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!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Storm Cancels Choir! Bah!

This was just sent out in an email to all choir members. We're also phoning everybody.

Due to the fast approaching weather system, and out of concern for members on their drive home later on, we feel that it would be in the best interest of the safety of all that we cancel this evening's rehearsal.
Please take some time to review music provided on the website over the next week. 
And as a reminder to those participating in the performance at St. Andrews on Saturday, rehearsal will be at 10 a.m.
Be safe all!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

We want to sing! Storm update.

Hurricane Sandy, AKA Frankenstorm, is coming up to Newmarket tomorrow night, Monday, October 29th.

Right now, they're saying the high winds and heavy rain will be the worst from Monday overnight to Tuesday. But, I've also heard that they're starting Monday afternoon.

We're going to be optimistic and say that we will have our choir rehearsal tomorrow night as planned. 

But, we'll be careful and review the situation at 4:00 pm. If it looks like we will have a scary drive there or back at 9:30, then Heather or Lauren or I will cancel choir. We have a phone tree in place, so everyone will get a phone call if choir is cancelled. I will also post here, and on Facebook, and on our website.

If we don't cancel choir, and you are worried about driving and would rather stay home, spend some time going over your music with the recordings.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Solo Assignments Updated

The 3 solo songs at the Holiday concert will be sung by Trix, Michael, and Todd. 

The solos in our choir songs will be as follows:

Carol of the Bells
Soprano9-12 +13-24 +37-44 +37-fine (solo and lead) (MARY ELLEN, Kristen)
Soprano13-24 +37-44 +37-fine (DOLORES, Trix)
Alto: 13-24 +37-44 +37-fine (DEBBIE, Janet)
Alto:13-24 +37-44 +37-fine (CAROL, Lauren)
Tenor: 17-24 +37-44 +37-fine (TODD, Michael)
Bass: 17-24 +37-44 +37-fine (important ending, very low) (BILL, Kevin)

In Our Town in December
 5-12 (intro solo) (BILL, Kevin)
24-31 ( Hanukkah solo) (SOPHIE V., Trix)
32-39 (Christmas duet) (TRACEY and JANE, Heather, Lauren)

Let There Be Peace On Earth
Duet 2 first Sopranos, very strong 9-34 ( Kristen and Mary Ellen Lasota, Anne Marie)

One Voice
Soprano: 6-15+9-22 (HEATHER, Kristen )
Alto: 18-22 (TEIJA, JANET)
Tenor: 15-22 (STANLEY, Michael)

Mamma Mia
Soprano: 23-47 (LOUISA, Heather)
Soprano: 94-106+199-122 (KIT, Sophie)
Alto: 124-132 (DAPHNE, Trix)
Soprano: 200-208 (CATHY, Kristen)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Being a chorister: Some basic choir rules

With all the new folk and with a smallish space for such a large group, we have to be especially conscious of the people around us, and review the rules so that we continue to work well as a team and sing together in harmony.

There is a document on our website in the Members Only section called

Here are some highlights which I think we need to review.

  • Be punctual. Respect the time of the director and other choir members.
  • Attend and participate in warm up.
  • Support and be respectful of other choristers. We are a family, a community, we want rehearsals and performances to be positive experiences for everyone. 
  • When rehearsal begins focus immediately on the conductor and your music. Maximize the use of rehearsal time.
  • Be silent and attentive when the conductor is speaking. 
  • Limit conversation during rehearsal. Talking wastes time and interferes with the conductor.
  • Listen carefully to the questions of others. They may be your questions as well.
  • Watch your music and listen to others practice their parts. Doing so will make you a better musician. Time spent listening may be as valuable as time spent singing.
There's more, and it's all common sense, like this, but people are not always acting sensibly. Sometimes we have so much fun, that we get carried away and it's easy to forget that we're all working together to learn our music so that we can perform it and be proud.

Please be aware of and kind to the people around you, and remember that you are a member of a big team. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Articulation: little marks above notes

This is a theory post for the YRCC about articulation.
Articulation is, like, pronouncing things clearly, right?

In speech, articulation refers the act of giving voice to your thoughts, or to clear enunciation.

In music, it's about giving a note a special effect and those special effects are marked with articulation marks which are often called accents.

My favourite one is the fermata. I call it the mark of power. It looks a bit like an eye. When you see a fermata, think "watch Renate". It kind of rhymes.
The Fermata indicates that the note can be held indefinitely, and I get to decide how long. It's the last one in the example below.

