Canadian Men's Chorus: Shadowland

This past weekend, our work with the Canadian Men’s Chorus wrapped with a performance at Trinity United in Gravenhurst to close their performance season. This was an art child so special, I have come out of my blog slumber to try and process what happened over the last couple of months.

I came to understand over the course of working on this project that the song curation was a strange and beautiful creature. It drifted into the room, gently tapped on our shoulders, and politely asked if it could break our hearts. The set was equal portions sweet, haunting, uplifting and joyful. Artistic Director Greg Rainville gave us what we didn’t know we needed: To propel ourselves into Shadowland.

“Shining five and six in a row on a wooden fence, Why do you keep wishes on your face all day long…” —North Wind (Nicholas Kelly, original poem by Carl Sandburg)

“Shining five and six in a row on a wooden fence, Why do you keep wishes on your face all day long…” —North Wind (Nicholas Kelly, original poem by Carl Sandburg)

I hope I’ll be forgiven for calling this kind of performance the best kind of antidote to what ails us. What is music but one of the most effective tinctures to an exhausted soul? It’s still a sequence of sounds, but with none of the delight that has the capacity to shift us to another plane of existence.

To rewind: I had no idea about the beautiful one-two punch I was about to be delivered when I sat down with my artistic co-conspirator (also former professor) Jay Wilson in January. After some catching up/pleasantries, he pulled out a piece of paper and said “If you’re interested…” The piece of paper had scribbles of song names and stage designs. He had it in his head that we were to do something about it, insisting that each song was more beautiful than the last.

Now… It’s not that I didn’t believe him (he taught me to pay attention to beauty years ago) but the belief that a choral performance is so engaging that it’s practically begging for artistic intervention made me wonder: How moving could these pieces possibly be?

In February, the three of us (Greg, Jay and I) met to see what could be done and how. There were changes, but we basically hashed out the visuals within two, maybe three hours. I’m not sure if that happens with most meetings, but in my own experience - that’s rare. And in terms of moving, I guess I had my answer. Somehow we maintained a bizarre mix of trust and what can I only assume was enchantment over the course of the three months that followed.

Along the way we brought Mira Szuberwood, Thang Vu, Sonia Pajakowski, and Audrey Yip to produce visuals and add performative elements to the stage production. We had a mixture of digital and analog elements, everything was timed, re-considered and timed again…

…Fast forward to May when our team was intact, all of the videos were edited, rendered, recodec’d, and we were putting up screens to have our first rehearsal at the Church of the Redeemer. I won’t go into too much detail about how terrified I felt, but sufficed to say at that point, it wasn’t just another gig for me. The work felt too personal to fail.

Our recording from our first show is forthcoming, but releasing that work will be bittersweet for the team. While we haven’t seen the last of each other, I think each of us understands that the deep magic we all felt can’t be conjured up exactly the same way again.

I’ve hopefully expressed my gratitude enough for the team to get the picture, but just in case: Greg, Jay, Thang, Mira, Sonia, Audrey, Gary on the piano, our vocalists Gareth, Rick, Carl, Johnny, Tyler, Diego, Dan, Stephen, Kamryn who recorded our work, the whole CMC Team who did all of the things, and our surprisingly effective Ian. Who are you all even? I’m certain we’ll be indebted to one another for some time.

Also special thanks to the Toronto Arts Council and my alma mater Sheridan for sponsoring our work.

Is there something finished? And some new beginning on the way?