Spring time is in full swing here in Winnipeg, and with the arrival of spring various arts groups are winding down their seasons and are also entering fundraising event season. Last weekend I attended Theatre by the River’s, Wine and Words, thanks to a ticket from Mel Marginet TBTR’s artistic director. Then, last night I was out at Tasting Notes, the annual dessert concert fundraiser for Prairie Voices.
Before I get into last night’s concert I want to mention to upcoming events. Next Friday and Saturday, Horizon, the other choir in the choir in the Prairie Voices family, will be holding their fundraiser, Lyrics and Lager. I went last year and it was a lot of fun.
Then, on Saturday, afternoon June 9th, at 3:30 pm, both choirs will be presenting Summersing, a free choral event being held at Coronation Park.
Prairie Voices is an award winning choir for singers between the ages of 18-25(though in typically modest, Winnipeg fashion, none of those awards are listed on their website). The choir was founded in 2000 by Elroy Friesen, who is currently the director of choral music studies at the University of Manitoba. There have been several conductors since then, with the group’s current conductor being Geung Kroeker-Lee.
I’ve known Elroy for years, attended the inaugural Prairie Voices concert and have continued to attend their concerts off and on ever since. I run into Geung every so often at Fools & Horses, my coffee hangout, where his partner Lauren is one of the owners. In the past couple of years I’ve also had another connection to the choir, as St. Philip’s, the parish where I serve as priest, has been used by both Prairie Voices and their alumni choir, Horizon, as a rehearsal space, when they need somewhere to practice, on short notice.
When I saw that the dessert concert was coming up, I decided to get in touch and get a ticket put aside for the event. I had only been to this particular event once before, several years back, but remember it as an enjoyable evening. Plus the concert combined two things I like an awful lot, food and choral music.
The concert was held at Marantha Evangelical Free Church, in their multi-purpose worship/social space, which with a large stage, high ceilings and good lighting makes for a great concert/dessert venue. The concert has been held here for many years
One thing about a Prairie Voice concert is that it will always be interesting, and you’ll likely be introduced to something knew. That comes from the choir’s mandate, which from the beginning has been to focus on contemporary choral music, with a special emphasis on Canadian/Manitoban composers, along with the best of choral music from around the world.
The concert was build around a love story. With elements of flirtation, infatuation, lust, heartbreak, fracture and healing. These were the “Tasting Notes,” referred to in the concerts title. The concert opened with an energetic piece called Tchaka, named for a traditional Haitian dish. The next piece was called Hentakan Jiwa, which is based on Malay choral and dance traditions, with the choreography created by Alexandra Garrido.
I’m not going to go through each of the pieces, but of note were pieces at the end of first half of the concert. Two of these pieces, about breakups/breakdowns, were created by Winnipeg composer/arranger Dan Wiebe, who also conducted the pieces. Wiebe spends the bulk of his week working in the insurance business, but increasingly is finding time to write and arrange for choirs. If last night is any example I look forward to hearing much more of his work in the future.
Then the final piece in the first half, was out of my head by local artist Begonia. I’ve only heard a little bit of her music, but listening to this piece it’s easy to see why she has taken Winnipeg and the broader music scene by storm. The song is thoughtful, with lyrics that you want to go back over time and time again.
In addition to Kroeker-Lee, and Wiebe, the choir was also conducted by assistant conductor Katy Harmer. Throughout, no matter who the conductor, the choir maintains a high standard of singing with tight harmonies, enthusiastic performance, and an ability to reach out an embrace a repertoire that is often quite challenging to the voice.
Special guest musician Maddy Hildebrand added a deft touch on Double-bass. Choir pianist Ben Sellick provided solid accompaniment along with an array of dazzling, and correct, starting notes for the a capella pieces.
The intermission also marked the time for the desserts to be served. While we didn’t get any sweets until the halfway point of the concert, members of the choir were going around before the concert started offering coffee, tea, and water to the people in attendance.
In addition to choir members serving beverages, many of the desserts on offer during the evening were made by the choir members. Judging on the two I tried, and the several I photographed, they did a very fine job on the dessert end of things as well.
When it came to time the desserts, table numbers were randomly called and people went into the lobby to make their selection. There were about 25 tables set up, and I was starting to get a little worried as the table I was sitting at was among the last to be called. Fortunately, there were still lots of desserts to choose from. I chose a slice of the Raspberilla cake. This was a nice, light vanilla cake, with raspberry filling and raspberry topping mixed into the icing. It was quite delicious.
I was only about halfway through my slice of Rasperilla cake when an announcement was made that there was plenty of cake left and we should feel free to go up for seconds. So, I quickly polished off the slice I was eating and headed back out to the lobby. This time I went over to the specialty cake table, where there was a variety of gluten-free, vegan, and other such cakes on offer.
I figured if I was going to try try something specialty, I’d go all-in and so wound up with a vegan, gluten-free, and sugar-free slice of chocolate cake. It was much better than I expected. The only let down is that being vegan, the chocolate aspect was a little lacking. Still it was a very enjoyable piece of cake.
After the pleasant dessert break, the concert resumed. The highlight of the second half was Boundless, by Canadian composer Katerina Gimon. This piece feature the women of the choir offering a performance that showcased a wide range of vocal technique, along with physical percussive effects.
The concert ended with an encore inviting the concert-goers into a state of rest and sleep.