O Canada! 2017 is an incredibly special year for the Toronto Children’s Chorus, as we mark this season by celebrating both Canada’s 150th birthday and Artistic Director Elise Bradley’s 10th anniversary with the Chorus!
More than 300 choristers (ages 5 to 30) will sing songs of peace and celebration to acknowledge this special year at our May 6 season concert. The choristers will perform music written by composers from across the globe and by home grown Canadian talent, including Composer Jeff Enns’ piece, Da Pacem.
The senior Chamber Choir will perform Da Pacem at Saturday’s concert and on tour in Spain! Head Choristers from the Toronto Children’s Chorus had the incredible opportunity to interview Enns to find out what inspires the composer.
Vivien: What made you decide to be a composer?
I always wanted to write music when I was little and was annoyed that so much had been written before I was born. I thought that I might have come up with one of Vivialdi’s violin concertos given the chance. It wasn’t until university that I began seriously working at composing. I always had music in my head but didn’t know how to get it out. That was the start of it.
Jessica: What is the first step in your composing process?
If it is a piece for choir, then I need to have the text first. After that, I need to know the group that I am writing for. Then, I usually read over the text many times and see if anything jumps out at me. If I’m lucky something will and then I’ll go from there. If not, then I have to work a bit harder at it.
Jessica: What inspired you to compose Da Pacem?
I had just been on my first tour with the Canadian Chamber Choir, and the men and the women each got to sing a piece by themselves. I loved the sound of the women’s voices together and thought that I should write something for them, so I did the day after I got home. I had been thinking about it for the tour but didn’t have a chance until I got back home.
I also remembered hearing a piece from when I was in university that was written for women’s voices alone with the same text, and how much I loved the sound of the women’s voices then as well.
Nicole: When you were composing Da Pacem, was there a certain message or feeling you wanted to convey?
I was hoping to convey the message of the text – Give peace in our time, even if the listener didn’t know what the Latin words meant. I wanted it to be slow and thoughtful as well as fast and joyful.
Vivien: What techniques did you use to add interest to the piece despite the simplicity of the lyrics?
I like to stack chords as much as I love the sound of unison voices blending together as one so I went back and forth between these. I also love chant and mixed meter, such as 7/8 so I think that I put most of my favourite things into the piece.
Alisha: Can you please explain your interesting choice of layering and clustering amongst voice parts?
I love the sound of parallel 4th and 5ths and chords with the added 2nd or 6th in them. They add a very distinct colour to the chords, so perhaps that is the layering and clustering that you are hearing?
Nicole: Why did you choose to make Da Pacem a cappella?
I love the sound of the human voice and can’t think of anything more beautiful than many voices singing together. I have written many pieces with piano or organ accompaniment as well but I really like to write music for voices alone.
Alisha: Can you please take us through your thought process from when you chose multiple swells in the tempo of the piece?
I usually find the rhythm of a piece by speaking the text numerous times. With Da Pacem, there isn’t as much text but there are so many different ways that the text can be effective. I wanted the piece to start out quietly and in unison and build throughout and then gently come back down to the same unison text ure as the beginning.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your work as a composer or Da Pacem in particular?
As a composer, I spend most of my time working by myself – which I enjoy – but it is great to hear from the choirs and individuals that are performing my pieces. It is still very exciting, and nerve-wracking to hear a choir perform something of mine every time.
Da Pacem is a very special piece for me, and I am very glad that you are performing it, and even happier that you are doing it a number of times.
Toronto Children’s Chorus Spring Concert: In Peace and Celebration