Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Do Not Be Afraid: A discussion on musical appreciation vs appropriation by Melissa Morgan

The subject of cultural appropriation verses cultural appreciation is a hot topic right now. While there are several books, articles, and blogs which address this subject, I have found that musicians and specifically choral conductors do not know what to do when programming music from a culture different from their own. My conducting colleagues have confided in me to say, “I want to be an ally, I want to diversify my program but I’m afraid that I will do it wrong. I do not want to offend anyone.” There is a real fear out there and these emotions of fear can have a firm grip on musicians. As a result, we tend to avoid certain music because we are afraid. We are afraid of what others will think; we are afraid that we will get it wrong; we do not want to be criticized, and not to mention, that we all have a lot going on and getting it wrong will simply add to the stress that currently exists in our lives. The goal of this blog is to encourage all musicians (myself included) to feel the fear, make the preparations, do the work, and go for it!

Let’s talk about the subject of appropriation – what it is?

In March 2019, choral educator, conductor, composer, speaker, and writer, Dr. Rollo Dilworth, gave a presentation posted on the Chorus America website titled “Examining Cultural Appropriation in the Preparation and Performance of Choral Music”. I have found this presentation to be extremely helpful when trying to understand how to define appropriation. Let me summarize it for you.

Dilworth is a prolific composer who writes primarily in the gospel style. He mentions in his presentation that he receives numerous, almost daily, messages about how to authentically perform his music. He shares that conductors will often ask the questions:
“ Is it appropriate for me to even consider doing this music?”
“Am I allowed to perform this music when I do not identify with the culture?”

He highlights three categories of people that fit within the framework of his discussion. People who are:

1) Comfortable: This person perceives their identity as the “Insider” -- as someone who is comfortable embracing cultural traditions or norms, for whatever reason. Perhaps they are a member of the cultural group or perhaps they have lots of experience working and living within the norms of the cultural group (Dilworth 2019). 

2) Somewhat: This person perceives their identity as someone who is moderately comfortable embracing cultural traditions or norms. Perhaps they feel confident in certain situations because they have a connection to a particular culture or group or perhaps, they are biracial or multi-racial (Dilworth 2019).

3) Uncomfortable: this person perceives their identity as someone who is not comfortable embracing cultural traditions or norms. These people admit that they do not have any knowledge or experience in a particular culture and they perceive their identity as an, “outsider” (Dilworth 2019). 

From there, Dilworth refers to the Canadian philosopher, James Young and his book, Cultural Appropriation and the Arts in which Young defines and describes three types of appropriation (Young 2008):

Young’s definition of appropriation is this:  “when members of one culture (outsiders) take for their own, or for their own use, items produced by a member or members of another culture (insiders)”(Dilworth 2019).

The three categories of appropriation as described by Young are:

Object – “object appropriation occurs when the possession of a tangible work of art (such as a sculpture or a painting) is transferred from members of one culture to members of another culture” (Young 2008).

Content – “When this sort of appropriation occurs, an artist has made significant reuse of an idea first expressed in the work of an artist from another culture. A musician who sings the songs of another culture has engaged in content appropriation as has the writer who retells stories produced by a culture other than his own” (Young 2008).

Subject – “ . . . outsiders who represent in their artworks individuals or institutions from another culture. . . when this type of appropriation occurs no artistic product of a culture is appropriated. Instead artists appropriate a subject matter . . .” (Young 2008).

Something Dilworth highlights is that Young does not place a moral value on these definitions. He simply categorizes and defines terms for exactly what they are. Young does not state that subject, content or object appropriation is necessarily bad. In fact, Dilworth suggests in his presentation that appropriation is not always negative.

Dilworth introduces another scholar in his presentation, Richard Rogers, who argues that cultural appropriation “Is inescapable when cultures come into contact including virtual or representational contact”(Rogers 2006). Rogers explores the idea that unless we live in a culture without exposure to other cultures (i.e. we have never eaten another culture’s food, or worn their clothing or jewelry, read a book by an author from that culture, or watched a film -- which he argues are all levels of engaging in cultural appropriation -- then we are participating or have participated in cultural appropriation: it is unavoidable. 

Armed with this information, Dilworth goes on to ask self-reflecting questions of himself and invites the presentation audience to do the same. 

