To Meet One Another
Held on a Saturday at the Burgundy-Franche-Comté-Europe Association in Brussels, this was the first meeting for various speakers and choir directors. Each participant presented his or her professional career, the choir he or she directs and his or her expectations for the Children’s Voices/Stage Space project. The main focal points of the project were also clarified, and the calendar of events for the next two years was approved.
Participants addressed the following topics: the choice of the mandatory piece for the concerts in Vesoul in May 2016 and the requirements regarding the commissioned works to be performed in the concerts in Vesoul in 2016 and in Turin in 2017. Catherine Gourdon, head of the Documentation Centre for Choral Art of the LAB (Liaisons Arts Burgundy), shared certain choral works from the Centre's collection. Participants compiled the existing repertoire suitable for children’s choirs’ stage movement.
Participants discussed – using video footage – approaches and work methods emphasising the combination of movement and singing.
The next day, the team was welcomed in Nivelles. After a public presentation of the project and its partners, the Children’s Choir of Hainaut, under the musical direction of Géraldine Focant, gave a concert. This performance was complemented by contributions from Erica Mandillo, Carlo Pavese and Scott Alan Prouty who introduced this choir to their particular working methods. The day ended with a meeting between speakers and the public. The presence of the Choral Federation of Wallonia-Brussels made it possible to provide an overview on the current situation of amateur and professional choirs in Belgium.
Diversifying our approaches
This second workshop made it possible to build on the plans sketched in the first meeting. The choir directors opened the meeting by selecting the common piece for the concerts in Vesoul, as well as the repertoire for the concert to close the gathering of European choirs in May 2016 at the Edwige-Feuillère Theatre. They also finalised the requirements for the commissioned works to be created by composers from the countries of each children’s choir: these works must incorporate the concept of space.
During a roundtable discussion, the various speakers reflected on the idea of stage space.
To illustrate their discussion, Scott Alan Prouty, artistic director of Sotto Voce at the Théâtre du Châtelet, led a performance of his choir. Then choir directors Géraldine Focant, Erica Mandillo and Carlo Pavese, in turn, contributed additional musical excerpts involving movement. At the end of these exercises, directors and choristers exchanged their opinions on this approach.
The last day of the workshop was devoted to the notions of children’s expressiveness and of choir’s autonomy vis-à-vis its director, as well as to a reflection on the definition of the audiences of today and tomorrow.
Building a momentum for contemporary composers to create for children's choirs
By the third meeting, the various participants had grown to know each other quite well. On the first day they discussed everything that had changed in their respective practices since the project’s inception. Then during a work and discussion session the choir directors presented and experimented with specific exercises aimed at helping children hone their relationship to space.
That workshop put particular emphasis on Erica Mandillo’s work with her choir. She directed a performance of the Coro Infantil da Universidade de Lisboa on February 28th at the University of Lisbon. This performance was complemented by three contributions from Géraldine Focant and Carlo Pavese who introduced the choir and the spectators to their approach to children's choirs.
The last day ended with a roundtable discussion featuring a dozen Portuguese composers invited by the Coro Infantil da Universidade de Lisboa. The resulting debate proved to be extremely rich and fruitful, revealing certain particularities in composing for children’s choirs.
This fourth meeting at the Edwige-Feuillère Theatre in Vesoul brought together, for the first time, all the choirs participating in the project. It marked the first realisation and achievement of the project.
The opening evening included a performance by five choirs from the region who, under the impetus of Ensemble Justiniana and Franche-Comté Mission Voix, had been meeting for the past six years to discuss the issue of children’s voices and stage space. The next two evenings featured performances onstage by all the choirs. The final evening was devoted to mixing, exchange and autonomy: each of the choirs had ten minutes to perform under the direction of its leader. All the choirs then gathered in a hyper formation conducted successively by each of the directors, before interpreting without direction Sililiza, by composer Jim Papoulis.
The theatre stage overflowing with more than three hundred young choristers undoubtedly is the image that best encapsulates the energy, fervour and effervescence that emanated from these four days of intense work at the Edwige-Feuillère Theatre in Vesoul. On the fringe of these artistic events, the permanent presence of the directors and their choirs in the theatre enabled the experimentation and systematisation of the principles of exchange and artistic circulation: in the morning the directors made each choir work by moving from one rehearsal room to another. This specific work method, which included the performance of Sililiza by every choir with different movements each evening, followed by its interpretation by all choirs without direction in the final concert, evidenced the stage results and fruitfulness of this transversal mode of rehearsal.
Each afternoon, two children's choirs traveled to the villages located within a radius of 20 kilometers for walking concerts (concerts promenades). In addition to exposing the choirs and directors to outdoor spaces, open spaces, non-show venues, these concerts promenades allowed them to meet and touch the inhabitants by playing not only on the squares of the villages, in farmyards or manor houses and cafés, but also by performing in a highly personalised way in front of their homes. It proved to be an experience as enriching for the children as it was for the adults supervising them, which put back at the forefront of the project the creation of new audiences, one of Ensemble Justiniana’s main goals since its creation.
