Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Have you ever wondered what a singer packs to go on tour? We present 'The Anatomy of a Suitcase = some of the essentials...'

Please note: an entire ziploc bag of herbal tea; power bars for those long days of rehearsals/workshops, candied ginger to share on the tour bus; cold supplies including, but not limited to: oil of oregano, 2 types of nasal spray for the plane rides, travel kleenex, vitamin C...and we can't forget the woolies for those minus 22o C days in Regina...

This suitcase was obviously packed by an "A" type personality in the choir.

Mine unfortunately will not be packed until 6:15am tomorrow morning, We are due to be at the Airport at 6:40am (Kill me now). 


Last night we were fortunate to be invited to sing at the West Vancouver Memorial Library. It was a packed house – a great send-off for our tour!
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In the picture you can see members of the bass section waiting patiently for the rest of us to assemble. Something that was different about this venue was that shelves of books had to be moved out of the way in order to make space for the audience to sit. Who knew that when you get rid of all that sound-sucking paper, an empty library has great acoustics!
Luckily for me not one librarian shushed me all evening.
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It was super early in the morning when my alarm went off and I pulled myself out of bed. I was not in the best spirits on the way to the airport, as we had to catch a crack-of-dawn flight to Edmonton in order to make a 2:30 rehearsal. I mean, we didn’t even get a chance to adjust to the time zone or acclimate… or even put our bags in the hotel room. Ahhhhh the hard life of a singer… Smile
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This is a picture of Pro Coro Canada, a professional group of amazing singers and their conductor Michael Zaugg. For tomorrow’s concert we will combining forces and making a “super-choir”, if you will.
When we got to the rehearsal, Pro Coro was practicing “Laudibus in sanctis” by Latvian composer Ugis Praulins (with lots of squiggles over the letters, but help me if I know how to do that on this computer). (Editor’s note: Uģis Prauliņš.) It is such a great piece filled with Baltic melodies, and they sing it so beautifully. I could see everyone in our group captivated by it, and all the fatigue we were feeling evaporate as we realized how good tomorrow’s concert is going to be.
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Here we are packed on the shuttle bus, for all of you who thought we traveled first class.
After rehearsal we really needed some down time and a good supper:
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Abracadabra… a beer appears…
I am pretty sure we all had a very early night in order to get ready for tomorrow’s big concert.

After we had just finished singing our concert with Pro Coro Canada, someone from the audience came up to me, thanked me, and then remarked on how much I was smiling. I thanked her for coming, and let her know the reason I was smiling so much was that the two singers from Pro Coro standing on either side of me both had voices that could only be described as gifts from God, and I had an absolute blast singing with them.
This is a picture of all 46 singers taken at the end of the concert held at All Saints Anglican Cathedral in Edmonton.
2013-feb25 003Here I am standing with some dear old friends who sing with Pro Coro. The lady to my right and I were in National Youth Choir together in 1996.  We did the math and figured that we have known each other for 18 years (obviously the years have been kind to both of us Winking smile).

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Michael Zaugg, the conductor of Pro Coro, and Fabi, one of our altos.

Being that I am from the Prairies myself I should have expected this, but the hospitality that the folks from Edmonton showed us was totally above and beyond. It started with an Indian meal. I thankfully succeeded in not spilling vindaloo sauce all over myself.
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Even though we had to be up very early to catch a bus to Saskatchewan, we didn’t want the evening to end and had difficulty saying goodbye to our new friends.
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A few of us went to ‘La Ronde’, the revolving restaurant on the 24th floor of the Crowne Plaza hotel. The view was spectacular!! I felt like I could see forever… almost to Vancouver. We had such a great time. At the end of the evening in the elevator, Gordon, one of our tenors, “accidentally” leaned into the call buttons which made us stop on each of the floors on the way down. We laughed all the way home.
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I was really excited to meet Sable because she writes a blog that I have been following for years: thechoirgirl.ca. It turns out that her blog has just been nominated for a social media award in Edmonton, and I really hope that she wins. Every choir geek out there will love it!

