Friday, March 30, 2018

PODIUM 2018 Choir Blog series: Artistic Director Elise Bradley

Happy (Good) Friday!

Today's post is the second of many interview previews of performing choirs for PODIUM ON THE EDGE taking place from June 28 - July 3, 2018 in St. John's NL!

The Toronto Children’s Chorus has just celebrated its 40th Anniversary season, ‘Fire and Ice’ - and has also marked its eleventh year under the dynamic leadership of Artistic Director Elise Bradley, MNZM. Since its founding in 1978 by Conductor Laureate, Jean Ashworth Bartle, C.M., O.Ont., the Chorus has been committed to the enrichment of children’s lives through the discipline, teamwork, joy, and unique camaraderie of fine choral singing. Its multi-faceted music education programs, challenging and diverse repertoire, and life-changing opportunities to perform on local, national, and international stages help prepare over 300 young choristers each season to become ambassadors of music - and caring citizens of the world.

During its thirty international tours since 1980, the Toronto Children’s Chorus has performed in such revered venues as the Musikverein, Haydn Hall, the Berlin Dom, Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Royal Albert Hall, and the Sydney Opera House. Choristers have also had the privilege of singing under the baton of many celebrated conductors, including Sir Andrew Davis, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Peter Oundjian, Krzysztof Penderecki, Sir Simon Rattle, Helmuth Rilling, and Sir David Willcocks, and performing as guest artists with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Bach Consort, Soundstreams, Opera Atelier, and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. This season, the Chamber Choir has appeared twice with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra - in Jeffrey Ryan’s Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation and in James MacMillan’s Little Mass - and has also had the distinct honour of singing Canada’s National Anthem at the closing ceremony of the international Invictus Games, hosted by Toronto in September 2017. The Chorus is thrilled to perform once again at #Podium2018 and to return to Newfoundland & Labrador for the first time since Festival 500 in 2003!

What do you feel makes your choir unique?

EB: The Toronto Children’s Chorus is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this season and was therefore in the vanguard of the children’s choir movement in Canada in the 1970’s. In addition to its regular season performances, the Chorus offers children an in-depth music education, which includes the study of vocal technique, theory, sight singing, ear training, repertoire from different genres and countries, history of music, and proficiency in singing in many languages through the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Children in the organization range in age from KinderNotes (our early childhood music programme for children aged 3 to 6), through our Training Choirs (ages 6 to 11) to our Main Choir (ages 11-17). Five years ago, we also launched the Toronto Youth Choir for TCC graduates and friends (ages 17 to 30). The award-winning Chamber Choir tours regularly both nationally and internationally and receives many invitations to collaborate as guest artists with such renowned music organizations as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Soundstreams, Opera Atelier, and Tafelmusik.

What are some recent highlights you have had with your choir?

EB: Since I became Artistic Director in 2007, the choir has celebrated numerous highlights, especially during its 8 international tours and 3 national tours. The Chamber Choir performed with Krzysztof Penderecki in the cathedral in Krakow while on tour in Russia and the Baltics; with the Fujii Percussion Ensemble from Japan, performing in Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto; with Opera Atelier and Tafelmusik for performances of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas; and with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in many major works, including Orff’s Carmina Burana, Britten’s War Requiem, Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, and MacMillan’s Little Mass. While on tour in South Africa, the choir sang a Maori blessing in honour of Nelson Mandela outside his hospital, and while in Spain, the children enjoyed a very special billeting experience in the tiny mountain village of Santa Maria d’Olo, where our hosts put on a farewell dinner and memorable evening of festivities in the town square.

What is the importance of fostering choral singing for your choir?

EB: I firmly believe that studying choral music offers young people the opportunity to achieve artistic excellence, experience the joy of performance, acquire musical and leadership skills, learn self-discipline and teamwork, make life-long friends, and grow in a mutually supportive environment. It is a privilege to offer these life-changing opportunities to the children in our choirs and to share with them my passion for the art of choral music.

Describe the challenges of programming for your young singers.

EB: It is challenging to select repertoire for the changing voices of boys and girls, since they often need to change voice parts as they grow. It is important to find good quality music that is set in the proper tessitura and that has the range of difficulty suited to the various choir levels. Selecting music with age-appropriate texts is also very important for children’s choirs.

Where did you begin to build a programme list for Podium?

EB: I began by selecting the theme for our current season, ‘Fire and Ice’, so that I could build repertoire that would also be suited to my vision for our Podium performances. The TCC is collaborating with the Hamilton Children’s Choir (whose conductor is from Russia) and with the Cordana Youth Choir (from Indonesia), so all the music selected reflects the heritage and languages of countries located around the Pacific Rim on the ‘Ring of Fire’.

What can audiences hope to see from your choir at Podium?

EB: Audiences will hear new repertoire in a new context through our collaborative choral project. A full range of repertoire – from early genres to modern music, as well as dance – will represent the many countries on the Ring of Fire. A variety of instruments will also be played, including quartz singing bowls, Samoan fala, and medieval percussion.


