As our concert on Friday nears, I am thinking of Sir David Wilcox, who passed away earlier this year.
Although in his nineties, it seemed (to me at least) he would live forever. For many singers, familiar with his Christmas Carols for Choirs books (“the green book and the orange book”), his arrangements of many Christmas carols became canonical, the standards, indeed a central part of the sound track of the Christmas season.
Heard so often in services such as the deeply moving Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols made famous in King’s College Chapel, and a staple of so many Christmas concerts worldwide, his beautiful, sensitive arrangements bring such joy; I grew up with them, and they are part of my own personal Christmas experience; without them the season for me would be diminished, and just a little bit empty.
At our concert on Friday, we (and you!) will be singing a few Christmas classics made magical by his deft arrangements. Sir David has passed, but his genius will always be part of Christmas, and in that sense he will live forever, as long as Christmas continues to be Christmas. We hope you will join us this Friday night for a small taste of how he made Christmas special.
Our winter concert is fast approaching! The evening of Friday December 4th will be a night of celebration, song, and festive stories from some of our members. Of course, no holiday concert would be complete without the inclusion of Christmas carols. We happen to have a few classics on our list that we can’t wait to share with you.
We are preparing a particularly beautiful arrangement by Robert B. Anderson of “The Huron Carol.” The a cappella harmonies, languid ‘Gloria’ opening, and pensiveness of the arrangement breathe new life into the old carol.
’Twas in the moon of wintertime
when all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead…
The carol Jesous Ahatonhia (“Jesus in Born”) was composed by St. Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit priest, in the 1640s. Brebeuf originally wrote the lyrics in the Huron (Wyandot) language, while he was stationed among the Huron people as a Christian missionary. He set the lyrics to an old French folk-tune, titled “Une Jeune Pucelle,” attempting to illustrate the message of Christmas in iconography that he thought would be familiar to the Huron people, whom he lived with for over twenty years. The English lyrics we know today were written in 1926 by Jesse Edgar Middleton, and not by Brebeuf, and are not a direct translation from the original Huron-Wyandot.
The song’s minor key and lowered seventh scale degree harness an ancient sound reminiscent of old church modes, and this quintessential dark sound sets the carol apart from most other festive Christmas repertoire. The carol retains a special place in Canadian heritage, for it has been well loved by the Huron people, French Canadians, as well as English Canadians in its near 400-year existence.
Friday, December 4, 2015, 8:00 pm
Stories of the Season
(St. Thomas’s Anglican Church 383 Huron Street, Toronto)
Stories of the Season: A Canadian Noel is a joyous way to celebrate through song and spoken word. Canadian composers and arrangers include Anderson, Chatman, Daley, Jeff Enns, Holman, Sirett, Somers and Willan. Imant Raminsh’s lovely Magnificat for mezzo-soprano, chorus and piano will be performed. Interspersed amongst the musical selections are stories written and read by the singers themselves. Rounding out the concert is an audience carol-sing. Organist Daniel Bickle will play.
Purchase Tickets here!
Last evening we had a very successful concert, and afterwards we had a chance to get our choir photo of the 2015 edition of the choir.
With the arrival of cool weather, rainy mornings, and changing leaves, it’s clear that fall is officially upon us here in Toronto! Our concert is fast approaching (less than a week away!) and we’re busy putting the final touches on our pieces for Stories of Remembrance. Next month brings Remembrance Day, and in step with our commemorative theme we will be performing a setting of “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian composer David MacIntyre. His setting of John McCrae’s famous verse has a dignified simplicity, fitting the poem’s solemn and moving subject matter.
MacIntyre utilizes military musical archetypes in his setting, which conjure up mental images of battle in days gone by. In a recent rehearsal, we discussed our different thoughts on his setting of the first verse, in which the sopranos float smoothly above the detached, lightly staccato accompaniment that pulses unified beats. Some images that came to our minds while rehearsing this verse included the muffled, distant drums of a marching army, or a dignified funeral procession. Sharing our artistic opinions in rehearsal can help inform our interpretation of the piece as an ensemble, adding to our musicality and unity in performance.