Now let's look at the rest, starting with the first one.
1. The dot is a Staccato mark. The note is shortened to detach it from the next note.
2. The line is a Tenuto mark. The note has its full value.
3. The sideways arrow is an Accent mark. The note is louder and attacked, or accented. Bah!
4. The arrow that points up is the Mercato. The note much louder and very strongly attacked so that it ends up staccato too. Bam!

There are a few more, including the Breath mark ' that we talked about last time, which really shouldn't affect the note much at all, and the Caesura which is called a cut-off to describe what it does or railroad tracks to describe how it looks. The Caesura doesn't go above a note, but after it. Like the fermata, it indicates something that the conductor has power over. When you see the railroad tracks //, stop and watch. I get to decide when we start again.


Look at Carol of the Bells.
Above bar 9, where Mary Ellen starts to sing, it says pp (pianissimo), so it's supposed to be very quiet and detached throughout.

Above the first note there's the tenuto mark and above the next 3, you see staccato marks. We have to pay attention to the fact that the whole thing is detached but make the first note longer than the other 3 notes.

The pattern continues, and then at bar 13 it says pp sempre cres. which means keep getting louder.

Then at bar 14 it says simile. That means they're not going to mark everything, just keep going the same way (long, short, short, short and louder and louder). So, the whole song has that long-short-short-short feel, but we just have to remember it.

Look at all the fermatas at the end! I practically control every note! Wow! That's power. But, with power comes responsibility. I have to figure out not only how I want that to sound, but I also have to figure out how to let everyone know when to sing and play all those notes that come after the fermatas (yup, even Sapphire's piano part is marked with fermatas).

For examples of accents and mercatos, look at Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves. Tons.

For examples of breath marks, look at Let There Be Peace on Earth. Tons.

For an example of a caesura, look at the bottom of page 30 of Mamma Mia. We don't actually observe that cut-off, because we have experienced the audience clapping there, so we make sure they understand we're not done by going straight to bar 228. The combination of fermata and cut-off there makes it clear to me that I can do whatever I want, whatever I think is best.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October 15th

Here's what we did on October 15th:
1. Warm-ups featured triplets with different consonants
2. We Wish You a Merry Madrigal-done! We did the middle section in 3/4
3. Song for the Unsung Hero: concentrated on p3, reviewed p4- excellent progress. Next time, we'll be looking at the end with the different words. Be sure to have the words written in your music in pencil!
4. One Voice-done! We leaned the parts on the third page where the choir comes in, and needed a bit of review in other parts but, we did the whole thing to the end. Just clean-up to do.
5. In Our Town in December: we looked at where the solos are and where everyone sings. We did p6+7.
I announced that this would be our last new piece. We will now only continue to learn and polish what we have from now on. This means that we will not do Welcome, Welcome Christmas this year. I was really looking forward to that song, but we'll have to do it next year. We'll hand them back to Trix next week.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Our Choir Uniform on Another Choir!

Wow! This choir has the same uniform that we do. Well the ladies do anyway. Our men's uniforms are wayyyy better.
I like their risers and the director's podium. They sound pretty good too.

Friday, October 12, 2012

And-a-one, and-a-two: Counting and swing

Ok, if you're old enough, you might remember Lawrence Welk counting in his orchestra with his trademark "An'-a one, an'- a two" (which was actually often "one an' two an'").

Lots of the music he performed was dance music, and quite a bit of it was swing. When music "swings" the beats are not as even as usual.

Let's look at regular "straight" time first.

Most of our music is in 4/4 time. So, there can be four quarter notes in a bar, and we count 1  2  3  4.
If we have all eighth notes, then it's 1+2+3+4+.
Sixteenths: 1e+a2e+a3e+a4e+a.
It all divides up evenly so that each bar takes the same amount of time and beat 1 is always in the same place. So, I can conduct all of those buy simply giving you the four quarter note beats.

3/4 time sounds different. Let There Be Peace on Earth is in 3/4.
It sounds like a waltz. 1 2 3 1 2 3.
We also have 1+2+3+,
and 1e+a2e+a3e+a.
It's more dance-like but still straight. Our new song, In Our Town in December also has that waltzy feel.

Sometimes you get a bit of that 123 feel in a song, like in Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.
We sing "Sing the so-o-ng o-f my own na-a-tive land" with triplets.
Triplets are written joined together with a number 3 above them (sometimes there's a bar above or a curved line above). 3 notes take the time for 2.
The counting for that phrase is: 4 a 1+a 2+a 3  4+a1.

Here, we're saying 1+a2+a, but it doesn't sound like Lawrence Welk. What's up with that?

Sometimes people will say that swing is like triplets, but it's not. We can try to write it in straight notation, but  it doesn't quite capture it.