Question #1 – If according to scholars appropriation is inescapable – how do we navigate the arts without being offensive or harmful?(Dilworth 2019) 

Question #2 – Is there such a thing as acceptable cultural appropriation?(Dilworth 2019)

This is where Dilworth highlights three acceptable instances of appropriation (Dilworth 2019):

1) Cultural exchange – An agreed-upon time where two cultural groups mutually come together to learn and share with each other. This could include a tour exchange or some sort of cultural exchange. The key is that there are equal levels of power between cultural groups (Dilworth 2019).

2) Cultural appreciation – using elements of a specific culture in our work but taking the necessary steps to honour, respect and value the original source (Dilworth 2019).

3) Cultural assumption – a term coined by Dilworth – “used to define instances in which we harmlessly (and sometimes unknowingly) interact with culture outside of our own. Such examples include watching a film, listening to music, eating food” (Dilworth 2019).

We all need to understand when appropriation is negative or simply wrong. Based on Young’s research, Dilworth mentions three ways in which cultural appropriation is wrong or objectionable:

1) Cultural appropriation as theft – Young defines this as “outsiders taking (without proper permission) property that belongs to insiders”(Young 2008), e.g., using an instrument such as an Indigenous ceremonial hand drum as part of a performance without asking permissions.

2) Cultural appropriation as assault – “causing harm to a culture or members of a culture and in some cases threaten the viability of a culture (Young 2008),”e.g., recording the performance and selling it for profit without compensating the rightful owners of the drum.

3) Cultural appropriation as profound offence – offense to one’s moral sensibilities (Young 2008), e.g., when an act of appropriation has been taken too far – when theft, assault and moral disrespect has taken place.

Dilworth then asks another question of himself and of the participants in the audience: What can we do to move forward?

Here, I will refer to suggestions in which Dr. Floydd Ricketts, artistic director and conductor of Ensemble Noir in Montreal Quebec, recently shared in a webinar with the Phoenix Chamber Choir: Making Music in the Mess. Ricketts gives nine insightful helpful tips in the webinar but I will highlight four, and then add a suggestion of my own and finally, conclude with another suggestion from Dilworth:

1. Recognize – “it is not enough for you to only acknowledge appropriation after someone brings it to your attention. The only way that we can go about ending appropriation or at least abating it, is for everyone to know what appropriation looks like, and to call it out. Be an ally” (Andrews 2020).

2. Involve people – “Credit alone is not enough. If you want to engage in a culture that isn’t your own, involve people of that culture, ask them questions (assuming they want to be involved), and invite them to share their stories and experiences” (Andrews 2020).

3. Education – “It is extremely important to be aware of historical context. In my opinion, this gets people into trouble more than any other point. If you don’t understand all the pain, trauma, the triumphs that lead to the development of a genre of music, you are bound to error. . . do your own in-depth research before seeking counsel from the community in question” (Andrews 2020).

4. The hard truth – “Recognise that, unfortunately, even if you get all of this right, you may still be accused of appropriation. This is because there is seldom only one authority in a cultural community. Gaining permission from one authority does not mean that all other connected communities will agree with that authority. . . . while you may have done due diligence . . . knowledge is invisible, and it will not always be obvious to others that you have done the work. Be prepared to solidly answer questions about your familiarity with the material and the culture surrounding it” (Andrews 2020).

5. Know your “why” – In his book, Start with Why, Thought leader, Simon Sinek, reminds us all to get to the heart of the matter (Sinek 2009). Know your purpose. Understand what are your true intentions. Believe in your “why” and others will recognize your authentic intentions and believe with you (Holley Jr. 2019).

6. Find the original source – “There is an assumption that if music is published and in print then there is some level of permission. This may be the case but is not always the case. Therefore, one should acknowledge the original source, if need be or if in doubt, contact the original source for the permissions necessary. Do due diligence – we must be discerning” (Dilworth 2019).

It is my hope that after reading this blog, someone will be empowered to move forward and explore the choral work of a culture for which they are not familiar, without fear. Acknowledge that engaging with a new culture, language, or musical style may present challenges. For this reason, preparation (research, engaging in conversation, actively seeking to develop relationships with ‘insiders’, listening, self-reflection, taking time) is key. 

