Thursday, February 23, 2017

Anxiety and Choir: My Struggle



I woke up this morning in the worst of moods.
"Why did I keep screwing up silly things I've practiced at rehearsal last night?" 
"Why do I deserve this solo?" 
"I keep getting looks from the conductor. Oh no."
"Why am I so cranky when I should be happy to be singing and surrounded by friends?" 
"Stop apologizing all the time, it's annoying!"

"Why am I such a failure?" 

After being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I've been struggling with a strong bout of it lately and realized how it affects my singing/managing abilities in rehearsal and in a social setting. 

I love my choir fam and I work hard to make sure their choral experience is optimal. As a choir manager, occasional soloist, arts administrator, and friend, the responsibility often weighs heavy on me and my brain forces me to over-analyse my behaviour in rehearsal and in interacting with others. 


Here's an example:


In May 2016, I got a huge solo in Paul Mealor's Stabat Mater. Being a mezzo-soprano and an alto in the choir, completely switching gears to solo-mode with high A's stressed the crap out of me.


It's not that I couldn't do it - it was because I was petrified of disappointing myself and my peers because of my role and responsibility in this choir. 


I worked my butt off, took lessons, and received many compliments. However, my mind was stuck on the "negative" aspects of my performance. 

I listened to the recording and just cringed at any point where I "may" have been off-key or not in line with the orchestra. I felt defeated despite everyone telling me it was great. 

Fast forward to January 2017: I'm chatting with my artistic director over wine and explained to him how I was feeling and apologized profusely for any actions that may have made the performance less-than-perfect. He was so surprised to know how this affected me for so long and reassured me on how much he enjoyed the performance and the positive feedback he received from everyone. 


But why is my anger on my performance STILL in a constant loop? Why can't I just let it go? What am I so afraid of?
We are all guilty of knowing this feeling of being our own worst critics. But with anxiety, I've noticed it trickle into my criticism towards other singers. I hate it. 

These are my friends and I make it my goal to cheer and encourage them as much as I can. But lately, I don't have the energy because I'm so exhausted from my self-deprecating thoughts on my own choir "flaws". 


This devilish inner monologue distracts me and causes a negative reaction when a fellow singer supposedly "can't get their shit together" in rehearsal:

"Just chill out. It's ok, Amy just - OMG WE'VE DONE THIS BEFORE WHY CAN'T YOU GET THE RIGHT NOTE!"
"Calm down. This is not a big deal. Remember why you're here and why you love choir." 
I go home. I go to bed. I kick myself for being so critical, hoping no one noticed and judged me. 

Most days are good and then there's days like today where I feel like calling my friends to apologize for being so cranky and critical of myself and others in rehearsal. 


So how do I overcome this? 


To be frank, I'm still working on it. In the meantime here's what I got for my mental first aid kit (in no particular order of importance):

1 - Working out: My personal trainer is aware of my GAD and is very supportive when I am having a bad day. After a workout, I feel calm, alert, and proud I did something for me. I also sleep better! 


2 - Understanding my anxiety and calling it out on its crap: I have to separate the anxiety as something that's other than me. This separation keeps the demons at bay.


3 - ALL OF THE BIG BREATHS! Yoga helps too. Namaste, friends. 


4 - Vocalizing my anxiety with someone I trust: Isolation is my go-to so I try to do the opposite and talk to someone who's opinion I value. Even just being around people laughing and enjoying the evening without talking about my anxiety really helps. 


5 - In busy "pull my hair out" times, I focus on gratitude instead of anxiety: 

“If you feel like you are a servant to your calendar then I think you’re going to be stressed out,” he says. Instead, try “to feel like: I do a lot of things and feel good about them and I have a really full life.” - Ryan Howes, PhD. 
This is 100% accurate for my love and appreciation of all the choral projects happening in my life. 

6 - Step back, take a breather and binge-watch mindless movies/shows: I completely steer clear of high-intensity or stress inducing thrillers because it triggers my anxiety at times. I tend to watch a comedy or light drama that doesn't require much thinking. It allows me to turn my brain off and finally relax on the couch. Hello Buffy and Spike showmance!



All this being said , this is definitely learning experience for me and I know I will overcome the life chores that are laid out for me. 


I love you all and thanks for hearing me out. This post wasn't easy to write but knowing I poured this information out there, I can finally breathe this morning. Namaste. 



- Blonde in the Choir  

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

My Current Music Projects




As I embarked on a new season of singing endeavours this past September, picking it back up after a very short-lived two-week summer break was as if I never stop rehearsing! 

I am busy. So damn busy that I couldn't write this post, planned in September, until December but hey, choir chores! 

So here is a little update to my current music projects and goals I plan to meet this for 2016-2017 season:



Newly-formed Aella Choir

I've never sung in a full fledged women's choir but joining this brand-spanking-new group was a great decision from the beginning. What started as a simple July 1st gig, turned into something incredibly special between these wonderful, talented women. 
We have SO much fun rehearsing and putting out new ideas for repertoire and concerts (including video game themes!). It really is the epitome of community with this 13-voice group. 

