Friday, December 30, 2016

Best of 2016

Greetings readers,

I wish to reflect on the awesome happenings that occurred on The Choir Girl Blog as well as my own personal development as a singer. In no particular order, here are some of the highlights:


It's not everyday I get to have some of the most innovative social media choristers in my hometown. I was ecstatic when Missy Clarkson, Amy Desrosiers, and Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin accepted my invite to join a social media team for Podium Conference and Festival. My local photog friends, Nanc Price and Twila Bakker were also equipped with their cameras throughout the Festival and Conference. We had the opportunity to create content prior to the conference and festival and we could share multiple perspectives at once. These aforementioned individuals showcased how we can use these tools to highlight the work of our choral community. I was humbled to work in close conjunction with them leading up to Podium. Podium 2018 will be hosted in Newfoundland, perhaps you may see some familiar faces once again.

The Interview Machine

National Youth Choir 2016

I managed to conduct 11 interviews in preparation for Podium. It was an ambitious feat to extend an invitation to interview all choirs coming to Edmonton for the Podium Choral Conference but I knew it would be an excellent opportunity to learn more about the choirs arriving. I also wanted to show how online tools could extend the educational reach of the conference and highlight the work of conductors and their ensembles. To hear from the leadership behind ensembles like The National Youth Choir, Pro Coro Canada, Grande Prairie Boys Choir, Shumayela, i Coristi Chamber Choir, Elektra, Opus 8, Chorale Saint-Jean, Coastal Sound Youth Choir, Calgary Girls Choir, and the Prairie Chamber Choir provides for an invaluable glimpse behind these ensembles. Some of my favorite quotes were hearing Morna Edmundson from Elektra and Elaine Quilichini speaking about the mentorship of female conductors and providing nurturing spaces for women to sing, how Jeannie Pernal mentors a group 120 boys to sing within the Grande Prairie community, and Melissa Morgan's passion to create an accessible archive of Prairie choral music and an ensemble to share their works.

Love Fail

Love Fail Photos by Michael Zaugg, courtesy of Pro Coro Canada

This was by far one of the most challenging choral projects I tackled this past year.  I was in a solo quartet performing a work for a solid 50 minutes which was unconducted plus staging. However, as with most challenging projects, it proved to be the most satisfying because I had to stretch the skills I had a singer to meet the demands of the project. In the end, I had a positive result! I learned much about how I receive feedback, how I adapt that knowledge or how I require extra processing time to take notes into consideration. It was also a test in how I manage my nerves while getting through the performance when adrenaline causes my heart to race for the first 20 minutes in the piece. I also learned that my nerves decrease as I increase my preparedness level over time. It was also nurturing to be connected to a positive female creation process while working with the Good Women Dance Collective as well as with my fellow Pro Coro singers. Another fond memory was my fellow quartet of singers providing music at the bedside of a choral mother who was not able to make it to the performance. Since that time, her mother has passed away, and I will forever treasure the reminder that it is a true gift to share music with others, especially with the intent of healing and support.

Personal Voice Work

As any singer knows, we are in a process of training a biological instrument that is constantly changing throughout our entire lifetime. It is susceptible to changes in age, stress, hydration, hormones, general body fitness, and many more factors. I always like to switch up voice teachers and have occasional check-ins to to consider a variety of different perspectives. I find I gain the most from a intense period of voice lessons and then having time to decode and attempt to transfer those teachings into my functional voice practice.

In my training as a Speech-Language Pathologist, I received great advice from a Voice Therapy mentor. I sat in a group of eager voice trainers and clinicians appealing to her for the gold-standard approach to treat a voice disorder. Instead, she explained that the process is like tackling a knotted ball of yarn. There is no one right way or method to tackle a problem since everybody is different and all techniques must be adapted for a client. Instead, you go from different angles, you may work on one thread and then you may return to a previous thread; however, with enough persistence, it will eventually untangle.

At the end of this previous year, I had some excellent voice sessions. My voice coach showed me different techniques to access the upper and lower limits of my voice range. All of a sudden, I was able to attempt singing aria repertoire I deemed too challenging for myself five years ago. It blew my mind! There's something empowering about being able to sing works that you have previously shelved due to having an instrument that wasn't ready.

Ship Shape for Opera

A photo posted by misssable (@misssable) on

This last Edmonton Opera run of Turandot was the most physically and musically challenging I have had to tackle in my time as a chorus member. There was much text to memorize, quick tempos, and physical staging to execute at the same time. Challenges included making sure I could see the Maestro in the pit or projected in the video monitors in the wings while lying crouched on my side and, if there were no sight lines available, I had to memorize the preceding orchestral lines prior to my vocal entry point and still come in with confidence. It was the first show I started doing cardio before the performance so my muscles were warmed up from activity earlier in the day. It felt helpful to have muscles that were stretched and warmed up for the hours of evening activity in order to minimize injury. I also incorporated full-body stretches during during vocal warm-ups in order to coordinate singing with movement. It was a good reminder that voice work incorporates many body systems. Last time I was rehearsing for Merry Widow, we rehearsed a lot of curtsies and I did zero stretches. In the following weeks, I had to roll myself to the edge of my bed and use my arms to push my torso upright in order to wiggle out of bed because my legs and lower back were too sore to move. Never again!

A photo posted by misssable (@misssable) on

As 2017 unveils itself, keep me posted on your choral happenings readers, and I will promise to do the same. Until we meet again in the new year!

Friday, December 9, 2016

It's Messiah Season

Greetings readers,

It's that wonderful time of year where there is a serious overload of holiday offerings and you're  debating which are tempting enough to lure you from the warmth of your home.

