Archive for the ‘Choral Singing’ Category

22nd Season Opens with a Sparkler

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Karen Schuesseler Singers presents MagnificatOur 22nd season opens on November 22 with John Rutter’s exuberant Magnificat. We will be joined by acclaimed London soprano, Sonja Gustafson, a harpist and an orchestral ensemble comprised of some of the area’s leading musicians. Working with my colleagues is always a special joy for me.

The Magnificat, or Song of Mary, is a canticle (song) in the New Testament. Mary sings it as narrated in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:39–56) when she tells her cousin, Elizabeth, that she will have a very special child.

One reason I love the Magnificat is because it was the song of a young woman, Mary, to whom a very great and wondrous thing was about to happen. It is a clear manifesto of social justice and equality. It was sung by a woman, who knew injustice and inequality, not just of social class, but of gender. It is a song of praise, thanksgiving, hope, affirmation and joy that bursts forth. I resonate with and respond to the spontaneous passion of it.

The text is the perfect precursor to the holiday message of ‘peace on earth, goodwill to all’. Rutter’s treatment of this text is unique, in that he portrays the excitement and party atmosphere of the Latin American countries when Mary is celebrated.

On this concert we will also be singing another Magnificat by C. T. Pachelbel, Johann’s son who emigrated to South Carolina in the American colonies. It is for double choir. In this performance the second choir will be performed by a wind ensemble, giving this piece a sparkling colour as well. Gabriel to Mary Came arranged by Willcocks, the lustrous Ave Maria for double choir by Franz Biebl, and the deeply moving O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen will further portray the message of miracle at this time.

Sonja GustafsonWe are greatly looking forward to having soprano Sonja Gustafson join us for this concert. Her beautiful voice and captivating presence are the perfect medium for the ethereal nature of this music, the warmth of the message and the sizzle of a Latino street party.

We will present Magnificat on Saturday, November 22 at 8:00 pm, at Wesley-Knox United Church, 91 Askin Street, London. Tickets and more details are available at Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Show vs Rehearsal

Thursday, November 6th, 2014


image of an iceburg indicating that "The Show" is the top sixth and "The Rehearsal" is the remaining 5/6th.
So often what the audience sees in a concert is a small fraction of what went into that performance. I found this image on conductor Richard Sparks‘ blog. It’s an eloquent description for choral concerts as well as theatre. Right now we are in the thick mass of this image, getting ready for our November 22 season opener, Magnificat, with Sonja Gustafson. A hundred balls are in the air, which will all come together beautifully on concert night. That’s magic.

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The Excitement of a New Season

Monday, September 8th, 2014

We begin with our vocal warm-ups. The voices sound rested, yet a little out of shape. By concert time they will be as an athlete in top form. The many tiny muscles involved in the singing process will be ready to perform at their peak and deliver the thrilling sound of the many being one.

There is something fresh and exciting about the start of a new season. Everyone comes back rested and ready for another season of musical discovery and concert creation.

Me, I can’t wait to share and teach the new repertoire for our first concert. I know the choir will absolutely love it. The pieces will transport them to places in their soul they cannot reach on their own. They know it, too. That’s why they’re there. That’s why they come out every week to sing in choir. They miss it after a summer away and are glad to be back.

We sing through parts of most of the music to give the choir a sense of the beauty in store for them and for the audience. Nods and murmurs of appreciation. They like it. They scoop up the music to go home. They’re ready to dig in.

Another season begins. Here we go! Sing joy!

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The Gifts a Concert Brings

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

We have an opportunity to do something very unique and wonderful with our next concert, “In the Steps of the Lion”. Although based in form on our popular “Road To Freedom” concert, the difference between the two is striking. “Road To Freedom” is designed to honour the people who came to live in Canada by way of the Underground Railroad and all who descended from them. By implication, the concert is about the value of freedom worldwide—a very present concern.

