Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Listen Up! The ESO Announces its 2013-14 Season

Photo Credit: Michael Woolley

Edmontonians are fortunate to have a resident symphony striving to bring innovative programming as well as provide musical favorites to create a diverse season. The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO) has done exactly that with their 2013-14 season. Whether you're craving the Classical masters with season-selling names such as Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms or the nostalgic classics of Gershwin and Bernstein, the ESO's roster of artists and programming will be sure to satiate.  

Some of my Season Highlights:

Symphony Under the Sky (August 30 – September 2, 2013)

Ray Charles, Motown, BBC Proms, Mozart, Tchaikovsky & Dvořák. This labour day weekend in Hawrelak Park is like a compressed sampling of the ESO's season. It has become an annual Edmonton festival tradition to set up a lawn chair, cozy under a blanket with popcorn, and greet the Fall season as the ESO plays into the evening.  

See and Be Seen

Mad Men (Apr 25 & 26, 2014)

A Mad Men themed Symphony party? I can already imagine the amazing fashions audience members will be wearing as Broadway singer, Ryan Silverman, performs Top 40 hits from the early 60’s.


Join the chill Arts crowd at ESO's Late Night series. All concerts begin at 9:30 PM and all tickets are priced at $29. That means ample time for dinner before heading to the Winspear Centre for some music. Ravel's French Impressionism and Leonard Bernstein's works will be the music showcased at each of these evenings. The vibe will be laid-back as drinks and live entertainment follow the show in the Winspear Lobby.  

New Media

Music of the Night Sky (Oct 26, 2013)

Images from Space + Intergalactic symphonic music = Beam me up!

zorroMark of Zorro (May 15, 2014)

Following suite with the successful performance of the classic Phantom of the Opera this season, a live cinema stream of the Mark of Zorro will be accompanied by the ESO and Dennis James on the Davis Concert Organ next year.  

Spread the Choral Love

Kokopelli + Òran (Choral Spectacular), Richard Eaton Singers (Messiah), Cantilon Chamber Choir (A Lightly Classical Christmas), Greenwood Singers (We Wish You a Merry Christmas) - are just a few of the names highlighting local choral talent in ESO's season.  

The ESO Hosts... 

 Chantal Kreviazuk (December 10, 2013)

Christmas at the Winspear is always festive and this December they have Canadian singer-songwriter, Chantal Kreviazuk, to serenade local audiences with her tunes in additional to holiday favorites.

Joshua Bell (September, 24, 2013)

Violinist, Joshua Bell, will join the ESO to perform Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto at their annual Gala concert. Bell has been hailed for his "breathtaking virtuosity, tone of sheer beauty and charismatic stage presence," however, the story of his violin, a Gibson Strad, has an equally famous history. His Strad has a history of being stolen from a backstage dressing room at Carnegie Hall, concealed with shoe polish for 50 years, and eventually being sold for $4 million to Bell. Bell sold his own violin for $2 million (which he played in the Oscar-winning soundtrack of the Red Violin) to go towards the Gibson Strad's $4 million price tag. The Strad's illustrious history is worth a read.

The ESO has ticket packages available including a 2-for-1 subscriber special, or if you value flexibility, sampler passes where you can purchase voucher packages for concerts. If you're between 18-29, you can join the Pulse8 Club for free and you can purchase advance tickets to shows for only $20. Depending on availability, rush tickets will also be available one hour prior to showtime. Take some time to explore the rest of the musical offerings the ESO has this season. It is well worth a look. -miss. sable

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Voice Therapy is Sexy

In the past little while there has been an explosion of voice therapy buzz around a very titillating topic: vibrators and its application to voice therapy. It has been interesting to see the number of links and tweets directing me to this article from readers and friends. It's quite flattering to think that I'm one of the first people they think of when there is a wacky application to voice therapy. It is a topic I find fascinating and makes the voice science part of my brain ponder. If you have not already read the article, I suggest you do that first before reading further.
Furthermore, the Speech Therapist in me must begin with the disclaimer that, if you are having voice difficulties, do not just self-diagnose and start using a vibrator to solve your voice difficulties. If you are noticing symptoms such as voice loss, persistent hoarseness longer than two weeks, discomfort and fatigue while voicing where it's affecting functional activities like your job, it's time to get a referral to an otolaryngolost that specializes in voice for a scope and a Speech-Language Pathologist trained in voice disorders for a voice assessment.

