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."
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