Under the direction of founder, Jennifer Berntson, we often rehearse without a conductor, forcing us to move and communicate as one. We also often switch voice parts to spice things up!
Want to learn more? Check out our recent Aella blog  and browse our concert season!




The ever-growing Capital Chamber Choir


My primary focus this year is CCC - who has a big season of choral projects lying ahead, including the recording of our first all-Canadian choral album that wrapped up in October! This season, we are pushing the envelope with even more complex yet incredible repertoire from Baltic and Scandinavian composers such as Tormis, Rautavaara, Praulins, Esenvalds, and also exploring more works by our favourites: Whitacre, Lauridsen, Paulus, and Gjeilo. 

We are also revamping the CCC website and broadening our exposure by collaborating in projects with other local choirs to enrich our little community, here in the 613! 

Check out our 2016-2017 season and projects!



Join in Canada's 150th festivities with "Sing Ottawa en choeur":



















I have the pleasure of Chairing the Planning Committee for this new choral festival celebrating Ottawa 150th birthday through song. Cantata Singers of Ottawa have teamed up with Capital Chamber ChoirOttawa Regional Youth Choir, and Ottawa Children's Choir to bring you a full fledged weekend festival programme highlighting many works by Canadian composers, including many local composers from Ottawa:

https://www.singottawaenchoeur.com/ 

This new choral festival will cover selected Canadian music across all provinces including music of Nouvelle-France as well as some insightful panel discussions with prolific choral composers, conductors, and arts administrators!
The website will be fully launched in the new year with program and ticket information so keep an eye open! 



Exploring with Jazz Lines Vocal Quartet:






We've may been on a break this fall but we will be using most of our 2017 winter exploring new jazz arrangements of our favourite songs and experimenting with more choreography and solo work! 









Music searching...always

There's never been a such a time where I was so passionate and more curious about choral music than now. So much that my Netflix Fridays have now turned into OMG-WHAT-IS-THIS-PIECE/COMPOSER-IT'S-SO-GOOD Fridays...and I am okay with that. 

I've always loved going out to choral concerts and exploring new repertoire however it's as if Podium Choral Conference (Edmonton, May 2016) sparked something in me that craves a need to go to more concerts and Friday night music searching. Nothing like a win-win situation to soothe the soul. 

'Guess it's safe to say I live and breathe choral music.  

I found this comment on Youtube via Eriks Esenvalds "Only In Sleep" and couldn't have describe my love for choral music any better:

To me, a capella choral music is the purest, most organic and beautiful form of music. No instruments, not technologies, nothing but the hearts, ears and voices we were born with. -ltyr2001 1

- Blonde in the Choir 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Choral Connections and Social Media




"Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell." - Seth Godin

I've always loved the use of social media connections and only noticed until recently its absolute power to unite the choral community as a whole. You may have heard of the campaign called "22 Push up challenge" this summer that raised awareness of suicide and mental health among soldiers, veterans, and their families. It had essentially gone viral on the internet - much like the Ice Bucket Challenge a few summers ago. 

To join the campaign, Ottawa's newly formed women's choir Aella Choir first uploaded a video of all members doing push ups to support a fellow member taking part in the challenge. What was only a simple video to upload to our Facebook page turned into a full fledged string of nominated choirs across Canada to participate reaching all the way to Vancouver, BC! 

Choirs such as Capital Chamber Choir (Ottawa, ON), Christ Church Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys (Ottawa, ON), Pro Coro Canada (Edmonton, AB), Vancouver Chamber Choir (Vancouver, BC) already kept the stream going!


The Christ Church Cathedral Ottawa Choir of Men and Boys's video is here!
Aella's video is here!
Pro Coro Canada's upload is here! 
Capital Chamber Choir's upload is here!

This is just a small token of how social media can truly connect us all to the community that's out there - especially for choirs!

For someone who manages six (YES SIX!) social media accounts for choirs in Ottawa and other choral organizations, I'd like to give you some tips for more exposure on social media platforms:

1 - First determine your communications plan with the executive board/marketing committee and decide how you will promote and market your brand and concert season. 

2 - Assign one or two social media savvy members who can devote time to taking photos, videos, weekly posting, and creating concert events on behalf of the choir to keep your followers updated on the choir's activities. You can keep it simple with only a Facebook page and Twitter account dedicated to the choir and assign admins to post content. Instagram is also becoming another popular platform for choirs. 

3 - Make sure you've written out a media-release form for your singers to sign, giving you the right to post content on them with their consent, even if it's a simple photo where they're in the background!

4 -  Go on a social media following binge and "like" or "follow" as many choirs or choral-related blogs, pages, and local organizations. It's pretty amazing to find neat choir content from choirs all over the world!

5 - In your social media posts, always "tag" pages that are connected to the content you are posting. Example: "X Choir is recording works by "Y" composer (insert @ with their username)". Don't shy away from using hashtags such as #choirlife #ChoirRehearsals etc. This almost guarantees that "Y" will see your mention and pass the word along! 