“In the Steps of the Lion” is also about honouring. But it’s subject, the people of Africa (the issues are same across the continent), are alive now, vital, struggling, in need, and grateful for every handhold we, who have set the world standard, can give them to help them establish their own life and take their place in the world.

The world needs this concert. I am not being dramatic. It’s one thing to think these thoughts alone by ourselves, or even in small groups of three, ten, or twenty people on a committee, and quite another thing to think and be engaged in this issue as part of hundreds of people experiencing the same messages and emotions at a live concert. There are few of us, I would venture to say, that do not believe what goes around, comes around. That the ripples we initiate by our music, our voices, our faces (remember the mirror neurons at the back of our eyes), and our all-important intention spread far and wide where we cannot see.

What can we do to make the world a better place? —to give back? —to do something concrete and meaningful that will without a doubt make a difference in the world? I suggest that the answer is more than simply give money, although that is hugely important. I suggest that the most important thing we can do as an artistic musical ensemble is to take our passion for singing and put it in the service of the greater good for the benefit of the world, which is what we are embarking on with this concert. We can move the hearts of hundreds of people in ways they’ve never experienced to help people half way around the world who have no other hope. We can sing with vitality and commitment to the dream, and by doing so, make it our dream and their dream.

I visited South Sudan in 2013 as part of a mission team and I know first-hand from being there how much every single goat and chicken means to the people who receive them. It’s not a cute moneymaking ploy. It’s life and death. It’s food or starvation. It’s feeding your children for another day. And that’s just goats and chickens. How much more the bigger things like clean water?

The Jewish people have a wonderful saying that I learned from a rabbi I heard lecture on Judaism,

“If not me, who? If not now, when?”

This leads to the crux of why KSS exists. We exist because every concert we do is done to the best of our ability to lead to a transformative experience for the listener (and ourselves along the way). We did that with the Brahms. We did that with “Voices of Light”—just to name two, and not mentioning all the others or our big concerts that we take on the road.

This is not to say that other performance organizations don’t perform beautifully with the best of intentions and love for the music. But our premise is different; our aim is different. I am passionate to share the depth, and the richness, and the transformative potential of every concert we do with our audience. For me, if it doesn’t do that, I would just go back to playing the organ for myself. That’s why I’m in this. That’s why I started a choir (to perform “Missa Gaia”).

That’s also why in KSS we do all types of music—to reach everybody regardless of the musical style they love. We do Beatles, et al, to lead people into a live choral concert experience so they will return and partake of the richness of the rest of what we offer. And we do Beatles to become better singers ourselves, so that when we perform “In the Steps of the Lion” we know how to make an impact. We know how to put it across. We know how to connect in a vital way with the people who came because they want to be moved! After all, what are the alternatives for one’s evening that can offer an impact far beyond ourselves?

“In the Steps of the Lion” can be a light in the darkness for so many people—people like us who want to make a difference in the world and are wondering how to best be effective, and for the millions of people in Africa who look to us to give them the tools and support they need to better their lives and rebuild their country into a place with food and freedom for all.

Together, we can make these things happen.

In the Steps of the Lion: music to celebrate and honour the courage and caring of the people of Africa and South Sudan.
Saturday, May 31, 2014, 8 pm, Wesley-Knox United Church, 91 Askin St, London, Ontario.

Tickets available online at

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Desert Island Dream Come True

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013


Pathways to Paradise posterOne of my desert island pieces is the Duruflé Requiem, written in 1947. I have loved it since I first heard it back in my undergrad music history course. I remember it to this day, I walked out of the music listening lab (turntables back then) stunned. I was in another world floating down the hall of the music building. I was raised Lutheran and I remember thinking that this work made me wish I were Catholic so I could fully sink into the text of a Requiem mass.

