Are there too many choirs in the GTA? I pondered this question uneasily as it became clear towards the end of the summer that a number of different ensembles, volunteer and semi-professional, were still scrambling to find singers, posting both messages to this column and on social media sites.
The stark reality of musicmaking (at least for those of us who avoided contact sports in high school) is that arts work is as competitive as any other sphere – more so, perhaps. Choirs must compete for audience share, for arts council grants, for publicity – and for choral singers. Cue the jokes about soprano glut and the bribes necessary to secure tenors.
The challenge in any community is to find the right balance of professional choral singers, volunteer amateurs, children’s choir and choral training programs, population base and audience interest. As in any crowded field, choirs have to find an angle to make them stand out from the pack. Some choirs target specific musical styles, others emphasize formal musical training or openness to untrained enthusiasts. We have yet to see a combination of choral singing and hot yoga, at least as far as I know, but it will emerge soon enough.
Sustaining cultural activity is always a challenge, and choral directors and administrators have dark nights in which they wonder If It’s All Worth It. But my answer to the column’s original question is no, you can never have too many choirs. Choral singing is one of the few areas left in which amateur musicians are actively making music in a community setting, and this can only be a good thing.
Regarding a possible singer shortage, I’d say: hey you, reading this column – join a choir! The audience for choral music is in part the same demographic that attends choral concerts. To find out about choral options, look into resources and message boards such as The WholeNote Canary Pages, Facebook choral pages (like Toronto Freelance Choral Singers) and the Choirs Ontario website.
Open rehearsals: Another way to find out about choirs is to attend an open rehearsal, which is becoming increasingly common during the autumn at the beginning of the musical season. This can allow you to meet possible choral colleagues and see the conductors in action. Open rehearsals that have been brought to my attention this month are: Bell’Arte Singers, Saturday September 13; Orillia’s Jubilee Chorale, Saturday September 27; Oshawa’s County Town Singers, also on Saturday September 27; Toronto Beach Chorale, Sunday September 28.
Some of these rehearsals (those between September 26 and 28) are taking place as part of Culture Days, an increasingly important expression of the arts in their fullest community sense. You can read more about Culture Days on page 56 of this issue, and find out more by visiting culturedays.ca.
Roll over, Beethoven: For anyone who thinks musical life is harder than it used to be, know that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony had only two full rehearsals before its premiere, which is still about what you get these days for the first performance of a new work. The Toronto Symphony hosts the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir for three performances of the Ninth September 25 to 27.
The TMC is also hosting a special edition of one of their regular “Singsation” Saturday workshops on September 27. (Let’s hear it for Culture Days again!) These Singsation events take place throughout the year. Sheet music is provided. It’s a very good outreach project and a fun way for people to experience the city’s largest choir from another perspective. More about this series on the next page.
The Mattaniah Christian Male Choir is based in Dundas, just outside Hamilton. They perform in Whitby on September 26, in a benefit for long-term care facilities for the elderly in Durham.
The Colours Of Music festival has a performance by That Choir (Yup, that’s their name – made you look twice, didn’t it? An ensemble’s name is another obvious way to generate interest) on September 26 – music by Bruckner, Whitacre, Mealor and others.
Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Music starts the academic year with an October 5 concert in Kitchener titled “Sing Fires of Justice for Hope.” This concert is part of an initiative at Laurier to raise awareness of Aboriginal women who have been murdered or have gone missing in Canada.
For those who have not heard a Baroque viol, there is really no instrument like it. Played well, it is mysterious and somehow melancholy, even when playing lively figures. Toronto has its own group of viol players, the Cardinal Consort of Viols. On October 5 they will team up with Waterloo’s Conrad Grebel Chamber Choir to perform of a concert English verse anthems and viol ensemble music.
Finally, the University of Toronto’s head of choral music studies, Hilary Apfelstadt, has had considerable success in creating events that build a weekend of choral activities around the work of a particular composer. This year, the weekend’s guest is Morten Lauridsen, an American composer whose music is performed throughout North America. (Coincidentally Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna is also part of the Elmer Iseler Singers’ season opening concert October 5 at Eglinton St. George’s United Church.) Apfelstadt’s ambitious “A Celebration of the Music of Morten Lauridsen” won’t take place until October 25, so I will have more to say about Lauridsen’s work in next month’s column. But you heard it here first, didn’t you?
Benjamin Stein is a Toronto tenor and lutenist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his website at benjaminstein.ca.