Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Out of my league

So the 2013-14 Choral Season has begun.   I am only involved in one Christmas concert this season which will be John Rutter's Magnificat with the church choir. 
Besides this I am now a member of a women's quartet!  This is not like choral singing at all.  For one thing there are four lines of music and only four singers which means no one else is singing my line except me!  This means I have to pay much more attention to notes, dynamics, and most of all breathing spots.  I am somewhat out of my league in this little group.  The Soprano is a beautiful soloist who gets paid to sing solos for various productions, the second soprano is a woman who also gets paid to sing Jazz etc and has gigs all over the city and has a wonderful CD out.  She is also a brilliant arranger!    The second alto sang solo at my wedding and has often performed the solo alto roles in church.  She also has been the lead singer in a fun German band.  Then there is the first alto - Yours Truly.  Oh brother!  So totally out of my league and thankfully I am singing a musical line that can mostly hide amongst the other three. 
We have sung in church twice and have two paid gigs coming down the pipe.  CRAZY!  We only have 4 songs in our repertoire at the moment as 4-part female arrangements of songs we want to sing are not that common and the brilliant arranger among us can't be arranging 24/7. 
So although not a choir, I may post updates on this quartet periodically on this blog.  We need a name!  We are known as The Schmucke Madchen (The Pretty Girls) amongst ourselves mostly because we like to roll low-german words around our tongues.  So - looking for name suggestions that are perhaps more fitting for 4 women of a certain age.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Little Singing but still Listening

Here I am at another summer break in the choral season.  My soul longs to be meeting with a choir regularly to rehearse and perfect something together.  Regular choir rehearsals keep me contained somehow and I am at a bit of a loss without them.    For now I have to be content  with looking ahead to the 2013/14 season when  I am hoping to be part of the following presentations:

Larissa's Requiem - Silvestrov - for the WSO New Music Festival
 John of Damascus - Taneyev
Mass - Mozart
Magnificat - Rutter
Requiem - Verdi

Most of these are new to me, save for the Rutter and Verdi so I will spend some time this summer playing the others on You Tube so I can get some of it in my ear.  Since I am not much of a musician I cannot play much on the piano for myself as then I have to play the right note at the right time which is really all too much to ask.

You may ask how such a non-musician sings in these choirs and I must ask that you not tell any of my conductors how pathetic I am.  I guess I am in by pure luck.  I have passed an audition or two but I guess they did not put much weight on the sight reading category.  I feel so lucky to be able to sing these great work with such fantastic musicians.  To keep myself in the game I seem to have to practice at home more than the average so at least I can do some of that in the summer, even if it mostly involves listening, and pathetically little singing. 

When rehearsals resume my voice will be out of shape but my desire will be strong!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Beethoven's 9th with Alexander Mickelthwate and WSO

The Ode to Joy.  Loud, high joyful.  Fast, screaming beautiful.  Uplifting whirlwind transcending our human problems.  Freude schoener Goetterfunken Tochter aus Elysium.  Freudig wie ein Held zum Siegen!   Powerful and spiritual and so popular it is used my many a comedy sketch.  Seen here if you click on Sesame Street  and of course done here by the hilarious Mr. Bean.
It is monumental and yet  I feel that the we as a choir are oblivious to that fact.  We are doing some monumentally sloppy singing.  Consonants in the wrong places, words pronounced incorrectly notes sung at the wrong time and we have even managed to belt them out at the wrong pitch.  Not sure what is going on, and I am not sure I have ever been in this situation.  That is, where there have been so very many errors by so very many people this close to performance.
Tonight we rehearsed with the orchestra and I really don't think we were heard over all that Beethoven blasting in front of us, which is just as well.    Ironically I did not see too many smiling faces in this Ode to Joy rehearsal - even the man tinkling away on the triangle looked slightly angry.  Alexander gets full points for trying - he smiled as he perched pixie-like on his podium and I felt sorry that we were not giving him much.
We have a dress rehearsal tomorrow and then it is 3 days of performances.  I really hope something or someone will whip us into shape.  Where is Jane Glover's withering gaze when you need her?
In the end it will be Ludwig himself who will rescue us, his writing genius will be able to transcend our inadequacies. (I hope)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jane and Wolfgang

I have had two Mozart Requiem rehearsals with the skillful Mozart expert, Jane Glover.  Dr. Glover knows Mozart well, having studied much about him during the writing of her book, Mozart's Women.  She feels him in every part of this work and wonderfully transfers those passions to the choir.