Well, today I can. Still not Catholic, I now have the mental breadth to hear the words in metaphor for life here on earth and they pack a wallop. While listening to it in the Nairobi airport this past January on my way home from Southern Sudan, I remember a particularly emotional reaction to the middle of the fourth movement, the Sanctus. “Hosanna in excelsis”, mean “Deliver!, Save me! (request for God’s deliverance) in the highest”. The tremendous climax that Duruflé wrote for these words gripped my heart as I remembered the people of war-torn Southern Sudan and what they had been through and what they are continuing to suffer in some regions. This text is current; it is powerful today in a deeply human way that transcends denominations and religions.

Musically, Duruflé was influenced by the French Impressionists of his day, Debussy and, especially Ravel. And yet, he used as his main musical inspiration the ancient Gregorian chant, often in it’s entirely, for the Requiem mass. His musical language still resonates with us today while throwing us back across the centuries with the chant, gathering up eons of human experience. Unbelievably beautiful.

Pairing that with Poulenc’s sparkling Gloria—one of the sacred masterworks of the 20th century (1960)—is amazing. This work, too, I fell in love with back in undergrad. Very much not in the expected “sacred” mold, this work states that all of human existence is a holy thing. French cathedral solemnity contrasted sharply with Parisian street flair. Poulenc is unabashed and simply out there. Very funny and very sensual at the same time. He said himself, like Maurice Chevalier! These two works heighten each other wonderfully.

Preparing for this concert has been a true labour of love. Challenging on many levels, for every minute of work put into it, it pays back triple. It The depth of richness one uncovers is endless. The choir has risen to every expressive demand of the music and I have had to grapple with conducting dozens of tempo changes and easily a hundred meter changes, which are at the heart of each work’s rhythmic sinuousness and vigor. We are all better musicians for it.

A watershed concert, to be sure, in the middle of our 20th anniversary season. It doesn’t get better than this. Do come hear it!

Pathways to Paradise – 8 pm, Sat. April 6, 2013 (click to purchase tickets)


The Peacekeepers: Canadian contributions to world peace November 17, 2012

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

This is the music that will be performed this Saturday, November 17, at the first concert of our 20th anniversary season. Interwoven with the music be stories and quotes narrated by Ted Barris, Canadian journalist, author and Canadian war historian.

I am very proud of this concert. It will be moving and uplifting.

Soldier’s Cry

Roland Majeau, arr Trent Worthington

Edmonton singer-songwriter Roland Majeau is a talented and passionate Canadian artist who is writing and recording real music for real people. Often likened to James Taylor, Roland’s unique blend of country, folk and pop is a style of music that tells a story.

This poignant song was arranged by Roland’s friend and fellow musician, Trent Worthington.


In Remembrance
Eleanor Daley
Toronto composer, Eleanor Daley, is world renowned for her exquisite setting of this moving poem by Mary E. Frye, which is from her Requiem. It speaks of the eternity of the soul.



In Remembrance
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft star-shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.


Abide With Me
Henry Francis Lyte, arr Greg Jasperse
This popular hymn was said to be a favourite of King George V and Mahatma Gandhi.

The hymn is sung at the annual ANZAC Day services in Australia and New Zealand, and in Remembrance Day services in Canada and Great Britain. This stunning arrangement is by Greg Jasperse, a composer and arranger currently living in Chicago. Blessed with an incredible gift of arrangement and harmony, he has composed for and conducted Vocal Jazz Choirs across North America and Europe.


The Nathaniel Dett Chorale of Toronto:


Dirge for Two Veterans (Dona Nobis Pacem: IV)
poem by Walt Whitman, music by Ralph Vaughan Williams

This intensely moving piece was written by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), one of the most influential British musicians of the twentieth century. He was a composer, arranger, editor, collector of folk tunes, and conductor. His outlook was human and social. An important experience in VW’s life was his time in the British Army in WW I. He volunteered for service at age 42, and served as an ambulance driver and as an artillery officer. The impact of the war on his imagination was deep and lasting. His cantata, Dona Nobis Pacem, (Give Us Peace) was written in 1936. VW meant it clearly as a warning against war.


