Before venturing out during a snow squall warning to attend London Composers Exposed- I had a bout of nostalgia. I dusted off the 2005 report of the Creative Cities Committee - remember that group of worthies gathered by Gord Hume to examine the status of London as a “Creative City”- and to make recommendation on how to get there? If last night in London was a benchmark- I’m going to say We Are There!
London has an embarrassment in riches of fine choirs- but the Karen Schuessler Singers’ concert last night was a notch-kicker. “Creativity” was the theme of the evening and the KSS team revealed it in so many ways. On each program was a blank sticky note- and patrons were encouraged to write their own definitions (and achievements) for creativity- popping them later on big poster board sheets around the concert space. Conductor Karen Schuessler welcomed patrons by asking for a show of hands that included everyone in the audience- who expressed their creativity in Visual Arts? Music? The written word? Gardening? Parenting….?
But honour of place was given to the ten composers of the choral pieces the KSS performed. Almost all were in attendance – and contributed even more than their compositions. The KSS team had taped interviews with each composer, and then artfully created audio clips that introduced each piece with relaxed, entertaining- often funny- explanations of its genesis. Kudos to the folks who put that together- and made sure that it actually worked throughout the concert. A loop of these interviews also played before the concert started- but those words were lost in the happy chatter of the assembling audience.
“Classy” is another word that sticks to last night’s concert. There are no reserved seats in the beautiful concert spaces of London’s churches- but the KSS crew indicated choice areas that are for season subscribers. Best of all, the front rows were reserved for “our composers and guests” where they could be seen, admired, and applauded. Most moving was the spontaneous rising by most of the composers, the old and the young, to applaud the choir before realizing that they were the targets of the audience’s appreciation. And as a devotee of post-concert receptions, let me commend the two urns of decaf, the plate-sized cookies- and, seriously, the welcome and untiring thank-you’s for attending from choir members and composers alike.
“Culture”, you ask? - what about the actual music? With fifteen varied, beautiful selections on the program, the audience was delighted, entertained- and deeply moved. If you were there- you were stirred by Bert Van der Hoek’s hymns. You were not surprised that young Matthew Emery’s sweet, richly voiced love songs have been sung in seven countries at one time. You laughed uproariously at Don Cook's “The Landfall of Cabot”- a piece written for Maritimers who loved to sing but had no musical training! You listened breathless to KSS mezzo-soprano Gillian Laidlaw perform Brian Ratcliffe’s “Deep River”. And you were reassured that some of London’s long-burnished treasures- Denise Pelley, Steve Holowitz – are still in London, in good form, and generous with their gifts.
The KSS mission to “enrich lives through choral excellence and community engagement” is not an empty phrase wrought through compromise over a late-night board meeting. The singers and their director, Karen Schuessler, LIVE that mission in every season. To experience it – set aside one of the dates -May 28th or 29th- for their final thematic gala-ABBA: Dancing Queen. Will the “Community” be engaged enough to sing along? – just try to stop us!!!
Daina Janitis is a Londoner by choice, living in a woodlot just across the city limits, reveling in retirement by volunteering for many of the music groups of the city. She taught English for 33 years in area high schools, planned school travel through Pauwels, managed the London Youth Symphony, and was the last president of the Volunteer Committee of Orchestra London. She continues to be delighted by the unique bounty of creative arts available to Londoners.