There is no shortage of Messiah offerings in Canada this season so I am calling it #MessiahNightinCanada on social media. This is a spin-off from #HockeyNightinCanada and #OperaNightinCanada I have seen used by Doug MacNaughton.

Pro Coro finishes up a consecutive week of rehearsal with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and Da Camera singers under Maestro Ragnar Bohlin. It is always fun and challenging to approach a familiar piece with Bohlin's perspective. I found myself grappling with bad motor learning patterns from the past when taking on the "weighty coloratura" during "Great was the Company" movement. However, some other lines felt so much easier to sing like adding a slight pause for an short "h" during the opening line "For unto (h)us a child is born." The acoustic effect is one that creates space to hear a crisp word onset but it doesn't stop the airflow so it's easier to continue singing afterward! Genius! I have also been enjoying the rehearsal warm-ups by Bohlin to see the exercises he has picked up in Sweden or a voice coach in Vienna.

Whatever you choose to partake in during this Christmas season, whether it is your local Messiah offering or it's the Winter Concert at the local Elementary School - stay warm and enjoy it with good company. Hallelujah!

Other Messiah News:

Pro Coro's friends, the Vancouver Chamber Choir are opening at the Orpheum Theatre with the Pacifica Singers and Vancouver Chamber Orchestra tonight as well. Toronto's offerings by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (Dec 18-23) and Tafelmusik (Dec 14-17) as well as Victoria (Dec 16-18). I know I missed some so post the dates in the comments below or on social media with #MessiahNightinCanada

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Warmth in the North

Greetings readers,

I am always reminded of the warmth of the connections created within the choral community. This past weekend was no exception as Nanc and I headed North of the 60th Parallel to check-out the winter tundra. After a 15 hour drive North from Edmonton, we were greeted with a sliver of aurora borealis in the sky and the glow moonlight highlighting the ragged outline of coniferous forests.

The most common question people asked us when we told we were going up to Yellowknife was: "Why?"

My unsatisfying answer was: "Why not!?!"

It was a great opportunity to reconnect with choral friends once again made when Pro Coro Canada visited in May 2015. Amongst the chats about voice science, motor learning, and semi-occluded vocal tract exercises, I was reminded of the power of connection in musical communities regardless of distance. It seems like the colder the climate, the warmer the people. I was invited into homes for voice lessons and to their tables for shared meals with their family. Fueled by the warmth generated from hearty moose soup and Mennonite sausage pizza, I headed to choir rehearsal for the evening. As I sat with the Ursa Miners working on Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols, it was a pleasure to witness the excellent music making in thius warm Northern pocket.

My Northern getaway also allowed me some excellent prep time for Pro Coro's upcoming Messiah performance with Da Camera Singers and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra at the new Birchwood Coffee in downtown Yellowknife. I always have this expression of pomp as I study the moving lines in And He Shall Purify. 

I will miss these images of the roadside winter wonderland in the North.

Check out Nanc Price Photography for more photos from the weekend.

Yellowknife 2016

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Season Opener

Greetings readers,

Hopefully, you've all had an excellent summer and have enjoyed the start of rehearsals once again. I've been adapting to my new choral season routine these past few weeks. I have back-to-back rehearsals between Pro Coro and Edmonton Opera; it's nice to hit my productivity stride once again. It's my seventh season with Pro Coro and my fourth season with Edmonton Opera already!

Photo by Nanc Price Photography

First up is Pro Coro Canada's opening STARS concert, which showcases local singer-songwriters in Edmonton. Many of the a cappella choral arrangements were done by PCC singers. The spirit of collaboration is alive and well. It is pretty educational to learn about the music being created in the community and to give it an injection of choral voice. Lindsey Walker, Darren Frank, Erin Kay, Amber Suchy, and Ken Stead will be performing with PCC on October 2. Here are some songs which the audience will hear:

Although Podium is now over, our friends from the Capital Chamber Choir did not forget us. We were challenged to 22 pushups to raise mental health awareness and money for Wounded Warriors.
Perhaps this is the beginning of a choral group trend of support? I definitely was sore in my arms and abdominal muscles the next day.

It has been a few years since I've been a part of an opera production that has a huge role for the chorus to play. The season opener of Turandot has a lot of opportunity for the chorus to sing. Puccini does not allow for complacent choristers in this one. In addition to starting and ending the show, we get to sing as a mob of people out for blood. I like to think of Turandot as The "Riddles in the Dark" chapter of the Hobbit meets Rumpelstiltskin. Also, who can forget the hit Tenor aria of Nessum Dorma? This is one show I can't wait to listen to in rehearsal when the Principal singers arrive in Edmonton.

I hope you are all well. Feel free to leave me comments on what you're looking forward to most this upcoming season!

Monday, May 30, 2016

An Interview with Composer, Stuart Beatch

Photo by Nanc Price Photography
Stuart Beatch views himself as a newcomer to choral music. Previously completing a Music Education degree at the University of Regina in 2013 and a Bachelor of Music in Composition at the University of Alberta in 2015, this is his third year writing choral music. This Fall, he is headed to Kings College London for Graduate studies in composition.