Performed by the Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Robert Shaw


Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
Pete Seeger, arr Mark Sirett
Singer-songwriter and American activist, Pete Seeger, has long been at the forefront of Civil Rights and the peace and anti-war movements, as well as the fight for a clean environment. After reading Soviet author Mikhail Sholokhov’s epic novel about the Cossacks pre-World War I, And Quiet Flows the Don. Seeger wrote this song in 1955, adapting it from a Cossack folk song mentioned in the novel. Arranger Dr. Mark Sirett is an award-winning composer living in Kingston, Ontario, whose works are frequently performed by Canada’s leading ensembles.



He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
Bob Russell & Bobby Scott, arr John Coates, Jr.
“He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”, one of the most defining and enduring tunes of the 1960s was by The Hollies and became one of their biggest hits. The origin of the title of the song is often associated with Father Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town. In 1941, Father Flanagan came across a drawing of a young boy carrying his brother with the caption reading “He ain’t heavy Mister – he’s m’ brother!” It is sung here to emphasize the need to help each other if we are to heal the divisions that lead to conflict.


A men’s chorus singing this:


Dona Nobis Pacem (Mass in B Minor, final movement)
J.S. Bach
The Mass in B minor is widely regarded as one of the greatest works of all time and is frequently performed. The work was Bach’s last major composition. As the final movement of such a monumental work, the prayer, Dona nobis pacem (Grant us peace), is the culmination of the entire mass that precedes it. As the first piece of our second half, it heralds the desire for peace in all its forms, going beyond the absence of war. It states our intention and serves as a starting point to explore what might be the work for peace here on this earth.


Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Orchestra – Robert Shaw


Al Shlosha D’Varim
Text from the Pirkei Avot (1:18) Allan Naplan
The Pirkei Avot is an important compilation of the ethical and moral teachings of the Rabbis from around 220 CE. The piece is, appropriately, a partner song of two interweaving melodies.

Melody 1:  Al shlosha d’varim haolam kayam,
The world’s sustained by three things, by truth and justice and by peace.

Melody 2:  Al haemet v’al hadin v’al hashalom, hashalom.
By truth and justice and by the work for peace, the world is sustained for us all.

Treble, Christian Haworth, sings this with us.



Distant Land (A Prayer for Freedom)
John Rutter
Words and music were written by John Rutter in 1990, soon after the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. It was premiered in Carnegie Hall, New York.


Hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing this


Nation Shall Not Lift Up Sword (Dona Nobis Pacem: VI)
Ralph Vaughan Williams
The final section of Dona Nobis Pacem is an affirmation of peace as justice with mercy. Confident and joyful, it then breaks into a blaze of glory. It fades to the soprano soloist’s repeated prayer for peace, ending the work as a benediction.


Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Orchestra – Robert Shaw


I Dream a World
André Thomas
American composer and conductor, André Thomas, set this inspiring poem by Langston Hughes, American poet, social activist, and playwright. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance. His main concern was the uplift of his people, whose strengths, resiliency, courage, and humor he wanted to record.
We are joined by treble, Christian Haworth.



I Dream A World – Langston Hughes
I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!


This Little Light of Mine
Harry Dixon Loes, arr Mark Hayes
“This Little Light of Mine” is a gospel song written by American composer and teacher Harry Dixon Loes in about 1920 and arranged by the talented and popular composer, Mark Hayes.

In closing with this song, we join the millions around the world who are working for peace in ways big and small by letting our light shine. By letting our light shine in the ways of peace, we remember those who have gone before, and honour their gifts of sacrifice and love.




Ted Barris, narrator
Christian Haworth, treble
Ron Fox, piano, organ

Trumpet – Shawn Spicer
Timpani – Greg Mainprize
Percussion – Greg Mainprize

Missa Gaia Memories I

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

I first heard Missa Gaia / Earth Mass in 1999 or 1998. I was singing in another of Karen Schuessler’s choirs at the time, and Karen invited me to a Missa Gaia dress rehearsal because I had never heard the work before, and I couldn’t make it to the actual concert.

I was spellbound.