In addition to this particularly rich artistic programme, discussions with the speakers continued, assembling cultural actors from the region: teachers, choir directors, musicians, singers, etc., who also followed the work of the choirs during rehearsals and brainstormed with the directors on how to develop the practice of stage movement for children’s choirs.
In summary: four days of intense work, encounters and discussions, more than six hundred children onstage and three thousand spectators in the concert hall!
Scores for children's voices
Not only did workshop n°5 allow pedagogical exchanges and discussions that have now become regular between the choir directors – which made it possible for them to draw a halfway-point assessment – but it also focused on two aspects of the project. The first was a meeting with Alberto Cola, an Italian composer and musicologist, who wrote the piece Hymn to the North Star for the Piccoli Cantori di Torino. During an interview, he reflected on his career, his relationship to voice (particularly to those of children), on choral ensembles and on stage space.
Secondly, even though they were not physically present, other composers of the project were evoked during the workshop, and we discovered the preliminary stages of their work: for the Coro Infantil da Universidade de Lisboa, Eurico Carrapatoso, author of chamber, choral and, more generally, vocal music, whose compositions are performed in Europe as well as in the United States, and Miguel Azguime, known for his pieces that are as varied as they are original, reflecting the different facets of his artistic personality (composer, but also performer and poet); for the Children’s Choir of Hainaut, Gilles Massart (Zoom du lit à l’espace), teacher of ensemble singing in an academy of music and director of several choirs of adults and young persons; for Sotto Voce, Marc-Olivier Dupin (Éclats d'espace), a composer and professor of writing at the conservatory of the 6th arrondissement of Paris, who has notably held the positions of Chief Executive Officer of the Île-de-France National Orchestra and music director for Radio France; and for the Choir of the Edwige-Feuillère Theatre in Vesoul, Philippe Mion, composer, author of an original and protean work that includes vocal, instrumental, as well as purely acousmatic and hybrid pieces.
As Turin is also the place chosen for the final session of the project, this workshop was also planned so as to visit potential concert venues to choose one where the choirs could perform in the summer of 2017. These visits, most of which took place on Saturday afternoon and Monday morning, were also an opportunity to discover the city and savour the local culture. Turin might not have the reputation of Rome or Milan; however, its city centre, with its lively streets, ochre stones and sweetness of life, is a little-known jewel.
As for the meeting and discussion with Alberto Cola, they took place on the second day, during the now traditional work sessions between the project choir directors and the “hosting choir”, in this case, Piccoli Cantori di Torino. These sessions were once again an opportunity to conduct a thorough experimentation on the spatialisation of sound (first going from breath to sound, then making the choir sing in motion, then creating a vocal wave all around the room...). These work sessions also presented the choir directors with a first exposure to the composers’ commissioned works around the theme "Children’s Voices / Stage Space," works which are still in their preliminary forms.
Relationship between stage director and choir director; musical creations
Of the 70 children in the Edwige-Feuillère Theatre’s Children’s Voices’ workshop of Vesoul, Saturday morning’s session featured solely those who had participated in the Ensemble Justiniana’s performances of Des Enfants à Croquer and Hansel and Gretel.
After a brief warm-up with the children, Scott Alan Prouty presented excerpts from these recent musical theatre shows directed by Charlotte Nessi, which he had collaborated on as choir director. Prouty explained that when he collaborates with Nessi, he intervenes at a time when the staging is not yet crystallized, thereby trying to combine a maximum number of movements with the singing in order to release the bodies from the voice.
Then came an exercise in text: the children read a text the end of which was meant to lead them into a song (a scene from Des Enfants à Croquer that precedes the song Les Petits Bonheurs). For a few minutes, the children divided themselves into four small groups and independently prepared a spatial representation of the text. Then, still in small groups, they presented nine different stagings of Hansel and Gretel, translated in French. Charlotte Nessi explained that, in her way of working, all children first learn the entire text. The roles are then distributed in a second phase, according to the affinities of each child. For Hansel and Gretel, several role distributions were needed for the tour. Nessi also develops the notion of "active spectators": four of the eight opera songs were also performed by members of the audience, spectators who had worked on the songs ahead of time and began singing them and participating in stage action, much to the surprise of the other spectators. Nessi then worked with two children in particular and directed them live on stage, in the same scene.
The afternoon was devoted to a meeting with composer Philippe Mion, to which a work was commissioned as part of the project. He had the children work on their breathing, then on consonants, words, sound, and finally on their body. This meeting with Mion continued on Sunday morning. In the course of the discussion, Mion described his singular compositional process. He writes with children through exercises, games, and experiments. The discussion then opened up to exchanges between composers and choir directors on the creations that had been planned within the framework of the project.