Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Low, and From the Heart

How to best describe the heart of an adolescent girl? Strong, yet brittle; passionate, despite often being unfocused; possessing a nearly infinite capacity for both compassion and the possibility of being wounded. Like an egg, perhaps, or a diamond prior to being cut; potential and tragedy vying for dominance.


Cantilon Chamber Choir is preparing for their European tour, which departs Edmonton tomorrow and culminates in a competition in Hungary. Their director has been pushing them relentlessly towards the potential she knows they are capable of, with 3 eight-hour rehearsals in the past four days (and a half-day in between, for good measure).


On the way to her concert last night, Fenya was talking about the emotional component of the music they perform: "Heather got mad at us today for not being expressive enough. 'You should be on the verge of crying!' she said."


"No kidding?" I replied. Maybe it's the strength of the selections, but I find most of their music profoundly moving, even when I don't understand the language being sung.


Fenya nodded, exasperated. "Yeah, so I guess I need to get I touch with my inner heartbroken girl. So I apologize in advance if am a bit witchy tomorrow."


Audrey and I assured her we would give her all the slack we could, in recognition of the Herculean efforts she and her fellow choristers were making to hone their edge before departure Thursday. Enough progress had been made and tears shed that Heather had actually relented, and cancelled the full-day rehearsal that had been scheduled for Wednesday, allowing her some additional time to rest and pack.


During the concert they performed a Finnish folk song called 'Kaipaava', as arranged by the acapella group Rajaton. It's a powerful piece, the tone of which captures the brittle fierceness of adolescent longing, as a girl laments the gap between herself and the one she loves. Fenya had suggested this would be a good piece to record, since she got to come to the front and center of it with three other girls.



Now, it's no secret that the author likes to put up a good front, but is conversant with the fact that he is actually among the softest of toffees, so by the time Kaipavaa was finished, I could barely see. I'm sorry the limited iPad video resolution prevents you from seeing what I saw; beautiful young faces, united in song, but distorted by an imaginary unrequited love into expressions of anguish like something more akin to a woodcut by Gustav Doré. The Finnish lyrics, when translated, don't carry the severity, the omnipresence of pain that these talented teen vocalists bring to the piece:

And without the moon or sun to shine, this world it is so dark,

With a fa la la and a fa la la, this world it is so dark.

And for the sake of one fine boy my heart is troubled and sad,

With a fa la la and a fa la la, my heart is troubled and sad.

You are fine like the grass on the meadow, I am lowly like the earth,

With a fa la la and a fa la la, I am lowly like the earth.

Oh, if you knew, my beloved, how much I miss you now!

For sure you would hasten back to me and not tarry on your way,

With a fa la la and a fa la la, and not tarry on your way.


At the concert's end, I hugged Fenya tightly, cursed her for once again unmanning me in a public venue, and reminded her how proud she makes us, not just in her performances, but in everything she brings her considerable passion and talents to,


It is the heart - powerful, brittle, vulnerable, invincible - that makes such accomplishments possible, and Heather is right to push the choir to the point where others can see it as easily as those close to them can. If it doesn't pay off for the competition judges, I have every confidence that the efforts they have put in thus far will stand them in good stead elsewhere.




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