Monday, November 26, 2018

New Choral Arrangement by Local Chelsea Artist Reveals Musical Side

Terry, Bass and choral composer, poses with Josée, alto, at choir retreat
I am really quite excited that my arrangement of a Christmas carol is going to be performed by the Stairwell Carollers. The story of how this came about offers an interesting anecdote.

In many Christmas carols, there are frequent references to drums and drumming, and basses are often called upon to replicate the sounds of drums.
Bass section perspective
This is my second year singing bass with the choir, and already I sometimes feel more like a drummer than a singer. Prumm… pum pum pum… During our Christmas concerts last year, basses were called upon to sing drum parts in no less than five of the pieces we performed.
A good drum riff can get under your skin. It is contagious and insistent. So it’s no surprise that driving home after rehearsals I often find myself singing drum beats. One night last November, I started singing one riff that somehow mutated towards an alternate beat … and then a different tempo ... until ultimately I experienced an ‘aha moment’. I realized that this new rhythm could marry interestingly overtop a well-known and beloved Christmas song. By the time I arrived at my home, the chrysalis for a new arrangement was formed in entirety in my head. All I had to do was write it out.

That took a little more time than I imagined. As someone not used to the particulars of writing vocal parts, it went slowly. But when it was done, I submitted it to Pierre Massie for possible performance consideration.

His response was immediately encouraging and edifying. He liked it and thought it worked conceptually and musically. Furthermore, he predicted that it could become popular with the choir and the public.

So it might come as a surprise when I inform you that my piece that the Stairwell Carollers are performing this year is not the one I’ve just described.
Terry, at the right in the bass section, pays close attention to director, Pete
Buoyed from Pierre’s confidence-building over my first effort, and eager to prove my freshly-minted credentials as a composer/arranger, I immediately set about arranging a second carol. This time, I whipped through it in a much quicker timeframe, and once again Pierre offered encouraging praise with the end result. And that’s the piece that I am proud to share with our audiences this coming Christmas season.

The Sans Day (or Saint’s Day) Carol is a 19th century song attributed to Thomas Beard, a simple villager from the parish of Gwennap in Cornwall. Gwennan is also the eponymous name of the saint whose feast day is celebrated in the carol. John Rutter wrote a famous arrangement of it for choir and organ that has become part of the Anglican Christmas canon. But the tune has also developed a parallel following in the Anglo-folk tradition, with artists such as the Chieftains, Maddy Prior, Sandy Denny and Rita MacNeil adding their voices and Celtic instrumentation to the tune.
Sans Day Carol, Terry Brynaert arranger
In my version, I have tried to find a common ground between the rarified sound of the Rutter version and the simpler, earthier stylings of the folk artists. And what could be any earthier than the droning tones of Cornish bagpipes?

With apologies to my fellow basses, I have not only given us more drum sounds, but I have also assigned us the bagpipe parts. (Some might think it’s a step up from drum beating; others would doubtless hold an opposing view.) I have written the melody line to be flitted back and forth between tenors, sopranos and altos, in tonal and melodic variations of the main musical theme.
Terry and friend raise a glass to another great concert season
I hope audiences enjoy this version of an old, lesser-known classic. And who knows: if it proves successful, maybe my first carol arrangement might be given an airing at a future Christmas concert of the Stairwell Carollers.
Terry Brynaert, bass
It is!  
Be sure to come hear Terry's wonderful arrangement at one of our upcoming concerts! 

See Terry's gorgeous artworks at Galeries St. Laurent

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Fledgling Composer Rain Stretches Wings - Part 2 - His Music Flows like Water

David Rain, Stairwell Tenor and new Composer with his muse, the Rideau Falls
A torrent of musical creation has poured from David's heart even before he discovered his muse in his beloved Rideau Falls.  In his own words, he tells us his compositional story. (Holly)

In 2015, at the ripe age of 63, I first got the urge to write a piece of music for a cappella choir, a Missa Brevis.

In 2016, I first experienced that unique thrill of hearing one of my pieces performed in public, the “Rideau Carol” written specially for and dedicated to my choir the Stairwell Carollers.

Audio: Tom Barnes.  Recorded at Knox Presbyterian Church, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Dec 16th, 2016.
Videographers: Gert-Jan van Heuzen, Andrew Mason
Editing: Pierre Massie

In 2017, led masterfully by our choir director Pierre Massie, the Carollers performed my second piece in public, a challenging arrangement of the German classic, “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen”

And this spring in 2018, I got to hear a third piece performed by the Carollers, another challenging arrangement, this time of the medieval song, “In natali Domini.” A true thrill!

Throughout all of this, I have been mentored by Pierre, who has taken huge amounts of his precious time to listen to my new works, review them, make comments and suggestions, push me this way, pull me that way, and generally challenge me to make each piece the best that it can be. I owe him a huge debt, thanks Pierre!
Stairwell Caroller Director Pierre Massie in action
Well, I’ve been totally bitten by this “composing bug” and have now written 17 (!) pieces for mixed a cappella choir.  Check out my YouTube channel.

It’s way too much for one choir to digest, so I’ve naturally been looking for ways to speed up the process of hearing what each piece actually sounds like, sung by real singers, and not by the artificial sounds of a computer program. (I should mention that I don’t play the piano well enough to hear most of my pieces on a piano even.)

One initiative of mine has worked out quite nicely. A few current and former Carollers have formed a small singing ensemble that we call the “Ad hoc Chorale.” It started out as an invitation to come test out and “workshop” some of my new pieces. The first session went well and the second is coming up soon, and there is even interest to widen the net a bit, as some of our “Ad hoc” members are also choral composers, so I’m really looking forward to hearing their pieces workshopped too!

The other idea I had was to enter various choral composition contests. Not with the main aim of winning, as that might not be realistic, but with the hopes that somehow somewhere someone on the jury panels might actually like one of my pieces and who knows, might program it in future years. (Did I mention that I’m now 66, unknown as a composer, and I’m not sure how many years I have left to explore this new passion of mine.)

Anyways, fast forward to when to my total shock, I got an email from Jon Washburn, the director of one of Canada’s top choirs, the Vancouver Chamber Choir. Jon informed me that my application to the VCC’s “Interplay” composer workshop had been accepted!

Yikes, did that thought make me nervous! But then I thought, this is a professional choir, one of the very best in Canada, and all I had to do is show up, sit back, listen, and learn. How tough could that be?

On April 4, 2018 some of my choral works along with 2 other Vancouver composers were sung by the VCC choir led by Jon and I received their comments and critiques on my pieces.

But that's another tale for later.

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.

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… 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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