Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, Founder, Creative Director & Conductor Of The Nathaniel Dett Chorale Talks About 25 Years Of Music

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Conductor & Artistic Director Brainerd Blyden-Taylor & The Nathaniel Dett Chorale (Photo courtesy of the artists)
Conductor & Creative Director Brainerd Blyden-Taylor & The Nathaniel Dett Chorale (Photograph courtesy of the artists)

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale will rejoice their twenty fifth anniversary season gala with a live performance titled And Nonetheless We Sing… Afro-Brasiliera. The efficiency options soprano Measha Brueggergosman-Lee, together with dance by BaKari I. Lindsay & The AFeeree Venture in an occasion that’s a part of the Luminato Toronto competition on June 11.

Brainerd Blyden-Taylor based the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, named after the Canadian-American composer, musician, and music professor who turned a distinguished composer within the early twentieth century, in 1998.

We spoke to him in regards to the Chorale, the upcoming gala, and the ability of choral music.

Brainerd Blyden-Taylor

A local of Trinidad, Brainerd Blyden-Taylor got here to Canada within the Seventies, and took up the place of music director on the Oakwood Wesleyan Church in Toronto. By 1977, he’d joined the College of Toronto’s Hart Home Refrain, and have become the choir’s assistant conductor. Brainerd turned one of many first in Canada to advertise Afrocentric music by means of research and efficiency.

He was the conductor of the Orpheus Choir of Toronto from 1987 by means of 2002. Brainerd has additionally performed the Peterborough Singers, and toured with youth choirs by means of Canada. He’s an energetic choral conductor, educator and church musician, and is the Music Director at St. Timothy’s Anglican Church in North Toronto.

With the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, he has visitor performed the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia, and the Hannaford Avenue Silver Band. The Chorale additionally often serves because the refrain in productions by Opera Atelier.

As an educator, Blyden-Taylor has labored as a lecturer, workshop chief, clinician and adjudicator with the College of Toronto, Queen’s College, and with the Toronto District College Board, in addition to festivals and establishments internationally.

He has toured internationally as a conductor, and has recorded a number of albums on the Marquis Classics label. Carry me House — The Story of the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, a documentary about Blyden-Taylor and the ensemble, was the winner of a Gemini award in 2003.

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale, along with specializing in Afrocentric repertoire, blurs the strains between genres by mixing secular and sacred music, pop and artwork music.

Brainerd Blyden-Taylor: The Interview

In the intervening time, the Chorale is just lately again from a featured efficiency on the PODIUM Convention, simply carried out a COC lunchtime live performance on June 3, and is wanting ahead to a visit to Newfoundland to carry out later in the summertime, after the Luminato live performance.

“We haven’t flipped applications like this for some time,” he notes of their hectic schedule. “Then we’re off to Newfoundland on the finish of June for a world choral convention.”

Choirs and choral music, whereas nicely out of the highlight in the case of mainstream music media, have a robust presence throughout Canada. “Each neighborhood has its choirs,” Blyden-Taylor notes. Many aren’t a part of the bigger choral neighborhood, current solely to be a part of a neighborhood scene.

As the outline of The Nathaniel Dett Chorale reads, it was based “to deal with a musical hole in Canada. Previous to its formation, there had by no means been an expert ensemble targeted on selling Afrocentric choral music.”

Twenty-five years later, has the scenario modified?

“Nicely, you understand, I might say there may be an consciousness — there may be an elevated consciousness. One simply has to maintain telling the story over and again and again, as a result of it escapes,” he says.

As he factors out, it was again on December 23, 2013 that the UN declared a Proclamation of the Worldwide Decade for Individuals of African Descent. “Most individuals didn’t even know that was a factor,” he laughs. “So this 12 months, ought to actually be the ultimate 12 months of the last decade.”

The Canadian authorities, nonetheless, didn’t ratify that decision till 2018, and in February 2024, resolved to increase that recognition till 2028.

“George Floyd, the I can’t breathe second […] that occurred throughout this decade,” he factors out. What has modified, nonetheless, is an consciousness of the problems within the choral neighborhood. “Once I take a look at our choral conferences, each in Canada and america, there was an growth of consciousness of this.”

He counts an increasing number of colleagues writing educational papers on Afrocentric tradition, and in the course of the pandemic, he studies many additionally reaching out for data, manuscripts and scores.

“I believe there may be an elevated consciousness, however there may be nonetheless a niche.”

It’s moments when he will get direct suggestions that deliver the significance of his work house. He says that just lately, a younger Black lady from the Southern US got here to sing with the Chorale whereas learning on the College of Toronto. Her phrases underscored the continued significance of the work. “I can’t let you know what this expertise has meant to me,” she advised him of discovering and rediscovering the choir’s repertoire.

“The work is ongoing,” he says. Nonetheless, small steps have been made. “I needed to clarify to folks what ‘Afrocentric’ meant again in 1998.”

