Thursday, May 31, 2018

Meet the Podium Social Media Team

Recently, I've been a busy gal with all things choir, including my Podium Choir Blog Series highlighting performing choirs for PODIUM on the EDGE 2018 in St. John's NL!

This will be my second time attending this wonderful, choir nerd-fest of a conference (click here to see my team from Podium 2016) and also the second time being part of the Podium Social Media Team as the social media coordinator!

Meet my talented team members and I, coming from across Canada to join forces for Podium 2018 social media takeover. This ranges from concert, sessions, and interviews with on site action-packed coverage to bring together our love for music and all aspects of choir! 

Want to know more about the team? Keep on reading where the team answers some fun choir questions!

Three requests: Take out our Smartphone, follow the gang on your social media platforms, and spread the word! #Podium2018

Graeme Climie (Calgary/Edmonton, AB)

Facebook: More Than Music
Twitter: @instagraeme_45
Instagram: @instagram_45
Blog: MoreThan Music

Graeme Climie is a Calgary based bass/baritone and associate member of Pro Coro Canada who will be traveling to Newfoundland as a member of the 2018 National Youth Choir. Graeme is a singer and board member of the nationally-acclaimed Spiritus Chamber Choir and has represented Alberta twice as a member of the National Youth Choir of Canada singing under Timothy Shantz and Jeff Joudrey. Graeme currently works as the Director of Business Strategy and Marketing for Cantaré Children’s Choir – his childhood choir.

In his studies, Graeme is a senior Business student at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business specializing his studies in areas of entrepreneurship, marketing, and not-for-profit consulting. Graeme has become a dedicated advocate for bringing contemporary business strategies into the unique environment of the arts world. Throughout his degree, Graeme has consistently been recognized as one of Haskayne’s best and brightest being selected by faculty on multiple occasions to represent the prestigious school at various conferences and competitions. Graeme has been a competitor and finalist at the JDC West Business Competition, the RBC Fast Pitch Entrepreneurship Competition, and the McDonough Hilltop Business Strategy Challenge at Georgetown University. In 2017, he was one of four students selected to conduct a study auditing marketing practices of arts organizations under the supervision of Associate Dean Dr. Scott Radford in partnership with the Rozsa Foundation. 

What is your favourite Canadian choral piece? 

GC: Exaudi by Jocelyn Morlock. I have performed it many times with the National Youth Choir as well as with Pro Coro Canada. The piece begins in complete chaos and pain in the first half and the audience feels every ounce of that suffering which is then redeemed by the second half which is one of the most beautiful and uplifting segments of music ever written. It just gives you the whole journey from start to finish.

Click here for an excerpt of the piece from Jocelyn’s Soundcloud recorded by Vancouver’s Musica Intima.

Current choral piece on repeat?

GC: My Ipod/Spotify/Youtube is playing choral music from around the world almost 24/7, one I always loop back to at least once a week is “The Nightingale” by Latvia’s Ugis Praulins. This masterwork is written for a 20-part(!!!) choir and recorder and follows the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale.

Many Podium regulars will remember Pro Coro Canada performed the piece in Halifax.

What ensembles do you sing with and what is your favourite thing about singing in choirs?

GC: I currently sing with Pro Coro Canada, Spiritus Chamber Choir, and I am a program instructor for Cantare Children’s Choir. Choir is the ultimate team sport and I find no greater pleasure than that of combining my voice with people I love and creating incredible art.

What was your favourite moment while performing on stage as a singer?

GC: Probably my first concert with the National Youth Choir for a sold-out crowd in St. Catharines. That single show validated the countless hours we had put into the program in the past month, but it was also a clear reminder of how much of a hunger there is for choral music in this country. My goal has since been to find as many ways as possible to use that hunger to further the art across Canada.

Have you been to a Podium conference before? If so, what was your greatest memory from the conference?

GC: I attended my first Podium in Edmonton two years ago and I was completely enthralled by the high level of music that I witnessed in a short few days. My personal highlight was being able to hear Michael Zaugg’s National Youth Choir perform at the Winspear Centre. The program was so imaginative and showcased music from the choral masters of the world while also bringing new music into the world with many new commissioned works. Michael puts so much faith and trust in young people and the concert was his chance to show the choral community that young musicians can deliver when entrusted with a vastly complex and difficult program. I sat there in the audience and resolved I would be up on that stage the next time NYCC was formed, it was all the motivation I needed to be accepted into NYCC 2017 and I will now be returning with the 2018 session to Newfoundland.

