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!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Music in Context: the Full Experience

The York Region Community Choir is planning a social event, a trip to the cinema, the SilverCity Newmarket Cinemas, to see the live broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera's production of La Bohème. 

I love the opera and have had season's subscriptions several times in the past, but I've never experienced opera like this before. I'm looking forward to it and I'm curious to see how it feels. I'm not expecting it to be as good as the real thing, but I'm hopeful that it will be a very close second best. 

People think they don't like "the Opera" because they haven't really experienced it before. They think they know what it's like, having heard bits of opera music on Bugs Bunny, or as part of a scene in a movie. Maybe they've heard someone singing (or attempting to sing) bel canto and decided it sounded like a bunch of warbling (probably a loose vibrato). But, they've never sat in an opera house and experienced a real live performance. 

I compare this to introducing people to baseball by having them listen to a portion of a radio broadcast of a baseball game. Or, watching a clip of a few moments of a baseball game and deciding it's boring. Even if you're watching a home run, and fans are cheering, it's not likely to interest you, especially if they show you one of those fat guys in a goofy uniform spitting tobacco. In a ball park, it's a totally different experience. I've only been to one Blue Jays game ever, but I really enjoyed it. It was exciting and so much fun! I similarly enjoyed a live Leafs game, and I dutifully sat through Hockey Night in Canada with my family on the couch.

There have been experiments where famous musicians have gone to play priceless instruments in subway stations or on street corners. Whether or not they were wearing fancy clothes, they did not make a big impression on the passers-by. I'm not surprised and I don't understand why others are. I've heard fantastic music in subway stations that I didn't have the time to listen to. And, it's noisy and unpleasant and there are all kinds of grumpy people moving about. What's good about that? Context is huge. Package the famous violinist in a designer suit, put him in a glitzy theatre, and people pay $100 each to hear him play. Package a rock musician as a rock star in a crazy get-up and put him in a stadium with laser beams and sweet smelling fumes and people will pay even more. 

I've suggested to the choir that they dress up to go to see the opera. It's part of the experience. One of my favourite parts of the opera is intermission. It sounds like a kid saying recess is his favourite subject! The intermission is when you get to enjoy the architecture, the fancy chandeliers, and the artwork of the theatre and see all the beautiful suits and dresses, the shiny shoes and sparkly jewellery! Being dressed up is worth it when you get to see all the other people dressed up. You can talk about the handsome tenor with your friends. And, during intermission, I always go down to see the musicians and their instruments in the orchestra pit. Weren't recess, lunch, and after school activities a big part of your school experience? 

I played a musical instrument, clarinet, and sang in High School. Most of my friends were in orchestra in Jr. High, so I loved the violins and violas, cellos and basses. I was involved in theatrical productions too. So, my empathy goes beyond the story and into the performance when I watch an opera. I'm completely immersed in the experience.

I also had the experience of playing softball at school, which was fun sometimes. I think that the experience of throwing and catching a baseball and hitting the ball with a bat is a big part of your experience of watching a ball game. Your mirror neurons kick in and you're part of the game. Smack! Run! Slide! Ouch! 

If we had more opportunities to make all kinds of music with all kinds of instruments and sing and act and paint sets, then we would be better able to enjoy the opera, the symphony, and the theatre. If we had lots of hands-on experiences of all kinds, we'd be more empathetic people in general, better behaved too.

Check out how massive this set for the opera Der Rosenkavalier is! 
This is a Met production.
Picture from The Recit, a Metropolitan Opera blog.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

March 24 and March 31 rehearsal review and preview

March 24 
6:20 Edelweiss- sounding excellent, adding flute
6:50 This Land is Your Land- very cool!

Warm-ups included "washing away our day."

We had a coffee and treats break. The treats were so good, but there was too much! I didn't manage to try everything. The new coffee machine is excellent.

1. Hallelujah was excellent as usual
2. The Hockey Song is great and great fun! Gerry had his coach's whistle and it's loud!
3. All the Little Rivers is powerful and good. We had to do quite a bit of review in the middle a cappella section, and I have to work on the timing there and connecting that to the next part.
4. We Rise Again is going to be fabulous. We walked through how the parts move around and learned sections F and G, but just sight-read the ending.
5. In My Life was beautiful, but we need a bit of work on one section.
6. We didn't manage to sing Banks of Nfld! Too much time enjoying our break, I guess.