6 - If you're a choir manager like me, don't forget to add in a small email blurb to your singers encouraging them to share your recent social media posts with their friends and family! 

7 -  Regularly post Youtube videos or short video teasers to show off your choir's talent and/or to promote an upcoming concert! While you can have a stellar social media plan, your followers do expect you to deliver on the caliber you claim to have in your content. 

8 - Updated photo-shoots every season is not a bad idea to showcase new members! It's also very useful for website/blog content! 

9 - Setting up a Mailchimp account is very useful for email communications to your contacts. 

10 - Get in touch with local marketers and blogs for exposure and building relationships! I've recently discovered Amyin613 and I just love what she does in promoting and blogging about local events, products, and giveaways! This is a perfect opportunity to reach out to these bloggers/promoters to help market your event. Capital Chamber Choir will certainly be reaching out to her for our upcoming CD launch party in the winter and offer her a season ticket pass! 

One of our newer choristers approached me this weekend and said they found us on social media which motivated her to audition for us! It's good to know this social media "thing" is working its magic! 

- Blonde in the Choir 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Choral Avengers take over Podium 2016



After getting some much needed sleep, I can finally share with you the incredible experience I had this past week meeting choirs, conductors, composers, and administrators from all over the globe at the Podium Choral Conference & Festival held in Edmonton, AB. 

I had the opportunity to be part of the social media team where I tweeted and Instagram'd the conference and festival events to the point where I was a downright insomniac. I was so thrilled to see how many choral lovers were saturating downtown Edmonton with spontaneous bouts of singing, conducting gestures and #choirography, which made my phone blow up constantly with #Podium2016 mentions around the clock. 


Being the first conference I would attend, let alone a choir conference -  I wasn't sure what to expect but I did know my one goal was to be exposed to all the choral works performed by the featured choirs invited to Podium. I was not disappointed. The quality of sound from the choirs was top notch, especially the youth choirs! 

What I didn't expect from Podium was the ease of accessibility in meeting the giants and prolific leaders of the choral world - Paul MealorBramwell ToveyConspirare with Craig Hella JohnsonMichael Zaugg with Pro Coro CanadaMorna Edmundson of Elektra Women's Choir, and Julia Davids of Canadian Chamber Choir. To have that access for open conversation with them was incredibly liberating and gave me the chance to tell them how their craft has inspired me.

It was particularly groundbreaking for me to meet Paul Mealor, whom I've sung much of his repertoire both as a chorister and soloist, most recently the epic Stabat Mater with the Capital Chamber Choir and soon to reprise the alto solo in Salvator Mundi: Greater Love this summer.

His music made an impact on my life and growth as a singer and the fact that I had the opportunity to tell him in person meant a great deal to me...and I thank Podium for that. 


Me, Paul Mealor, and Jamie Loback - Artistic Director of Capital Chamber Choir


Highlights of my experience at Podium:



Instagram @podiumconference

Coastal Sound Youth Choir from Coquitlam BC, led by Carrie Tennant performed both at the Voices West concert, Podium After Hours, and as a spotlight concert which blew me away. 
The energy, fun, and powerful messages in their repertoire kept the audience completely engaged and emotional. 

One piece in particular certainly struck a chord - the world premiere of "A Prayer for a Child" by Pärt Uusberg, poem by Dr. Seuss. 
Everyone in the audience had a picture of a child affected by war (Anne Frank, Zahra Mahmoud etc.) on the back of their program. Throughout the piece, pictures of the children began to emerge from the singers hands. With Carrie's signal, the audience also raised the pictures to the crowd during the most powerful section of the piece. 




The best part? The choristers were all wiping away tears as they sung, clearly affected by the music and message they performed. To see them grow before us in song was an amazing thing to witness.















Update: CSYC now has a video of the performance!





Voices West opened the festival at the beautiful Winspear Centre for Music (a chorister's dream concert hall btw) with gorgeous repertoire and fun choirography that entertained the crowd. Two pieces worth mentioning was the "Motherless Child" by Allison Girvan performed by Corazon with their intense and reflective movement on the stage. The other piece which was something I've never seen before was the "Hymn of Axciom" by Vienna Teng, performed by Coastal Sound Youth Choir and Kokopelli Choir sung in complete darkness in the hall.
"Teng uses the piece to capture the way people related to technology and the information gathered about them, and there's almost a religious quality to it.

"I think the reason we agree to be spied on, basically, is that, on some level, we do want to be known," she says. "There is that unsettling parallel with religion and the way technology works now. At some level, as human beings, we have this deep need, this deep desire to be understood, to be seen, to have the sense that someone knows everything we do.