Last week, Beatch's newest work, Resurectio, was commissioned by Michael Zaugg and premiered by the National Youth Choir of Canada at Podium Conference and Festival. When Beatch describes his compositional voice he notes:

“It's something I've tried to figure out for a while. I think I'm definitely influenced by a lot of sacred music. I've listened to a lot of minimalist music as well with people l like Arvo Pärt or John Tavener. Even more energetic composers like John Adams who doesn't necessarily do a lot of choral music; he does more orchestral music. But trying to then write music that has that certain energetic quality that has that certain religiosity to it. I do write very dense homophonic things but thinking of it as this one unified entity. One project that I did to push myself in that direction was I composed a book of SATB Anglican chants. I wrote these for a year. It forces you to boil down your harmonic ideas; how to make things that are interesting and unique but are also very simple. In the case of those chants, they're also not rhythmic so you're just composing the harmonies. Really trying to take everything else out of the formula and find out what I want to say just in that realm. That was a big challenge for me. I think that has definitely influenced a lot of my music since then, trying to simplify and find that sense of purity.”

During Beatch’s time completing this BMus in Composition while in Edmonton, he also sang for the All Saints Anglican Cathedral for two years. Beatch elaborates, “we were doing works by Byrd and lots of classic Anglican composers there were many times. Herbert Howells does not write easy music. And we had one of my own pieces performed by that choir too. It's not that choirs are not capable but we need to be writing music that is appropriate for that space too. As contemporary composers, we like writing secular works because they're more approachable for all sorts of choirs but also finding those simple, sacred works, that would be used in a space like that is very rewarding.”

He notes that he did not used to write a lot of sacred music until he started being involved in the Anglican Church. “At that point, I found sacred music began to be the most rewarding for me both spiritually and as a composer. I found I have the most to say in that space,” he reveals. Beatch had a significant choral debut when the National Youth Choir of Canada sang the premiere of Resurectio. Beatch describes how he searched for texts documenting Christs Ascension and used a hybrid of Latin and English text by John Donne. “In a way, I like to take back some of that control as librettist, and combine words in a way I think is more interesting and make the piece about some sort of theme,” describes Beatch when discussing Resurectio’s text.

Photo of the National Youth Choir of Canada 2016 by Nanc Price Photography
In the future, Beatch reveals that he would like to write a large scale a capella choral work. He saw a change in 2012 when Bob Chilcott premiered a large oratorio at the BBC Proms; it as a moment where there was a “pushing back against the orchestra as the de facto of what composers need to do.” Beatch describes how choirs are capable of taking on these larger scale of works and his wish to “contribute to that collection of literature.” Beatch continues, “we're starting to realize the potential of choral music and also the level that professionals are able to perform at and the kind of things they can do. As composers, we're just now trying to exploit that a little bit,” he says with a tone of wisdom. Regardless of what is coming for Beatch as he heads to London this Fall, his compositional voice of writing for sacred choral texts in modern spaces is one to listen for.

Listen to the entire interview with Beatch here:

Stuart Beatch's travel to Podium was made possible by support from the Saskatchewan Arts Board. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Choral Avengers at Podium 2016

Photo by Amy Desrosiers of the National Youth Choir Canada 2016 at the Winspear Centre

On a grey and drizzly Sunday morning on the final day of Podium Conference and Festival some members of my social media team and I piled into the cozy cafe for brunch. There was a sense of drowsy satisfaction at the amount we were able to experience since Wednesday when Podium 2016 began.

As our steaming hot coffees were set on the table and we wrapped our hands around the porcelain sides, we reminisced about the past few days as we tried to mentally condense our key take-aways of the whole experience. There was a sense of satisfaction of the connections made, a renewed optimism for continuing on with choral groups back at home, the sense of freedom and relief in being able to tell your choral idols your admiration for their work. I agreed with all of these points but as I glanced around at the table I began to realize that it was these very people as well as others from the social media team that made my Podium 2016 unforgettable.

Four years ago in Ottawa, I attempted media coverage for the first time at Podium 2012. I was encouraged by my e-magazine editor that I should try interviewing conductors while I was there. I set out to interview my choir idols and made it through the process. However, I felt overwhelmed at the breadth of the conference and festival. Also, only a handful of people at the conference had Twitter and were using #podium2012. Fast forward to two years at Podium 2014 in Halifax where I began to see an increase in social media activity. I began to see more users online and the conference was promoting #podium2014 on signs and speeches prior to sessions and concerts. I enjoyed seeing this increased exposure as I made my way from session to session and series of composer interviews with Matthew Emery, Cy Giacomin, and Peter Togni.

This past Fall, I was approached by Choir Alberta to help maintain their Podium Conference and Festival social media accounts. I expressed that there was an opportunity to do more than just update Facebook and Twitter accounts. We could create content that people feel a connection with even before the conference and festival begins and we can promote the use of social media by having an active team contributing multiple perspectives because I can only be in one place at one time. With Choir Alberta and Choral Canada's trust and support, I was able to reach out to my social media contacts and see who would be interested in coming to Edmonton to help me do media coverage of the festival. The first thing that shocked me was that nobody told me an outright no. Most just asked for more time to check with their schedules and would get back to me. In the end, I had three confirmed social media team members: Amy Desrosiers from Blonde in the Choir, Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin from Choir X, and Missy Clarkson founder of Cor Flammae, singer with the Vancouver Cantata Singers and viral video star from Sh*t Choristers Say. I even had the support of my two Edmonton friends,  photographer Nanc Price

When it came my turn to share my take-aways of the conference at brunch I stated that it is the first Podium where I was not alone. I was trying to have a  conversation with myself on social media over the past four years and this is the first Podium I was greeted with such a enthusiastic reply after all this time. I send my love to my team and social media gurus on #podium2016 who joined me in sharing the discourse choral music. Of course, there were many amazing choral performances throughout the week, can I just say that Coastal Sound Youth Choir's use of visuals was blowing my mind? I still have goosebumps thinking about that performance with the audience holding up images of the Children of War.