You may be curious as to what may be occurring when vibrators are applied to the throat in order to "loosen the vocal chords." First of all, the heritage of my voice training urges me to refer to "vocal chords" as "vocal folds" since they really are folds of tissue layers that vibrate to create sound, and not "chords," which make it sound like they can be plucked. Now that I have clarification of vocabulary out of the way, let us address the question: Why might vibrators work in application to therapy?

I don't know. Even the creator, David Ley, doesn't know. That's the beauty of Science. We hypothesize and experiment in order to find out. However, I will provide my hypotheses.

First of all, vibrating sound sources already have application in the Speech therapy world. Some clients who have had their larynx (i.e. voice box) removed, due to cancer etc., can consider an option for voicing known as electrolarynx. An electrolarynx is a vibrating source which is held against your throat/base of tongue and it replaces the vibrations of your vocal folds.

Photo Credit: Dr. Brook's Blog

In the diagram, you can see that the voice box is removed and there is just a stoma (a.k.a. hole) that allows for air to get into the lungs. All you do is articulate with your lips, tongue etc. and with the buzz of the applied sound source - voilà! you have speech. You can try this out for yourself. If you have your own vibrating sound source (e.g., personal massager using the most concentrated head attachment close to the one seen in the above diagram), you can try applying it to the base of your tongue where it meets your throat and try speaking by just forming vowels and articulating consonants with your tongue. Even though it can be tricky, since I'm assuming you still have your larynx, with some positioning re-adjustments, you may be able to find your own voicing sweet spot. You may be wondering how I know so much about this topic... I'm not going to answer ;)

Here's a video to hear what speech with an electrolarynx sounds like:

O.k., now that it has been established that vibrating sound sources aren't novel in application to Speech Pathology, what is going on in terms of current voice therapy pratice? Currently, there is a standardized voice therapy that exists called Lessac-Madsen Resonant Voice Therapy.

One of the focuses in this type of treatment is to feel the vibrations in the face to produce a more resonant voice. Dr. Verdolini-Abbott taught me while I was Utah last summer and she introduced other tools which may be helpful to feel vibrations. She mentioned the use of an electric toothbrush. These props are not meant to be used as a crutch throughout treatment, but rather, as an initial tool to stimulate that sensation and feeling of where clients should be using their voice. Perhaps using vibrators are yet another tool to help speakers focus where they are supposed to be feeling sensations to produce a resonant voice.

One of the points in the article is that:

“You can actually watch on a spectrograph how vocal energy grows,” said David Ley, who worked on the project. “Even when you take the vibrator off, the frequencies are greater than when first applied.

The increase of vocal energy makes sense from a sound wave acoustics perspective because when you add two sound waves together, in the same phase, there is constructive interference. Which is a fancy way of saying that sounds add together, get bigger, and as a result, sound louder.

Photo Credit: virtualmuseum.ca

Ley chose vibrator frequencies close to the fundamental frequency range of his speakers. Thus, when they are speaking and using the vibrator, they could sound louder, explaining the increase in "vocal energy." Maybe when these frequencies are present, even after the vibrator is taken off, it may reflect how speakers are maintaining resonant voice use because the vibrator has changed their voice focus.

One application that does make the Speechie side of me wary is the use of voice therapy in those with laryngitis. There are times when voice therapy is not recommended, such as laryngitis. In laryngitis the vocal folds are inflamed and voice rest is the recommended first course of action. However, the article doesn't reveal if that actress was just diagnosed with laryngitis or if it was months after and she was still recovering. My main note is just to proceed with caution in cases of laryngitis. As well, to always consume literature and research critically and with caution, even this very blog post.

