Reflections on Podium 2022: Canada’s national choral conference

Some random thoughts from a 70-something, “late in life” composer attending his first Podium, Canada’s national choral conference in Toronto:

  • I was a true “sponge,” soaking it all in, heart and spirit open to learn from choirs, fellow composers, choral directors and music educators from all parts of Canada. And learn I did.
  • After 2 years of the pandemic, the pent-up choral energy in the room was palpable. Canadian choral music is indeed alive and bursting out in song!
  • And wow, I thought I had written some “not too bad” songs myself, but my mind exploded when I heard such a diverse mix of so many beautiful choral works by dozens of great Canadian composers over the course of 5 wonderful days, wow!
  • Masks on, choirs still managed to break through that tough barrier and carry forward the aural beauty and intense emotions that only live choral singing can bring to audiences.
  • And yet, one of the unforeseen byproducts of the pandemic is that so many choral lovers could attend this Podium virtually, from afar. And that made the conference even richer and more accessible to those without the means to easily travel.
  • Podium 2022 was a logistical achievement of the highest order. Kudos to Choral Canada, Choirs Ontario, the Podium committee, the many dozens of presenters and panelists, and the Podium volunteers who were there to answer all our questions.
  • Kudos to fellow composers Katerina Gimon, Marie-Claire Saindon, Tracy Wong, and Laura Hawley for organizing a special “Meet The Composer” booth for the more than 30 composers (like me) who benefited from this chance to interact directly with Podium participants!
  • Amongst many highlights, Podium offered the chance to explore a subject that is close to my heart: how can people of different cultures find ways of overcoming their differences, to interact with mutual respect and understanding?
  • On that note, I greatly appreciated the diverse 51-song Cameo Concert playlist that Podium assembled. I was honoured to have my Hymn to Biodiversity included (it was International Biodiversity Day on May 22!), but the song that really caught my spirit was Hussein Janmohamed’s “Eid Mubarak! Grateful Heart.” Worth listening to over and over again!
  • Antonio Llaca from Carleton University gave us a fascinating exploration of the historical, cultural melting pot that makes up Cuban choral music. Music that has both European and African roots and which in turn has had a huge influence back in Europe, Africa and throughout the Americas.
  • I was blessed to have attended the session on “Snewíyalh tl’a Staḵw (Teachings of the Water)”, a collaborative project with First Nations, led by Morna Edmundson, Jeanette Gallant, T Patrick Carrabre, and via video Rebecca Duncan. Be sure to mark June 9, 2022 (7pm PT) on your calendars, when Elektra Women’s Choir will premiere the 3 videos that capture this amazing 3 and a half year project on their Youtube channel. Not to be missed!
  • Instead of Keynote speeches, Podium organized 3 “Critical Conversations,” where panels discussed themes such as expanding the choral canon, making diversity work within the choral world, and a particularly engaging and emotional session where we heard directly from indigenous voices on their experiences in Canada.
  • What barriers or obstacles have existed within the choral world in Canada? How has race, religion, gender, orientation played a role? So much choral music is sung in acoustically magnificent churches and cathedrals. And yet, these physical religious structures may present an obstacle for indigenous performers and audiences, or those from other religious backgrounds. What can be done? Can these concert venues be made safe spaces for many who might be hesitant to attend? Or is there the need to expand choral concert venue possibilities? Could there be an opportunity here for reconciliation, through cross-cultural collaboration and partnerships? We need above all to listen to our indigenous colleagues, and others who have been marginalized, and allow their voices to help guide us on the way forward.
  • Podium 2022 presented so many great concerts, but the one that stood out for me was “Captive,” put on by Winnipeg group Dead of Winter. Curated and narrated by Cree composer Andrew Balfour, this was the third in a series of Truth and Reconciliation concerts. The concert’s emotionally intense title piece drew inspiration from the life of Chief Poundmaker, who tragically died while incarcerated in Stony Mountain Prison. It was hard to walk away from this concert and not think of the many unresolved injustices that we settlers have inflicted on First Nations. I do hope this piece and this concert get many more performances across Canada, that might stir the hearts of many of us to seek our own pathways to reconciliation.

I hear that Podium 2024 will be held in Montreal. It will be interesting to see what lessons the choral world will have drawn from Podium 2022. Whether or not our choral landscape has grown more diverse and accessible to many more who may feel left out at the current juncture.

Thank you Podium 2022, merci beaucoup, meegwetch, ahsante sana!

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