I joined KSS as an alto for the 1999-2000 season, and one of the highlights of my musical life has been learning and performing Missa Gaia, and participating in the KSS Missa Gaia recording. This work, which celebrates our relationship to the earth and all its creatures, almost defies description… but I’m going to try.

Canticle of Brother Sun
The concert opens with Canticle of Brother Sun, which uses the words of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment. “All praise be yours through Brother Sun, all praise be yours through Sister Moon…” The chorus paraphrases a quote from the book of Job in the Bible: “Ask of the beasts, and they shall teach you the beauty of the earth.” To this day, every time I hear the text, my eyes fill with tears.

What also struck me about this song, and many of the others in the Missa Gaia suite, was its uptempo fusion of jazz and world beat-inspired rhythms. If, when the song ends, you wish it would continue, don’t worry – it’s reprised at the end of the show. The following video gives you just a sample its charms:

If Canticle of Brother Sun got my toes tapping, the beginning of the Kyrie initially stunned me. The silence is pierced by a recording of a wolf howling. A saxophone then plays the exact same notes – making haunting music of the animal’s call! The wolf howls again… and this time a tenor’s voice sings the notes, to the Greek words kyrie and eleison, which mean “Lord have mercy.”

In the Christian mass, the Kyrie underscores humankind’s need for redemption; in Missa Gaia, Paul Halley’s Kyrie poignantly underscores our fellow creatures’ plight at our own hands. Towards the end of the song the music swells after an instrumental solo, and every time I sang this part, I felt a sense of urgency at our planet’s future.

The video below features a 1982 recording of the Kyrie:

The Beatitudes is probably one of my favorite pieces from the entire show. A moody introduction gives way to complex gospel harmonies interweaving with a male vocal solo, and the song ends with multiple repeats of a driving, double-time refrain.

More than anything else, it was the clapping that originally attracted me to this gospel tune. There’s a stunning moment right at the end when the instruments cut out and the choir continues a capella, accompanied only by its own clapping. I was thrilled when, after joining the choir, Karen chose me to be one of the designated “clappers.”

During our 2000 recording session, Karen went to listen to the result after the first take of Beatitudes, and came back with the pronouncement that the claps were too loud, and not precise enough. (It’s not as easy as you think to clap and sing synchopated rhythms at the same time!) The ranks of the clappers were reduced to five, and we were given strict instructions to keep a close eye on each other during the next take, to make sure that we were in unison.

I was standing in the front row with the rest of the clappers behind me, so I half-turned to include them in my peripheral vision, and sang the entire take from memory, never taking my eyes off the hands of one of the tenor clappers. Karen immediately disappeared to the temporary “recording booth” set up in our recording venue, St. James Westminster Anglican Church, and came back with the good news: That take would do. Good thing, because all of that clapping had left my hands raw.

The video below is the only recording of the piece that I can find on YouTube. Most of it is much slower than our own performances and recording, but it gives you an idea of the excitement of the ending:

Mystery is a haunting folk song by an American physician, Jeremy R. Geffen – an integrative cancer care specialist whose holistic practices are informed by the healing traditions of the world, including Ayurveda, Tibetan Medicine, yoga, meditation, and other approaches to health and self-awareness.

The lyrics speak of the divine in a way that can be embraced by many faiths:

But when I listen deep inside, I feel you best of all.
Like a moon that’s glowing white, and I listen to your call.
And I know that you will guide me, I feel you like the tide
rushing through the ocean of my heart that’s open wide.

As sung by Denise Pelley, the song is a highlight of Missa Gaia for many listeners.

Return to Gaia
An instrumental piece, Return to Gaia, is another audience favorite, since it features the full power of the venue’s pipe organ. The song is meant to suggest the thrill of seeing dawn creep across the face of the earth as viewed from space.

