Archive for the ‘Classical Music’ Category

Desert Island Dream Come True

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

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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)

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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

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoN8nqZ16es&feature=related

 

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.

 

 

With:

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

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


Choristers’ Favorite Pieces from Voices of Light

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Voices of Light dress rehearsal
KSS will be presenting the first concert of our 2010/2011 season – Voices of Light – on Saturday night. Here are some of the choristers’ favorite pieces from the program.

Says one of the singers about Morten Lauridsen’s Magnum Mysterium: “Such a beautiful & moving piece of music.”

Listen for yourself to the University of Utah Singers performing this piece, which uses the beautiful O magnum mysterium text. Says Lauridsen himself: “This affirmation of God’s grace to the meek and the adoration of the Blessed Virgin are celebrated in my setting through a quiet song of profound inner joy.”



Says another singer: “Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium contains rich harmonies that are wonderful to sing. It has an ethereal quality as the melody develops, winding its way from one voice to another. My hope is that the audience will be drawn into our experience and transported to another plane.”

Yet another singer loves singing Lauridsen’s rich harmonies. The same singer also likes Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque because it has “intriguing harmonies and it sounds kind of ethereal.” Learn more about Lux Aurumque here.

Randall Thompson’s Choose Something Like a Star from Frostiana is another favorite. Listen to the Harvard University Choir singing it, below. (This video also features the lyrics.) One signer calls it “up close to heaven!”



Says another singer: “The music of The Magnificat by Pergolesi [actually by Francesco Durante, formerly attributed to Pergolesi] is quite exquisite, featuring the talented string ensemble that is joining us for this concert. It’s also a thrill to hear individual choir members as our soloists, highlighting some of the talent hidden within our ranks.”

Here’s a video of the opening movement – a baroque delight.



Paul Halley’s Voices of Light – the program finale – merits mention as well: “With Fiona Wilkinson’s amazing interpretation, fingers flying over the keys of her flute, Ron Fox on the organ & the choir soaring, it’s a musical experience unto itself.”

One chorister sums up the program this way: “Once again, Karen has woven together yet another interesting program to challenge the choir & entertain our audience.” Check out the entire program, below.

Bach – Break forth, o beauteous heavenly light (German/English)

Mendelssohn – There shall a star come forth (Christus)

Whitacre – Lux Aurumque

Bach (Kuhnau) – Cantata #142 for Christmas Day

Lauridsen – O Magnum Mysterium

Pergolesi (Durante) – Magnificat

Thompson – Choose Something Like a Star

Halley – Voices of Light

Featuring string quintet, two flutes, organ/piano, timpani and percussion instruments.

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:

Light,
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.


Karen on Voices of Light

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Karen conducting Voices of Light rehearsal
Karen recently answered some questions about our first concert of the season – Voices of Light – which features a variety of classical choral music that celebrates the seasonal cycle of darkness and the return of the light.

What was the inspiration for programming this particular concert? Did you start with any particular pieces, or with the theme itself?
I started with a vague thought of doing a Christmas type of concert, but then realized that the concert date was too early for that. What’s starting to happen at this time of year, however, is that the days are rapidly getting very short, and we are going into that season when we cocoon or hibernate – that is, winter. So it was the idea of celebrating of exploring light in general – and darkness – that appealed to me. This theme is very ancient. As long as there have been humans, the idea of hoping that the light comes back is part and parcel of our survival.

The other aspect of that that I’m hoping to allude to at some level is the idea that we all have a responsibility to shed our own light in the areas of darkness that we come across. And that we are able to do that because we are – all of us – filled with light. Sometimes we don’t realize our gift in that way, or see ourselves in that way. And certainly our culture does not support that thought. But when we own that thought, there’s much good that we can do and accomplish.

I wasn’t sure how to verbalize that with music – there’s no music I know of that has exactly that theme – but there are metaphors of Christ being “the light”, which is why the winter solstice was chosen for Christmas (Christ’s birth). And there are great teachers, avatars, mentors and spiritual leaders who lead us and guide us by showing us their light. And so we rejoice when we celebrate the coming of the light for our particular culture.

