Category Archives: Blog

Canadian Composer Series: “Sicut Cervus” by Stephanie Martin

Our latest videos in this series. In the first video, the choir rehearsing Sicut Cervus by Canadian composer Stephanie Martin for our upcoming concert on Friday, October 28th. In the second video, Stephanie is in conversation with assistant conductor Mark Ramsay, discussing how the piece came to be composed.

Sir David Wilcocks

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.

-John Meadows

 

Searching For a Single Timbre

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

Narratives

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