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Volume 16 Issue 8 - May 2011

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  • Choir
  • Toronto
  • Choral
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The Music Comes

The Music Comes FirstJohn Tuttle and the Exultate Chamber SingersLARRY BECKWITH“And therefore take the present time …”JOHN TUTTLE POSSESSES a great and generous sense oftiming. One of this city’s most successful and well-loved classicalmusicians, Tuttle has had a long list of jobs and employersthroughout his career as one the country’s great organists, mostconductors. These include St. Paul’s Anglican Church, the CanadianChildren’s Opera Chorus, the University of Toronto (as UniversityOrganist, organ teacher, conductor ofthe Hart House Chorus and Organist andChoirmaster of Trinity College Chapel), St.Thomas’s Huron Street and the ExultateChamber Singers.Over each of the past thirty years,Tuttle’s range of activities has been wideand varied, but the constant has beenExultate. Founded by Tuttle in 1981 asan outlet for students of the university’sFaculty of Music to sing for fun, Exultatehas grown into one of the most wellrespected,disciplined and classy chamberchoirs around. Tuttle announced at thebeginning of last season that the choir’s2010-2011 30th anniversary season wouldbe his last at the helm and he conducts hisat Grace Church on-the-Hill.“It’s time,” Tuttle said, over lunchrecently. “I’ve enjoyed my experience withthe choir, but with the 30th anniversarylooming it seemed to me as good a time asany to move over and give someone else achance.” spoken assuredness, Tuttle leaves no doubtas to the sincerity and wisdom of hischoice, and as he reminisces about the highpoints of Exultate’s history there isn’t a hint of regret or wistfulness. conductor of the Concert Choir at the Faculty. He wanted a year offand the dean at the time, Gus Ciamaga, called me and asked if I wouldWell, that year turned into another year at which point students startedgraduating and we felt we wanted to keep the thing going.”At that point, Tuttle’s home-base was the enormous St. Paul’sAnglican Church at the corner of Bloor and Jarvis Streets. Exultate’sbecame their home, when Tuttle moved there to take up the post oforganist and Choirmaster, a position he still holds.When asked about favourite repertoire and memorable concerts,Tuttle struggles to bring any one or two to mind.“I cut my teeth on some strong pieces: Vaughan Williams’ Massin G, Byrd for Five (the Mass for Five Voices by William Byrd), theRachmaninov Vespers, Debussy Chansons. It was a good learningcurve for me, doing these works with such dedicated singers.” Prize in 1988 for excellence and high standard of performance. Asa celebration of the choir’s tenth anniversary in 1991, they releasedlengingrepertoire by Barber, Stanford, Debussy, Halley, Kodaly,Raminsh and others. The award and CD put Exultate on the nationalexacting standards.WHILE THE CHOIR CONTINUED to attract students from theUniversity of Toronto, at its core was a group of young profession-Tuesday from 5:45-7:15 sharp), his dependable concert schedule(four concerts a year on Fridays at 8:00) and the glow of professionalmusic-making that surrounded him Hisconnection to the Canadian Opera Company(through conducting the CCOC), hisfrequent touring as an organ soloist and hisoccasional appearances with the TorontoSymphony gave him material for colourfulstories about life as a musician in Torontoand beyond. His choristers ate it up.When reminded of some of his choicerehearsal “lines,” Tuttle plays down hisfamous wit.“Most of the lines people attribute to meactually came from other people,” he says.What about “salvation is just a semi-toneaway”?“Oh, that one was McCurdy” (AlexanderMcCurdy, with whom Tuttle studied organat Curtis Institute in Philadelphia). “Hesaid that about improvising at the organ.”Regardless of their provenance, thereare dozens of Tuttle “lines” that veteranchoristers wait for and respond to withuproarious laughter, no matter how manytimes they’ve heard them: “All music isessentially disco,” “Basses, replace alldivots,” “Consider the duck: calm andserene on the surface, paddling like hellunderneath,” “That’s what we call amodulation in the industry” … he’s got amillion. And their common thread is that they’re a funny way ofbeing brutally honest about choral singing. One of his many giftsis his ability to be completely frank and direct while keeping theatmosphere jovial. West Point,” one former chorister famously remarked.While this is true, and the military precision with which he runsa rehearsal is legendary, there are no barked orders or soulless drills.Other choristers have said that a Tuttle Exultate rehearsal is closerto a workout with a personal trainer. His pacing is ferocious, hisattention to detail precise and relentless, and his particular approachto rhythmic hierarchies is uncompromising.That is not to say his rehearsals are devoid of emotion.Choristers speak of “moments” that hang in the air as they –together with Tuttle – discover places of beauty in a choral score.For 21 singers and a conductor, coming together at the end of a longjoy of discovery and delving into a great piece of music is catharticand healing. And Tuttle knows that, though it’s rarely acknowledgedverbally. It doesn’t need to be.Through the 1990s and early 2000s there were more recordings– a Christmas disc entitled “Make We Joy” and a particularlyexquisite recording of Shakespeare-inspired choral music byPHOTO SN BIANCA8 thewholenote.comMay 1 – June 7, 2011

Matthias, Holman, Shearing and Vaughan Williams aptly entitled“The Present Time.”One of the highlights for many long-time Exultate members wasthe highly-charged atmosphere at the Glenn Gould Studio in May of2000 when the choir walked away with top honours in the chamberchoir category of the CBC Choral Competition and crowned the featby winning the Willan Prize for a second time. They repeated thisdouble win in 2004.The Gould Studio was again the venue for a special concert withPeter Gzowski, celebrating the rich stories of Canada. The choirnight to remember, as the choir shared the stage with Rick Mercer,Ben Heppner, Sarah Polley, Natalie MacMaster and others.While pride of place and meeting challenges are a big part ofTuttle’s musical DNA, he has little time for rubbing shoulders withchoral glitterati or doing things for the wrong reasons. story. Though he doesn’t elaborate, he doesn’t need to. For Tuttle,actions speak much louder than words and this pithy axiom is borneout in Tuttle’s daily routine and indeed appears to drive his wholeWith at least 120 subscription concerts behind him (30 x 4,though occasionally in recent years there have been guest conductors),dozens of guest appearances at festivals and concert seriesin Ontario and beyond, workshops, competitions and recordings,Tuttle’s tenure with Exultate will end with a gala concert featuringa classic program: a new piece by his close friend and colleaguecontinued on page 70The Organ at St. Thomas’s Anglican ChurchThe current organ at St. Thomas’s is a Guilbaud-ThérienInc. rebuild of the Church’s 1911/1955 3-manual, 45-stop Casavant (Opus 459) and the church’s original 1891S.R. Warren 2-manual, 23 stop organ. Guilbaut-Thérien, Inc.,Opus 37, 1991 has an electrified console and rebuilt organwith 60% new pipes (61 in all), and new windchests andcasework …It is one thing to convince a congregation that theyshould buy a new organ, and sometimes a more difficultthing to obtain approval for the removal of a carpet. St.Thomas’s … made a great advance in 1991, both musicallyand acoustically. The organ is a large eclectic instrumentwith attractive casework employing polished tin speakingprincipal pipes … The great organ speaks into the southtransept, the Choir into the choir area, and the Swell isdouble decked in the north east corner of the Organ surroundedby Pedal pipes.—Excerpted from Organs of Toronto, Alan Jackson &James Bailey, Royal Canadian College of Organists, TorontoCentre, 2002PHOTO BRIAN J. THOMPSONMay 1 – June 7, 2011 thewholenote.com 9

Volume 26 (2020- )

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