She read to us a letter in which Wolfie consoles his dying father, saying that death is the only sure thing in life and something to look forward to and it is in that spirit that we are to sing the opening movement, Requiem aeternam donna eis domine.: with quite an upbeat feel.
In the second movement, Dies irae, we can feel that as his own death drew nigh fear of it did arrive as shown by the use of trumpets of which Mozart had a fear, almost a phobia about in his childhood.

The one truly sorrowful movement is the No. 7 Lacrymosa.That day of tears and mourning....It was during the composition of this movement that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died, in fact the last line he wrote was, "the guilty man goes to his judgment" and he was gone...from this point on in the music Jane shared with us that she always feels Mozart departing  and the ever ordinary Franz Xaver Suessmayr taking over the composition with Mozart's sketches in mind.   There is a floating quality in the music in the next few bars where Mozart's soul is floating up, then in bar 22 human rage at the creator begins, we are singing "dona eis Requiem" but we are in a forte rage at God for having snatched Mozart from us at such an early age.  Then in bar 27, exhausted by our rage we are somewhat resigned to his passing and our own eventual demise.

Ms. Glover has a way of transmitting this knowledge to us so that we too can feel all this passion. 
She spoke with us in a soft confidential manner about "good old Sussmeyer."  She said that she herself has never and will never conduct any other Mozart Requiem.  She works exclusively with the Sussmeyer.  She acknowledges admiration for the brilliant one done by Robert Levin and mentions German composers who have completed the Requiem with much more skill than Sussmeyer, but is is Glover's contention that Sussmeyer was sitting on the edge of the bed taking dictation from Mozart, frantically trying to get all he could from the dying man and then did an adequate job of finishing it.  "We cannot abandon Sussmeyer now.  He was there and you can't replace that."   All this even though his Osanna is mere few seconds where as Mozart would have given us a glorious 4 minute
The fact that the Suessmayr version is somewhat ordinary is part of the charm of the piece.  It shows that the Musical Genius has died and now the ordinary takes over but with glimmers of Mozart since Franz Suessmayr did have the master's musical outline.
Jane Glover has a wonderfully collaborative manner about her.  When she arrived on the rehearsal stage she went to shake hands with a few of the musicians who, I presume, were not at her afternoon rehearsal.  She welcomed the choir and we felt as though each one of us was a valued contributor to bringing out Mozart's genius.   She repeatedly uses the phrase, "My friends", as in "That was very good my friends"  or "All right my friends let's take it from bar 23, all of us."  The orchestra is showing respect to her and seem to have an appreciation for the choir.  It truly feels like we are all in this together. 
 One of my favourite expressions of Glover's, which I remember from working with her two years ago, is the musical dynamic "mezzo quelque chose" used when really it is not a mezzo piano not a mezzo forte, just a "whatever".   She likes to tell us that in the Rex Tremendae movement there is no mezzo quelque chose; it is either forte or piano. 
She often refers to the men as chaps, which is very charming as she has this wonderful British accent.  She sounds charming even as she says, after an attempt at the opening of Confutatis - "Well chaps, that was rather feeble.  You will need to try it again and with the realization that your manhood is at stake."   Ms. Glover,  the sopranos and altos were impressed with the chaps' second attempt. 
 Her conducting style is very easy to follow.  She has a masterful beat stroke with very clear entries and finishes and yet a very flowing style. She knows what she wants from each instrument and each voice part and is unapologetic about asking for it.   I do so like working with her.
  Mozart and Glover are an inspirational duo to be spending time with during passion week.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Ah Mozart!

