My top 5 lessons

I was one of the lucky ones. I had music teachers very early on, and grew up in the home of a music educator who was a high calibre performer herself. Those music teachers taught me the importance of learning well for public performance, and here are a few of the favorites.

Lesson #1 – Take small bites.

Don’t try to manage too much at once. Assess and accept, and keep working patiently.

Lesson #2 – Get it Right.

Ability is determined in the practice room, if you are willing to stay long enough to only get it right.

Lesson #3 – Be efficient and adaptable.

Yeah, that might count as two, but they are related and worth putting together. If a struggle is encountered, then figure out how to learn it as well and as quickly as possible. Make a game of it, work it into the muscle memory, and eliminate doubt.

Lesson #4 – Trust

Trust in the preparation – and make sure you did enough of it.

Lesson #5 – Don’t sweat the small stuff. 

The more amplified the success and failure, the harder life is. Sometimes, for whatever reason, performance can be better or worse than usual. Cool it and keep perspective.

Taverner, Tallis, and Christopher

For the last week I’ve been conducting Camerata Nova through some really good music – Taverner’s Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas and Tallis’s Gaude Gloriosa Dei Mater. They are a great group of people and excellent singers, the concert should be a real treat. We’ll do it twice – once on Saturday and once on Sunday. It’s music I learned either singing with or studying with Christopher. In both cases it was a study in eloquence.

Over the course of the rehearsals it has been a real mixture of languages – almost a dialogue. I would put some of my own research on the table for the choristers and then something that Christopher had told me once would somehow sneak in. It’s funny like that, I really feel like he is around from time to time when that happens, especially when I find my body channeling an eerily similar motion to one he would have used…



A Manitoba Upbringing

We spent the last month or so in Manitoba, and now that I’ve had enough time to think about it, I’m struck again by where I grew up.

I’m really lucky.I grew up in a fantastic musical environment. From my earliest memories as a chorister to when I left, I got the best that Manitoba had to offer even when I didn’t always deserve it.

There is no shortage of strong choral programs. Throw a stone and hit a strong program. I’m learning about it as I go, and trying to pay close attention to attentively hear the choirs. I was really impressed with Camerata Nova at the NMF. They gave a nuanced, sculpted and attractive performance of a difficult work. It was a highlight and opened my eyes yet again to singer/teacher/conductor/composer/isthereanythingthisguycan’tdo Mel Braun. He is a total package, just amazing. It’s easy to see why he has gotten so much work there for such a long time. Amazingly, he was my first voice teacher. I was so lucky he found time for me, some 16 year old punk whose voice had barely broken and who didn’t listen too closely.

Also, I think what Prairie Voices has done in the last few years with Vic Pankratz has been extremely special. They have won international awards for their singing. That’s a huge accomplishment. I got to sing for Vic at Westgate where I went to highschool, and it was a great experience. Westgate is, to hear other people tell it, one of the strongest highschool programs in the province, and it’s a special musical environment. A culture, really. When I look at my own conducting, I can definitely see the resemblances in my work now to what I learned in those early years. Westgate is the incubator for so much musical talent.

I also sang at all saints church as a treble. So, I would practice violin for two hours a day, but practicing at all saints several times a week was where I found my love of choirs and found some pretty amazing friends. I befriended Ross Brownlee and Andrew Balfour and PJ Buchan. Ross is a real firecracker with a beautiful counter-tenor voice. He has so much energy and positiveness, I don’t know where it comes from but I hope he never changes. I think he is just amazing. And I’m really impressed by the creativity of Andrew Balfour. Sometimes the ideas just seem to flow so easily. He is really “tapped in” in a remarkable way, and he teaches music in a pretty special way. PJ is an expert on Icelandic music and culture, and teaches at the U of M. He is also an excellent tenor.

Where does this come from? Well, I think it’s about perspective. Each of the names I’ve mentioned are artists who educate. I’m so very much in my professional bubble of a musical world. In my life I think I’m educating, but I’m not, not like they do. I educate myself far more than I educate others. The difference is in the lives they touch, which is the element that gets so many of us going.

Those guys (and girls) are getting it done every day. Without them I maybe wouldn’t be in music.So thanks Vic, Mel, Ross, Andrew, and PJ, for putting up with a cantankerous guy. Much obliged for everything.