vccWest Meets East

Dates and Venue 20 March @8pm & 22 March @3pm | Ryerson United Church (2195 W. 45th Ave., Vancouver)

Reviewer Ed Farolan


Home from its latest Maritimes tour, the Vancouver Chamber Choir brings some East Coast music back. The tour programme always has the greatest variety of music for a cappella fans and the performance last Sunday was surely spirited.

The first part of the program featured compositions by Louis Applebaum (1918-2000), Andrew Zinck (b.1965), Jennie Wood (b.1979), Jon Washburn (b.1942), Scott Macmillan (b.1955), Sydney Hodkinson (b.1934) and Lionel Daunais.

The choir started off singing Applebaum's Of Love and High Times, a set of four folk songs from Newfoundland. Washburn commented that songs from the East Coast have traditionally been story-telling, unlike the approach to musical compositions here in the West Coast where songs are more emotional, more in the mood, less verbose. An example of this contrast is Gate Gate by Vancouver composer Brian Tate which the choir sang in the second half. This Westcoast style combines Buddhist mantra and Gospel Choir with its handclapping and alleluiahs.

Zinck's Agnus Dei was excellent! This premiere performance was just marvelous. It shows how six verses can be sung in different tones, in varied juxtapositions. What a miracle voices can create!Folloing this was Wood's Harvest Moon based on haiku poetry by the Japanese poets Yosa Buson (1716-1874), Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), and Kobayishi Issa (1763-1827), and contempory poet Mirabile Dictu.

Washburn's Chinese Melodies was written for the 1987 tour of China based on two Chinese folksongs. The programme did a transliteration in English letters to the sounds of the Mandarin text. A translation to English was provided in the programme. Following this was Nova Scotian Scott Macmillan's Peter Amberly, a PEI ballad. Sydney Hodkinson from Winnipeg, composed music from the impressionistic poems of Keith Gunderson, A Continual Interest in the Sea and the Sun.This was interesting. The choir sang in recitatif and the music reflected the different movements and sounds of a jellyfish, a snail, lobsters, slugs and fish.

So much variety in this concert -- from the sublime to the profane, from the traditional to the modern, from old to the avant-garde. The last piece before inermission was from distinguished Canadian musician Lionel Daunais, in French, Les filles de St-Constant. A delightful piece about an amorous young girl who falls ill when her sailor doesn't arrive. A doctor diagnoses her malady as love sickness and when he recommends marriage as a cure, "she began to laugh and sing".

The second half of the concert concentrated mostly on the western composers. It started off with a composition of Vancouverite Larry Nickel (a base singer for the choir) who based his music on the poems of Vancouver poet Gary Geddes from his book of poems False Work (2007) in honor of 27 workers who lost their lives on June 17, 1958 during the construction of the Second Narrows Bridge. I liked the melody of this compositon as it reflected the 50s crooning. One of the verses in fact reflects the mood of the composition: "Crosby crooning on the radio, when the first ambulance came screaming by."

Another interesting piece that delighted the audience in this second half was the almost dadaistic poem of Sheree Fitch which Scott Macmillan composed, The Beagle and the Beluga and the Eagle's Fine Times. It was jazzy and reminded me of the rhythm of childlike poetry, almost absurd, like the stories in Dr. Seuss, where there's always a play of alliterations and ridiculous repetitions.

The last piece, Due East, by Stephen Chatman, a professor of music at UBC, is his latest of his recorded CDs Due North and Due West. Washburn quipped: "You probably guessed what the next title would be."

I've enjoyed listening and reviewing the performances of this choir through the years. What makes Washburn and his choir unique is the versatility and the variety of their music, both national and international. You're never at a loss because of their excellent programmes, and each time, you can never pinpoint or stereotype this group by saying "Oh, they only play religious music!" On the contrary, they sing all kinds of songs and that's what keeps the group fresh and thus, the audience is always delighted with its new and varied repertoire of music.


2009 Ed Farolan