What better way to understand a piece of music than to work with the person who composed it?
Young choral singers in Burnaby had just that chance recently as CoroVoce – the Burnaby school district’s honour choir – teamed up with the Coquitlam-based Coastal Sound Children’s Choir to commission a new work from a Canadian composer.
Laura Hawley’s new piece, The Maple Key, will have its world première at an upcoming joint concert by the two choirs, March 7 at New Westminster Christian Reformed Church in Burnaby.
The idea of commissioning a new piece for young voices first started to percolate when Diana Clark, Coastal Sound’s artistic director, was visiting St. Boniface, Manitoba with her choir two years ago.
On the grounds of the Université St. Boniface is a piece of art called À tous vents, a statue created by Madeleine Vrignon to recognize Canada’s 150th anniversary. The large statue shows 150 maple seed pods made of polished stainless steel; the giant, stylized maple keys seem to be “whirling out into the world,” as Clark describes it.
That image stuck with Clark. When she returned home, she contacted Hawley with the idea of a new piece of music for children’s choirs that would embody the idea of maple seed pods whirling out on the wind.
A singer in one of Hawley’s choirs, Marion Saunderson, provided the lyrics in the form of six stanzas of poetry.
“We were thrilled that Marion was able to capture the essence of the sculpture and the symbolism of children ‘whirling, twirling into the future,’” Clark said in a press release. “With lines like, ‘Send me in to the world to plant new hope, to grow new dreams,’ we knew that Laura would be able to write a stunning piece for young voices to sing.”
Clark reached out to Teresa Fierro, the co-director of CoroVoce, about having her choir – an auditioned group of singers in grades 4 through 7 – join with Coastal Sound on the project.
Fierro was excited about the chance to have the choirs work on a piece with Hawley.
“We had seen her work and really loved her inspiration, where she gets her ideas from,” Fierro said in an interview with the NOW. “The music that she writes is so accessible for children to sing, and the message is so relevant.”
“Finding appropriate lyrics to sing for this age level is always a challenge,” she said. “These tweens and teens have depth and soul, and want to find meaning that speaks to them, that they can identify with, through music. Laura’s piece fits this need beautifully.”
The choirs flew Hawley in from Edmonton for a weekend, and the choirs had two workshop rehearsals with her, one at Evergreen Cultural Centre in Coquitlam and the other at South Slope Elementary School in Burnaby.
“She was so inspirational to the children,” Fierro said. “She explained and sort of painted the picture of how she comes up with the ideas of where the lyrics come from.”
She was also able to show the singers how different techniques of composition and harmony had an artistic impact on the music, Clark noted.
The young singers, Fierro said, were “captivated” – and so were their teachers.
“It was so inspiring to listen to her and to then try and embed that into the music,” she said.
And, Fierro said, they’ve seen the difference in the choirs as the experience has elevated their performance level.
“They have remembered what her intentions were. It’s brought all the music up to a higher level,” she said.
Not only did Hawley work with the children on her own song, but she also took the time to talk about what it’s like to be a composer, how you can make a living at it, how you can find lyrics and find someone to produce your music.
“When you actually look at the person who wrote the music … They were in awe of her, and I loved that,” Fierro said.
Working together as a joint choir also gave the young singers a boost, she noted. They got to experience each other’s vocal warm-ups and conductors from each other’s choirs, and they had a chance to figure out how to make a new group sound as one massed choir.
“Having the opportunity to sing together, for blending, for being able to articulate, it’s really important for the choirs to sync together,” Fierro noted.
The concert program will include two other works by Hawley, Earth Voices and The Sun Is Mine; together, the three pieces are part of a planned five-part song series.
It will also include the R&B anthem Wake Up Everybody, plus the title song, Room for Two’s Roots Before Branches.
The journey to the upcoming concert has also involved several other Burnaby music teachers: Angela Adam, Bonnie Ishii, Sheila Little and Patti Fletcher, who are all with CoroVoce; and Deanna Gestrin, music teacher at Burnaby Mountain, who works with Coastal Sound.
Fierro is quick to point out that the whole undertaking has been possible thanks to the Burnaby school district and its board’s “tremendous support” of music at both the elementary and high school levels.
“They really do support us tremendously well in Burnaby,” she said.
CATCH THE CONCERT
Roots Before Branches, featuring CoroVoce and the Coastal Sound Children’s Choir, is on Saturday, March 7 at 3 p.m. at New Westminster Christian Reformed Church, 8255 13th Ave., Burnaby. Tickets are $10.
Coastal Sound is also offering an evening concert at 7 p.m., featuring the Coastal Sound family of choirs: DeCoro, Coastal Sound Youth Choir, Coastal Sound Children’s Choir, Con Bella, Boychoir, Con Vita and Con Brio. Tickets are $20 regular, $15 for seniors and students, or $12 for children 12 and under if bought in advance ($23/$18/$15 at the door).
For details and tickets for both concerts, see www.coastalsoundmusic.com.