It is a Sunday afternoon.  I have been wallowing in Brahms for the last few weeks as I rehearse it on Thursdays and listen to it to and from my work.  Readers of this blog know I LOVE BRAHMS!  So it is with a "I am not in the mood for Mozart at all" that I take my place at rehearsal.  The conductor has the pianist play the opening measures and, SHUDDER, I am grabbed into a scary place and can feel the composers trepidation as the piano takes the listener to the choir's forte opening of "Requiem"!  I am overcome by the emotion in the work in a way that has me tearing up at several points.
The first movement of Mozart's Requiem seems to be a perfectly crafted piece of music that one would not approach too casually and certainly not with the bored air I took my seat with.  No!  This is a fine piece of music filled with uneasiness but also glimmers of sweetness.  Mozart is to have said, "I fear I am writing the Requiem for myself." and this sentiment comes through in the opening bars.

I have sung this many times so why do I forget this fact between times? 

The choir I am rehearsing with, The Mennonite Festival Chorus, is a joy to work with.  This is a group that seems to know that singing this music is an honour and a sacred task.  The music is approached with reverence.  Not that there is not fun and laughter, and even cookies and coffee at break, but there is just a general seriousness about the music that I don't find in every choir.

I am so grateful to be rehearsing this work again.  Performance is on March 30th at the Centennial Concert Hall with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Jane Glover conducting.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Elijah Huge Success!

Gregory Dahl
I have forgotten to post that the Elijah Concert was a huge success!  Sold out house!  The soprano, Tracy Dahl, was sparkling and sang with such drama one felt as though we were in an opera!  The tenor, Kurt Lehmann, sang with such lyricism and strong diction one felt proud to be part of anything he was in, Kirsten Schellenberg, alto, was solid as always, the boy soprano, Anton Sokalski (son of Tracy Dahl) was pure and divine, but the ELIJAH, who I almost forgot was Gregory Dahl, as it seemed the prophet had appeard amongst us - albeit in a tux.   Mr. Dahl was ELIJAH -" Thou art Elijah" I almost shouted at him, and watched him carefully at the post concert reception to see when the fiery chariots would take him away to heaven! 
Our conductor, Yuri Klaz, was so full of passion it was oozing out all over the place.  He did an excellent job at weaving the orchestra, soloists and choir together to tell this very dramatic story.  The venue, was a cathedral, so it offered the audience a much more intimate feeling than had it been performed in a concert hall.  I think this led to the excitement in the air.  As choristers, we could also see the faces of the audience and they fed so much emotion back to us that one could not help but get into the character we were to be playing at any given time.  Yuri Hooker's solo cello line in the "It is enough" bass solo, was so beautiful that I wished I were in the audience and could allow myself to be swallowed up in it instead of having to remain somewhat alert for performance.
A memorable line from our conductor at our last minute rehearsal was, "Altos, you are watching me and yet you are behind the sopranos."    To myself I thought, "Well, obviously the sopranos must be ahead of your beat."  I of course, said nothing, and feeling duly chastised I tried to remember to push the tempo throughout performance and I think all went well.  

Requiems 2013


In the Passion season of 2012 I sang The Brahms Requiem with the WSO and Mozart Requiem with my church choir.   This season it will be the reverse.  Since the church choir is doing the Brahms we have been rehearsing for two months already whereas we have not had one day of Mozart rehearsal.  Both will be performance ready by the Easter weekend.   Since both are so fresh to my voice and brain and so loved by my heart, the rehearsal stage will be easy!  Some unique aspects will be that we will do the 4 hands piano version of the Brahms instead of orchestra.  Although Brahms did transcribe his orchestral version for two pianos it was done mostly for commercial reasons as more and more people were enjoying playing orchestral works on their pianos at home.  Now here, too, I  feel that money is driving this decision: two pianos will be cheaper than the strings to have the pianos will most likely be cheaper - it better be as I can't think of any other reason to remove the strings from this work,  I have performed it with organ one time and it did not satisfy.

I have written about both of these Requiems in previous posts so don't want to repeat myself too much.  For an alto there is no question the Brahms is more enjoyable.  Johannes, as always, celebrates and honours the inner line by giving us beautiful moving and haunting lines to sing.  Mozart uses us as filler and keeps us humble.  Mozart writes for sopranos.

