The last week of my Churchill Fellowship travels was spent in Hamilton, near Tornonto - Canada. This was my first visit to Canada - the autumn colours were wonderful, though my hotel was right in the city.
Much of my week was spent with the superb Hamilton Children's Choir - an organisation which provides music education for pre-schoolers right up to school leavers. Last weekend they had a choral day on the Saturday - this was a great introcuction to some of their choirs! I then spent two further rehearsals with them last Monday and Wednesday.
Hamilton is an area with a very mixed demographic, and not all of the young people who join HCC have had any musical training before they arrive. And yet, under the direction of Zimfira Polaz and her magnicicent team, the standard of the music produced was breathtaking. Not only this, some of their pieces (which varied enormously in genre and language) had complex movements in too, which did not did not diminish the quality of singing in any way. Zimfira knows exactly what she wants and achieves this through constant tuning, adjusting and demonstrating until it's right. The warm ups were possibly the most efficient and detailed I'd seen in the whole of my travels!
Whilst in Canada I saw two other choral organisations. Oakville choirs for children and youth - situated between Hamilton and Toronto. I only managed to spend one rehearsal with them, but it was well worth it. I managed to observed their very youngest 'little voices' choirs - with so many attendees they were split into three groups. This was delightful, with a mix of singing games, call and response and rhymes. There was movement mixed in too - and anything new was modelled brilliantly by Jenny Johnston, the teacher of this agegroup. I also got to see their chamber choir - a group of about 22 girls, aged 15-18 or so. This choir was very competent indeed and they produced a beautiful sound, conducted by Charlene Pauls. They were able to change their voices effectively depending on the piece: the delicacy of Schubert, to the chesty sound of Fire by Katerina Gimon!
Lastly, I managed to visit the world famous Tornonto Children's Choir. I observed two of their choirs rehearsing on Friday, which was in preparation for a concert on Saturday. Their Artistic Director, Elise Bradley, was clearly a stickler for detail and many of the pieces were fine tuned and carefully honed until it was right. On first impression, it seemed like military precision - but Elise's unique sense of humour and twinkly eye became evident too! The choirs rehearsing on Friday were their chorale and also the chamber choir 'choral scholars' - members of which are also in their main choir.
Saturday was my last day and as the concert was at 3pm, and my flight wasn't unitl 11pm, so I decided to go to their concert. I was not disappointed! I saw all of their choirs from the 'prep' choirs to the three 'training choirs', plus their main choir and Choral Scholars. The standard was very high - and what struck me more than any other choir I'd seen in the USA and Canada, was the fact that they sounded the most English. Their vowels - even in the youngest choir - were all uniform and very consistent, with long 'ahs' in the middle of words like grass and last. The rendition of A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square was exquisite!
What a brilliant way to end my travels...which have now come to an end. It's been a truly wonderful experience and now the hard word begins: putting into place eveything I've learned and writing my 15,000 word report! Keep checking back for my blog updates as my musical jouney back home begins...
For the past week I've been stationed near Chicago - just outside in fact, in a little town called Glen Ellyn. It's been a brilliant week of choral visiting!
Quite close by to my hotel was Anima - the Glen Ellyn Children's Chorus. This is a fine organisation, led by Artistic Director Charles Sundquist - who is quite new to the organisation. I visited their concert choir and touring choir, which was great to see. In a similar way to Indianapolis, they built in theory into their rehearsals which included Kodaly methods. I was also lucky enough to see their chamber choir, which is an extension of their touring choir.
The children and young people clearly have fun in rehearsals, though are number were missing this week due to holiday time. They are also blessed with a fantastic community centre, which doubles up as their rehearsal space and office! It was great to be made so welcome and to meet their superb team.
I also visitied the Napervill Young Singers, situated a little further away. They have an incredible TEN choirs and I was lucky enough to visit them three times, seeing vitutally every ensemble. Their warm, friendly approach was evident as soon as I walked in - as was their level of musicianship. Their choirs have a clear progression from age 5 right through to 18, many of which rehearse girls and boys separately. This has not only had the effect of increasing the number of boys - but girls too!
Angie Johnson, their Artistic Director, leads a brilliant team of conductors, who build in plenty of theory, note reading and Kodaly - resulting in a high level of excellence. What I also liked was the way their rehearsals began with an unannounced song - everyone just starts singing, then moving straight into an enery-packed warm up! It was great to meet Neveen Michael, too, who is the president of The Board!
