Ensembles

Virtual Choir 4.0 Announced

Last week, Grammy-winning composer/conductor Eric Whitacre announced the next Virtual Choir Project: "Bliss". This piece is from his 2010 West End musical entitled Paradise Lost. It is quite the departure from previous virtual choir projects. An exciting one. Some choristers may grumble, but I personally think that this will introduce a new group of singers to the beauty of choral music. "Bliss" is a fusion of classical, techno and something else that I'm still trying to put my finger one. Another difference between VC4 and previous projects is the need for a Kickstarter campaign. As Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir continues to grow, so do the expenses. VC3: Water Night cost over $100,000 to create. Hence, the Kickstarter campaign. Since it's launch last weekend, the VC4 kickstarter project has raised over $18,000. Not too shabby. Without further ado, here's Eric Whitacre on the VC4 project: In light of the tragedies from last week, any opportunity to come together as a global community in the name of peace, is a welcome one.

Ensemble Musings

No world exploration clip this week. My students and I have been reviewing video of their performances at last week's recital. There were many strong performances. However, I think the ensemble numbers really got the crowd going.

 

Those ensemble performances were a great prelude to what coming up at the studio. Next week is Group Class Week. The kids have been working hard since September on two or three ensemble pieces. Instead of their regular lesson, they will have a combo class. Next week is the first time they will meet as a group to work on their pieces. It's hard to tell who's more excited: my students, Maestro or myself!

 

I've split my students into eight ensembles. We have a varied line-up:

 

  1. "Mission Impossible" (for sax, clarinet, keyboard and cajon)
  2. "Numb" by Linkin Park (for voice, keyboard, cajon and bass)
  3. "Under the Sea" for 4 hands/1 piano, cajon and hand percussion
  4. "Super Mario Overworld Theme" for piano, cajon and hand percussion
  5. "Lady Bird" for piano and cajon
  6. Pia no Jac's version of "Ode to Joy" for piano and cajon
  7. "Edge of Glory" by Lady Gaga for voice, keyboard, cajon and hand percussion
  8. "The Athletic Rag" from Super Mario for 4 hands/1 piano, cajon and hand percussion
  9. "Bless the Broken Road" for piano, guitar and cajon
  10. "Gerudo Valley Theme" from Zelda for 4 hands/1 piano and cajon
  11. "Floral Heartstring" by Pia no Jac for piano, cajon and hand percussion
  12. "When You Believe" for voice, piano and cajon
  13. "Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5 for voice, keyboard and cajon
In addition to the studio combos, I've been preparing for my submission to Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir 3.0. This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult works for voice I have ever worked on. With it being a "virtual" choir, I do not have the benefit of having a stellar singer beside me to follow. I need to know my pitches! Not only that, but I have to work tremendously hard on breath support.
It's been a wonderful challenge though. I got goosebumps when I first heard Virtual Choir 2.0 and am excited to just be a part of it.

 

Solo music making is fun but I'm finding that there is something magical and energizing about music making in an ensemble.
(c) 2012 by Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Great Performances - Eric Whitacre and his Virtual Choir

I found out about this recording on Facebook. Eric Whitacre is a composer, lecturer and conductor. The virtual choir concept came to be when  fan of his uploaded and shared a Youtube video of her singing one of his compositions. That snowballed into a worldwide virtual choir. People from around the world auditioned by submitting their Youtube performance of their part, recorded while following the audio track and video of Whitacre conducting. One person came forward to clean up the audio and put the 2000+ videos together. The result is astounding. Magical. This one is called "Sleep": Check out Whitacre's Youtube Channel. Also, here is his introduction of the process:

Now, what I want to know is when Virtual Choir 3.0 is being put together.  (c) 2011 by Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

World Music Exploration - Handel's Messiah

This week, we are exploring the Messiah oratorio composed by George Fredrick Handel.

 

Handel was an interesting character. Born in Germany, immigrated to England. His opera seria were popular back in the day. Then, when the middle class began their ascent into power, opera seria wasn't so popular. Handel turned to oratorios as one way to win back audiences.

 

He wrote this oratorio about Jesus Christ in under 24 days. Some sources say he didn't leave his home until it was finished.

 

I enjoyed singing this part back in my university days. Here's "For Unto Us a Child is Born":

 

 

(c) 2011 by Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Choir Music Musings

This semester, I'm filling in for the pianist of Okotoks Alliance Church Choir. They are busy preparing for the Christmas concerts. Yes, I know, we're not even past Thanksgiving yet but these things take time to prepare! I haven't sung in a choir since university and it's been a few years since I've "accompanied" (or shall I say, worked as a "collaborative pianist") in this capacity.

I forgot how much fun it was.

There is such a rush when you hear all the voices blending in and filling the room. It's somewhat similar to the rush I got playing in the jazz combos at jazz camp this summer, especialy when we fed off each other's energy and ideas.

I find myself itching to practice Michael W. Smith's setting of Gloria/Lux Venit, because if some of the youtube videos are any indication, the build-up in Gloria is going to give one huge rush to performers and listeners alike.

[Note to those who've heard this - yes, I'm drilling that transition from Lux Venit to Gloria like crazy!]

This is serving as a reminder of how important it is for pianists - who play mostly solo repertoire - to engage in group music activities.

It provides balance, works on our teamwork skills but most of all - it's just plain fun to do.

Addendum

Here's our performance of Gloria with Lux Venit:

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

 

The Rules of Ensemble Playing (according to students)

Image source: http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-3366836720 Thanks to my Giggle Trio (AKA Tess, Gabriel & Danielle) for sharing these rules of ensemble playing and rehearsing. It's quite the work of art, which I think applies to ALL ensembles:

  1. No knee pinching.
  2. No story telling until the end of the rehearsal.
  3. Try not to giggle so much.
  4. Listen to everybody's ideas.
  5. Pay attention.
  6. Try new stuff.
  7. If the group is getting too giggly, tell them to stop.
  8. Listen/look for each other's cues.
  9. No body checking.
  10. Have a plan.
  11. Have fun!!!!!

Personally, I think rule #9 is a classic!

(c) 2009 by The Giggle Trio, Calgary, AB, Canada. Posted with permission.

Keeping Ensembles in Sync

This year, my students are working on duets and trios. For most, it's their first experience in the collaborative arts. Some groups are finding it relatively easy to find the ensemble's pulse. These players have a fairly good internal pulse and have caught on to giving and receiving cues. Or in the case of those who aren't usually steady, they become steady because they are listening to their partners and to how everything fits together. And - they get along (always a bonus). Then, there's the other extreme. One trio is comprised of a boy whose tempivary widely (although he vehemently denies this), one girl who stops every time she plays a note that's not on the page and one girl who just doesn't care about getting the notes right, much less the tempo. I can only hope that the next trio class will go more smoothly. In another group, my "Giggle Trio" - two players were distracting each other, which drove the third partner crazy because she just wanted to get through the entire song.

Here are a few articles on ensemble playing and the importance of pulse:

The Ensemble that Plays Together - another great post from Chris Foley

Ensemble Playing

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.