The Great Canadian Choirbook
On Saturday, December 9, 2017 at 7:30 PM, the VOCA Chorus of Toronto presented ‘THE GREAT CANADIAN CHOIRBOOK’ at Eastminster United Church.
The evening opened with an official welcome from the federal government by Toronto Danforth MP, Julie Dabrusin, followed by a performance of “O Canada”, sung in Mohawk by Six Nations actor/singer, Cherie Maracle. Ms. Maracle then performed two powerful indigenous songs: an Obijway “Gathering Song”, and “The Woman’s Honour Song”, by Jennifer Kreisberg.
The choral portion of our evening began with B.C. world music composer, arranger and musician, Ed Henderson’s buoyant version of “I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In”, featuring our accompanist Elizabeth Acker, and guest guitarist Michael Occhipinti and percussionist Jamie Drake. We then performed B.C. composer Stephen Chatman’s stunning choral setting of Shakespeare’s famous text “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind”, followed by “Les Draveurs de la Gatineau”, an arrangement by Stephen Hatfield for SATB choir and piano of a raucous Gatineau, Quebec folk song. Our performance of Ron Smail‘s choral arrangement of Wade Hemsworth’s “Log Driver’s Waltz” folk song featured our soprano lead, Kelsey Taylor. This was followed by Stan Rogers’ legendary and powerful ballad, “Northwest Passage”, also arranged by Ron Smail, featuring soloists Tonatiuh Abrego, Janaka Welihinda, Jacques Arsenault and Nicholas Borg. Two compelling choral arrangements by local musician Beth Hanson of Toronto-born singer-songwriter Jane Sibbery‘s music followed: the poignant “Love Is Everything”, which featured our pianist and guest instrumentalists, and “The Valley”, Siberry’s tender ballad, which featured our sopranos and altos. After our carol sing, which included “The Huron Carol”, with its refrain sung in the Huron (Wendat) language, we performed artistic director Jenny Crober’s arrangement of Guelph singer-songwriter James Gordon‘s legendary “Frobisher Bay”, a ballad much-loved by our choir, and featuring soloist Tonatiuh Abrego. The end of our first half concluded with a world premiere: the uplifting “Fall and Rise”, also written by James Gordon as a tribute to the power of community. Our performance featured Mr. Gordon as soloist/guitarist, with Liz Acker, piano and guest Rob Clutton, bass.
We were thrilled to present another world premiere to open the second half of our concert: renowned jazz guitarist Michael Occhipinti’s arrangement (his first for choir) of Bruce Cockburn’s “Waiting For A Miracle”, with soloists Chrissy Doig, Judy MacDougall and Tonatiuh Abrego, and our band: Michael guitarist Occhipinti, pianist Elizabeth Acker, bassist Rob Clutton and drummer Jamie Drake, drums. Our next selection, Ottawa composer Elise Letourneau‘s award-winning “Peace Prayer”, a tribute to the great Ray Charles, was performed with piano, guitar, bass and drums. Our tenors and basses then performed the chant-like “Yuletide Fires”, composed by the celebrated B.C. choral director, Diane Loomer. “Un Canadien Errant” (also known as “Un Acadien Errant”) was written by Antoine Gerin-Lajoie in 1842 about the pain of exile. We performed Kingston composer, Mark Sirett’s plaintive setting with piano accompaniment. Another Acadian selection about the longing for home followed: the poignant “Le Voyageur”, by Angèle and Albert Arsenault, and recorded by PEI’s Barachois. This ballad was arranged and performed for our concert by Jacques Arsenault (voice, accordion), with Jennifer Routhier and Tonatiuh Abrego. Elise Letourneau‘s kitchen-party setting of Confederation poet William Wilfrid Campbell’s poem, “A Canadian Folk Song” picked up the mood, accompanied by Liz Acker, piano, Jamie Drake, spoons and Jacques Arsenault, accordion. Our second audience sing-along began with our annual tradition of singing Irving Berlin’s classic, “White Christmas”, featuring soloist Tom Roedding, followed by the beloved carol, Franz Gruber’s exquisite “Silent Night”. We then performed the soulful Pentatonix choral arrangement of Montreal-born poet and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen‘s iconic “Hallelujah”, featuring Jamie Drake, cajon. “River”, by one of Canada’s most legendary songwriters, Joni Mitchell, is another truly iconic ode – to both heartbreak and to winter in Canada. Our performance of Jenny Crober‘s choral arrangement of another iconic ode, “River”, by one of Canada’s most legendary songwriters, Joni Mitchell, featured soloist Jenny Sardone with Michael Occhipinti, guitar, Elizabeth Acker, piano, Rob Clutton, bass and Jamie Drake, drums. All of our performers finished off this celebratory evening with the renowned composer and organist, Paul Halley’s “Song For Canada”, a rousing anthem in praise of the beauty of our country.
On Saturday, May 27, 2017 at 7:30 PM, the VOCA Chorus of Toronto presented ‘CARMINA BURANA’ at Eastminster United Church in Toronto.
We started the evening with the jubilant Kenyan water song, Kawouno Wan Gi Pi, by Vivian Anyango and Vivian Aluoch, arranged by Vancouver composer Brian Tate, featuring our guest percussionists, TorQ Percussion Quartet (Richard Burrows, Adam Campbell, Jamie Drake and Daniel Morphy). This was followed by the Ontario premiere of Ottawa composer Elise Letourneau’s gorgeous, jazz-inspired work, My Symphony, featuring our accompanist, Elizabeth Acker. Our audience and choristers were then treated to a solo set by TorQ, opening with two African-inspired works, Wash and Earth, both by Daniel Morphy. TorQ then performed the world premiere of Daniel Morphy’s two marimba arrangement of the renowned composer Ola Gjeilo’s opening movement of his celebrated Sunrise Mass, The Spheres. (*This arrangement was specifically requested by Mr Gjeilo.) Our opening set concluded with the exquisite closing movement of Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass, The Ground, featuring Elizabeth Acker, piano, and TorQ Percussion Quartet, premiering Richard Burrows’ marimba/xylophone arrangement of The Ground’s string quartet parts.
During the second portion of our program, we presented a full concert version of Carl Orff’s monumental masterwork, Carmina Burana (Orff’s own chamber arrangement for 2 pianos and percussion), possibly the 20th century’s most popular major choral work.
We featured some of Canada’s finest professional singers (soprano Elizabeth Polese, baritone Michael Nyby and tenor Christopher Mayell), percussionists (TorQ Percussion Quartet) and pianists (Elizabeth Acker, Shawn Grenke), as well as our ‘youth ensemble’: a group of talented vocal music students from the ClaudeWatson School for the Arts (Saba Blyden-Taylor, Erica Eng, Julia Lapena and Katelyn Watts). The house erupted with an immediate, lengthy – and raucous! – standing ovation at the end of our performance of this legendary work.