March 31

6:20 This Land
6:50 NW Passage
  1. We Rise Again-moving back from ending-D and E oohs and ahhs (review what you're singing and mark your music) 
  2. Song for the Mira-review
  3. They All Call it Canada-review
  4. Farewell to Nova Scotia-intro and chorus (prepare to mark your sheet, have a pencil ready)
  5. Banks of Newfoundland-review

If you signed up for the opera, then bring in your money ($26/ticket) to give to Robin

Thursday, March 20, 2014

We Rise Again Videos

Kristen had mentioned that she found our version of We Rise Again on YouTube, so I went searching, and here are a couple that are the same arrangement. 

I'm sure it will be helpful to listen to how it's going to sound with all the parts together.
Thanks, Kristen!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

March 17 and 24: rehearsal review and preview

March 17
(St. Patrick's Day: we didn't have green beer, but several people wore green clothes)

Northwest Passage met at 6:30 and Sapphire and Renate finished recording!

We sang You'll Never Walk Alone. And, remembered how incredibly difficult it was at first, and enjoyed the fact that we conquered it and are able to ace it every time!

We reviewed the ahs at the end of Song for Canada and sang it twice, once with Heather and Melinda singing the solo and once with just Heather. Renate takes full credit for offering you Melinda's beautiful strong voice.

I also take pride in offering you Mary-Ellen's lovely voice in the solo in Nella Fantasia. We learned pages 9 and 10 and reviewed the ahs and solo at the beginning. Remember, the Sopranos come in at the top of page 7.

We finished Jamaica Farewell, learning from the beginning and adding that to what we learned last time. Sopranos should hold back throughout so that we can hear the tenor/bass section. Tenor/Bass should review page 5 where you do not have the melody. That F# that you start on is a 'ding-dong' below the melody, which you want to sing. When the altos sing Ja-mai-ca, your note is an octave below the 'mai'. Also, Tenor/Bass: on page 7 when you have sung "Kingston town", turn the page right away so that you're ready to come in on beat 1 with "At the market". And, at the bottom of page 8, come in on 1 with "Ackey rice", resisting the pull to beat 2.

We didn't sing Banks of Newfoundland as planned, but Todd was away sick anyway. Let's try to do it next week.

March 24

6:20 Edelweiss
6:50 This Land is Your Land

  1. Banks of Newfoundland review
  2. Hallelujah review (Altos, please listen to the "tricky bits" recording)
  3. All the Little Rivers review
  4. Hockey Song review
  5. In My Life review
  6. We Rise Again* starting at page 9, bar 43 (Section F)
* please do a "walk-through" before Monday night if possible. Read my post with music in hand so you can make notes in pencil on your sheet music. (My blog post about We Rise Again is right below this one) There are messy bits for each part which will be easier if you look ahead. A very positive note: Altos, Tenors and Basses have lots of melody!

We Rise Again: notes on our arrangement

We Rise Again is a beautiful song made popular by the Juno-award winning Rankin Family, as Rise Again on their third album, North Country. The inspiring and moving song, written by Leo Dubinsky, a native of Nova Scotia, is about immigration.

Our version starts with a solo, which Kristen has agreed to sing for us. Heather is her back-up and will sing with the First Sopranos (Sop1 is a challenging descant part. Preview it if you can).

The Second Sopranos and the Tenors move a bit, from their usual lines down to the Alto line for the Second Sopranos and down to the Bass line for the Tenors. Make notes and draw arrows or lines where you move down and back up. I am assigning letter names to the sections of the song so we can refer to them easily. The beginning up to bar 13 is section A.

Section A: Solo (Kristen) alone

Section B: bars 13-19: Kristen's solo on the top line, SATB in the choir bracket, as usual, except 16-19, Tenors sing the top part of the Bass line (nobody will sing the tenor line there) and Basses are on the bottom (Bass is the bottom throughout).

Section C: bars 19-27: No solo**. Kristen moves down to the Soprano line with the First Sopranos. This is a descant part. Second Sopranos move down to the Alto line to sing the melody with the Altos. This is a very high Alto part, so I'm not taking away the Alto's special moment, I'm giving them a hand.

Section D: bars 28-39: Like Section B, Kristen's solo, plus choir oohs SATB, as usual.

Section E: bars 39-43: No solo. Like Section C, Soprano 1 is on the Soprano line, Soprano 2 and Alto sing the Alto line. Bass divides here, so Tenor takes the top and Bass the bottom. Nobody sings the tenor line in section E.

Section F: bars 43-51: No solo. This is where Alto, Tenor and Bass have melody! Everyone is in unison, except First Soprano.