Kristen Jerabek (Ottawa, ON)

Instagram:  @kikikaej
Twitter: @kristenjerabek
Linkedin: Kristen Jerabek 

Kristen Jerabek is a voice student at the University of Ottawa. She currently sings with Capital Chamber Choir as a soprano and has been heard as a soprano soloist in Vivaldi's Gloria and Rutter's Magnificat; in performance with Calixa Lavallée Ensemble conducted by Laurence Ewashko; and in various churches around Ottawa, such as St Bartholomew's and Westminster Presbyterian. This her first Podium and she is so excited to join the social media team. 

Current choral piece on repeat?

KJ: I tend to make a YouTube playlist of what I am performing and just repeat that over and over in the weeks approaching a concert. Currently, because of Podium, I've been playing Eric Whitacre's "Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine". The last section of the piece is a bit rough for me still, so I've been reviewing the rhythms repeatedly while stomping it out on my floor. My neighbors probably hate me, but I'm definitely improving.

Which social media are you most into right now (ex: Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook etc.)?

KJ: I'm really loving Instagram right now. There are so many really interesting creators, and I have always had a passion for photography. The ability to practice my photography and try and come up with fun and informative captions is great.

What ensembles do you sing with and what is your favourite thing about singing in choirs?

KJ: I currently sing with the Capital Chamber Choir and my favorite part of my choral experience is a little strange. You know those rehearsals were everything seems to go wrong? Those days where half the soprano section is sick, three basses aren't there, the tenors are singing the soprano part, and the altos are tired of sing the same note and stopping right before their part gets interesting? In those stressful rehearsals suddenly something goes absolutely perfectly. It might be five minutes of the 3 hours you are practicing, but in those minutes you are the epitome of a team. That's my favorite part.

Which sessions/concerts are you most looking forward to at Podium2018?

KJ: As a long time chorister I've always been interested in listening to a choir from a different point of view. One such alternative perspective is that of the conductor. In my work as a choir lead in churches I've had opportunities to peek into the world of conducting but I've never really explored that role. I'm very interested in the session "Choral sound from the inside out: The conductor's art of listening" in order to broaden my understanding of listening as a conductor. I think it will help me to be a better chorister by understanding more thoroughly a conductor's auditory perspective.

What was your favourite moment while performing on stage as a singer?

KJ: My first singing performance was at age 4. I was singing "Frosty the Snowman" at the Ottawa German Community Center. It wasn't a big performance, and it was definitely not great, but I realized the power of music in that moment. It taught me that you don't have to be astronomically talented to receive or give joy through music. You just have to share sincerely the music from your heart.  

Amy Desrosiers (Ottawa, ON)

Instagram: @Blondeinthechoir

Twitter: @Mamydee
Facebook: @Blonde in the Choir blog

Cornwall native Amy Desrosiers is a mezzo-soprano, choir manager, and digital marketer for the Capital Chamber Choir and alto in Aella C
hoir. She completed a Bachelor of Music and minor in Arts Administration in 2011 at the University of Ottawa. 
Amy loves working behind the scenes as an Arts Administrator for local music projects and creating connections among the community. Her love of social media and music inspired her to create the blog “Blonde in the Choir,” which strives to support artistic projects and initiatives in the Ottawa choral community.

Amy recently served as Chair and Head of Marketing for the Sing Ottawa en choeur festival Steering Committee (June 2017) and is the Social Media Representative for the PODIUM Choral Conference & Festival in 2018.

What is your favourite Canadian choral piece? 

AD: I go through phases so I’d have to say at this moment is Nicholas Piper’s “Delight of Paradise” which was recently recorded with my choir, Capital Chamber Choir in October 2016. It is a 7-movement beast of a choral work ending with the epic 7th movement “For There Is Abundant Room”. I’m extremely proud of Nick’s accomplishments as a composer and the choral world must know about this amazing work!
You will get to hear the piece in its entirety at our Spotlight concert on July 2

Current choral piece on repeat?