“The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space.”
Aleksei Leonov, Russian astronaut

“My first view – a panorama of brilliant deep blue ocean, shot with shades of green and gray and white – was of atolls and clouds. Close to the window I could see that this Pacific scene in motion was rimmed by the great curved limb of the Earth. It had a thin halo of blue held close, and beyond, black space. I held my breath, but something was missing – I felt strangely unfulfilled. Here was a tremendous visual spectacle, but viewed in silence. There was no grand musical accompaniment; no triumphant, inspired sonata or symphony. Each one of us must write the music of this sphere for ourselves.”
Charles Walker, US astronaut

Sanctus and Benedictus, and Promise of a Fisherman
Sanctus and Benedictus features the eerie song of the male humpback whale. Hunted nearly to extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries, the humpback whale has made a comeback in the world’s oceans, but is still at risk from entanglement in fishing nets, collision with ships, and underwater noise pollution from offshore drilling.

Both Sanctus and Promise of a Fisherman use the joyous rhythms of Brazilian music, and I’m afraid I could never stand still whenever I sang either of them. One of the things I love most about the animal calls and the music of Missa Gaia is that they seem to permeate every cell of your body, so that you leave the concert feeling fundamentally changed.

The video below shows a live performance of Sanctus and Benedictus:

Ubi Caritas
Without a doubt, Ubi Caritas is one of my all-time favorite choral pieces ever. I have had the pleasure of singing it not only several times with KSS, but also with a mass choir in a South London choral festival, and at the Church of St. Timothy in North Toronto with the incomparable Joe Sealy Trio.

Ubi Caritas begins with a well-known Gregorian chant, which fades to a quiet piano solo that swells and ebbs like waves on a lonely beach. Then, in one of those quintessential moments that composer Paul Halley is known for, the mood turns on a dime with the introduction of African drumming, and the chorus comes back in with a traditional African chant. Many times I have thrilled to watch percussionists Rob Larose and Dale Brendon intently ply the skins of their drums as the song builds to a thundering crescendo, accented by the counterpoint of the Latin and Yoruban singing.

The video below includes the piece in its thrilling entirety:

Agnus Dei
The evening comes to a close with a prayer from the traditional Christian mass: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”

In this song we hear the call of the harp seal – the animal which Moravian missionaries in Labrador used to explain the concept of the Lamb of God to the Inuit, who had never seen sheep. Seal hunting continues to be a controversial animal rights issue, and images of seal pups mercilessly bludgeoned for their pure white fur during annual seal hunts are forever burned into our cultural memory.

There are songs I haven’t mentioned: For the Beauty, Sound Over All Waters, Blue-Green Hills of Earth… each with their own moments to savour and hold dear. Missa Gaia is a work designed to transform its listeners (and its performers), then release them into the world to spread the energy of life and hope. I’ll be sitting in the audience on June 4, eager to hear the animals speak once again. I hope you will join us.

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow has been KSS’ Director of Communications for the past two years. She was also a chorister for our 1999-2000 and 2008-2009 concert seasons.

Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir
I first came across Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque when I was researching the music for one of last season’s concerts (Love is in the Air – March 27, 2010). We were performing Whitacre’s This Marriage, and after I watched a YouTube video of Whitacre conducting the piece, I clicked through to some of the related YouTube links in the sidebar. Lux Aurumque was one of those links.

Whitacre (b. 1970) is perhaps the best-known American choral composer of his generation, and has been reaching new audiences through his Virtual Choir – a collaboration of independent singers from around the world who record and submit their individual performances to Whitacre via YouTube. Whitacre and his team then combine the dozens and dozens of recordings into one master “performance.”

Lux Aurumque was originally commissioned by the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, and published in 2001. The text is a short poem by Edward Esch:

warm and heavy as pure gold
and the angels sing softly
to the new-born baby.

Whitacre says he was “immediately struck by its genuine, elegant simplicity.” He had the poem translated into Latin for his composition. The work is filled with a number of second intervals – notes that sit right beside each other on the scale – and when it’s sung well the chords will shimmer and glow like light. You can watch Whitacre’s Virtual Choir “performing” the piece, below.

