Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Weekend Away and the Choristers Will Play

Arrival into Vancouver
There is a real sense of pride and excitement when one is about to share something important with new communities. It is not the type of pride riddled with hubris and superiority, but rather, a feeling of accomplished satisfaction in the work that we have done and an enthusiasm to share that with others. The works that we took on tour each had an important role in our season this year as well as favorites from the past.

Photo by Jordan van Biert prior to the Vancouver concert

We were able to share Cy Giacomin's "Our Father" after our premiere of the work in February, Matthew Whittal's "Cradle Song" and Raimundo Gonzalez's "My Soul," all of which have not been performed in Vancouver or Yellowknife. Haraldur's Sveinbjörnsson's "Memento Mei" is a pretty bold opener and Ugis Praulins' "Laudibus in Sanctis" is quickly becoming an encore piece for us once our Soundstreams performance of it in February 2014 solidified it in our repertoire. It was also fun to showcase some pop tunes like Stand By Me and All About that Bass by the men in PCC, which they performed at their male concert this year.

Sunshine at Ryerson United
It is also comforting to pick up where we left off in terms of singer camaraderie from our tour last year in Ottawa and Halifax. It's nice to understand the social flow of members in the group so if you need some personal time to explore or you have no plans but just want to hang out with people there are always options. We had a Facebook group where we could post up-to-date information about venue locations and airport shuttle departure times; there were also posts on sushi reservations where people could dib open seats and photos people snapped during a post-concert reception. There is a sense from all the choristers that Pro Coro is more than just a job. The singers treat it as a priority in their lives, go to great lengths to make it work within their regular work schedules, and we genuinely love singing together. It is a sentiment I heard from audience members who remember Pro Coro from the past and noted that our renewed optimism is palpable.

One of the things that makes these tours special is the welcoming from the local communities that we receive. The Vancouver Chamber Choir hosted us at Ryerson United Church. VCC and General Manager, Steven Bélanger, was there to greet us with hugs prior to setting up the stage that evening at the church. Scanning the faces in the audiences it was amazing to see choral faces from The Vancouver Chamber Choir, Vancouver Cantata Singers, Cor Flammae, Stellaria Voices, and and Vancouver-based choral composers like Kristopher Fulton, David Archer, and Chris Sivak there supporting us. It is also great to read posts such as this one by Sivak on his thoughts from the audience. Not to mention we had one of the most amazing post-concerts receptions I have and may ever attend in my life at a gorgeous Vancouver home complete with an outdoor patio and swimming pool.
Vancouver reception with Missy, Michael, Ed, Kris, Krista (L-R)

Arrival in Yellowknife

Flying into Yellowknife was stunning when seeing the melting network of fine water capillaries through the sheets of ice from Great Slave Lake. A few minutes would pass and I saw glistening green-blue pools of pools dotting the rocky, tundra landscape. Upon arrival at our hotel, Yellowknife Choral Society conductor, Margo Nightingale, was there to greet us all. She gave us welcome packages complete with tourism information and a lovely pin in the shape of a yellow knife. The hospitality didn't end there since a YCS singer, honked at a group of PCC singers walking and offered us a ride to the church, which we happily took. Following the afternoon of workshops, the YCS hosted us for an amazing potluck at a gorgeous home in the Niven Lake area. So many delicious dishes like quinoa salads, chana masala, and even moose meat cabbage rolls filled the table. It was lovely to chat with many of the choristers in such a comfortable and warm home atmosphere. Many of the PCC choristers were also taking turns in the luxurious massage chair to work out knots from the consecutive plane rides. Walking home from the reception along the Niven Lake trail was also lovely with sunlight still out at 10:30 PM. Sunday in Yellowknife was a great chance to explore some of Old Town Yellowknife and many of the PCC choristers presented workshops on music arrangement, male voices, choral intonation. I even presented about voice care education. The evening concert at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre was an intimate way to end the visit with our new friends from the YCS. Late night walks back to the hotel are memorable times, especially when the sky is only a royal blue at 11:30 PM and the choir can take up a street lane due to no road traffic.

Walking the line in Yellowknife

It was a quick weekend trip but it was filled with friends, music, and sights I won't soon forget. I can only anticipate what the 2015-16 season of Pro Coro will bring.