AD: Hands down “Salvator Mundi: Greater Love” by Paul Mealor. I am a huge fan of his work and the piece is sung in different languages simultaneously: the SATB quartet in Latin, the choir in English, and a gorgeous floating soprano Welsh solo at the end! 

Which sessions/concerts are you most looking forward to at #Podium2018?

AD: EVERYTHING - particularly the National Youth Choir as they are our emerging Canadian artists and giving them all our support is integral to their development. I've also been a longtime fan of Solala so that will be a big one for me!

As for sessions, these are definitely the ones of most interest to me:

Nordic Light: A Composer's Diary documentary film with Ēriks Ešenvalds

Choirs count! How to use the National Choral Census data 

Creating a sisterhood: Working with adolescent female voices in choral settings 

What was your favourite moment while performing on stage as a singer?

AD: One of the most memorable performances I did was in June 2010 when the Ottawa choirs and the National Arts Centre Orchestra were joined by the Orchestre Métropolitain and its choir, from Montreal, to perform Mahler's Symphony no.8 (also known as the Symphony of a Thousand) with conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, both at the National Arts Centre and the Place des Arts. A double-choir of 300 singers with a double-orchestra, with a "tour" to Montreal. It was a sold-out show at both locations. One of the most thrilling experiences of my choral life and I hope to perform it again one day. 

Have you been to a Podium conference before? If so, what was your greatest memory from the conference?

AD: My first Podium was indeed at Edmonton in 2016 where I also joined Sable's (The Choir Girl) social media team. 
You can read my Podium 2016 love letter and highlights here: Choral Avengers Take over Podium

Andrea Ellis (Charlottetown, PEI)

Facebook: Andrea Ellis
Twitter: @ellisandream
Instagram: @ellisandream

 Andrea Ellis is a pianist and mezzo soprano based out of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and is an active member of the province’s music community as a private music instructor, collaborative pianist, and choral musician.
Andrea is a Registered Music Teacher (RMT) and is a certified piano teacher with the Royal Conservatory of Music. Along with managing a thriving private studio, she is the Director of Music at St. Andrew’s United Church in Vernon Bridge, PE. She is collaborative pianist with several Island choirs including the Indian River Festival Chorus, the Amabilè Singers, and Harmonia Girls Choir; as well, she performs as a freelance collaborative pianist working regularly with music students at University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI). 

Andrea holds a Bachelor of Music (piano) from UPEI and was a two-time member of the National Youth Choir of Canada (2010 with Dr. Victoria Meredith, and 2012 with Ivars Taurins). She also comes with previous experience in the field of arts administration, holding positions at The Indian River Festival, Atlantic Presenters Association, and Contact East. She also served as Tour Manager for the 2014 edition of the National Youth Choir of Canada.
As a founding member of Sirens, Prince Edward Island's women's choral ensemble, Andrea is thrilled to be performing with the ensemble at Podium 2018 in St. John's, NL!

What is your favourite Canadian choral piece? 

AE: I am currently in love with “Sorrow Song of Whales” composed by Jeff Enns. This piece was commissioned for Sirens, a women’s choral ensemble based out of Charlottetown, PE, and we will be premiering the work in St. John’s (Highlight Performance: “Equals on the Edge”, July 2)! The text is based on the “Mermaid Legend” as told by PEI Mi’kmaq elder, Mathilda Knockwood. Inspired by the legend, PEI Poet Laureate Deirdre Kessler draws on parallels of environmental crisis and sustainability to create poetry specifically for our new work. Jeff cleverly crafts the harmonies to portray anguish, hope, and there is even a whale song motif – it is magical and has been a very special collaborative project for our group. 

Current choral piece on repeat?

AE: I’d have to say it is “La Maumariée” arranged by Joni Jensen. I do really enjoy the piece, but I am also in the process of memorizing it for an upcoming performance with Sirens. It has such a catchy melody, and there is some body percussion…which was a little frustrating at first, but now that I’ve got all my claps/thigh slaps/foot stomps down, it’s a lot of fun. I can’t stop singing it in public…

What ensembles do you sing with and what is your favourite thing about singing in choirs?