But the heart of my joy at Podium were the moments of human connection whether it was the extra long hugs from my fellow choristers in the Canadian Chamber Choir, having a drink with my team at Remedy as we outlined a strategy to cover the sessions and concerts, or having a photoshoot with Composer, Cy Giacomin, for our upcoming collaborative project. Even though my friends have departed, I continue on with a renewed sense of optimism for the future of choral music, more tools on how to better highlight the work of those individuals, and the knowledge that these individuals are only a tweet away.

Nanc Price, Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin, Amy Desrosiers, Me!, Missy Clarkson (L-R)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Day 1 at Podium Conference and Festival 2016

The first day of Podium was filled with reunions, hugs, and a stunning concert by Voices West. It was sensory overload in many ways. I'm often excited to see even one friend from abroad. but this time around, they have all arrived at the same time.

It was also the first time my social media team met each other in the flesh!

Stay tuned for more #podium2016 updates.

Friday, May 13, 2016

National Youth Choir of Canada - Class of 2016

Photo Composite by Nanc Price Photography.

Over forty singers have traveled across Canada to be a part of the National Youth Choir of Canada for Podium Conference and Festival hosted in Edmonton, AB from May 19-22, 2016. These choristers have spent the last week at the University of Augustana in Camrose rehearsing for their upcoming seven concert tour through Alberta. Their opening concert is tonight in Camrose and they will tour until their final performance at Podium Conference and Festival. After rehearsing for over 20 hours this past week with up to 4 rehearsals a day, these choristers are now packing up their things and driving to audiences all throughout Alberta. It is no easy feat to be a National Youth Choir chorister, they need to submit audition applications to their provincial choir association and some have to be members of their provincial youth choir before being able to apply.

I'm sure this past week has been an incubator of emotions where they have been able to experience the extreme highs and lows from working in an intensive atmosphere and socializing with choral friends form across the country. I can see the the lone chorister still sitting in their seat long after the other choristers have gone on break to run through some tricky lines holding their tuning fork, I can hear the frustrated internal self talk moments of "I can't believe I did that again!" during a run-through and the scratch of pencil circling the notes, I can see the nod of satisfaction to a fellow chorister when they finally get the tricky run after many attempts, I can also hear the laughs of choristers as they chat over dinner and drinks. All of these snapshots contribute to this intensive musical experience.

In order to send these choristers off on a welcoming note, I wanted to showcase these singers individually but still as a collective. Enjoy the interactive image above since it'll display the biography of each chorister as well as the province they are representing in the National Youth Choir of Canada. Hopefully, this picture will serve as a snapshot in time, the National Youth Choir of Canada/Choeur national des jeunes du Canada, Class of 2016.

2016 National Youth Choir of Canada

Camrose, AB
Presented by The University of Alberta – Augustana
Friday, May 13th, 2016 – 7:30pm
K Glen Johnson Faith and Life Chapel, Augustana Campus
Tickets: $25 Adults; $20 Students/Seniors/Children
Available at the door

Red Deer, AB
Presented by Lindsay Thurber Music Parents’ Society and Choral Singers Unite Society
Saturday, May 14th, 2016 – 7:30pm
Gaetz Memorial United Church, 4759 50 Street
Tickets: $15 each
Available from Lisa Friesen 403-872-7325 /

Hanna, AB
Presented by Front Row Centre
Sunday, May 15th, 2016 – 7:30pm
Hanna Community Centre, 503 4 Street West
Tickets: $15 Adults; $10 Youth (under 16) / Senior
Available at For Your Soles, Warwicks Home Hardware, or call Peggy 403-854-0068

Medicine Hat, AB
Presented by Society of Friends of the Monarch Theatre
Monday, May 16th, 2016 – 7:30pm
Fifth Avenue Memorial United Church, 476 4 St. SE
Tickets: $25 each
Available by calling Judy at 403-952-7796 /

Calgary, AB
Presented by Spiritus Chamber Choir
Tuesday, May 17th, 2016 – 7:30pm
Knox United Church, 506 4 St SW
Tickets: $25 Regular; $20 Student/Senior; FREE Admission Youth under age 25. Call (403) 922-7021 by May 16
Tickets can be purchased through,, and at the door
Call 403-922-7021 for more information.

Hinton, AB
Presented by the Foothills Male Chorus and Spirit of the Rockies Women's Choir
Wednesday, May 18th, 2016 – 7:30pm
Gateway Community Church, 101 Douglas Drive
Tickets: $20 each
Available at Hinton Library, The Old Grind, or call 780-740-5399

Edmonton, AB
Presented by 2016 Podium Choral Conference & Festival
Friday, May 20th, 2016 – 8:00pm
Winspear Centre, Enmax Hall, 102nd Ave & 99th St
Tickets: $32 Regular
Available via Tix On The Square / 780-420-1757

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

An Interview with Elektra Artistic Director, Morna Edmundson

Photo credit to Malcolm Parry / Vancouver Sun

Elektra Women’s Choir from Vancouver, Canada has been a leader among women’s choirs since 1987.  Under the direction of Artistic Director Morna Edmundson the 50-voice adult choir is known for its adventurous programming, seeking out music written specifically for women and frequently commissioning new works.

Elektra delivers its mandate to “inspire and lead” through an annual concert series including new and commissioned works and featuring outstanding guest artists.  In addition to performing worthy repertoire from the past, Elektra has commissioned over 70 compositions and arrangements.  The choir’s recordings on iTunes and CD Baby extend the reach of its repertoire internationally. Elektra’s website offers a permanent repertoire resource featuring all works programmed by the choir to date.

