Courage to be a Chorister

By Ms. Lana Penner-Tovey, Choral Teacher

Over the course of a week last month, the senior choir performed at the WPGA Spring Music Concert and attended the Cantando Music Festival in Whistler. Performing for our own community is always heartwarming as a result of the support and encouragement from our family, teachers and peers. Performing at a festival of choirs, however, can feel completely different. All of the 31 choirs at the festival demonstrated a high artistic standard in the areas of phrasing, tuning, vocal tone and diction. These qualities, combined with an ability to reach out into the audience and create an emotional impact on the listener, creates a truly impactful performance.

In addition to other choirs and directors, our audience consisted of renowned adjudicators Scott Leithead and Kelli Walsh. Both conductors are Canadian superstars in the choral world, from Edmonton and Newfoundland, respectively. They travel worldwide and lead incredibly successful and impactful programs for young singers.

Vulnerability is a hot topic right now. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend Brené Brown’s The Call to Courage on Netflix. Her premise is: there is no courage where there is not vulnerability. One must exist for the other to occur. This is a concept that is practiced every day in choral class, as we explore and interpret powerful texts and make connections to our own personal narrative. Once we have done this work as individuals, we collectively seek to impact the audience. The purpose of choral music as an art form is to serve the poetry and create an emotional response in the listener. At the Cantando Festival, courage was required to openly express ourselves to an audience of expert listeners.

Although the festival is noncompetitive in format, each choir works towards a standard: gold, silver or bronze. The list of skill development required for a gold standing is long: tone production, diction, phrase shaping, tuning, ensemble work, and expression of the text. We were thrilled to receive a gold standing for our performance. Although we have many areas that require further refinement, it validated that we were indeed on the right path.

Following the performance, Kelli Walsh worked with the choir for an hour. Students were once again called upon to be courageous and demonstrate a growth mindset. She encouraged us to change the phrase, be more expressive, fix that chord, open your sound, use more crescendo, probed, “what does that phrase mean to you?” and prompted singers to “tell me a story!”

The honesty, vulnerability and engagement of our singers truly reflected their growth mindset. The choir was awarded a gold for their work in the clinic; this resulted in ours being one of only four choirs awarded a double gold standing. The growth and improvement of the choir within the hour was inspirational, and Kelly’s impact on our ensemble was enormous. We hope to work with her again in the near future.

Thank you to Mr. Matthews and Mr. Anthony for their profound support of the program and their belief in its relevancy in education. If you or your child is interested in joining our choir for the 2019–2020 school year, I invite you to join our practices: 7:10am (x-block) every day when a block 1 follows at 8:20am (generally every other day). To register, see Mr. Huygens or email me.
Regardless of your experience, ability or confidence, you will have a place in our singing community and we look forward to welcoming you!