Reaching up and Reaching Out - Durham Region’s RESOUND Choir Thrives Through Pandemic and Celebrates its Third Birthday!
To say that the past 2 years have been challenging would be an understatement, and RESOUND Choir was not without its own set of challenges. “Pivoting” was the word used by many organizations during this unprecedented time, and RESOUND Choir was no different. The organization was bolstered up by its dedicated board members, choristers, and incredibly talented Artistic Director, Thomas Burton, all of whom showed resilience and the courage to try new things, embrace technology, and persevere through difficult challenges. RESOUND was able to move forward with its continued aim to seek out opportunities to make meaningful contributions in our Region – providing choral workshops and performance opportunities for singers, hiring early-career instrumentalists, soloists, and conductors, premiering the works of Canadian composers, partnering with front-line community service organizations, and collaborating with dancers, visual artists and youth groups in the Region.
As a fledgling choir with a newly hired Artistic Director (they hadn’t even had the chance to rehearse in person together!), RESOUND was committed to continuing its momentum and providing its members with engaging and valuable content during virtual rehearsals every Sunday evening. With an extensive musical network, RESOUND was able to connect with fantastic composers, clinicians, and provide interesting focussed rehearsals and workshops for the benefit of all involved. Some of the clinicians that RESOUND Choir was able to learn from are Dr. Charlene Pauls (Toronto Conductor, Soprano, Clinician, Teacher), Gabi Epstein & Jeremy Lapalme (Stratford Stage Performers), Dr. Jerry Blackstone (Grammy Award-winning American choral conductor), Dr. Julia Davids (Artistic Director of the Canadian Chamber Choir and Author), Floydd Ricketts (Conductor, Award-Winning Musical Director, Educator, Activist), Joel Thompson (Atlanta-based composer), and Connor Koppin (Composer, California). During weekly rehearsal time, choristers were able to connect through ZOOM break-out rooms to get to know each other better. This was an unexpected bonus to the virtual format as choristers were introduced to each member in a more intimate way with conversation starters provided to foster friendships. Our executive board initiated some extracurricular interest groups via ZOOM over the lockdowns to promote community and give choristers opportunities to connect with others who share similar interests. Some members wrote blog posts about how these activities brought them joy which can be found on RESOUND’s website.
RESOUND Choir was fortunate to be able to record 3 Virtual Concerts over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic; “The Earth I Know” in November 2020, “As Above, So Below” in March 2021, and “The Storm Is Passing Over” in June 2021. These performances featured 2 pieces of music commissioned and composed especially for RESOUND Choir. A stunning ethereal piece of music "She is Made Out of Stars" by composer Henrik Dahlgren and lyrics by Louise Alexandra, and a simply gorgeous composition "Emmène-moi" by composer Marie-Claire Saindon, and lyrics by Jocelyn Verret. These virtual concerts presented new challenges and RESOUND was excited that through learning and growth each concert was better than the last!
RESOUND’s mandate for community outreach continues to be a priority and they were able to continue to collaborate within the community in a meaningful way. RESOUND featured local musicians, dance groups, artists, and storytellers in their concerts. With a generous grant from the Ontario Arts Council RESOUND was most recently able to hire 8 professional musicians for their December 2021 Concert, “Sing, My Child”; a collaborative pianist, harpist, percussionist, and a string quintet. In 2020, 9 students from S.A.Cawker elementary won a RESOUND song-writing contest which was subsequently arranged in 4-part choral by their music teacher, Christos Kaldis. This piece, called “Dreamer”, was performed by RESOUND Choir at its December 2021 concert. Also featured in its December concert, were readings from "The Skin You're In", a new children's book by acclaimed author Gary Archibald and illustrator Kiki Symoné. This concert was recorded live utilizing part of the OAC grant to hire the audio engineer. The grant provided RESOUND the ability to provide enriching and engaging performances for the enjoyment of our community and its members.
In 2021, RESOUND Choir was the recipient of a Resilient Communities Fund grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) to rebuild and recover from the effects of the pandemic. The project, just completed, has allowed RESOUND Choir to continue creating and performing high-quality choral music through one of the most challenging and difficult times in recent history. This grant provided RESOUND with much-needed aid toward medium to longer-term recovery efforts, and building capacity and resiliency in the aftermath of COVID-19. Thanks to the Ontario Trillium Foundation grant, RESOUND Choir was able to hire Choral Scholars and Interns to enrich our programming, purchase choir risers for live performances and outdoor events, and purchase recording and video equipment, all of which made possible the continuation of high-quality performances.
RESOUND is very excited about its upcoming 2022 semesters! Their March concert, “Joy!”, will feature 2 new commissions by celebrated composers Andrew Balfour and Tracy Wong. In June RESOUND will be singing Brahms’ Requiem accompanied by the North York Concert Orchestra. The Choir will also be host to a workshop and concert with their guest, the National Youth Choir of Canada, and their director, Jean-Sebastien Vallée. The future is bright and exciting for RESOUND Choir.
Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most!
Memory is something that has always fascinated me. I believe this is because I have always had such a poor one. I always did well in school, and had no problems with concepts, but ask me to memorize something and I struggled mightily. Learning French was hopeless for me. I have had to derive formulas for my physics exams in university from first principles during exams because for the life of me I couldn’t remember the bloody formulas.
I have developed several techniques to cope, especially with my atrocious inability to remember names. I have tried to link things together in my mind. This has led to numerous faux pas (notice the French!!) such as calling Mrs Swan, Mrs Peacock. I have tried lines like “I’m sorry but I have forgotten your last name” when the reality is I have forgotten both their names, and hope they will add the first name to the last.
Finally I have decided to be upfront and admit I don’t remember someone’s name. That seems to work quite well, at least for the first few times. I have started prefacing my introductions with the admission that I have a hard time remembering people’s names. Most people are quite sympathetic and often admit to a similar problem.
I use jokes like “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” “I have a mind like a steel trap, rusted shut.” “I have a photographic memory, but it’s underdeveloped” (this joke does not work with the under 30 crowd – be warned)
I have studied memory from a neurological perspective. There are some very pretty diagrams of how it all works. Lovely colours, lots of arrows. There is a structure in the brain called the Hippocampus which is really important. I have decided I must possess a “pygmy hippocampus” . I got that idea by watching a You Tube video on Pygmy Hippopotamuses. It seemed to make sense at the time.
Learning to live with this disability provides continual lessons in humility. Never do I suffer offense when someone forgets my name, in fact a closer emotion would be relief…”You too eh?” This is part of who I am. This is how God created me. There are much worse things people can suffer.
This is the surprising silver lining of the pandemic. I never in a million years would have participated in something like this had there not been a pandemic causing my local choir to go virtual. I joined Eric Whitacre's VC6 of 17,572 singers to prepare & get over the sheer terror I felt in anticipation that the choir that I was only guesting in was now switching to Zoom & virtual choir performances, requiring me to video tape myself singing alone. Soon, out of the pandemic, virtual choirs appeared everywhere on the planet & I was hooked. The virtual choir, a seemingly new "thing" Eric Whitacre had ironically already been creating for a decade, I would have previously perceived as something for performers and professionals. This is now a new, quite global world I am part of & I've gained skills and confidence which is truly a bit of sunshine in the dark times we are living through. Like heart shaped & happy face rocks, small wonders come when you least expect it.
A Favourite Recipe and Family History
My dad is first generation Lebanese and as unfortunate as it is that the language didn’t get passed down a generation, at least the foods did. A while back, I was making M’jedera (lentils & rice) for dinner and thinking I’d like to take a trip to the middle east to see where my family is from.
“I know Sitti (grandmother) came from Lebanon, but what village?” I asked. My dad, 87, child #12 of 13, doesn’t know and suggests I email Mary, child #13.
“When I was a child, my oldest brother used to tell me we were from Chraim”, my aunt writes. So, I looked it up (thank you Google) and find it in Syria.
“Wait a minute!”, I write back. “Chraim is in Syria. We’re Syrian?!?” It feels like the earth just shifted beneath my feet.
“What?!? I don’t think so. Let me ask Shakeeb (a cousin)”, she says.
“He says the town was called Khaim, near Marjaayoun, in Lebanon. He also mentions that when Sitti was born, 1896, Lebanon was a Syrian state under the Ottoman Empire. It wasn’t until WWII that Lebanon became a country of its own.”
Mystery solved. Cool fact. We are Lebanese after all. Terra firma.
~Kim Alexander (nee Kelly – not an Arabic name – a story for another time.)
Let's Chat About Our Favourite Books!
I am part of a wonderful choir called Durham RESOUND Choir. This choir is an inclusive, fun and friendly environment for anyone and everyone who likes to sing. A decision was made that we should all get to know each other more. So, we sent in emails about our hobbies and interests and had little meetings to discuss those hobbies and interests. This week, we did a kind of book club. A bunch of us joined up in a Zoom call and discussed our favourite books. We talked about the plot, what we liked about them, and why we love it. I personally found that this meeting was great! We had a great time laughing and discussing our favourite books, and I look forward to doing it again sometime!
The books we discussed are:
The Hobbit, by J.RR. Tolkien
Villa Triste, by Lucretia Grindle
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up, by Marie Kondo
Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman.
Plot: Eleanor struggles with social skills and says exactly what she thinks. She has a hard time with her social life until she meets a bubbly man named Raymond. They help save an elderly man named Sam. They all help each other with their isolated lifestyles.