We are living through challenging but very exciting times and with boundless opportunities. Now is not the time to ‘play it safe’ but it is the time to take the risk and teach fearlessly, love more, share what we know, and learn about what we do not know.  If we make the preparations, make connections, do the research and necessary work, then we should not be afraid to share the stories of others but rather strive to break down cultural barriers in our choral communities.

Websites and links to repertoire lists and organizations:

African Diaspora Music Project: http://africandiasporamusicproject.org

African American Art Song Alliance: https://www.artsongalliance.org

AfriClassical.com: https://chevalierdesaintgeorges.homestead.com/index.html

Beyond Elijah Rock: The non-idiomatic choral music of Black composers: 

Exigence: https://www.sphinxmusic.org/exigence-vocal-ensemble/

Institute for Composer Diversity: https://www.composerdiversity.com

Malaysian Choral Composers Series: Vivian Chua: https://tracywongmusic.com/posts/blog-mccs-vivianchua


Andrews, N., Frédéricka Petit-Homme Condon, Leela MadhavaRau, Andre Myers, Floydd Ricketts (2020). Making Music in the Mess: A conversation towards a greater understanding of African Diasporic voices in Canadian Choral Music. Phoenix Chamber Choir Webinar. https://phoenixchoir.com/2020/07/webinar-making-music-in-the-mess-video: 1:20:17.
Dilworth, R. (2019). Exploring Cultural Appropriation in Choral Music. Chorus America Website, Chorus America.
Holley Jr., E. (2019). "Cultural Appropriation: From Culture Stealing to Culture Sharing." Retrieved Oct. 2, 2020, from https://www.chorusamerica.org/article/cultural-appropriation-culture-stealing-culture-sharing.
Rogers, R. A. (2006) From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation. Communication Theory 16, 474-503 DOI: https://doi-org.libproxy.uregina.ca/10.1111/j.1468-2885.2006.00277.x
Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why : how great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York, Portfolio.
Young, J. O. (2008). Cultural Appropriation and the Arts. Malden, MA, Blackwell publishing.

Photo credit Danielle Tocker Photography

Dr. Melissa Morgan is the Assistant Professor of Choral Music in the department of Media, Arts, and Performance at the University of Regina. An active conductor, she is frequently asked to serve as a guest clinician, adjudicator, and conductor with high school, children’s choirs, and church choirs throughout Canada. 

Dr. Morgan holds a Doctorate of Music Performance in Choral Conducting from the University of Toronto, a Master of Music Performance in Choral Conducting from the University of Western Ontario, a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Regina. She is also an Associate of the Toronto Royal Conservatory of Music (ARCT) in piano, voice, and flute. 

For more information on Dr. Morgan please visit her website: www.classicmel.ca

Have an idea or perspective you wish to share for this decolonizing choir series? Let me know at this link.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Guest Blogger: A Conductor’s Self-Reflection by Gloria Wan

My name is Gloria. My parents bravely emigrated from Hong Kong to Canada over 40 years ago, making me proudly Chinese-Canadian. Additionally, I’m a conductor, educator, singer, instrumentalist, and Candy Crush enthusiast (Still? Yep). I’ve had my heart set on choir since my first encounter with a cluster chord in Grade 9, and an equally-large passion for contemporary, jazz, and pop music. Over the past decade and a half, I’ve had the immense privilege of learning, working, teaching, performing, and living in four provinces and states and two countries. By singing in a choir, I have experienced (and continue to do so) many makings of humanity which may otherwise be difficult to understand or approach without music.

However, I am beginning to evaluate the ways in which the choral education system is biased and how much of it is really rooted in colonialism. When you think of some of the world’s so-called “greatest choral conductors,” how many of them are North American or European, and how many represent other regions or nationalities? Do most of those individuals fall under the first category? Why is this the case when the innately human tradition of singing has existed in all regions for centuries? 

Addressing issues and systemic biases within an artform which we care so deeply about may be difficult to approach at first, but is absolutely essential in an effort to end traumatic and otherwise preventable experiences for our singers. To start, the dismantling of any biased system in which we are a part begins with self-reflection. In the months and years to come, I’m keen to find ways to uplift the voices in choral music which may not have received the proper recognition, dignity, and understanding that they deserve—especially those in Canada. 

