Interview by Bruce J. G. Kotowich
Dr. Timothy Shantz is the artistic director of Spiritus Chamber Choir, founding director of Luminous Voices, and Chorus Master of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. He maintains an active career as both conductor and soloist. Shantz holds a Doctor of Music degree in Choral Conducting from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music with a dissertation analyzing the unaccompanied choral work Sun-Dogs by composer James MacMillan.
The Spiritus Chamber Choir of Calgary is the recipient of the 2017 Healey Willan Award in the National Competition for Canadian Amateur Choirs. This is their second time to receive this recognition, the first time being in 2013. They were awarded first place in two categories: Category 6 Adult Mixed-Voice Community Choirs, and Category 11 Contemporary Music. Spiritus Chamber Choir was also awarded the SOCAN Canada 150 prize.
Founded in 1995 by David Wilson, Spiritus Chamber Choir has been under the direction of Timothy Shantz since 2008. “Spiritus has been recognized both nationally and internationally for its high-quality performances, musicianship and unique collaborations. Spiritus is committed to excellence in choral music, performing for music lovers in Calgary and surrounding areas.” (spirituschamberchoir.ca)
Their artistic director, Timothy Shantz, maintains a wide range of repertoire programing. Not only does the choir study and perform standard choral works but Spiritus has commissioned works by Canadian composers Allan Bevan, Georgina Craig, Quenten Doolittle, Jeff Enns, George Fenwick and Zachary Wadsworth. They are active in the musical life of Calgary and have collaborated with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Calgary Opera, New Works Calgary, Old Trout Puppet Workshop and Early Music Voices/VoiceScapes. In addition to this collaboration, Spiritus has produced five recordings.
Timothy Shantz is a respected conductor, collaborator, and tenor soloist. He is also the Chorus Master of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, and founding director of Luminous Voices. Shantz is the 2017 director of the National Youth Choir of Canada. As a collaborator, he has worked with conductors Christoph Koenig, Matthew Halls, Paul Hillier, James MacMillan, Nicholas McGegan, Roberto Minczuk, John Morris Russell, Yoav Talmi, Jean-Marie Zeitouni and more. Shantz holds a Doctor of Music degree in Choral Conducting from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music with a dissertation analyzing the unaccompanied choral work “Sun-Dogs” by composer James MacMillan.
In a resent interview Timothy Shantz shared some of his ideas and reactions to the process of participating in the 2017 NCCAC.
BK: What was your initial reaction when you received the news of Spirtus’ success in the 2017 NCCAC?
TS: What an honour! On behalf of Spiritus Chamber Choir and our Board of Directors, I want to thank Choral Canada, the CBC and the Canada Council for the Arts for carrying on the tradition of the National Competition for Canadian Amateur Choirs. It is always an incredible experience to hear choirs from across the country as part of this event. I have learned so much through the years from listening to choirs in this competition. I have grown as a conductor and musician, and I know that the singers in Spiritus and other choirs continue to grow by sharing our music with one another. It is a great way to celebrate one of the most practiced and participatory art forms in the country and the contribution of amateurism to our community culture. I also want to congratulate all of the choirs and conductors across the country on their individual awards and accolades. This is an amazing community to be part of and to represent through this award.
BK: What factors affect repertoire selection for your ensemble?
TS: I enjoy thinking about repertoire options over time. Some of the works we have performed in the past 4 years and others are new this season. There are some works that resonate with us as an ensemble but also with our audience. They are added to a list so that I can recall them when it is time to plan them into the season and into this competition.
I enjoy exploring a variety of styles and eras in the selections from well-known classics of the choral canon to pieces that are less familiar. It is asked of us as applicants to try to explore a wide variety. I think that is one of the strengths of the competition and forces us as conductors to work a bit outside of our comfort zone. I have to admit that I had a difficult time deciding on Palestrina because it is difficult to really represent the style with such a large ensemble of nearly 40 singers. But, I also think that the “classics” need to be performed and heard. Also, I believe that the skill and enjoyment of singing polyphony needs to be continually nurtured in our communities. It may not be proper period performance practice to perform with such a large ensemble but the great music will always resonate, often despite us.
The NCCAC also allows us to share repertoire and composers with one another. I think we learn a lot about the Canadian choral scene by sharing our music with one another and we can make new discoveries. I enjoyed the opportunity to share music by two exceptional Canadian composers whose works fall slightly outside of the familiar or common. I have had the opportunity to work with both and am inspired by their musical talents and experience.
BK: How does the NCCAC benefit our choral community in Canada?
TS: I can remember being drawn to the NCCAC as a young choral musician and singer because I was able to learn about the choral scene in the country. I enjoy hearing the regional styles as well as the individual character of each ensemble and conductor. We learn from one another and are able to share music with the country.