A visit to Elysian Coffee
Reunion with Krista in Vancouver!
All-you-can-eat sushi visit

6:15 AM shuttle departure for the Vancouver airport

Artistic Taxidermy

Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife

Yellowknife Choral Society snacks

Niven Lake Trail at 10:30 PM

Brunch attempt #1 at Wildcat Cafe

Successful Brunch #2 attempt at the Dancing Moose

Greetings from YCS at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre

Post-concert selfie in the sunshine at 10 PM

Time to break out in song at Boston Pizza in Yellowknife

Conductors, Michael and Margo

The night is young

Lookout point in Old Town in Yellowknife

Building art in Yellowknife

Peter, the post-concert chorister masseuse

Frame Lake View

Flags of the NWT

Law court building window art

Social media round-up from the weekend:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Take 50 - Canadian Chamber Choir CD Recording

There are many times in my life when I am reminded of how lucky I am to pursue multiple passions. My daily Edmonton life is filled with speech pathology clients, playing with my nieces and nephews, working on my computer while my mom crochets and streams Asian tv shows on her iPad, watching my dad work in the garden as I hand-grind beans for an americano, late-night chai lattes with friends, biking across the high-level bridge, and live theatre in cozy theatres; however, whenever I get the chance to uproot from my local community and venture off to to pursue another passion, choral singing, it leaves me wondering who exactly I am sometimes where I have the luxury to play these multiple roles. I excise myself and transplant myself into another choral community for a few days sharing music-making with others. In this past Canadian Chamber Choir trip, the focus was on recording a C.D. entitled, A Canadian Mass: Sacred Reflections of Canada. It is an array of sacred and reflective texts by Canadian composers.

We arrived in Elmira, Ontario on Thursday evening for rehearsals and starting Friday started a three day process to begin recording 18 tracks for the C.D. As frustrating and fatiguing as it was to have to re-do takes when there were noisy infringements on the recordings atmosphere from busses hissing at their stop to motorcycle mufflers rattling on the road in the front of the church, there was a sense of silent camaraderie ride amongst all the singers and splendid moments of music making.

Tension. I was reminded of how tense I was holding myself during the recording. It stemmed from hearing the increasing number of takes announced on the speaker from CD producer, Jeff Reilly, in the recording room: "Ave Maria by Fogarty Take 34". The starting pitches were given by the Dr. Julia Davids on the digital keyboard. She stepped over the serpentine knotted black piles of recording chords, before resuming her position at the music stand to cue the choir in on a piano entry with a soft onset for the initial vowel in "ave."  So much tension. I had to remind myself to breathe, sing with confidence, and trust in my fellow singers. A recording session is like a simulated pressure cooker in how everybody responds to stress. Sometimes it is removing visual distractions, other times it is accepting things beyond ones control like a tummy gurgle or an elbow pop. Often my tendency is to leave something hard then come back later; however, that was not really an option this weekend. We had a limited amount of time to record a lot of music but I could also sense the anxiety rise exponentially take after take of an imperfect phrase delivery. There were also other moments where I could relax and bask in the searing pure tuning of some final chords like the final word "free" in Barrie Cabena's "Be a still and know that I am God" or the warm, hushed tones of Don MacDonald's "tabula rasa."
There was a nice rhythm to the recording days. It was refreshing to be able to wake up and not have to pack and commute to another town. Instead , I had the luxury of leaving all my things in one place and just preparing what I would need for the recording. Upon early arrival at the church, I also had time to explore Kitchener downtown and locate some local coffee establishments to get me through the rest of the afternoon and evening.

The recording process would usually start with a cold run-through. From there we would get basic notes from Julia and Jeff and then we do another run-through again. From there we might get more detailed notes and do another run-through, this time, starting and stopping the take. Depending on results, we might have to work backwards or just do sections of the piece. If we still needed more precision then we would do a surgical strike and record just a few bars of what we needed. After all of the inner detail work, we would usually run the piece another 1-2 times to see if we could capture any additional magic after all that work. Each piece took about 45 minutes to record on average. In between takes, I would wiping my brow, sticky from the humidity, or sprawling across the stairs on the floor of the church to see if the sharp angle could help dislodge the tension knot in my right shoulder blade from holding my music folder.