Recently, I became an administrator on @choirisracist, an Instagram platform dedicated to sharing anonymous personal stories of biases, racism, sexism, and microaggressions within the world of choral music, rehearsal, and performance. Inspired by other similar pages in related fields bearing the “______ is Racist” moniker, this platform has proven to be a necessary space for releasing past traumas, injustices, and other painful memories which contributors have been holding onto for years without a proper outlet; it is NOT a form of entertainment or “delivering the tea.” These stories exist as anonymous public statements, often facilitating a much-needed conversation and re-examination of our own practices as educators and choral musicians. 

“So you’re a conductor, and you help run a platform called “Choir is Racist”?” Yes. Although it was initially inspired by the “______ is Racist” network, these profiles all receive submissions of deep-seated issues that exist beyond the scope of racism. Again, the idea of “decolonizing” any educational space or making any curriculum more “anti-racist” must begin with the person administering it—or in our case, the person at the podium. In this self-reflection as a conductor, I admit I have been careless with my choices on some days — whether that be with word choice in rehearsal, programming, or other similar decisions. Working on the team of @choirisracist is not only a way to practise this self-reflection constantly, but to help bring the greater choral community one step closer to facing these issues and fostering an anti-racist, anti-sexist culture. We know that change can be good and hope that it can come sooner if we start having these conversations out in the open with our mentors, students, colleagues, and audiences. 

As we affirm these experiences from musicians around the world, I can’t help but to notice similarities coming up not only across posts, but many that are much too reminiscent of some of my own choral experiences as well. We will look at a handful of anonymous public submissions (view all posts on Instagram at @choirisracist if you feel inclined), and the biases present. I have included a few guiding questions which arose in my own self-reflection towards decolonizing our spaces.

Conductors often use imagery in rehearsal to describe or invoke a particular sound within an ensemble. You’ll hear phrases like, “Can I hear it brighter/darker/more crisp”, or even “picture a school of fish swimming in the water on a warm day at the beach.” Descriptive language can be effective when rehearsing to help singers mentally frame a piece and awaken musical contrast. However, it’s our job not to present any implied biases or stereotypes that most often do more harm than good.

  • What is the sound I am trying to describe, and are there any other less offensive ways or means I can utilize for sharing the musical idea I am teaching to my students? 

  • What is the perceived undertone in using words like “sass,” “spice,” and “gang signs” in rehearsal, and are they appropriate? 

    • Again, what is the sound to be achieved, and is the use of those particular words the best way to reach those goals?

Some of us may be able to recall a rehearsal scenario in which the conductor says something like, “Hey everyone, let’s end on a good note. Let’s sing (name of spiritual/folk song/other cultural piece)”. Of course, we assume the conductor has good intentions with this. However, this music is too often not given the adequate rehearsal time which it deserves in comparison to time spent on other (typically Western or European) repertoire. 

  • What are these feelings of “fun” and “goodness” that I am trying to pass to my choristers through the singing of this music, when oftentimes the original makeup of it was rooted in deep oppression and suffering -- the very opposite of those feelings? 

  • Time in a choral rehearsal is far too often allocated to teaching diction in pieces by composers like Schnittke, Bach, or Monteverdi, as an example. 

    • In what way(s) can we structure our rehearsals to make more time to educate not only ourselves and students sufficiently about non-Western repertoire, but to respect its cultural roots without degrading them in the name of a “good time”?

Black voices matter, Black composers matter, and it is only fair that non-Western classical music be dedicated sufficient time and respect not only to be pronounced correctly, but truly understood correctly. 

Without a doubt, The Aeolians of Oakwood University (dir. Dr. Jason Max Ferdinand) captured all our hearts at ACDA 2019, with a diverse concert program showcasing their absolute musicality on every level; the Aeolians were even nicknamed “the choir that broke ACDA.”  However, their caliber as one of the top—if not the very top—choirs in the world existed long before their appearance at this conference. 

It was clear, however, that some participants were surprised when the Aeolians executed a Bach motet movement with brilliancy. There is an inherent problem when Black choral music and Black musicians are not viewed in the same light as Western music and Western musicians, and when Black musicians are stereotyped to excel only at Black music. Even with this great imbalance, and in situations with limited resources, Black musicians are often more adept at performing Eurocentric Western music.