Another thought as to why vibrators may be working is that there is some recent evidence to suggest that low-impact, medium-high amplitude vibrations may speed the wound healing process in vocal folds (currently, this article is in submission to be published). It comes from a thread of literature that investigates inflammatory mediators secreted by the vocal folds that may assist in the wound healing process.

Complete voice rest or voice habilitation? It's a balance that health care professionals have to consider in the treatment course of client recovery. Semi-occluded vocal tract (SOVT) exercises (e.g., humming, lip trills) describe exercises where the mouth is closed or constricted. SOVT has been shown to have good therapeutic application. These exercises create back pressure in the vocal tract. It creates a buffer of air above and below the vocal folds so they can still vibrate but it's low impact and the vocal folds vibrate with medium-high amplitude (i.e. the distance the tissue moves).

Photo Credit: mediacollege.com

Low impact minimizes further tissue damage. The medium-high amplitude may assist in healing because the mobilization of vocal fold tissues may increase chemical mediators that assist in wound repair. It is possible that vibrators may create these same low impact vibrations in the vocal folds. In this case, it would be important for the speaker's mouth be closed and to not be speaking at the same time. Or else if their mouth is open and they are applying a vibratory sound source - it is no longer low-impact.

I do have some reservations about this vibrator-to-throat method. A critique of this application may be that the vibrations could desensitize the tissues. Perhaps stimulation of these tissues provide the illusion of temporary relief and speakers may be tempted to overuse their voice. As well, if somebody is speaking, and they are using a vibrator, it is no longer a low-impact SOVT exercise. While some low impact vibrations may be helpful if you're just sitting quietly and holding a vibrator to your throat... how does this generalize to when you are speaking? I think what is most important to consider is the source of the difficulty.

Why is a speaker feeling strain, tension, etc. while they are using their voice? If they rely on a vibrator as a tool to provide relief, it may not be addressing the underlying problem. As a therapist, my first inclination is to assess why there are voicing concerns, how it is occurring, and if appropriate for voice therapy, consider options to remediate behaviour. My approach to treatment draws upon motor-learning principles. I believe that learning how to use the voice in a healthy way can generalize to long-term behaviour. It's like programming a new habit. The danger with having a prop, like a vibrator, is that it could create dependency. While vibrators may be helpful to elicit initial resonant sensations and provide muscular release, what do we do when the prop is not there?

Speakers should learn how use their voice in a healthy way in order to have self-control so there isn't dependency upon tools. Do I disagree with the usage of vibrators? Not necessarily, we don't know that much about its applications yet. However, I think we do need to determine what our ultimate voicing goal is and why we are using vibrators. If our goal is to teach long-term skills to use the voice in a healthy way, there are other courses of treatment to consider. However, if vibrator use is proven to be efficacious with supporting evidence from the literature, then maybe we should be using nightstand toys as a therapeutic tool. Either way, I appreciate the amount of interest it has generated in the area of voice therapy. Who knew that voice therapy was so sexy?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bring it On: The ACCC announces its National Competition for Canadian Amateur Choirs

Choral singing can be a lonely process. There are choirs all throughout this country who meet weekly to rehearse, socialize, and develop these musical families; however, they may not get regular opportunities to share their music with audiences outside of their immediate network.

There is a chance for this to change as the National Competition for Amateur Choirs is hosted by the Association of Canadian Choral Communities in conjunction with CBC Radio and Festival 500 in St. John's, NewFoundland this year. There are 11 categories, such as Children's Choir, Youth Choirs, University Choirs, and Pan-Cultural Traditions. In addition to competing for cash prizes and a chance to win the Canada Council for the Arts Healey Willan Grand Prize ($5000), performances will be heard on CBC Radio 2 Choral Concert, and the winners will be announced at a feature concert in St. John's, NFLD at Festival 500. However, what I am most excited about is the fact that each choir will have their own Artist Page with their competition entries available for live-streaming on cbcmusic.ca.

voces boreles at Podium 2012

This choral competition has a close place in my heart as it was the first national competition I ever competed in with my children's choir, The Cantilon Chamber Choir. I remember the stress of recording a clean run-through of a piece and the sense of achievement as I listened and cassette recorded my choir's entry on CBC Radio. The competition serves a different purpose for every choir. Perhaps they have reached a plateau at local music festivals in their province and it is time to consider more national recognition, or maybe it is a chance for the rest of Canada, as well as the world, to hear what fine choral singing is occurring in your community. Personally, I would love to hear new music highlighting works by Canadian composers and what the choristers in northern Canada are up to in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.

