Hi everybody, this is Florian with Vocal Blog and today I’m talking to the Artistic Director of one of the finest vocal music festivals in the world, Sing!, the Toronto Vocal Arts festival. Welcome, Aaron Jensen!
So the time has come for some of the best vocal music on the planet to perform in Toronto and I’m happy to have you for a quick interview about the festival, its concept and the artists that Aaron selected to be part of the program.
First of all, for those who have not heard about Sing! before, tell me what makes this festival different from other vocal music events.
There are a few things. One is that we have a strong curated element to our shows. So in addition to just having vocal acts performing their regular repertoire, we have a lot of interesting collaborations of all different kinds. We will have Tuvan overtone singers singing alongside Swedish folk groups alongside beatboxers. We are mixing them all together is this beautiful a cappella soup.
We also have a lot of interesting and extraordinary programming, even groups who are not nessecarily known for a cappella. One of our concerts for example is a songbook of Canadian songwriters. And so we have selected some of Canada’s best-known songwriters and instead of having them perform with their usual instrumental back-up band, we’re creating these different ensembles, sort of the equivalent to their band and putting them alongside these songwriters. What’s more, we’ve got an interactive sculptural music installation artwork piece that we’re launching this year.
Sounds like it’s a lot about crossing musical and artistic borders. Was that the original purpose of the festival?
I think so. There is recognition that – at least in Canada – there were a lot of disparate festivals that were taking place. There is the barbershop tradition and the choral tradition and the jazz festivals. But all these different things are happening in isolation from each other.
Toronto has such a wealth of fantastic vocal groups and we really just wanted a place to bring people together, an opportunity for us to sing together, to present professionals from the best vocal groups in the world, bring them to us and really to introduce the artform to people who are not necessarily converts to a cappella music.
Obviously, many people will come to see the internationally famous acts, like Take 6, Rajaton. How do you choose the headliners for each year’s festival?
We have an artistic board that discuss things that come from different backgrounds, so people can make recommendations based on who they are most excited about. But ultimately we had a short list that we drew up in our first year and we are very proud that we have seen the Swingle Singers and the Real Group and New York Voices and Rajaton and Take 6 this year like.
We have started to scratch off a lot of the names of the people we are most excited about. But there are so many more, there is such a wealth of exciting new groups they are popping up all the time.
Which make up a really long “short list”.
Three sentences or less? Well, they were the inspiration of a lot of vocal groups that have come about since they are – I believe – a ten time Grammy award winning six-part male group that – for anyone who has not heard their music – certainly has a foundation in a gospel, spiritual and jazz. They have got a really distinctive sound which has touched a lot of vocal groups in the past 25 years plus.
And what can you say about Rajaton, the Finnish a cappella stars?
Again for people who have not had the pleasure of hearing the music of Rajaton: They have more of a folk background although they cover all kinds of music as well. In Toronto alone, I’ve seen them perform with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra doing a Beatles spotlight, and an ABBA spotlight and many different things.
So their repertoire covers a wide array of music, but I feel like they reach out to choral audiences - in addition to many others, but they certainly have a stronghold in a choral scene in Canada at least. They are…sweethearts. I love them to pieces.
All these famous groups can easily be found on the internet, they have impressive discographies and they’ve been touring the world for decades. How about the hidden champions, the newcomers – could you name me your SING! hidden champions 2015?
Yeah, for sure. There’s a lot of groups as you say that are coming out of the woodworks that are new to us during the last few years. There is a really glorious female trio from Toronto called the Au-pairs that have been around for a couple of years and are blowing my mind. There is a one-woman opera being performed, there is a woman coming from Montreal, Canada which is going to be very interesting.
Of the Toronto acts obviously there are groups like Cadence, Retrocity and Countermeasure, who was at LACF this last January. Free Play Duo, the live looping group of Dylan Bell and Suba Sankaran. We also present the university scene. I’m seeing more and more college groups that have been popping up in Toronto and the area in the last two or three years so this is really exciting to see that it seems like it’s a real renaissance of vocal music.
There are great a cappella festivals in many, many countries today. What makes this festival a particularly Canadian festival?
Sing has actually branched out, there is now a Sing festival taking place in Texas and so there is representation from Texas who are coming to the Toronto Vocal Arts Festival.
From Out Of Town is coming in from the States, Cut Off is coming in from the States so there is a strong CASA foundation as well.
There absolutely will. In addition to post-concert meet-and-greets, both Take 6 and Rajaton are offering workshops at the festival. And so you have the opportunity to sing with them in very close proximity to the singers. And in a very unique and personal way.
How important is vocal music education in general – and how do you promote it during and maybe also outside the festival?
Education has always been an important, foundational piece to Sing. During the festival itself we have a very strong workshop masterclass component to it. But we also have an educational outreach program and so we bring school kids in and we give them the opportunity to work hand in hand with some really first-tier performer.
But on the individual level we have vocal health experts, so that a single singer can come in and work with the technician. We’ve got opportunities to sing with one of our professionals on site for a very intense 30-minutes session. And then of course the groups giving their workshops themselves on various subjects – that’s very important.
So what do people who want to come to the festival, need to know? Are there still tickets left? Any special offers or events that you can particularly recommend?
The most important thing is the website singtoronto.com. There you’ll get the entire line-up of workshops, of concerts, of ticket purchases there. I think any promotions are also listed through there. If you get on our mailing list at firstname.lastname@example.org, you can keep up-to-date on any new promotions and ticket offers in the next week or two.
Aaron, it’s been a pleasure to have you on Vocal Blog, I wish you all the best for the upcoming festival, Aaron Jensen, Artistic Director of SING!, the Toronto Vocal Arts Festival. An if you’re as excited as I am and not too far from Toronto, go to www.singtoronto.com and get your tickets for this fantastic event.
Thanks, Aaron and speak soon.