“Absolutely no enunciation of P’s or T’s at the end of anything in jazz. I’m serious.”
This is what choir director Tami Harker instructed her singers at a recent choir rehearsal. The Vernon Counterpoint Choir, preparing for their winter concert at Knox Presbyterian Church Feb. 1 and Feb. 2, were having trouble getting the right feel for one of their jazz songs.
Harker was trying to extract from the choir that elusive “loose” feel required for jazz vocals, which is no easy task, as choir members are usually told to enunciate. Intentionally dropping consonants and holding back on beats two and four was proving difficult.
There is usually a point in rehearsals when it seems the songs will never be performance ready. The repertoire of a couple of dozen pieces was challenging, but then again, all of Counterpoint’s concerts have had challenging pieces. Choirs are not a democracy, but rather a benevolent dictatorship, with the choir director as the final arbiter of all-things-musical.
Guest director Harker, filling in for the choir’s regular director Coreen Smith, who is on a one-year sabbatical, somehow had to get the choir past the difficulties and working together as a team. She was helped in her task by the expert piano accompaniment supplied by Teresa McKnight.
The actual range of material for the upcoming concert is impressive, from musical theatre to madrigals, spirituals to sailor songs, Irish songs to classical and baroque. The choir sings in several dialects of English, as well as Latin and Italian.
Consider Yourself and Do You Hear the People Sing are favourites from the musicals Oliver and Les Miserables. Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves comes from the world of opera, while Deep River and Poor Man Lazarus are spirituals. Fly Me To The Moon and Bye Bye Blackbird are popular jazz standards.
The women get to sing the hauntingly beautiful Frobisher Bay, while the men attempt to come back with a version of the Irish tune Star of the County Down. Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus ticks the classical box, while the folk genre is represented by Roses I Send to You and Tell My Ma. A rousing gospel version of Bridge Over Troubled Water is slated as the concert finale.
Although the choir performs as a large ensemble, there are occasional solos as well as a couple of men-only and women-only pieces. Most of the selections are in three or four-part harmony, although some have as many as eight parts. Four octaves span the range between the lowest bass voices and the highest sopranos. Some of the selections are meant to sound very light and airy, while others should have a much deeper and fuller sound. This means the choir must completely change singing style many times during the performances.
The final result of these challenging rehearsals will be a concert called Mosaic, a nod to the wide variety of songs in this varied repertoire.
The Counterpoint Choir will perform Mosaic Friday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 2 at 2 p.m. at Knox Presbyterian Church in Vernon. Tickets are $15 and are available at the door, from choir members or from Shear Dimensions.