If you’re curious about the Virtual Choir, Whitacre explains in the following video how the whole idea came about.

You can also still find many of the individual singers’ audition videos on YouTube. Below is the beautiful blonde soprano who performs the solo near the beginning of the piece.

Road to Freedom – Songbird

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

In the fall of 2008 KSS recorded Road to Freedom, which features readings by Bryan and Shannon Prince of first-hand accounts they have collected of enslaved people who found freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad.

The CD was produced by renowned producer and recording arts educator Kevin Doyle at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, and a small team of students from Fanshawe also documented the recording process on video. Above is the result.

If you enjoy the music featured in the video, you can purchase it here.

Choristers’ Favorite Songs

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Have you ever been sitting in a concert and found yourself wondering which pieces were the musicians’ favorites? As a former choral singer myself, I know that there are some songs we singers all love to rehearse and perform, and others that, well, aren’t our favorites.

I recently asked the KSS choristers about their favorite songs from our upcoming jazz concert, Love is in the Air. The answers were revealing, and often fascinating.

Taking a Chance on Love (arranged by Darmon Meader) was mentioned a number of times, for many different reasons. One singer revealed that he kept finding the song running through his head whenever he wasn’t thinking of anything else. Another added that “it’s fun to sing and optimistic!” A couple of other singers mentioned that they really liked the Darmon Meader arrangement that KSS is singing, “because the rhythm is interesting and challenging, and the harmonies are very ‘cool,’ early jazz style. Just plain fun to sing.”

Taking a Chance made conductor Karen’s hit list as well: “It’s a straight-forward, yet harmonically rich setting of this stylish standard. Lots of trading off with a soloist.”

You can hear an exerpt from the song below, sung by a university jazz choir.

Eric Whitacre’s This Marriage was another clear favorite. One singer said that it “has some lovely melodious lines with rich harmonies. It’s a treat to sing with my fellow choir mates, as the different parts work off each other. The lyrics (poetry by Jalal al-Din Rumi) are exotic and convey an intimate, universal message about the sacred relationship in a marriage.”

This Marriage was also mentioned by Karen, for similar reasons: “It’s about an unusual subject – a mature love, a committed love – not just the frothy fizzy first stages of love. It’s a Rumi poem, and I love Rumi. I love the unique harmonic structure – parallel everything – like a single song that is enriched.”

A YouTube version of the song – conducted by Whitacre himself – can be found below.

Another singer mentioned Blue Skies: “I find the tune floating around in my brain at all hours of the day. The harmonies and rhythms skip along, uplifting the spirit, carrying us forward. If I’m feeling lethargic at all, I’ve found that humming a few bars of this piece gets me going!”

A more obscure favorite was another suggestion by Karen: “Live with me and be my love – the first George Shearing tune on the program. It has a smooth sophistication and restraint that sets up the concert wonderfully. Deceptively simple with stylish harmonies that are always fresh.”

Far and away the piece most often mentioned by the singers, however, was Stephen Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns (again arranged by Darmon Meader). I have never really cared for this song, myself, but I have to admit that when I sat in on an early KSS rehearsal back in January, I was won over by Meader’s simple yet gorgeous arrangement. It has obviously struck a chord with the singers, as well.

“When a few of us choir members were in New York City to sing at Carnegie Hall, a couple of us went to see “A Little Night Music,” and Catherine Zeta-Jones sang “Bring in the Clowns,” and it was remarkable. Every time I sing that song at choir I’m transported back to NYC and the wonderful time we had making music with fabulous people in NYC.”

Says another singer: “As well as being a great tune, [it’s my favorite because of] it’s connection with “Smiles of a Summer Night,” which is one of my favorite Ingmar Bergman movies, and was the source material for “A Little Night Music.”

Karen has the last word: “It’s a great song, and this is a surprising and imaginative setting of it that really works.”

For more details about the concert, click here.

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is a former KSS chorister, and its current Director of Communications