21-23-choral-barnes-option-1Paintings and sculptures occupy physical space. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa resides in the Louvre in perpetuity, guarded and revered, physical manifestations of “great art” in a hallowed space, ready for us to come and venerate.

Music, by contrast, is a manipulation of sound and time and lives in our minds and ears. Music is a physical experience not a physical object. Without our minds and ears to translate, it cannot exist.

Music needs to be iterated and reiterated to continue to live. The giants of the musical canon seem inviolate and firmly rooted, but even established musical giants have been as subject to trend and fashion as any other musician. Bach needed Mendelssohn to reintroduce his work to the world. Mahler’s work was headed for obscurity when it was championed by musical lion Leonard Bernstein. Vivaldi’s inescapable Four Seasons was actually a forgotten work at the beginning of the 20th century. Its rise in popularity corresponded with the rise of recording technology and turned a relatively obscure composer into a household name.

Because of its need to be constantly renewed, music is subject to the world’s often wayward and chaotic currents of artistic fashion (as is literature, theatre and architecture). Economics, technology, trend and fashion play a greater role in shaping our tastes than we understand or will admit to.

In Canada, a young nation swamped by European and American cultural and economic influence, we are continually reminding ourselves and each other that what we create here is worthy of advocacy. Canadian musicians whose careers may not have extended past national or even regional borders need and deserve our continued interest and awareness, especially after they are no longer in a position to promote themselves.

Barnes: One such composer is Milton Barnes who had a rich and varied career centred in Southern Ontario but ranging over North America. He had fruitful associations with many musicians, ensembles and dance companies. Trained in modernist compositional techniques, he ultimately moved to a more accessible style that factored in his background as a jazz drummer, his ease with popular music and his knowledge of traditional Jewish music.

Eleven years after his death, it would be easy for Barnes’ work to pass into disuse — new composers are fighting for space in a crowded local and global market and Canadian artistic history is so young it is hard to conceive of it as a tradition to be fostered, celebrated and renewed.

So it is good to see two Toronto choirs collaborating in a concert in part devoted to Barnes’ music. The Jubilate Singers have consistently created unusual and inventive programs. The Jewish Folk Choir is one of Toronto’s most long-running groups and has a long, varied and fascinating history of social and political engagement. It has been a staunch advocate for Jewish-Canadian music.

The two groups’ collaboration is named “L’khayim: A Celebration of Jewish Music,” and takes place on November 25. The concert showcases works in Yiddish, Ladino (a linguistic amalgam of Hebrew, Spanish and Aramaic influences) and Hebrew. Klezmer ensemble Shtetl Shpil are the guest instrumentalists. It will feature Barnes’ lively Sefarad, a tuneful suite that he wrote in 1996 to celebrate the 3,000th anniversary of the City of Jerusalem.

Soundstreams: Contemporary composition has also needed fierce advocacy, in part because of the fierceness with which audiences have resisted it. Over the course of the 20th century, the idea of the inherent superiority of European-derived composition has broken down completely and those who desire an intellectual component to music have been able to find it in various types of world music, jazz and other areas of popular music.

To remain relevant, contemporary music groups have had to bridge gaps between the European tradition and other stylistic areas. Toronto’s Soundstreams, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, has never wavered from its contemporary music mandate. But it has certainly expanded both its own and its audience’s understanding of what contemporary music entails. Their programs are notably free of pretension and over-seriousness; their mandate to involve and inspire young musicians gives their season a sense of liveliness and fun.

As part of its anniversary celebrations, Soundstreams is hosting a concert with the Latvian Radio Choir, considered to be one of the world’s top choral ensembles. A truly professional outfit, they give over 60 concerts a year. Choral aficionados definitely don’t want to miss this one.

The icing on the cake: as part of its commitment to outreach and education, Soundstreams will host four choirs from Canadian universities for this concert which will allow young musicians the experience of working with the Latvian Radio Choir in a mentorship capacity. The concert includes a number of Russian and Latvian works, a piece by John Cage and music by a nice range of contemporary Canadian composers.