"Then there's the question of what that entity does with that knowledge. In religion, the message is that God loves you and embraces you while holding you accountable for being your best self. Whether Acxiom databases do that is much more questionable." - Youtube
Throughout the piece, choristers light up their face sporadically in the darkness, leading up to a full presentation of small lit up screens making waves across the choir. It was very beautiful visually and musically. You can see a brief clip here with CSYC at the beginning of the video:





National Youth Choir of Canada 


- Instagram @podiumconference


NYCC performed of such high caliber under the baton of Michael Zaugg with the opening piece "Raua Needmine" by Veljo Tormis with Zaugg banging away on the drum. I suggest you listen to this piece to understand why it stood out to me and made for an unforgettable opening of a concert. Gotta start with a bang! 


We certainly can't forget the commissioned repertoire, notably Kristopher Fulton's "O Seeker of Dreams" and Cy Giacomin's "The Centenarian" which were both incredible and added to my repertoire wishlist!














Conspirare led by Craig Hella Johnson


Conspirare at Winspear Centre, Instagram - @podiumconference
After realizing all my Tarik O'Regan go-to YouTube clips for score studying was all recorded by Conspirare, I knew I had to see them live. They have incredible sound and a soprano section choirs would kill for. There's nothing more satisfying than hearing high sopranos floating and spinning in the high register so effortlessly. Their ode to the music of Stephen Paulus was particularly beautiful, especially the "Poemas de Amor" which is also on my repertoire wishlist! 
Coming back to Tarik O'Regan, we had the pleasure of hearing the world premiere of his new work "Turn" which was also an audience favourite!



One piece I still cannot get out of my head is their arrangement of "Light of a Clear Blue Morning" by Dolly Parton. I generally don't dwell on popular music arrangements but this rendition was so uplifting, delicate, and ended on the right note (no pun intended) for me at that moment. It also shows the sheer versatility this choir encompasses. 







Pro Coro Canada

Pro Coro Canada performed some incredibly difficult pieces such as Ligeti's "Lux Aeterna" which is a testament to the skill and musicianship of this choir. They also premiered two new pieces - The choir's Composer-in-Residence, Paul Mealor's "To Seek where Shadows Are" and an uOttawa fellow alumnus, Robert Rival's "L'Aube". 

This will not be the last time we hear these compositions as they were truly popular by the audience full of choral lovers!



A love letter to the Podium social media team:



I already miss this crew of fun, fabulous people who introduced me to Cat Paint, fangirled with me at the Winspear Centre, shared my social media insomnia feelings, and intense chats about choir insurance! It was amazing to share the social media platform with my fellow Choral Avengers under the tireless leadership of Sable from The Choir Girl Blog

I miss you all and am proud of the work we did in connecting the choral world via social media. #Podium2018 in St. John's, NL we're coming for you! 


***

In a nutshell, I truly believe all choral lovers should experience Podium because it is five days of forming great connections, learning, networking, exposure to new works and choirs, and most of all..bonding over our love of choral music in unison (pun intended)! 

Thanks for reading and remember:





- Blonde in the Choir 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

10 Contemporary Choral Pieces Every Choir Should Sing



Contemporary choral repertoire. I visualize contemporary music as the eccentric friend that likes to push boundaries while still captivating and inspiring others through their weirdness. I often find myself delving into the dark and colourful world of contemporary choral music and it is changing my life for the better. Many popular chamber ensembles today such as Voces8, Tenebrae Choir, Conspirare, Roomful of Teeth , and Latvian Radio Choir are advocates for contemporary choral music as well as catalysts for exposing the most beautiful choral music out there.

Of course we can't forget about the classic standards on every choir's bucket list, but we are not focusing on those masterpieces today.

All that being said, this was a tough list to conjure up because I have an endless amount of favourites constantly on repeat. Much of this inspiration stems from performing these pieces in past concerts or via browsing where they found their way into my little weirdo-driven heart.

Here we go:

Morten Lauridsen - Madrigali 


Every choir has sung or heard of Lauridsen's famous O Magnum Mysterium and/or the ethereal Lux Aeterna and were simply moved by its beauty. But have you ever heard his notable fire chord in the song cycle of Madrigali? 
The fire chord (B flat minor triad with a C added to mix) is the very essence and storytelling of a fire-burning passion complete with madrigal techniques from the Renaissance era.

Picture this: You become infatuated with a person that consumes you with desire yet you cannot have them, leaving you in a state of yearning and heartbreak.
Overtime, you find yourself at a stand-still, finding an uncertain peace in this unresolved experience, a peace which can be heard magnificently in the 6th movement "Se per Havervi, Oime, Donato Il Core", down to the very last chord.
Have a listen to the 1st movement and I assure you, you will feel a deep connection almost immediately and order a pack of scores for your choir.
My choir, Capital Chamber Choir, was incredibly fortunate to meet Mr. Lauridsen this past summer for the Music and Beyond Festival and rehearsed extensively on this very work with him. He had a way with words and creating a reflective atmosphere in the room through his stories. A truly memorable experience.

