Archive for the ‘Karen’s Commentary’ Category

Viva la Musica!

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

November 12, 2013

Why is it that everywhere you go there is music? In the stores, in the car, joggers, Youtube—everywhere there is music, and, chances are, it is somebody singing!

As a choir, our purpose and joy in life is to sing and so we find this subject rather enthralling! What is it about singing that makes us come out for two hours every Tuesday night to sing together and laugh together?

Well, the way KSS deals with these questions is to create a concert about them! I mean, how fun is that?

Our upcoming concert, Viva la Musica! (Long Live Music!), is full of music sublime and eclectic through which we will explore why singing is so important in our society.

Two stunning pieces that we will perform are “I Have Had Singing” by Ron Jeffers, that tells us when life is difficult, there is still joy in singing, and by Bob Chilcott, “The Singing Heart”—open, alive and free for eternity, all voices and hearts are one,

Then we will sing some of the songs that people are listening to! We cap our 20th anniversary with our favourite pieces from our audiences’ favourite KSS concerts! Pieces like the Beatles’ “Blackbird”, an amazing arrangement of the Newfoundland folksong “Feller from Fortune” by Harry Somers and your favourite Motown hits!

So many gems and so much variety! Join us on November 23 at 8:00 p.m. See for details and tickets.

Sing joy!


Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

By KSS soprano, Kathy Berg, for our newsletter, KiSS Notes


“World-renowned cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien claims that there are four ingredients to joy that transcend all cultures, four universal practices that enliven the human spirit. They are: song, movement, story telling and silence. Without these, we experience a loss of soul; our lives are diminished in terms of vitality, imagination and open-heartedness.

In fact, song seems to encompass all four of these elements. When we sing, our bodies are the vehicles for the music – they move. In addition, songs tell stories. They are a way of expressing ordinary life experiences as extraordinary art. This is true of all the varieties of music the choir has the privilege to perform – classical, sacred, folk, traditional, Broadway, blues and jazz. Finally, singing includes silence – the soundless mystery of pause when both the vocalist and the audience anticipate the colour of the next note.

It is not surprising, then, that belonging to a choral community is an inherently joyful and addictive experience. Choral singing provides a collaborative experience wherein every voice is important and yet it is the collective that shines. You have to listen intensely to each other, release what is deep inside you and blend without losing the integrity of your own voice.

That shared experience extends to the audience. We sing to evoke your emotions, to draw you into the story through harmonies, rhythms, melodies, dynamics, tempo and text. We experience the silences with you.

At our concerts we are on a mission to bring you moments of joy. Are we not all longing for deeper connection, to be lifted to a higher place?”

You will have that and more at our next concert, “Viva la Musica!” (Long Live Music!). Join us on November 23 at 8:00 p.m. See   for details and tickets.

The Singing Heart
– Bob Chilcott

20 years in the making.

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Today, I was sent this email message from a KSS bass, new to the choir this season. It’s good to hear how things seem from the choir’s perspective—or maybe we don’t want to know? Anyway, it made me laugh, so I share it with you…


This concert has been 20 years in the making. Did anyone envision this program during some of those rehearsals during that first year?

Both works are recognized within choral circles as challenging and not for the musically faint of heart. Compliments from the players from Orchestra London are not given out easily! We are in the “A” league of ensembles.

What makes KSS unique is the next concert. With equal technical finesse, we will take our LIVE audience down a different musical road with an entirely different style. Rare is the choir anywhere that can sing this with the KSS flair.

From the ranks, an apology is in order for all the unspoken rehearsal utterances and e-mail note comments – things like “If she goes over this ONE more time!!” or “we weren’t THAT far out of tune!!” or “where in the @#$&% are we supposed to get that pitch from?” & “how are we supposed to count when the time signature and the @#$&% tempo keeps changing every bar!?!”

In strange way and a first for me as a singer, am looking forward to late Saturday afternoon, after a long nap, to listening to the recordings one final time (a suggestion from Paul Grambo to get my head in the right space), then to the church for warm ups and all those vocal exercises that back in January made no sense.

Kudos are earned for all your work, patience and shear determination over the last few weeks.

Now at that bar I have to remember to…

Dave Burnett

What a beautiful voice!

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Soprano Virginia HatfieldWhat a beautiful voice! Soprano Virginia Hatfield was stunning last night at dress rehearsal for our April 6 concert, “Pathways to Paradise”. I’d heard her last about three years ago and she is even more gorgeous than I remembered! Professional in every way. Perfectly prepared and wonderful to work with. I’m so glad she is our soloist for our big celebration concert with orchestra of the exquisite Duruflé Requiem and the sparkling Poulenc Gloria.

Can’t wait ’til Saturday!


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)


Experience in South Sudan – January 2013

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Karen Schuessler and Denise Pelley leading Sudanese children in music.

Karen Schuessler (right) and Denise Pelley (left) leading Sudanese children in music.


This past January I went to South Sudan with a group on a mission trip. One of the wonderful things about this trip for me was that most of the folks in the group were from my church choir at Wesley-Knox United Church in London, Ontario. These are people I am close to, and who I respect in many ways. Jazz soloist, Denise Pelley, whom I’ve worked with for years, was also part of this life-changing trip. She and I led the music part of a music and arts camp for Sudanese children—over 300 of them—every morning for nine days. It was a beautiful experience working with Denise, teaching these wonderful children, and having them teach me!

Paraguay Landfill Harmonic

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Maybe some of you have seen this. An inspiring 3 minutes. Again, why we do what we do… Karen

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

The Power of an Audience

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

We knew it would be a good performance, but we were unprepared for the magic and inspiration that came from that all-important piece of the live performance experience—the audience—in our Road to Freedom concert last Saturday.

They came ready to be moved. They came ready to be uplifted. They responded to the energy that came from the choir, which caused the choir to create more, and the creative cycle that feeds our souls continued. Do audiences think about the part they play in the success of a performance? I doubt they realize it, and if they do, certainly not to the full extent. The effect of the story, the program and the performance are important, to be sure. But the potential gift is not completely realized until the recipient—the audience—is an active part of the moment. Vital, engaging, and inspiring came together to create an experience that was transformative. For the message of this particular concert, that result is as good as it gets.

On the Road to Freedom

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

The rehearsal last night for our Road to Freedom concert on Saturday, January 28, was an uplifing experience. We know this repertoire really well from making the CD and the choir was able to pour out their soul with their entire being. When this happens, it’s impossible not to think that there is hope in the world.

Saturday’s performance, in the beautiful Chatham Capitol Theatre, will be inspiring in a way that most concerts cannot be. We’ll be able to give ourselves totally to the story that historian and author Bryan Prince will share in his and wife Shannon’s narrations (from his new book, One More River to Cross). The band, vocalist Denise Pelley and we will do our part in making this poignant story transcend the mind and become a living experience. I doubt this performance will be easy to forget.