We’re not singing Christmas music, but we are singing a Bach cantata that was written for Christmas day. And we’re singing O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen, which is all about the incredible mystery and miracle of the the great light that has come and is born in a feed trough. That’s an incredible image: that in the darkest corner of your barn is the beginning of the light. That’s huge if we let ourselves think about that. So that’s partly what it’s all about.

The title of the concert itself comes from the last piece on the program (Voices of Light by Paul Halley). It’s an ecstatic interchange between piano, choir and flute. The last time we performed this piece was at our tenth anniversary concert. The music carries you along, and it builds and builds.

Do you have a favorite piece in this concert?
I love Voices of Light. It’s just so thrilling. I love the Magnificat (by Francesco Durante, attributed to Pergolesi). It isn’t itself about light, but it’s the song of (Christ’s mother) Mary when she is telling her cousin Elizabeth that she’s going to be having this incredible baby. As the bearer of the light, her song is a social manifesto; in the words of the piece, the rich are “sent empty away” and the low are “brought up and exalted”. It turns society upside down. After Vivaldi’s Gloria, the Magnificat is probably the most popular choral piece of the Italian baroque. It is absolutely delicious, and I’ve wanted to program it for a number of years.

I’ve gotten several comments from the choir that they LOVE the music for this concert. There’s the beauty of the Bach, fantastic vocal lines of the Pergolesi. I can’t hear the Lauridsen or Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque without being moved. Whitacre’s piece will surprise the audience, because his musical language has a lot to do with texture and tuning, and the chords just shimmer. You should FEEL light coming from these chords. That’s the exciting part. When you sing it right, the light shines through the piece, and it’s palpable. It’s not just ABOUT light, it IS light.

The choir is trememdously enjoying making that happen. They can sense it, and they’re working really hard to do that.

Have there been any surprises as you’ve been rehearsing the music?
The surprise would be probably how much the choir is enjoying the music. It’s different, and it’s a lot of tonal colour, and the choir is enjoying so much getting inside that. There’s also a huge contrast and variety between all the pieces – German baroque, romantic Mendelsohn, with all the fabulous, soaring lines coming through…

And then there’s the Frostiana – a musical setting of a long poem by Robert Frost about how, when times get tough and we feel like we’re about to lose our bearing, we should choose something like a star that is fixed “out there” and just hang on. Don’t let yourself get pulled into the darkness. Hang on to that star. Within the poem, the poet talks about the conversation that we’re having with the star, and we say “Say something to us!” and the star says “I burn”. Come up to my level. So we lift ourselves and we make the effort to go there, and by doing that we rise out of our situation.

In a way, we are all voices of light. And the question is, do we raise our voice in the cause of the light, or do we let ourselves hide it?

Itay Talgam – Lead Like the Great Conductors

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009



An orchestra conductor faces the ultimate leadership challenge: creating perfect harmony without saying a word. In this charming talk, Itay Talgam demonstrates the unique styles of six great 20th-century conductors, illustrating crucial lessons for all leaders.

Splendour Reviews

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Standing ovation - Splendour
Last night’s Splendour concert was reviewed by Richard Young of The Beat magazine.

“The Karen Schuessler Singers kicked off their 2009/2010 season on Saturday night with two sublime masses – Franz Josef Haydn’s Mass No. 3 in D, better known as The Lord Nelson Mass and Franz Peter Schubert’s Mass No. 2 in G. Presented under the banner title Splendor, both pieces of music were magnificent.”

Read the rest of the review at beatmagazine.ca, here.

Changed for Good

Sunday, November 15th, 2009



Can a piece of music change people? Transform them, even? It may seem incongruous to include a video from the rehearsals of the Broadway musical Wicked in a blog post about a Haydn mass… but then again, maybe not.

I first heard the song featured in the above video (For Good) about three years ago. It immediately struck a chord with me, not only because the music was stunningly beautiful, but because the words themselves expressed a sentiment that I believe to be true: That we are intrinsically changed by the people whom we know throughout our the course of our lives.

In the above video (an extra segment included in the DVD of the PBS documentary Broadway: The American Musical) the musical’s producer, Marc Platt, explains that music has no filter: It “seeps inside you…[and] pierces you…in a deeper way than words alone do.”

If we are capable of hearing, we have all experienced those moments when music has affected us on a deeply emotional – and perhaps even spiritual – level.