Honourable mentions: Midwinter Songs - Another incredible song cycle with piano that will surely warm the soul with poetry by Robert Graves. Have a listen to the 4th movement "Midwinter waking" and just sink into relaxation at that last resonating chord on the piano. *sigh*


Tarik O'Regan - Threshold of Night, Triptych 



Click here to hear Conspirare's recordings of both pieces

When a composer says he gets inspiration from British rock music, you may want to check his stuff out. Here's a snippet from an interview with Arts Atl.:


"This is a generalization, but a huge amount of contemporary music, and contemporary choral music, is slow. It does not move fast. I tried to combat that." 

Triptych is no exception. At times, you are seriously rocking out in the 3rd movement "From Heaven Distilled a Clemency" with the string orchestra and it certainly changes the pace. The three-movement piece was written with many things in mind and was soon commissioned to remember those who died in war:

"Most remembrance pieces are sad and very, very slow all the way through. I didn’t want that. So I started with slow music but then made it more vibrant, quite dancy, if you like. A lot of cultures don’t memorialize death in a slow manner. I’m thinking of music for an Irish wake or dances performed at funerals in many cultures."

On the other end of the spectrum, there is Threshold of Night. What begins as a delicate, uplifting entrance with gentle solo lines, changes into this mass power chord at the words "on the edge of being" that is just so cool and sets the tone of the piece. The dissonant harmonies and syncopated rhythms are challenging throughout and then ends on a delicate lullaby-esque theme at "go back, go back, my babe" which is the perfect finishing touch. It is sure to put you at peace, in some form or another.

Honourable mentions: The Ecstasies Above performed by Conspirare. Ugh, just amazing.


Paul Mealor - Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal




If you watched the Royal Wedding back 2012, you certainly heard Paul Mealor's Ubi Caritas during the ceremony. The 1st movement of Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal is very much a reflection of Ubi Caritas and is equally as beautiful. The four-movement madrigals set to Rose text are nothing short of a sublime piece with ethereal presence. The 2nd movement "Lady, When I Behold The Roses Sprouting" is my personal favourite with the low drone of the basses and beautiful high soprano phrases. Just pure awe. 
Choristers will surely enjoy the 3rd movement "Upon A Bank". It makes me think of waking up in the early morning with the birds chirping in the trees.

Honourable mentions: Stabat Mater with string orchestra  *I am incredibly lucky to be singing the soprano solo in the 2nd movement, which is probably one of the few solo pieces that reduce me to ugly crying, it is that beautiful. Have a listen of Tenebrae's recording from their album - A Tender Light . 

Salvator Mundi: Greater Love is also a force to be reckoned with that includes a solo SATB quartet and mixed choir. The complex rhythms and force needed to produce the powerful sound in the upper voices also makes me ugly cry.


Alfred Schnittke - Concerto for Choir



You want to tackle a beast of a mass choral work? Look no further. Schnittke's Concerto for Choir is easily my favourite choral masterpiece to this day. Even the most skilled choirs require a full fledged rehearsal process over a few months to tackle and perform this piece at a sub-par level. In addition, choirs will likely need a diction coach to go over the Russian! The 4th movement "Complete this work which I began" SPLITS INTO 26 PARTS.

I performed the complete piece with combined choirs back in the spring of 2013 and the feeling of accomplishment was surreal. Not an easy gig to learn!

There's really nothing for me to add rather than urge you to listen to all four movements and have your mind blown and heart racing. What a masterpiece.


John Tavener - Song For Athene


Going back to royalty events - if you remember watching Princess Diana's funeral back in 1997, you likely heard Tavener's Song for Athene being performed in the church. The best description of his works can be found in an article by Classic FM :
...refusing to bow down before any one style. It’s neither old nor new – it’s simply Tavener, haunting his audience and raging at them in turns. One of the features of the music is that it is almost inaudible at times and then suddenly bursts into almost deafening life. 
The basses get to tap into their staggering low drones of the register to maintain tuning and beauty of tone in this piece, which is not an easy task! I first heard my choir, Capital Chamber Choir perform this piece shortly before I joined and its musical effect rendered the audience speechless. You could imagine the stupid smile on my face when I learned we were performing it once again later in the season. Mission accomplished!

Honourable mentions: Mother and Child - This is the pinnacle of epicness (not a word, I know) and works very well as a closing concert piece. When you have a gong, an organ and a whole lot of powerful voices, the audience will be jumping out of their seats.


Ēriks Ešenvalds - Stars


I had the pleasure of performing this piece back in December 2015 and it reduced the audience to tears. The wine glasses mimicking B minor and dissonant chords is an audience favourite and the words aren't too difficult to learn from memory if you need to multi-task. The only word I can describe for this piece is: otherworldly.

It really makes you feel as if you are under the stars and simply in awe of its beauty, which ties into the final word of the piece - majesty. Indeed.


Bernat Vivancos -  Blanc, Requiem albums



Click here to hear the full Blanc album
Click here to hear the full Requiem album

I've recently became acquainted with the music of Vivancos and I gotta say, this is something else. The versatility, power, and incredible attention to detail to perform his works must be an amazing accomplishment in itself, because it is not easy music. To draw out and sustain notes while maintaining impeccable tuning and blend is incredibly challenging.
Both albums are beautifully haunting and eerie with such precision from the Latvian Radio Choir that afterwards, I am in a trance. I'm not a religious person, but if I died and went to heaven, I imagine the piece Obriu-me els llavis, Senyor sung to me by the angels.

