By Jackie Hawley
The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!
This quote is on a big mug that I received as gift and it is so true!
The Cantiamo Girls Choir of Ottawa spread Christmas cheer at a concert and service in Dominion-Chalmers United Church on Dec. 4, 2016. The concert, “The Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus” featured a world premiere of a Christmas cantata by the same name by Ottawa composer Elise Letourneau. The service was part of Christmas Downtown which is a special event at Dominion-Chalmers United Church welcoming the community of street friends into the church for fellowship and dinner. This was a day full of Christmas cheer indeed!
It was very special that Cantiamo alumnus, and now professional singer, Ellen McAteer was the soloist in the premiere of the Christmas cantata! Ellen’s stunning voice and professional, down-to-earth manner were an inspiration to current choristers. It was also an interesting addition to our program to include the flute (Elise Letouneau) and the cello (Joan Harrison) along with the piano (Laura Hawley) in this performance.
Performing a cantata is quite a different experience than performing a list of individual pieces. It is an important part of choral education, in Cantiamo, that the choristers have a variety of experiences performing all types of repertoire. The new cantata had thirteen movements including some instrumental, solo, solo and choir and choir alone. For the choristers, there is quite a bit of time spent standing waiting to sing. During this time it is crucial to remain completely engaged with the music. When the choristers are not singing, they are still part of the music as a whole and must be emotionally involved with what is being sung or played at all times. It is also a challenge to maintain physical readiness to sing with beauty and free flowing breath immediately upon an entry when that entry comes after many bars of rest. Another intriguing challenge is to learn to balance the choral sound with that of the soloist. To the listener, the piece must flow in such a way as to maintain engagement to the text story and the colour and atmosphere of the music. Attention to active listening and consistent, healthy vocal production is key for a transcendent performance. Maintaining artistic focus and performance poise for a forty minute work is quite a feat for young singers in their first cantata experience. These are definitely transferable life skills!
After intermission, the list of pieces included many featuring outstanding Canadian composers. Of course, the most outstanding being Laura Hawley! Her spirited Christmas Snowflakes is always a chorister favourite! Joan and Elise also treated the audience to a set of carols for cello and flute. This added lovely variety to the second half and allowed choristers to sit and have a rest as part of the audience for a few minutes. The performance ended with Canadian composer Willi Zwozdesky’s arrangement of Hearth and Fire. Before singing this piece, choristers are invited to think of someone special to them and to think of that person while they sing the piece. This adds rich meaning to this already beautiful song and results in what is best described as a singing hug. It was a warm and loving end to the concert.
After a short break, the girls were back on the risers to share their singing in the Christmas Downtown service. This service provides fellowship, encouragement and welcome to many of the homeless in the D.C. area. Pastor Dave Kornelsen from The Bridge church in Kanata lead the short service and offered an uplifting sermon to all. The music team, consisting of guitar, piano and drums, lead a joyful session of carol singing. Cantiamo participated in the carol sing and was also honoured to offer the gift of song with three selections from the afternoon’s concert. The true Spirit of Christmas was alive and shining at the service and was deeply felt as we all ended the service together singing Silent Night.
These kinds of events happen because of the generous contribution of many people. Cantiamo is grateful to all of our volunteers. You keep us “singing loud for all to hear!” A joyful season of Peace and Love to one and all!