Welcome to Renate's Baton. This blog is mostly for and about my choir, The York Region Community Choir.

But, While I'm holding the baton, I'm in charge. So, if I want to talk about other parts of my life, I will. :)

The choir itself is a community and I'm discovering that we have a lot in common with one another besides our love of music and singing.

When I go off on a tangent, there is always a crowd coming along. Join us!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Il Volo

Hey, Everybody!
Check out the boy band Il Volo!
Ok, they’re not really a boy band. They’re a vocal group, more like a cool, teenage Il Divo, like the Canadian Tenors or the Three Tenors only cute and very young and cooler. I’m thinking young Josh Groban times three, cuter and hipper than three Andrea Bocellis.   
Wikipedia calls them a trio of pop-opera singers. On the Il Volo website it says they sing new and traditional, classically-influenced pop songs. It’s kind of like the music that Josh Groban sings that gets on the pop radio stations.
Italian content
I heard Piu’ Ti Penso, a version of You’re Still You which Bill in our choir sings (a big Josh Groban fan), on the radio (96.3 Classical) Monday on the way home from Victor Travel. Love it! I hear Italian spoken at work and hear conversations about places in Italy. So, it felt right to be listening to these guys singing in Italian on the way home. The song is beautiful. Their voices are so strong and their singing so passionate.
Which one is the cutest?
Such amazing voices they have! Each one is distinct, so you can picture them when you hear their voices.
If I were younger, I’d be deciding which one to have a crush on. The one with the smouldering eyes, Gianluca is obvious, so not him, at least I wouldn’t admit it. Ignazio, the chubby one is adorable, sparkles. He reminds me of me (Ain’t She Sweet)!  Couldn’t admit to loving a version of myself. The one with the glasses, Piero, is so different with all those big goofy glasses, my teenage self would probably choose him. I think those glasses will become popular.
One of their signature pieces is O Sole Mio. Anna in the choir sings that too. She’s fabulous. I love it when she sings in her native Italian. She glows and her voice soars.
These boys are called Il Volo which means flight. Great name. They soar, and their lives are now spent flying around, sharing their passion with the world. Lucky boys. Lucky world.
Go to their website, find them on YouTube. Follow the links above to discover them for yourselves.
Yours in harmony,

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Last concert of the season

Hi All,

That's it. We're done. Hollandview Trail was our last seniors' visit. It was great, wasn't it? What a beautiful place, and what a beautiful audience!

The last concert of the season
The highs are high and the lows are low. This is the emotional one. The last show is special.
We’re all relaxed and in top form, having the experience of several shows under our belts. So, it’s our best show. We’re so hot we’re smokin’.
But, then it’s over. It’s a sad moment when you hand in your binder, give away your music, and it goes into the box. Final. Everyone says goodbye. There are hugs. Someone says, “See you in September!” Then, you realize that you won’t be singing next Monday night, or the next, or the next.
I’ll miss my Mondays.
My baton will have to stay at the bottom of my choir bag. But, I’ll have lots of choir work to do. I’ll be working with the executive and Sapphire to get things ready for September.
 I’ll keep on blogging. Renate's Baton continues. Stay tuned.
Yours in harmony,

Saturday, June 18, 2011

You are what you sing!

Hello Everybody!

You are what you eat. That’s not new.  I’ve been thinking about my own identity in terms of, “You are what you say, read, and write,” and “You are what you google”( more to come on that another time).

Now, I’m thinking about the choir’s identity. What is the York Region Community Choir? Who are we?

I think we can determine the identity of our choir by what we sing.

Discos and Rockers
When I was in high school, we were labelled according to the music we liked: rockers and discos.  There were also fashions and hairstyles that went along with them. Fuzzy dice! Some people fit very clearly into one or the other. 

Let’s see. Looking at the list of the songs we sang this past season, I’d say we were beautiful, fun and Popular!

We seem to like popular music, popular music from the past, that is. So, we’re also old? No way!

Best Concert Ever
The York Region Community Choir has never had a more successful concert than our spring concert last month. We made a bit more money at our Christmas concert, but all things considered- quality, participation, fun, audience-response and revenue- this one wins.

Best Music Ever
One of the things that I heard repeatedly was that the music was excellent, the best ever.  The audience loved hearing all those well-known melodies. We had fun learning and singing songs we love. Choristers have asked for more familiar songs.  

For Christmas, we’ve decided to include music from different cultures to reflect the diversity of the choir and the community around us. So, we’re continuing to build our identity through our music.

We are more than our music, of course.

We love to bake and eat too! Ok, there’s more than singing and eating, but that’s the topic of another blog, another time. (In another, maybe I’ll talk about how my Book Club is really a Reading and Eating Group.)

