A choir that began in September as 50 strangers, some of whom had no previous chorale experience, recently earned recognition on the national stage for their vocal abilities.
The University of Alberta Concert Choir was recently awarded second place in the Mixed-Voice Collegiate Choirs category at the National Competition for Canadian Amateur Choirs, a prestigious competition run in part by the Canadian Council for the Arts.
"[It] is a well respected competition, the only one of its kind in Canada, that has been very important for the growth of chorale singing in Canada," said Debra Cairns, who conducts the choir and is a professor in the Department of Music.
"It's a wonderful learning opportunity for choirs because you get feedback from the jury and it just helps you to raise your own level of performance to be able to put yourself on the national stage," she said.
The competition requires four pieces submitted on tape — one Canadian, one French, and the other two showing as much breadth as possible. Cairns said the most difficult piece in the Concert Choir's repertoire this year was a renaissance composition called O Magnum Mysterium, set by Tomás Luis de Victoria.
"It's a very challenging piece because each vocal part is independent, so each vocal part has to be responsible for shaping a phrase and its own dynamics within that," Cairns explained. "It's not a style that we hear so commonly these days, particularly with the younger generation [...] so it's a style that's very hard to understand and pick up and takes a lot of dedication to learn."
Cairns explained that she felt particularly proud of the way the choir performed Victoria's piece, and that the way they showcased their capabilities, in addition to their breadth of repertoire, likely helped them clinch the second place award.
"Judges look at such things as tone, tuning, musical phrasing, balance between parts, blend of the choir [...] as well as the overall breadth of the style of repertoire. I think all of those factors came into play in helping us to come to second place."
The U of A Concert Choir is an ensemble that started in 1970, and consists of 50 to 70 members, depending on how many students are accepted in any given year. Any student on campus can audition for the choir at the beginning of the academic year.
"We have students who are from science, business, other disciplines within the arts — all across campus — and they all come together because of a love of singing. Some have had more singing and chorale experience than others [...] so it's a wide variety of backgrounds and people," Cairns said.
Kaylee-Rose Rudiger, last year's president of the Concert Choir and an undergraduate music student said winning the award was unexpected, but is great because it gives the U of A's music department some of the recognition it deserves.
"It was great for us because we didn't always think that were doing that great or anything, and we'd actually accomplished a lot more than we'd ever imagined this year," she said. "I think the choir, as well as the music department at the U of A, needs to be recognized for the wonderful things that go on in the Fine Arts Building. I think it is a faculty that sometimes slips under the radar of many students on campus somehow, and yet has a mass amount of talent that should not go unnoticed."