Other differences in the Requiems is that Mozart includes the traditional Dies Irae while Brahms does not even give us a peek of hell.  Brahms is all about comfort, and who better to provide comfort than the alto.  (You know,  I have to speak like this as my blog is "an Alto writes about her choral life.")
The exciting thing about doing the Mozart will be that we will be working with  Jane Glover who is a Mozart expert.  I look forward to hearing her take on a work that she is so intimate with.  I have posted about Ms. Glover earlier on this blog as we sang the St. John's Passion with her two years ago.  She runs a tight ship and I have an appreciation for that trait in a conductor.  She is the British born woman who conducts an accomplished baroque chorus out of Chicago.  She is the author of
Mozart's Women: His Family, His Friends, His Music a book I much enjoyed.
I will write more as rehearsals progress.

Friday, February 22, 2013

First Orchestra Rehearsal

Last night we met with the orchestra for the first time to tackle Mendelssohn's Elijah.  I was surprised by several things:
1.  Several Principal Symphony players were in attendance including Gwen Hoebig, Yuri Hooker, and Daniel Scholz.
2.  My daughter's high school strings instructor was present in the Cello section.
3.  The conductor did not appear stressed and last but not least...
4. That  I was there at all since I spent the day in bed with waves of nausea. 

The reason I hauled myself out of bed to attend was that since I am only an associate member of the choir I am not sure how secure my physical spot in the front row between N and S really is.  I did not want to show up at dress rehearsal on Saturday having lost this spot from which I feel I can do my best singing.  Secondly, I wanted to hear last minute markings first hand.

Being sick and void of any  nourishment I could not stand for much of the rehearsal and when I did stand I felt I would fall on to the horn section directly below me.  Surprisingly, my voice was in okay shape but my timing was somewhat off so I made blunders that I have not made in previous rehearsals.  There are now different voices behind me than in our rehearsal venue so I had a whole new perspective on the pieces; not all of it positive.  In some ways this semi-professional choir is not all that different from the church choir I sing in.  Some sloppy singing still abounds this close to  performance, some markings have still been missed which drives our conductor crazy, and basses are still heard to ask, "What page are we on?"

I am thankful I am not in charge of anything for this event.  I just show up and sit quietly in my chair while the stage manager, a brave woman, has to arrange all of us in the best possible manner as she tried to solve the problems of altos without chairs, two choristers whose chairs fell through the platform leaving them on the floor, first sopranos sitting with the altos and more.  She handled all of this with a smile as I realized she is the right person for the job. 

Tomorrow the soloists will be there and they will certainly add more than enough sparkle to the event to help the choir take it up a notch or two.  By Sunday's performance we will all peak together to provide a magical few hours.  Hopefully, I will feel somewhat better by then.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rehearsal Week

Now in last rehearsal week for Felix Mendelssohn's Elijah with the Philharmonic Choir and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.  The music has found it's way into my being and I hum it continually.  With 42 movements there is much humming material to choose from.

 The Elijah is a very dramatic piece with raising a boy from the dead, a competition between Baal and Elijah's God, fire falling from heaven and fiery horses driving a fiery chariot into heaven to name but a few.  I have come a long way with this piece; from it all feeling rather cheesy at first rehearsal to now where I am looking forward to telling the story to our audience.  I am also excited  to hearing and seeing the incomparable Tracy Dahl at our dress rehearsal Saturday afternoon.  Having been left breathless by her while watching her on the Opera stage but never having worked with her on an Oratorio. I am thrilled for this opportunity.

Unfortunately I am coming down with a virus of sorts and have had sinus, nose and throat problems for the last few days which I hope will not escalate into something worse.  I need to have a fair bit of energy to perform this thing.   There is much for the chorus to do in this work and so I am left feeling exhausted just turning that many pages at times.  It is exhausting because my score (just like the rest of them) is very shabby and despite my taping efforts can be a struggle to hold. 

Another problem with our scores is that they have both English and German lyrics with extra notes written here and there for each.  This is still confusing for some choristers and can result in sloppy sound coming from various pockets of the choir.  Of course by performance this will be ironed out at the next two rehearsals.