Now, get recording! Deadline is April 15, 2013. All competition details are available at the ACCC Webpage. I can't wait to hear your choir on CBC Music.

The National Youth Choir at Podium 2012

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sh*t Choristers Say: An Interview with the Vancouver Cantata Singers


A calmness falls over the Vancouver Cantata Singers as they prepare to sing their first note. A unison breath is taken, the word “Silence,” emerges, sung with a breathy intenseness.

*an iPhone horn ring tone goes off*

The Vancouver Cantata Singers erupt into laughter as the conductor hops off her stool, apologizes, and silences her iPhone. They laugh but refocus as soon as their conductor returns to signal the downbeat.

The fluctuation between concentration and humor is a natural cycle within the Vancouver Cantata Singers rehearsal. There is a comedic ease and energy amongst the singers and this is reflected in their sound. It was evident as they rehearsed Kristopher Fulton’s 2007 composition for the group, “Promethesus,” where musical lines build rhythmic momentum to a frenetic climax. After finishing a performance of the Brahm’s Requiem the past weekend, I joined them for their Wednesday night rehearsal where they sight-read music for their upcoming concert. On the surface, the Vancouver Cantata Singers appear like any other semi-professional mixed choir. However, they have another social media claim to fame, their viral “Sh*t Choristers Say” video released in January 2012. To this date, the video has almost 250,000 views on YouTube. Following rehearsal, I spoke with Missy Clarkson, Vancouver Cantata Singers Soprano and Board Vice-President, along with Kristopher Fulton, Vancouver Cantata Singers tenor and local Vancouver composer, to get their thoughts on the video.

It all began on a Monday night. Missy reminisces about the start of the project with energetic fervor, as she was discussing the popularity of the memes and “Sh*t ______ Say” videos while at a local Ethiopian restaurant. She realized that there needed to be one done for choristers. “We have to do it. We have to do it now,” she realized in order to capitalize on the social media popularity. Missy began brainstorming quotes and she immediately began video recording quotes at home. However, Missy and Kristopher emphasized that the video was a Vancouver “Cantata Singers project” because choristers stayed after Wednesday night rehearsal and provided “inside jokes that could be applicable to other choristers,” Missy reveals. While working in her day job as a hairdresser and editing the video clips between clients, Missy was able to release the video on Thursday afternoon, which meant the 4 minute video was produced in only 2.5 days. 

“I honestly didn’t think it would go that viral,” Missy states. Their video reached 10,000 views the morning following its release. While there were polarizing comments, they both noted their own positive responses to the video. Kristopher concluded that the video “obviously resonated with people” and, for him, it was the discourse the video generated around choral music. People began commenting on the musical interpretations of other Vancouver Cantata Singers videos and they began to list their own favorite “Ave Maria” arrangements. For Missy, it was when she heard that one conductor made all of his new choristers watch the video as an introduction to the world of choral music: “we can be this global choir community with global inside jokes.”

While the video has resulted in the Vancouver Cantata Singers becoming hyperaware of everything they say during choir rehearsal, Kristopher realizes that the ability to manage passive-aggressive phrases in rehearsal with humor can remove a lot of the animosity. The video, ultimately, has established an online rapport between the choir and the world, “We are that video. We all like joking around, but we also like being really serious and really pulling off serious concerts. Those don’t need to be mutually exclusive either,” Kristopher states with matter-of-fact honesty.

