New Artistic Director Laura Hawley interviews Dr. John Brough on his past fourteen years as Artistic Director of Da Camera Singers
Can you talk a bit about where you were in your life and career when you first started as Artistic Director of Da Camera in 2005?
In 2005, I was in the final two years of a Doctorate degree at the University of Alberta. On top of studying and teaching courses at the University, I was also conducting the University of Alberta Concert Choir, and was assistant conductor of the Richard Eaton Singers. At that time, I had been working at Holy Trinity Anglican Church as the director of Music and Organist for seven years (and I have now just celebrated twenty-one years in that position!).
What are some of your most memorable performances with Da Camera? It’s difficult to look back and pick only a few. I’ve been in the habit of living in the moment, and enjoying each performance as the most memorable up to that time! That being said – I can name a few that, for me, have been career defining. In my second year with the choir we performed Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil. It was a work that I had longed to perform since I was a very young musician. I’ve been lucky enough to repeat that performance at least two more times with the choir.
I’m extraordinarily proud of the concert and recording entitled “Eulogies”, where we gave the premiere recording of Estacio’s work of the same name, but also a new work by Leonard Enns, based on the poetry of E.D. (Ted) Blodgett. Ted was a close friend and mentor to me throughout my education and career. Sadly Ted passed away this year, and I still look back at this collaboration as being one of the most memorable things I’ve been involved with.
Of course, our 50th Anniversary concert in 2012 where we brought back a large number of Alumni singers to perform Orff’s Carmina Burana was a great event. However, personally this concert means so much to me, as my daughter, Annie, was born only a week later. My wife had experienced complications during the pregnancy, and in fact, we had spent the entire night before the performance in the hospital. It was the power of the music and performance, I think, that kept my upright on the podium that day!
Under your direction, the choir undertook some exciting recording projects and tours. What are some of your fondest memories from those times? I’ve already mentioned the recording above. I still listen to that recording with much fondness. Of the two international tours we took, they are both memorable for their own reasons. In August of 2007 we spent touring Scotland and England. Bringing music of Canada and beyond to the historic Cathedrals and Castles. I will always remember an impromptu performance in the chapel of Glamis Castle in Scotland, where we moved the tour guide to tears. Personally, this tour came only a month after Kathleen and I were married. It was a nice way to spend a Honeymoon; with thirty of your closest friends! (Don’t worry, we eventually went to California on our own in 2008 for a real Honeymoon)
In 2014, we headed to Hungary, Slovakia, and Austria. Again, visiting many castles and churches. Each with their own unique history, and amazing audiences! The most memorable moment however wasn’t musical at all! We were in Eger Hungary, and our tour agent suggested we plan a wine tasting, as this was considered one of the most underrated wine countries in the world. We were not disappointed with a private “cave” wine tasting complete with homemade goulash. We sang a few songs in the depth of these caves, and were treated to incredible hospitality, and, of course, wine!
How has the choir changed over the past 14 years? As with most choirs, there has been much change in the 14 years that I served as Artistic Director. In some years, we had as few as 28 singers, and some as many as 40. Many familiar faces stayed with me through my whole tenure, some traveled in and out as work and school commitments moved them around. I’m forever grateful for the friends I have made over the years.
The choir has had a long-standing relationship with Holy Trinity Anglican Church. Is there anything special you’d like to say about this? I’d say Da Camera has many good relationships with venues across the city. When I first started, we rehearsed and performed at First Baptist Church, and many of us still consider that church our “home”. We have also performed concerts at First Presbyterian, Robertson Wesley, All Saints’ Anglican, and beyond. Our relationship with Holy Trinity certainly grew out of my connection with them as organist and Director of Music. The church has had a long tradition of supporting arts groups in the city and providing a safe and welcoming environment. We enjoy the facility for its flexibility, creative lighting and choral risers. It is also a nice “intimate” venue to perform. There’s always been something comfortable about the space and the people who support the programs there.
For your final concert with Da Camera you have chosen Mozart’s Requiem. Why did you choose this work at this time? As I was thinking of a final work I had a few different thoughts. I wanted to perform something that would appeal to a large number of people, Mozart is of course one of the most recognizable composers to have ever lived. And this work in particular is accessible which would hopefully draw in a large audience. Aside from the marketability of the work – as a church musician, I am always interested in highlighting the liturgical calendar. November 2nd is All Souls Day, or the Commemoration of All The Faithful Departed. A Requiem performance fits in perfectly for this observance. It is long though that these works only belong in the church, but with it’s rich orchestration, and wonderful solo movements, the work is equally at home on the concert stage.
I’ve always been attached to the work, one which is shrouded in legend and mystery. A work that has been hotly debated for its artistic merit and even authenticity almost from the moment of the composer’s death. Despite the apparent controversies through the centuries since it was composed, it is still revered as one of the most important works of the era, and I never tire from its performances. Although I’ve sung it many times, I am looking forward to my first performance of it as a conductor.
Do you have any advice for me, as the new artistic director?
You have inherited, as I did fourteen years ago, a choir organization like none other in the vast Edmonton choral scene. Deeply rooted in tradition and success. The fabric that has held this choir together goes far beyond the music making, but is also connected by friendship and loyalty. Allow yourself to become part of this fabric. You will find that the choir will quickly become your community, your support, and many ways, your family. Enjoy every minute of it!
What advice would you offer the choir in their first year with a new artistic director? Similar to what I said above. As a choir, you are the instrument of a conductor. A living, breathing instrument. A conductor will rely on your for support and guidance. Allow room for growth, for change and also for challenge. Rise to the challenge of new music, find the energy to give all you can into the relationship, and contribute to the success of your organization. As a conductor, there is nothing more rewarding than being surrounded by singers who share their passion and vision. I think there will be a wonderful symbiosis in this new relationship, and I look forward to being in the audience watching your growth under this new leadership.