Podium 2016 — An interview with Robert Filion

As you may have heard, next month, I will be going to Edmonton as part of Choral Canada’s Podium 2016. Various choirs and members of the choral community will be there, including members of the choir community in Ottawa, the city in which I currently live.

One of the choirs attending will be the senior choral ensemble from Ottawa’s francophone arts’ high school, De La Salle, and their director, Robert Filion.

Robert Filion

Robert Filion is very much present in the choral scene in the National Capital Region: he has been the conductor of the Ottawa Children’s Chamber Choir, the director of the Choeur classique de l’Outaouais, a board member of Choirs Ontario, the artistic director of Unisong, and teacher of choral studies at the Centre d’excellence artistique of the École secondaire publique De La Salle.

I am always impressed by the professionalism and expertise of Robert Filion’s choirs, as they mostly always perform everything by memory.

I have had the chance to sing under Robert Filion’s direction a few times, such as when he was preparing the choir for Podium 2012’s Opening night performance of Missa Gaia and during massed rehearsals for Unisong, when he would take the men for a sectional, or other times help the choirs with their French pronunciation.

Robert Filion is also one of the few well-known francophone choral directors in the region. His choirs have in their mandate to perform francophone folk-songs from many regions within the country.

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Robert Filion for this ChoirX blog. With French being both our first languages, it would’ve been awkward for us to communicate only in English. So, for the first time ever at ChoirX: a bilingual interview! Here is the transcript of the interview I had with him:

ChoirX: Vous avez contribué à l’organisation de Podium lorsque l’événement se passait à Ottawa en 2012, et vous allez maintenant y assister avec L’ensemble vocal sénior De La Salle à Edmonton. Qu’est-ce qui vous a decidé à y aller avec la chorale?

Robert Filion: J’y suis déjà allé en 2004 avec l’Ensemble vocal sénior quand c’était à Winnipeg et comme j’aime ça entendre des chorales différentes, des choses différentes, je me suis dit : pourquoi pas y retourner cette fois pour faire peut-être plus de repertoire]de la région, du répertoire francophone; montrer ce que nous on est, ce que nous on fait. On a appliqué et on a été accepté donc je me suis dit : on y va, c’est sûr! J’aime recevoir mais j’aime aussi donner;  c’est un peu dans cet esprit-là qu’on a accepté.

ChoirX: What do you feel makes the De La Salle choir unique from other choirs?

Robert Filion: I would say hopefully our sound but also the repertoire and the approach that we have. Of course being a francophone choir, with French repertoire, and for me, French folk music is also very important in our repertoire set. We also do a lot of Canadian-composer contemporary music but I would say that our biggest expertise would be French-Canadian music and especially French-Canadian folk music, but also all French music and the fact that we are francophone means for us, we can play with the language itself, not just try to do French appropriately but appropriately towards each composer, and each region, and the style of each song. That’s the biggest thing that I see ourselves as being.

ChoirX: En tant que francophone, espérez-vous créer des liens avec les franco-albertains ce mois de mai? Parlez-nous de votre collaboration avec la Chorale Saint-Jean, justement.

Robert Filion: Définitivement. On fait notre concert Spotlight en même temps que la Chorale Saint-Jean puis on a déjà déterminé qu’on allait faire une pièce ensemble. En plus, on fait un échange SÉVEC avec Expériences Canada avec une chorale de jeunes, Cantilon, de Edmonton. On va chanter la messe le dimanche matin dans la communauté francophone là-bas et je pense qu’on va aller donner quelques ateliers dans des écoles francophones aussi. Donc, je sais qu’on va faire beaucoup de lien de ce côté-là.

ChoirX: The singers from L’ensemble vocal sénior De La Salle, are from the excellent De La Salle high school in Ottawa. Could you please describe the importance of fostering musical education, and especially choral singing, in youth these days?

