Archive for the ‘watching’ Category

looking back, looking forward

Friday, January 11th, 2013

Hey there.

So it’s 2013. Where did last year go?

2012 brought so much live music into my life, and I drank it all up like a thirsty man finding water in the desert. I have two young kids, so getting out of the house at all, let alone seeing tons of live music, is nothing short of manna. I went to Hillside Festival in Guelph, and to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, in, well, Edmonton. Got to see Merill Garbus and the incredible tUnE-yArDs (watch this video for a sample of her crazy/raw/fun aesthetic), and I fulfilled a life-long dream of seeing kd lang perform—my expectations were high and she blew them away. Oh, and Leonard Cohen! He was unbelievably amazing. It’s been a big year for seeing live acts. And so much of it was so inventive, I felt really fired up listening to these exciting boundary-crossing kinds of musical works and performances.

Professionally, I was also extremely lucky to conduct Echo Women’s Choir in the Spring of 2012—a fantastic group of 80 women from various backgrounds and professions, all coming together to sing some pretty wonderful and at times pretty challenging songs from many singing traditions. The honour of conducting Echo was one of the two professional highlights of my 2012.

The other was the growth of my singing studio—some new students came in last year that have just been incredible to watch and work with. And students who have studied with me for longer all seem to have found newer and deeper growth in their vocal journeys this past year. I’ve learned so much from my students, and am so proud of what they’ve accomplished, and inspired by their willingness to risk and put themselves out there.

So in many aspects a good year for music. But still.

I miss singing.

Watching all that music and watching the work of my students gave me lots of ideas for some musical projects moving forward. Now that I’m in the throes of my dissertation work, I hesitate. Do I have enough time to take on another project, in addition to being a student and a teacher and a mom? I’m not sure but I think I have to try. I think my first order of business is upload some clips from my 2010 cabaret ‘Undone’ with Jen Cook. I was proud of that work, and I think I’m ready to share it, or at least pieces of it, with the world.

Next, deciding which musical project to start with. Stay tuned…hopefully by summer I’ll have something more to say here. I guess this is my New Year’s Resolution, though it feels like more. A commitment to singing, my own passion. But here it is: in 2013, I’m going to work towards more performance.

And may I be so bold as make a request of you for 2013? Go see live stuff. See some live music. See a play. See a dance show. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on big ticket concerts and broadway-style plays. In fact, it’s in many ways better to see the band at your local pub, or see the innovative work of your local theatre companies. Nothing compares to the live experience, not even in the digital age of facebooking and tweeting and youtubing. You have to be there.

OK, 2013. Bring it on.

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sing for love

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

At the risk of killing romance, I’m going to be honest: I hate valentine’s day. I buy pre-packaged branded valentine cards for my sons to give to their friends, and my kids will come home this afternoon with bags full of the same kinds of cards that bear not more than a tenuous connection to love. Same for the chocolates and roses we’re supposed to purchase for our lovers this one day: consumerist expressions of love. So I’m a cynic, a valentine scrooge: bah humbug on love, valentine style.

But this morning, I’m rethinking the value of a day in February dedicated to love. Many of you may know that February is Black History Month and I had the good fortune of seeing the Washington-based women’s a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock perform at Koerner Hall in Toronto last Friday night. I’m putting together a rehearsal plan for Echo Women’s Choir tonight, and I’m planning to teach the rain forest chant they sang as part of our vocal warm-up. And all of this has got me thinking…maybe we can reclaim valentine’s day as a day dedicated to love. Real love. Hard love. The love that struggles and works to make us better, as individuals and collectively. I actually can’t think of what we more need now, around the world, than (as Burt Bacharach insists) love.

So let’s celebrate love. Love as justice, love as courage in the face of fear, love as the struggle to make our own lives, and the lives of others, better. Sweet Honey sang “The Ballad of Harry T. Moore” last week, a song that chronicles the work of a Florida man who fought lynchings, and registered Black Floridians for the vote (a quick look at his accomplishments on Wikipedia). On Christmas eve in 1951 a bomb was planted in his home that killed Harry and his wife on Christmas Day.

Sweet Honey sings this story: the words and music combine to offer a story that is both horrible and courageous, and ultimately hopeful: “It seems I hear Harry Moore, from the earth his voice still cries: ‘no bomb can kill the dreams I hold for freedom never dies.’”

So in memory of Harry Moore, and in honour of those who are fighting for justice, and singing for justice, here is the song. Happy Valentine’s Day. May you truly walk, and sing, in love.

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Phenomenon of Singing in Phenomenal Newfoundland

Thursday, July 14th, 2011
Deanna near Ocean

The Eastern-most woman in North America

Well, that was an incredible 4 days.

Up at 4:30 am on Sunday to catch a plane to St. John’s for the Phenomenon of Singing International Symposium VIII, At Memorial University Newfoundland, the academic part of a GI-NORMOUS choral festival called Festival 500.

Let me tell you, there really were no downsides to this journey. In fact, I’m not really sure what to say, or where to start.

Highlights from the Symposium:

  • Kate Munger, who began Threshold Choirs in California about 10 years ago–groups of women who singing to people who are dying. She was warm, thoughtful and best of all, taught us several songs in harmony. Singing at an academic conference is rarer than you’d expect (or want)
  • Louise Pascale (Lesley University) who volunteered in Afghanistan in the late 1960s through the peace corps, and creating a collection of children’s song with a local musician. In the intervening years, the Taliban had suppressed all music and culture, and about 7 years ago, she decided she’d try to get the songs back in case this was the only remaining record. The project has grown massively, producing one collection of songs, and another one in the works. Stories of people weeping as they heard these songs, not having heard them since they were children. Deeply moving. Check out the Afghan Children Song Book Project, and if you know of sources of funding pass that along.
  • Kiera Galway (my fellow Ph.D. student at University of Toronto) examined the tensions and joys of (re)presenting culture, land, and history based on her research with NL Youth Choir Shalloway.

I presented a paper too–thinking through the difference between being safe and being comfortable in community singing, thinking through how we as singers experience transformative kinds of learning when we feel safe to take risks and looking primarily at the work of critical pedagogue bell hooks and her idea of a love ethic.

But what really made the Symposium exceptional was that it was attached to this massive choral festival! Literally a 1000 choristers, either whole choirs or individuals coming to sing in the “Come Solo” Choir assembled through the week. Performances day and night, and some truly astounding presentations. The ones that blew me away: Lady Cove of St. John’s (conductor Kellie Walsh; Rajaton of Finland (and that’s pronounced Rye-a-ton. If you pronounce it like I did, you will feel decidedly uncool). And here’s a youtube clip of the insanely amazing Indonesian Youth Choir Cordana. Here’s just a tiny excerpt:

In the words of a colleague, I think I just had a choralgasm.

St. John's from Signal Hill

St. John's at dusk (view from Signal Hill)

But to be honest, nothing at the Symposium or the Festival could match the sheer awesomeness (in the biblical sense rather than the valley girl sense) of St. John’s. My first glimpse of Newfoundland and those rugged cliffs as the plane banked over the Atlantic brought surprising tears to my eyes, and I remained weepy for the rest of my days there. Cape Spear, Signal Hill, whales frolicking off the coast…unimaginable beauty.

That was my first journey to Newfoundland, but it won’t be my last.

 

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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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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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