Friday, July 25, 2014

Popular music for classical musicians: my recommendations

Hello lovelies!

I have to admit I've encountered that dreaded first creative block a week ago. It was awkward and made me lose my mind. Kind of like when you run out of delicious cheese and resort to putting fried onions on your sandwich instead.

Fried onions taste like cheese right? AM I RIGHT? ...

Eventually I got off my bony ass and bought this cinnamon coated crumbling gouda. It was like a choir singing in perfect tune. Never really happens but when it does, you go into a trans and freak people out.

Anyways we should move on to a more interesting topic:

Popular music for classical musicians.

Yes. Such a thing can exist.  

I believe, in a world of music, one cannot completely commit to one genre for listening purposes. It is impossible. In fact, I can bravely say many of my classical friends are having a harder time appreciating popular music these days. I sometimes find them in the corner listening to Queen Bey with a shameful look. Bless their hearts.

Not so long ago, I asked my classical friends to express their views on listening to popular music. Here are some of their responses:

"I see over utilized convention after over utilized convention. I feel a little sad that most of the listeners will not recognize this. It's a little bit like walking through suburbia - Copy, paste, loop, insert lyrics here. It's just so formulaic. You could also say it's like waking up one day and only being able to see in black in white, after being so used to seeing in color."

"That self-proclaimed "music" fans and experts alike usually only know small ensemble works often consisting of a maximum of 3 types of instruments (guitars, drums, vocals) is a testament to the music industry's success in turning an art form into packaged cattle feed."

"It's all part of a complete musical diet; Brahms, Schubert, Debussy, and Bach are like the meat, potatoes, veggies, flavours and spices that sustain my brain, heart, body and soul. Then we have Kesha, Kanye, and Beyonce that act as the ice cream, junk food, beer, and pizza. These guilty pleasures are also very important in helping us express our humanity and can be very enjoyable, but as for me, I think it's healthier to experience them in moderation."

"I dig the fact that there are people who know, essentially, that writing the pop songs of today is formulaic and simple.
Albeit, I do dig some solos thrown in from well-known session musicians... Glass half full I guess."

"General rage, but I tend to shut my mind off when I listen to that crap." No love. Ouch.

All of these responses have very good arguments. Anyone up to challenging these statements? Voice them in the comments section!

To me, the need to satisfy my classical and popular music tastes, is to find a middle.
Here are some elements I listen for in popular music:
- Musical diversity and originality in chord progression and melody. No one wants an album where the majority of songs are in the same key and chord pattern resulting in a very predictable and monotone experience. Surprise us!
- I may be biased in saying this, but you practically win me over when the use of any classical instrument is implemented in a song properly.
- The passion to be vocally versatile without going into overkill.
- Mashups. I hate mashups. Create your own tune without borrowing from another to enhance the quality of your song. Again, surprise us!
And so begins my own list of artists who have truly proven themselves (to me at least) to stand out in the crowd as music innovators, blending classic elements into their own.

What separates these artists from the others is their passion for telling an incredible story. A story in which the goal is to move and surround you completely.

When it comes to the artists below, I completely immerse myself in the music. Kind of like this:


Here we go:

Artist: Woodkid
Album: The Golden Age
Notable songs: Run Boy Run, The Golden Age, Stabat Mater, Iron, I love you...THE WHOLE DAMN ALBUM OK?!
Discovery: Divergent soundtrack

Why I love this so much: Woodkid's use of instrumentation in all his singles are so powerful and raw. Not only does he direct many of his videos (like above), he also collaborates with notable composers such as Max Richter, Gustave Rudman and Phillip Glass. Truly, truly an incredible artist.

Artist: M83
Album: Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
Notable songs: Midnight City, I Need You, Wait
Discovery: Divergent soundtrack, Girls soundtrack, Chanticleer

Why I love this so much: The video above is one of their best singles. This album is so atmospheric that it leaves you completely surrounded with feel good emotions. It gives you the impression that you are well...dreaming!  The strings and saxophone mixed in with electronic sounds leaves a feeling of being in your own imaginary movie. Well done, Sir.

I should also mention that a world renown a cappella group named Chanticleer performed an arrangement by Steve Hackman for the M83 song "Wait". I heard this live and was reduced to tears. You can listen to it here:

Artist: Lana Del Rey
Album: Born To Die Deluxe Edition
Notable songs: Way too many to name
Discovery: When "Summertime Sadness" was a hit on the radio.

(Just so you know, this video has explicit content)

Why I love this so much: Lana...oh Lana. One of the biggest influences in music for me. The only way I can describe her music is a blend of Cinematic Sadcore and Hip Hop. Her vocal range is also pretty darn expansive and I can enjoy the fact that she doesn't have to go on a descant rampage to make her vocal statement.
Lana has also been described as the modern day Nancy Sinatra of 1950's Americana.
Her short film Tropico (above) is just another example of her brilliance.

Artist: The Knife
Album: Silent Shout
Notable songs: Neverland, One Hit, Heartbeats, We Share Our Mother's Health
Discovery: Recent trip to Boston with the boyfriend.

Why I love this so much: One of my most recent groups to join the band of music innovators. These Swedish siblings are nuts. The electronic music they compose is really different from any group I've ever heard. The meld of voice changers and insane sound effects will blow your mind. I should also mention that they co-wrote an opera called Tomorrow, in a Year... to say this opera is "experimental" would be an understatement.

Artist: Arcade Fire
Album: Reflektor, The Suburbs
Notable songs: Too many to name
Discovery: Muchmusic when it was good.

