A Voyage of Discovery
by Mark MacDonald, first tenor
We are off on an amazing voyage of discovery: to discover more about a new part of the world for most of us, and more about ourselves as a performing group. So far, so very good.
We arrived after travelling for at least 23 hours non-stop in Singapore, a modern topically lush city of commerce and cultures. The hotel is perfect. First performance was 3 songs for the opening concert on the 19th. I’m proud to say we rocked Incantatio Maris Aestuosi, and the audience went nuts (seriously) for our Bollywood number – Ethan Sperry’s arrangement of AR Rahman’s Wedding Qawalli. Kids from choirs at our competition venue the next day were excited to see us.
Yesterday’s competitions were Equal Voice Open – all male voices in our case – then Sacred Music in the afternoon. What the casual reader might not realize is what each competition entails. We perform music which is timed. A panel of very knowledgeable jurors is the principal audience, and they are reading along on the scores we have provided them. Occasionally they’ll check our tuning privately with a tuning fork. At the end of each number there is only a pause, no applause, and we move to the next song. Very intimidating.
Today, Saturday, we competed in the Folklore category with our numbers being Un canadien errant, Sarah, and Gimikwendin Ina – pensive, fun, and redemptive in that order. The hallways were abuzz with throngs of children clad in brilliantly coloured traditional costumes. We were serenaded by a girls’ choir from Tamil Nadhu, India. Their energetic singing embodied everything good about these competitions – exposure to other peoples, cultures, and styles of music, but all sharing a common humanity and sheer joy in making a beautiful sound.
We find out later today if we have been selected by the jury to sing in the Grand Prix competition at the end of the Festival tomorrow. Stay tuned!
An Audience-Within-An-Audience: the “Plus Ones”
by Lorraine Bennett
Being a Chor Leoni fan is one thing. Being a “Plus One” on a Chor Leoni tour is altogether another. This is one small step for a spouse, one giant leap for family engagement – the CL family. For that’s what we are on this wondrous tour: a family. Together we group and re-group in airports, hotel lobbies, concert venues, cafeterias and road-side eateries. We seek and find each other in crowded places where it would be easy to lose the link, to miss the special moments, or simply find oneself untethered and disoriented. We shared together the anticipation of the imminent birth of a new family member back home and cheered as Sean and Mike announced, mid-flight between Singapore and Bali, the happy delivery of a new Jackman.
Have a problem? One person will have a solution.
Need help? Another will provide.
Want alone-time? Absolutely.
I have found new sisters and brothers in this adventure: Plus Ones who were, until now, friendly, smiling faces at a concert or a party, and Lions, in whose company I had never been without make-up or not dressed “for the occasion”. These are now people with whom I’ve shared sightings of rare birds and monitor lizards, hiked in the jungle and dripped more sweat than is polite to write about. As for the brothers in song, I’m grateful they still seem to recognize me “unpolished” and don’t seem to care, so nor do I – anymore. We are simply a very large family on an adventure: all grown-up kids with no parents!
At the concerts we Plus Ones find ourselves in a much different position. We are, of course, the CL “fan zone”. But we’re also the eyes and ears of audience reaction. We’re an audience-within-an-audience as we gauge the applause for Chor Leoni. If this is a “job” then count me in because each and every time they sing, Chor Leoni captures the heart of the room, and brings down the house! In Singapore, they were the only choir to get standing ovations at the Opening and Grand Finale concerts.
As Canadians we are so fortunate to be represented by these ambassadors. The Chor Leoni program, sung in many languages, reflecting many cultures, including our own indigenous peoples’, is a true reflection of who we are as a country. The audience reaction to the Wedding Qawwali, including shouts of “Ca-na-da”, swells our patriotic hearts!
As Plus Ones, our pride and gratitude for the enthusiasm for our Lions, so warmly expressed even by supporters of competing choirs, is overwhelming. It almost feels like home!
