A turning point in the life of your choir
Our Juno nomination was a huge affirmation of our artistic progress. And it was a super fun thing to walk the red carpet!
A challenging performance and how you faced it.
In 2010, we were the opening concert of the Canadian National Choral Conference (Podium) and were feeling stressed about the pressure. We had a huge program planned, which we executed well, but I had taken the chance to add an encore – a setting of Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s Get Physical” in a parody, a classical version. As the audience figured out what we were doing, they started laughing uncontrollably – it was such a wonderful opportunity to show that we’re serious about our music, but don’t take ourselves so seriously that we can’t have a good laugh.
How does your choir bond as a group?
We do everything together, and we truly love and care for each other. We don’t have a home base so we’re always on the road when we’re together. We bond by rehearsing, offering workshops and concerts, driving long distances, and eating all of our meals together!
Any advice from your on the road adventures?
We don’t generally stay in hotels – we stay with members and friends in their homes in their communities which is a GREAT way to get to know the communities and each other.
What is a fond memory for you from working with another community?
We had a fantastic time in the remote town of Gander, Newfoundland – we were able to work with a wonderful young conductor, composer, and educator, Leslie Hewlett. Through her, we got to work with all ages and stages in that community – from elementary school students through teenagers, the local community choirs and church ensembles.
Any highlights of singing in a remote community?
We ate SO well! They had a big community breakfast for us including traditional foods like Toutons (fried bread like a donut!)! We were all inspired to hear one of Leslie’s Newfoundland folksong arrangements and were able to connect her with Cypress Choral Music to have it published – check out Patty McGinty’s Goat! After our collaborative concert, there was a fantastic dessert reception that the CCC singers still very fondly (and embarrassingly!) recall – we all somehow lost our minds and loaded up our plates with extravagant homemade desserts, eagerly eating everything in sight, even eating off of each others plates!
Any advice for other choirs looking to embark on a tour like this?
Get out there and make music with people. The people are the key – all great music comes from collaboration and connection.
What are other ways you connect with people? You mentioned workshops?
We have always loved to rehearse and to perform concerts, but one thing that has really propelled us forward has been realizing the power of workshops – connecting to all ages and stages of singers to bring our country closer together.
What’s involved in a workshop?
Workshops with the CCC are always custom designed – the Artistic Staff works with the local choir to discern what would be the best way to support them. We usually spend some time getting to know each other, then we work together on vocal technique (with the CCC singers mingled in), and then often the local choir will sing for the CCC and we’ll work with them on refining their repertoire. Finally, the CCC will usually sing a few selections by way of inspiration!
A favorite piece of repertoire & why
So many – we sing all Canadian music, almost all new composers. We have really enjoyed singing Andrew Balfour’s (Cree composer from Manitoba) “Vision Chant”, especially in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Catch the video on YouTube! We also love singing a cover of Gordie Lightfoot’s “Song for a Winter’s Night”.
What is something you do with your choir that surprises others?
We rehearse for hours and hours – 7 to 9 hours in a day! And, we love it!
Wow! Any tips for choirs who want to pull off this feat?
The Artistic Staff try to very carefully structure the frequency of these rehearsals to avoid too much vocal fatigue. We are very mindful of our vocal technique to assist in this. On the first day or two of the tour, we’ll generally start with a 20-30 minute warm up, then rehearse for 2 or 2 1/2 hours (with a break). We’ll often do 90 minutes of sectionals (separating the voice parts) in the afternoon, then come together for another 90 minutes. Then in the evening we’ll do another 2-3 hours. The true key is EATING between all of the rehearsal segments!
Any funny moments you can share with us?
We’re serious about making music, but through our sincerity come some of the best ‘gaffes’ such as the time that I was earnestly telling an audience about all of the workshops and concerts we had been doing throughout Canada. “We’ve been doing it with everyone, all across the country!” – The choir could not keep it together, and we still laugh about that one regularly.
Any juicy facts you love to tell your choir members
Early on, we were performing one of my favourite pieces by composer Jeff Enns (Magnificat). I had heard that he was going to attend our concert, and I was very nervous about what he’d think! I finally met him after the concert and asked him what he thought – he was so happy that we’d sung it and said something like “If the CCC sang the phone book, it would be awesome!” – so he loved it, and then auditioned for the choir and has been singing with us and has been our composer-in-residence for many years now!
What is your audition process?
We’re always looking for passionate educators and singers of diverse experiences and abilities. Our singers have to perform a couple of diverse pieces of solo repertoire and also send references, their resume, and a letter of intent.
Can you share with us an emotional moment in rehearsal?
Our Associate Conductor Joel Tranquilla was working on a piece called “Tabula Rasa”, that translates to mean blank slate, that refers to the limitless potential of children, if we give them the support and love they need. Joel and his wife had just had their first child and it was really emotional for him and for all of us as we worked on it together.
How about in a performance?
We were performing as part of an Indigenous Peoples’ Day performance (2017) on the campus at Northwestern University in Chicago. We were performing an incredibly emotional work by Jocelyn Morlock called “Exaudi” and we were collaborating with Indigenous dancer, Sarain Carson-Fox. Sarain was dancing to represent the many Indigenous women that have been affected by violence and discrimination. There was a huge silence after we finished, then the audience stood and applauded for a really long time. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house – it was so powerful and moving. That’s what we live for!!
What was the biggest highlight of your recent tour in Ontario?
We loved getting to collaborate with all sorts of choirs in Ottawa and Kingston. We especially enjoyed a high school workshop at Glebe Collegiate. Rachel Handley’s choirs are amazing! It was incredible to see CCC bass Christopher Mallory get to sing next to his son (and Glebe Collegiate singer), Ben. The CCC was also very moved to get to sing a wonderful 5-movement piece by Ottawa native, Laura Hawley “In Song”, for the choir that commissioned the work and did the premiere, the Canadian Centennial Choir. The Canadian Chamber Choir is very grateful that they commissioned this piece and we’re excited to record it! We were also very honoured to get to perform in the National Gallery of Canada! This was extra special to us because our current concert program is based on the concept of a ‘musical art gallery’ – with pieces of music by a variety of Canadian composers, curated by season. Touring the gallery afterwards was incredible – what inspiring art, (especially the Canadian works!)
The Canadian Chamber Choir is currently working towards raising $60k in 60 days through a crowdfunding campaign for their upcoming album, Seasons of Life and Landscape. Incredible incentives for those who contribute from copies of the album to vocal lessons and more! Find out how to support this choir and get involved here: https://canadianchamberchoir.ca/donate
Julia is a founding member and the Artistic Director of the Canadian Chamber Choir. She directed the CCC’s Juno-nominated 2015 release Sacred Reflections – A Canadian Mass. Julia has led workshops and master classes for choirs and conductors throughout Canada and the US. Julia is the Stephen J. Hendrickson Professor and Director of Choral Activities at North Park University, Chicago. Julia is co-author with Stephen LaTour of “Vocal Technique – A Guide for Conductors, Teachers, and Singers” published by Waveland Press. Julia is the Music Director of the North Shore Choral Society and also serves as Director of Music Ministries at Trinity United Methodist Church, Willamette.