Higher Ground Women's Ensemble

A North Vancouver-based Women's Choir

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The Nuances of Languages

We are back into our weekly practices for the Higher Ground Ensemble, and this season’s repertoire includes a wide range of pieces. Two of these pieces are written and sung in Spanish.

At Tuesday night’s practice, we were privileged to have Alina Oraca, a renowned choir conductor from Cuba, join us to help us with our pronunciation and intonation for these pieces.

Como Fue is a shorter, rhythmic, two-page piece that has some repeating phrases and a breathtaking solo piece over top of the chorus harmonies. It is a lovely romantic ballad.

The second piece, Para Vivir, is a longer and more melancholy presentation, or as Alina’s interpreter, Juan put it, “sort of like a divorce song.”

Translated into English, the lyrics are filled with sadness and despair of a love unrealized. It has very few repeating words and many places where the choir needs to insert multiple (MULTIPLE!) syllables into short quarter and half-beat notes. Even Alina said, “This has a lot of Spanish in it,” which Juan translated to mean “a lot of complicated Spanish wording.” Whew, that made us feel a bit of relief as we struggled through her intensive direction on wording and feeling, directing us with a passionate drive for improvement (some might say, “perfection”).

Practice Session

As well as working through these selections, we also performed a few of our new season pieces for Alina and a few other guests who joined us that evening. We were relieved when Alina mentioned that she had tried to teach one of the pieces we had just sang for her, to her own choir in Cuba. She told us that they struggled terribly not only with the pronunciation of the English wording, but also with expressing the meaning and feeling of the lyrics. She said they could “mechanically” sing through the piece with the correct wording, but the feeling wasn’t there. So, as they had struggled with not just the translation but also the interpretation of the English score, we too were struggling with the same in the Spanish pieces we are preparing.

At the end of the practice session, I think most of us had a new comfort with the nuances of the language and were at least on track to improve on our delivery of the lyrics.

It was a great honour to have Alina work with us and to continue our refinement of these pieces.

You will be able to hear us perform these pieces, and many more, at our Spring Concert which will be held on Sunday, May 24 at Mulgrave School. This will be a matinee performance and details will be announced soon, so stay tuned for ticket information.

-Pamela Hollington

Pamela sings second soprano and when she’s not singing with the group, is engulfed in card-making and art journaling adventures!

Candies and Chocolate or a Pumpkin Pie…

Higher Ground Women’s Choir delivered its first concert of the year on November 22, at Friday Night Live, a unique weekly, community-focused event hosted by Lynn Valley United Church. The event is billed as a “Kitchen Party” and it was as if the evening was designed around the choir’s seasonal repertoire.

One of the choir’s jazz tunes, Honeysuckle Rose (words by Andy Razaf with music by Thomas “Fats” Waller and arranged by Darmon Meader) has a line that reads, “candies and chocolate or a pumpkin pie, can’t compare when you’re passing by …” And Friday Night Live made that story come alive.

Throughout the foyer and performance space, sweets and chocolates topped the tables in casual sitting areas. And the admission price, though it didn’t include “pumpkin pie,” did include pizza pie! Morning Coffee (music and lyrics by Bill Cantos and arranged by Michele Weir) also came to life with the aroma of coffee that was freshly brewed for the guests.

Credit: Deb Coulthard (A1)

Between sets, Friday Night Live’s host, Joel Grinke, interviewed Higher Ground Choir Director Janet Warren.  During their discussion, another theme emerged as a mutual priority for both Friday Night Live and Higher Ground: community.

Joel described Friday Night Live as a place for people from the community to gather together.  Janet similarly mentioned the importance of developing a sense of community within the choir. She explained that the choir breaks for tea in the middle of each weekly rehearsal, “The chitter-chatter in that room is overwhelming sometimes and it’s a wonderful time for the members to just stand beside someone and find out how their week was.” When else do we slow down long enough to do that?

As for any community, choir members come and go, Janet reflected, “We welcome new members. Every time there is a new person who comes to the choir they bring something totally different, something a little new and add that into the mix and it always makes for a wonderful community.”

Higher Ground originally included men, but eventually became a women’s ensemble. Being a former North Vancouver high school student of Janet’s, Joel asked about the types of pieces that a choir of all women performs. Janet noted that she doesn’t want to only present pieces about women’s issues, “It’s not that I don’t want to acknowledge women’s issues, but I don’t want to do exclusively music about women’s issues.” The music is inclusive and relatable to everyone.

Just as Friday Night Live brings together a community to share treats and enjoy performances, Higher Ground gathers as a community to share treats and perform beautiful music. What more could anyone want from community?

Having performed this first concert of the year, the choir will continue to refine the music performed on at Friday Night Live, as wall as the additional pieces that make up the full concert line up.

Hear Higher Ground perform “Treats Abound” Tuesday, December 10th at 7:30 pm at Highlands United Church in Edgemont Village (North Vancouver).  Tickets are available for $20 online in advance or for $25 at the door.

And join the Friday Night Live community for other local talent … and treats!

Credit: Deb Coulthard (A1)

-Pamela Hollington

Pamela (left) sings second soprano and when she’s not singing with the group, is engulfed in card-making and art journaling adventures!