Elektra’s celebrated outreach programs encourage, train, and mentor the next generation of singers, conductors, and composers.

A multiple national prize-winning ensemble, Elektra has been honoured to perform at conferences of Choral Canada, the American Choral Directors Association, Chorus America, the International Society for Music Education, and the International Federation for Choral Music.

Elektra participates enthusiastically in shared projects with other arts organizations such as the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Chor Leoni Men’s Choir and in festivals and concert series.

You have been with Elektra since you co-founded the ensemble with Diane Loomer in 1987, what was it like starting out in those early years and how did you begin establishing yourselves as a premiere womens choir ensemble?

Diane and I started Elektra after a conversation at a choir party. Between us, we knew dozens of the top choral singers in Vancouver, so the first roster was by invitation, and it took off from there.  Like most projects, it took shape “over the kitchen table” for those first few years.  We’d meet or just phone each other and conversations ended with “Sounds good to me” and then we just made it happen by doing everything ourselves. At first, we thought there might not be enough good repertoire to sustain a women’s choir, but we were wrong.  We started discovering the amazing youth choirs around the world and all the contemporary music that was being written for them, and it really opened our eyes. Thinking back 30 years to pre-internet and pre-email, I don’t know how the choirs and composers found each other, but we did.

What are some of the highlights you have had with the Elektra?

Singing for our peers is always a high point, which is why we’re so excited to be invited to Podium.  Highlights have been 1996 when we performed at the Fourth World Symposium on Choral Music in Sydney, Australia.  Less than a year later, we were at the ACDA National Convention in San Diego where we sold $14,000 worth of CDs in four days and people went crazy for Elektra.  We were completely surprised.  In our first decade, we had never travelled further than about 30 miles outside of Vancouver, and we had no idea that US colleagues were interested in us and our repertoire.  That was really the beginning of an amazing journey and a different understanding of our role.  There are many other highlights in a 29-year journey but most boil down to the focus and thrill of being inside the music on stage with friends and colleagues.

Photo credit to David Cooper

Outreach programs are important to Elektra's work in the community, why do you feel like it is important to continue supporting programs like the Mira Mentorship program for High School Singers and Choral Leadership for Young Women?

About 20 years ago, we began to understand that we could have a positive change on perceptions about women’s choirs.  We didn’t form the choir because we couldn’t find any tenors and basses, nor because we had “too many women” singers, but because we wanted to explore the repertoire.  Both Diane and I conducted choirs of all voicings, but Elektra became a really strong voice and we knew we could get alongside of conductors and singers who could use an ally in their own situations. I like to think we’ve had a role, along with many others, in fewer girls crying in the bathroom at school because their name was not on the mixed choir roster.  And fewer conductors thinking they got the short straw when they were assigned the women’s choir in their college.  We can have that kind of influence through our recordings, but locally we want to sing together with young women and get to know their conductors.  We want them to see our singers aged 20-65 having a great artistic experience and having fun together. Mira is for the top Grade 11 and 12 singers in their schools and takes an audition and a big commitment.  The Choral Leadership Workshop is for entire choirs and all skill levels are welcome. We sing together and we also talk about how one can develop leadership skills for a lifetime through the choral experience.  Meeting girls at both these stages of development is important to us.

There are so many different types of choirs out there from children's to mixed, but what draws you specifically to women's choir?

Photo credit to David Cooper
I love all types of choirs – conducting and listening.  It happens that Elektra became an important instrument and community in my life.  And over 29 years, its sound still excites me and moves me and I feel as though I’ve got an important job to do that really makes a difference.  I feel fortunate to have discovered that.  These little unexpected twists in the road lead to such interesting places!  As conductors, we all give a lot, but I feel like it comes back to me many times over with Elektra.

How do you view Elektra's role when it comes to introducing choral audiences to treble choral works, such as through Cypress Choral Music's "Elektra Women's Choir" series?

I think this is a huge and important part of our role.  Our story is linked inextricably with the growth of the internet and the revolutionizing of how choirs discover each other and repertoire.  I have friends all over the world and we send each other ideas.  It’s an exciting time to be part of that community.  The Cypress series helps conductors of treble choirs navigate through the thousands of pieces of music that are available for SSA, not all of which would be suitable for adults to sing.  I’m proud to be able to bring composers and arrangers I admire into the spotlight, too.

What is a piece of advice you have given to women considering pursuing roles of choral music leadership?

Value your time and expertise.  If you want to do what you do to the best of your ability, you have to make time to do it well.  And unless you show the world that you value what you bring to the table, you can’t expect them to do it. Go for it!

What are some future goals of Elektra?

We’ve done what we’ve done by staying super focused on our mandate.  Time to sing together and explore new repertoire is a precious commodity, so we make the most of every opportunity that allows us to live that out.  A couple of goals for the next few years are to support emerging women composers in a more tangible and visible way and to continue to build the national and international networks of people who conduct women’s choir. 

Morna Edmundson is one of Canada’s best-known choral conductors with a strong reputation for excellence. Passionate since childhood about choral singing, she obtained degrees and diplomas in vocal music in Vancouver, Bellingham, and Stockholm, Sweden where her teachers included Eric Ericson. 

In 1987, she co-founded Elektra Women’s Choir with Diane Loomer, a treasured partnership that lasted 22 years. In 2009, Morna became Elektra’s sole Artistic Director, continuing the choir’s strong leadership role in concert presentation, commissioning, recording, and mentorship. 

