The motto of the Cantiamo Girls Choir of Ottawa is Music, Leadership and Outreach. And on April 23, 2015, eleven Ottawa school choirs were fortunate to take part in ChoralFest 2015 – one of Cantiamo’s several outreach endeavours in its 2014-15 program. With the Cantiamo girls serving as role models for the elementary school-age children, the co-founders of ChoralFest 2015 – Jackie Hawley, Cantiamo’s Artistic Director, and Leslie Bricker, a teacher at Ottawa’s Broadview Public School – have started an exciting and new means of music education in Ottawa. Below we share the perspectives on the event from two participants: a music educator and a student.
From LaVonne V, Ottawa school music educator:
ChoralFest 2015 was the thread running through my entire choral year, beginning in September 2014 and culminating—though not ending—with the day at Dominion-Chalmers United Church on April 23rd under Cantiamo’s Artistic Director, Jackie Hawley. In September 2014, I had begun teaching at a new school with a novice choir, and I knew that I wanted to include these enthusiastic, dedicated new singers in the ChoralFest 2015 initiative. I was unsure of my ability to prepare the choir for the experience but, knowing that we would be in good hands, my worries were soon dispelled. In October 2014, a meeting was held for the choir directors. This meeting introduced the music and began a dialogue on music-teaching. We located trouble spots in the pieces and discussed approaches to avoid any pitfalls.
In March 2015, a workshop explored directing gestures, warm ups and singing with two more Festival pieces. It was definitely worthwhile having the choristers from the Cantiamo Girls Choir present as a sounding-board for directing cues and choral musicality. It also helped that the music chosen was so suited to young voices, skillfully arranged to weave together simple melodies while sounding complex and intricate. Particularly brilliant were the pieces titled “The Sun is Mine” and the world premiere of “Earth Voices” – both by Cantiamo’s Accompanist, Associate Conductor, and Composer-In-Residence, Laura Hawley. Both pieces were exceptionally crafted with children’s voices in mind, and Laura’s commitment to young musicians was made very clear when she gave her pieces’ copyrights to Cantiamo. This gift allows teachers to make photocopies, and schools that do not have their own accompanists can sing with recordings. These are both illegal under regular copyright situations, which makes it difficult for under-staffed and under-budgeted music programs to have access to music, let alone music as beautiful as Laura’s pieces. What a delight to sing and to hear! I will never forget the day a boy came bounding into my class beaming and singing “The Sun is Mine” as he shared his joy at the beautiful morning and his happy feelings, finding a perfect expression in Laura’s song.
My choristers’ excitement increased as we prepared for the day. Some of my choir members were too young to attend ChoralFest 2015, but everyone looked forward to the day that Jackie visited our school for a rehearsal. It was incredible for all of us to work with such a masterful director who understands and honours children exactly as they are, while inspiring them to attain all that they are capable of. If that is where the experience had ended, we would all have been very pleased.
On the day of ChoralFest 2015, fifteen of my choristers were blessed with a day filled with beauty, song, inspiration and incredible focus from all participants. As we work-shopped the songs, I could see and hear the confidence of my singers increase, and it was a special experience for them to meet Laura, and to listen to her explain the inspiration behind her music. As a teacher, it was wonderful to watch my choristers blossom and shine under such expert musicians. The day was not just for them, though. I was busy taking notes and filming warm-ups and approaches to vocal development that could benefit my choir in the long run.
The beauty of the day definitely overflowed in the showcase for parents. What magic to hear so many voices coming together, creating such a beautiful sound, and in such a glorious venue! It was an inspirational experience and I know that my choir kept that sound in their ears and continued to sing at that level when we performed for our own community during Education Week. The lessons of ChoralFest 2015 will continue to enrich the musical community of my school for as long as the participating choristers continue to sing: and I hope that will be for all of their lives. How apt that we sang that day; “The life we give to beauty returns to us again” (lyrics by Bliss Carman, “Earth Voices”)!
From Genevieve C, elementary school participant at ChoralFest 2015:
On April 23rd, 2015, eleven school choirs from across the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board had the opportunity to train with conductor Jackie Hawley in ChoralFest 2015. Ms. Hawley is the Artistic Director of the Cantiamo Girls Choir and the Cantiamo Training Choir. We were fortunate to have her with us as a co-founder of ChoralFest 2015 and musical director for the event.
The choirs rehearsed and performed five songs, two of which were composed by Ms. Hawley’s daughter, Laura Hawley. Laura also accompanied the artists throughout the day on the piano. The wonderful acoustics of Dominion-Chalmers United Church helped to enhance and amplify the sound of over 250 students singing in harmony. We were very lucky that Dominion-Chalmers generously donated the space free of charge for the event.
The day ended with a concert showcasing the songs the choristers had practised. It was an informal performance for which family and friends were invited. It was ended with a special thanks to the school choir directors, to ChoralFest 2015 co-founder Leslie Bricker, and of course to Jackie and Laura Hawley. We are all looking forward to ChoralFest 2016!