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Volume 19 Issue 4 - December 2013

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Beat by Beat | Choral

Beat by Beat | Choral ScenePleasure? Guiltyas Charged!BENJAMIN STEINThe concept of the musical “guilty pleasure” is a dumb notionthat needs to be permanently retired. Guilty pleasures, of course,are things you enjoy that aren’t especially healthy for you. Theholiday season gives you an opportunity to indulge in, oh, one or twoof them. So a (not especially convincing) case can be made for feelingguilt about taking pleasure in things that, in excess, can lead to illhealth — food and drink certainly fall into this category.But the idea of guilty pleasure is also commonly and perniciouslyassociated with music, though as of this writing science has yet toestablish the link between listening choice and terminal disease.The idea is a powerful one. If your self-image is somehow shapedby your musical preferences — for many people, it is — then anythingthat apparently contradicts that image must be listened to on the sly,becoming a “guilty pleasure”: the Bach expert who likes to kick backwith Italian pop ballads by Bocelli (while her unsuspecting husbandsnoozes upstairs); or the thrash metal enthusiast whose eyes mist uplistening to a heartbreak ballad on his daughter’s Taylor Swift album.During this holiday season, in which pretty much every choiraround presents a program with the intent to delight and enchant,perhaps we can agree that guilt should have no place in our musicalchoices — no matter what the time of year.I’ll write more about this curious but widespread phenomenonin the next column — it’s entirely relevant to our ongoing discussionof new music. In the meantime, having focused almost exclusivelyon the Britten centenary last month, I will turn the column over toDecember concerts.Toronto has a wealth of excellent children’s choirs, and two of themost accomplished present seasonal programs in December. TheBach Children’s Chorus and Bach Chamber Youth Choir present “ThisFrosty Tide” on December 7; and the Toronto Children’s Choruspresents “A Chorus Christmas: Fanciful Fantasies” on December 21.A newly formed children’s choir, the ASLAN Boys Choir of Toronto,presents their debut performance “Now is the Time!” on December 15.The Nathaniel Dett Chorale, a choir devoted to music of the Africandiaspora, performs “An Indigo Christmas” on December 3. Inspired bythe famous “Nigra Sum” text from the Song of Songs (“I am black butcomely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem”), the concert is a collection of“Songs to the Black Virgin” — music inspired by Madonna figures fromaround the world.Messiah concerts: you’re on your own. Do I really need to talk upthis piece at this stage in human history? Go and support the manyexcellent choirs who have made it a central part of their concertseason. Here’s my suggestion — throw a dart at a page of the listings,PETER MAHONSales Representative416-322-8000pmahon@trebnet.comwww.petermahon.com28 | December 1, 2013 – February 7, 2014

chosen at random; then go see the Messiah performance that you hit.(Or if you prefer, there’s a handy Messiah Quick Picks at the end ofthis column!)Handelian alternatives: For those who want to hear works bycomposers from the classical canon (other than Handel), there areseveral other good choices.On December 7 the Cantores Celestes Women’s Choir performsVivaldi’s Gloria as well as other seasonal favourites. This concert celebratesthe ensemble’s 25th anniversary.The day before, December 6, the Upper Canada Choristers alsoperform the Vivaldi work, as well as music by Praetorius and Handel.Canadian Men’s Chorus presents “En Hiver” Dec 14.Poulenc’s Gloria is the highlight of the Oakville Choral Society’s “AChristmas Celebration of English and French Music” on December 13.J.S. Bach’s setting of the Magnificat text, jubilant and haunting byturns, is also a good seasonal choice for choirs and audiences. TheVOCA Chorus of Toronto performs this work on December 7.For another Bach choice, also on December 7, the EtobicokeCentennial Choir performs Cantata BWV140 “Sleepers Awake”(Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme), as well as Jewish-Canadiancomposer Srul Irving Glick’s tuneful Kedusha.More Bach: On December 14 the Toronto Chamber Choir presents“Christmas with J.S. Bach,” a concert that combines works for Adventand Christmas.On December 8 the Toronto Beach Chorale performs a Christmasconcert that features some tasty and unusual early 20th centuryBritish works: Finzi’s In Terra Pax, Holst’s Christmas Day andVaughan Williams’ moving Fantasia on Christmas Carols.One of the great virtues of Christmas music is its multiculturaldepth. On December 14 the Canadian Men’s Chorus presents “EnHiver,” a concert that includes the premiere of Toronto composer/conductor Norman Reintamm’s Three Estonian Carols. In thesame spirit, on December 7, Chorus Niagara performs “A CanadianChristmas Carol,” a concert combining Canadian carols, poetry, proseand images.For those who want to balance their carol intake with musicfrom another world festival, the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir presentsChanukah concerts on December 9 and 11.Looking ahead to January: A special choral event is taking place inHamilton on January 19. Our city’s best choral gospel ensemble, theToronto Mass Choir is performing a joint concert with the McMasterUniversity Choir. Karen Burke, the TMC’s conductor, is actually agraduate of McMaster University, and the concert will be a culminationof a series of workshops in which the two choirs will collaborateand develop repertoire. This is a rare opportunity for people in theHamilton region to enjoy a visit from this terrific ensemble.One final thought: The print run of this December/January issueof The WholeNote will likely have disappeared well before the beginningof February, but I wanted to make note of a Soundstreams choralconcert celebrating 60 years of professional choral singing in Canada.Three of Canada’s top professional chamber ensembles, Elmer IselerSingers, Pro Coro Canada and the Vancouver Chamber Choir willperform individually in three concerts February 1 and then combineon February 2, conducted by Kaspars Putniņš, the leader of therenowned Latvian Radio December 1, 2013 – February 7, 2014 | 29

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