Success on a shoestring
by Kyle Harland
I fear two things. The first is moths; the second is having my pants accidentally fall down during a performance. (If you saw this year’s Bard show, you’ll know I’m fine with removing my pants on stage intentionally—but that’s different.)
One of our three uniforms for the Singapore and Bali tour was our all-white kurtas. These are meant to be quite loose, and before the pants are cinched up, they could easily fit two of me in them. So the drawstring is a critical element to preventing my fear from becoming reality.
We had used the kurtas in the Bard show and a few times on the tour, so with a handful of performances in the bag, I felt relatively good about the security of the drawstring.
But with the Grand Prix performance coming up in Bali, something needed to be done about my wrinkled, sweat-stained kurta. The hotel rooms in Bali didn’t have irons, so I decided to take advantage of the hotel’s laundry service. My kurta was cleaned, pressed, and hung—ready for the next performance with days to spare.
The morning of the Grand Prix, there was mayhem on the choir’s messaging app. “The front desk has no more irons!” “Someone needs to set up an ironing station!” “I melted my kurta!”
Bunch of fools, I smugly thought, looking at my finely pressed outfit.
I went to have a leisurely breakfast and got back to my room with about 10 minutes before our concert call—plenty of time to get changed.
I calmly took my kurta off the hanger, admiring the smooth, flowing fabric. Not a wrinkle to be found. Next, I pulled on the pants—and to my horror, saw that the drawstring was also nowhere to be found. This was a problem because in one of our pieces, Wedding Qawwali, I dance front and center, and it would be especially conspicuous were my pants to fall down mid-song.
About eight minutes to call I still had no functional pants to wear. Upon further investigation, I found the drawstring buried in the fabric tunnel, which must have happened when the hotel laundered the kurta. But because the string had no hard ends, there was no getting it back out.
Three minutes to call. After canvassing the room for options, I ripped out a bright red shoelace from my running shoe and began threading it through the long drawstring tunnel. The shoestring fit around my waist without about five inches to spare—enough to tie a bow that was barely stable. Tucking the bow back into my pants, I convinced myself that the red colouring wasn’t visible. I had missed the call time by now, but at least I had a hope of keeping my pants on.
A short while later, we completed our set without any costuming malfunctions. And that night, we won a special jury prize for best choreography. The red shoelace had performed admirably.
With the kurtas no longer needed on the tour, I pulled the shoelace out of the pants to rethread my running shoe so I could use my shoe again. But I imagine I’ll soon forget this incident, and won’t be reminded of it until 10 minutes before the next call time for a concert where I need to wear my kurta.
Lean on me: Reflections on the Singapore/ Bali tour
by Paul Birch
When I fell on my back steps on December 4th, I landed on the sidewalk with my leg at an odd angle. If I had been given to swearing that would have been a great time to indulge in it.
I had all sorts of plans that could be upset by this clumsy misstep. Chor Leoni concerts were just ahead and lots of Christmas events were in the offing. The doctor informed me that I had torn the muscles and ligaments away from my knee and it would take several months to get an appointment for surgery to reattach them.
I didn’t guess at the time that the event was more like a hiker stumbling into a crevasse and discovering a gold mine at the bottom.
This trip to Singapore and Bali has been a revelation to me. For a quarter century Chor Leoni has been a significant part of my life but now it has shown itself to be even more essential than I had imagined it could be.
Being the most stumbling and slow of the entire tour group I have not once felt that other people in the choir were fretting or frustrated with my plodding pace. On the contrary, my lack of agility has been the occasion to discover endless kindness. There’s hardly a shoulder or a strong arm that has not been available when I needed to be steadied or boosted.
Unlike the boy who was left behind when the Pied Piper led the children of Hamelin into the mountainside, I have been hoisted up and carried along with the crowd. Special considerations have allowed me to be as much a part of every activity as possible. Erick has been unendingly accommodating and there are dozens of other people that I could name specifically. I won’t do so because the list would be too long.