AE: I currently sing with Sirens, a women’s choral ensemble in Charlottetown, PE. I am also quite involved as a collaborative pianist and work for several ensembles on PEI, including the Indian River Festival Choir, The Amabilè Singers, Harmonia Girls’ Choir, and I am Director of Music at St. Andrew’s United Church in Vernon Bridge, PE. As nerdy as it may sound, choral music is a way of life for me. I truly believe that creativity is as important for our health as regular exercise, restful sleep and a healthy diet. Throw in the communal aspect of choirs, and it really is the perfect activity. I’m so happy to help facilitate these opportunities for singers in my own community, and we have a lot of fun!

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

AE: Social media is such a powerful tool for choral programs! We naturally have a built-in audience among our singers, who can share posts and help build an organic audience. Social media also allows organizations to personalize their events, activities, goods, etc. Whereas a website presents a more formal look at your choir, social media can take viewers behind the scenes – like an online open rehearsal! Audiences are fascinated by process and love to be included; it is an excellent way to personalize what you do and who you are as a choir! 

Have you been to a Podium conference before? If so, what was your greatest memory from the conference?

AE: I have attended Podium before as a singer with the National Youth Choir of Canada (NYCC) in 2010 (Saskatoon) and 2012 (Ottawa). I’d have to say my greatest memory is performing at the event. The shear terror of knowing some of Canada’s leading choral musicians in the audience was both intimidating and heartwarming. While many are accomplished musicians, they were also once youth musicians, wading their way through various programs as they decided what musical path to take. There was certainly a sense of warmth and support from the audiences as we sang our little hearts out, and it is so special we have this nurturing network in our country!

 - Blonde in the Choir

Friday, May 25, 2018

Podium Choir Blog Series: Ensemble Laude

Today's blog post is the tenth 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.

For close to two decades, Ensemble Laude women’s choir has enchanted audiences on Vancouver Island with its creative blend of medieval repertoire and contemporary choral works from around the world. Ensemble Laude is a community of women united by a passion for choral music and the vision of our Artistic Director, Elizabeth MacIsaac. We celebrate the beauty and resilience of women’s vocal traditions through the ages and seek to share this art form through joyful, soulful, and life-enhancing performances that gladden the heart, lift the spirit, and expand the mind.

Ensemble Laude began in 1998 with a group of 12 singers focused solely on medieval music. It has since expanded into a vibrant community choir of over 50 vocalists. Today, our concerts offer an eclectic repertoire, mostly unaccompanied, encompassing early music, sacred and secular works, and folk and world music. We are committed to expanding choral repertoire for women’s voices and regularly commission new Canadian works that preserve and revitalize early-music themes within contemporary settings.

As an auditioned community choir, Ensemble Laude provides opportunities for women and girls from a wide range of backgrounds to perform at a high level of excellence. Soloists and smaller ensembles are a strong feature of our work as is the choir’s creative approach to concert presentation and the use of physical space. In recent years, the choir has been recognized with first-place awards at the Victoria Performing Arts Festival and Performing Arts BC, first and second-place awards at the 2012 International Choral Kathaumixw, and numerous voters’ choice awards for best choral and classical music group from Victoria’s Monday Magazine. Ensemble Laude won second place in Equal Voice in the 2015 CBC Choral Competition, and in 2016 travelled to France to represent Canada at the international Choralies festival in Vaison-la-Romaine.

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

Carolyn Howe: Most would say our first international tour to France, and performing as part of Choralies in Vaison-la-Romaine was a highlight! Collaborating with other Victoria choirs to premiere Victoria composer (and great friend of Laude) Nicholas Fairbank’s work Isbjorn, and later reprising this for the New Music Festival in Victoria; inviting Ian Tamblyn to a rehearsal and hearing the stories inside his folk song, Woodsmoke and Oranges; performing at the beautiful Baumann Centre in December for our Champagne Tea; workshopping music with our frequent collaborator, Sarah Quartel; working with Laude choreographer Kathy Lang, and story teller Anne Glover to bring our newest commission, The Tale of Mahjabin, to life. 

What challenges do you see working with the voices in your choir? 

CH: Ensemble Laude is an auditioned community choir, and we strive to be as inclusive as possible while also achieving a high level of excellence. Our choir is made up of singers with a wide range of musicianship and experience. We have singers in our choir with music degrees, and singers returning to a choir for the first time since high school. We have singers who are only just learning to read music.  Finding a way to bring these diverse musicians together and provide a musical experience that is satisfying and achievable for every singer is a challenge we relish. Both conductors bring a singing and teaching background to the work and approach every part of rehearsal as voice teachers. Developing our singers’ vocal technique is essential to achieving the sound we strive for. 

