Symposium 2015: Emerging Conductors Join the TMC Community

The middle of winter, after the holiday season, traditionally affords few opportunities for joy or mirth. In the world of choral music, it’s often a fallow time: exhausted from the relentless good cheer of the holiday concert season, many secular choirs will not see another performance until the spring. So the final week of January is the perfect time to invite five emerging conductors to wintry Toronto for an intensive week of workshops and rehearsals culminating with a free community concert.

This year marked the fifth annual Choral Conductors’ Symposium. Participants came from all over North America, from Toronto to Wyoming, and worked closely with Noel, the Elora Festival Singers, and the TMC. Conductors arrived with a variety of backgrounds and learning goals.

The Symposium is a project dear to the heart of Noel Edison, TMC Artistic Director. It’s rare, he says, for emerging conductors to have the opportunity to work with choruses of this calibre, and it’s nice to come together for intense weeks. Noel’s hope, he says, is to instill in the Symposium participants a new dream of where excellence can lie.

The fundamental points that Noel emphasizes are the intensity of the work, the demands of the scores, the professionalism of the ensembles, a sense of sharing with others and of benefiting from the experience of a master clinician. There is no note-teaching at a Symposium rehearsal: he chooses repertoire from the TMC library that choristers may have encountered before or can sight-read during the week of rehearsals.

Susan Farrell, of Edmonton Alberta, brought an impressive resume and unique background: among her many conducting engagements, Susan, is the Artistic Director of the Braille Tones and Semitones choirs which serve adults and children with special needs in Edmonton.

Christopher Dent, of Grove City, Ohio recently completed two years as Interim Director of Music at Broad Street Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio, and was conductor of the University Chorus at the Ohio State University—Marion campus. With a background in trumpet, Christopher received his Master’s in Choral Conducting from Ohio State University. He arrived with some pretty specific goals, in addition to a desire to work with the choirs and Noel:

Knowing the artistic reputation of the TMC and Elora Festival Singers and more specifically, Noel, I felt that this would be a symposium that I would be able to learn much from the artistic leadership. I hoped to learn some gestural techniques from my student colleagues that could be used in my own rehearsals. I also hoped to learn how Noel approached his score study/preparation.

John Wiens, who specializes in polychoral chamber music in Montreal, Quebec, had some more general goals:

I knew Noel as an artist from his many recordings and online videos of the TMC live, which were really impressive. My experience is that conductors all have their own take on what works so I came looking to learn whatever he felt I needed to know at the moment.

Conductors all arrive with different backgrounds and goals, so the feedback they receive during rehearsal differs from conductor to conductor. One conductor may be asked to conduct with no hands, to get their conducting into the body. Another may be asked pointed questions about tempo or interpretation. Adam Kluck, of Riverton, Wyoming, found his tie and glasses being removed to help him relax, while Susan Farrell’s stance came under scrutiny.

In addition to benefiting from Noel’s insight, Symposium participants discuss choral management with Cynthia Hawkins, TMC’s Executive Director and vocal pedagogy with Caron Daley, TMC Associate Conductor. Evenings are taken up with rehearsals.

Conductors leave the Symposium tired, and with some things to think about. John Wiens identifies a sense of “satisfaction,” that he had learned something and could continue working on the skills he acquired. Christopher Dent identifies “a wider repertoire (both compositions and gesture)” as something he gained: he’ll take some new works back to his choirs.

The end result of the week is not just the Community Concert, free to audience members and webcast on the TMC’s Livestream channel, but more significantly an appreciable development in the conductors’ skills during the week, along with feedback and experience they can take back to their own choirs and incorporate into their conducting practice, and a growing community of choral conductors with direct experience of the excellence that lies at the core of the TMC’s mission.

Symposium 2015