Robert Filion: Wow, that’s a good question. I’m a singer, I’ve always been a singer so it’s hard to put myself in the shoes of somebody who’s not a singer but I feel like singing is the most rewarding of musical instruments because you can’t say “My violin’s not well-tuned” or “My saxophone needs adjustment” or something. It’s your voice, so when you’re doing something really beautiful, the only person you can thank is yourself! And I feel like a lot of kids when they taste that, then they want to come back and they want to have that. It’s almost like a drug. It’s such a satisfaction that they want to taste that again. I think that’s the most important thing. And the way your brain works when you do music is amazing. We don’t have to talk about that because it’s been proven again and again. I think every child, every human being should sing. And everybody sings — in their shower, whatever, — so singing in a choir, it’s just more singing, so why not?

ChoirX: You have multiple roles such as teacher, choir director, board member of Choirs Ontario, and artistic director of Unisong; how do all these roles inform how you approach choral music?

Robert Filion: Oh, it’s such an advantage because I get to work with all kinds of conductors and choirs, and also, thinking as a teacher in a high school, it exposes me to so many different things and so many different styles of teaching, and of conducting, and repertoire. I feel like I used to, you know, go through boxes of music and listen to choirs… now I have so many people around me giving me new music and showing me new music that finding repertoire is probably the most advantageous thing because I get so much repertoire coming my way that it’s easier to pick the repertoire.

ChoirX: Could you please give us your impressions on the choral community in Ottawa as well as in the whole country?

Robert Filion: Ah, wow. In Ottawa there’s a big choral community and I’m always jealous of other cities because they have so many choirs, so many good choirs, and then I get back to Ottawa and I look at what we’re doing and I’m like: yeah, but we have very good choirs here also! Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, all the major cities, and a lot of smaller cities, have amazing choirs. There are more, I think, more and more singers. And I think we’re really healthy, and the more we have them, the more people sing, the more people want to sing; it’s just gonna keep on growing.

ChoirX: On retrouve plus de 70 chœurs communautaires à Ottawa mais très peu de chœurs francophones (il y a le Chœur du Moulin à Rockland, les Chansonniers d’Ottawa à Blackburn Hamlet, et d’autres en Outaouais). Pensez-vous qu’Ottawa centre-ville devrait un jour avoir sa chorale française, et si oui, seriez-vous prêt à être son directeur?

Robert Filion: J’y avais pas pensé à celle-là. Je sais que quand je dirigeais le Chœur classique de l’Outaouais, presque la moitié des membres de la chorale venaient du côté d’Ottawa [pour] chanter dans une chorale francophone. Il y a aussi des anglophones qui sont très bilingues et qui veulent une occasion sociale pour pratiquer leur français; c’est pour ça qu’ils vont chanter là. Et les autres francophones sont tous bilingues donc ils peuvent choisir parmi un grand nombre de chorales.

Si on dit qu’on est une chorale francophone, est-ce que ça veut dire qu’on chante seulement en français? Je ne ferais pas le Messie de Handel en français. Je l’ai déjà vu, c’est affreux. (rires) Donc, une chorale qui fonctionne en français, oui, mais je ne pense pas que je m’enlignerais dans une chorale qui ne chante qu’en français. Aujourd’hui on est dans un contexte choral de musique du monde! On fait toutes sortes de choses, donc devenir exclusif, ce n’est pas vraiment moi, je ne pense pas que je ferais ça.

ChoirX: As artistic director of Unisong, can you talk to us a bit about what we can expect from this festival and its vision in the coming years? It has come a long way since its beginnings in 1998.

Robert Filion: Well, with next year being the 150th anniversary of Canada, we are planning big things together with the [National Arts Centre] (NAC). The NAC will be re-opening on that day so there’s already a lot of interest of choirs who want to come to Unisong that year. And the years after that we’re going to have a brand new NAC so we’re keeping the same kind of format for now but I know that throughout the next year we’ll be exploring what we’re gonna do in 2017 and that very well may impact what we do in the years after.

The conductor for 2017 is going to be Lydia Adams, and I know that Alexander Shelley, the new music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, is going to be there because it’s the 150th anniversary and he wants to be there, so I know it’s going to be a big show but we haven’t started planning that yet.