Humboldt SK
We left very early from Edmonton to travel by bus to Humboldt, Saskatchewan. It is the longest travel day that we will face on the tour. It should take about 7 hours or so.
Lorraine acted as stewardess in order to make the trip a little more enjoyable. (Thanks to the choirs in Humboldt and Marysburg for all the tasty treats!!)
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I was born in Saskatchewan and grew up in Manitoba. I especially love when the choir goes to the Prairies, partly because it feels like I am going home, but also a small part of me also enjoys watching this group of Vancouverites have to deal with winter conditions.
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When I was young, my father took a photography class which started a fascination -- almost an obsession -- with taking pictures of grain elevators. As we were driving along the Yellowhead Highway the hereditary pull took grip on me and all I could do was flash away.2013-feb26 0072013-feb26 0082013-feb26 010
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We drove along the open prairie until we saw the beautiful red brick Church of the Assumption in Marysburg. It is by far the biggest building for miles.
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We had a workshop with members of the surrounding communities as well as some high school students. They had been working on two pieces which we would perform together in the concert. The man standing next to me had travelled 70 kilometers for the experience. It seemed so far until he told me it was 45 minutes away. Wait… that is how long my 7-kilometer commute takes in Vancouver every morning. 45 minutes… damn you, Vancouver traffic!
The day of the concert we had some time to relax and see the town of Humboldt.
We stumbled upon our name in lights:
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Cameron went for a ride at the local mall on the massage chair:
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The stress of the tour melted away and we were ready for the night’s performance.

Sooo...what's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that us crazy Vancouver Chamber Choir kids are "touring Canada"?  Do you picture us jetsetting from from one exotic locale to the next?  Or alternately, are you concerned that the present state of arts funding has us all wandering along the road and hitchhiking en route to the next concert?  ;)  Okay, one of those is more true than the other...ha ha.  While we do often fly back and forth to major centres (especially if we're tight for time), more often than not, we'll take the bus.  The fact that we get to visit so many of Canada's smaller towns and villages (many without their own airports), and the relative ease (and cost) of getting a group of approximately 22 people from one destination to the other by ground rather than air, makes the bus an easy choice for us.

I've taken a few pictures from the last few Canadian tours (2012's Maritimes/Maine tour, and 2013's Alberta/Saskatchewan tour) to provide a bit of insight on the "bus-y life".  You can tell they were definitely taken in-transit, because the photos are all blurry and awful.  :D

One of the first things we choristers do upon our first entrance onto the bus is scope out our seat, which will essentially become our permanent "home" for the next few rides.  Now, if the bus is small, we all cozy up to each other...

(Airport shuttle buses never leave much in the way of room.)

However, if we'll be on a bus for the long haul, we often have a little more space to spread out.  This often means that many of us will receive our own 2-chair "space" for those long bus rides for us to stretch ourselves (and our belongings) into a temporary home.  Those who are among the more equanimous of us will welcome a "seat buddy," often someone who shares an affinity for a particular bus-bound activity.

(Lorraine and Dolores are awesome "seat buddies"!  And they're making warm woolies to boot!  Bonus!)

Your actual position on the bus is carefully plotted out, too.  There are the "front of the bus-ers", the "middle bus-ers", and the "back of the bus-ers".  If you're prone to motion sickness, you'll plunk yourself somewhere near the front (and make it known you NEED that spot for the duration of the tour!).  The people who can generally handle the ride, but are into doing their own thing, find a seat somewhere in the middle.  (I'm a middle bus-er, unless I'm not feeling so hot, or alternately, if I'm in a chatty mood.)  However, if you wanna be where the conversation's at, you enjoy the slightly bumpier ride, and you like to relive your elementary school days as one of the "cool kids", the back of the bus is for you.  The Chamber Choir has many a story about the happenings at the back of the bus throughout our 42-year history.  If you journey to the back, chances are that Cam and/or Gordon will share one of those stories with you!

(Our "dyed-in-the-wool" back-of-the bus-ers.  Look at Grant; he's so bad-a$$ he rides BACKWARDS!)