I look forward to performing his works in the near future!








Eric Whitacre - When David Heard


"The text, one single, devastating sentence, is from the King James Bible; II Samuel, 18:33:
When David heard that Absalom was slain he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, my son, my son, O Absalom my son, would God I had died for thee!
Setting this text was such a lonely experience, and even now just writing these words I am moved to tears. I wrote maybe 200 pages of sketches, trying to find the perfect balance between sound and silence, always simplifying, and by the time I finished a year later I was profoundly changed. Older, I think, and quieted a little. I still have a hard time listening to the recording. " - Eric Whitacre from his website
The text alone is very somber and personal to many people who have dealt with the death of a loved one, including me. This work can easily be an intense and reflective experience for many choristers and being one of Whitacre's more complex pieces, the silence in between the notes is the most important aspect, giving effect of the emptiness that embodies a person when dealing with tragedy, as mentioned in Whitacre's description above.

Honourable mentions: I Thank You God For This Most Amazing Day , much like When David Heard, it is another complex piece yet incredibly uplifting.
Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine is another audience favourite with a whimsical, dreamlike vibe complete with fun percussion and voices fluttering, giving the effect of the machine taking flight.
Lux Aurumque - Every time I performed this piece, I was brought to a meditative state and felt somewhat at peace with whatever challenges were going on in life. I guess you can say, this is another piece that makes waves with me so naturally, I had to add it to the list!


David Lang - Little Match Girl Passion



Click here for program notes on this work  - I have yet to perform this Pulizter prize winning piece, whether with choir or SATB quartet and it'll be mind blowing and heartbreaking at the same time. Lang certainly tests the waters with his contemporary works that can render one from feeling uneasy to completely calm. Certainly a composer ahead of his time.

Honourable mention: I Lie - quite a melancholic piece with Yiddish text. I am absolutely captivated by it.

Arvo Pärt - Te Deum



Derived from silence and emptiness, Pärt described this work as:
"something long lost or not yet found, the quest for something believed to be non-existent, but so real that it exists not only within us but beyond our being as well."
Pretty deep stuff. Needless to say I hope to perform this one day and just lose myself in the music.



...and there you have it! After a solid week of brainstorming the list and whining about narrowing it down to the top 10, I feel like I need a nap.

Please comment on other contemporary choral works you think should be added to the list! I'm always up for exploring new works!

- Blonde in the Choir

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Meet the Podium Social Media Team!

Hello on this snowy, slushy, and icy day in Ottawa!


I am embarking on a pretty rad journey to Edmonton this coming May for Podium Choral Conference and Festival and not only will I be a participant, but a member of the Podium Social Media Team! 



















I am so lucky and excited to work with this fun group of three very committed, talented, and fun people, hailing from Ottawa all the way to Vancouver! 

Don't forget to follow them through social media for exclusive content on the conference!


So, ready to meet the gang? 


Missy Clarkson 
Vancouver BC. Twitter: @mister_sissy. Instagram: @mistersissy 

Missy Clarkson is a bisectional soprano who has been breathing choral music since her early days of study in Minneapolis, where she co-founded her first ensemble at age 15. She has lived in Vancouver, BC since 1997, and has sung with many fabulous local ensembles and educators. Her choral 'home' has been the Vancouver Cantata Singers for the last 10 years, and she co-founded and manages Canada's most flaming classical choral ensemble, Cor Flammae.

She is a tireless choral advocate over social media, and created the “hit” viral video for VCS, Shit Choristers Say, which propelled her into some strange level of nerd stardom for about 10 minutes.


Jean-Pierre Dubois Godin chats with Missy Clarkson 

1. As the co-founder of Vancouver's Cor Flammae, Canada's most flaming classical choral ensemble, can you tell us the how and the why this ensemble was formed?

As a queer person who is a major choir nerd I always felt the need to connect with both communities, however as someone with classical training I found that the existing queer singing ensembles were not quite challenging enough for my liking. We created Cor Flammae to connect these dots and explore unsung queer perspectives in classical choral music. Performing queer content with high-caliber queer musicians creates another level of connection to the stories, and it sounds good too! We want to deepen the understanding of historical and modern queer experiences for everyone. How does a rejection by mainstream society in a conservative genre impact art and career? How can we help queer music lovers and performers to feel welcome, encouraged, and invited to the choral music world, where they rarely see reflections of themselves or their journeys in popular writing and performance? We want to answer these questions through the often marginalized lens of our shared life experiences as queer musicians, and we do so in FULL regalia. Everyone can be their true selves in our rehearsals and concerts - tattoos, wigs, true gender identities, and all, while rocking out some serious high art! 

