Tuesday, March 29, 2016
An Interview with Chorale Saint-Jean Director, Laurier Fagnan
La Chorale Saint-Jean du Campus Saint-Jean de l’Université de l’Alberta est devenue l’une des chorales francophones les plus grandes et actives dans l’Ouest canadien depuis sa création en 1937. Ayant pour but de célébrer et de préserver l’héritage culturel et linguistique de la communauté francophone, les membres de la Chorale sont issus tout autant de la communauté estudiantine que de la communauté francophone établie depuis longtemps en Alberta. Dirigée par Laurier Fagnan, pédagogue très respecté, l’ensemble a gagné une réputation nationale pour son magnifique son, pour ses interprétations pleines de passion et de musicalité et pour son incroyable joie de vivre. Elle puise dans le répertoire d’œuvres classiques avec orchestre, du chant sacré a capella, des negro spirituals ou encore du folklore, et ce dans plusieurs langues. La chorale a aussi commandé plus de vingt-cinq pièces originales et a déjà quatre disques à son actif et des productions futures sont à l’agenda.
La Chorale compte parmi ses récentes prestations, une tournée de dix jours au Québec en 2005, lors de laquelle les choristes ont pris plaisir à chanter devant près de 10 000 Québécois. Au printemps 2007, la Chorale a interprété « Elles s’appelaient Marie : grande suite pour chœur » composée spécialement pour elle par France Levasseur-Ouimet. Cette grande œuvre fut dotée d’une place spéciale aux célébrations du 400e anniversaire de la ville de Québec en 2008. Pour cette grande fête, les voix de la Chorale Saint-Jean se sont aussi jointes à celles de 1 400 choristes rassemblés pour marquer ce grand événement lors d’un concert gala au Colisée de Québec. Leur chef, Laurier Fagnan, a eu l’honneur d’être un des six chefs (le seul non-québécois) à diriger ce grand ensemble. Et afin de marquer et de célébrer ses racines dans la richesse culturelle et musicale du merveilleux pays de ses ancêtres, cet ensemble dynamique a fait une tournée de la France en juillet 2011, avec des prestations à Paris, Lyon et plusieurs autres villes.
La Chorale a reçu au cours des dernières années le « Prix Eugène-Trottier » ainsi que le « Prix Impact » décernés par l’Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta. En 2008, l’Office national du film a produit un documentaire sur la Chorale intitulé Le chœur d’une culture afin de souligner le rôle important qu’elle joue dans le rayonnement de la communauté francophone canadienne hors Québec. En 2011 l’ensemble a reçu le « Prix de distinction » du Temple de la renommée de la ville d’Edmonton pour marquer sa contribution exceptionnelle à la vie culturelle et artistique de la capitale albertaine. En juillet 2012, la Chorale a été l’hôte des Choralies internationales Edmonton 2012, festival qui a attiré des centaines de choristes et chefs du monde francophone dans la capitale de l’Alberta. Pour la Chorale Saint-Jean, c’est sa vingtième saison sous la direction de Laurier Fagnan.
An Interview with Chorale Saint-Jean Director, Laurier Fagnan.
What do you feel makes the Chorale Saint-Jean unique from other choirs?
Chorale Saint-Jean is a unique mix of university students studying at the U of A’s Campus Saint-Jean and members of Edmonton’s francophone community. Although we sing in many languages, everything we do happens in French. They are an incredible community with 18-year-old choristers fresh out of High School intermingling their voices with much more mature singers with many years of singing and life experience. Many students stay in the choir as alumni for years after they’ve finished their studies, feeling that the combination of a sense of community/family and fine music making within a francophone environment is too precious to leave. We also commission a fair bit of new music and, I hope, contribute to the active ongoing development of our francophone artistic culture.
How did this collaborative performance with Les ensembles vocaux De La Salle come about?
I’ve known their director, Robert Filion, for several years now. We’ve always talked of collaboration as we have many of the same outlooks on francophone culture and choral music. He invited me to guest conduct a festival in Ottawa this February that he had organized in which Ensemble de la Salle was singing. They are a very, very fine ensemble from a Fine Arts High School in Ottawa. We got along very well and both ensembles are looking forward to our shared concert at Podium and other activities we have planned.
What can audiences hope to see from Chorale Saint-Jean collaborating with Les ensembles vocaux De La Salle from Ottawa?
They have enjoyed performing music that Chorale Saint-Jean has commissioned in the past, so we will do a couple of pieces written by one of my former choristers, France Levasseur-Ouimet (arranged by Allan Bevan). It will be a concert of mostly French music, so people will be able to hear quite a variety of both SSA and SATB choral music in French with which they may not be familiar, but I hope will instantly enjoy. As Ensemble Vocal de la Salle is a multiple winner of the Choral Canada Choral Competition, people can expect to hear some exquisite singing and artistry. Chorale Saint-Jean will be premiering Trois prières, a set of three newly commissioned sacred pieces by Québec composer Robert Ingari, which I think delegates and audience members will really enjoy.
What role do you see Podium having in the world of Canadian Choral music?
