Archive for the ‘Karen’s Commentary’ Category

The Power of Singing

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

The opening three minutes of a public TV documentary celebrating Minnesota’s rich choral legacy.
Originally posted to YouTube by Peter Myers on Sep 10, 2010.

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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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In the Steps of the Lion – May 31, 2014

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

When I went to South Sudan in January of 2013 with Denise Pelley, Jane Roy, Glen Pearson and the mission team from Wesley-Knox United Church, I had no idea what to expect. My only experience of Africa had been on a television screen or in a magazine, that is, flat.

What I found was a complete surprise. First of all I found a land of vast beauty and wildness. That I expected. What I didn’t expect was the people. The people had a dignity and a warmth that was astonishing.

Life was not easy for them—indeed, I cannot imagine living in such dire need, but they walked with a tall grace and looked at you with an open kindness that, while unsettling at first, made you realize in a clear way that the important things in this world are not found in a store. In that look was no jealousy of our wealth, no reprisal of why us and not them. They didn’t want our pity. They didn’t want us to be sad for them. They are done with that. They just want to move forward, to better their life and the lives of their family. Eventually we came to realize that they were simply thrilled we were there and they were connecting with us in a totally unguarded way that none of us had experienced before. It was unforgettable.

This concert is about honouring these incredible people in this magnificent land. It’s about the strength and joy that’s found in their community. Yes, there are needs, but that’s not all there is. There is hope for a better future and gratitude for the opportunities received through agencies like CASS (Canadian Aid for South Sudan).

Featuring London’s outstanding vocalist Denise Pelley and band, the music for this concert will highlight the unique culture of Africa, while affirming that on this beloved planet, we are all one. Uplifting and vibrant music from the Lion King, gospel, Michael Jackson, the Grammy award-winning Baba Yetu, and much, much more, with multi-media presentation.

Join us for this spectacular evening! Saturday, May 31, at 8:00 pm, at Wesley-Knox United Church, 91 Askin Street, London, Ontario. Tickets are available online,

Sing Joy: The Children of South Sudan

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

It is an early January morning in South Sudan and already 10-year-old Bakita and her friends are walking across the dry desert to the giant mahogany tree in Gordhim Village. Many carry their younger siblings on their hips. Most are hungry and malnourished; some suffer from the ravages of disease. Too many have witnessed unspeakable horrors and experienced profound loss as a result of civil war and continuing ethnic conflicts.

In spite of these circumstances, the children keep walking, some for more than an hour, until they are gathered together, 300 plus strong for the Music and Arts Camp offered by Denise Pelley and Lucy Ogletree. While Denise directs the music portion of the camp, Lucy is in charge of the arts although many of their projects are collaborative in nature. Everyone is welcome – there are no age restrictions or pre-registration requirements here. While there may be two or three mothers and grandmothers present, most of the adults are out searching for food while the children are at camp for two hours each morning over a period of about ten days.

Denise Pelley and Bakita  Denise Pelley and Bakita

By the time Denise arrives at 10:00 a.m. the children are seated on bricks and chunks of wood and they are already singing “The more we are together, the happier we’ll be” a song they learned a full year ago. By the end of the first morning Bakita has attached herself to Denise’s side and becomes her little shadow for the remainder of the camp.

Most of the children are simply not used to having a voice but with encouragement and the chance to play and laugh, even the shyest joins in. Denise teaches them simple, upbeat songs like “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”, “This Little Light of Mine” and the refrain to “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)”. In turn, they love to teach her some of their favourite Dinka songs. As the days pass, their inherent joy and energy builds to a crescendo and becomes contagious. They sing and dance with a natural passion that captivates any listener. On one particular day, the 300 plus children are instructed to find plastic water bottles and create shakers by filling them with pebbles. They then parade throughout the campground singing, “We are marching in the light of God”, waving their shakers and pounding them on the ground. The music they create is so intense that the ground seems to shake. Mothers in the distance begin to sing back and many are drawn toward the village first by the percussive sounds filling the air and then by the resounding chorus.

Denise has been with the Sudanese children for seven years now. She believes that music is the universal language, that it is healing, and that it provides sacred space for the encouragement of self-expression. She also believes that these moments of joy can sustain the children in difficult times because there is a powerful message here – “You are important to us, there is hope, we have not forgotten you.”

It is impossible not to develop a deep affection for these children. At the end of the camp, Bakita does not want to let go of Denise. “Take me back to Canada with you,” she pleads. It tears at the heartstrings. In 2014, a resurgence of violence instigated by rebel forces prevented Denise from traveling to South Sudan but she is determined to return in January 2015 for the Music and Arts Camp. There are lessons learned here that stay with you for life – that we should never doubt the extraordinary resilience of the human spirit and that love and compassion extended through music can help transform anguish into pure joy.

Kathy Berg

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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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KSS Singathon

Friday, April 25th, 2014

A Singathon is pure fun. You set up choir risers in the middle of the food court in a mall, put up a couple tables to connect with the public, get some forms for donations, draws, and dedications and then just sing all your favourite pieces for four hours!

See more photos from the Singathon in our Gallery!

In this endeavor we were aided and abetted admirably by six illustrious Guest Conductors—City Councilors Gina Barber, Matt Brown, Judy Bryant and Jim Swan and pop musicians Gina Farrugia and Yuri Pool. They bravely grabbed a “baton” – fly swatter, fairy wand, or rubber chicken, you name it – and worked their magic, leading the choir enthusiastically in the Hallelujah Chorus, Imagine, a medley of Motown hits and others.

