Posts Tagged ‘Echo’

advice for choosing a choir

Friday, June 8th, 2012

Echo Women's Choir with Suba SankaranI was the guest editor for Whole Note magazine’s May 2012 edition. This Toronto area-based music magazine is known for releasing its ‘Canary Pages’ in May– a listing of choirs and other singing opportunities in the Greater Toronto Area for anyone who’s looking to join a choir, or perhaps looking for a change. I was asked to write about choirs and community for this year’s edition(you can read it here).

I also had some long, wonderful discussions with two Toronto-based conductors: Isabel Bernaus, conductor of the Jubilate Singers and Common Thread Community Choir; and Becca Whitla, conductor of Echo Women’s Choir and Holy Trinity Church Choir. I quote from our conversations a bit in the editorial, but they offered some really great advice for people looking to join a choir that wasn’t in the editorial.
So here’s the advice:
I asked both Becca and Isabel what kinds of advice they’d offer novice and advanced choristers, especially given the complexity of many of the issues surrounding community and musical excellence. Their advice? Take some time to do two kinds of research: research yourself, and research the choirs.

First, figure out what you want: what kinds of music do you want to sing? How often can you rehearse? How much commitment do you want to make? How far will you travel? Most importantly, what kind of atmosphere are you looking for: a professional, goal-oriented and music-focused environment, or an opportunity to meet people and sing among friends? Or something that balances both?

Once you’ve figured out these things for yourself, do a little research on the choirs listed in the Canary Pages and elsewhere to find good matches. Even then, however, it might be difficult to know if you and the choir you’re eyeing really are good fits. Both Bernaus and Whitla suggest attending a rehearsal and/or performances. “Many choirs have open rehearsals that you can attend,” Whitla suggests, “and if not, see the choir in performance.” Bernaus agrees, even encouraging potential choristers to contact the conductor (try to find a non-pressured moment—like AFTER a concert…) or contacting the member coordinator. They might welcome you to sit in on a rehearsal, or at least describe what the choir is like so you can make an informed choice for yourself.

The same advice holds whether you are brand new to Toronto or to choral singing, or if you’re looking for a change from your current choral engagements. If you are more seasoned, you can be more targeted, more strategic in your approach. You may perhaps already know some friends or colleagues that have worked in other choral settings, so you can get an ‘insider’s perspective’ on the repertoire, the rehearsal practices, the performance styles, and the feel of the choral space to decide it it’s a good fit for you.

In fact, choral singing overall is only one of many kinds of singing practices, which of course represent one of many kinds of music-making. The Canary Pages are a great resource, but they are not definitive. Many group singing activities happen beyond these pages. The volunteer-run World Harmony Folk web site (www.worldharmonyfolk.org) and newsletter, for example, promotes community singing classes, vacations, workshops, and yes, even choirs, from around the world.

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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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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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