21-23-choral-moonriseOther concerts of note

On November 3 the Hamilton Children’s Choir gives a fundraising concert in support of the choir’s performance at the Xinghai International Choir Championships. Please come out and support this endeavour.

On November 17 and 18 the Cantemus Singers perform an early music program that includes Charpentier’s In Nativitatem Domini.

The recent Wes Anderson film Moonrise Kingdom (now available on DVD) brilliantly utilized the music of Benjamin Britten throughout, including Britten’s wonderful and popular children’s opera Noye’s Fludde. On November 23 there is an opportunity to hear this work live, as the VIVA! Youth Singers take part in a staged version.

In a similar vein, the Elora Festival Singers perform Menotti’s festive Amahl and the Night Visitors on November 25. This opera is a touching and humorous work and an excellent introduction to opera for children.

As we head into the Christmas season, many choirs gear up for seasonal concerts. Next month, there is an astonishing number of concerts taking place on December 1, too many to list effectively. Please have a look at the listings to see how many varied and interesting choices there are on that Saturday evening. 

Ben Stein is a Toronto tenor and theorbist.  He can be contacted at choralscene@thewholenote.com.  Visit his website at benjaminstein.ca.

Conductors learn that, in certain situations, to hear a sound exactly when you want it, you must indicate it slightly ahead of time. I’m uneasily contemplating this temporal disconnect as I write this column, several days before preparing for a big concert I’m conducting and playing in (a chamber performance of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers). As I write, the concert is several days in the future, but it will have been over for several weeks by the time you read this.

All of which should allow for a neat segue to an elegant, erudite little rumination on the nature of music and our perception of time. But I don’t have any time to write about time! I’ve got to practise this score. Or rather, last month, just slightly ahead of the time I should have been devoting to this column, I was practising a score and ... oh, forget it. Here are some choral concerts coming up soon, helpfully grouped into different areas of interest.

Requiems: November is the month for remembering the Commonwealth participation in WWI and Canadian choirs often program requiems for this time of the year. Here are several of note:

On November 3, the Cantabile Chorale of York Region performs Eternal Light a requiem setting by British composer Howard Goodall. Goodall’s work has enjoyed a popular reception in his home country, and this particular requiem setting has won an award as well.

The Islington United Church Choir performs Fauré’s Requiem on October 28. This piece is always worth a listen. Fauré’s elegant, unaffected writing is a welcome contrast to more bombastic settings of the requiem text.

The Orpheus Choir has transformed itself into one of Toronto’s vanguard groups for championing new music. On October 27 they perform Requiem for Peace by Canadian composer Larry Nickel. Nickel is a Vancouver-based composer who has had works commissioned by many groups, including some of the top west coast chamber choirs. Choir director Robert Cooper is also celebrating his tenth year as the Orpheus’ director. There will be more about that milestone in a future column.

choral scene nancy fabiola herrera option 1Opera: Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s rarely performed one-act opera, La vida breve is being given two concert performances in a Toronto Symphony Orchestra program featuring the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir on November 1 and 3. Falla composed in the first half of the 20th century and his music is a wonderful blend of modernist elements with indigenous Spanish sounds. To hear this work live is a rare opportunity.

The standard judgment of English baroque composer Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas is that the music is brilliant — it is — but that the libretto is weak. I am not convinced that this is true; I have heard singers do subtle and moving wonders with the text, imbuing the words with perception and sorrow. Judge for yourself as the Georgetown Bach Chorale performs a concert version of this opera on October 26 and 27.

Opera aria concerts are always fun, although they are sometimes criticized for removing arias from their dramatic context. I say, why not? We know that all sopranos die beautifully, all tenors die bravely, all basses are evil and all mezzos are seductive. Think I’m wrong? Find out as Brantford’s Grand River Chorus performs “Great Moments from Opera“ on October 27.

Benefit concerts: On November 3 seven Toronto Beach area choirs perform together and separately in a benefit for the East End Refugee Committee. On November 4 the Mississauga Choral Society presents “Malawi Benefit Concert: Voicing Our Care,” performing music themed around social justice and global issues.

choral scene 2 georgetown bach choraleLiturgical text settings: There is a small Bach choral festival taking place over the next few weeks. On October 13 the Tallis Choir combines Bach motets with music by German Romantic composers whose music was inspired by Bach, Brahms, Bruckner, Rheinberger and Mendelssohn.