As I write this I am now in Canada, staying at a place called Hamilton - just outside Toronto. I'll be visiting the Hamilton Children's Choir, Oakville Choir for Children and Youth and (hopefully) the Tornoto Children's Chorus. I'm sure my last week of traveling will be a real highlight!
Since my last blog I have spent the week in Indianapolis - a bustling, vibrant (but not that large) city in Indiana. I spent the week visiting the Indianapolis Children's Choir, a phenomenal organisation that serves well over 2000 young people and children each week. Their structure - both artistically and in their management - is highly effective.
After initially witnessing some superb concerts last weekend, it was great to meet Joshua Pedde - their Artistic Director - and the team he leads. It was nice to see the concerts first as it gave me real insight into the level they achieve in just a short space of time.
Through the week I met with Josh, his team and the management (including their Chief Executive) at various times to get a feel for how things are run. I found that Josh and I were very similar in many ways in terms of philosophy and approach, and we discussed at length the varying aspects of our jobs. He's a great leader and full of enthusiasm which really shines through!
Josh explained the four pillars that the ICC is based on: Artistry, Community, Education and Excellence. The education element is what interested me initially - and Ruth Dwyer is in charge of this aspect. This set of choirs, which starts from pre-school projects, to preparatory and 'beginning level' choirs, right through to advanced choirs in the Master Chorale, has education at its heart. The children and young people learn to become musicians. At the heart of this are the Kodaly teaching methods. These help develop an understanding of notation, harmony and rhythm to a deep level - and enables pieces to be learnt quickly.
One highlight from the week (and there were so many) was watching Ruth lead some Intermediate Level choirs, where this level of musicianship was in evidence. What was also evident was how every aspect of the rehearsal engaged the kids, bringing out a whole host of skills, not all musical. In one rehearsal, I came up with this list, in no particular order: language, spelling, fractions, memory, watching, listening, pitched notation, rhythmic notation, movement, drama and speech. All of this delivered with bags of humour and energy!
These observations have shown me that, above all, singing should be at the heart of every school and community. It develops so many skills if taught well - skills that can be applied to so many situations in life with confidence. This was echoed through discussions with parents of the children.
It also has convinced me that, even when children are learning an instrument, singing should be findamental to their lessons too. Using the voice helps internalise musical skills and enables you to become fully musical. Too many instrumental teachers miss this concept and then end up 'cramming' for the aural tests before grade exams.
As I write, I'm now in Glen Ellyn - near Chicago - where I'll be visiting more choral organisations, such as Anima Singers and the Naperville Children's Choir. I look forward to meeting them very much!
Since I last blogged, I've spent a just over a week in th USA. In northern California I visited excellent music practitioners in both state and private schools and pre-schools, as well as choral organiasations such as the San Francisco Girls' Chorus and the Piedmont East Bay Children's Choir.
The week was jam packed with engagements throughout, thanks to my PA for the week, Cheryl Keller. It's interesting that in the USA their education system is similar to ours in the UK - quite different from Finland. It's a struggle to get music into schools. However, it's clear from my observations that if music is given chance to flourish, the kids will thrive - whether they go to private or state.
At the end of the day, it comes down to teacher training: without teachers who are trained to deliver music, schools either get none - or maybe worse, get some that is very poor quality. I've heard teachers in the UK say: 'well as long as they're having fun'. No! That isn't how it works - music, which can be taught brilliantly through singing Kodaly methods, is a subject that teaches us so much. It isn't just a brilliant subject in its own right, which of course it is, but it can teach you language, helps with numeracy, develops a high level of concentration, increased self esteem, makes you a team player, connects to your inner self through emotions.....the list can go on.
When I visited the Piedmont East Bay Choirs - a choral progarmme that covers ages 4 right through to school leavers - I talked with some of their singers and asked them what they got out of being part of choir and why choral education is so important. One reason was 'music gives you skills that you can apply to different careers' and that 'choir helps your mental health and gives me motivation to do your schoolwork.' Another chorister said that 'there's so much you have to account for when you're singing or reading music - there's so much happening at the same time.' All these skills and more, gained from musical education, can be applied to so many life situations. May employers look favourably at people who have studied music BECAUSE of the skills singers and musicians have.
Since Friday 4th October I've been in Indianapolis, where I've been focusing on the Indianapolis Children's Choir - an immense organisation that serves over 2000 young people and children. Their concerts at the weekend were superb - and I'm enjoying getting to know their team. I'll report more on this in my next blog.