For 14 years Morna shared her love of quality repertoire with a new generation of singers in her role as Associate Artistic Director of Coastal Sound Music Academy, where she was Music Director of the mixed-voice Youth Chamber Choir. 

Morna has adjudicated in North America and Asia, conducted honour choirs in several states, co-directed the American Choral Directors Association National Women’s Honour Choir, and gives frequent workshops with choirs of all ages. 

In 2000 she was presented with the Healey Willan Award for outstanding service to the BC Choral Federation, an organization she serves as a member of the President’s Advisory Council.  In February 2009 Morna was a recipient of the BC Community Achievement Award, which recognized her gifted organizational talent, leadership by example, and her encouragement of others to pursue their musical and choral goals.  In June 2011 Morna received a Vancouver YWCA Woman of Distinction award in recognition of her work with Elektra. Ms. Edmundson serves on the board of Chorus America, the advocacy, research, and leadership development organization that gives voice to the choral field. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

An Interview with Conductor of the National Youth Choir and Pro Coro Canada, Michael Zaugg

Photo by Topher Seguin, courtesy of Pro Coro Canada

Pure, floating voices, impeccable intonation and the performance of a variety of choral music from the Early Renaissance to the Avant-garde combine to create Pro Coro Canada - one of Canada’s few professional chamber choirs. 

2015-2016 is the 35th season since the inception of Pro Coro Canada. 

Pro Coro Canada has the great fortune to have, in its own membership, some of the finest singers in Alberta, many of whom have gone on to distinguish themselves as soloists, such as Nathan Berg, Wendy Humphries, Frances Jellard, Michael Meraw, Linda Perillo and John Tessier. 

Pro Coro Canada also enjoys joining with choirs from around the world, and has performed with Calgary Boys’ Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers (Toronto), Richard Eaton Singers (Edmonton), Schola Cantorum Choirs (Edmonton), Stockholm Chamber Choir, Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal, Swedish Radio Choir, Tafelmusik Chamber Choir (Toronto), University of Alberta Madrigal Singers, Vancouver Chamber Choir, and Winnipeg Singers.

An Interview with Conductor of the National Youth Choir and Pro Coro Canada, Michael Zaugg.

It has been two years since you were announced as the NYC conductor, what have you been up to in order to prepare for the choristers coming your way in May? 

The first thing was, of course, preparing a repertoire for the 2016 session. My mind was overflowing with ideas and concepts. I first put everything on large paper on my wall, creating ‘programming clouds’ and then connecting those ideas. There are many parameters to incorporate, for example, several languages, musical styles, commissions, and Canadian content. It had to be music that would challenge the group as individual singers and help to create an ensemble that would be engaging for the audience. Furthermore, I always challenge myself to program with a theme in mind, in this case, it turned out to be the final line of D
National Youth Choir 2014 conducted by Dr. Hilary Apfelstadt in performance at St. Mary’s Basilica, Halifax, NS
(Photo by Judy Porter, Judealou Photography)
ante’s Inferno.

After this process, I was working with the Choral Canada team in order to set-up the residency and the tour. That included the creation of a schedule for rehearsals and activities, coordinating with our Alberta project manager James Frobb (NYC alumni) and possible presenters. Then came the preparation of the scores. During this time, across Canada, many young singers auditioned for the NYC and each province subsequently put forward their participants.

At this very moment, I’m finalizing the detailed divisi for each section, assign solos, send out translations, languages files and connect with the singers to assist in their preparation.

What insights can you give into the works or activities you have planned for the NYC? 

The concert repertoire takes its inspiration from the last stanza of ‘The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Canto XXXIV’. The first half of the concert is conceived as an journey from Hell back to Earth's surface and on to Heaven. This ascension is presented through various looking glasses, there are religious, pagan, poetic and spiritual points of view. The second half picks up on this theme, but also introduces the northern way ‘via borealis’ as a sub-theme. There are several new works on the program, for example ‘Tread Softly’ by Bolden, the winner of the Choral Canada composition competition, or ’There is a Sound’ by Albertan Allan Gilliland. The first half is certainly very intense, vocally, emotionally and intellectually, and includes Mendelssohn, Tormis and Poulenc. After the intermission, the style and mood is lighter.

One element which is likely new to many singers, is the absence of a rehearsal pianist. We will perform an a cappella program and therefore also rehearse a cappella. I’ve already asked the singers to organize and get used to a tuning fork. Working without piano will probably be slowing the process for the first rehearsals, but the improvement in sonority and pitch awareness of the ensemble will be increasing exponentially.

What topics are you looking forward to discussing on your panel with other conductors on commissioning works? 

I think we all have some experiences to share and hopefully learn about other, maybe even new, ways of working with composers. In general, I'm interested in emerging composers, and there it is as much about finding a promising - new - approach as it is about guiding the person to understand and write for the vocal instrument.

Photo by Ian Jackson, Courtesy of Pro Coro Canada
You will also be working with some conductors in training during a Podium masterclass, do you have any overarching skills you wish to convey to masterclass participants before you go in? 

My advice prior to a masterclass participant s ‘prepare well - don’t drill’. So, know the music, but don’t practice a pattern or cue over and over. I’ve worked with conductors who had to re-learn the ‘choreography of gestures’ because suddenly the sopranos were sitting to the left and not to the right. There will be a short time available on the podium for participants and ideally we’ll be working on how the gesture can convey the interpretation. Another important skill is listening. My instruction for this will likely be more an ‘on the spot’ question: "what do you really hear?". While listening to a recording is a legitimate means to acquiring new music, it is always challenging to hear what the choir actually sounds like and then to work with that sound.