Bach’s church cantatas are miracles of formal design and emotional depth and are very difficult to execute. Two choirs that are rising to the challenge are the Toronto Beach Chorale, who perform Cantata BWV131, “Aus der Tiefe,” on November 3; and the Pax Christi Chorale who perform cantatas 80 and 147 on October 21. The second cantata, of course, contains the chorus well known in English as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” perhaps Bach’s most familiar melody.

On Oct 13 Toronto’s St. Anne’s Church choir performs Mozart’s Solemn Vespers. Mozart wrote two settings of the vespers, K321 and K339, and both settings wipe the floor with every mass Mozart ever wrote during his tenure in Salzburg. Go and hear it.

Other concerts of note: On October 13, 14, 20 and 21 the Peterborough Singers perform Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. This popular work is the musical equivalent of a house party — wild, chaotic fun with everyone trying to be heard over the percussion. The famous opening chorus has been used in every movie featuring medieval knights that you have ever seen.

On October 19 and 20 the Tallis Choir is the guest of the Toronto Consort in a concert of works from the English Renaissance, some of which the Consort recorded for the popular television program The Tudors. Scandalous rumours that series star Jonathan Rhys Meyers will appear for a special midnight date with a lucky ticket holder have no basis in reality and did not originate here.

The Toronto Chamber Choir is one the few choirs in the area that regularly programs early choral music. In an October 28 concert titledKaffeemusik: The Mysterious Pierre A-la-mi-re” featuring music by renaissance composers Josquin, Ockeghem, de la Rue and Willaert, the choir illuminates the fascinating story of brilliant music copyist Pierre Alamire and the stunning manuscripts that he created.

Three special tribute concerts: An October 21 concert by Toronto’s Vesnivka Choir features a tribute to Marta Krawciw-Barabash, the late founder and president of the Toronto Ukrainian Music Festival. They are joined by the Orion Men’s Choir and the Toronto Ukranian Male Chamber Choir.

On October 13 Toronto’s Xiao Ping Chorus celebrates its 20th anniversary with a concert of opera arias and art songs with music from both Western and Eastern traditions.

Finally, on November 3, University of Toronto choirs join together in a special concert commemorating the 80th birthday of Canadian composer Ruth Watson Henderson.This composer’s music has been programmed consistently by choirs in Southern Ontario and beyond, but within contemporary music circles her work tends to be overlooked or even ignored.

I hope that this changes. Watson Henderson’s music is not wildly experimental or technically innovative in the “reinvent the wheel” manner that contemporary composition series regularly demand. Instead, it is classical in the best sense — it balances popular appeal with artistic depth and rigorous formal design. It needs impeccable diction and great sensitivity to text, tuning and musical structure.

I am very glad to see this anniversary celebration taking place, and I truly hope that the next generation of choral conductors understands that this composer has created a body of work in which all Canadian choral musicians can join in taking pride. 

Ben Stein is a Toronto tenor and theorbist. He can be contacted at choralscene@thewholenote.com. Visit his website at benjaminstein.ca.

31 choral lydia-adams 079 dscn2053September can be a frustrating time for choral music fans. Eager to reconnect with their favourite choirs, they find that the concert season does not start until October, or even November. What are choirs doing during the first month of the fall, anyhow — bowling tournaments? Poker sessions? Sleeping in?

Lofty goals: Lydia Adams is the conductor of two accomplished Toronto choirs, the Elmer Iseler Singers and the Amadeus Choir. She writes about the autumn’s first rehearsal, “I personally always have a sense of excitement, butterflies, even, before that first chord. It is pure joy (and relief!) once that first moment is over and you (as a conductor) think: “Okay, we have a sound. Everything is going to be fine.

“I start working for the choir’s sound from that moment. I have a clear idea what I want to hear from the choir and keep asking for that right through to the season’s end.”

