Choral Conductor Erica Phare Leaving Montrealby Patricia Abbott
/ April 1, 2010
Flash version here.
“Qui prend mari, prend pays (“She who takes a husband adopts his country”),” says the French proverb. The Montreal choral scene has been abuzz in recent months with the news that the well-loved choral conductor Erica Phare is getting married and will be leaving Montreal at the end of the school year to take up residence in Cochrane, Alberta, with her husband.
In doing so, she leaves behind the Vanier College Choir and the McGill Conservatory Youth Choir (MCYC), where colleagues and students alike will miss her sense of adventure and dynamic presence. Vanier College music coordinator Nadia Turbide says, “Erica has been an excellent teacher and a wonderful colleague,” adding that as conductor of the Vanier College Choir since 2001, “she has been truly inspiring and has brought much energy to the position.” Turbide notes that students and audiences will long remember performances such as Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors (2002) and the Mozart Requiem (2003). “Of course, her major feat was to inspire us to produce Ruth Fazal’s Oratorio Terezin at Place des Arts in May 2008. This is an experience that all participants and the audience will never forget,” adds Turbide, who is quick to describe Erica as “an adventurous spirit, a motivating force, and a joy to work with.”
Clément Joubert, Director of the McGill Conservatory of Music, says that Erica’s humility, respect for others, dynamic leadership, vision for an excellent West Island youth choir and no-fear attitude when it comes to projects, have all contributed to the building of a community which admires and loves her. She is at the core of the success of the MCYC, based at the MacDonald campus of McGill in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, which she has conducted since 1995. For Joubert, highlights of Erica’s 15 years with the choir are the hosting of the annual CBC Youth Choir Gala, MCYC’s participation in Oratorio Terezin, and more recently, the choir’s trip to Vancouver to participate in the Coastal Sound International Youth Choir Festival in the company of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) Chorale.
Erica will be taking with her 22 years of choral conducting memories, including 11 years with the EMSB (formerly the PSBGM) Junior Chorale, where she got her conducting start in 1988 and with whom she first experienced hosting a major choral event, the Canadian Children’s Choirs in Concert festival. She also taught at FACE School, conducting the FACE Young Singers Junior Choir and co-conducting the FACE Young Singers Senior Choir with the author of this article, with whom she also co-conducted the EMSB Chorale until 1999. Along the way, there were also several seasons with an inter-faith adult choir, Kairos, and music worship teams at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church.
Erica offered the following tips for keeping a choir motivated, pointing out she had learned much of this from others:
1. Repertoire! Repertoire! Repertoire! Vary language, style, themes, tempi, vocal colour or add movement. If it is well written and sits well in the voice, it is a pleasure to sing. Pieces that keep you in extreme registers, either low or high, are taxing. Vary the tempi in rehearsal.
2. Get excited! If the conductor is excited about the repertoire, points out interesting features, explains the background of the work or points out the interplay between the voices, the choristers start to get excited about it too.
3. Learn not to take yourself so seriously! If you can be efficient in rehearsal and have a light-hearted spirit at the same time, it helps the learning atmosphere. The balance is always between being professional and being human.
4. Catch your choristers doing things well. Conversely, be quick to correct mistakes before they become ingrained. If you are respectful and admit your own errors, choristers are more likely to listen when you insist on aspects of the musical performance. People rarely remember what you say but rather how they felt around you when you said it. If they feel that they are improving and achieving a goal both as an individual and as a community, they are more likely to want to repeat the experience and work harder for it.
5. Try to keep a fast-paced rehearsal, by keeping instructions brief. Keep choristers busy. Have them sing another’s part, think their part, sing on solfège, sing it only on vowels. Erica says she uses lots of imagery to get the sound she wants. “Since the voice is a hidden instrument, I find it better to use imagery than to speak more technically,” she adds.
6. Bring food! “We always have events that involve food at the end of a season or after a concert. It validates the work the choristers did and creates community,” says Erica.
Erica’s farewell concerts take place:
» Friday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m., Église St-Laurent, St-Laurent
Vanier College Choir with guest choir, the McGill Conservatory Youth Choir
Fauré Requiem, plus works by J.S. Bach, Brian Current, Stephen Hatfield and Karl Jenkins
» Sunday, May 16 at 2:30 p.m., Pollack Hall, McGill, Montreal
McGill Conservatory Youth Choir’s Spring Concert