Archive for the ‘conducting’ Category

new singing experiences for 2012

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Tonight is the first rehearsal of Echo Women’s Choir’s Spring concert season: their 20th Anniversary concert. I’m thrilled to be a guest conductor, alongside the wonderful Alan Gasser, while the choir’s other wonderful conductor, Becca Whitla, pursues her Masters research in Cuba.

Echo is a community-based choir in Toronto. There are no auditions to particicpate, though you might have to have your name on a waitlist for a little while. If you’re interested in singing, there are probably hundreds of choirs in the city to choose from, many of which do not require auditions. Most choirs have fees to participate, but some, like Echo, offer sliding scale or subsidies.

And trust me, there are choirs of every variety around here. From the more traditional Western European material of the Annex Singers to the rock n’ roll performances of newchoir to the more casual pub-friendly choir!choir!choir! to the sound-scape approach of the Element Choir, there’s something for anyone longing to sing with others in a choral kind of setting.

Two great resources for finding choirs are the Canary Pages of Wholenote magazine and the directory of Choirs Ontario (but rather annoyingly, the list is sorted alphabetically, so if you’re looking specifically for Toronto, it takes a little while). Don’t rely on these 2 only, however. Lots of singing groups are cropping up that aren’t in either of these (like all the choirs I mentioned above).

If you find a choir to sing with, tell me where and what the experience is like. Or maybe I’ll see you tonight at the Echo rehearsal?

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David and Goliath Fundraiser Rocked the Dark!

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Wow. What an amazing sold-out fundraiser on Saturday night for Echo and by Mariposa in the Schools.

In honour of Earth hour, the first half of the concert was performed with lights out. Holy Trinity Church looked beautiful in tiny pools of candlelight stretching all the way back.

Just how dark was it? Well, I got to open the show with my colleagues and co-conductors, Becca Whitla and Alan Gasser, singing a just-learned arrangement of the Afro-Cuban “Obbatala” by Glenda del Monte Escalante. You can judge for yourself:

Yep. Pretty dark. That darkness brought a huge gift, though: intense listening. Like everyone’s attention and energy brought us all palpably closer together. Makes me think we should perform in near-dark a lot more.

Echo sounded amazing. There were definitely several (many?) moments that more than a few members weren’t sure what to expect next, and we didn’t get lots of rehearsal time on a few joint numbers, but Echo members committed to the spirit of the performance and sang with great commitment and happiness. And that was clear from their performance. I had a few people say to me afterwards that the Choir sang with such visible and audible joy.   Particularly moving was the Chris Rawling’s Earth Chant that Echo sang in round behind Chris. And the close of the show, singing “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” with Ken Whitely…so wonderful!

The performers were amazing. Amazing in their performances to be sure, but also incredibly warm and generous in spirit.  Personal highlights: getting introduced to the music of Cameroonian artist Njacko Backo on kalimba; the stupendous performance by Gurpreet Chana–otherwise known as the Tabla Guy–playing his composition “Gratitude” on a percussion-like instrument that was recently invented (anyone out there remember what it’s called? A bit like an upside down steel pan, but more bell-like sound…); a wonderful and hilarious story by Marylyn Peringer; an incredible spoken word piece by Michael St. George called “I do” about his commitment to art and social justice; a raucous rendition of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” by David Anderson, accompanying himself with accordian…

I could go on, actually. There wasn’t one disappointing moment in the evening. Even the snacks were amazing.

Thanks for a wonderful evening, everyone.

If you missed this show, you’ll get a chance to catch Echo’s Spring concert on the afternoon of May 1, 2011. Details coming soon…

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Echo/Mariposa Fundraiser March 26, 2011

Monday, February 14th, 2011

David & Goliath Earth Hour Arts Celebration Fundraiser
an Evening of Music, Song and Story
to support the Echo Women’s Choir and Mariposa In The Schools

Saturday,March 26, 2011 7 to 10 p.m.

Church of Holy Trinity, Toronto

Such an exciting line-up:Ken Whiteley, David Anderson, Michael St George, Njacko Backo, Marylyn Peringer, Chris Rawlings, and the Cuban Percussion Ensemble. And of course, Echo Women’s Choir (the wonderful choir that I serve as a guest conductor this season).

Come join us! Silent Auction plus  Nibbles and Cash bar.

Tickets $25 Sponsors $100

Proceeds support 2 great organizations: Echo and Mariposa in the Schools

For more info: www.echowomenschoir.ca

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Performance Echo Women’s Choir: Dec 12

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Come to Holy Trinity Church in downtown Toronto on Sunday December 12 at  7:30 pm to see Echo Women’s Choir perform our concert “Gardens of Song.”  It features songs from Margaret Atwood’s latest novel In the Wake of the Flood and new choral arrangements for songs written by the Juno-award-nominated Jennifer Foster.

And it featurs my conducting debut with Echo. This is a totally fabulous group of women from all walks of life and all corners of Toronto.  I’m so honoured to sing with them, and thrilled to conduct.

And Margaret Atwood may ACTUALLY ATTEND THE CONCERT.  At least, she tweeted that she was planning to come after she heard us sing at the premiere of the film In the Year of the Flood in October, Ron Mann’s documentary of her carbon-neutral, around-the-world book tour for The Year of the Flood. One of the first essays I wrote in my undergrad was on her novel Surfacing for my first class in Canadian literature.  Her books are a part of my life. And now I may actually get to meet her.

This is one of those moments in which I feel so lucky to live in Toronto.

