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Volume 17 Issue 8 - May 2012

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Linda LitWAckBeat by

Linda LitWAckBeat by Beat | Choral SceneFor the Loveof It Allben stEINWhat is the definition of a successful musician? I thoughtabout this last month after learning that local organist andsinger Bruce Kirkpatrick Hill had passed away suddenlyand unexpectedly. Word of Bruce’s passing spread very quicklythroughout the Toronto choral community, and the shock that peoplefelt had to do with his young age — he was only 49 — as well as withits suddenness. But at the funeral service,it was clear that the mixture of grief andrespect that defined the event extendedwell beyond shock. As I walkedhome, I pondered why Bruce’sdeath — or rather, his life — hadtouched so many people.Public recognition is the mostobvious indication of success — areputation draws people to attend aconcert, purchase a recording, signup for lessons. It’s usually (but notalways) an indication of a standardof artistic achievement for audiencesand musicians alike. Anothercategory, less obvious but oftenmore long-lasting, is the behind-thescenesor just-out-of-the-spotlightprofessional who works steadily, buthas little or no public profile. TheBen Shek (1927 – June2011) sang in the TorontoJewish Folk Choir fromhis early youth. Ben’sparents, Bella andSol, were among itsfounding members.majority of musicians fall into this group. A lot of the musicthat you love the most has been created by artists whose namesyou have never known.A third category might be “community musician,” a termthat can encompass both professionals and amateurs. A communitymusician can be defined as someone who loves theirchosen art form, and devotes their talents and abilities to it with thebest of their ability. Sometimes they are known outside their homeregion, but often they are not. Choral music is in great part drivenby the work of talented and dedicated amateurs. This is, in part,because professional choral singing pays very badly — a subject for afuture column — but just as significantly, because most choral singersare amateurs in the traditional sense of the word, lovers of the artfrom who have the drive to foster and maintain it.Of course, these three categories of success intersect and divideinto subsets and levels, and Bruce Kirkpatrick Hill certainlyacquitted himself well in the first two areas described above. Butat his funeral, and during the week leading up to it, it becameclear that Bruce was a community musician of unusual successand achievement.Some musicians seem to have a particular talent for simply beingpresent. Without any fanfare, they make an impression, and you neverforget them. Their assurance and professionalism thread througha musical community and help define that community in people’sminds. When they are gone, we feel their absence as a loss beyondtheir physical presence. Even for those of us who didn’t know himwell, Bruce made this kind of impression. He was part of the boneand sinew of the Toronto choral scene. In a sense, his very presenceseemed to evoke the solidity of the choral traditions that he loved.Bruce’s funeral was held at the Anglican Church of St. MaryMagdalene. Every seat was full, and the rest of the overflow crowdstood at the back for the entire two hour service. When hymnswere sung, the church reverberated with the sound of hundredsof trained singers falling naturally into four-part harmony. It wasa choral sound unprecedented in the city, one that Bruce wouldhave appreciated.Ottawa conductor Matthew Larkin (leader of the Toronto-basedLarkin Singers) led the St. Mary Magdalene church choir in aselection of anthems. After the final benediction, a mixture of thesingers from the Exultate Choir, the church choir, and various choralcolleagues and friends of Bruce’s, joined together to sing a beautifulsetting of the Kontakion, a Byzantine liturgical text from the EasternOrthordox Christian tradition, composed by Bruce’s wife, fellowchoral director and composer Stephanie Martin.If the above reads somewhat like a concert review, it is notbecause Bruce’s funeral was primarily an aesthetic event. Rather, itis that choral concerts are experiences rooted in community, andchoral concert repertoire has its roots in these communal experiences— worship of a deity, celebration of the bounty of the earth,tribute to a beloved friend. To be a community musician withinthe choral tradition is to take part in an ancient activity that is asrelevant and necessary to our lives now as it was hundreds, possiblythousands, of years ago.Freiheit Gezangs Farein (Freedom Singing Society) in 1926,known today as The Toronto Jewish Folk Choir.Moving to this month’s choral lineup: at this time of year, almostevery choir in the region is presenting its final concert of the season,and there are many musical choices in the coming weeks. Myrecommendation: make sure you go to two or more concerts — oneby your favourite group, and one or more given by a group thatyou have not yet heard. Travel to a part of the city or region thatyou haven’t visited, and get to know a group that comes fromthat community.Another community musician of note was Ben Shek, an expertin Yiddish culture, and one of the driving forces of the venerableToronto Jewish Folk Choir. The TJFC will be giving a concert inhonour of Ben, and other members of Toronto’s Jewish choral community,on June 3.On the same night, the Penthelia Singers celebrate their 15thanniversary with a gala concert program of all-Canadian music, anda guest conducting appearance from Mary Legge, another greatToronto choral community musician.The Tallis Choir performs “The Glory of the English Anthem” onMay 5. This concert includes two genuine masterworks, Harris’seight-part setting of Faire is the Hevene, and renaissance composerThomas Tallis’s setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah.The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s final concert of the season(May 23) is a feast of choral riches: the Poulenc Gloria,Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and William Walton’sBelshazzar’s Feast.TJFC12 May 1 – June 7, 2012

PENTHeliA SINgerSMary Legge, and the Penthelia Singers.On June 9, just beyond the scope of this issue’s concert listings,Jenny Crober’s East York chorus re-christens itself the Voca Chorusof Toronto, with a performance of Paul Winter’s crowd-pleasingMissa Gaia. This work combines the sound of recorded animalvoices with energetic gospel-derived music, and has been a hit sinceits premiere in 1982.On May 4, the Upper Canada Choristers combine the famousFauré Requiem with works by Venezuelan composer CésarAlejandro Carrillo. Interestingly, the choir has recently instituted asupport program for boys with changing voices, to foster continuedchoral involvement for nascent baritones and tenors, and to promoteto teenage boys a positive message for choral singing as an ongoingactivity through adolescence and adulthood.Ben Stein is a Toronto tenor and theorbist.He can be contacted at his website at ChoirPoco PeopleFaith-A-PealBellissimoEmBellishedTheof of the theAurora United Church15186 Yonge StreetAnne Marie Page, Music DirectorLisa Kyriakides, Handbell DirectorSunday May 6, 20127:30 p.m.Tickets: .00905.727.1935THE ALDEBURGH CONNECTIONpresents the sixth annualBayfield Festival of SongTown Hall, Bayfield, Ontario June 2 – 10, 2012Join us!Artistic Directors: STEPHEN RALLS & BRUCE UBUKATASeven Concerts of Classical Song, withAdrianne Pieczonka, Virginia Hatfield,Laura Tucker, Megan Latham, AlexanderDobson, Geoffrey Sirett and many othersTickets to Call 416.735.7982 or 519.565.5600 or visitthe Village Bookshop, 20A Catherine St., Bayfield11/12Belshazzar’sFeastMayNoel Edison, conductorMatthew Otto, associate conductorShannon Mercer, soprano– and –John Relyea, bass baritoneToronto Mendelssohn ChoirFestival OrchestraPoulenc GloriaChichester PsalmsBelshazzar’s Feast23, 2012 | 7:30 pmKoerner Hall, TELUS Centre forPerformance and Learning273 Bloor Street WestPHOTOGRAPHY: FRANK NAGYwww.bayfieldfestival.orgCO-SPONSORED BY:TICKETS–VOX TIX FOR 25 & UNDER 416-408-0208www.rcmusic.caMay 1 – June 7, 13

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