Lydia Adams is a powerhouse of choral conducting in Canada. A strong proponent of Canadian and female composers, Adams is best known for her work with two ensembles: the Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto and the Elmer Iseler Singers. Adams brings her significant conducting weight to bear as she leads a conductors workshop this month.
Over the phone, Adams shared some thoughts with me on the upcoming workshop. “I’ve been looking at opportunities for conductors in the community, especially, to have a workshop like this,” she says. “There aren’t that many opportunities throughout the country.” Adams refers to Jon Washburn’s Vancouver Chamber Choir National Conductor’s Symposium; Caron Daley’s Halifax Choral Conducting Institute; and the programs offered by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the University of Toronto.
“I thought we’d start with a fairly intense rehearsal schedule over a weekend. And start to move forward from there, towards something that could be a very valuable tool for conductors. And to include a concert, which is a valuable experience. I wanted a mix of experience and gender; to bring in people who have been working in the community, students, because we all learn from each other.” The participants will be exposed to a mix of masterclasses, mentorship, roundtables, and full rehearsals over the weekend intensive. Joining Adams will be Shawn Grenke, Joan Andrews, and Linda Beaupré — all deeply experienced musical educators.
Adams has designed something a little different than other symposiums for the weekend. In preparation, she says, “each of the conductors was given a pod of six pieces. I chose six contrasting works including Canadian, international, classical, and sent off the list to the conductors. Each had to choose one song.” From a total of 36 songs, the participants will each master one over the course of their time with the choir. Adams is very pleased with the breadth of the works which includes Ola Gjeilo’s Northern Lights; Psalm 150 and Avinu Malkeinu by Srul Irving Glick; Jame Erb’s Shenandoah; Mozart’s Coronation Mass “Gloria”; and Eleanor Daley’s grandmother moon.
The challenge will be limited time and the participant’s ability to convey their message through movement as clearly as possible. Humbly, Adams shares her own fears from the podium: “even myself, I always worry if there will be a sound when I put my hands up and give a downbeat. There’s always a feeling of relief when there is.” The challenge for the choir will be not to ask questions and let the participant’s work through communication. “Let the conductors figure it out,” says Adams. “I’ll ask the choir to react to the gesture that is given to them, not what they think they should sing. This gives an immediate response to the conductor whether something has worked or not. This Choir has not worked like this before; to work with different conductors, and to be flexible and react to them.”
“For a lot of community conductors,” Adams continues, “it’s tough to find places to work in front of a choir and get some experience. These conductors are working on practical skills in front of a choir. And for their potential future with church choirs, synagogues, and more, to work with a choir, our job is to really assist them. We’re trying to build for success. In everything that we do, choral conductors and choirs, we’re building for success. We put everything in place we can, that the conductor has a successful and positive experience. It’s going to be a really exciting concert.”
The participating workshop conductors are:
Mary Bella from Toronto, ON. Bella is an experienced operatic chorister having spent 15 years in the COC professional chorus after extensive education at Memorial University and the University of Toronto. Having conducted the Mimico Children’s Choir, she now leads the women’s choir “Local Vocals” and a community choir at the Etobicoke School of the Arts.
Ezra Burke from London, UK. Burke is studying a Masters of Choral Conducting at the University of Toronto. He serves as the Assistant Conductor to the University of Toronto Men’s Chorus and Assistant Director of the Duke’s of Harmony Barbershop Chorus. Burke is also a member of the MacMillan Singers, Exultate Chamber Singers, and the Church of the Redeemer Choir.
Thomas Burton from Wolfville, NS. Burton graduated from McGill University and performed as a trombonist. He was acting Music Director and Chorusmaster of the McGill Savoy Society and Music Director of Soulstice A Capella. He currently serves as the Music Director for the University of Michigan’s Gilbert and Sullivan Society and is currently studying a Masters of Choral Conducting at the University of Michigan.
Valeska Cabrera from Santiago, CL. Studying a Masters of Choral Conducting at the University of Toronto, Cabrera conducted and led the Alonso de Ercilla School Choir and the Camerata Vocal de Melipilla in Chile and the San Jose de Calasanz School Choir, Melos and A Tempo! In Spain.
Shirley Madden from Toronto, ON. Madden studied music education and vocal performance at the University of Toronto and the Royal Conservatory of Music. Serving for 15 years as the Music Diretor for St Andrew’s Presbyterian Chuch in Markham, ON, she currently sings in the Amadeus Choir.
Marg Stubington from Ottawa, ON. Stubbington conducts the Canadian Centennial Choir and runs music at First United Church, Ottawa. With extensive experiences, Stubbington has conducted Vox Femina, Musica Viva, the Ottawa Regional Youth Choir, Ottawa Gay Men’s Chorus, and Tone Cluster amongst many others. She teaches at the Ottawa Youth Orchestra Academy.
The Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto Inaugural Conductor’s Workshop runs March 23-25. The clinicians and participants present a concert on March 25, 4 p.m. at Eglinton St Georges United Church, Toronto.