Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Robin Williams is preparing to rock it on Saturday night. As the music director of newchoir, Toronto’s first rock choir, he is deep into the final rehearsals for the organization’s annual concert at Koerner Hall. If rock and choir seem incongruous, then newchoir has shifted many a perception. An audition adult choir, newchoir has carved out their own niche through their collaborations with established Canadian artists, always performing with a live band, and exploring a unique theme at every concert. This year’s is “In Stereo”, featuring songs that rock the harmonies. The program includes music from Bedouin Soundclash, The Eagles, Blue Rodeo, a lot of Queen and “We Rise Again” by The Rankin Family. This year’s special guest is the Juno Award-winning Hamilton-based folk-rock/alt-country trio Elliott BROOD.
Since its inception in 2005, newchoir has gained a reputation for the ingenuity of their SATB arrangements, which showcase the singers’ vocal prowess and interpret pop, rock and folk melodies through intricate and surprising choral expression. Much of newchoir’s cohesion and well, harmony, is due to Williams, who has been the music director for the last 3 years. A classical artist by training, he brings his genre-spanning love of music to newchoir’s expansive repertoire, vocal artistry and camaraderie. We caught up with Williams to chat about “In Stereo”, collaborating with Elliott BROOD and redefining choral music with the choir that rocks.
SesayArts: Given your educational training – a master’s degree in sacred music, and a doctorate in musicology from the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome – how did you come to direct a rock choir?
RW: Fascinating! Music has a similar effect on people regardless of the genre; it moves people and breathes life into their bodies! A rock choir is a very unique concept, and I’ve really enjoyed bringing this genre of music to the choral scene.
SesayArts: I know that this year’s concert is called “In Stereo” and that the choir will be performing with Elliott BROOD. Why Elliot BROOD? And what program selections are you particularly excited about?
newchoir‘s committed to supporting the Canadian music scene. Elliott BROOD’s music complements the repertoire we chose for this concert. They bring a very unusual spin to the show. I love Owen Sound, and I love the way the choir has wrapped themselves around this piece. This made it their own!
SesayArts: Considering the extent of your training and the depth of your knowledge of classical music, what has surprised you most about your time with newchoir and how has it affected your own musical preferences? (Or has it?)
RW: I’ve been a musician my whole life and like any truly passionate musician, I’ve loved the challenge of conquering new repertoire and bringing rock songs to a choral setting. Rock wasn’t my first choice of music, but I’ve gained a whole new respect for this genre of music. My playlist has evolved to include a wide range of rock thrown into my classical mix.
SesayArts: Since the concert is next week, I will limit myself to these questions but leave the final word to you. What would you like to add that I haven’t asked?
RW: Bringing people together to make really good music is extremely fulfilling for me, and working with newchoir has been especially rewarding. I’m delighted with the performance level that newchoir has achieved this season. The members are producing a quality of sound that I’m very proud of and look forward to presenting them on stage at Koerner Hall.
News You Can Use
What: “In Stereo”, conducted by Dr Robin Williams; performed by newchoir, with special guest Elliott BROOD
Who: Audiences of all ages
When: Saturday, May 25, 2019, 8:00 PM
Where: Koerner Hall, 273 Bloor Street W, Toronto, ON
Info and Tickets: newchoir.ca
© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019