Where do you begin when you start building a programme list coming to Podium? 

CH: We really wanted to give our audiences a taste of the diversity of our programming. Ensemble Laude initially was founded to perform medieval music, and although we have evolved over the years to include a wide range of musical styles and genres, we always include this music in our program. New commissions and supporting Canadian composers – particularly emerging composers – is important to Laude, and we wanted to feature some of our most recent commissions on the program, to share this work with new audiences. We know you will love it!

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

CH: Ensemble Laude has built up a dedicated fan base in Victoria, singing regularly to sold out houses. A strength of our performances is the intimacy and direct communication, audiences regularly report being swept away by the experience. We work hard to incorporate elements to heighten the expressive quality of our performances. Look for 
elements of movement, rhythmic and harmonic intricacy, beautiful tone and lots of energy!

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

CH: In a country as vast as Canada, it is so important for the people doing this work to have the opportunity to meet face-to-face to exchange ideas and inspiration. It is such an exciting time in Canadian choral music! We have wonderful composers producing brilliant choral repertoire, gifted directors leading world-class choirs in communities across the country, and our choirs taking their work to the international stage. Having a chance to be together, work together and share our work here on our home turf is essential to continuing to develop our Canadian voice.

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

CH: It’s so important that the choir has a chance to find something to connect with in a score, and love. Some pieces provoke an immediate emotional response; some appeal more to the thrill of the intellectual challenge. We want to find the right hook for every piece for our choir. For some songs it will be a piece of text to highlight at the first rehearsal, for another piece, a harmonic passage that will intrigue or move the group. 

What are the challenges when you are looking at repertoire to program for?

CH: We search for exciting and thrilling repertoire that will appeal to our very diverse choir. We pay particular attention to the alto lines in our repertoire selection. We don’t want bored and underused altos in our SSAA choir! We search for new exciting music to thrill both our audience and our singers, and attending international conferences and festivals to dig deep into the unknown repertoire has yielded many new discoveries. As well, finding music that will satisfy both our most advanced singers and our rookies is always a consideration. Lately we have increased the expectations for memorization in our performances, which in many ways has been a great equalizer. The singers who rely more on memory to learn their music, find they suddenly have an advantage over the strong readers. Now the experienced musicians have to push themselves out of their comfort zone, put away their scores, and engage with the music in a different way.

What are some future goals of the choir? 

CH: We are committed to providing enrichment to youth singers and making connections with young singers in the community. In January we received a development grant from the Victoria Foundation to begin doing some of this work. This spring, as part of the project, both directors went into local middle and high schools to work with existing choral programmes, and make connections with other conductors and youth singers. These singers have been invited to join us on stage at our last concert of the season. As well, all season we have been working with three highly skilled recent university music graduates, to develop our new Emerging Artists program. These three singers have worked closely with the directors to develop their choral leadership skills, have led sectionals and rehearsals, been featured soloists, and also enriched our sections with their musicianship and singing. We are excited to continue this program into the future, with the hopes of enriching and diversifying the skills of recently graduates of voice programs, by adding a choral experience into their portfolio. We are not sure exactly where we will land with our youth programming, and are grateful for the support of the Victoria Foundation to do this exploration.

Carolyn Howe is Ensemble Laude’s Assistant Director. Elizabeth MacIsaac is undertaking her doctorate in Choral Conducting in Seattle at the University of Washington and returns to Victoria to work with Laude singers every other week. To help carry the load, Carolyn Howe brings her talent as a director, warm personality, and beautiful singing voice to the choir.

Carolyn Howe received her Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance from the University of Victoria, and has long been an active member of Victoria’s music community. In 2006, Carolyn joined Hexaphone, a collaborative chamber ensemble of six voices, specializing in unaccompanied repertoire sung one voice to a part. Highlights of her work with Hexaphone included performing in the Victoria Symphony New Currents Festival of Music, at the Voice ++ Festival at Open Space, premiering BC 150 Project: Five Songs For BC, and winning the Elmer Iseler Prize in 2012 at the International Choral Kathaumixw.

