At one point during the week, Noel Edison, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir conductor and artistic director, encouraged one of the conducting symposium participants with the comment “everyone is looking for someone to follow.” I don’t think Noel meant that the choir members are lacking spiritual leadership, or even that they couldn’t follow that particular conductor and were looking for someone to better lead them through the music. I think he was saying that the choir was there, eager and willing to be engaged, and here is an opportunity to lead them. He is right. We are a dedicated, mostly volunteer chorus, and we love to be led to create beautiful music.
A consistent theme in the comments that Noel has been making to the conductors is the importance of establishing rhythmic security. “If the rhythm is there, the notes will follow” says Noel. The right hand is the metronome and the left hand provides the character of the piece (are all conductors right-handed?).
We have had a couple of rehearsals of almost three hours each with the five conductors. There are 8 pieces that the large choir has been rehearsing (they have also been working with the 20-voice Elora Festival singers), each conductor having a 15 to 20 minute segment, in rotation with pieces assigned by Noel on the spot. I don’t mean to suggest that a regular rehearsal with Noel at the helm feels particularly long, but the 3 hours with the symposium conductors seem to fly by. It is delightful and inspiring to be part of the passion and joy that they bring to the music.
Most of the participating conductors are either in, or have completed, a master's degree in choral conducting. They are all highly trained excellent musicians. The benefit that they feel they are getting from this week’s symposium is the opportunity to work intensively with a highly respected choral conductor and with both a professional small choir and an excellent large choir. Having attended intensive master classes myself, I believe that they can provide a unique and crucial learning experience.
The week will end with a free concert at 3PM on Saturday, January 26 at Yorkminster Baptist Church, 1585 Yonge St. It will also be streamed live on the internet. For internet coordinates and concert information, visit www.tmchoir.org. We will be performing some very beautiful choral pieces including the Kyrie section of Maurice Duruflé’s “Requiem”, which is one of my all-time favorites. We will perform a couple of modern pieces as well. “Sleep” by Eric Whitacre has some chords dear to a jazz lover’s (like mine) heart like major sevenths and minor ninths (I haven’t noticed any flat 5’s yet). After Wednesday’s rehearsal I was so inspired by those jazzy chords that I just had to indulge in another passion – jazz singing. I headed up to Chalkers Pub on Marlee St. for Lisa Particelli’s weekly vocal jazz jam “Girls Night Out,” where gentlemen are welcome too (www.gnojazz.com), to sing in the last set.