Yours in harmony,


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Autocomplete me

Hi Everyone!

People out there are always trying to figure out who I am and what I want. That’s ok. So am I.

Google Search
Google Search is cool. It knows so much about me. I start typing in the thing I’m looking for and bam! It’s there before I’ve typed the third letter. How did they know? It’s called autocomplete. How does it work? Math. Algorithms, not a team of psychics with runes and cards or secret spies, predict what I want based on what everybody else has wanted, basically.  And, if I’ve signed in to my Google account, it will personalize the search, taking into consideration all the information they have on me, including my past searches.

Some people don’t like the way Facebook takes your profile information and places ads in the periphery of your page. I like it. I don’t have to pay much attention to those ads, but I can see what they think I might like. Sometimes something will catch my eye.

A bright red book cover caught my eye when I logged on to Facebook this morning. The title was You Are What You Speak. Well, that’s right up my alley. I love stuff on language use and perceptions. I could guess at all kinds of things this book might be about. I didn’t click on the ad like I’m supposed to. I went to Google. (Is that ok? I figure if I click on the link, the writer will have to pay.) Turns out I think I’d love to read this book. I’ve read a bunch of stuff by and about this author now, clicking around this morning.

I already know a bit about how language use defines us. Sociolinguistics is fun. So, I am what I say and read and write. I know that I am what I eat. I am what I google too.

Think about what you eat and read and say, and also what you google.

Who are you?

Yours in harmony,


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ain't We Sweet!

Hello, Everybody!

I have some jokes that I use when we go out singing with the seniors. It feels good to make them laugh, and it sets the tone for informal fun. I think it helps the choristers to relax too. Sometimes we get a bit nervous performing J

One of my regular jokes is a comment on the sing-along sheets that we hand out. Each song is a page. The songs are numbered, but we don’t use all the songs. So, page one is #4. When announcing the song, I’ll say: “Go to number four. It’s the first page. That’s new math.”

It's about me
Number 4 has its own joke too. The song is, “Ain’t She Sweet.” I’ll say: “Now we’re going to sing one of our favourite songs. It’s about me!” So, we have groans and giggles in the choir and shock and laughter in the audience. Later, we might sing “Hey, Good Lookin’!” I’ll say, “Hey, another song about me!”

Sometimes, I’ll switch it up a bit and say it’s a song about our accompanist. Sometimes, it’s Debbie-“Five-foot two, eyes of blue”.

Yesterday, we had our AGM. We met with pizza and treats, and got the business of the choir done. The evening is an opportunity to acknowledge everyone who helps out with the various tasks that have to be done to keep things going. I am the conductor, so nice things are said about me and I get a pretty card and a generous honorarium. I like that part of the meeting.

My song
This year I got the best gift ever. My choir sang for me. It was better than all the Happy Birthdays I’ve had sung to me. It was totally impromptu. Robin put up her hand and said something like “I think we should sing Renate her song.” They sang “Ain’t She Sweet”.

Now, I ask you very confidentially, ain’t they sweet?

Thank you, my choir! I love you!

Yours in harmony,


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dances with seniors

Hello Everyone!

The YRCC had fun last night at Sunrise Senior Living in Aurora. We were upstairs on the third floor with the folks that can’t usually make it to a concert downstairs.  

The music moved her
Some of them were very lively, though. Several of us danced with one of the seniors! She had a great time. I like it when our music moves our audience so much and they feel comfortable enough that they get up and dance. It happens. I can totally relate. I love moving to music and can’t always control myself.

Sit down
Others were not so happy about her getting up and moving. They asked her to sit down. I understand their point of view too. It’s a bit distracting having someone dancing. But, I wanted to say to them, “Get up and join her. Dance while you still can. And if you can’t, at least be happy for someone who still can.” You’d think that seniors would get that. I hoped that they could see that we were fine with it so they could relax too.

We like our seniors’ performances to be casual and fun. We interact with the audience, talk to them and include half an hour of sing-alongs.  Some of our music is pretty impressive and we look great with our black bottoms, white tops and pretty red scarves. Maybe that’s a signal to some people to sit and behave. Or, maybe they want to look at us. If someone is standing, they can’t see.

We do hear some funny comments about how we look. Last night, someone pointed out to me that Michael wasn’t wearing a red scarf a couple of times (until I put one on him) and another pointed out that she could see lots of toes (-it was hot). I always tell the choir that they can be more relaxed at the seniors’ homes, and wear short sleeves, short pants or skirts and have bare legs because it’s hot and we’re trying to be informal.