  • To these folks, why is the sheer thought of Black competency surprising, and how is this perspective rooted in colonialism? 

  • When commenting on the Aeolians’ performance at the conference, what is the meaning of separating Bach from the rest of their repertoire? 

Since adolescence, I’ve been incredibly insecure with all aspects of my voice from speaking, singing—reading out loud.I was either asked to sing high completely in head voice, or my voice was always much too low. To be honest, some of my most favourite memories in choir have been from singing at pitch with the tenors and baritones. Later on in academia, I noticed that the only repertoire written for the so-called “low female voice” mostly came either from Baroque composers like Vivaldi and Bach, or from channels outside of Western classical repertoire like jazz, pop, or rock. What it comes down to is that the voice does not have a gender, provided that a singer is shown how the voice functions healthily in order to avoid any possible vocal injury. 

  • In what ways can I remove designation of gender from my pedagogical practices for a more human-centred approach? What are some ways through which I can start implementing this right now (for example, using “lower voices” and “upper voices”)?

  • How can I break down these barriers and societal constructs to provide experiences/opportunities (ex. solos, flexible voice parts, etc) for the students who are in front of me, regardless of the gender written on the music?


We may not get it right the first time, or even ever fully get there, but if we don’t start re-evaluating now and checking our own ideologies and privileges, the same destructive biases will transfer to our students and perpetuate this harmful cycle. If we consciously turn ourselves away from the deep-seated issues which we know exist within our own house, can we ever truly begin healing from generational trauma and unfairness? Generational trauma has no business in the choral space or any environment for that matter; it has been time for this, and we might as well take this opportunity away from the physical rehearsal space to begin this much-needed work on our own.

Moving forward, @choirisracist will remain open as a platform for submissions in our hope that these stories do not repeat themselves and that they will remain as pieces for all musicians in self-reflection to each continuously “do better.” If we don’t, we risk committing a great disservice to our students and community as educators.

“Don’t cancel the year that woke us up.” 

- Original author unknown, 2020


Originally from Vancouver, BC, Gloria Wan is a first-year Doctor of Music student in Choral Conducting at the University of Alberta under the tutelage of Dr. Timothy Shantz, and is active as a conductor, singer, educator, and instrumentalist. Most recently, Ms. Wan was the Choral Music Director at Swift Current Comprehensive High School in Saskatchewan, additionally teaching English Language Arts, Psychology, and Arts Education. Her principal conducting study has been under the guidance of Drs. James Jordan and Joe Miller. Ms. Wan has taught music within various contexts and age levels, including elementary, middle, and high school. She has served as Assistant Conductor for Westminster Schola Cantorum, Alberta Youth Choir, Princeton GirlChoir and other ensembles, along with performing with and assisting a number of other vocal groups in the US and Canada. Ms. Wan has been a session presenter and poster presenter at the International Symposium on Singing and Song and Podium 2018, respectively. As a performer in various genres, she has appeared alongside esteemed ensembles such as the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, National Youth Choir of Canada, and at venues such as the Forbidden City Concert Hall, the American Choral Directors Association National Convention, and two seasons at Spoleto Festival USA, amongst others. As an instrumentalist, Ms. Wan is in demand on guitar and percussion. Along with djembe on the single Peace Song, she can be heard on Westminster Choir’s album Martin: Mass for Double Choir. She has studied voice and piano privately, and holds Kodály Level III certification. Ms. Wan holds bachelor’s degrees in music and secondary education from the University of Alberta, and a master’s degree in choral conducting from Westminster Choir College.

Have an idea or perspective you wish to share for this decolonizing choir series? Let me know at this link.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Guest Blogger: Who’s Behind “Decolonizing the Choral Classroom”? by Kiernan M. Steiner

In a recent Instagram post, I shared some questions that I have been considering for the past couple of years, and I would like to provide some more background information regarding that initial posting.  First, I must acknowledge my positionality in this conversation.  I am an able-bodied, cisgender woman of mixed race (Filipinx, English, Irish, and German), a transracial adoptee (adopted by a white family), and a third year doctoral student in choral conducting.  I have had the privilege to work with many supportive teachers, professors, and advisors throughout my undergraduate and graduate work, and I am blessed to have friends and family members who have encouraged me along the way.  It is this particularly unique lens, however, that has allowed me to reflect on my experiences from many different perspectives—from places of privilege, as well as marginalization. 

