Chant and Beyond
Saturday, February 6, 1999 Ryerson United Church
by Angela Uruski
Choral work is one of the most challenging forms of musical expression; to take any number of people with individually unique voices and create a harmonious unity of sound (called music) is a challenge for any conductor and choral group and deserves great applause. But to hear exceptional choral music, however, requires a superb conductor who knows exactly the sound he/she wants to create and a dedicated group of vocal performers who watch not only the conductor's slightest gestures but also listen attentively to each other. And exceptional choral music is precisely what we heard from the Vancouver Chamber Choir at Chant and Beyond.
As a beginner choral conductor, this concert was particularly exciting for me as I watched seven individual choral conducting styles come to life, including Vancouver Chamber's conductor Jon Washburn. These conductors of varying ages and backgrounds had come from near and far to be part of a six-day conducting symposium hosted by Mr. Washburn.
Each conductor had a 5-song mini-concert, all beginning with unaccompanied melodic versions of 12th century Gregorian Chants, with an enchanting spirit that raised the audience up to the church rafters. Each program included selections from the 15th century to the present, highlighting composers such as William Byrd and Vancouver's Stephen Chatman, who attended the performance that evening.
One of Mr. Chatman's clever compositions, The Calliope, was performed by the choir with great animation, resembling the tooting and motions of a real calliope. Several traditional German pieces were carefully placed throughout the program, giving the evening a European flare.
The audience was dazzled by the vocal performance of three selections of Haiku, traditional Japanese poetry, which described elements of nature -- earth, water, light and plants. However, they did not sing traditional notes in a form of a melody. By singing the Japanese lyrics, they created sounds that reflected the meaning of the words. For instance, one poem sung in Japanese described "...the sound of water drops falling among the bamboo..." and for a brief moment, I reached for my umbrella! It was unlike anything I've ever heard before.
Chant and Beyond gave the audience a unique opportunity to visit seven centuries of traditional and contemporary music. The ability to blend their incredibly rich voices with such articulation makes Jon Washburn's Vancouver Chamber Choir a must-see!