Gonna rise, gonna rise up singing

Gonna raise the bucket from down in the well

And I feel like I’m just beginning

Cause I made that choice, to raise that voice

And that bucket’s gonna rise, rise up singing

(Quaker, traditional)

Reasons for singing are probably as many as all the colours in all the windows of every windowed place of worship in the world, real or imagined. 16_watoto_choir_ colour

And at the same time, maybe there is after all, only one fundamental reason: to express a passion that cannot be conveyed so well in any other way. Shared passion is one of those things that keeps us feel fully alive, and fully human.

From start to finish the March listings illustrate this diversity within a unified purpose – to “rise up singing” as a way of sharing fear, hope, despair and joy. As the days begin to get a little longer perhaps you will feel more like going out to hear some inspiring choral music, so remember to be”alive” in the month which precedes traditional celebrations of rebirth and harbingers of spring in the natural world.

Using this column to try to mention individual offerings feels like trying to describe all the fragments of those coloured windows: but there are kaleidoscope clusters of inspiration that are revealed when you stand back a little and look.

Odes, Masses, Passions: these are perhaps our biggest, most organized, and most celebrated expressions of passionate voice, and this month we are offered Zelenka’s Ode to St. Cecilia, Handel’s St Cecilia Mass, Bach’s St John Passion and his St. Matthew Passion, also his Mass in B minor; Brahms’ German Requiem, Hayden’s Missa Sancti Nicolai. At the more recent end of the spectrum, among the great reasons for people to sing together, and waiting to be heard by the musically hungry, we have the opportunity to hear The Light in the Wilderness, a jazz oratorio by Dave Brubek, and Mass for Prisoners of Conscience written for and dedicated to Amnesty International by John Burge.

There is also a number of choral concerts this month which draw on larger works, presenting great oratorio choruses, collections of coronation anthems, and “hymns for all times”.

The choral listings this month are an extraordinary reflection of who we are: based in part upon what we choose to sing: Celtic music, music from Africa, music from Asia .We are the choral traditions of Wales, of Vesnivka. We sing music from the middle ages and music written this 21st century. Our concert titles reflect the size of the subjects that inspire us compose and sing: “”mystery, destruction and healing”, “primavera”, “midwinter magic”, “songs for springtime”, “love, life, and loss”.

Please take time to look closely at the details in the listings and the choral advertisments: it’s clear that we have reasons to sing beyond saving our own sanity and souls. We sing as much for others as we do for ourselves: many of this month’s choral concerts are benefits, with proceeds going to arts education programmes and music schools, AIDS education, shelters for homeless youth and homes for the aged, and hospices. In sobering times many who cannot afford to give big cash donations to good causes, need to rise up some other way. Lending our voices is one, being there to listen is another.

NOTE: Our online listings can now be searched by musical genre (e.g. Choral). Give it a try.

Wake up and SING!
by mJ Buell

FROM Harmony, from heavenly Harmony
This universal frame began:
When Nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay
And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high,
Arise, ye more than dead!
(John Dryden, Song for St. Cecilia's Day, 1687)

A freezing February morning makes a person want to play dead - especially if you have to get up while it's still dark outside. The birds are NOT singing. A rooster with even half a brain in its head would be snuggled up in the warmest corner of the henhouse, muttering "cock-a-doodle-don't".

No accident that we choose to wake to music, or try to, anyway. We use clock-radios tuned to favourite or most annoying stations. We programme computers and cell-phones with our favourite up-beat tunes, and use them like alarm clocks. This February is a short dark month: we brood about the economy, essential arts funding, and RRSPs. It's the month of Valentine's Day - somehow we're meant to feel romantic about expensive chocolates and bouquets of roses. We have a brand-new holiday called "Family Day" - family in February represented by either the mixed blessing of too many filthy shoes, boots and mitts in the hall, or the barely disguised gloating of relatives who have skipped the country to warm up.

Interestingly this is also a month when our choirs close ranks with other choirs and other kinds of artists to co-present. Preparing and performing these kinds of concerts and events involves extraordinary feats of scheduling and communication. The results are invigorating and heartening: true labours of love, all.

It's well worth venturing out for these: and it really is a "something for everyone" kind of month.

On the first of the month: The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir closes ranks with some of their favourite singers: you! Raised in Song is their sing-along programme of hymns and choral favourites: a fine opportunity to be part of one great and powerful voice. On the same day, same time, Hart House will be hosting The Inter-Varsity Choral Festival Gala Concert with a massed choir of The Hart House Chorus , Simply Sweetly (McGill University), Trent Concert Choir (Trent University), and The University of Western Ontario Choir.

And there's more. The Toronto Mass Choir, the York University Gospel Choir and As the Spirit Moves Dance Troupe offer us some potent recharging energy in The Evolution of Gospel Music (Feb. 6&7). The Amadeus Choir's Celtic Celebration (Feb 7) shares the stage with the Celtic band Kettle's On, fiddler Chris MacDonald, and some highland dancers. On the same day, the North York Concert Orchestra and the NYCO Symphony Chorus offer us Fauré's Requiem; and the Mississauga Festival Choir hosts a Festival of Friends concert which includes the Cawthra Park Chamber Choir, the Mississauga Festival Youth Choir, and the Queensmen of Toronto.

The UofT Faculty of Music offers us Choirs in Concert - Vox Femina (Feb 13) in which the University Women's Chorus shares an evening with the University of Guelph Women's Choir. On the same day, in Cambridge, Ben Heppner will add his voice to the Heritage Alumni Choir, with the Cambridge Community Orchestra in Opera and Oratorio - a Benefit Concert.

How much more romantic can you get than the French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz? Would you sell your soul to the Devil in return for great knowledge? Dare to find out! Charles Dutoit conducts the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, the Toronto Children's Chorus and a luminous solo line-up in The Damnation of Faust (Feb.26 & 28).

In commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day the Bach Elgar Choir will perform Oratorio Terezin (Hamilton, Feb 28), with the Hamilton Children's Choir, the Talisker Players Orchestra and some fine solo singers. This full length work by Ruth Fazal uses children's poetry which miraculously survived from the ghetto of Terezin, woven together with passages from the Hebrew scriptures: powerful and unique.

On the same evening, in Toronto, the Jubilate Singers will heat up the night as they invite us to An Evening in Spain with guitarist Michael Savona and dancer Esmerelda Enrique. And as we sing our way through the slush to March 1,Toronto Mass Choir is back inviting us all to Power Up - this massed choir concert is the grand finale of a two day gospel workshop.

Photo: Tessa Buchan

Thursday, January 22, 2009, Noel Edison was invested into the Order of Ontario. With him is The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. Noel Edison is the founder of the Elora Festival Singers, and has been the principal conductor of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir since 1999. He has a number of recordings to his credit, and is a regular juror for the CBC, the OAC and the Juno awards. Noel Edison also serves on the board of directors of the Association of Choral Conductors of Canada. The Order of Ontario is the highest individual honour bestowed by the province, and Noel Edison is the only member of the arts community to be recognized this year. "When one goes into a vocation one does not think of awards, and I am truly honoured and humbled and surprised..."

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