Since the resurgence of the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement, in response to the murder of George Floyd and so many others, educators have been taking inventory on the many ways systemic racism has permeated the education system. Terms, such as “decolonizing” and “unsettling,” have been used by activists and Anti-Racist/Anti-Bias (ABAR) educators to refer to the dismantling of the imperialistic and white supremacist framework which operates within the American education system.  This framework is seen in the traditional whitewashed teaching of the “First Thanksgiving” between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, the celebration of Christopher Columbus, and the exclusion of ethnic studies in most K-12 school districts.  In music education, white supremacy has not only affected the music that is taught (repertory), which is predominantly Western European and European American art music, but the methods of teaching (pedagogy) that values hierarchical relationships, discipline, rigor, and perfectionism.  These principles are not inherently bad, but, rather, have been used to appropriate and degrade communal music making, oral traditions, popular music, and other non-Western musical traditions for centuries.  It is important to acknowledge how traditions of Western European and European American art music have become “the standard” for comparison, which is inherently racist.

In recent conversations with colleagues and advisors, I have heard a broad spectrum of responses to the ideas of colonialism, imperialism, and white supremacy in choral music.  Mainly, choir directors and conductors want to have a handbook or checklist to ensure their programs move in the “right” direction and away from racist policies.  Unfortunately, there is no one perfect checklist or guide that can “right” all of our “wrongs,” partly, because not everything we do must be thrown out or changed, however, I believe everything we do must be deeply interrogated.  As an educator, my loyalty and responsibility is not to uphold a tradition that was never built for me—a woman of color—but, rather, reimagine how this art form can serve the students that I work with presently, who should not be expected to dim their light to learn, perform, or love choral music.  I believe the work that has to be done must start with each individual educator/director/conductor asking themselves: How have I been complicit with traditional choral practices that disregard and abuse marginalized individuals and voices?  To initiate this self-reflection, here are some questions that help individuals dig deeper into issues concerning auditions, rehearsal techniques/content, and concert attire:

Photo description: Original “Decolonize the Choral Classroom” Instagram post by @decolonizing_kiki.

As I continue my studies in higher education, and strive to work in a collegiate/university setting someday, I have to accept that classical music still operates on a hierarchical model and reifies white supremacy.  If I did not recognize this, I would be denying my personal experiences that have greatly shaped my reality as a music student, educator, and scholar-activist.  More often than not, I am still the only woman or woman of color at the table.  At the same time, I am also unlearning racism and identifying ways I have personally benefited from white supremacy.  In continuing this work, my dissertation research will be a more thorough examination of power structures in collegiate choral programs.  If you would like to follow my journey or connect with me, find me on Instagram (@decolonizing_kiki) and check out my website: www.kiernanmsteinermusic.com!

Self-Reflection Prompts:
      How am I engaging with these concepts of “decolonization” and “unsettling”?
      Do these words bring up a positive or negative reaction?
      What area (pedagogy, curriculum, classroom management, etc.) could I focus on this school year/season to address some of these concerns?
      Who are the leaders in my school/organization that I can turn to for support and guidance?

Here are some more resources for further study:
      How to Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
      White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
      Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
      13th (documentary) directed by Ava DuVernay

Kiernan M. Steiner is a third year doctoral student in Choral Conducting at Arizona State University, located in Tempe, Arizona. Her research interests are in curriculum inquiry, critical pedagogy theory, liberatory education, and her dissertation is an examination of power structures in collegiate choral programs throughout the United States.  Kiernan’s goal is to break down barriers that have historically limited Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, womxn, the LGBTQIA+ community, individuals with disabilities, and other marginalized communities from having access to choral music education. In addition to her research, Kiernan is the director of the Sol Singers at ASU, teaches courses in beginning choral conducting and vocal/choral pedagogy, and advises an all-female a cappella group, called the Pitchforks.  In recent years, she has presented research on gender studies, women in music, and queer theory in San Francisco, Dublin, and Boston. For more information, go to her website: www.kiernanmsteinermusic.com.

