Monday, 14 May 2012

EKOS Choir: 6 piece Band

The EKOS choir's season-ender concerts, this year had a 6 piece band. Three horns (Trumpet, Tenor Sax, and Trombone). Since it was a New Orleans theme I thought we especially needed a trombone. Previous to that we were tossing around things like one sax/clarinet traditional jazz player with a guitar or (and/or) banjo. The material though did not really fit that kind of instrumentation and we finally decided to bite the financial bullet and hire 2 horns (trumpet and tenor). The New Orleans theme though prompted the thinking of adding trombone. What a great idea — a superb idea as it turns out. The EKOS board allowed the extra funds to do that. I must say that we had an excellent band. Very fine players: D.P. on drums, M.B. on bass, D.B. on trumpet, D.Babs. on Tenor and Soprano Saxes, and happily we had R.N. on trombone. They played so well, so in tune, so stylistically classy, and were a class act unto themselves.

I had been writing for small groups of horns/rhythm/vocals for years while at MacEwan so it was nice to have 3 horns to work with. It gave me a chance do something with some very fine players (most of whom were graduates of MacEwan Music). The arrangements for the choir were adapted from available publications one way or another. All I had to do was create scores for the 6 instruments (I played piano) and mostly I featured the band when the singers weren't singing so much but with some pads and figures where needed. The arrangements worked out so well that I wished I would have written them in even more songs than I did—at least 2 or 3 more. The band really added to the aura of a professional presentation and positive musical energy to the whole concert.

I might have a story or 2 about the songs with the band, but the most memorable one was the last number which featured 3 songs in total. It started with a slow drag tune, 'St. James Infirmary.' I had written out the melody 4 times featuring piano, Trombone, Tenor, and Trumpet and they all nailed it in fine style. There were 2 concerts, one on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, so we had a crack at it for a 2nd time on Sunday. It's funny how things come to you. In the first performance, I played it bluesy with a fairly big sound and lots of time delays just dragging it out. In retrospect the next day I ended up playing it (I thought) more sincerely and gently with full simple chords, thinking that this is for real: a New Orleans funeral march and life is good, life is tough, and may we all have St. James Infirmary played at our respective funerals in this heartfelt way (or any other appropriate music for that matter). There is this way to get there: "I think and therefore 'I' am."—there playing a funeral march, even a jazz funeral march for somebody, or all of us. Then the message has a chance to get across.

That's not the last tune in the closer, it's the first and is followed by "Swing Low Sweet Chariot." I have just thought of what that actually means and I think I get it for the first time (Amen). The final song is of course: 'Oh When the Saints' complete with a rousing ending. The band did a great job and I hope I get a chance to write for them again. It left us all with a good good feeling. Very memorable it was as I still have many of these songs in my head days later (in a good way—an uplifting way) !!

EKOS Concert: What it all means.

This is the 5th year I've completed with the EKOS Choir which has been established for over 30 years. Our season final concert this last weekend at the Arts Barns was a splendid success. It was sold out for both performances. This choir is more than just fun to work with, in that a high level of achievement and intent is maintained and somehow improved with each year. I think it comes down to the expectations of citizenship that every member participates in —they are truly a wonderful social group as well.

It really reflects the philosophy of our esteemed director who has brought the choir along from the very beginning. PR has high hopes for the fulfillment of her musical dreams while bringing the choir along on her (now ours) ambitious musical journey. On one hand she makes it a lot of fun but not without challenges through her choreography dance moves, and of course through the need for memorization of lyrics and vocal parts. I can tell you that every year is different with new challenges and new pieces. The choir has gone through reams of material over the years. Seldom is there a repeat from year to year.

It takes a good deal of effort for everyone to learn their parts and of course, no one works harder than PR herself. It's really quite unique. PR meticulously puts each of the parts for each of the pieces on 'SCORCH' files that are accessed via the internet. This truly makes it possible to present material that would be well beyond the means of a choir-group that meets only once a week for rehearsals. As it comes closer to concerts there are extra sessional rehearsal which I'm happy to be there for because of the commitment that all the choir members seem to have. This seems to be quite important to them. Rehearsals are very organized and sometimes hard work to go over parts and first learn them — for each song. It's amazing that it all comes together bit by bit according to PR's grand plan.

For the concert finale this year, we presented a theme. The theme of New Orleans. What a great opportunity for a show. There is always a show-type atmosphere, even though the pieces are really all about the music and the singing, this added element makes the show interesting, elegant, fun, and, engaging for both the choir and the audience. There is an MC who ties the show together with a little appropriate patter, and quite a bit of variety which is always thoughtfully paced.

When the show comes together, it's then that we see and feel what all the effort is about. PR's conducting prowess, which expresses her deeply felt convictions about a piece, comes to the fore and the choir responds directly to this conviction. It is at this time, more than Ever before, that learning and a deeper understanding of the music and its potential for nuance and response come to fruition. It becomes a spontaneous journey through the music while we are there standing still in a sense, at the pivotal point of consciousness witnessing it all go by and being delighted by what we learn in that moment of performance. Music is great let me tell you. Having the audience there absorbing the musical-energy-thought and reflecting it back is the thing. The venue, the audience, the show, the musicians, and the music all seriously cared for add up to a truly fulfilling experience for everyone including myself. Seeing all the choir members involved and smiling—especially PR is very gratifying.
So we arrive at a new level of joy, understanding and a bit of a victory which is no small thing.

Stay tuned for my feelings on playing with our wonderful band this year our concert finale.

Jazz Forum adventures

I've been busy writing on Jazz forums particularly 'All About Jazz' and strangely, 'The Guitar Jazz Theory' forum. Even though I'm not a guitarist, it's OK because these players seem to communicate and express their opinions one way or another. In the minds of some the CST (Chord-Scale-Theory) has come under fire and I had to be careful how I approached that topic. They were talking about the bV ending cliche as found in Night and Day. I gave an out line on this chord in the context of the song and tried to stress the chord function but I got a dismissive reply: "unlike you (meaning moi) I do not go from scale to scale etc..... Personally I've never heard of this as a separate theory and tried to explain that. I also got called on the the personal style of my writing pattern — I guess it's never to late to learn !!

It ended well at least for now and I got some positive feedback from them re my Night and Day analysis. Suddenly they were calling me 'Mr.' I won't let it go to my head but there is lots of fun and learning to be done through these forums. As a matter of fact I have started practising tunes just using harmonic function and targeting chord tones through adjacent tones and, was quite happy with the (actually) new result. I put the scales on the back burner (where they belong?). The thing is is there is a lot of harmony that can be inserted in some functional voice led way which can enrich your lines if you stick with this 'approach to chord-tone principle.' Not that related scales are left in the dust—they are absolutely necessary to work out melodic sequencing and possible scalar passage links.

More later.