After 18 tracks and three recording days we finished our final take of that day, take 50 with Stephanie Martin's "O Sacrum Convivium." A rousing round of cheers, group hugs, and pats on the back resulted after Jeff announced completion after the final take. There was a unison feeling of relief and satisfaction.
You can pre-order the CD at the website which will be released sometime in the Fall.

There are numerous people to thank in order to execute this recording: Conductor, Dr. Julia Davids, Producer Jeff Reilly, Recording technician Rod Sneddon, the 20 CCC singers flying or driving to Ontario, the community billets hosting the singers, all the CCC CD donors, and CCC General Manager Corey Ticknor. I do want to take this time to give a special thanks to Jeff Enns. In addition to being the CCC Composer in Residence as well as CCC singer, he had to juggle so many things at the ground level to make this recording happen. He drove me to the Hamilton airport (I was the only chorister leaving from this location), connected with host families for choristers, tended to a sick pre-teen, managed church bookings for the recording, organized Sunday service, drove choristers everywhere, coordinated vehicles for rides, grocery shopped late on Friday night for sandwich lunch components the next day, and cooked extra soups and casseroles this past week to make sure there was enough food. I'm sure there were even more duties he completed with stealth that I don't even know about. It was a pleasure and a highlight to sing at his church, St. James Lutheran, in Elmira on Sunday and give back in a small way after the additional stressors he took on while maintaining his comedic charm. Covert heroes are the best.

For more social media posts from the weekend:

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Photo by Nanc Price Photography courtesy of Pro Coro Canada
Greetings readers,

This past Sunday Pro Coro Canada completed their final concert of the season with the youth singers from PCC #Connect. I especially love programs that are unified by concept and have very specific repertoire choices that support the theme. Some stand-out pieces for me included Eric Whitacre's Stolen Child, Raimundo Gonzalez's My Soul, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi's Die Stimme des Kindes. It was also lovely to finally sing with the #Connect choristers. I feel like I have been following them on social media since the Fall but it wasn't until the end of the season we were united. Four of the singers were chosen to complete an internship in some productions with Pro Coro next season so I will get to sing with some of them again.

Next up is the Canadian Chamber Choir Sacred Reflections of Canada CD Recording. From Thursday to Sunday we have a packed iternary of rehearsals, recording time, a photoshoot, and even some time to sing some Sunday services for the communities that are hosting us. Expect lots of fun updates when I'm back!

Until then, enjoy this vid of CCC singing Don MacDonald's Tabula Rasa from Perth, ON on the February tour.

Friday, May 8, 2015

An Interview with Sound Artist, Raimundo Gonzalez

“I call myself a sound artist,” says Raimundo Gonzalez with a calm confidence. There is no internal struggle as he declares this label for himself. At the same time, that simple noun phrase feels inadequate to encapsulate the complexity of his musical interests. While he does work with the choral palette in his compositions, he does not see himself as solely a choral composer.

For Gonzalez, his compositional process is guided by what he wishes to communicate. He explains that he has a concept of what he wants to say, but depending on what that message is, the medium changes. “If I wanted to work with text, then a great medium would be an art song or choral. If I'm working with a painting, and I want to make a sonic representation [of the canvas], I would try other mediums such as electroacoustic music or sound improvisation,” he states with passion. Gonzalez describes how sound improvisation explores the aesthetics of sound and how individual sounds can be presented in organized and unorganized combinations. Gonzalez is cognizant of how challenging it is to incorporate technology in a way that is still accessible for audiences. He wishes to demystify much of the electronic complexity that is hidden under the hood of computer. “I want to bring technology in a form that is still expressive and something that people can relate to and enjoy,” Gonzalez explains. One such tool is using visual feedback. Making the compositional process visible aids in audience understanding.