From 2006-2014, Carolyn was choral director of the Mood Swing Chorus for the Friends of Music Society, a partnership program for people with mental illness and members of the wider community. In addition, she is recognized as an outstanding children’s music educator. Since 2005 Carolyn has been the music teacher at South Park Elementary, a fine-arts-focused school in Victoria, where she teaches a general music program, and directs two award-winning children’s choirs.

Thank you so much, Carolyn!

Ensemble Laude performs on Tuesday, July 3, 2:00pm at the Cochrane Centre (81 Cochrane St) as a Spotlight Choir at #Podium2018.

You can follow Ensemble Laude on social media:

 - Blonde in the Choir

Friday, May 18, 2018

Podium Choir Blog Series: Sirens Choir

Today's blog post is the ninth 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.

Named after the singing femmes fatales of Greek mythology, Sirens is an award-winning women’s choral ensemble based out of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Under the artistic direction of Kelsea McLean, the group has developed a strong following of supporters and has been lauded for its pure tone quality, sensitive musicality and tight ensemble. Sirens produces two full-length concert programs each season while maintaining a busy schedule performing at a variety of concerts, fundraisers, events and workshops.

A recipient of several awards at the local and provincial music festivals in 2015, Sirens earned the Richard W. Cooke award at the FCMF National Music Festival, placing first in the Choral Ensemble Class. That same year, Sirens also received a nomination for Music PEI’s award for Achievement in Classical or Jazz.

During the 2016-17 concert season, Sirens performed alongside the Prince Edward Island Symphony Orchestra and the Halifax Camerata Singers. The ensemble has also collaborated with The Atlantic String Machine, singer-songwriter Meaghan Blanchard, soprano Tracy Cantin, pianist Robert Kortgaard, and violinist Sean Kemp. Sirens has been featured at the renowned Indian River Festival (2015, 2016) and the UPEI Department of Music Recital Series (2015).  During the 2017-18 season, Sirens will be featured in performance at Podium (St. John’s, NL), Canada’s national choral conference and festival.

Committed to fostering the development of choral music in Prince Edward Island, Sirens initiated Harmonia Girls’ Choir in fall of 2015 to nurture the next generation of PEI’s female choral singers.

What do you feel makes your choir unique from other choirs? 

KM: Sirens is a small ensemble of only 11 women who perform mostly undirected in performance. We strive to provide an inviting and engaging performance with our focus being creating an intimate and exciting experience for our audiences. I believe that we may also be the only choir from Prince Edward Island ever represented at the Podium, which makes our appearance one of particular note!

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

KM: Sirens earned the “Richard W. Cooke Award” at the FCMF National Music Festival, placing first in the Choral Ensemble Class in 2015. That same year, Sirens also received a nomination for Music PEI’s award for Achievement in Classical or Jazz. In our 2016-2017 season, we collaborated with the Prince Edward Island Symphony, performing the simple but exquisite The Place of the Blest by Randall Thompson. That same year, we also shared a concert with Halifax Camerata Singers, which was such an honour for us. In June, we are, once again, being presented by the iconic Indian River Music Festival in Prince Edward Island as part of their summer line-up. Of particular note, we also commissioned a piece from Jeff Enns this year, which we are so thrilled to present at Podium.

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

KM: Sirens Choral Association Inc. is a non profit, women’s choral organization in Prince Edward Island. SCA is committed to fostering the development of choral music on PEI by achieving a high level of choral artistry through education and accessible programming.  A supportive community for women and girls, Sirens Choral Association Inc. strives to nurture musical and personal growth, meaningful relationships, leadership skills and confidence in its participants. Our work encompasses regular programming with our women’s choir, Sirens, our youth choir, Harmonia Girls’ Choir, as well as hosting regular open rehearsals, supporting community singing initiatives, and providing performance opportunities for amateur singers.

What challenges do you see working with the voices in your choir? 

KM: When working with only women’s voices, exploring and working to find different colours and varied programming is the thrilling challenge. It can be easy to program a concert that all “sounds the same,” thus I seek to find repertoire that highlights the diversity, power, and sensitivity of women’s voices. Sirens is a small ensemble, therefore, another obstacle is choosing music that celebrates our flexibility and range, without showing how few voices we have. I try not to program works that are simply “too big” for our choir, because it can certainly be tempting. Our singers are also very accomplished musicians, therefore I often try and be cognizant of the need to challenge these fine singers.