Nathaniel Dett Chorale director Brainerd Blyden-Taylor adds, “our organization has a social justice mandate as well as a musical one. We do a one-day retreat early in the fall, to connect with each other spiritually and musically, to find the spirit behind the music.”

But while these comments are insightful, they do not fully address the unique challenges of autumn choral rehearsals. Peeling back the veil of choral silence, this column exposes the complexities and challenges that each choral section presents.

Tenors have the reputation of being self-absorbed, in part because of the inordinate amount of time they spend in front of mirrors. But tenors need mirrors to monitor correct mouth position. This helps in the vocal production of glorious high notes that no other voice can match. No mirrors, no proper mouth position, no high notes — it is astonishing how many people cannot understand or accept this simple equation.

Still, these technical pursuits can interfere with the first few weeks of choral rehearsal. Music directors must struggle to convince tenors to follow their beat, rather than to gaze soulfully into the conductor’s eyes, hoping to see themselves reflected.

Conductors should gently continue to call attention to themselves as rehearsals progress, and eventually the tenors will be able to distinguish them as sentient human beings. But the process must be respectful. The hurtful phrase, “There are other people here besides you, you know!” is to be avoided at all costs.

Basses and altos: The more robust sections of the traditional choir tend to spend summers in physically active pursuits such as white-water rafting, rock-climbing, defusing bombs and rescuing heiresses from eastern European kidnappers bent on world domination.

Often basses and altos have so much fun with these light-hearted outdoor activities that a gentle reminder about fall commitments is not enough to lure them back to the choir. Ensembles with a concert deadline approaching have no choice but to retrieve their low-voiced singers by force. This is done by setting special traps to recapture and bring them back to civilization. Power tools tend to be the standard bait.

32A complex acclimatization process follows, as altos and basses are gradually reintroduced to such things as choir folders, concert dress, hot coffee during break, spoons, napkins and indoor showers. This process is usually very successful; by October or November, altos and basses learn to happily accept standard choir pencils, and stop asking for the picks and axes necessary to mine graphite deposits and chop trees to make their own.

Sopranos, the highest of the four standard choir voices, are subject to a mysterious ailment little known outside choral circles. It is a documented scientific phenomenon that if a soprano goes without a weekly choir rehearsal for a period of time, she will forget that the three lower voices actually exist. In extreme cases, sopranos have been known to forget entire symphony orchestras between the afternoon dress rehearsal and the evening performance.

This presents choirs with an enormous problem as the season gets underway; how to reintroduce the rest of the choir without terminally alarming the sopranos. Often conductors integrate the other sections gradually throughout the autumn, telling the sopranos they are guest audience members who have been granted special dispensation to attend a rehearsal.

Eventually the sopranos notice that these apparent guests are making a noise that resembles singing, and will innocently enquire as to what is taking place. This is the conductor’s opportunity to tell the sopranos wonderful stories about helpful, magical beings named “Tenor,” “Alto” and “Bass,” who only live to help and serve sopranos as they do their important work. Sopranos always respond with gratitude and interest to these exotic but unobtrusive creatures, and their fascination often lasts for several rehearsals.

Leaving choirs to their autumn challenges, let us investigate which concerts are taking place this month.

Lydia Adams, mentioned above, recently won the prestigious Roy Thomson Hall Award of Recognition. Adams writes, “I was amazed and humbled. I also was overwhelmed as I was acutely aware of having worked with many of the other musicians who had won the Award: Lois Marshall, Maureen Forrester, Robert Aitken and, of course, Elmer Iseler were all musicians who held special meaning for me and who influenced my career in a major way. I am happy for the recognition for my choirs and also for the choral community in Toronto.”

Look forward later in the fall to Adams’ Elmer Iseler Singers presenting a concert, October 21, celebrating the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, featuring works by many great composers from Handel and Purcell, to the Modernists Tippet and Britten who rescued British music in the 20th century. And on October 27 the Amadeus Choir will present Rachmaninoff’s beautiful and imposing Vespers. Blyden-Taylor’s ensemble performs three distinct and interesting programs at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche between September 29 and 30, including works by Canadian composers Sid Rabinovitch and Peter Togni. They are also performing a benefit concert in Orangeville on September 22 for the One-world Schoolhouse, to raise money for schools in St. Lucia. See their website for details.

