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

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