Section G: bars 51- end. No solo. Almost exactly like Section F, but higher and louder. There's a special Tenor bit at bar 53/54 so they have to watch out for that. First Sopranos have a special bit in bar 58, and then there's the ending. Bars 62-65: Second Sopranos move up to the Soprano line where they're supposed to be, the lower part there. Altos are alone on the Alto line, Tenors sing the top of the Bass Line, and Bass sings the bottom of the Bass line. Nobody on the tenor line there.

**Where there is a solo line on the music and I've indicated that there is no solo, that is because the solo line is identical to the Alto line (except bar 43, where it's in Sop1).

Monday, March 17, 2014

Working on our Music at Home

We're starting to get pretty good at recording and posting our music for extra rehearsal at home.

It's a new thing for us still. It took us a long time to start using recordings because the idea was that we should all be able to learn all the music on Monday nights alone and not have to commit to extra time. We also made a point of booking all of our performances for Monday nights, with the exception of our 2 public concerts, so that members could set aside only one night a week for choir.

Now that we have so many members, and so many of them are strong singers and excellent musicians, we are learning more music and more difficult music. (And, we've been able to accept some requests for other nights and even week days.) Most of the time, these strong singers make it possible for others to follow along and learn more quickly too.

Sometimes those strong singers are good because they are just really good and more experienced musicians, but I bet that most of the time, those leaders are good because they are able to review their parts at home. Maybe they play an instrument and can learn on their own, or maybe they use our recordings. Either way, a little extra work can go a long way.

For those of you who don't feel very musically gifted and like to follow, our recordings are an excellent resource. Sapphire plays your part on top of the accompaniment so that you can follow along on your sheet music. The sheet music is also on line, so you don't even need your binder to practise.

We are now looking into recording voices on top of the piano part because we've learned from Richard's recordings for the Choral Extravaganza that having the words sung is helpful. It's much more difficult and time-consuming in our experience, so that's something we have to learn to do better before we start that.

For now, we have each part played by Sapphire on top of the accompaniment. And, I'm pretty happy with how well we are doing with that.

Yup, this is what I look like when I'm rehearsing at home :-)
This picture comes from this website for karaoke music downloads. Have you tried karaoke? 

Here's how to rehearse at home using our recordings:

  1. Warm up. You can simply do some of the exercises you remember from Monday nights, or you can find warm-ups online. There's this app for iPhone and androids that leads you in vocal warm-ups.
  2. Go to our website, sign in, and go to the Resources page in the Members Only section. There's a short cut to Music Recordings on the home page too.  On the left side, you can click on the song you want to sing. The sheet music will come up. Minimize that. On the right side, you'll find the title of the song underlined, then under that, click on your part (SATB or S1 S2, etc). Download the mp3 to your music player (iTunes, or Windows Media Player, for example). Start the music and then pull up your sheet music. 
  3. Sing your part along with the recording for your part. You'll hear the accompaniment playing softly and your part is loud. If it's really hard at first you can try dividing up the task. First, sing without words, singing only la-la or na-na. Then, speak the words without the melody, just fitting them in to the timing. Finally, sing the words. Stop and do the tricky bits over and over. 
  4. Repeat. And, repeat. Some people make a CD of their parts to sing along with in the car or while washing dishes. 
  5. Once you feel confident with singing along, try to sing your part with only the accompaniment. Download the accompaniment recording, the title of the song underlined. See if you can hold your part by yourself. If that's too hard, try it with the Soprano part, or if you're a Soprano, with the Alto part. Tenor can sing with Bass, and vice versa. It's fun!
  6. You'll need to pay attention to the dynamics, where you're supposed to sing softly and where to get loud. It's best if you do this right away so you get in the habit of singing every section the way it's supposed to be. But, if you want to divide and conquer, learn one thing at a time, you can add this at the end. Each time you repeat a song, it should sound more beautiful.

Soloists: you will want to work on your performance differently. You have the extra task of memorizing your part so you can look at the audience, and you'll need to be more clear and concise than when you're singing with others. And, if you are on stage alone, you'll need to think about what to do with your hands. Sing your part looking in the mirror.

Here's a link to an article about rehearsing at home. There's tons of stuff online about singing and performing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

March 10 rehearsal review, and March 17 rehearsal preview

It's snowing and blowing like crazy right now, but Monday night was very pleasant, and yesterday was even nicer. We're lucky we don't have choir tonight :-) I'm planning to stay home all day.

Monday, March 10th was fun and we got lots done!

We learned the ending of In My Life and sang through the whole piece. If you have a chance, please review your part. It was mostly good, but needs some work.