L-R: Measha Brueggergosman-Lee (Photo: Mathieu Savidant); The Nathaniel Dett Chorale (Photo courtesy of the artists); BaKari I. Lindsay (Photo courtesy of the artist)
L-R: Measha Brueggergosman-Lee (Photograph: Mathieu Savidant); The Nathaniel Dett Chorale (Photograph courtesy of the artists); BaKari I. Lindsay (Photograph courtesy of the artist)

And Nonetheless We Sing… Afro-Brasiliera: The Music

Afrocentric means music that has an African affect or expertise at its coronary heart. It could or might not contain a Black composer per se. He cites Gershwin for example, a composer whose works, notably Porgy and Bess, have been closely influenced by Black music.

“I’m simply making an attempt to broaden the sandbox wherein I play.”

For the upcoming live performance on June 11, the highlight of the second half would be the Missa Afro-Brasiliera by Carlos Alberto Pinto Fonseca.

“Right here’s an Afro-Brazilian mass written by a Brazilian composer who’s not Black, however whose work was steeped in that custom,” Blyden-Taylor says. Fonseca, as he explains, grew up in a neighbourhood the place Afro-Brazilian religious traditions have been an on a regular basis actuality that seeped into his music.

“It actually influenced him.”

His Missa makes use of the complete Roman Catholic textual content, whereas infusing it musically with Afro-Brazilian rhythms and lullabyes. The lyrics are written in each Latin and vernacular Portuguese.

“He used each languages,” he says. “He didn’t write it for percussion, he didn’t write it for dance, however his work was knowledgeable by all of these traditions.”

The singers, as he describes it, carry out in a indifferent and percussive mode in some sections, sung in Latin, juxtaposed with different extra intimate sections sung in Portuguese and utilizing conventional lullabye melodies.

The fusion represents one other manner of mining the big and wealthy custom of Afrocentric choral music.

“I promised myself that once I approached the work once more, I wished to do one thing totally different, so we commissioned this choreography.”

BaKari I. Lindsay is a Trinidadian-Canadian choreographer who has developed AFeeree, an Afrocentric bodily language and aesthetic. He’s developed dance across the music. Blyden-Taylor notes that the religious traditions of Trinidad are Yoruban in origin, and much like that of Afro-Brazilian, Haitian, and different Caribbean Black communities.

“There’s a synchronicity within the music,” he says. “Whilst you’re singing, you’re not simply worshipping the Christian saints, you’re worshipping the African deities as nicely.”

Additionally on this system, and within the first half of the live performance: Sid Robinovitch’s Canciones for las Americas and Cinco Canciones Negras by Xavier Montsalvatge.

“We’re focusing extra on the Latim American and Spanish aspect of issues.”

The piece by Jewish-Canadian composer Sid Robinovitch was impressed by the PanAm Video games, and makes use of textual content from Latin American poets Juana de Ibarbaru, Nicholas Guillen and Octavio Paz.

“He’s created these three very totally different items within the Spanish language.” He notes that Cuban poet Nicholas Guillen additionally invokes religious traditions, tying the live performance collectively in a theme.

Soprano Measha Bruegergosman-Lee is the opposite particular visitor on this system.

“She is any individual that I first met when she was an undergrad,” Blyden-Taylor says. “She sang with the Chorale for the very first 12 months, after which she was off like a rocket. We knew that.”

In her solo set, she’ll interpret the music cycle by Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge, set to the phrases of Spanish poets Rafael Alberti, Néstor Luján, Nicolás Guillén, and Ildefonso Pereda Valdés.

“There’s an actual kind of synchronicity between the 2 items within the first half,” he says.

The Energy of Choral Music

Choral music, maybe higher than some other style, has the power to attach with folks’s feelings, and that goes for each the singers and any listeners. Whereas there are skilled choirs like Nathaniel Dett, it’s additionally an artwork that’s accessible at some stage to nearly anybody who can carry a tune.

It connects folks, put merely.

“It does have that energy.”

It signifies that efficiency could be far more than a pleasing accompaniment to go the time.

“It’s the best way I endeavour to work more often than not – I attempt to be in that mode. I really feel that […] I personally, in addition to the ensemble, are referred to as not simply to entertain folks […] to sing a bit ditty and have folks say that’s good,” he says. “I hope they are going to be modified, I hope they are going to be impressed to do no matter.”

Viewers suggestions typically tells him he and the Chorale are heading in the right direction.

“What a sacred calling is that?” he asks. “How many individuals play music simply because? I inform [the singers] don’t telephone it in.”

Simply earlier than occurring stage, he says he and the members of the ensemble share a mantra that reinforces the notion not simply of performing, however sharing the music and sentiments with the viewers.

“We prolong the circle to incorporate them,” he says. “Individuals must be touched. That’s what we wish to do.”

As performers, he feels it as not only a reward, however a accountability.

“It’s very, very, very highly effective. Each artist and each performer ought to know that. We’ve the reward and the power, and dare I say, the calling, to show folks’s lives round.”

When folks come to a live performance, as a performer you don’t know what sort of day they’ve had, what they’re coping with — what’s on their minds. You solely know your job is to achieve out to them and join.

“That’s what we do. That’s what we will do,” he says. “What we provide has the ability to vary lives.”

  • Discover out extra about And Nonetheless We Sing…Missa Afro-Brasileira: A Syncretism of Voice and Dance on June 11 at Luminato Pageant Toronto, and get tickets, [HERE].

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