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 Join us in song

 

Have you ever noticed how music can transport you to a different place, another time, or perhaps even an altered frame of mind? Listening to Gordon Lightfoot’s Sit Down Young Stranger album replays fond memories of early courtship days with my wife, Yvonne. 

 

Any genre of music can work wonders this way. Stéphane Potvin, Director of the Stratford Concert Choir (SCC), remembers his first choir experience in college, learning a Mozart Mass, then going grocery shopping with his school mates and singing one of the fugues on the way to the store. “It was glorious”, he says.

 

Scientists, of course, have been busy figuring out an empirical, measurable reason for why we should enjoy music. Apparently there’s a neurological basis for all this. The human brain is hardwired for tunes. There are six neural centres that respond to sound. One of these is devoted exclusively to music.

 

Studies have also shown that endorphins and dopamine are released when we listen to music. Endorphins increase feelings of wellbeing and foster social closeness. Dopamine gives us highs when we do something pleasurable – chocolate, sex, drugs (legal, of course!) - you name it.

 

Here’s the most interesting take-away from all this research. If you listen to music, you get a high. If you perform music with others, such as in a choir, you get a greater high. If you sing in a large choir, you experience an even greater high. It’s like dopamine on steroids. So who needsdrugs? Or chocolate for that matter, although that might be going a bit too far. All you need to do is sing together. As one SCC member puts it: “I feel a sense of joy and connection that is hard to replicate”. Another says: “Sharing in the making of music with friends old and new…is good for the soul”.

 

Naturally this involves some practice and dedication but you are part of a supportive group under the guidance of an amazing director. There is work to do but there is also humour, banter, and immense satisfaction. You will be introduced to beautiful music you had no idea existed. When the songs come together there is a “wow” moment. “It feels like riding a wave”, as one choir member so aptly describes it. 

 

Well, you are in luck. By sheer coincidence, the Stratford Concert Choir (SCC) needs more voices and is holding auditions in late May, early June and late August. These auditions are welcoming and non-threatening so there is nothing to fear; you don’t need to be a professional singer. So give it a try; there is little to lose and so much to gain. To find out more about the choir and to register for an audition go to: http://www.stratfordconcertchoir.org/join

 

As it turns out (yet another serendipitous coincidence!) there is a concert on May 25, 7:00 pm at Avondale United Church. Tickets are still available via Blowes Stationery or online at:

https://www.stratfordconcertchoir.org/performances So come check us out and enjoy an evening of great music while you’re at it. Maybe we’ll even see you at next choir practice!

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Stratford Concert Choir presents Summer Song

 

Summer Song, the Stratford Concert Choir’s May 25th concert, will showcase an award-winning harpist, an aspiring baritone, and a wide-ranging repertoire, including the premiere of an original composition by one of its members.

When he programmed the concert, Conductor Stephane Potvin was inspired by Sumer is Acumin in, a lilting medieval round. He chose other music that also reminded him of summer, including three pieces by Morten Lauridsen. “They all deal with the night,” he said. “May is my favorite time of year. I love to go outside when it’s warm and there’s still some cool air, and look at the stars. And those pieces just fit.”

The harp seemed like the ideal instrument to add to the mix. Luckily, there is a talented harpist living in the area who has a wealth of experience accompanying choirs. “There’s something very special about being able to work with singers,” said Kathleen Gahagan. “Being able to collaborate with people who are using the instrument they were born with their voices is something that’s really special to me.”

                    
Gahagan  has a music degree from McGill University and more than 20 years of performance experience. She knows the kind of synergy that can result when her harp comes together with a choir. “The harp supports without overwhelming voices,” she said, “I think it takes a special choir to be able to collaborate - a choir of musicians with well-developed ears who can really listen for the gentler supporting harmonies of the harp and use that as a foundation to build their own performance.”

Gahagan will also be playing solos by Irish, French, and Canadian composers, and a couple of pieces from the 13th century. “I’m trying to give a nice, broad representation of harp music through the centuries,” she said.
One of the highlights of Summer Song will be Ave Maria, composed by Marco Burak who sings bass with the choir. When Potvin heard that one of the choristers was a composer, he approached Burak to see if there was anything he had written that the SCC could perform. Burak thought Ave Maria would be the ideal thing to offer his conductor. “I wrote it initially as a solo vocal composition for voice and piano,” he said. “It was designed to be a fairly simple piece, and I actually wrote it as a birthday present for one of my sisters who had recently joined her parish choir.” When Potvin showed an interest, Burak adapted it first for the choir and then again to include the harp. “I liked Marco’s style,” said Potvin. “To me it has just the right combination of something tonal for the uninitiated and yet going far enough off the standard chords that it creates some really interesting harmonies.’

        
Summer Song will also introduce an aspiring baritone soloist. Potvin, who encourages young musicians, auditioned students from the University of Western Ontario to perform with the SCC. Even though Braylon Belanger is just in his first year of the music program, Potvin recognized his talent and wanted to give him a chance. Belanger will sing Le Colibri by Ernest Chausson and Le Premier Jour de Mai by Charles Gounod.

In summing up the Summer Song program, Potvin says, “It’s going to be introspective, with lots of rich harmonies and musical colors.” It’s an eclectic mix, all designed to create a summery mood.

Summer Song, May 25, 2024 at 7:00 p.m., Avondale United Church, Stratford

Tickets $40, available online at stratfordconcertchoir.org or at Blowes Stationery

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