A pleasant surprise is that our conductor is allowing us to sing all the pieces that could be done by smaller groups or soloists like "Lift thine eyes"  "For all the angels"  "Cast they Burden".  These are probably some of the prettiest pieces and so it is nice for us to be allowed to sing them.  Although at last night's rehearsal he did have a smaller group sing the "Lift thine eyes" after a few attempts with all the women.  I don't think he has decided which way he will go on this one.  He gave no indication that the smaller group sounded any better than the whole so we shall see on Thursday.  Lucky for me I am in the smaller group so will get to sing it regardless, still, if we can all sing it I shall be happy! (The link above is a boy's choir; you can rest assured we do not sound as sweet.) 
As in all rehearsal weeks the excitement will build until Saturday, climax during performance and then the inevitable let down.  For now I am in the enjoyable build-up stage!

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Elijah,was a famous prophet and a wonder-worker in the northern kingdom of Israel[3] during the reign of Ahab (9th century BC), according to the Biblical Books of Kings as well as the Qur'an. According to the Books of Kings, Elijah defended the worship of Yahweh over that of the Phoenician god Baal; he raised the dead, brought fire down from the sky, and was taken up in a whirlwind (either accompanied by a chariot and horses of flame or riding in it).[4] In the Book of Malachi, Elijah's return is prophesied "before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord,"[5] making him a harbinger of the Messiah and the eschaton in various faiths that revere the Hebrew Bible. Derivative references to Elijah appear in the Talmud, Mishnah, the New Testament, and the Qur'an.
In Judaism, Elijah's name is invoked at the weekly Havdalah ritual that marks the end of Shabbat, and Elijah is invoked in other Jewish customs, among them the Passover seder and the Brit milah (ritual circumcision). He appears in numerous stories and references in the Haggadah and rabbinic literature, including the Babylonian Talmud.
In Christianity, the New Testament describes how both Jesus and John the Baptist are compared with Elijah, and on some occasions, thought by some to be manifestations of Elijah, and Elijah appears with Moses during the Transfiguration of Jesus.
In Islam, the Qur'an describes Elijah as a great and righteous prophet of God, and one who powerfully preached against the worship of Ba'al.

(the above is re printed from Wikipedia and I can't believe the amount of hyper texting that is going on here!)

So we now know that Elijah is a major prophet with great impact.  It is this story that Mendelssohn sets to music and this story that will be performed by the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir and members of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra  under the direction of Yuri Klaz for their 90th Anniversary Gala - a major event in itself!
I have read that it is often performed in English speaking countries and it was first performed in England and became very popular there but I cannot say that my city of Winnipeg has been a frequent Elijah performer.  I have heard it only twice here and have never performed it myself.  I am enjoying learning a new work and look forward to the Feb. 24 performance. 
Like in Bach's Passions the chorus gets to act out the parts of "the crowd" so in the famous battle between Jehovah and Ba'al it is the chorus who cries out, "Ba'al we cry to thee, Ba'al we cry to thee, hear and answer us!  Hear and Answer!  This can feel hokey in rehearsals if you are not quite into it but once it is put together with soloists and orchestra I am sure we will be in the right mood to cry out to our Ba'al begging for hm to show himself!  Speaking of soloists, they will be Tracy Dahl, Kirsten Schellenberg, Kurt Lehman, and Greg Dahl.
Other portions are a joy to rehearse and I can get into the mood for them even in rehearsal  These are the comforting pieces such as, "He Watches Over Israel",  "He That Shall Endure to the End", and "Lift thine Eyes"
The copies we are using are old and ragged so that one can frequently hear choristers whispering,"Oh, %hit" as half of their pages land on the floor.  So on the "To Do" list this week is repair my copy so no more bending over to retrieve lost pages, finish writing in the bar numbers, and rehearse a few of the trickier parts so I will be completely ready to go by the next rehearsal.  In addition to being ragged our scores also have German and English text, and not written in the most clear manner, so you will have choristers singing out "Send" while that may look like an English work it is actually part of the German text so don't sing it!  Sometimes your voice part will only have the German and you have to look up or down to another voice part to get your lyrics.  I want to go over this at home this week too so that I can sing confidently from now on.

It is a treat to sing with the Philharmonic choir because there is no pressure there for me to lead the section and in fact there are so many others on whom I am leaning.