For our public shows, we’re fussy. We have our pretty red scarves with gold music notes. We wear white shirts with long sleeves and black pants or skirts with black hose and shoes. We don’t want anyone distracted by our clothing or shoes. One pair of white socks, or bare legs, and that’s all some people will see.  We work really hard on our music. We want them to focus on that.

When an audience is sitting and listening and then they clap, it’s good. When they are moving and clapping and singing along, and then shout out at the end, it’s heavenly. Yesterday, several people spoke to me after the concert to tell me how much they appreciated it, and to ask if we could come back. Even one of the ones who was sitting quietly and without expression throughout called me over to say thank you.

This time, it was especially important to hear that all went well, because it was actually fairly stressful for us, and did not go as well as we would have liked it to. It was far from perfect. We had trouble with the space, with not being able to hear or see each other, and issues with our equipment. We had a very shaky start. Throughout the program there were challenges. Still, we had some truly beautiful moments.

I’m so lucky be the conductor. I get so much more face time with our audiences. I talk to them during the show. I was the first dance partner last night. I’m the one that most people seek out at the end to say thank you to. I try to remember to share that with the choir. This blog is another opportunity to do that.

Don’t worry. They loved us. We worked hard and we were good.

Yours in harmony,


Monday, June 6, 2011

Too old for new tricks?

Hello All,

I just did my piano playing for the day.

I try to play for at least 10 or 15 minutes a day even though my lessons are over until September. I don’t want to forget everything over the summer. Today, I played Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, Go the Distance from Disney’s Hercules, and Time to Say Goodbye. It’s very satisfying to be able to play music like that, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say that I can play piano. I’m afraid it might be too late for me.

Piano Lessons
I started taking piano lessons when my daughter Victoria started, 3 years ago. Our piano teacher has a family plan that was too good not to take advantage of. My older daughter Soraya refused, so I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to have piano lessons as a child, but there was no money, no room for a piano in the house, there were excuses. I did get recorder lessons, and later in school learned to play the clarinet.

Keyboard or Piano
At first, we used the choir’s keyboard to practise. I seem to always end up being the one to store and carry around the keyboard for the choir. So, it was a good arrangement. But, soon we wanted to have our own, and something with more than 66 keys. It was hard to decide to get an electronic keyboard over a ‘real’ piano. I did some research on the internet. Pros and cons were listed, and we ended up with a Yamaha DGX-230 Portable Grand. It has tons of features that we have no idea how to use. If you haven’t decided, here’s a good reason to get an electronic keyboard: when Victoria is playing her songs for the week, she often tries them out using the pan flute setting, or guitar, or several of the other gazillion different sounds the keyboard can make. Variety is good. She plays more.

Memory work
Victoria plays a piece a few times, and she’s got it memorized. She often plays from memory. Sometimes I have to memorize parts of a piece because I can’t look at the music and at my hands at the same time. If a section is really hard and I have to play it a hundred times before I get it, I end up memorizing it. But, I don’t think I’ve memorized a whole piece, and they’re all pretty short still. Now, when I see people play from memory, I’m impressed.

I used to think I was good at multi-tasking. I’m a mom. I can do laundry, cook supper, check homework and chew gum at the same time. But, the first time I had to use the pedal, I thought I might never be able to do it. It was hard enough doing something different with my right hand and my left hand, but adding my foot in at the same time, doing something else was frightening. It was hard, but I’m getting better at it. Sometimes, I’m pretty good at it. I used the pedal very nicely today, even adding it in where it’s not marked.

Brain fitness
Sometimes, when I’m learning a new piece, I feel like I must have smoke coming out of my ears. It’s that hard. My brain doesn’t seem to want to handle it all. That’s when I know I made the right decision to take up the piano in my 40s. Piano lessons challenge me in so many ways. There are regular theory tests, which I study for, and surprise quizzes which are scary, but I do pretty well on. And, there are scales and chords and arpeggios. I remember a great deal from high school, but there’s a lot of piano theory that I don’t know. Learning more about music helps me with conducting the choir.

Physical benefits
And, sometimes the muscles in my fingers hurt. I’m using my hands in a whole new way. Now, I can type much better. I have better control of my fingers. I often walk to and from my lessons, so that’s another way I benefit from them.

I’m glad I’m taking piano lessons. I do believe that you can teach an old dog new tricks. I love it when I can play a song that I like. But, I’ll never be a pianist.

Learning to conduct the choir has been very satisfying, and I continue to learn and improve all the time. I am really grateful to the choir for helping me grow in this way.

Yours in harmony,


Friday, June 3, 2011

Driving Music

Hello Everybody!

The other day, my choir friend Heather posted on Facebook that she found herself speeding when the song On the Floor was on the radio in the car. 