Where do you begin when you start building a programme list coming to Podium?
KM: I actually began by looking back through our library at the pieces that we had done in the past. Reflecting on what had been successful in past seasons and where I perhaps had not yet challenged our singers was a useful exercise for me. What struck me was that the pieces we all had loved singing and that showcased our ensemble the best were those that were written extremely well for women’s voices, most of these being compositions that were originally composed, not simply arranged, for women’s choir. Therefore, the theme became clear for me, I wanted to program some of our all-time pieces thus far and then find some new gems that celebrate women’s voices.

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

KM: Sirens is comprised of absolutely tremendous and independent singers who thrive on performing together. We love telling the story of our pieces, through subtle movement and expressive singing. I only use gesture with the ensemble during crucial transitions, thus our singers’ focus is left to engage the audience and invite them into our story-telling directly. Sirens is known for its brilliant ability to interact with the audience and each other in a genuine and meaningful way.

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

KM: Podium is such a treasure, in that it unites choral artistry from all across the country. It has always been a source of inspiration for me personally. Even though the choral community is small in Canada, it can sometimes feel like we do our day-to-day work in insolation. Podium is an enriching time for choral conductors and choral singers to come together, to learn, to re-energize, and to celebrate the diversity and richness of our Canadian choral family.

How important is it for choirs to promote the works of contemporary Canadian composers?
KM: Music-making is a key component to our culture and therefore, I believe that promoting the work of Canadians is key to preserving and toting our musical culture. I certainly wish the composers in our country to experience success and our choirs can assist in this by singing their music; I am happy to continue this work! Furthermore, Canada has a plethora of amazing new music being written; I consider there to be something missing from my programming without Canadian compositions present.

When you are looking to commission a work for your choir, what are the considerations you keep in mind when choosing the right Composer for the job? 

KM: Admittedly, Sirens has not commissioned many pieces as we are only in our 5th season. However, with our most recent commission, my most careful consideration was whether a particular composer knows how to write for women’s voices. In having sung and directed works by Jeff Enns in the past, I knew this to be true. This was important for me and my ensemble. The most difficult part of the commissioning process for me, this time around, was searching for a text. Eventually, we ended up commissioning a text by PEI’s own Poet Laureate Deirdre Kessler, as I could not find a text that resonated with the theme and message we were for Jeff Enns to portray.

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

KM: I certainly cannot admit to getting this right every time, but I do feel that this is an extremely important skill on the director’s part. Essentially, directors are salespeople when it comes to new pieces; there absolutely needs to be a buy-in from the singers or else the rehearsal and performance process can be treacherous. I thoughtfully consider an interpretation of the story or intent of the composition and then, introduce the work through that lens initially. If singers can identify or can find interest in the bigger picture, then often there is more willingness to work at the piece. Secondly, I attempt to create success for my singers in the section that I introduce first by employing effective rehearsal techniques. A run-through of the piece generally does not initiate that immediate success, generally speaking. I search for a meaningful or attainable passage and we work that segment in order to hook singers on the piece.

What are the challenges when you are looking at repertoire to program for?

KM: As I mentioned earlier, the largest obstacle and temptation is staying away from pieces that are intended for a larger ensemble. There is certainly repertoire that works brilliantly with our small number, because we are much more flexible as an ensemble. However, there are times where the divisi or the texture becomes too thick for our singers to navigate. In my experience, I can certainly put one singer per part, but the piece is often rendered ineffective. Furthermore, there is sometimes a fine line between children’s choir and women’s choir music; I am often assessing whether the text or the melodic components better serve children or women. 

