1. What was the artistic and choral scene in Edmonton like when you first started working with Da Camera in 1984? What was your life and musical career like at this time?
Prior to 1984 I taught high school music in Brisbane Australia for four years. Upon returning to Edmonton I completed a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance and was then hired by Da Camera as their accompanist. The other choirs around at that time were the long established Richard Eaton Singers, Pro Coro the newly formed professional choir, the University Madrigal Singers and Concert Choir, and the Greenwood Singers based in Sherwood Park.
2. Over the course of your time working with Da Camera, you worked with eight different conductors! Do you have any conductor stories to tell or reflections to share on how the changing leadership shaped the choir or your own artistic practice over time?
Mel Unger was the first music director and conductor I collaborated with and the repertoire featured many selections with piano accompaniment. I was also asked to provide solo piano music at various concerts. As Da Camera’s finances improved enabling them to perform with small chamber ensembles etc. and subsequent conductors programmed more a capella repertoire, my role in the concerts slightly decreased and I became more of a rehearsal accompanist, a part of the job I always loved as I watched each program develop under different rehearsal techniques and ever changing repertoire.
3. Can you talk a bit about the development of your career as a choral accompanist? Was there a defining moment or piece of music that was like an ‘aha’ moment in which you first fell in love with choral accompanying?
Because I grew up in a small community, I was pressed into musical service at an early age. I started playing piano when I was three, my family tells me, and began formal lessons when I was five so was comfortable performing, and loved to improvise and occasionally play piano in the dark! In my early teens I accompanied the church choir, the school choir, and anyone else who needed backup. I also sang, composed my own songs and accompanied myself on the guitar at weddings etc. I attended a small college after high school which had a tight music budget so learned how to play orchestrally in productions of Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s Creation and Vivaldi’s Gloria, to name a few. I think I had the Messiah pretty much memorized at one point! Every weekend was spent touring with small singing groups to various communities. After university, I also accompanied the Alberta Opera Touring Association, which performed in schools and communities throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan and so I became familiar with operas and musicals.
4. What are some of the highlights and most vivid memories, either musically or otherwise, from your time with Da Camera?
I enjoyed every concert we ever did, stellar or otherwise. The opportunity to travel to Toronto, Florida, Montana, England and Scotland etc. with Da Camera, get to know it’s members more personally, and engage with the musicians from other communities, were such highlights for me. On a personal note, I met my husband, Don Reynolds, through Da Camera when he joined as a non-singing member in 1988. We were married within the year and members of Da Camera sang at our wedding. Our honeymoon was the Da Camera trip to sing at a choral festival in Toronto a month later and our choir never sounded better! Don was such an enthusiastic supporter of Da Camera and my most trusted page turner (and critic ) at all our concerts. Sadly, he died of congestive heart failure in June of 2020. We were lucky enough to have 31 wonderful years together and I would have hired Da Camera to sing at the memorial but Covid restrictions ruled that out.
5. Da Camera has some wonderful recordings, many of which feature absolutely masterful playing from you! Do you have any stories to share with us about your experiences recording the 1995 “Gloria” album or the “Make we Joy” album from 2002?
Poulenc’s “Gloria” is such an effervescent, exciting composition and the challenge of making it sound orchestral on the piano was a very satisfying and rewarding experience. I relished every time I was asked to perform it. The recording had it’s challenges due to street noise and fairly limited retakes-playing note perfectly every time was stressful, exhausting and impossible. I was part of the editing process and what the technicians were able to fix post recording was quite amazing considering the electronic capabilities available at that time. As a result of the recording, I was hired by a Montreal based choir to perform the Gloria in concert that same year and Don and I spent a wonderful week in that city due to the generosity of Bruce Wheatcroft, who was the conductor.
6. Can you tell us about your musical journey since leaving Da Camera? Where has your Choral art and/or your work as a pianist taken you since then and what is your musical life like now?
I still accompany choirs and other music groups as a volunteer but most of my musical activities involve my piano students and their endeavours. To date I have over 700 arrangements of piano pieces based on their many requests and find that a great creative outlet. On a non-music level, I am illustrating four books of poetry related to the seasons, written by my sister-in-law, Hilda Riedeger Dueck and hope to finish the last book this year.
7. What has been some of your favourite choral repertoire from the pianist’s perspective (i.e. what have you especially loved to perform)?
Well, of course, the Poulenc Gloria, and the Brahm’s Zigeunerlieder, either with solo or duet accompaniment which I have performed with numerous choirs, were special. The first selection I ever performed with Da Camera was Schubert’s Song of Miriam so it’s memorable for that reason.
On another note, John Brough, during his tenure with Da Camera, at one point asked me to improvise a jazz accompaniment for a selection (I can’t remember the name of it!?) and I was totally on board with preparing something so out of my comfort zone! I know there were many other beautiful pieces but would have to consult program notes to remember them all.
8. Da Camera has been especially blessed to have really stellar accompanists over the years. In your view, what are some of the things that make a “great choral accompanist”.
What has helped me the most in collaborating with other musicians is to listen intently, respond to what I hear, and anticipate what will happen next. I made a practice early on of recording myself as I rehearsed at home to make sure I was actually getting the effect I wanted in the accompaniment. Knowledge of various genres and influences is crucial to a final performance, but music is open to interpretation and in the end, strong opinions aside, a conductor has the final say, which I always viewed as an opportunity to explore selections in new ways. A balanced sound between choir and piano is crucial and I’ve always felt that the nuances in the piano part should be strong enough to support and enhance the choral sound, and not fade into the background. In the end, balance is often guided at the dress rehearsal by someone other than the accompanist, since acoustics are so variable, so a certain amount of trust is required. In performance, the tempos, dynamics, etc. used in rehearsal will differ due to the atmosphere, the acoustics of the venue, or the adrenaline and excitement felt by the musicians, so I learned to be prepared for any eventualities and adjust quickly!
9. Any final thoughts you would like to share?
I’m so thankful for the rich musical life I experienced, and the friendships I made because of my association with Da Camera. I learned so much from both the choir members, and all the conductors I worked with, but especially Mel Unger, Laurier Fagnan, and John Brough, who I worked with the most and who each brought their own unique conducting styles, repertoire, and personalities to the podium. I will always hold Da Camera in my heart and mind.