ChoirX: And what are you most looking forward to at Podium?

Robert Filion: I’ve been working with the Alberta Choral Federation, now Choir Alberta, for 3 years now on different projects — I did the Alberta Youth Choir, and I went there to adjudicate at ChoralFest — and they’re such a good team of people; they’re so enthusiastic and they have many good new ideas, so I’m really excited to go for myself. For the students that are coming with me, I am so excited because they get to hear Elektra Women’s Choir, Kelly Walsh’s Lady Cove Women’s Choir, Conspirare, the concert of the National Youth Choir (and 2 of our former students from De La Salle are in the National Youth Choir); so to get to hear all of that in 5 days, they’re going to come back with so many ideas; it’s just amazing! You can only listen to that many good choirs either at Podium or a CD, so it’s nice to hear them live!

ChoirX: Pouvez-vous nous donner un petit aperçu, un petit teaser, de votre concert à Podium? Que va nous présenter l’Ensemble vocal sénior De La Salle?

Robert Filion: On a quelques surprises dont on ne veut pas parler d’avance mais c’est sûr qu’on va chanter entre autres C’est l’aviron de Donald Patriquin, une pièce de folklore canadien-français très très bien écrite. On fait aussi une première de Kelly-Marie Murphy, une pièce qu’elle a écrite spécialement pour nous, un Alléluia, qui est ben l’fun. On va aussi faire une pièce de William Brown qui s’intitule Quant j’ai ouy le tambourin; c’est assez contemporain, quelqu’un m’a déjà dit : un peu à la Murray Schafer. Bon, ce n’est pas écrit avec des images comme Murray Schafer le fait mais c’est vrai que c’est très contemporain, avec le texte de Charles d’Orléans. Il y a aussi quelques petites surprises qu’on se réserve.

ChoirX: Pour finir, avez-vous quelque chose d’autre à ajouter?

Robert Filion: On vient d’accueillir la chorale Cantilon avec qui on fait un échange puis on va être chez-eux à Edmonton, et on a vraiment hâte de les revoir. Ils sont partis le 3 avril au matin, et là on va les revoir pendant 5 jours, donc on a hâte de travailler avec eux-autres. Moi, j’ai vraiment hâte de retourner à Edmonton et d’aller voir la gang, de rencontrer la gang, puis de partager un peu ce qu’on fait. J’espère inspirer d’autres gens comme je suis inspiré quand je vais à Podium.

Merci Robert Filion pour cette belle entrevue!

The Ensemble vocal sénior De La Salle will present a Spotlight concert along with the Chorale Saint-Jean, this year at Podium, on Thursday, May 19, 2016 at 5:00 p.m. at McDougall United Church. Tickets are $16.75 and can be bought at TIX on the Square.

What’s your ChoirX?

Video: Welcome to Canada Syrian Refugees

#ChoralAvengers — Podium 2016’s Social Media Team

Banner representing the Podium 2016 Social Media Team, and our Twitter handles. Amy Desrosiers @mamydee, Missy Clarkson @mister_sissy, Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin @jpduboisgodin, and Sable Chan @misssable.

It’s recently been announced by The Choir Girl that this Choir X blog and I will be part of the group covering social media for Podium — Canada’s choral conference. I am excited about this opportunity and even secretly had been hoping on such a chance before I even got the invite.

This time around, Podium will be held in the city of Edmonton, Alberta from May 18–22, 2016 and as a member of the media, I will receive special access to concerts, panels, lectures, galas, special events, and parties, and will be livetweeting as much as I can, with hopefully a few blog posts as well. Et peut-être même quelques articles et tweets en Français!