Why she loves it: It was fun to listen to on audio book, especially with the accents of different characters. She loves the message that to heal your heart, you have to open up. She also loves how uplifting it is.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
Plot: Marie tells you how to properly clean up, and how to know what you should keep and what you shouldn’t. She says you should thank what you throw away, and doing that helps with letting go.
Why she loves it: She is from Montreal, and her parents were children of the depression. She had an addition done on the house, and her stuff stuffed in half of the house. Then, she ended up with half of her mum’s stuff. She loves the theory: don’t choose what to throw out, choose what to keep. She loves the mindfulness of it.
Villa Triste, by Lucretia Grindle
Plot: The story opens up in modern-day Rome, and an elderly man has been shot execution-style in his vestibule. They find that his gut is full of salt. The detective takes the man’s diary and doesn’t let the police take it. As the detective starts the read, he learns about a family that is part of the resistance against Mussolini. The mother’s father and two daughters keep having to move around. One of the daughters is rescuing people and taking them to safety. The other is a nurse who is keeping track of who is dying in the hospitals, so her parents can use the empty house to broadcast to the allies. Back in the present day, there is another assassination with the same MO. The detective realizes that both murders harken back to the resistance movement.
Why she loves it: She loves it because of how the clues unfold, and how you learn a about WWII in Italy. It’s a murder mystery, historical fiction, love story, adventure, family, intrigue novel.
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Plot: “Bilbo Baggins lives a simple life with his fellow hobbits in the shire until the wizard Gandalf arrives and convinces him to join a group of dwarves on a quest to reclaim the kingdom of Erebor. The journey takes Bilbo on a path through treacherous lands swarming with orcs, goblins and other dangers, not the least of which is an encounter with Gollum and a simple gold ring that is tied to the fate of Middle Earth in ways Bilbo cannot even fathom.” He and the descendants of Durin travel through the land until they reach the mountain where Smaug is hiding, and where their home is. They must fight off the dragon and regain their riches and their home. At points in their journey, they almost get eaten by Orks and spiders, and they get captured by the wood-elves. But, for most of them, everything turns out okay in the end.
Why she loves it: She loves this book because it provides an escape from everyday life. She can forget about all her responsibilities and worries and be immersed in Tolkien’s world. She also loves the story and the characters, and she cannot wait to continue with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
A family recipe brings treasured kitchen memories
In August, when hornets began to hover around our picnics in the back yard, the kitchen was buzzing with chopping and chatter as Mom and Grandma began making their annual batch of chili sauce that would lift meatloaf to new levels all winter long!
A trip to the market produced enough peppers, onions, celery, tomatoes, apples, peaches and pears to fill the huge preserving pot that has been in our family for years. Sugar and apple cider vinegar were added. Cheesecloth-wrapped pickling spice was plunked in the middle of the simmering pot with a few tablespoons of cinnamon, and then the long cooking process began, wafting a sweet tangy smell through the open kitchen window.
That is when I discovered that bees are attracted to vinegar! The window screen would be literally covered with these hungry creatures buzzing around for the duration of the cooking process. Several hours later, Grandma would dip a spoon in, have a slurp, and declare the chili sauce sufficiently reduced to golden goodness, ready to ladle into steaming hot, sterilized jars secured with lids that would pop as they cooled and sealed.
I continue to make our family's chili sauce each year, and love to share it with friends who have never tried this unique recipe that includes fruit to soften and enrich the vegetable flavours.
This tradition reminds me that time, and family members may pass, but the cooking aromas from our childhood bring sweet memories back to us like it was just yesterday.
Gaits, tack, English, painted, cushings, bascule - a language all its own!
Horsewomen at RESOUND Choir met and connected over their love of horses and riding.
Stories abounded. While being let out into the field, one of the ponies at Ella’s farm got chased by its arch enemy (a horse) and ran into Ella and right over her poor foot. Lesley worked with horses for 30 years or so. Her experiences include working at Woodbine, exercising them, jumping, horse shows and braiding manes. They all agreed that being around horses was therapeutic and contributed to their collectedness as teenagers.
The RCMP Music Ride show, and the Cavalier Horse Show with its Cirque du Soleil feel, led to an interesting conversation about Lippizan and Icelandic horses. Lippizaners were bred originally from eight horses around 800AD in Slovenia and trained in Vienna because they were used by the Hapsburg nobility. Only stallions are show horses because of a physical attribute needed to execute the high-level classical dressage maneuvers called ‘airs above the ground’. Icelandic horses are often mistaken for ponies because they’re small and are unique because they have five gaits rather than the regular four. The Icelandic line is pure and over 1100 years old. Icelandic law prevents all horses from being imported into the country, and exported animals are not allowed to return.
Other topics of interest were the cost of stabling your horse and of lessons, local riding schools, where to buy tack on sale, equine diseases, the bio-equine management degree at Guelph University, the Royal Winter Fair events, and birthing.
A promised group ride is on the docket once the COVID-19 situation permits.