Monday, November 5, 2018

Composer Rain Stretches Wings - Part 1 - Vancouver Chamber Choir

David Rain, Composer, checks music with Director, Jon Washburn
For fans of choral music, this past summer's Music and Beyond festival in Ottawa certainly went “beyond.” What a lineup Artistic Director Julian Armour assembled!

The Elmer Iseler singers, The Gesualdo Six, Stairwell Caroller favourite John Rutter, Daniel Taylor’s Theatre of Early Music, another Caroller favourite Chanticleer (our 40th anniversary workshop was led by former Chanticleer singer Gabe Lewis-O'Connor), and many others!

I attended all these concerts, but the one that I had specially circled on my calendar was the Vancouver Chamber Choir concert on July 13.

As faithful readers of the Stairwell Carollers blog will recall, I wrote about my excitement when I learned that a “fledgling composer” like myself had been accepted to have my compositions sung by the Vancouver Chamber Choir.

As dawn breaks:
Rideau Carol:

First off, I was honoured to have been selected as one of the composers - and flying out from Ottawa to my home town of Vancouver was worth every penny.

As someone who started composing late in life (at age 63), and who has only heard 3 of his 17 choral pieces sung publicly, to have had the opportunity to hear this amazing choir sing 4 of my pieces, 3 of them brand new songs never sung before, is a thrill beyond all thrills.

At times, I was so in awe of the sound of the choir (especially in my arrangement of the Satie piano piece, As Dawn Breaks) that I had to just put down my score, stop following, close my eyes, and just listening to the rich choral sounds that were being produced.
Sheet Music detail for Summer: a Dawn Breaks, David Rain, Composer

I appreciate greatly that Director Jon Washburn gave his comments freely, not holding anything back, but in a respectful way. I felt like a voyeur at times, as in a way he treated the workshop, like any other rehearsal, i.e. here’s a new piece, choir, let’s give it a try and see how it goes, etc, and when a bit of piano accompaniment was needed, this was done lightly, and only where necessary, and then back to a cappella. That was a treat to witness, i.e. how one of their rehearsals likely goes.

And to have the singers themselves give comments, again freely, really added a huge dimension to my learning, as being a singer myself, I “know” certain things, but hearing from arms length, professional singers…..to hear what works for them and what doesn’t, that really makes you sit up and ponder, bravo!

I also appreciated that Jon allowed me to interact a bit with him and with the singers, that put me at ease and also added to my learning, as I had questions of my own.
Vancouver Chamber Choir official photo
The big take aways for me from all of this can be summarized as follows:

1.  Work towards getting the text and the rhythm and the meter all perfectly in synch, such that both choir director and singers have the easiest possible entry point to learning and perfecting your musical creation.

2.  When doing a choral arrangement of someone else’s melody, or in my case a piece on another instrument, don’t be afraid to make it your own, to weave the text and the meter etc to the ends of your own piece and not overly “respecting” the original piece and how it was written. Make it your own.

Never in a thousand years did I think this would happen. I’m in a state of total shock.

Sincere thanks to Jon and the Vancouver Chamber Choir for offering me this unique opportunity to learn and grow as a composer, and a special shout out to the SOCAN Foundation for making this “Interplay” workshop with Jon and the VCC possible.

David Rain, a fledgling composer, has sung tenor with the Stairwell Carollers for 25 years.
Part Two coming Soon!

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You can also email your questions to me - info (at) stairwellcarollers (dot) com.
Thanks,
Holly :)

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