You are now in your fourth season as Artistic Director of Pro Coro, during that time, can you share some highlights you have had with the group? 

Yes, tempus fugit! These past seasons were fantastic and the work has been very rewarding. Now that my family and I live in Edmonton, being resident is a highlight! Edmonton has a great choral community, the conductors are extremely supportive of each other, cross-disciplinary projects are encouraged and the breath of choral offerings is amazing - all this, while the city has a small town feel to it. I was at the farmers market with the girls last Saturday, and bumped into three different audience members.
Photo by Nanc Price, Courtesy of Pro Coro Canada

Pro Coro has performed fantastic choral works over the last seasons, and I’m very happy about the daredevil approach to any type of score. My first concert with the ensemble featured ‘The Nightingale’ by Praulins, 30 minutes of contemporary writing in 20 parts, and the group embraces challenges like this. I generally pick works that I want to perform, so any performance with this group is rewarding. I’m particularly excited about the ease with which the singers approach staging, new performance set-ups or mixing of styles. If there are moments that stood out, I’d have to mention the various collaborations with other choirs, i.e. the Cantata Singers in Ottawa, Halifax Camerata, Richard Eaton Singers, Madrigal Singers, Spiritus and of course the Vancouver Chamber Choir. Most of these collaborations happened while on tour and traveling with a choir is always a highlight.

All of your programmes have a thematic concept, and the opening concert with PCC and Opus 8 is no exception. Where did the themes of Darkness and Light come about? 

The Genesis of this program, I frankly, can’t remember. Going back to my ‘programming wall’, I see that the repertoire was very different originally. The only work that remains is ‘Der Abend’ by Strauss. This work was then the talking point around new works by Robert Rival and Paul Mealor. Robert B. (of Opus 8) added his ideas, and somehow the theme ‘Darkness and Light' emerged. The program in its current form is very cohesive, varied, and engaging, and showcases the sonority of each group.

I also had to keep in mind the subsequent Pro Coro subscription concert ‘Shadow of Dreams’ and how some of these works could be repeated in a different light (pun intended). In general, my programs start with a particular piece - Dreams by Finnish Kortekangas in this instance - which inspires through its text sources and through its musical material the selection of many other works. I usually find music for two or three programs, and the challenge is, to compile 80 to 90 minutes that will engage choir and audience, feature Canadian content, represent various styles and languages and are doable within the allocated rehearsal time. The final test is to remove that initial composition and see if the program can stand on its own.

Is there a dream choral project you would want to program if budget and singer numbers were not a barrier? 

My musical day-dreaming is more about which text I would like be set to music by which composer. At the moment, I’m fascinated with the idea of setting fairy tales to music. I’m still captivated by ‘The Nightingale’ by Praulins, and would love to create a new, major work based on the Little Prince. Another dream I have is to create a larger work together with Tom Waits, for choir and his unique voice and story telling skills. While we would not need more singers, such commissions are large budget items. There is also a large work by British Marsh 'Pierrot Lunaire’, that was written for 10 choirs/ensembles from London/UK, including the Kings Singers. And, I’d love to do one of Schafer’s larger works in the Edmonton River Valley.

Follow Pro Coro Canada Online:

Facebook: Pro Coro Canada
Twitter: @ProCoroCanada
Instagram: @ProCoroCanada
Blog: PCC on Tour

Since moving to Canada, Swiss-native Michael Zaugg has distinguished himself as an innovative and versatile conductor on the national choral scene. Active as Artistic Director, Guest Conductor, pedagogue and clinician, Michael Zaugg brings a wealth of experience and creativity to his work.
2012-2013 marked the start of Michael's tenure as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor with Pro Coro Canada in Edmonton. The professional choir is a resident ensemble at the Winspear Centre producing 7- 9 season concerts and participating in many local and national choral events.

As Artistic Director of both the St. Lawrence Choir in Montreal (2007 - 2013) and the Cantata Singers of Ottawa (2005 - 2014), Michael is constantly exploring new ways of integrating art forms with choral music, featuring live paintings, poetry and light /multi-media to name a few. His concepts feature traditional orchestras as well as rarely-heard instruments such as the alphorn, accordion or the gamelan. 

In 2009 Michael founded the Montreal Choral Institute, an umbrella organization dedicated to the advancement of choral education. The Institute’s main mission is to educate the choral leaders of tomorrow through master classes, workshops and performances. 

The Institute’s in-house choir voces boreales (founded in 2006) showcases contemporary a cappella music of Scandinavia and the Baltics along with the classical works of choral history. Under his leadership, the 24-voice ensemble has been featured in the Montreal International Bach Festival, the NAC eXpressions Music Series as well as on CBC Radio 2. 

As Guest Chorus Master of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Michael successfully prepared groups of up to 1500 singers for OSM Artistic Director Kent Nagano, including the award-winning performance of St. François d’Assise by Messiaen. Michael also prepares the Cantata Singers for their appearances with the National Arts Centre Orchestra under conductors such as Franz-Paul Decker, David Lockington, Trevor Pinnock, Helmuth Rilling and Graeme Jenkins. 

Active also as a Guest Conductor, Michael Zaugg has worked with groups including the GRAMMY-nominated choir of Trinity Wall Street (NYC), the Richard Eaton Singers, Halifax Camerata, musica intima, l'Orchestre Symphonique de Longueuil, the Ontario and the Nova Scotia Youth Choirs. As Guest Lecturer he has worked with students at Brandon University (MB), University of Alberta and McGill University (QC). He is often invited to work with provincial choral federations throughout Canada, namely in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Alberta. 