What role do you see Podium having in the world of Canadian choral music?

EB: Podium is a vital showcase for Canadian choral music, choirs, composers, publishers and music vendors. It gives artists an opportunity to come together, share ideas, experience each other’s performances, renew old friendships, and make new ones. Through concerts, lectures, and workshops, delegates become reinvigorated to return to work in their communities and with their choirs. Meeting at Podium gives musicians from across our vast country the biennial opportunity to unite in song, celebrate Canadian music, and hear diverse international repertoire.

How important is it for choirs to promote the works of contemporary Canadian composers?

EB: As a conductor in New Zealand for almost 30 years prior to moving to Canada, I regularly featured Canadian music in performances with my choirs! I feel it is tremendously important to support and promote the work of Canadian composers. In the Toronto Children’s Chorus, we are fortunate to commission and work with many composers, both in rehearsal and in concert – Elise Letourneau, David Patriquin, Shireen Abu-Khader, Eleanor Daley, Larysa Kuzmenko, and Hussein Janmohamed, to name but a few. 

When commissioning a work for your choir, what considerations do you keep in mind?

EB: I look for a composer who writes well chorally for children’s voices, selects appropriate texts and sets the words so that the notes and stresses are singable, chooses an appropriate tessitura and key for young voices, and considers the musical skills and abilities of the group which will perform the work. It is also special when composers have an opportunity to work alongside the choir to develop the commissions, as we have done in the past.

What do you consider when preparing to introduce a new work to your choir?

EB: I prepare the work thoroughly in advance of the first rehearsal. I always mark my score (language, vowels, and dynamics), analyze the work, study the cultural/musical history of the composer and the genre, and mark the stress accents and intervals. If the piece is in a foreign language, I often invite a person from that country to work with the choir on the correct pronunciation of the text and together we enter the IPA prior to singing the piece. I also occasionally prepare biographies and create accompanying analysis projects for the children to complete, to enrich their understanding of the life and times of important composers.

What are the challenges when looking at repertoire?

EB: It takes time to find suitable, well-written, quality repertoire for children’s choirs. Building on a season theme helps me frame the programmes and select repertoire. For my older choirs, I try to select longer, more challenging works as well as shorter pieces – I find this gives a better flow to the concerts and is also more interesting and educational for the singers and for the audience. I try to schedule works from the Middle Ages to contemporary and indigenous pieces, since this variety gives depth and breadth to the programme. 

Explain your musical upbringing and what drew you to choral music?

I was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and joined my first choir at the age of 8. I was very lucky to be chosen to be in a specialized music class - all this time ago - and to sing in a very good choir at my local Intermediate and High School. I loved to sing and had always wanted to become a teacher, so I eventually studied both Music and Education at Victoria University of Wellington and Wellington Teachers’ College. I started a choir in my first year of teaching in 1977, which actually grew out of my class of 9-year-old's singing together for half an hour every morning! Eventually the whole school was singing every morning! I have been a passionate musician, chorister, soloist, teacher, and conductor ever since!

This season Elise Bradley has celebrated her eleventh year as Artistic Director of the 300-member Toronto Children’s
Chorus. A passionate musician, award-winning conductor and educator, and internationally respected adjudicator and clinician, Ms. Bradley served for many years as the Head of Department, Music, at Westlake Girls’ High School in Auckland, New Zealand. She was recently honoured to be named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for her services to Music in her homeland and in Canada.

 Since arriving in Toronto in 2007, Ms. Bradley has garnered praise for her artistry and for her deep commitment to children and the art of treble choral music. She has led the Chamber Choir on eight international tours - Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany (2009), Brazil and Argentina (2011), Sweden (2012), South Africa (2013), Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland (2015), Boston and New York City (2016), Bahamas (2016) and Spain, to perform at the World Symposium on Choral Music in Barcelona (2017) - and three national tours: Ottawa (2012), Montreal and Ottawa (2013), and Halifax, Truro, and Amherst (2014).

Under her direction, the choir’s CD, "Sounzscapes: From Our Lands", was named ‘Outstanding Choral Recording’ by Choral Canada in 2014. She has also commissioned Canadian composers to write new works to be premiered by the Toronto Children's Chorus and has prepared the Main Choir to perform as guests of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Youth Orchestra, Opera Atelier, the Bach Consort, Soundstreams, and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Ms. Bradley receives many invitations to work with choirs and present at conferences around the world, most recently in China, Australia, Jordan, and Hong Kong.

Thank you so much, Elise!

The Toronto Children's Chorus performs on Monday, July 2nd 11:30am-12:30pm at the Cochrane Street United Church as a Spotlight Choir for #Podium2018.

You can follow the Toronto Children's Chorus on social media:

Twitter: @tcchighnotes
Instagram: @tccsings

 - Blonde in the Choir

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