What has any of this got to do with Haydn, though?
Haydn portrait
Haydn wrote his Missa in Angustiis (Mass in Troubled Times, or Mass in Times of Distress) in the summer of 1798. He was the composer for the court of the Esterházys, a Hungarian noble family, and this particular mass was written for the name day feast (the celebration (or “feast”) of a particular Roman Catholic saint for whom someone is named) of an Esterházy princess.

At this same time in history, Napoleon was attempting to conquer Europe, and the general feeling was one of foreboding and terror as Napoleon won battle after battle, cutting a swathe across the continent. Right before Haydn’s mass was premiered in September of 1798, he and his audience would have heard about British Admiral Horatio Nelson’s stunning victory over Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile in Egypt. Perhaps because of this coincidence, the mass later came to be popularly known as the Lord Nelson Mass.
Lord Nelson portrait
A mass is a choral work originally meant to be sung during the ritual of Christian communion or eucharist, where believers re-enact the last meal of Jesus of Nazareth, when Jesus instructed his followers to eat bread and wine (his “body” and his “blood”) in remembrance of him whenever they gathered together.

The later Christian church formalized the parts of this “holy feast,” writing words that were recited by the priest or sung by the choir: the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei.

In the Kyrie, believers ask for mercy from God. This part of the sung mass is usually very plaintive, and in the case of Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis, in a minor key, which sounds sad and pleading.

In the Gloria, the believers praise God. This part of the mass is usually very joyous.

In the Credo, they recite their beliefs, often in the form of the Nicene creed, a statement of belief that was written by church officials who met at the first ecumenical (multi-denominational) council at the city of Nicea in 325 CE. This section of the mass can often be very long and repetitive, but in the Missa in Angustiis, Haydn uses some musical devices that lighten the mood.

In the Sanctus, the believers again praise God, and in the Benedictus they bless “he who comes in the name of God.”

In the Angus Dei, right before the actual receiving of the bread and the wine, which represent (or stand for) the body and blood of Jesus, believers ask the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world and grant them peace.

But what if you’re not a Christian? How can Haydn’s mass mean anything to you if you don’t believe that Jesus died to pay for your sins, or reconcile you with God?

On a deeper level, humans have been seeking transformation (the radical change of our very essence) for thousands of years. Whether we literally want to change our life situation and circumstances, or change our inner state of being, most of our ritualized behavior (including even contemporary secular (or non-religious) rituals like shaving our body hair, or watching our favorite television show) is designed to transform us – to take us to another place, or make us into something else.

In the Wicked song, For Good, the lead characters talk about how they have been changed because they knew each other.

Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.


What does that mean – to “know” somebody? When we use that phrase, we usually mean that we have spent time with someone, learned about their likes and dislikes, their behavior, or their life circumstances. Did you ever stop to think about how small children learn about their world, though? If you’ve spent any time with a baby, you know that everything eventually makes its way into their mouths. Our lips and tongue have a very high concentration of nerve endings, and the part of the brain that corresponds to our mouths is proportionally much larger than the areas of the brain which correspond to other parts of our body. It’s no surprise that the mouth is the primary way for babies to learn about unknown objects.

In the ritual of Christian communion, believers not only take the bread and wine into their mouths, they literally eat the divine elements. If you can “know” something by putting it into your mouth, does that mean you can then “become” someone by eating them? And what does it mean to eat God, or the creative energy of the universe? What does it mean to eat love itself?

When Haydn wrote Missa in Angustiis, he knew that his audience would understand the yearning for change expressed in the Christian ritual of the mass. Through his art, he hoped to create an environment of sound that would complement the ritual of “becoming one” with love. He wanted his audience to be changed “for good.”

As you listen to each part of the mass, open your ears – and through them, your body – to the gradual progression of transformation. What is happening in your life right now? Do you yearn for change – for something better? Can you imagine what it felt like to live in troubled times? Can you imagine the relief of victory? Of peace?

How does the music in each movement touch you? What journey does the music take you on? Where do you end up when the music is finished? Have you, too, been changed?

Hear the entire mass on YouTube, here.

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is a former KSS chorister and the current Director of Communications.

