Thursday, March 3, 2011

Toronto/Ottawa/Montreal 2011


It was a very, very early morning and we were on our way. The choir was powering up on Starbucks in order to make it through the day.

Some of the members who did not make the Starbucks run and were quickly picked up for lagging behind

We checked into our hotel and I got some beautiful shots from the window of our room.

The weather was a little different than what we’ve been used to as of late.

I mean, this is what we left…. well… almost.

We had a quick rehearsal before going off to a well-deserved rest!

In the morning we had a great opportunity to give a workshop for the students of North Toronto Collegiate Institute. They were preparing for a competition the next day! I think they probably have a very good shot… with our tips and hints it put them over the top.

We sang our first concert with the Orpheus Choir directed by Bob Cooper (above). He directed the National Youth Choir of Canada one of the years I was in it back in the early 2000s… alright, it was the early 90s…

Lucy showing off her VCC attire

The two conductors are posing with royalty of the Canadian choral world. Mary Mason is the daughter of Healey Willan (a.k.a. the father of Canadian composers). Our tour program features a set of three of Willan’s pieces, which Jon dedicated to Mary this evening.

We were then off to bed for an early flight to Ottawa.


We left Toronto early and rushed to the airport only to find that our flight to Ottawa had been cancelled and that we were booked on a later flight. I swear this choir has had the worst luck with flights. Well, I was dreaming of a bump up to first class, but no luck… It ended up taking as long to fly as it would have to drive, and we just made it to our rehearsal with the Ottawa Cantata Singers with little time to spare.

The next morning we gave a workshop for the singers of Ecole Secondaire De La Salle.

These kids are doing such amazing repertoire, it makes me so proud of them!

One of the pieces was in French, and all I will say is that they were very kind and did not make too much fun of our “West Coast” pronunciation.

Another of the pieces that they were working on was called Minnewanka, by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. It is about the cycle of water, and Jon is showing them the original score (which almost looks more like a piece of art rather than a piece of music) and how it flows from one section right into the next.

In the the evening we had a concert, but had a couple of free hours to go and see a few sights in Ottawa.

A pretty amazing city!!


Before I start with our trip to Montreal, I am going to post a story from Catherine Laub from the Soprano section.

Here is a picture of Catherine and Paul Nash (one of our Basses).

Florida Oranges in Ottawa

When I was a child, my aunt organized a trip with both our families to Florida one Christmas vacation. My mother still tells the story of driving south through the mountains in the middle of the night trying desperately to follow my uncle who was pushing 80 mph through blinding snow. Half way through the 24 hour car trip, even I, the oldest and best behaved of the five cousins, was starting to get car sick and cranky. I couldn’t imagine that any kind of paradise could make up for the fact that we were spending a whole day and a night cooped up in the car, not to mention that there would be no Christmas tree that year and very few presents as our families’ Christmas present budgets were being blown on this trip. When we finally arrived at the mildew-scented condo and the end of the 26 hour trip (too much soda, many tiny bladders), the day was uncharacteristically overcast, and I was inclined to think that my aunt, who does have a tendency to embellish, had grossly over-sold the whole concept of Florida.

Then, a neighbor arrived with a bag of fresh oranges.

Yes, this sentence deserves its own paragraph. Such a simple pleasure, but I never knew until then what it was like to enjoy the very essence of a thing. I peeled this fragrant fruit and could see the citrus oils burst from the skin in a fine mist. I popped a segment into my mouth and tasted a month of sweet sunshine. I was entirely present in that moment, and I turned and said to my aunt, “The whole trip was worth it for this one orange!” That was even before the remaining 6 days of glorious weather, the trip to Disney World, exploring the shell beach, swimming endlessly out to the sand bar, discovering that not only was I the best swimmer ever, but that I was also clever enough to pick up live sand dollars from said sand bar with my toes!

Although I was the oldest of my siblings and practiced at that point at existing in the no-man’s land between the adults in my family and all the considerably younger cousins, I was still enough of a child to give myself over without reserve to the taste of that orange, to the delight of something so perfect in itself.

Tonight, I had the same experience that my aunt must have when I uttered my much quoted comment about a piece of fruit. She was so grateful that I appreciated the experience she was trying to share with us. Much as she must have felt planning such a trip and hoping it would please everyone, we as musicians often feel when birthing a concert. As a child, I would have had no idea of the hours of planning, the money, the driving, the putting up with children and husband complaining. We spend so much time attempting to perfect our craft, and we don’t always know (particularly in the current arts funding climate) if anyone really understands what we’re trying to do. Tonight the long flights, short sleeps, and all the rest vanished because someone truly got it.