A second military connection in MacIntyre’s piece occurs a bit later, with a “fanfare” that he specifically marks in the score. Of course, since the piece is a cappella, we recreate this traditionally brass sound with the power of five-part vocal harmony. In a brisk 9/8 metre, the musical line is propelled forward victoriously, as if invincible – the reverie is broken only moments later as the choir slows down and resumes duple metre. MacIntyre brings the listener back down to earth, to a more emotional and understated musical language, matching the noble yet somber poetry.
We look forward to sharing this interpretation of “In Flanders Fields” and other beautiful poetic settings with you all on the evening of October 23rd. Don’t forget to invite a friend (or two)!
Choirs, like their instrumental counterpart, orchestras, must bring together a diverse group of people to create a single, unified sound. But choirs, unlike orchestras, bring together a group of people who are all holding the same instrument. This narrow timbral range increases the level of difficulty of choral singing – we are searching for a single timbre among men and women, rather than embracing and maneuvering the various timbres of strings, brass, and winds under a larger umbrella. Furthermore, decreasing the number of singers in your ensemble only increases the difficulty of blending – individual voices that could easily shine above a section of only four or five other singers must be trained to match one another and turn inwards to a common sound, sacrificing certain unique characteristics for the betterment of the group.
The process of painstakingly cultivating a group sound can be shortened if a group trusts one another, and spends time together outside of rehearsal. For this reason, Exultate holds an annual retreat at the start of the year, which focuses on team building, welcoming new members, and intensive rehearsal. This year, we were lucky enough to meet in the heart of the Distillery District, which, as well as being a picturesque setting and a neat rehearsal space, made for a great Saturday lunch break! (Brickstone Bakery, anyone?!) The rehearsal time on retreat is invaluable, allotting enough time to push through the technical early stages of a piece, so that post-retreat the choir is ready to tackle dynamics, blend, and the real “meat” of the repertoire. And this necessary core of the choir’s sound is grounded by the time spent together in both rehearsal and in leisure.
Our October 23rd concert includes a number of pieces which require significant blending skills, including the gorgeous “Rest” by Vaughan Williams, and Eleanor Daley’s “For the Fallen”. “Rest” experiments with varied phrase lengths, intense dynamic shifts, and adventurous harmonies. These tricky features of the piece necessitate a blended sound, so that the choir can efficiently direct the audience’s ear through the twisting phrases and surprising harmonic progressions without sounding messy or uncoordinated. Daley’s “For the Fallen” contains dense chords contained in a homorhythmic texture, but with constantly shifting time signatures – this density and inconsistent metre similarly necessitates expert blend. We love the challenge and so does Dr. Apfelstadt!
By choir member Sadie Menicanin
In vocal music, musicians have the great opportunity to tell real, tangible narratives. The use of lyrics imparts a responsibility on the singer to channel a specific meaning, or tell a specific story, to their audience.
In Exultate, we have formed our entire season around this concept of telling narratives: our four concerts organize themselves around different narrative themes, such as “Stories of Remembrance”, “Stories of Love and Longing”, and others. Our first concert, on October 23rd, examines narratives centred on war, tragedy, and commemoration. Particularly unique in our first program is the Holocaust Cantata by Donald McCullough, which includes horrifying prisoner accounts of the concentration camp Buchenwald, and poems written by its inmates. Both read in plain speech and set to music (many of the melodies used are authentic Polish military melodies), these writings have jarred us, owing to their unflinching representation of the awful realities of the Holocaust, spoken aloud in glaring honesty.
When we each can recognize, both as members of the chorus and of the audience, that we have each have different – valuable – narratives to share with one another, and that we each have different experiences that have shaped us, then we are able approach this program more deeply. Thoughtful reflection on our own lives and the lives of others through music only brings us closer together, as audience and musicians. We can’t wait to share more with you as our season progresses.
By Choir member Sadie Menicanin