Because a Singathon is a fundraiser, anyone can conduct the choir for a donation of $10. Several came forward to try their hand, but two very special conductors were Tobias, age 5, and Mari, age 4, who solemnly gave the donation and courageously stood in front of 30 towering adults, brilliantly directing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Mary (ahem, Mari) Had a Little Lamb. I’d better look out for my job!

Along with special conductors were the song Dedications, which kept pouring in! For $5 you could dedicate a song to your favourite person and the choir would sing it with gusto!

A favourite part of the afternoon was the sing-a-long. Half the mall raised their voices in Cabaret, Edelweiss, This Land Is Your Land and other popular songs. Did they want to stop? No way! When you sing, you feel good.

A more enjoyable way to promote our choir, raise necessary funds and share our music with anyone and everyone is hard to imagine. The good will generated from this wonderful event will spread positive energy for a long time to come.

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Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Written by soprano Sue Smythe

Using texts from the Luther Bible, Johannes Brahms began the writing of this magnificent piece in February of 1866, with movements 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 completed by August of the same year. The idea for Brahms’ Requiem mass was inspired by the death of the composer’s mother in 1865 and because of this, the excerpts he chose from the Luther Bible refer to a motherly comfort which consoles those whom the dead have left behind. It has been noted that Brahms was also greatly affected by the death of his friend and benefactor, Robert Schumann. The Requiem is intended for all humanity; its innate themes of melancholy and consolation are applicable to any number of occasions.

Johannes BrahmsJohannes Brahms

The first concert in Vienna in 1867 was well attended, performed with only the first three movements, but to mixed reviews. One of the complaints seemed to be that the percussionist just didn’t understand the score, playing quite loudly in the third movement when it should have been much more subtle. (I can assure you that we have that totally under control for our performance!) However, the Requiem has continued to be a popular concert performance and it established Brahms as a widely recognized force in Vienna musical life. After the first two performances in Vienna and Bremen, further revisions and the addition of the fifth movement were incorporated.

On Good Friday, April 10, 1868, Brahms himself conducted the Requiem’s premiere as a complete work in Bremen. The turnout was an astounding 2500 listeners! While we may have a little trouble fitting in 2500, a full house should certainly enjoy this wonderful work. You will find, as did those patrons in 1868, the extraordinarily complex nature of the composition is quite modern-sounding and rhythmic. In fact, critical and public acclaim of this performance was so positive that a second performance had to be immediately scheduled in Bremen, only two weeks later on April 28.

As its popularity grew, criticisms followed the Requiem as well as accolades but by 1900 the work had been accepted not only into the concert-hall repertoire, but was receiving increased favourable critical and analytical attention, both within Germany and abroad. The Requiem was considerably better received in England and the United States than in Catholic countries and was performed abundantly from 1871 onward. It was immediately recognized as difficult, but esteemed at the same time as a work of a great composer. In the U.S. shortly after 1930, its performances, and those of Brahms’ other works also, skyrocketed. The Requiem is well-received by a more appreciative younger generation, who recognizes the innovative and even “progressive” qualities in Brahms’ compositional style. Nearly every major symphony orchestra has performed it more than once and in Germany, places such as Hamburg and Bremen often do several performances each year.

Our performance of Brahms’ German Requiem is unique in that it will be performed with Piano Accompaniment. This is a not a reduction of the orchestral score, but rather an alternate arrangement by Brahms himself, originally for four hands on one piano, performed at a concert in 1866. We are also presenting the work with English text, rather than the original German. This “London Version” with piano duet accompaniment was created for the premier of the work in London, England in 1871. The choir is very excited to be working with (our) London’s own Tina Yanchus and James Hibbard as they recreate this exceptional rendition.

We invite you to come and experience the depth and beauty of this masterpiece. Our wish is that you will leave feeling comforted, full of hope and full of joy for having been part of the evening’s performance, just as many others have done before.

The Heart That Sings

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

For us humans, singing is primal. Before there was anything else there was the Voice, the original instrument.

There are many studies on the health benefits of singing in a choir. It takes you to another place. It de-stresses you. For two hours a week, you forget the worries you carry. You feel better when you leave than when you came. And that’s only at the physiological level.

Why it’s beneficial goes much deeper than that. It connects us and opens us to the vast world beyond the day-to-day grind. It lifts us out of the pettiness and the self-serving that surround us. It connects us heart-to-heart and soul-to-soul in a way that is transformative and allows us to be a part of something much greater than ourselves and greater than we can be on our own.

For me, I’m a conductor. But when I’m studying scores or practicing conducting on my own the magic does not happen. That is simply the preparation, the work necessary to be a part of it. The magic only happens when we are all in relationship making music together. It takes all of us singing as one body, and then we are transported. Then we experience the miracle. Then we manifest the vision.

Tonight at our concert, we sing the piece, The singing heart, by the incomparable Bob Chilcott, which expresses this very thing.


The singing heart is always open,

 It’s beating out alive and free.

The singing heart cannot be broken,

 Singing for all eternity.


A world that brings us all together,

 restores and sets the spirit free.

A world that sings gives us forever,

 a vision of peace and unity.


Sing on, sing on,

 share in our common tongue.

Sing on, sing on,

 voices and hearts as one.


Is it any wonder why our choir’s motto is Sing joy?