Podium is such a joy and thrill to attend! I personally look forward to it every two years for a myriad of reasons. It is the only forum that attracts and unites conductors, choirs and educators from all over our vast country. Like seeing a truly close friend that you haven’t seen in some time, there is an immediate bond that is forged or rebuilt between colleagues who look so forward to the networking, performance opportunities, professional development and camaraderie that only Podium can provide. It allows us to be proud of and celebrate together the very rich choral heritage that exists from coast to coast in this vast country. It allows us to tell our stories in song, to teach and learn from each other in equal parts with no agenda or airs; to let the incredible power and inherent sense of community that choral music possesses wash over us all for a few days and make us better people, better citizens. Podium allows us to be better educated on so many levels. We learn of our culture(s), of our varied regional differences that make us distinct, yet part of a greater Canadian whole. We learn new music that challenges and feeds us. We learn new techniques that allow us to build on what we already have and expand in new ways – to boldly go where no choir has gone before! We also meet new colleagues, friends and role models with whom mentorships and future collaborations are forged.
You have multiple roles such as a Professor, researcher, voice teacher and conductor, how to all of these roles inform how you approach choral music?
If I can choose one aspect that comes into play in each of these roles, it would be that of the development of the beauty and expressive power of the human voice in the context of ensemble singing. The voice is such a complex and fascinating instrument, capable of so many subtleties and ways in which both music and text can be coloured and highlighted. Because of its flexibility, it can at once be the most gratifying and frustrating of instruments in the musical arsenal. Through my work in the application of Bel Canto principles to choral singing as well as my research in the field of vocal and choral acoustics, I find it a privilege to help choristers develop and fully exploit the voice’s vast range of colours and expressive techniques that contribute to the ensemble’s success. I find that principle-centred voice building can provide the chorister/conductor/ensemble with new tools that can lead to yet more expressive interpretations and performances. The choral instrument is truly fascinating – I often find that I have the best job in the world.
In addition to conducting at Podium, you are also the conference co-chair, what led you to be involved with the festival?
To be honest, I wasn’t looking to assume the leadership of something of this magnitude! But I already had some relevant experience as Artistic Director of Choralies Internationales 2012, an international francophone choral festival that took place in Edmonton a few years ago, and so when asked to take on a leadership role with Podium, I accepted. Peter Malcolm is co-chair with me and we have an absolutely amazing committee of very experienced people around the table, from both the artistic and administrative perspectives. Because Podium is both a conference and a festival, there are many, many details to attend to. Everyone at the table has played a crucial role in creating and developing both aspects of the event and I’ve done what I can to try to weave in continuity and oversee the whole, but I feel privileged to work with such a fine group of people as we prepare for an event that will be truly amazing.
What are the things you are most passionate in regards to the conference and festival that you knew had to be included when you were planning as co-chair?
Although I have thoroughly enjoyed past Podiums, I’ve often come away thinking that we should have sung more, after all, it’s what we love to do! There is no doubt that there are always top-notch concerts to be enjoyed at Podium, but I thought this time around, it would be great to do as much singing as we do listening. To that end, we are working on creating a Podium Songbook that would be used by all delegates, choristers and audience members. The idea is that, while sitting in the concert hall or church awaiting a performance, rather than just visiting with our neighbours, we would take out the songbook and join together as one massed-choir and sing some of our favourites with 400-800 of our colleagues from around the country. The Songbook will have a variety of repertoire, some time-honoured classics that people will know well and love singing together, some canons and folksongs to get us going, as well as many new Canadian pieces that Canadian publishers have sent us for inclusion in the Songbook. I can’t wait for these common-singing times that are so popular with many European festivals – the Winspear will resound as it never has before with people from every corner of the country joining their voices together and singing as one huge choral community! I hope that this practice will become a standard Podium tradition in years to come.
What do you hope conference and festival attendees will take away from the experience?
I hope they will go away from Podium with a renewed sense of the important place of choral singing in their lives and in society as a whole. I firmly believe that through the magic of choral music, stories, ideas and important concepts can be tackled and shared in community like in no other art form. You can express things in choral music that are simply not possible otherwise. I hope that people will learn new techniques and live powerful experiences that will confirm and reignite their passion for this beautiful, moving and important thing that we call choral music.
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With a doctorate in choral conducting (U of A / IRCAM, Paris) and a master’s degree in vocal pedagogy (U. Laval), there is nothing Laurier Fagnan enjoys more than inspiring singers to make the most beautiful sound possible. He has served as vocal coach/clinician for many choral festivals and has offered hundreds of workshops in vocal technique to choirs from Whitehorse to Paris. In 2008, he was honoured to guest conduct a choir of 1400 singers gathered to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Quebec City. In 2006, he was awarded a generous grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation to establish Canada’s first Vocal Acoustics Laboratory at Campus Saint-Jean of the University of Alberta, where he has conducted the very dynamic Chorale Saint-Jean since 1995. His doctoral thesis entitled The Acoustical Effects of the Core Principles of the Bel Canto Method on Choral Singing was awarded national prizes in both Canada and the U.S. (Julius Herford Prize). In 2009, he was keynote speaker at the general assembly of the European Choral Federation in Bulgaria and presented his research at the International Conference on the Acoustics of Singing in Stockholm. In July of 2012, Laurier served as artistic director of Choralies internationales Edmonton 2012, a festival which assembled choristers from many corners of the French-speaking world. He has recently launched his new DVD on vocal technique for choirs, which incorporates bel canto vocal principles applied to choral singing and is currently writing a book on bel canto vocal pedagogy. Recent highlights include conducting at international festivals in Vaison-la-Romaine, France and Domaine Forget, Québec as well as presenting at the National Conference of the American Choral Directors’ Association in Salt Lake City. Dr. Fagnan recently completed a post-graduate certificate in Vocology in the US and next May will serve as co-Chair of Podium 2016, Canada’s national conference and festival on choral singing. He was recently awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal recognizing his contribution to community development through choral music.