After our Chamber Choir Concert in Ottawa with the Cantata Singers, I partook of some of the lovely food and wine at the post concert reception and chatted with a few of the friendly singers from the other choir. Then I circled around some of the standing clumps of singers and prepared myself for some strategic socializing. Spotting a single, and thus more approachable, member of the choir, one of the audience members moved in. Curious about the First Nations emblems on the womens’ scarves, he first asked me a few questions about our concert attire. Sensing that I was happy to answer his questions, he moved on to his real reason for wanting to make contact.

This was Neil’s first choral concert.

A colleague of his sings with the Cantata Singers and had introduced him to Classical Music about four months back. Recordings of Handel’sMessiah, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and Rossini’s Barber of Seville had convinced him that there was something to this whole Classical Music thing, so he agreed to attend the concert. According to the agreement he made with his wife, he could attend on a week night if he put his kids to sleep first, so, unsurprisingly, he was running late and missed almost all of the first half. He told me that he came in just at the end of the Brahms, and that it was like angels singing.

That in itself is always a lovely compliment, but over the course of the ensuing hour long conversation, I reconnected with my real purpose in being a musician. With the purest enthusiasm, Neil described to me how he not only heard but felt the music. Greg Smith’s setting of the 23rd Psalm had forever changed his understanding of that passage of the bible. During the dream sequence in Whitacre’s Leonardo Dreams, he had closed his eyes and felt himself to be in the middle of the very same dream. He wondered if everyone else there could be feeling what he had felt. He asked me how it was that there could be so much beyond the words.

I told him that this is the very essence of music. What he was describing is why we as musicians compose, conduct, sing, and play. Music goes beyond words. It’s the universal language that brings us back to our timeless selves. Music connects us through sound vibration, through pure energy and intention.

The more he asked, the more I was excited to tell him. I gave him a two minute crash course in (Western) music history, an overview of the higher education system for musicians, my desert island top 5 recordings, and overall enough information to choke a moose, all in less time than it took to type the last two paragraphs, and all in response to his very specific and wide ranging questions. I allowed myself to be a channel for the information he was so eagerly soaking in, just as all our preparation allows us to get out of our own way in performance and let the music through.

This is my job.

I can hardly believe it. This is my job! My job is to work with world class musicians on beautiful, challenging, music and to perform it for receptive audiences. My job is to perform, to educate, to inspire, to communicate, to connect. I know that my intentions and actions have wider consequences than what I immediately perceive. This one person will bring his wife and children to concerts and open up this whole world to them the way it was opened up for him. Who know how far this one (half) concert will eventually spread? I am so grateful for this glimpse of some of the positive ripples my chosen art form generates.

In the clearest and most unaffected language, Neil described being in total communion with the universal experience we’re all longing to access. It was such an honor to not only to facilitate his first exposure to live choral music but to share with him afterward. My sense of purpose in life was given a huge shot in the arm tonight as I experienced through him what a gift it is to be on this journey. Tonight, I was there to hand someone else the orange.


Nothing says Montreal quite like maple syrup. Or…

…a huge smoked meat sandwich. So, indulge we did!

The drive from Ottawa to Montreal takes only 2 hours and covers some very pretty landscape. One almost dreams of trading their half-million-dollar townhouse in the suburbs of Vancouver for a beautiful farm along this route where I could be out tapping the maple trees at this time of year…

Did I mention I have no winter boots and nearly had a panic attack when I saw what the salt did to the bottom of my pant legs?

We shared our concert with four other choirs, and the evening was all organized by the Montreal Choral Institute and Michael Zaugg. (Thank you SOOO MUCH!!!) Each group sang a short set by themselves, and all had a beautiful conviction and a love for performing. We then sang 5 pieces together in a mass choir of combined forces. I love doing that -- it’s like a big choral love-in, and you get to meet and connect with all the people around you.

I was freaking out a little as one of the pieces was in French, and… let’s just say I rely heavily on our French coaches. Jean-François, the tenor sitting beside me, actually complimented me and told me my French was perfect! I should really just be passing along that compliment to our coaches but I will save it for the next time they correct my vowels.

The beautiful church of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce where we rehearsed and performed during our time in Montreal.

Even more beautiful on the inside.

Rehearsing one of the mass choir pieces.

There was also a festival happening in Montreal called Nuit blanche. It was an all-night festival of art and performing arts that happened throughout the city. Thousands of people were out celebrating and we just happened to be at the right place at the right time to take part. Here are a few pictures from the night.

I joined in and left my mark.

Even the snow could not keep the people from partying.


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