2. What is your choral piece? What is your favourite canadian choral piece?

My absolute fave choral piece at the moment *is* Canadian - I am totally obsessed with Kristopher Fulton's 'The Twilight Cities' from his new debut album of the same title. Listening to it is like swimming through a graphic novel - specifically the one on which the work is based ("L'Enfant Penchée" by François Schuiten & Benoît Peeters) - it's a full, lush, cinematic sound that rumbles and shimmers. I am *totally* biased, by the way, as Mr. Fulton is a long-time close pal (we met in music school!) and I was lucky enough to be able to sing on his album. Paula Kremer and Vancouver Cantata Singers prepared it in 3 rehearsals and we basically almost died in the process, but it was so worth it. You always hear such different bits when surrounded by your fellow choristers, so hearing all the parts fully mastered in some good headphones pretty much blew my mind. It is such interesting writing - both innovative and accessible! 

3. Which social media are most into right now: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or other? 

For me, they all have their specific strengths for specific purposes, but I find myself on Instagram and FB most often. Twitter is my top choice for events like Podium!

4. Is there some more Sh*t Choristers Say? Ever thought about doing a 2nd video? What are some sayings that you would add to it, if any?

Oh my gosh, since it was released at a time when a 4-minute video could actually go viral (!), it's really the equivalent of 4 videos these days! But if I did make another video there is no end to the material available!! I would probably do a dress-rehearsal-specific video.... "Where are we standing? How do we get onstage? Why are we doing it that way why not this weird other way? This acoustic is so dry! Do we bow now? How bout now? Are we currently bowing?? WHERE IS MY FOLDER???" 

  

5. Is there anything you are looking forward to at #Podium2016?
  
Since this will be my very first Podium I am looking forward to literally EVERYTHING. I'm going to bask in the all sights and sounds and humans and nerdery. I expect some major facemelts from ProCoro and may need a fainting couch during Conspirare. I am unreasonably excited! 

6. What is your favourite Ave Maria?
  
Ha! I would have to say it's the Biebl, which VCS performs at the end of every one of our Christmas concerts, surround-sound-styles, and the audience just bawls their adorable eyes out. I was also lucky enough to bawl my own eyeballs out hearing Chanticleer perform it a few years ago. For some reason I never get sick of singing or hearing the piece! It has a certain magic.

Miss Sable 
Edmonton, AB. Twitter: @misssable; Instagram: @misssable
  
Sable is an avid chorister as well as a Speech-Language Pathologist with an interest in Vocology. When she is not working with Voice Therapy clients, publishing choral musings on The Choir Girl blog, or drinking chai lattes, she can often be found watching Netflix and coloring in her Hipster coloring book.

Missy Clarkson chats with Miss Sable
   
1. What ensembles do you sing with, and what is your favourite thing about singing in choirs? 

Currently, I'm singing in Pro Coro Canada's 2015-16 season and with theEdmonton Opera Chorus and Canadian Chamber Choir if my schedule allows.  

2. When and why did you create your blog, "The Choir Girl"?

I began my The Choir Girl Blog back in 2009. I have always been an avid fan of online means to share personal perspective. I first began on Livejournal with a personal account but I wanted to transition over to a public one. I knew that if I wanted to have a public blog, I would need a concept that would provide continuous inspiration. A blog focused on choral music and performance was the natural choice in my mind! It has also challenged me to highlight different Composers, Conductors, and Choirs throughout the years and showcase the excellent work they do in addition to my own musings as a chorister.  

3. What is the most interesting choral blog subject you've ever covered?


One of the topics that I see continuously come up as a highly read post in my archives is on the Culture of Fear in rehearsal. Even though the post is back from 2012, I still get a constant flow of readers and lots of interesting messages and discussions from it. I believe it was even reading material for a University level Choral Methods class so I'm glad it's a topic that helps to stimulate discussion.

4. What are you most looking forward to about Podium? 


In addition to having a rad roommate in the form of Missy Clarkson at Podium and singing with Pro Coro Canada at the Festival, I'm really looking forward to how social media can be used to cover all the conference events and give people an opportunity to be in multiple places at once just by seeing updates or comments from other sessions or concerts. It's time for a social media take-over!

5. Which social media media platform do you prefer at the moment?


My preferred social media platform right now is Instagram. I love how it gives me a visual flow of beautiful and informative images and videos. In the evenings, you can definitely find me cradling my smartphone and scrolling through Instagram to see what the world was up to that day.

6. What's your favourite Ave Maria?  


David McIntyre's "Ave Maria." It's effervescent, ethereal, and lush - what's not to like? I have great memories performing that work with Belle Canto Women's Ensemble at the Cork International Choral Festival. It's always nice to find a treble arrangement of a piece that works so well.
 

Amy Desrosiers 
Ottawa, ON. Twitter: @Mamydee; Instagram: @amydeechoir

Ever since she sang Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” at her mother’s wedding at four years old, Cornwall born mezzo-soprano Amy Desrosiers knew music was her calling. Under the direction of vocal coach Laurence Ewashko and Sonya Sweeney, Amy has developed her vocal skills in opera, jazz, and choral singing and completed a Bachelor of Music and minor in Arts Administration in 2011 at the University of Ottawa. 