Photo Credit: Jacob Moscovitch

Have an idea or perspective you wish to share for this decolonizing choir series? Let me know at this link.

Monday, July 20, 2020

An Introduction to the decolonizing choir series

Dear Reader,

I am excited to share with you news about an upcoming decolonizing choir series hosted here on The Choir Girl Blog. 

This series is not a guidebook to becoming a decolonized choral professional. Rather, the blog will be a platform to share information and stimulate discussion. There will be a series of posts ranging in content from guest bloggers, interviews, and personal reflections. Reading, questioning, reflecting, writing, and decolonizing is an ongoing process. This series will reflect the same. My hope is to provide an uncensored platform for people in the choral sphere to speak. The stage is for them to use as they wish. 

Posts will be published on a flexible timeline. The first set of posts have been curated by me but I encourage you to submit your article ideas as well. I will approve writers and publish posts as long as there is interest and engagement. 


The Choir Girl

Feel free to being the process by following the social media accounts below:






Monday, March 2, 2020

An Interview with Konomi Kikuchi


Japanese Dancer, Konomi Kikuchi, is an understudy dancer for The Beginning of Happiness. She took some time to share her thoughts regarding the rehearsal process so far:

What is some of your background? 

I started training in classical ballet in Japan at the age of three. I graduated from Japan Music High School where I specialized in classical ballet. After that, I was at the Alberta Ballet School in Calgary as a part of their Postgraduate Program. I met a wonderful contemporary teacher at the Alberta Ballet School named Graham McKelvie. I was attracted to the charm of contemporary dance that was different than classical ballet. Now I am learning contemporary dance as an apprentice with Good Women Dance Collective.

Why did you decide to come to Canada?

I was interested in learning ballet outside of Japan. At the time I chose Canada because I auditioned and was accepted to the Alberta Ballet School.

What was the importance of dance for you growing up in Japan?

Without dancing, I would be crazy. Dance is the most important to me. Dance is my favourite thing that makes me happy and sad and gives me a lot of emotions.

What are some things that are similar or different between the dance culture in Edmonton and Japan?

I thought about the differences between Edmonton and Japanese dance. My opinion is that Japanese people are good at fine-tuning the body direction and spacing of dancers lined up with one another. I was surprised at the richness of expression in the Edmonton dance community. There are many artistic and warm people. I am learning the importance of dance in my heart.

Do you have any thoughts on the rehearsal process and how the singers and dancers work together in this show?

I think dancers and singers are connected by breath. Dancers need to breathe in order to dance. Singers also need breathing between creating sounds. I feel that both work because of breath.

What is your favourite song or part in this show?

My favourite song is "How Beautiful” since the first time I heard it. It has a beauty that makes me want to hear it with my eyes closed.

What is the challenge of being an understudy when you are learning all dance parts in the show?

I am happy to know all the dancers' choreography. It's a very good learning experience because each character has a lot of things that I don't have. I am mainly Alison’s understudy. She is powerful and has energy that is strong and cool! She is a very kind person who teaches me what I do not understand and practices with me. She has everything I need. I am especially learning a lot from her!

I had only danced the choreography before; however, this time, I was very interested because the dancers choreographed the movements and imagined what they would look like only after listening to the songs. This is an absolutely good experience for me.

What do you think of having live music to accompany dance rather than a recorded track?

Everything that is not recorded is fresh music, and the music that emanates from it impresses me. This time, the music of the four wonderful singers gives goosebumps. Music that is played live has something that resonates with human hearts.

Is there anything I missed that you would like to mention?

I am very grateful to be able to participate in all rehearsals as an understudy.
Thank you very much.

Follow Konomi on Instagram @konomi0919

The Beginning of Happiness
Composed by Jane Berry
Choreographed by Good Women Dance Collective
Featuring Jane Berry, Sable Chan, Amy Voyer, Dawn Bailey (FEMME), Ainsley Hillyard, Kate Stashko, Alison Towne, and Rebecca Sadowski (GWDC).

Tickets are available at TIX on the Square. Seating is limited, please book in advance. $25 General, $15 Student/Senior/CADA Members
25% of the house will be held for pay-what-you-will tickets at the door.