The back of the bus is also home to the most dreaded of bus amenities:  the on-bus washroom facilities. Many of our bus rides are anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to upwards of 9-10 hours.  We do have ample breaks for gas-station restrooms, snacks, lunch, etc., but sometimes, no matter how you time it, you inevitably must make the jittery journey to the bus washroom or you will be rather uncomfortable for the rest of the trip.  

(From a truck stop washroom sign between Saint John and Sackville.  I've often felt like this...)

Once we've all settled in, we all find our own ways to get cozy.

(My usual bus set-up.  Backpack, purse, iPod, and water bottle, all compact and easily accessible.)
(Beth is gonna have a nice little nap, without the stiff neck I normally endure later cuz I don't have one of those pillows.  Yet.)
(Lucy's maximizing her space.  I hope she doesn't have smelly feet; I'm sitting in front of her.)

It's also really important to have an activity (or two, or three) on board - something that doesn't add to your own personal motion sickness, but that keeps you occupied if you're not busy sleeping the time away.

(Will gets to do something I can't on the bus:  read.  I get dizzy.  So I just lean over and ask him what his book is all about.  You gotta live vicariously.)

(My iPod gets a work-out on these long trips.  I'm on a "listen to everything on my iPod in alphabetical order" kick this year.  Driving from Edmonton to Humboldt, I was in the "K's", listening to Kokopelli...fitting, as they're a great Edmonton choir and we'd just left Edmonton!)

(Group activities are good too.  I have no idea whether Kathleen or Bill is winning this card game.  I just know if I tried, they'd both end up beating me.)

This past tour in particular, the sharing of viral videos while on the bus definitely became a thing with us.  It started with this video:

Followed by this video:

And this:

You get the idea.  By the end, we were all blatting like goats every time we completed a successful count-off.  (Which I thought I'd left behind after my summer doing dinner theatre in Canmore, where we all did the same thing.  Everywhere I go, the goats follow me.  I promise I didn't start it, either time...)

Speaking of count-off, that's another bus tradition, mainly to keep Jon and Violet sane (so they know we haven't left anyone behind at a truck stop).  We each have a folder number from #1-#21, which we are to shout out in succession.  If someone's missing, it becomes obvious, because the whole thing falls apart.  It never fails to amaze me how 20 professional musicians with otherwise decent rhythmic skills and good ears can have such difficulty yelling out numbers in sequence.  One day I'll get an audio of a count-off gone wrong and you can giggle at our ineptitude.  (We were pretty good this tour, however.)

Food is also a big thing to keep us sustained on the bus.  Most of us carry an array of snacks around - fresh and/or dried fruits, trail mix, nuts, granola bars, other easy proteins - to help get us through the hours so that when we finally arrive at our destination, we don't collapse in the middle of rehearsal!  (I would have taken a picture of my little "snack stash", but I ate it all.  Oops.)

(Catherine is smart and saved her lunch from the day before.  She's making me hungry.)
(Fabi is our "bus stewardess" for our early-morning trip and is graciously handing out fruit!  Larry looks ready to chow down.)

(Grace has her "fruit cup" in hand, anxiously waiting her turn!)
(A peek into my "fruit cup".  How is it that watermelon tastes so much better on the bus??...)

And lastly, if we can keep our bleary eyes open long enough to peek out the window, the bus really is a beautiful way to take in the great Canadian landscape.  I mean, sometimes it looks like this:

(Driving through the Maritimes.  It looked like that ALL DAY.)

Sometimes, however, we get treated to some vistas which make it all worthwhile.  

(The flat Saskatchewan horizon never looked so beautiful.)

(And then we all got treated to an amazing Prairie sunrise.  Pretty amazing to have a front-row seat for that.)

Anyway, that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of our "bus-y life".  I'm sure I'll have many more stories to tell in coming years.  If you have your own bus stories, please feel free to share in the comments below!

-Jenny (the mildly motion-sick alto.  Also, Folder #18...and I ALWAYS say my number correctly...)  


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