Why I love this so much: RĂ©gine and Win. Need I say more? You already knew this was coming. This Electro-Indie Rock group has won basically every freakin' music award in existence. I saw them live in April and it was just a huge costume party complete with sequins and homemade robot heads. Great artists, great versatility and great use of instrumentation.

Other honourable mentions are:

Aloe Blacc
Daft Punk (obviously)
The Moody Blues

And to end this post, I leave you with this:


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Geisha'fied for Puccini's Madama Butterfly

Play "Reflection" by Mulan for full effect.

Lovelies. I have finally found some time for you.

In a nutshell, singing has been nonstop since January and I have finally found a break (kind of) to spend some quality time with you and talk about my recent experience singing in Puccini's Madama Butterfly with Opera Lyra Ottawa.

For the short time the choir is on stage for this popular opera, being a geisha is a character I haven't quite experienced but enjoyed immensely. If it wasn't enough that the beautiful costumes had me squealing like a five year old in the cereal isle of a grocery store, acting the part was a learning curve.

I kept thinking "What would Mulan do?".

Enjoy some of these photos while I scarf down a Jo Louis:

Photo credit: Sam Garcia and Gene Wu

Sometimes I like to hang in casual garb complete with theatrical makeup.

 Full costume!

Full cast right before Bonzo's entrance. I'm on the right with a questionable "worried" look.

Geisha gals.

Full chorus.

Backstage shenanigans.

Never complete without a warm-up selfie.

Chopsticks, so hot right now. Chopsticks.
Needless to say, we had a lot fun with the short amount of time we had on stage. Even humming the high B flat in the humming chorus had me giggling like a mad woman. Can't say the stiff shuffling and elegance is not a trait I favour but it was an incredible experience I will surely not forget.
See you soon lovelies! 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The people you will meet in a choir

Aren't all choirs just a big dysfunctional family?

Hello lovelies,

Happy delayed New year! I currently find myself sick on the couch thinking of more posts that will tickle your fancy.

Lo and behold, I've compiled a list of people you meet in a choir. Some are super, some are villainous, and others may become your closest thing to a second family.
And what better way to demonstrate these theatrical personalities than through humorous pictures and gifs.

Here we go:

1.  The motherly alto

This specimen usually presents itself in motherly form or to be more specific: The Mrs. Weasley of the pack. The motherly alto will be the first person you will meet in a choir, has a purse packed with goodies and a stack of "MY NAME IS ___"  stickers.
While the sweets are well...sweet, the motherly alto will not settle for any stupid singing mistakes. You may want to know your music or you will be told to get your shit together. (see my post on faces of choristers part uno on getting your shit together.) 

2. The word vomit aficionado

There is always one. Always. Word vomit is this specimen's middle name and will never fail to interrupt rehearsal time to ask unnecessary questions and make comments.

"Why is the B flattened?" "There's way too much vibrato in this passage."

"Do you find it hot in here? I find it really hot." "Do you know the way to Santa Fe?"


3. The eager soloist

This chorister will stop at nothing to snag even those two-bar solos. She/he may be your best friend but if you also want that solo, you go for it, girl. Show that keener that you also sing LIKE A BOSS.

4. The diva

You knew this was coming, don't lie to yourself like that.

No matter how easy-going a choir is, there is always one person who sees things a little differently. Let's face it, everyone has an inner diva. Some people just lash out their diva attitude on a daily basis. If you ask me, I think they were cheese-deprived when they were young...

BRB getting gouda.

5. The hot one

Whether it be that dashing tenor with perfect teeth (and high B flat) or the Kelly Kapowski mezzo lookalike, you will encounter a hot chorister at least once in your life.
Climb that like a tree if you get the opportunity. Kidding. You can do whatever your little heart desires, even if that includes the simple enjoyment of eye-candy sent your way.

My advice: don't be creepy.

6. Grandpa Bass / Uncle Tenor and his witty jokes

They always chime in with those darn witty jokes at the best time in rehearsal:

"What do you call a woman singing during the holidays? CAROL!" Lololololololol.
Laughter can really be the best medicine. Bless their hearts.

7. The sway enthusiast

When one hears music, some may bob their head, hum along etc. Then there is the sway enthusiast. There is nothing holding this chorister back:

Head bobbing, eyes closed, feet tapping to the off-beat, shoulder-popping, clapping triplets. Sometimes the electric slide will surface.
In a nutshell, every muscle in their body is attuned to the music. This may come as a distraction to some, I see it as free entertainment.

8. The choir manager

As a choir manager myself, I think it fair to receive a degree is email management studies. A choir manager will send you 3+ emails a day and always has those annoying announcements at rehearsal break. All you want to do is eat your doughnut and go pee. Trust me, dear, all I want to do is drink wine and eat gouda at that point but I gotta get the job done first.
CM's are generally found with boxes of scores and a bottle of wine sticking out of their purse...yes they will likely offer you a glass of wine, as long as you sign the attendance sheet and not ask to send the schedule a third time.

9. The Stand Up guy

It's simple: there's always a tenor that stands up THE WHOLE REHEARSAL while everyone is sitting down. Do whatever you gotta do, man...

And finally...

10. The pitch-face enthusiast

If you've read my past posts on "Faces of choristers", the Pitch Face surfaces on a regular basis.

I describe the Pitch Face as a glorious absence of facial discreetness. If someone hits a wrong note, at least 10 pitch faces will occur simultaneously. Trust me, I see it every week.

Shit happens.

All in all, I love what I do and the people I sing with are a second family to me. If you feel you identify with the characters listed above, just know that you are the reason why I write these posts.
You are the reason why rehearsals are never dull. Let's share a glass of wine together, shall we?

Hope you enjoyed this post! I know I surely enjoyed writing it!