Recording for the competition has also been an incredible learning experience for me as a conductor. I think that we need to take the opportunity to listen to our own work, detached from the energy and enthusiasm of performance. We need to “face the music” and constantly come to terms with our own strengths and inadequacies. That process has been invaluable for myself and for the choirs that I work with. I know that Spiritus has grown from these experiences.
BK: How did you plan for this competition? How did it benefit your ensemble?
TZ: I set aside a couple of regular rehearsal evenings in the winter to perform and record the music. I also made sure that almost all of the music was programmed into our season. There were three pieces that we were revisiting from years past and then another three that we learned for performance this season. Our ensemble always has some changes in personnel so there were many singers who had never performed most of the music that we submitted. The discipline of recording is great for any ensemble and I encourage them to listen to what we have done. Everyone can learn from that process. There are some occasions when a live performance recording is the only option or the best option even with the sounds of the audience. This year we had the great pleasure of spending time with two composers in preparation for our March concert. Jeffrey Ryan’s presence in the final days of rehearsal heightened our performance of his Valediction. That relationship, when given time, adds so much to our performances.
BK: What are the choristers’ reactions to working on this project? How did it change them and how did it change you?
TS: I think the process of recording a live take is great for the singers. We become better performers. We need to know how to stay in the moment, communicate musically and try to leave the mistakes in the past. That’s not to say that we don’t try to improve. It is great to involve the ensemble in that process and allow each singer to feel like they are able to contribute to the success of the final performance. The new members of the ensemble also learn about the fine details. Our singing and listening skills improve immensely.
BK: What else does this experience give to you?
TS: I am consistently inspired by the time, energy, enthusiasm and dedication that singers and board members contribute to our organizations. Many sacrifices are made. We are all pulled in many different directions through our commitments to family, work, sports, social time and other hobbies and passions, yet we all carve out the time to sing and make music together. Thank you, Spiritus for your friendship, but also for your commitment to the music and to one another and for your willingness to always strive for excellence.
I know with my whole heart that singing binds us together. It is a powerful community builder and I hope that this competition also serves as a platform to showcase the voices, stories and music of the entire country. I hope that it continues to represent our diverse choral community and also inspire and challenge all of us to explore new areas in our music-making and community building."
By Gabrielle Gaudreault
Having come to choral singing quite late in life, it never occurred to me to audition for the National Youth Choir. Joining this ensemble as the apprentice conductor this past summer was not only my first experience with this particular choir program, but also my first ever choir tour. Going on tour, between the countless hours on a bus, changing beds every night, singing in a new space every day, and not knowing what you’ll get to eat, can bring out the best and the worst in people. In the case of a group like the NYC, and probably most choirs, it brings out the best. Choral singing, apart from the beautiful music and meaningful texts, is about community. It’s about working together and pooling our talents to create something greater than ourselves or our own personal abilities. It’s about building a team, a family, and establishing trust in each other.
On top of building friendships with singers from across the country, I was lucky to be working alongside a kind and open-minded conductor, Jeff Joudrey, who became both a dear friend and mentor to me. We had the privilege of collaborating with one of Newfoundland’s finest pianists, and all around awesome person and musician, Phil Roberts. Together, the three of us laughed our way through every meal, had long conversations about the music and the meaning of everything we do as musicians and conductors, learned how to carefully tune a random assortment of wine glasses, and learned each other’s strengths and quirks to form a strong musical team.
The two intensive weeks of rehearsing and touring with the NYC allowed me to grow as a musician, collaborator and conductor in so many ways. From a practical perspective, I learned about the careful pacing of rehearsal plans when faced with a short and intense period of rehearsal time. It is an intricate balance of vocal capacity, mental focus, physical energy, and mood changes provided by the variety of repertoire. It is also a unique experience to try and create a unified and healthy choral sound with so many brilliant voices in such little time, all the while sticking to a rigid plan for learning all the repertoire, and simultaneously build musicianship and ensemble skills that will last and benefit everyone as they leave the NYC program. I am grateful to Jeff for giving me ample podium time during the rehearsal process. Getting to conduct and rehearse a large portion of the varied repertoire allowed me to both discover and hone in on my strengths as a conductor, as well as work through some of my weaknesses.
In addition to the amazing musical experience, travelling across Newfoundland, getting to know the people in each town who hosted us so generously, discovering each unique area of the province, and singing in many different venues are just some of the factors that made the NYC program absolutely unforgettable. The choir even had the chance to workshop and perform with a couple youth choirs during our tour, which was as enjoyable and fulfilling an opportunity for us as for them.
The adventures of unpredictable weather (snow in late June!), random escapades to shopping malls and bouncy gyms to avoid said weather, and getting properly Screeched-in in Carbonear only added to the excitement of the journey. Our fabulous tour manager, Kristian Butt, ensured that we came away with the most authentic and memorable Newfoundland experience possible!