Oh yeah. I know how that feels. It’s happened to me many times. And, I love that song too. It has great dancing, bouncing rhythms. A driving beat. The driving beat makes your foot hit the floor. Suddenly you’re flooring it! It’s especially dangerous on the 404. I’ve found myself doing 130km/hr or more!

Driving with classical music

When I’m commuting to and from work at Victor Travel- a 45 minute drive- I usually have very pleasant drives up and down Dufferin Street. I pass by rolling hills and horse farms with 96.3fm providing a lovely soundtrack.

I’m not an experienced commuter. Sometimes I find the driving a bit stressful, and classical music is usually calming. I try not to get distracted or end up speeding.

A greater distraction

But then, like this morning, something worse happens. The music is so moving that I start to cry. Not just cry. My breathing stops and then I sob. It happened this morning when I heard a harmonica play Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin. OMG! It was very distracting at first just trying to figure out what that instrument was. Then, the thought of this one guy on his harmonica, playing that awesome music with such skill and passion, with a powerful orchestra behind him, just blew me away. A double forte, and I was breathless. And, I couldn’t control the tears. I wonder what the man at the stoplight thought.

Well, the bottom line is that powerful music is dangerous.

Dangerous music

I had the same problem when I heard Libera for the first time. I was in the car, listening to some pretty music on 96.3fm, when suddenly I was in tears. Those beautiful boy voices soared and I wept. It was so beautiful that I went home and went to 96.3fm’s website and looked up the piece on the playlist. Then, I went to the Newmarket Public Library’s website to see if they had it and went in and borrowed the CD. My family was very patient with me when I played that CD all the time for a few weeks!

I started to think, “Maybe I should contact the radio station. They shouldn’t play music like that during rush hour!” Of course, I can’t do that. Those were things that moved me, but they won’t have the same effect on everyone. My family calls Libera the singing coyotes.  

What kind of music do you play in your car? Do you listen to the radio or to CDs? How distracting is it? Do you find yourself flooring it when certain songs play?

I'd love to hear your stories.

Yours in harmony,


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ballet tours

Hi Everyone!

Did you know that you can travel with a group of Ballet lovers, go on a tour devoted to Ballet?

It’s true.

Travel for music lovers
A quick survey of the web will confirm that several companies offer specialized travel for music lovers: ballet tours, opera tours, jazz tours, and all kinds of classical music tours. You can join a group with your focus, travel together and catch special performances which you can then all talk about.

Tours en l’air
Tours en l’air takes you to Ballet Performances all around the world with your knowledgeable escort, Katherine Barber. She plans amazing itineraries for Ballet Lovers, accompanies and guides the tour group to fabulous locations, into famous opera houses, to the best seats in the house to watch beautiful ballets. Sometimes the group can go to a rehearsal. Informative talks and discussions ensure that you get the most out of your experience.

Travel arranged
CWT Victor Travel and Katherine Barber take care of all the details. No worries. You can have your whole trip arranged: your flights, transfers, hotels, sightseeing, dinners, and of course the best seats in the house at the performances. And, Katherine is there to guide you.

Katherine Barber
Katherine Barber is a balletomane. She’s crazy about ballet, and can talk about it from the perspective of the audience or from inside the tutu because she also loves to dance ballet. She takes ballet classes and teaches ballet history and ballet appreciation courses in Toronto, when she’s not travelling to London, Paris, New York, etc. Check out her travel plans at http://toursenlair.blogspot.com/.

Canada’s Word Lady
You might know Katherine Barber better as Canada’s Word Lady. Katherine was probably first called “The Word Lady” around 1996 when she started her regular segment on word history on CBC radio. She’s an expert on English. She is a best-selling author, writes for the Toronto Star, and is a busy speaker, giving talks on the English Language and Canadian English specifically.

It’s all about me
I run into Katherine sometimes at Victor Travel, and Katherine was a special guest at one of my Reading Group meetings. We were discussing The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester. Katherine was the editor of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, so she had a unique perspective and great stories.

I studied Linguistics and taught ESL (English as a Second Language) for many years, so that was a thrill for me. I was on the edge of my seat.

Then, I found out that we have something else in common. Katherine sings! She’s an alto in a choir in Toronto. Now, looking at her blogs, I’ve discovered more. We both speak English, French and German.

And the choir: YRCC travelling?
Steve, Heather, and I were talking about arranging a choir “field trip”. We don’t travel to enter competitions like some choirs, but we can go on a musical outing. Why don’t we arrange a trip? We could get a bus, plan some sightseeing and go and see a musical, or a concert with a group discount. Steve recommended going to Stratford to see Jesus Christ Superstar. What do you think?

I think it’s a great idea. We’ll talk about it at our AGM.

Yours in harmony,