Born in Santiago, Chile, Gonzalez had musical exposure to many different types of music in his formative years such as piano, sacred church music, death metal, and folk music. Gonzalez’s musical start took the form of singing and playing piano. By the age of 16, he began composing music. Gonzalez takes a moment of silent contemplation while he muses on his desire to pursue composition: “Creativity is the highest form of knowledge.” This statement is paraphrased from his father. “Basically, I was always creating. I was never just performing. I was always performing, learning, and writing at the same time.” Gonzalez challenged familial expectations by pursuing music performance and composition within the academic sphere. “My Dad wanted me to be a Doctor. Even though he loves music, he never supported me being a composer… it took a while for him to open up and start listening,” he reveals. Gonzalez completed his Undergraduate in composition, classical piano, and jazz guitar performance at the Instituto Escuela Moderna de Musica in Santiago before moving to Edmonton to complete a Master's degree in Music Composition from the University of Alberta. His parents didn’t show up to hear his musical work until Gonzalez had moved to Canada. “I had to fight my own way through music. It wasn’t a decision that was supported but something I did for myself. It was challenging in a good way,” Gonzalez states with a tone of quiet determination.

Choral music plays an important role within Gonzalez’s diverse sound interests. While he identifies as a sound artist, he is drawn to using the choral sound. “I love the human voice. I think it's an instrument with endless possibilities. It is not only the instrument I perform with but one that provides me with a palette of sonic colors I can work with,” he states. Gonzalez did not begin choral singing until he was pursuing his Masters at the U of A. “The first choir that I joined was [The University of Alberta MadrigalSingers] and the first piece we sang was Haydn’s Creation. The shock of singing in harmony was mind-blowing. There’s that blend of voices becoming one as a [choral sound object],” he states with a palpable excitement.

Gonzalez’s main choral work is entitled, My Soul, with the textual inspiration coming from the Matthew 26:38 phrase:

"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

“It represents a moment of a [Jesus Christ] experiencing loneliness. I think it’s a very powerful thought to think that a strong and inspirational individual can experience weakness and express it. It makes you realize they're still human... Ultimately, [loneliness] is a universal truth. It’s an emotion that is not always dealt with and it is good to externalize it,” he explains as a motive for the work before continuing. “There are two sides to the piece: there is the announcement of loneliness but there is the desire for company and there is an uplifting feeling to that - a sensation of embrace.” It is clear that Gonzalez wishes to negotiate an overlap between the two worlds of choral and avant-garde music. He has done this by employing compositional tools like aleatoricism in My Soul.

It is clear that Gonzalez does not intend to be confined by a specific medium when it comes to sound expression. “There is a lot of judgment in what an artist has to do to be a part of a certain collection of work. If you are an experimental composer, everything has to be experimental. If you’re a choral composer, then everything has to be tonal. There’s a certain expectation that if you try things are too different, you don't know what you're doing. I disagree because I feel humans have different means of expression and degrees of complexity depending on what they want to say. I'm trying to be an integral human being in my works and not represent one sole genre,” he states in a wise tone.

“How do you view your role as a composer when views of music are changing?” I ask.

Gonzalez expires his remaining reserves of air before tackling my question: “The size of what music is nowadays is so huge. It's impossible to keep up with everything. I'm just a composer, one individual, trying to make a comment on one community… I try to create an awareness of sound as being a physical phenomenon that we don't think about enough.” 

Gonzalez asks himself a guiding question when initiating the catalyst for any new project:

“What is it that I wish I could experience?”

It stems from a desire to expand the paradigm of a listener and introduce an experience the audience didn’t think was possible. “I’ve worked a lot with biometrics - sensors that use information that comes from natural systems like pulse sensors or an EEG machine. I had an installation where a whole room was connected to a set of lights. Once an individual entered the room and placed their hand on panel, the whole room would light up with their heartbeat. The listener would get to listen to their heart and experience it through different sounds and lights,” he explains with a concrete example.

There is an established sense of identity as Gonzalez prepares to move to Edinburgh in the Fall to pursue a Masters in Science and Acoustics. His aim is to continue developing as an Acoustician and Composer. “You want to have your voice so people can recognize you but, at the same time, be consistent with yourself. If you’re really interested in the message of what you want to say, you have to find a way for the audience to understand it without losing yourself,” he states as a constant struggle. It is hard to not to feel inspired upon hearing Gonzalez describe his greatest challenge, which is also his greatest motivator, as he contemplates his future with promise.