tuned for more posts and follow me on Twitter for travel updates.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Yeggies Thanks

Dear readers,

If you didn't already know, this blog is nominated in the category of Arts & Culture for the first annual Yeggies Awards. From the bottom of my Choir Girl heart, thank-you to those who nominated this blog!

My goal is not to write for profit, benefits, or recognition. I write because I want to. When I initially contemplated a public blog, I knew I needed a topic that would provide continuous content. I could think of nothing better than my own passion for choral music and performance. As long as I keep singing, I will have things to write. My blog has inspired me to audition more, make recordings, challenge me to think of voice science and habilitation critically, interview people I admire, and connect with lovers of music. As well, it makes me accountable for the goals that I set for myself as a musician because I document my projects and process to you, my readers.

There is such a diverse array of social media forms in the Arts & Culture category that it is humbling to be considered next to them. We all do something unique for the Arts & Culture scene here in Edmonton: a diverse Arts & Culture reviews site, a podcast discussing photography, two are podcasts focused on discussing films, one for Canadian music, and mine, for choral music and performance.

I recognize the fact that choir blogging is a niche blogging genre. I am only discussing one subset of a larger musical unit. However, my blog content is true to me, my passions, and my voice of opinion in this domain. There is such an amazing choral community here in Edmonton. If my blog has some role to play in highlighting that fact for local, as well as international audiences, my work is done.

What I am most excited about is the discussion these awards are going to generate in the city. Everybody is going to have an opinion. Everybody is going to be curious about the nominees. It is exactly the type of discourse social media should generate, especially within the area of Arts & Culture. It makes me smile to know that choral music is represented on that very list. I consider this nomination a win already.

So thank-you again to you all. I will be excited to watch my Twitter Newsfeed for the @yeggies awards winners on May 4, 2013. Unfortunately, I will be in Camrose performing with Pro Coro, but then again, I think that is a very fitting reason for me to not be at the awards ceremony.

Until next time readers, take care!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Epilogue: Life After the Circus

As the dust settles on the stage of the Jubilee Auditorium, the stage stripped of all of its rough striped canvas, and the gritty floors detached from the foundation that formed the temporary on-stage Dustbowl Circus over the past week, it just makes me wonder:

Was any of it real?

Or was the world I was a part of for the last few weeks another reflection of the drunken haze of Hoffmann's tale which separated the world between reality and spectacle?

Automaton Olympia, Teiya Kasahara
Chorus Carnies
Hoochie Coochie Tent Girls
The assimilation process was so gradual from a chorister into a opera chorus girl. I remember feeling like I was in sensory overload the first time I was wearing my costume while the chorus was warming up in the dance rehearsal room. I couldn't help but turn to give wary glances at the stranger staring back at me in the room surrounded by mirrors. A fellow chorister noticed, smiled, and teased me by stating that I was looking at myself a lot during the warm-up. His assessment was accurate. However, it was due to an uncomfortable visual disconnect with my reflection. Even though I looked the part, I didn't feel like the character. The next couple of tech week rehearsals on the actual Jubilee stage allowed me to rediscover the character confidence I had developed during staging rehearsals. What I didn't notice was the fact that I had gradually become an opera freak myself, until I caught a glimpse of my reflection from a fellow choristers' lens on closing night. Gazing back at myself in my vanity, I could barely recognize the amplified stage version of myself that had developed over the past few weeks. The photo really embodies my transformation from the choir girl to the glamour of my opera chorus persona.

Being a part of the Opera Chorus allowed me the freedom to explore different parts of my performer persona. I felt comfortable because everything I did was still true to my own personal character; however, I had to heighten certain aspects to come across on stage. I embraced my role as a flirtatious gypsy wife. My approach was to think about what I would have wanted my character to do on stage or what it would look like if I was watching in the audience. I have minimal experience with acting. I have had much more experience as a member of an audience. It made sense for me to use what I know. Using these guiding principles, I let the stage become a social experiment in human interaction. Strangely enough, even though the stage is so exposed, because one is on physical display, there was something so supportive and receptive about the energy of the ensemble that made me brave enough to experiment. It is rare to experience moments like this in daily life, but on stage, the interconnected energy you generate with those around you makes this imaginary world come to life.

The real magic is not just what occurs on stage but how this onstage energy transitions off-stage. There is a gradual level of familiarity that develops between all of the chorus, supers, and principal's in the backstage as we pass one another in the halls, stand around the plentiful snack tables in the Green Room, or reminisce at the post-performance parties. The experience is so intense that people who were strangers to me mere days ago were quickly becoming my second family. This is so different than a choral ensemble since one can slow-burn for an entire choral season from Fall to Spring. As well, true choir bonding opportunities rarely occur unless there's some kind of retreat or tour. The Opera time-frame is much more compressed with rehearsals and performances all within a few weeks. There is a sense of urgency in the off-stage energy of Opera; an unspoken understanding that the experience is fleeting, and if you don't seize the moment... it will be gone.

Just as quickly as the circus arrived onto the Jubilee stage, it disappeared, taking with it the opera freaks and chorus carnies that populated this world. All I have now are my memories of my circus experience, a string of favorited tweets, and a catalogue of photos that serve as a reminder that I was a member of this temporary spectacle. I was surprised that I didn't plummet into a post-Opera depression with the knowledge that there will never be another Tales of Hoffmann in this exact setting with these exact performers. Life after the circus isn't so bad because I recognize that the process was about personal self-reflection and embracing my inner performance freak. It's an innate part of my true character. As a result, my inner choir girl freak will be waiting for the next circus to roll into town.

Olympia's Army
Olympia's Army Robot Kisses

Other Choir Girl Blog  exposure generated from Tales of Hoffmann:
Interview for In a Word with the Charlebois Post
A Choir Girl Blog Mention on Brittney's 5k365 Blog