Sidenote: This is a great opportunity for me to get back into blogging and tweeting again. I realize that I’ve been away from WordPress and Twitter for a while, and I’ve missed it, and you, and this is the perfect excuse to get back into it. Maybe now I can even get back to certain things that I’ve had planned for you…

I am happy to be part of a team of social media #choralavengers made up of other social media enthusiasts from the Canadian choral community. Here we are, with short written interviews we’ve had with each other:

Missy Clarkson

Vancouver BC. Twitter: @mister_sissy. Instagram: @mister_sissy

Missy Clarkson

Missy Clarkson is a bisectional soprano who has been breathing choral music since her early days of study in Minneapolis, where she co-founded her first ensemble at age 15. She has lived in Vancouver, BC since 1997, and has sung with many fabulous local ensembles and educators. Her choral ‘home’ has been the Vancouver Cantata Singers (VCS) for the last 10 years, and she co-founded and manages Canada’s most flaming classical choral ensemble, Cor Flammae.

She is a tireless choral advocate over social media, and created the “hit” viral video for VCS, Shit Choristers Say, which propelled her into some strange level of nerd stardom for about 10 minutes.

I chatted with Missy Clarkson:

1. As the co-founder of Vancouver’s Cor Flammae, Canada’s most flaming classical choral ensemble, can you tell us the how and the why this ensemble was formed?

As a queer person who is a major choir nerd I always felt the need to connect with both somewhat disparate communities, however as someone with classical training I found that the existing queer singing ensembles were not quite challenging enough for my liking. We created Cor Flammae to connect these dots and explore unsung queer perspectives in classical choral music. Performing queer content with high-caliber queer musicians creates another level of connection to the stories, and it sounds good too! We want to deepen the understanding of historical and modern queer experiences for everyone. How does a rejection by mainstream society in a conservative genre impact art and career? How can we help queer music lovers and performers to feel welcome, encouraged, and invited to the choral music world, where they rarely see reflections of themselves or their journeys in popular writing and performance? We want to answer these questions through the often marginalized lens of our shared life experiences as queer musicians, and we do so in FULL regalia. Everyone can be their true selves in our rehearsals and concerts – tattoos, wigs, true gender identities, and everything, all while rocking out some serious high art!

2. What is your choral piece? What is your favourite canadian choral piece?

My absolute fave choral piece at the moment *is* Canadian – I am totally obsessed with Kristopher Fulton’s ‘The Twilight Cities’ from his new debut album of the same title. Listening to it is like swimming through a graphic novel – specifically the one on which the work is based (“L’Enfant Penchée” by François Schuiten & Benoît Peeters) — it’s a full, lush, cinematic sound that rumbles and shimmers. I am totally biased, by the way, as Mr. Fulton is a long-time close pal (we met in music school!) and I was lucky enough to be able to sing on his album. Paula Kremer and Vancouver Cantata Singers prepared it in 3 rehearsals and we basically almost died in the process, but it was so worth it. You always hear such different bits when surrounded by your fellow choristers, so hearing all the parts fully mastered in some good headphones pretty much blew my mind. It is such interesting writing — both innovative and accessible!

3. Which social media are most into right now: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or other? 

For me, they all have their specific strengths for specific purposes, but I find myself on Instagram and FB most often. However Twitter is my top choice for events like Podium!

4. Is there some more Sh*t Choristers Say? Ever thought about doing a 2nd video? What are some sayings that you would add to it, if any?

Oh my gosh, since it was released at a time when a 4-minute video could actually go viral (!), it’s really the equivalent of 4 videos these days! But if I did make another video there is no end to the material available!! I would probably do a dress rehearsal specific video…. “Where are we standing? How do we get onstage? Why are we doing it that way why not this weird other way? This acoustic is so dry! Do we bow now? How bout now? Are we currently bowing?? WHERE IS MY FOLDER???”

Video: Sh*t Choristers Say

5. Is there anything you are looking forward to at #Podium2016?

Since this will be my very first Podium I am looking forward to literally EVERYTHING. I’m going to bask in the all sights and sounds and humans and nerdery. I expect some major facemelts from Pro Coro and may need a fainting couch during Conspirare. I am unreasonably excited!

6. What is your favourite Ave Maria?

Ha! I would have to say it’s the Biebl, which VCS performs at the end of every one of our Christmas concerts, surround-sound-styles, and the audience just bawls their adorable eyes out. I was also lucky enough to bawl my own eyes out hearing Chanticleer perform it a few years ago. For some reason I never get sick of singing it! It has a certain magic.