Finally, England’s renowned Tallis Scholars visit the city on September 12, bringing their signature sound to a program of renaissance and early baroque music. 

Ben Stein is a Toronto tenor and theorbist.  He can be contacted at choralscene@thewholenote.com.  Visit his website at benjaminstein.ca.

Many choirs are typically on hiatus during the summer. Below are some choral concerts taking place in July and August.

The Elora Festival, built around the Elora Festival Singers, is always a rich source of choral music in the summer. Taking place July 13 to August 5, choral highlights include Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Britten’s rare 1937 opera composed for radio performance, The Company of Heaven, Paul Halley’s celebrated Missa Gaia, and a concert devoted to the music of American composer Eric Whitacre.

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale performs at the Westben Arts Festival Theatre — the Barn — on July 15.

The Toronto Jewish Folk Choir sings at the Ashkenaz Festival, which takes place August 28 to September 3.

The Ontario Youth Choir, a group that has fostered excellent singers over many years, performs in Kingston on August 24 and in Toronto, August 26.

In May, I wrote about a colleague who passed away suddenly, and about the bonds, loyalties and joys of singing that draw the choral community together. This month, I address an aspect of choirs that can be awkward, contentious, even divisive —the issue of singing choral music for money.

As a young singer who fell in love with choral music, I was in awe of the musicians who were part of professional choral ensembles. To get paid to do something that was so much fun seemed astonishing to me. When I began singing for these groups myself, I was gratified to be paid, but I quickly learned that this could not be my only source of income, and that I would have to find other work to put food on the table.

Looking back, what I find odd is that this simple truth — choral singing won’t pay the bills, and you will need more than classical vocal training to generate income through music — was never openly discussed, not by singers, conductors, arts administrators or vocal teachers. The subject remains a delicate one. Why is this the case?

Perhaps in a well-meaning attempt to encourage and foster passion for and commitment to the arts, or perhaps because open discussion about money is often considered taboo, musicians avoid informing their students about the often difficult economic realities of a career in music. Myself, I would never have become anything but a musician — the ability to count to four and a vague awareness of pitch are about the only skills that I possess — but being armed with the some hard economic facts about the musician’s life might have led me to make more strategic, or at least more informed, choices.

My own experience has made me stubbornly determined to be open with younger musicians regarding money issues — not to stomp on their dreams, but to help them go into their chosen profession armed with some practical knowledge about the different elements at play.

In the specific case of choral pay, one of the likely reasons for the lack of discussion may be the awkward fact that it lags behind pay for other musicians. The choral ensembles, churches and synagogues in the Southern Ontario region that pay choral singers generally do so at the rate of $20–$30/hr. Most professional ensembles are in the $24–$28/hr range. By contrast, unionized opera choruses pays between $31–$38/hr. The minimum rate of pay for instrumentalists of all kinds, according the Toronto Musicians’ Association, is $42/hr for a minimum two-hour rehearsal call, and $50/hr for a minimum three-hour performance call.

Whether instrumentalists always get this minimum rate is another question entirely. The point for this discussion is that  our most accomplished choral ensembles often pay a significant amount less per hour than the minimum rate of pay for an orchestral instrumentalist or unionized opera chorus singer. An experienced choral singer performing a two hours-plus Messiahconcert filled with grueling choruses will get paid half of what the trumpeter and percussionist, fresh out of school, get paid for playing in three or four movements comprising 12 to 14 minutes of music.

Still, is this discrepancy truly a problem? With so many singers ready, willing and eager to sing for free, shouldn’t hired singers be grateful for whatever they can get? There are parts of the world in which the idea of a paid choral singer is unheard of.

My own opinion in this matter — tiresomely obvious to anyone who spends more than ten minutes in my presence — matters less than yours, and anyone else’s involved or interested in choral singing. But since you ask, my belief is that choral singing in Ontario — so accomplished in so many ways — could certainly stand to take a professional leap forward. Why should choral singing not be a skilled and specialized métier, a viable career choice, rather than a very poor second to soloist work?