Choral singing with the Vancouver Cantata Singers has both filled a niche in the world of Missy and Kristopher. Missy confesses that “there’s nothing that speaks to [her] in the same way.” Kristopher pauses for a moment and to compose his thoughts: “As you explore the rep and you realize you are making a sound with a group of people who are your friends and later family… you’re a group of people united with a common goal…to make really good music, I think, and hopefully communicate something special to the audience if they’re in the room, if it’s a rehearsal, there’s usually not an audience, so it’s really just for each other.”

The familial comfort in the Vancouver Cantata Singers provided a support network to produce a viral video that was able to connect with so many people. It humorously highlighted a part of the choral realm and, as a result, shows that we are able to laugh at the ridiculous things we say while doing the things we love.

Listen to the full interview below to learn more about Vancouver Cantata Singers choristers, Missy Clarkson and Kristopher Fulton, surprising responses they received to the video, their favorite “Ave Maria,” and meeting Eric Whitacre. As well, hear an aural glimpse of the Vancouver Cantata Singers rehearsal at the end of the interview.

Cantata Singers Interview by misssable

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sing with Rajaton Workshop: A Photo Story

What do you get when over 200 youth choristers get to sing with a cappella ensemble, Rajaton?

It results in an afternoon of amazing music-making and bonding.

The workshop was hosted by the Alberta Choral Federation as a part of Rajaton's Prairie Tour. The Edmonton portion of their trip  is captured in these series of photos:

It's busy backstage at the Winspear Centre on Monday afternoon

Boots, coats, and bags from over 200 choristers lined up backstage

"Butterfly," one of the workshop pieces the choristers got to sing with Rajaton

Rajaton greets the workshop crowd and sings Queen's, "Under Pressure"

The choristers line-up on stage to start rehearsal

Rajaton and the choristers prepare to sing, "We Walk in a Fog"
Rajaton and the choristers singing "Butterfly"

Tickets are ready for the evening!
There is something stunning about that many young voices singing together, united in their love of choral music. If I was 17 again, I would have been right there on stage with them. Alas, choral music is alive and well in Alberta and across Canada.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Rajaton is Back

Young adulthood is a time for musical exploration. One can experiment with genres and later look back with nostalgia or disbelief at the aural content they used to consume or, as a Choir Girl growing up, my main musical inspiration did not come in the form of rock stars or pop culture trends, but in the form of an a capella sextet named, "Rajaton."

I still remember receiving their piece, "Kaipaava," during a choir rehearsal. My conductor had commissioned Jussi Chydenius, Rajaton's bass, to adapt their mixed-voice version for treble choirs. I felt a searing connection to the brassy folk sound core of their Alto soloist, Soila Sariola, when I heard their recording. To this date, her sound has played a major role in shaping my sound aesthetic and preference. I hear the sonority of their matched vowel and that is what I consider to be full voice singing. Rajaton is not a mass of vibrato-filled voices that form a rippling blend but a seamless and full-coloured ensemble. While they have had many projects in the past such as symphony collaboration to perform works by ABBA and Queen, Rajaton returns to Alberta this weekend to share their specialty: a cappella music.

Rajaton is able to demonstrate such a wide array of performance styles, whether it's a tune from the Beatles where they are embodying the sound of different brass instruments with a quirky spark in their eye or standing, unamplified, at the front of the stage singing a Finnish folk song. This is a concert not to be missed. I will be sitting on my edge of my seat with rapt attention as I finally have the opportunity to hear Rajaton, once again, live in an a cappella concert.

Futhermore, I will be doing social media coverage of their workshop while Rajaton is in Edmonton on March 4, 2013. Follow me on Twitter or check back here for updates.



Sunday, 3 March 2013, 7:30 p.m.
EPCOR CENTRE's Jack Singer Concert Hall
Tickets available through the EPCOR CENTRE Box Office
www.epcorcentre.org | 403.294.9494
Tickets go on sale Friday, 18 January 2013, 10 a.m.


Monday, 4 March 2013, 7:30 p.m.
Francis Winspear Centre for Music
Tickets go on sale Friday, 18 January 2013, 10 a.m.
Tickets available through the Winspear Centre Box Office
www.winspearcentre.com | 780-428-1414