Miss Sable 

Edmonton, AB. Twitter: @misssable; Instagram: @misssable

Miss Sable

Sable is an avid chorister as well as a Speech-Language Pathologist with an interest in Vocology. When she is not working with Voice Therapy clients, publishing choral musings on The Choir Girl blog, or drinking chai lattes, she can often be found watching Netflix and coloring in her Hipster coloring book.

Missy Clarkson chats with Miss Sable

1. What ensembles do you sing with? 

Currently, I’m singing in Pro Coro Canada‘s 2015-16 season and with the Edmonton Opera Chorus and Canadian Chamber Choir if my schedule allows.

2. When and why did you create your blog, “The Choir Girl“?

I began my Choir Girl Blog back in 2009. I have always been an avid fan of online means to share personal perspective. I first began on Livejournal with a personal account but I wanted to transition over to a public one. I knew that if I wanted to have a public blog, I would need a concept that would provide continuous inspiration. A blog focused on choral music and performance was the natural choice in my mind! It has also challenged me to highlight different Composers, Conductors, and Choirs throughout the years and showcase the excellent work they do in addition to my own musings as a chorister.

3. What is the most interesting choral blog subject you’ve ever covered?

One of the topics that I see continuously come up as a highly read post in my archives is on the Culture of Fear in rehearsal. Even though the post is back from 2012, I still get a constant flow of readers and lots of interesting messages and discussions from it. I believe it was even reading material for a University level Choral Methods class so I’m glad it’s a topic that helps to stimulate discussion.

4. What are you most looking forward to about Podium? 

In addition to having a rad roommate in the form of Missy Clarkson at Podium, I’m really looking forward to how social media can be used to cover all the conference events and give people an opportunity to be in multiple places at once just by seeing updates or comments from other sessions or concerts. It’s time for a social media take-over!

5. Which social media media platform do you prefer at the moment?

My preferred social media platform right now is Instagram. I love how it gives me a visual flow of beautiful and informative images and videos. In the evenings, you can definitely find me cradling my smartphone and scrolling through Instagram to see what the world was up to that day.

6. What’s your favourite Ave Maria?  

David McIntyre’s “Ave Maria.” It’s effervescent, ethereal, and lush – what’s not to like? I have great memories performing that work with Belle Canto Women’s Ensemble at the Cork International Choral Festival. It’s always nice to find a treble arrangement of a piece that works so well.

Amy Desrosiers 

Ottawa, ON. Twitter: @Mamydee; Instagram: @amydeechoir

Amy Desrosiers

Ever since she sang Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” at her mother’s wedding at four years old, Cornwall born mezzo-soprano Amy Desrosiers knew music was her calling. Under the direction of vocal coach Laurence Ewashko and Sonya Sweeney, Amy has developed her vocal skills in opera, jazz, and choral singing and completed a Bachelor of Music and minor in Arts Administration in 2011 at the University of Ottawa.

Amy not only adores singing with her choir family, but also loves working behind the scenes as an arts administrator and choir manager for the Capital Chamber Choir. Aside from binge watching Star Wars, she also spends her time singing with the Capital Chamber Choir, Opera Lyra Ottawa Chorus, and jazzing it up with the Jazz Lines Vocal Quartet on the National Arts Centre stage and other fun venues in the Ottawa community.

Her love of social media and writing inspired her to create her blog “Blonde in the Choir” and strives to support fun arts projects and initiatives in the Ottawa choral community.

Miss Sable chats with Amy Desrosiers

1. Why did you decide to create Blonde in the Choir?

I decided to create Blonde in the Choir back in the summer of 2013 because I wanted to give a voice in the Ottawa choral community. It began in the middle of Bizet’s Carmen staging rehearsals and I was truly inspired by what was happening around me. I wanted to extend my joy and passion beyond the rehearsal hall and open it to the world.

I was also compelled to share my experiences in blog posts where my readers could relate to everyday situations as a musician. Overtime, I developed my tone and began to shift my focus on interesting topics and project ideas that I believe will broaden my audience and also allow me to improve my writing style. I am always learning!

