From the Podium: A Who’s Who of the TMC Choral Conductors’ Symposium

Brian Chang, The Wholenote

Twenty years ago, Noel Edison took the reins of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (in which I sing). Even then he knew it as “one of Canada’s great cultural institutions.” Predating every other major symphony orchestra and major arts organization in Canada, the choir has operated continuously since 1894 – and since 2010, it has hosted one of the preeminent training symposiums for emerging conductors in North America. This year, five candidates will workshop with Edison, associate conductor Jennifer Min-Young Lee, the Elora Festival Singers, and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir over a one-week intensive. The week culminates in a free concert on Saturday, January 28, 3pm at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church in Toronto.

I got in touch with this year’s participants, to talk early influences, choral philosophies and personal musical goals.

Lawrence Abernathy, from College Station, Texas, says, “once or twice a year I like to remind my choirs that one of the most beautiful things about choral music is the anonymity of it all… for a few hours a week your voice is just as important as everyone else around you. You get to be yourself and part of a larger organism at the same time. I believe that the best choirs are those whose members are focused not on themselves, but the collective whole around them.” It is a humble reminder and one that bears often repetition.

“One of the great things about being in sacred music,” Abernathy says, “[is that] our inherent mission is social change. I personally take a lot of care in making sure that the ensembles I conduct are open to anyone regardless of race, creed, or any other perceived barriers.”

Abernathy is director of music ministry at A&M United Methodist Church, right across the street from one of the largest universities in the US. At a whopping 60,000 students, unfortunately, Texas A&M University does not have a degree music program. In the middle of a geographic triangle anchored by Austin, Dallas/Forth Worth and Houston, Abernathy notes that “any music-making I do outside of my job includes a 3-hour minimum round trip commute.” It’s a reminder that local choristers, conductors, audiences and musicians are very lucky to live in the robust arts world of southern Ontario.

Read about all five conductors in the full article on The Wholnote.