My time as the apprentice conductor of the National Youth Choir was exhilarating, inspiring and completely overwhelming in the best possible way. I was honoured to perform with such an incredible group of singers, and for an audience full of the nation’s most accomplished musicians and conductors. The Sir Ernest MacMillan Foundation provides this incredible opportunity for a young conductor to not only spend two wonderful weeks doing what we love with people who love it just as much, but also to connect with past and future colleagues from across the nation and world.
~ Gabrielle Gaudreault
By Rhian Merritt
Read the original blog post here: www.kindkrafts.com/blog/nyc-on-the-rock
For three weeks this summer, I was away in Newfoundland touring with the National Youth Choir! I had an amazing trip (minus the snow in Gander) and I am sad to leave all of the music and new friends on "The Rock".
Firstly, I want to say how thankful I am to be able to participate in the National Youth Choir. This was my third year representing Nova Scotia and I'm always amazed at how each year is as good as the last. I thoroughly enjoyed working with my fellow choristers from across Canada as well as Jeff Joudrey, Gabrielle Gaudreault, and Phil Roberts. It is such an honour to be able to work with these talented musicians and to tour beautiful provinces for the purpose of sharing music.
The trip started in St. John's where we stayed at MUN for our rehearsal week. The conductor, Jeff Joudrey, jumped right into the music and everyone was so enthusiastic about our repertoire. One of my favourite things is having a first rehearsal with a new choir. Everyone learns their music at home and so you never know what to expect when the whole group finally comes together. After finishing the rehearsal, we all knew that this was going to be a fun year. Over the next week we polished all of the twenty pieces and then set out for our upcoming tour.
The choir then travelled to Cornerbrook, Stephenville, Gander, Clarenville, Carbonear and finally St. John's. At each new location we met tons of new people and were able to explore the area. I'm so thankful for the enthusiastic audience in Cornerbrook, the INCREDIBLE dinner in Stephenville, my super awesome billets in Gander, being able to see my friend from Acadia in Clarenville, and the unreal hospitality shown to the choir in Carbonear. Our wonderful tour manager, Kristian, and her family gave us the true Newfoundland experience as all forty-five of us swarmed their home for dinner and a party. We also got screeched in, where community members watched us kiss the cod and dance a good Newfoundland jig. The choir couldn't be more grateful for what Kristian, Astro, and her family did for us during the tour – we LOVE you!!!
Throughout the week, there were a few events involving community outreach which really stuck with me. In Cornerbrook, Gander, and Carbonear we were able to meet with the local choirs and work on one of our pieces with them. It was so much fun to watch how excited they were to be able to sing with us. It made me remember how inspiring it used to be for me to sing alongside my older peers when I was in junior choirs. I don't think we realize how influential small moments like that can be and so it was really awesome to be able to have that experience.
When we were in St. John's we had a mental health workshop with Dr. Jan Buley. At first the choir was barely awake and probably not in the best shape, but we quickly snapped out of it as Jan got to work. We did an emotional exercise which definitely brought the choir closer. It was so important for us to have this workshop and to have that time to be with each other in a non-musical setting. Later on that day, we met with the Stella's Circle Inclusion Choir and listened to them sing an original song for us. The Inclusion Choir is based in St. John's and most of the members have experienced homelessness or have gone through a period of struggle. Stella's Circle is a local organization that provide services to adults who face barriers that prevent them from fully participating in their community. These barriers include mental health challenges, addictions, trauma, poverty, homelessness, criminal justice involvement, low literacy, and long periods of unemployment. The organization has several ways for people to be involved including the choir. It was beautiful to hear the song they wrote and to have the opportunity to meet such lovely people. Visit http://stellascircle.ca/ to learn more about the organization and all of the ways they are helping their community.
Finally, we reached Podium (Canada's national choral conference and festival which is co-presented by Choral Canada and a provincial host every two years) and a snazzy new hotel in St. John's. On Sunday we had our final concert in the gorgeous basilica – the acoustics were out of this world!! It was bittersweet performing our final piece but we still had two workshops to go! The next day we were fortunate enough to be able to work with composer Ēriks Ešenvalds and sing two of his pieces, "Stars" and "Only in Sleep". What amazed me the most about this particular workshop, was how Ešenvalds got us to think. Instead of simply stating how he wanted us to sound (warmer tone, less vibrato, more open, etc.) he would make us discover it for ourselves by telling us to sound like "winter". It was so cool to see how effective that terminology was compared to telling us what he wanted more directly. He was a very lovely man and I'm so thankful to have been able to work with him.
I loved exploring the city and meeting so many locals who were always up for a chat. I got to catch up with a friend I hadn't seen in years and talking with him made me so happy – thanks Tristan! I am now obsessed with the city's Jellybean Row Houses and have decided I will have a brightly coloured house when I'm older. It's a beautiful place and I wish that I had been able to see more of it during my stay. Now that I've been to Newfoundland I can't wait to go back!
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