8 years ago

Volume 18 Issue 2 - October 2012

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proponent for the

proponent for the mainstream here in Toronto.” Two yearsago, Cooper led the choir through an intensive process ofself-evaluation. The Orpheus now programs rarities andnew creations.Choral M & F: I was also curious about the relative attractionof male and female choirs. According to Rainville,research has shown that because the male voice sits inthe middle of the human hearing range, the pitch is themost comfortable to the human ear. So much for women!Rainville founded his Canadian Men’s Chorus two yearsago because there weren’t that many all-male choirs amidthe GTA’s saturation of mixed choruses. When asked todescribe the zeitgeist of a male choir, Rainville replies:“Inside a male choir there is a sense of brotherhood, ofcamaraderie, like a sports team.” As for repertoire, whilethere is an abundance of barbershop and pop music, thereare few classical works. Part of Rainville’s job is pouringthrough recordings and publisher’s websites lookingfor material.Perhaps the most famous of male choirs are those inthe Welsh tradition. Graham Parker is president of theToronto Welsh Male Voice Choir. I asked him to define theWelsh sound. Says Parker: “I believe that the uniquenessof Welsh four part harmony emanates from the inbred“hiraeth” or longing for the country and for singing itself.The richness is in the predominance of the baritones andbasses. Male choirs started where gatherings of coal minersgave rise to impromptu singing. In essence, it was aform of escapism. To be born Welsh is to be born with asong in your heart and music in your soul. Never a truerword was spoken.”To give all-female choirs their due, there is Harvey Patterson,conductor of the Harmony Singers of Etobicoke (aman, one notes). Patterson actually asked his choristers ata rehearsal for their reasons for joining a women’s choir.The answers included camaraderie, friendship, bondingand love of the songs they sing (pop, folk, sacred andlight classical). More importantly, they enjoy the sound ofwomen’s voices and the feeling of power from being in agroup of women engaged in an activity together.Treble makers: To the Canadian Children’s Opera Company,my question concerned finding repertoire. For onething, treble voices have a uniformity that is not SATB.This means that all the repertoire has to be adapted orcommissioned. Executive artistic director Ann CooperGay has clear priorities as to what constitutes appropriateoperas for children’s performance practice. A storythat is not too juvenile. A suitable range or tessitura foryoung voices. Age appropriateness from a dramatic pointof view. (“I’m not a fan of children dressing up to lookolder,” she says.) And lastly, workable adaptations suchas G&S or Hansel and Gretel.Propelled by the new: Perhaps the most passionateresponse to my questions came from the proponents ofNew Music, triggered by my query of how do they soldieron in the face of small audiences. As Alex Pauk, musicdirector and conductor of Esprit Orchestra says: “The bottomline is that composers and New Music performers areunlikely to just stop; they have a calling, and are propelledto go on because of it.”As for the small audiences, New Music remains a toughsell. Says David Olds, general director of New Music Concerts:“I acknowledge that the repertoire we present isuncompromising and not aimed at mass appeal. But Ialso think the real problem is that the mainstream mediagives us little coverage, so the general public simply doesn’tknow that New Music even exists.”As I asked myquestions of theBlue Pages denizens,I began to noticeinteresting factoidspopping up inthe answers.Arraymusic.With 46 professionaland communitychoirs listed in theBlue Pages, I wascompelled to ask,what is the lure ofgroup singing?Counterpoint CommunityOrchestra.Perhaps the mostpassionate responseto my questionscame from theproponents ofNew Music.Esprit Orchestra.Pauk believes that the audience for New Music is growing,and points to the simple fact that there are more andmore groups appearing on the music scene. That beingsaid, Pauk adds that each group has its own followingwhich leads to fragmented audiences.Soundstreams artistic director Lawrence Cherneystrikes a positive note. “Our definition of New Music isas broad as possible,” he says. “New Music is merging withpopular works through artists like Bjork and Arcade Fire.Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass wrote for film. The next generationof composers is scoring the latest video games.”Arraymusic’s artistic director Rick Sacks also makes thelink to popular culture. “I performed at the SONY Centrelast weekend to a sold out crowd. The orchestra playedmusic from the computer game, Legend of Zelda, whichwas coordinated with projections of the game’s characters,but interspersed with closeups of the musicians. Themostly young crowd cheered us. I think this may foreshadowa broader interest in live New Music.”Piqued by three: To end my musings on The WholeNote’sBlue Pages, I must mention three items that really piquedmy interest.First, the Counterpoint Community Orchestra,founded in 1984 as a lesbian/gay/bisexual/transsexual(LGBT) — friendly ensemble. I was curious about thephilosophy of the orchestra in today’s more sympatheticclimate. According to Neville Austin, chair of the board ofdirectors, while the orchestra values its LGBT roots, it nowwelcomes persons of all sexual orientations and genderidentities. Says Austin: “What we all share is a love of finemusic, and a desire to create memorable musical experiencesin a comfortable environment.”Second is the Southern Ontario Chapter of the HymnSociety. To that august–sounding organization, I askedhow one pursues an interest in hymns? I did confess toSOCHS that I had never contemplated the idea of a modernday hymn composer, yet I was informed that thereare hymn writing contests, annual hymn festivals anda vibrant hymn publishing industry. In fact, SOCHS is aregional chapter of the 90-year-old Hymn Society of theUnited States and Canada (HSUSC). Says president DonAnderson: “We are mostly church musicians, clergy, academicsand lay persons who like to sing hymns. The groupis ecumenical and open to any faith that uses congregationalsongs in worship.”And last but not least, Metropolitan United Church’sPhantoms!, that worthy institution’s Halloween concert.I was fascinated about the merger of the sacred and profane,built around the largest pipe organ in Canada. FromPatricia Wright, minister of music, comes the devil in thedetails. Says Wright: “We turn the lights down, put upcrazy decorations, have strategically placed candles andput a fog machine behind the organ console. The repertoirealways includes Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in DMinor (for better or worse, associated with horror movies).This year I’m including an arrangement of GilbertVinter’s Dance of the Marionettes, the theme of AlfredHitchcock’s television show.”In conclusion, when I now look back at those BluePages in their multitudes, I see Toronto and environs asa rich and vibrant musical landscape. The Blue Pages rundeep, from professional musicians to grassroots hobbyists.Whether a TSO player at Roy Thomson Hall, or a singer ina community choir in the Beach, Toronto is clearly fertilesoil for the joy of music.Paula Citron is a Toronto-based arts journalist.Her areas of special interest are dance, theatre,opera and arts commentary.10 October 1 – November 7, 2012

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