I had the opportunity to Skype with Canadian a cappella man-of-action, Aaron Jensen, who – after having sung with Canadian vocal quartet Cadence for many years – is now the artistic director of “SING! The Toronto Vocal Arts Festival”, taking place on May 30th – June 1st 2014.
Every year, SING! presents great concerts and workshop to Canadian vocal music fans. Aaron, what is the most special thing about this year’s edition?
In addition to presenting a huge number of concerts and workshops, we’re offering more curated concerts than ever before. We have a new Festival Chamber Choir premiering works of John Tavener, we have an anniversary concert for Cole Porter, a special project partnered with the Canadian Film Board and much more.
SING! includes an incredible variety of styles and very different levels of singing. What is the artistic idea that connects all the pieces of the festival puzzle?
Diversity of the music, obviously musical excellence, and innovation. We’re committed to creating a stage for all genres of vocal music: from pop to barbershop, world to jazz, gospel, beatbox, live looping – we even have an improvised a cappella comedy troupe…
That’s right. In addition to a jam-packed concert line-up, we also offer a series of exciting workshops that range from vocal technique to the business side of music, songwriting, instrument imitation and a whole lot more.
Before we’ll have a look at this year’s program highlights and the stars on the stage, let’s have a look behind the scenes, the stars of the SING! team. How did you find this teamand what makes them work so hard?
We have a shared vision. Everyone on the board is very passionate about this project. The team is made up of top industry professionals with decades of experience behind them. I personally have never been part of a board that has been more functional and more hard-working. It all started four years ago with an informal conversation I had with J-M Erlendson, who is the General Manager of the festival. The pieces really came together quickly and we have maintained the core of our board ever since.
This year’s line-up is a mix of legends and newcomers, pop, jazz and even Shakespeare, groups from North America and overseas. I’ll give you the name of the artists or projects and you just describe them with one or two sentences:
The Nylons are certainly an icon of a cappella music in Canada and beyond. This is a very special reunion event, which will bring together all members of group – past and present.
…is this year’s SING! Legacy Award Winner and one of the greatest living choral composers in Canada.
Shakespeare in Song…
…is our tribute to William Shakespeare’s 450thanniversary. In addition to presenting music from that era, you’ll hear beautiful choral settings of Shakespeare sonnets, a North American premiere by Sir John Taverner by our new SING! Festival Singers, as well as a little bit of improvised comedy just to shake things up.
…sell their program as “From Monteverdi to Monty Phython”, so expect quite a mix. They are sure to be an audience favourite. Cantabile has been around since 1982, with 2000+ performances under their belt. They are seasoned veterans and fantastic entertainers.
…refer to themselves as “America’s favorite dragappella beauty shop quartet” – that basically says it all (laughs). Their saucy humour is well-known in North America and they’ve been a fixture at comedy festivals all around the world.
Tribute to Cole Porter…
…is another curated project and celebrates Cole Porter’s songbook 50 years after his passing. His hit tunes will be interpreted by Cadence, Countermeasure, and The Watch, along with Heather Bambrick and david sereda.
…were part of our educational outreach to Toronto schools this past week. They were fantastic as always and we all had a wonderful time working with them.
…are based out of Montreal. This group, took the a cappella world by storm when they won the Harmony Sweepstakes New York last year. I had the pleasure of hearing them at the Boston Singsfestival and was blown away.
O Canada! Our Nation’s Greatest Hits…
…presents three of Canada’s largest stars – Alan Frew, Dan Hill and Lorraine Segato and – performing as they have never performed before: a cappella! They are going to be singing their hits with the vocal equivalent of a backup band, consisting of Cadence, Retrocity and Countermeasure.
Did you write all the music for these projects?
Not for all these events, no. I need to sleep some time! (Laughs) Certainly for some of the curated event like the O Canada concert the featured groups have provided their own charts, and in many cases have been working on arrangements one-on-one with the artists to re-interpret their music.
And there is so much more to discover and to participate in – Is there anything else you want people to know about? (e.g. workshops)
I would invite people to reach out to us on Facebook and Twitter. Also, if you are able to come out to the event, please introduce yourself! We’re really striving to connect with singers and people who are interested in the art form. We just love to get the conversation started.
As I’ve heard, tickets are selling well, what kind of tickets are still available as of today?
Tickets are moving fast. I spoke to the box office this morning and tickets are still available for the concerts and there are some festival passes left. However, I would urge people to jump in as quickly as possible.
So good luck to SING! Toronto, say hello and thanks to your team, who will spend another very busy week on the final stretch. Thanks, Aaron, for taking time for this interview, have fun with a weekend full of Vocal Arts!
Thanks for having me, Florian!
Internationally published and award-winning composer, arranger and performer. His creative offerings have been performed across North and South America, Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia. In 2011, he was awarded the Grand Prize by the International John Lennon Songwriting Competition in the jazz category. In addition to his work as a solo artist, Aaron has toured regularly as a member of the award-winning vocal groups, Cadence and Retrocity. He directs and conducts Countermeasure, a vocal ensemble which he co-founded in 2010. Aaron is an active clinician and musical director and offers regular workshops across North America and Europe.