Look at Hymn to Freedom. It's in 4/4 but at the top, it says 'Gospel Style' and then you see this:

It's not exactly like that- that would be bouncier than a swing or gospel swing. The idea is to make you aware that the music moves differently. Swing has a cool, jazzy feel.  When you see that Oscar Peterson wrote Hymn to Freedom, you can start to imagine how he'd play it. The counting is the same as for eighths so you say 1+2+3+4+, but it swings :) That's not easy to describe. You need to feel it. And to feel the sixteenths, you add the a. 1+a2+a --Like Lawrence Welk

Blue Skies swings. When we sing it, we don't even think about it. It's jazzy and we swing it. Don't worry about it too much.

For more on counting, go to my previous blog post on counting. And this cool video post.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Thanksgiving Monday rehearsal

Wow! It was great to see so many of you at choir tonight! If you missed it, here's what we did.

We started with the small groups shortly after 6:30.
I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing is coming along very nicely. The accompaniment recording is great!
Happy Holiday/White Christmas had some beautiful moments, and is also moving right along especially now that we have the accompaniment.

Warm-ups included loosening up our knees and bubble bubble gum.
1. Go Now In Peace was beautiful. No need to review anything.
2. I Will Always Be With You: we reviewed p 6-7. The recording was faster than we thought it should be, but it worked out okay in the end.
3. Hymn to Freedom: we did p 6. It was amazing! The recording was slower than we thought this time, but we worked it out and got to the end without too much difficulty. Page 6 is important. If you missed this, please review it. 
4. Song for the Unsung Hero: we did p 4. Another very important part, and it went really well. We sang through the whole piece and discovered that several people had not written in the Canadian words at the end. Please get those words in, from this blog post or from the website, by logging in, going to members only resources and clicking on the sheet music for Song for the Unsung Hero. The Canadian words are in red on the sheet music online.
5. Let There Be Peace on Earth: we reviewed who sings where and sang through it once. Erase the previous markings. Mark your  music so that you know where to sing, when to come in. Everyone starts at the beginning at A, except the descant. The descant starts on the second line. Note that when there are two choir brackets (square brackets mark the choir part, squiggly brackets mark the piano part), the top part is going to be sung as a descant by 2 or 3 sopranos. The choir sings in the middle. On page 5, there's  no more descant. On page 6, the choir part divides up in the second line. We skip the top of page 7 and go to the optional quiet ending. So, on page 6, at the sign at the word "me", we jump down to the bottom half of page 7. Tracey and Heather brought treats and Debbie made excellent decaf coffee, and there was even tea. We had a happy Thanksgiving Monday!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

October 1st

If you missed October 1st, here's what you missed:

1. The small group rehearsals started with I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing and Happy Holidays/White Christmas. **This means that you will not be able to go into the room until 7:20. If you need to go in and sit, you'll have to be silent.

2. Warm-ups included shaking off our day, and funny hands and waving.
3. Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves was beautiful. We looked at the unusual phrase marks that mean that you can't take a breath where it seems natural, according to the words.
4. We learned all of New Year's Blessing! The whole thing.
5. We learned all of Carol of the Bells! Really. Most people only sing for one section, and the soloists will work on their parts independently.
6. We worked on Hymn to Freedom, pp 4-6 and sang through the whole thing. We realized that most of us forgot how the ahs went. So, Sapphire and I recorded them for you! Go to the website, to the resources page and download your ahs.
7. We sang We Wish You a Merry Madrigal. We just fudged the middle section, but the rest was excellent!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Small Groups: next steps

For those of you who are not in small groups, please be patient while they use our space to rehearse before choir every Monday. 
  • If you want to use the time before choir to socialize use the foyer. 
  • If you need to sit down in the room, be silent. 

For members of small groups, review the Small Group Guidelines. (Click there or access by logging in on the website and  clicking on "Members-only content." ) Here are some key points: 

Once the list of participants has been agreed upon by the Director, each small group needs to:
  •          Decide on a Group Leader, perhaps someone who could direct, or lead a practice,
  •          Establish a phone tree to call each other if there is a change in practice information,
  •          Find out who would be willing to host a practice or two at a convenient location,
  •         Find out who has (portable) equipment to assist with the practice, such as a keyboard, CD player, etc.

Here are just a few tips to help ensure your experience is a pleasant and successful one:
  • Watch your director!
  • Prepare for practice by reviewing the written score as often as possible.                                                     
  • Try to memorize the words so you can really focus on listening.
  • Listen often to the music on our website or CD or YouTube.
  • Listen to yourself and gauge your volume so you don’t drown out others, or fade in to the background.
  • Listen for the timing. Are others speeding up or slowing down? Keep up with the group’s tempo.
  • Breathe, and Enjoy Yourself!