In Europe he has appeared with the Danish National Youth Choir and the Academic Chamber Choir of Ljubljana (Slovenia) at the Bramstrup Performing Arts Festival in Denmark, as well as with the International Choir of the Zimriya Festival in Israel. In Switzerland, he was Chorus Master of the Swiss Oratorio Choir Regiochor for five years before moving abroad. 

Michael Zaugg was the first Swiss conductor to be accepted to the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, Sweden, in its prestigious post-graduate Diploma for Professional Choir Conducting. Throughout this two-year program, Michael worked weekly with singers of the world-renowned Swedish Radio Choir and also had the opportunity to work with Sweden’s gems- the Adolf Fredrick’s Girls Choir and the Mikaeli Chamber Choir. 

Originally an accomplished tenor, Michael Zaugg toured Europe and Asia with professional groups including the Swiss Chamber Choir, the Chamber Choir of Europe, the World Chamber Choir and the Stockholm Chamber Choir. 

A passionate pedagogue, Michael Zaugg is strongly committed to his work not only with choirs but also with other conductors. He teaches privately and has given numerous Master Classes on conducting and rehearsal technique. The Montreal Choral Masterclass attracts many conductors from Canada and abroad every year. Michael’s students, coming from diverse choral backgrounds, appreciate a hands-on approach when working with his ensembles.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

An Interview with Composer, Dr. Benjamin Bolden

Dr. Benjamin Bolden's is winner of the Choral Canada 2016 Competition for Choral Writing for work, Tread Softly. This work will be premiered by the National Youth Choir of Canada at Podium Conference and Festival.

You have mentioned that the inspiration for Tread Softly begin following a TED talk on Education with a theme of treading softly when it comes to educating children, how did you highlight this theme in the music?

When the text ‘tread softly’ is first heard, the sopranos sing a simple, gentle, do-mi-do motif. The altos echo the motif in canon. Meanwhile, the tenors and basses start low in pitch and move steadily upwards, in parallel harmony, like a child growing up. Then the sopranos break out in a yearning, descending motif on the text ‘you tread upon my dreams.’ The lower voices echo the word ‘my dream’ low in their range, in a harmonic language that shifts to a new ominous-sounding tonality. For me, that harmonic shift signals the danger of quashing dreams.

What resonated in the text for you in W.B. Yeat's Poem, The Cloths of Heaven?

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
What resonated for me was the generosity and vulnerability of someone laying themselves out before someone else…the trust implied, and the need to respond thoughtfully, conscientiously, and with care.

What do you hope for the National Youth Choristers to take away from Tread Softly when they premiere it at Podium 2016?

Well… I hope the individual parts are interesting enough that the singers are engaged by what I’ve asked them to sing. And I hope they are able to wallow a little in some of the lush harmonies I’ve written. I also hope they can let loose and feel a thrill in the climactic moments. I sing in choirs too, and in the pieces I love best I find moments that I look forward to and relish—when my voice has the chance to sound the way I want it to sound, or when I get to contribute to a musical gesture that just works. I hope the singers find some of those sweet spots in this piece! Ultimately, I hope the singers feel they’ve been able to tap into their own musicality, give it voice, and help to create something beautiful.

Where was the initial inspiration for you to become a music educator?

I was inspired to become a music educator because I have seen so many lives so tremendously enriched by music—especially my own. I figured that bringing music to people, and people to music, was a pretty fantastic way to earn a living. It’s an immense privilege…and responsibility!

How do you view your roles and responsibilities as a music educator?

Basically I try to enhance and expand and strengthen the relationship between people and music. I once heard the brilliant Canadian composer and educator Stephen Hatfield say, ‘there are as many ways to be musical as there are ways to be beautiful.’ That rings very true for me. As a music educator, I try to help people realize how they can be beautiful in and through music.

You have a diverse background in composition, education, and academic research, why is it important for you to assume these different roles?

Because it’s so much fun! I love operating within these different roles. They all complement each other and they are all so compelling. And if I get weary of one of the roles I can move to the other to recharge and re-energize…I’m pretty lucky that way.

You have created a series of Podcasts that share your relationship with music. Why did you choose this medium to narrate your story?

Podcasts are wonderful for communicating about music, because you can combine music and spoken word together. And playing with those sounds is, for me, very much a form of composing.

You have had exposure to many genres of music by members of your family, early music from you mother, The Police from your brother, but what do you think is at the heart of choral music that connects with you?

At the heart of choral music, for me, is the notion of raising voices together. Connecting to an ancient and time-honoured musical practice that happens across eras and cultures. I think it’s such a wonderful thing to get together and do!

The National Youth Choir Spotlight Concert will be at the Winspear Centre on Friday, May 20, 2016 at 8 PM. Tickets are available online.

Hear Bolden's Easter Antiphon Online.

Dr. Benjamin Bolden, music educator and composer, is an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University. His research interests include the learning and teaching of composing, creativity, community music, arts-based research, Web 2.0 technologies in education, teacher knowledge, and teachers’ professional learning. As a teacher, Ben has worked with pre-school, elementary, secondary, and university students in Canada, England, and Taiwan. Ben is an associate composer of the Canadian Music Centre and his compositions have been performed by a variety of professional and amateur performing ensembles. Ben was editor of the Canadian Music Educator, journal of the Canadian Music Educators’ Association/L’Association canadienne des musiciens éducateurs, from 2007-2014. He is the proud father of three rascally boys.