Splendor

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

Splendor poster
It’s Haydn year! To commemorate the 200th anniversary of Franz Josef Haydn’s death, the Karen Schuessler Singers performs Haydn’s greatest choral work, written at the end of his life – the much loved and exuberant Lord Nelson Mass, plus Franz Schubert’s Mass in G, full of graceful melodies and good spirit. With full orchestra featuring Orchestra London players and four outstanding soloists, including soprano Beth Horst and bass-baritone Giles Tomkins.

For date, time and location, check out the Facebook event, here.

A Fall Rehearsal

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

KSS rehearsing #02
KSS rehearses pretty much every Tuesday night from early September until late May at Wesley-Knox United Church in London, Ontario. The singers usually meet in a large, upstairs Sunday School room, but as a concert date draws nearer they move to the sanctuary, so that Karen and the singers can better prepare for their upcoming performance.
KSS rehearsing #03
Tuesday, October 27, 2009 is a chilly autumn evening. Some choir members arrive early to set up the risers and chairs in performance formation, while others gather closer to the 7:30 p.m. start time. Coats and bags are left among the pews near the front of the sanctuary, and after consulting a seating chart near Karen’s podium, the singers take their places. The choir’s accompanist, Ron Fox, is seated at the piano. A small electronic keyboard at Karen’s right is used for warm-ups and demonstrations.
KSS rehearsing #06
At 7:30 p.m., after a brief warm-up, the singers don’t waste any time in getting to work. Tonight they have a busy two hours ahead of them. (The remaining rehearsals leading up to the first concert of the 2009/10 subscription season will each be at least 2 1/2 hours long.)
KSS rehearsing #07
Karen comes prepared with several instructions for marking the score of Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass with breath marks, rests, dynamics and other expressive notations. Later in the rehearsal the choir will turn to Schubert’s Mass in G, which many of them have sung before.
Karen conducting #03
In order to get the singers accustomed to concert tempi, Karen also occasionally uses a metronome to demonstrate tempo changes within movements.
Karen conducting #04
The choir runs through the Nelson Mass, focusing on the challenging sections in each movement.
KSS rehearsing #05
The final concert will also feature a full orchestra, not present at this rehearsal. Karen prepares the singers for the vocal quality and colour that they will need to project once the musicians are finally present, however.
Karen conducting #08
The choir stands for most of the rehearsal, to help the singers access the best possible vocal support in order to produce the rich sounds that this demanding music requires.
Karen conducting #09
KSS rehearsals can often be peppered with joking and good-natured banter during the brief singing breaks, but tonight Karen has a number of movements and rehearsal notes to get through, and her intensity is matched by that of the singers.
KSS rehearsing #04
Standing for two hours can be exhausting, however, and a short, much-needed break helps them rest and re-energize before starting in again.
Karen conducting #10
Besides technical corrections, Karen also intersperses the rehearsal with information about the background of the Haydn work. She reminds the singers that the subtitle for this particular mass is “Mass in Times of Distress,” which makes it even more relevant for our own troubled period in history.
Karen conducting #02
Tonight a video camera is set up, recording the choir. Reviewing the playback helps Karen demonstrate certain corrections for the singers.
Karen conducting #01
The ultimate goal as rehearsals continue is to get to the place where the singers have embodied the music and lyrics so well that they can just let the music happen, following Karen’s lead.
KSS rehearsing #08
The rhythm of a rehearsal is familiar to any choral singer: Singing, listening to the conductor, marking the score, singing again…

Hearing and feeling the music come alive all around you is one of the greatest physical and emotional experiences.
Karen conducting #07
With everyone intent on doing their own part, it can be easy to get too caught up in the small details.
Karen conducting #06
But when the moment finally comes that the singer knows the music and can focus almost exclusively on the conductor, the bigger picture comes back into focus.
Karen conducting #05
The Haydn mass is full of many exquisite moments – shimmering sound, dance-like diversions, swelling crescendos – that when the singers finally “get it,” magic then becomes possible, and the composer’s intentions can become fully realized. The music takes on a life of its own.
Music score #02
At the end of the night, the singers dismantle the risers, put away their chairs, gather their scores and head out into the cold darkness, absorbing everything they’ve heard and experienced in the last two hours. For the following seven days they’ll be busy going over their music, incorporating their new instructions, until the process is taken up once again at the next rehearsal.
Music score #01