Amy not only adores singing with her choir family, but also loves working behind the scenes as an arts administrator and choir manager for the Capital Chamber Choir. Aside from binge watching Star Wars, she also spends her time singing with the Capital Chamber Choir, Opera Lyra Ottawa Chorus, and jazzing it up with the Jazz Lines Vocal Quartet on the National Arts Centre stage and other fun venues in the Ottawa community.

Her love of social media and writing inspired her to create her blog “Blonde in the Choir” and strives to support fun arts projects and initiatives in the Ottawa choral community.



Miss Sable chats with Amy Desrosiers 

1. Why did you decide to create a Blonde in the Choir?

 I decided to create Blonde in the Choir back in the summer of 2013 because I wanted to give a voice in the Ottawa choral community. It began in the middle of Bizet’s Carmen staging rehearsals and I was truly inspired by what was happening around me. I wanted to extend my joy and passion beyond the rehearsal hall and open it to the world.
I was also compelled to share my experiences in blog posts where my readers could relate to everyday situations as a musician. Overtime, I developed my tone and began to shift my focus on interesting topics and project ideas that I believe will broaden my audience and also allow me to improve my writing style. I am always learning!


2. What were your initial thoughts when you were asked to join the Podium Social Media team?


 ECSTATIC! I was already planning on attending Podium because I felt it was time to participate in a conference that embodied my passion for music. The fact that I will be contributing to the Podium social media platform with such a great team is both a privilege and a sign that I should keep this blogging thing going! 

3. What do you think is an advantage of social media that more people should be aware of?
 

A huge advantage with social media is presence. I see so many choirs do very little with updating their social media platforms and it affects their following receiving crucial information on upcoming concerts. It is SO important to take time in your week to get a choir photo or reach out to your following for feedback. Trust me, people notice. 

4. Which sessions/concerts are you most looking forward to at Podium?


 As for concerts, I am really excited to check out Pro Coro Canada and the Mozart Requiem choral-orchestral concert. I am familiar with Michael Zaugg’s work when he was conducting in Ottawa and look forward to seeing him again in his element with this great group!
Having sung the Mozart Requiem several times, I have never experienced the masterpiece from the audience perspective and I look forward to sitting back and losing myself in the music.
As for sessions, how do I choose!? I love all of them BUT if I had to narrow it down:
Maestra Matters: Women's Leadership in Choral Music-Making and Community-Building
Choral Therapy: How Choir Saved My Life
Programming For Your Audience 


5. What are your current social media addictions?
 

You will see me glued to my phone over Twitter. I’ve found so many fun blogs and people who share the same interests through Twitter more than any other social media platform. Because I manage four Facebook pages, I have very little time to devote to other platforms aside from the big three: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. My friends are slowly convincing me to get SnapChat. 


Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin

Ottawa, ON. Twitter: @jpduboisgodin

Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin is a bass/baritone in the local Ottawa choral community. He studied Music, Arts administration, Advertising, and Marketing, in school and currently sings with the Ottawa Choral Society.

Once, Canadian choral composer Stephen Hatfield asked him for help on French lyrics on a new choral composition. This piece is now published at Boosey.

Jean-Pierre is welcoming this opportunity to be on Podium's Social Media Team as a way to get back into blogging and tweeting about local/national/international choral news (#ChoirX)


Amy Desrosiers chats with Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin 

1. What inspired you to start your blog, ChoirX? 

At the time (2011), I had recently gotten Twitter and would love to livetweet my choir rehearsals: music we were rehearsing, funny things choir directors were saying, what was going on behind-the-scenes... I enjoyed tweeting so much that I expanded its microblogging into full-on blogging. To share my eXperience as a chorister.

2. What was your favourite moment while performing on stage?

There are so many, it is so hard to choose. I can think of at least 4 right off the bat. One of the most memorable performances I did was in June 2010 when the Ottawa choirs and the NAC Orchestra were joined by the Orchestre Métropolitain and it choir, from Montreal, to perform Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand with conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, both at the National Arts Centre and the Place des Arts. A double-choir with a double-orchestra, with a "tour" to Montreal. It was a sold-out show and so amazing. Definitely and unforgettable experience.

3. What choral/opera/classical piece do you always have on repeat?

I have many. At least these 4: Stephen Hatfield's Living in a Holy City, Gabriel Fauré's Requiem, Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna, and Eric Whitacre's i thank you god for most this amazing day.

4. Why is it important for you to connect with other arts administrators and performers through social media?

Choral singing is really an intimate experience that creates relationships with people you wouldn't normally cross elsewise. Sometimes, it's like a language of its own. It's nice to find others on social media who speak the same "language" as your own.

5. What makes you most excited about attending Podium?

I'm just most excited to see and hear all these choral maestros at work: Michael Zaugg, Scott Leithead, Morna Edmundson, Robert Filion... we're in for a treat!