Open, public discussion of this question might offer some creative solutions. What follows are a few statements and suggestions for dialogue , debate and possible action for those involved in choral training and performance.

Organizations that hire choral singers have a ethical responsibility to pay them equitably. This is easier said than done, of course — in many cases it would require some groups to extensively revise their business model. But choirs regularly manage to pay market prices for instrumentalists, venue rental, advertising, administrative needs, technical needs and other expenses; should they not do the same with the employees whose work defines the very nature of the organization?

At the same time, singers should become more exacting in the two ways that count most for a professional musician: being at an engagement promptly, and being able to execute music accurately and stylishly in the shortest amount of time. Choral musicians often come up dismayingly short in these areas. One cannot demand a professional rate of pay if the service delivered is not up to the best professional standard. And speaking of professional standards, strong choral skills — sight-reading, chiefly — could be much more emphasized in voice training than they are currently, if singers are going to be able to solicit paid chorus work.

Music teachers, universities, colleges and conservatories ought to be very clear about what options and opportunities truly exist for the singers that they graduate every year. Voice students should be learning skills and techniques that will broaden their knowledge base beyond a narrow focus on vocal technique and classical music, to encompass other skills that help them find work in a variety of professional areas.

Grants bodies and unions can raise awareness of this issue, by noting the hourly rate or general compensation parameters of other performers, and by helping to promote and foster the idea of parity for choral singers.

Audience members can raise this issue with arts organizations, grants bodies and governments. Individual and corporate donors can insist that the amount of money given will be dependent on a certain amount of it going directly to singers’ compensation.

More than anything, all parties involved may start talking and sharing information, to begin to come up with their own solutions. Now and then, choral singers have been known to complain about the organizations they work for. For all I know, those who run these organizations are griping about their hired singers as well. Isn’t it time to turn from private complaint to open discussion? It can only help the growth of skill, excellence and artistry within the Canadian choral scene.

If you would like to be part of what I hope will be a creative, good-humoured and energetic discussion, feel free to email me at choralscene@thewholenote.com. All emails will be held in strict confidence. In coming months, look for a choral blog in which open dialogue can take place. 

Ben Stein is a Toronto tenor and theorbist. He can be contacted at choralscene@thewholenote.com. Visit his website at benjaminstein.ca.

Perhaps it is the beautiful weather outside, but I cannot get my head around a way to thematically link this month’s concerts together in my usual artful, elegant, insightful manner. Forget it, I give up. Here instead are some column topics at various levels of quarrel-picking provocativeness. I invite you to use them as your own argument-starters with family, friends and colleagues. (No amount of bribes or flattery will induce me to reveal which, if any, of the following statements I actually agree with, though readers are certainly welcome to try.)

– Very few choirs should ever attempt to sing Bach.

– Choirs should rarely — actually, never — use a piano in rehearsal when singing a cappella music. Even when pianos are in tune, they’re not in tune. Pianos are to choirs as that big wooden horse was to Troy.

– Music died with Brahms. Pretty much everything composed in the 20th century should be avoided.

– On the other hand, most choral music written before 1700 is completely boring. Program it and watch attendance drop at both concerts and religious services.

– Why bother programming Canadian music? There’s tons of superior American and British stuff out there.

– Choral diction is a contradiction in terms. In this region you may as well stick with German/French/Italian repertoire, because no one understands what you’re singing anyhow. Seriously, what’s the point of drilling consonants on something like “She’s like the swallow that flies so high” when all the audience is going to hear is “cheese bites, marshmallow and Lysol pie”?

– The discrepancy between the quality of the awesome films produced in Quebec and those from the rest of Canada is so vast that it should make all non-Quebecois hang our heads with shame. (I know that this has nothing to do with choral music, but it needs to be pointed out wherever possible.)

– No choir should sing gospel music unless they can memorize their scores, clap on the off-beat and sway in rhythm. Kids, please remember — friends don’t let friends clap on one and three.

– The reason that none of the really good English music composed after Purcell and before Britten ever gets performed is because there isn’t any.

– Choral arrangements of music theatre songs are partially responsible for global warming.

– Choral arrangements of rock songs have been proven to cause cancer in rats.