2. What were your initial thoughts when you were asked to join the Podium Social Media team?

ESCTATIC! I was already planning on attending Podium because I felt it was time to participate in a conference that embodied my passion for music. The fact that I will be contributing to the Podium social media platform with such a great team is both a privilege and a sign that I should keep this blogging thing going!

3. What do you think is an advantage of social media that more people should be aware of?

A huge advantage with social media is presence. I see so many choirs do very little with updating their social media platforms and it affects their following receiving crucial information on upcoming concerts. It is SO important to take time in your week to get a choir photo or reach out to your following for feedback. Trust me, people notice.

4. Which sessions/concerts are you most looking forward to at Podium?

As for concerts, I am really excited to check out Pro Coro Canada and the Mozart Requiem choral-orchestral concert. I am familiar with Michael Zaugg’s work when he was conducting in Ottawa and look forward to seeing him again in his element with this great group!

Having sung the Mozart Requiem several times, I have never experienced the masterpiece from the audience perspective and I look forward to sitting back and losing myself in the music.

As for sessions, how do I choose!? I love all of them BUT if I had to narrow it down:
-Maestra Matters: Women’s Leadership in Choral Music-Making and Community-Building
-Choral Therapy: How Choir Saved My Life
-Programming For Your Audience

5. What are your current social media addictions?

You will see me glued to my phone over Twitter. I’ve found so many fun blogs and people who share the same interests through Twitter more than any other social media platform. Because I manage four Facebook pages, I have very little time to devote to other platforms aside from the big three: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. My friends are slowly convincing me to get SnapChat.

Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin

Ottawa, ON. Twitter: @jpduboisgodin

Myself, Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin

Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin is a bass/baritone in the local Ottawa choral community. He studied Music, Arts administration, Advertising, and Marketing, in school and currently sings with the Ottawa Choral Society.

Once, Canadian choral composer Stephen Hatfield asked him for help on French lyrics on a new choral composition. This piece is now published at Boosey.

Jean-Pierre is welcoming this opportunity to be on Podium’s Social Media Team as a way to get back into blogging and tweeting about local/national/international choral news (#ChoirX)

Amy Desrosiers chats with Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin 

1. What inspired you to start your blog, ChoirX?

At the time (2011), I had recently gotten Twitter and would love to livetweet my choir rehearsals: music we were rehearsing, funny things choir directors were saying, what was going on behind-the-scenes… I enjoyed tweeting so much that I expanded its microblogging into full-on blogging. To share my eXperience as a chorister.

2. What was your favourite moment while performing on stage?

There are so many, it is so hard to choose. I can think of at least 4 right off the bat. One of the most memorable performances I did was in June 2010 when the Ottawa choirs and the NAC Orchestra were joined by the Orchestre Métropolitain and it choir, from Montreal, to perform Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand with conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, both at the National Arts Centre and the Place des Arts. A double-choir with a double-orchestra, with a “tour” to Montreal. It was a sold-out show and so amazing. Definitely and unforgettable experience.

3. What choral/opera/classical piece do you always have on repeat?

I have many.At least these 4: Stephen Hatfield’s Living in a Holy City, Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, and Eric Whitacre’s i thank you god for most this amazing day.

4. Why is it important for you to connect with other arts administrators and performers through social media?

Choral singing is really an intimate experience that creates relationships with people you wouldn’t normally cross elsewise. Sometimes, it’s like a language of its own. It’s nice to find others on social media who speak the same “language” as your own.

5. What makes you most excited about attending Podium?

I’m just most excited to see and hear all these choral maestros at work: Michael Zaugg, Scott Leithead, Morna Edmundson, Robert Filion… we’re in for a treat!

I invite you to follow each of us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) as well as the Podium 2016 Twitter account and hashtag (#podium2016) from now on to learn more about Podium, Canada’s choral conference, and what goes on. We’ll have interviews, livetweets, etc.

Will you be coming to Podium? There’s still time to register!

What’s your ChoirX?