Full details about the concert are here: http://www.echowomenschoir.ca/

Hope to see you there!

poster for Echo concert

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if i collapse onstage, just drag me off and keep singing

Monday, October 18th, 2010

last night I saw a documentary about an incredible group of singers: young @ heart. I was in the library with my kids, and my two-year-old pulled the DVD off a library shelf and handed it to me saying “der you go!”  Seemed like a sign, so I took it out and watched it.  I laughed and cried.  I was inspired and challenged.

If you’re not familiar with the doc, it’s about a  chorus of seniors in Massechussetts that sings surprising repertoire.  Surprising in the choices (80-yr-olds singing Sonic Youth? The Ramones? David Bowie?) and surprising in how poignant and appropriate and fresh the songs become through their performance and interpretation. Through their very voices.

My favourite song (although it was darn hard to choose) was “Road to Nowhere” by the Talking Heads.  I’d like to embed the video for you, but can’t–maybe due to copyright?–so please. Take a sec, and click on the link and watch it now, then close the window and come back to me:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wgrM-R6yfY

Wasn’t that AWESOME?  I don’t know about you but there was so much that I missed in the words of the original that were striking here…”We know what we’re knowing but we don’t know what we’ve seen”  and “we’re not little children and we know what we want”.  And dig the arrangement–the solo voice and chorus completing each other’s sentences and thoughts.  Individual and collective, continuous and disjointed.  And what a brilliant mix of instruments–piano, accordian, violin, drums. As Steven Holden of the New York Times wrote about Young@Heart’s rendition of Stayin’ Alive, their perspective infuses urgency into the music and lyrics:

Sung by people approaching the end of their lives, the song is no longer about strutting through the urban jungle with your elbows out; it is a blunt survival anthem. These singers, most of them well- rehearsed amateurs, refuse to go gently into that good night. For them music is oxygen.

I was inspired on several levels.  First on the front that I imagine many people felt…a “wow! if they can do it at THEIR age, I can do anything I want! It’s never too late!”  And this is true, I feel hopeful that my getting older doesn’t necessarily mean growing useless, as our society seems to assume about ageing. But the movie’s focus on seniors, whose stories are rarely considered by people related to them, let alone features of movies, makes this an exceptional topic.  Turns out we never stop wanting to belong, to make contributions, to be creative, and to have our art and consequently ourselves, taken seriously. My grandma and grandpa were in a residential home for the last few years of their lives. It was like a purgatory. A waiting station till death.  How much different would lives be if as we grew older, we knew we could continue to be valued, contributing members to social and musical scenes?

There’s an urgency to the singing–death is near for a chorus whose average age is 80. Several members say that if something “happens” to them, they’d want the chorus to keep going.  One lady says, “if i collapse onstage, just drag me off and keep singing.”  They have a passionate commitment to their music and their community like I’ve never seen. There’s a stripped-down, raw quality to Young@Heart’s singing, and willingness or perhaps urgency to be unrefined that cuts through social mores. A leaning on each other that’s about survival as much as it’s about friendship.

Something else occured to me as I watched the singers.  Singing is less about finding a perfect voice and more about finding the right container for the voice, no matter how unusual the container or the voice. Or maybe unusual is a prerequisite.  Some of the chorus members were ‘good singers’ in the ways that we learn to recognize ‘good singing’–full, pleasant voices singing on pitch, words and melodies fully remembered. But many weren’t ‘good singers’, and those were the voices, by far, that were the most satisfying. Huge and lusty and frayed.  Filled with colours of shouting, crying, wavering, frailty, strength.  Voices bubbling over with human experience.  Voices that forgot words and rhythms.  All so satisfying, and not in a “oh aren’t they cute?” kind of way.  In a really challenging and satisfying way that spoke to the experience of being human. So it struck me that artistic excellence is not so much about perfecting our voices to shoehorn ourselves into particular established forms and expectations.  It’s about finding the container (both in repertoire and in presentation) to express our full humanness.  It’s at once familiar and strange.  Disruptive and immensely satisfying.

I guess I should let my 2-yr-old pick my movies for me more often.

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conducting myself accordingly

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

I just got back from my first rehearsal of the season with Echo Women’s Choir. I’ve sung with Echo for many years. I love the world music and community-minded, loving atmosphere.  Plus, it’s really amazing to sing with 80 other women in the incredibly resonant Holy Trinity Church in downtown Toronto (yes, this is the same Church of the Trinity Session by the Cowboy Junkies!).   I haven’t been able to sing with Echo for the last year because of school, so it feels even more lovely to be back. Like reuniting with an old, dear friend.

But this year is a little different.  Becca Whitla and Alan Gasser, the choir’s co-directors, are taking a hiatus come January to study conducting in Cuba.  They’ve asked me to lead the choir for the Spring session.

Yep.  I’m conducting an 80-voice choir for 2011.

Are you surprised at this turn of events?  I am, a little.  Oh, I have some conducting experience, and I’ve worked with many groups as a song leader, but this, I’ll admit, is pushing my experience and ability to a whole new level. I’ve considered myself more of a singer and voice teacher than a conductor.  But the  series of events that led to this opportunity unfolded  like the stars aligning. And so this opportunity is here for me now.

I am totally scared and excited. That seems like the right place to be.

At the rehearsal tonight, I was warmly greeted by many choir members, who all seemed excited at the news of my role in the new year.  It’s reassuring to have their faith.  And I’ll be conducting a few of the pieces for the Winter concert in addition to singing with the sopranos. Sort of an apprenticeship. So hopefully that’ll ease me in. Get the choir and me a little bit used to each other.

Looks like it’s going to be a big year.

oh, yes, and the spring concert is on the theme of work. The concert’s on May Day.  So if you have any suggestions for songs about working, particularly for women and work, let me know.

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