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

KM: I grew up in a musical family, with both of my parents being respected music educators in our community. My father was the band director and my mom was the choir director at my community’s high school. I was so fortunate to have been involved in choirs, bands, and music lessons from a young age. As a result of living in a musical household, I was privileged to have been frequently exposed to incredible music education models as well as significant musical experiences. I received by Bachelor of Music from Canadian Mennonite University and this is where my love for choral music and music education was fostered by my mentor, Dr. Janet Brenneman. After receiving my Bachelor of Education from the University of Saskatchewan in 2012, I moved to Prince Edward Island with my husband. Here, I was fortunate to be involved in the formation of Sirens and before our second season, I was appointed as Artistic Director. In 2015, Sirens expanded its family with the creation of Harmonia Girl’s Choir, which I also direct. I have also had the privilege of conducting the Indian River Festival Chorus for their 2016 and 2017 season. I also enjoy clinic and workshop opportunities, having worked with choirs such as the Annapolis Valley Honour Choir and PEI Junior Honour Choir, and having adjudicated at the Atlantic Festival of Music in Halifax. Aside from this work, I teach instrumental music at Morell Regional High School and I am currently working towards my Masters of Music Education through Acadia University. Even though I adore my music education hat, my joy and love of singing in choirs has been instilled in me since my childhood and I continually seek opportunities to sing, which thankfully, Sirens allows me both of these pleasures!

What are some future goals of the choir? 

KM: Podium has been our goal since our inception, so now we have to go back to the drawing board to determine our next move - ha! In the future, we certainly want to continue striving for a high-level of choral artistry and to continue building our organization and our family of choirs. Recording has definitely been a goal we are looking towards, so I look forward to a project focused on that in the future. Also, as I mentioned earlier, we are relatively new to world of commissioning new works, but this last project has been so fulfilling that I am certainly excited to embark on this journey again. I do hope to commission a female, Canadian composer in the near future. 

Finally, our current commission, Sorrow Song of Whales by Jeff Enns, which we are premiering at Podium, will continue on with us next season. This commission was inspired by a Mi’kmaq legend told to us by PEI elder, Methilda Knockwood. Her “Mermaid Legend” is a cautionary and wonder-filled tale of mermaids seeking aid due to the tragedy of climate change. Our current poet laureate, Deirdre Kessler, then wrote us a beautiful text illustrating a parallel story to that told by Knockwood. Next season, we are hoping to collaborate further with the Mi’kmaq community to co-construct a larger narrative work of stewardship and friendship.

What do you hope conference and festival attendees will take away from the experience?
KM: I hope that listeners of our concert see the validity, relevance, and strength of women’s choirs. Sirens’ inception was not one that arose out of some reality that we could not find men to sing with us, rather our founding members longed for a musical community of like-minded women. Our founding members sought a sisterhood that would support each other and strive for musical excellence, and I think this has been beautifully established. For many years, my understanding is that there has been a lack of women’s choir repertoire, but I do think the tides are shifting in this regard. Our program and our performance will offer a taste of some of the thrilling and diverse works available for women’s voices. 

Kelsea McLean holds a Bachelor of Music from Canadian Mennonite University where she studied voice and specialized in choral education; she also graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor of Education. Kelsea currently serves as chorister and Artistic Director of Sirens, a women’s choir based in Charlottetown. As a recipient of several awards at the local and provincial music festivals, Sirens earned the “Richard W. Cooke Award” at the FCMF National Music Festival, placing first in the Choral Ensemble Class in 2015. That same year, Sirens also received a nomination for Music PEI’s award for Achievement in Classical or Jazz. In 2015, Kelsea founded and began directing Harmonia Girls’ Choir, the first addition to the Sirens’ family of choirs. She has also had the privilege of conducting the Indian River Festival Chorus for their 2016 and 2017 season. Sought after for her high-energy and emphasis on vocal technique, she has had the privilege of providing choral clinics for PEI programs such as Music Monday and the PEI Junior Honour Choir. She has also adjudicated for the Atlantic Festival of Music. Kelsea also enjoys an active solo career, having performed primarily in SK, MB, and PEI including appearances with the Swift Current Oratorio Choir and Regina Symphony Orchestra, the Canadian Mennonite University choirs and Mennonite Community Orchestra, and the Confederation Singers. Kelsea teaches instrumental and choral music at Morell Regional High School and is currently working towards her Masters of Music Education from Acadia University.

Thank you so much, Kelsea!

Sirens performs on Monday, July 2nd, 8:30pm at the Cochrane Centre (81 Cochrane St) as a Highlight Choir for the "Equals on the Edge" concert at #Podium2018.

You can follow Sirens on social media:

Facebook: @SirensChoir
Twitter: @SirensChoir
Instagram: @sirenschoir
Youtube: Sirens Choir

 - Blonde in the Choir