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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | That Choir Brings Out The Choral Chills At Christmas Concert

By Brian Chang on December 19, 2016

That Choir at Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. (Photo: Brian Chang)
That Choir at Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. (Photo: Brian Chang)

That Choir, Craig Pike (director); Wexford School of the Arts Chamber Choir, Jeffrey Newberry (director). Sun Dec. 18, 2016, 8 p.m. at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.

If I could figure out how to make a Choral mic drop meme, I’d make one for the Wexford School of the Arts (WSA) Chamber Choir. They brought game. [Editors note: We found one!]

With a stellar line of soloists at the front, the choir soared into “The Color Purple”. My heart wasn’t prepared for this — it is my favorite musical. These aren’t just talented kids, they are choral fire, and lit that place up. But this review is supposed to be about That Choir and their 9th annual “Carols” concert. Too bad; they invited an amazing choir as guests.

Within one week I’ve seen the Etobicoke School of the Arts Chorus perform with the TSO (my review, here) and now the Wexford School of the Arts Chamber Choir with That Choir. These two schools are on opposite sides of the city (Wexford is in Scarborough). They represent two of the four Arts-intensive schools in the Toronto District School Board and hold rivalry. No statements on the competing programs are necessary. These kids get torn apart by judges, teachers, panels, and parents throughout numerous competitions across the school year. I’m just happy they have strong choral programs; it means great voices ahead for our choral and musical community. If WSA has a whole school full of kids who look and sound like these; we’re in good hands, let’s make space for them!

The WSA Choir is directed by Jeffrey Newberry. Newberry also accompanied his choir on piano for two of its songs: “The Color Purple” from the eponymous musical and “Good Night” by Matthew Emery. The choir seems trained to sing without a conductor but parts of Emery’s composition, with thicker harmonies and triplets towards the end, were messy without one.

The WSA and That Choir combined to sing Morten Lauridsen’s “Sure on this shining night”. A legato, soothing song, the two choirs sounded great together. The evening finished with a wonderful carol sing-along of “Silver Bells”, “Silent Night”, and a spirited “12 Days of Christmas”.

That Choir did fantastic throughout the evening. They were balanced and well-rehearsed. Craig Pike continues to helm an excellent ensemble. Their commitment to storytelling (which you can read more about, here) continues to be strong. This comes across so strongly in “The coventry carol”. Whatever artistic choices the choir was choosing to invoke, they provided a gentle, warm, and welcoming repose.

Ola Gjeilo’s version of “The Holly and the Ivy” carved out a performance for the evening. The song begins with an arrangement of the common tune. It transforms into something more meditative with a tonic chant that underlies the harmonies beginning in verse 3. In verse 4 the Tenors and Altos take over the chant. The effect provides a comforting pillow for the music to sit on. Pike called this song “wonderment” and the simile he used to describe it was “like seeing the very first forest ever”. When they finish, the choir hits the most exquisite F Major chord, balanced perfectly, and I get chills.

St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church provides much better acoustics for That Choir than other venues they’ve performed in. The barrel-vaulted ceiling, minimal soft fabrics, no carpet, and large space resonated and amplified the sound. I’ve been in the muffled rehearsal room that the choir normally rehearses it. A dry space, there are no resonant ceilings, ringing overtones, and echo to obscure consonants. Unfortunately, diction issues abounded for the choir in St Andrew’s. Instead of “There is no rose” we had “there is no wose”. “Deck the halls” was full of debt the halls. “Ding Dongs” were French turkeys, din don. And “Twinkle twinkle little star” came across as trinkle.  Adjustments need to be made for the performance venue. Thankfully, the audience knew the lyrics well enough to pass over these slights.

With their high school guest choir performances, outreach into young and new audiences, their composer-in-residence program with Matthew Emery, their upcoming New Works Development program, and focus on new, contemporary a cappella choral work — That Choir is unlike any other choir in the city. Keep an eye on them for cool stuff, sometimes messy, but cool.

For more REVIEWS, see HERE.

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Brian Chang

Brian Chang is Toronto-based choral writer. He is an active choral performer in Toronto singing with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Incontra Vocal Ensemble and serves as a trainer with the Institute for Change Leaders at Ryerson University.

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