Perhaps the ultimate charming irony of this trip is the fact that Chor Leoni was given an award in Bali for the most outstanding choreography in the festival! At my most agile I could never have dreamt of being associated with such a prize but I can enjoy sharing the glory of the front – line guys and the rest of the dancers.
What an unforgettable adventure this has been! Spending two weeks in a tropical paradise, being immersed in fantastic music, and doing all this with a bunch of unparalleled friends – it’s more than I could have imagined or hoped for. That stumble on the stairs seven months ago has turned out to be the most serendipitous clumsiness of my life.
To engage and enrich
by Rick Bennett
Chor Leoni’s 2018 tour to Asia is winding down.
As I write this in the lobby of our final hotel on the beach in Kuta, our performances are done, the applause has dimmed, the thrill of winning subsided. All that remains now – a couple of blissful days on the beach without a schedule.
As I reflect on the many experiences of our trip I find myself reviewing it through the prism of our Vision Statement:
“To engage and enrich the world through the art of male choral singing.”
To engage and enrich has two sides – giving and receiving.
We feel we gave our best, musically and socially, at both festivals.
Musically we clearly ranked among audience and judges favourites in Singapore and Bali, a reaction confirmed no less by wildly enthusiastic applause as by our gold scores and competition victories. Certainly we all feel that we “left everything on the field”. We are, and should be, proud of our accomplishments.
Socially we delighted in countless conversations between performances with singers from choirs from all over Asia, often leavened with gifts of Chor Leoni swag. A major highlight was the joy a bunch of the guys spread with their impromptu Bard-show dance at a Festival-wide dinner. No doubt the location – under full moon on the wide Sanur beach – helped. We were rewarded with heartwarming greetings whenever we appeared at Festival venues. We all feel that we engaged others as much through our art as our warmth and friendliness. We’d like to think we also enriched them, but of course whether we did is not for us to surmise.
However much we gave of ourselves, though, for me the true blessing of this trip has been the many gifts and lessons we have received on this trip.
Some were bestowed within our happy band – many new friendships have been established, and existing ones deepened. These bonds will only strengthen the many-hued fabric that weaves us together.
Our hearts, and especially our ears, have been enriched from outside Chor Leoni by the incredibly diverse, vital choral scene in Asia. Who knew, or at least who in Chor Leoni knew?
Not surprisingly, several Chinese choirs figured prominently, their singing frequently breathtaking in its technical mastery and musical artistry. So too it was thrilling to hear many excellent choirs from Korea and the Philippines. Even more astonishing to us myopic Westerners was to learn that choral culture thrives throughout Indonesia from the Javanese metropolises of Jakarta, Surabaya, and Yogyakarta, to remote towns of Sumatra and Sulawesi, and beyond to isolated villages and hamlets of Kalimantan and Papua. We were privileged to experience all of this first hand, to learn that the transformative power of choral singing is thriving in Asia’s exuberant choral culture.
In a telling moment one of us, Greg Mohr, struck up a conversation with some young Filipino singers. After the usual exchanges one of them asked Greg why Chor Leoni came to Asia. Their response to Greg’s simple answer – “To learn of Asian choirs” – met with equal parts delight and astonishment. Delight that we came; astonishment that we, a Western choir, would care. It was a moment both telling and humbling.
Without a shadow of doubt, Chor Leoni has been greatly engaged and enriched by our experience of this vibrant choral culture. Again and again we felt the power of music to bridge cultural and national differences, to find and celebrate our common humanity.
How does all of this tie into our mission?
Certainly in pursuing our mission Chor Leoni must always, as we did in Singapore and Bali, give of our best whenever we are about in the world. But it is equally critical that we foster the humility to receive the lessons that others offer us. I believe we return from our extraordinary 2018 Asian tour proud of our own excellence, and humbled by the excellence of others. My hope is that we will bring a renewed dedication to the yin and yang of excellence and humility as we continue our quest to engage and enrich the world through our art.