We learned pages 8- the end of Jamaica Farewell and sang through the whole thing. It already sounds really good. We won't have parts recorded for this, but will have the accompaniment up on line soon. Many people know their parts really well from past performances. Listen to your neighbours. Sopranos and Altos, remember to sing softly and make sure you can always hear the tenor/bass part.

We learned the beginning of They All Call it Canada, so now we're finished and just need to review. It's sounding excellent! Review your parts on this one. It's going to be our finale, so we want it to be really strong.

We sang through Banks of Newfoundland twice. It gets better every time. Keep working on it.

Song for the Mira: we learned the oohs and they're beautiful.

Nella Fantasia: we only had time to sing through a couple of times. Trix sang Mary-Ellen's solo and it was lovely. I love this song. Please review your parts at home, especially the oohs at the beginning.

Next week, Monday, March 17th (St. Patrick's Day: Who's bringing the green beer?)

Northwest Passage is meeting at 6:30.
Renate and Sapphire will also do some recording, so we'll have to work out how to share the room. Our recording should be quiet, since we're mostly doing parts, which Sapphire does with headphones on.

  1. You'll Never Walk Alone, just to keep it fresh.
  2. Nella Fantasia pg 9/10, any other fixing
  3. Song for Canada, refresher, review ending ahs maybe
  4. Jamaica Farewell, beginning to page 7
  5. Banks of Newfoundland

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

March 3rd review and March 10th preview

In case you missed it, here's what happened on March 3rd.

We had a bit of difficulty at the beginning with the room having been set up sideways.
If that happens again, we'll move the chairs.

Edelweiss met at 6:30 and they are sounding excellent.

  1. We sang Shenandoah, and it was really very good! We reviewed the Alto parts at page 6 and the top of 7.
  2. Song for the Mira is almost done! And, we have a flute! Robyn is going to play the oboe/flute part on top. So cool! We learned the main section pg 8-11. And, we sang through with soloists and the flute. 
  3. They All Call it Canada is our theme song, and it will likely be our finale. It has a good, strong, dramatic ending, which we learned. We learned pages 4 and 5, and sang through to the end. It's lovely. We will not do the descant part where the tenors and basses have the melody on pages 10 and 11. So, Sopranos and Altos will not sing on page 10, but will come in on page 11 at the bottom of the page, at the D.S. al Coda with the words "From the Atlantic".  
  4. We sang the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves and it was beautiful! Made my Monday!

Monday, March 10th
It will be March Break, so a couple of you might be away. Some of you are already away enjoying the sun somewhere. Here's the plan:

This Land is Your Land will meet at 6:30.

  1. In My Life: ending  
  2. Song for the Mira: oohs
  3. They All Call it Canada: beginning
  4. Nella Fantasia: pg 9/10
  5. Banks of Newfoundland: review
  6. Jamaica Farewell: pg 8/9

Please return extra music

I've reviewed my plan for the season and have decided that we'll do Moon River next year. We can also return Welcome, Welcome Winter, Spacious Firmament and Come, Gentle Spring to Trix to be filed away. We have plenty of music to fill a 2-hour concert! We have one new song to learn and the rest is reviewing and cleaning up, so we should be fine. Please review the songs that are already online by downloading the recordings of your part and singing along.

Next Monday, please put those 4 pieces in your numbered folder (where you pick up your name tag).

Hand back:
1. Come, Gentle Spring
2. Moon River
3. Spacious Firmament
4. Welcome, Welcome Winter

Music we’re doing on May 3rd:

1. All the Little Rivers
2. Banks of Newfoundland
3. Chorus Hebrew Slaves 
4. Farewell to Nova Scotia (words only)
5. Hallelujah
6. The Hockey Song
7. In My Life
8. Jamaica Farewell
9. The Magic of Winter
10. Nella Fantasia
11. O Canada
12. Shenandoah 
13. Song for Canada
14. Song for the Mira 
15. They Call it Canada 
16. We Rise Again
17. You’ll Never Walk Alone

and these Small Groups and Solos

19. Edelweiss
20. This Land is Your Land
21. Northwest Passage
22. Gordon Lightfoot Medley
23. Home
24. Big Yellow Taxi
25. Somewhere

Prayer Breakfast Event March 26

The Newmarket Prayer Breakfast is Wednesday, March 26th, this year.

A few years ago, the YRCC lead the singing of O Canada and performed a couple of our songs at the Prayer Breakfast. Herbie Kuhn (the "voice of the Raptors") was the MC, and it was fun working with him.

This year the keynote speaker is from an organization called Hockey Helps the Homeless.

If you're interested, you can visit the website here.