– Choral arrangements of jazz standards are like bumper cars — a gag version of the real thing.

– The previous three statements are clearly written by a madman. In the 21st century, the benchmark for a good choir will be how well it can execute an accurate version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder will be a distant memory. Actually, it sort of is that already.

– Choral singing in the Ontario region is not even close to reaching its full potential. The performance of one composition, and one composition alone, can achieve this. Tune in to next month’s column for what this piece is, and how performing it will achieve this goal.

Are you sufficiently provoked or outraged? Excellent. Just keep passing that good vibe on to all you meet, and my work here is done. The WholeNote takes no responsibility for the opinions expressed above, so don’t blame them.

Now, on to the concerts. There are a number of groups listed below that have either flown under my radar, are relatively new, or simply have not previously given their information to The WholeNote listings that are the source for choral news. In any case, my apologies for any former neglect on my part, and welcome to the column.

A number of these ensembles are based outside of Toronto, so if your choral experience is a Toronto-centric one — mine certainly is - time to get out of the city and get to know some of the groups outside your urban comfort zone. Incidentally, some of these choirs have the most awesome names I’ve ever seen.

choral_thatchoir_photo_by_brian_telzerow_1I was intrigued and mystified by a group called That Choir. Googling that one was an interesting experience. It turns out that That Choir is an a cappella group based in Toronto, founded in 2008 and comprised primarily of actor/singers. Their June 4 concert launches their first CD, and features music by Rachmaninoff, Whitacre and Lauridsen. Information about them can be found at www.thatchoir.com.

Another prize in the naming department goes to the Sound Investment Choir, which sounds like a group of very cool singing accountants. Based out of Collingwood, their mandate is to foster choral music-making in the Georgian Triangle, the group of communities surrounding the south end of Georgian Bay. On June 1 and 2 in Collingwood, the Sound Investment Choir performs “Bernstein & Broadway,” a concert that includes Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.

Owen Sound’s Shoreline Chorus is another group from the Georgian. They perform hymns and gospel songs for their two “The Gospel Truth” concerts on June 9.

Ancaster’s Harlequin Singers specialize in musical theatre and other popular music. Their “45 Years of Broadway” on June 1 will be presented, cabaret-style, with the ability to buy a drink and listen. This is entirely civilized, and is something other choirs might consider taking up regularly.

Another similar ensemble is Barrie’s Bravado Show Choir, a group that is strongly theatrical in nature. As well as performing two shows per year, they also do community outreach work, and have a youth education component. They perform “Bravado Rocks!” on June 1.

The Ispiravoce Vocal Ensemble is a chamber group of 10 to 12 female voices based out of Mississauga. In the show-choir style that is increasing in popularity, they use movement and costumes to augment their music-making. On June 2, they perform “Voyage!,” music apparently inspired by the tango, flamenco, sacred spaces, secular vices and Lord of the Rings. I confess myself intrigued by the “secular vices” aspect of this program. Further information can be found at www.ispiravoce.ca.

On June 2 another west end youth group, the Mississauga Children’s Choir, perform “City Scapes,” a concert that addresses the experience of the modern city. The concert features a new work by the excellent Toronto choral composer Michael Coghlan.

This month it was a pleasure to discover a previously unknown local youth choir, the children’s ensemble from the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. The oratory is located in the west end of Toronto, and has a lively music program. The Oratory Children’s Choir performs music by Legrenzi, Charpentier, Schein, Schutz, Bach and others at a free concert on June 23.

At the other end of the city, the Cantemus Singers are based in Toronto’s east end Beaches region. This choir steps outside its usual focus on early music for “My Spirit Sang All Day!,” a concert of Victorian and Edwardian songs and anthems, including works by Elgar, Willan and Finzi. I confess myself a complete fan of parlour songs from this era — My Old Shako — is a personal mantra — and urge other concert-goers to sample the delights of this beguiling and sometimes quirky repertoire. The group performs on June 16 and 17.

Ben Stein is a Toronto tenor and theorbist.  He can be contacted at choralscene@thewholenote.com. Visit his website at benjaminstein.ca.

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